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Did Jesus Have Fear Like us?​

Did Jesus have fear like us?
Recently, Pastor Jimmy Evans, preached a guest sermon at Ed Young’s Fellowship Church in Texas, in which he discussed why Christians face fear and how to overcome anxiety in their lives.

Evans said, “Jesus had more fear on His way to the cross than any human being has ever experienced,” Evans explained. “If you’ve ever been fearful of anything, Jesus understands it.”

I get what Pastor Jimmy is trying to do here, he is trying to help us relate to Jesus and make Jesus relatable, however, there is just one problem, it is not biblical. The first grid that every pastor who represents Jesus must do is put what they are saying to God’s people through a biblical test to make sure it aligns with God’s Word.
Jesus tells us in Revelation 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

When we represent Christ to others, the Bible must be our sole authority to determine our view, values, and vernacular that we choose to help people relate to Jesus and experience a real relationship with Him.

The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 1:7, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

John the Beloved, said in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Jesus was perfect. He was tempted in all ways as us yet without sin.
Jesus embodied perfect love.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say Jesus feared. Yes, he experienced great anguish. Yes, he desired the cup to pass from Him. Yes, he felt the limitations that came with being human but He who knew no sin didn’t sin.
Often Jesus would rebuke the disciples for their worry and their fear and unbelief. He would ask them why they didn’t believe and rebuke them for not believing. He stood against their unbelief, fear, and worry.

I realize we want to make Jesus “human” to the point that He is relatable. I too appreciate the value of real relationship with Jesus and relatability with Jesus but not at the expense of His deity and His perfect holiness. It seems the church continues to try to demystify Jesus for relationship purposes at the expense of forgetting that while He is fully human, He was also fully God. We can’t relate to this; we don’t understand this.

This is why the Virgin Birth is so important. Jesus was not born with a sin nature due to how He was conceived. Many years ago, Rob Bell asserted that the Virgin Birth was not essential to the Deity of Christ. I beg to differ. Without the Virgin Birth, Christ could not have been God. His conception determines the validity of His Deity. Just as His sinless life determines His qualification to be the sinless sacrifice for our sins.

I admire Pastors who attempt to make Jesus relatable but not at the expense of removing Him from his rightful place as God. One of my Professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, Prof Howard Hendricks, use to say about preaching, “To be biblical is easy, to be relevant is easy, but to be biblically relevant is almost impossible.”
But the impossible is our task.

As we look at the life of Jesus there is much that we can relate to. His sufferings were very clear. He sympathizes with our weaknesses and is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession on our behalf. These things are very relatable and authentic and do not tamper with his Deity.
But to say that Jesus “feared” is to say, “Jesus had a spirit in Him that was controlling Him that was not from God.”

This is not inaccurate, it is heresy. It is heretical. It is unbiblical and very damaging because of the implications it creates and the conclusions it requires regarding His Deity.
Jesus experienced sorrow and anguish but He never gave into anything that would cause Him to sin. The kind of fear we are talking about here is the result of imperfection. We see in the Garden of Eden that after Adam and Eve fell, they hid themselves. Why? They tell God they did so because they were afraid.
Jesus was never afraid.

His desire to die for us was never in question. Yes, He asked that the cup could pass from Him but not His will, but the Father’s will be done. Desiring something to pass from you and fearing what lies ahead are two different sentiments and we must be very careful to rightly divide the Word of Truth, otherwise implications and conclusions that we don’t intend get drawn.
Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 8:26 what He thinks about our fear. He said to the disciples, “’Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”

Jesus is not up in heaven wringing His hands wondering what to do next or wishing you wouldn’t do this or that. He is not fearful. Our fear is just that, ours. Jesus cannot relate to our sinfulness except to say that He has made a way for us to escape.

Be careful trying to make Jesus so human that He can no longer be God in the flesh, otherwise you will have a relatable Savior in this life with no hope for Eternity.

Pastor Kelly


Begin to Pull it All Together

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you—Luke 11:9

You can move, brother, into "an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you" (Ephesians 4:20-24 MSG). We can all be remade into new selves, true selves—but God won’t force change upon us. He wants us to ask and listen and learn and work with him. He wants us to do so continually, because he also won’t reveal those true selves all at once. Rather, he’ll teach. He’ll guide. And he’ll reveal identity iteratively, in a progression, in a process that builds on itself throughout our lives. How this actually happens will be different for each of us. We’re new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). But, we’re unique creations too (1 Corinthians 12:14-26).

So, when God gives us something, just for us, when he allows us to discover something about ourselves, we’ve got to treat those things with extraordinary care. We mustn’t allow them to be lost or forgotten in the rush and charge of life. We must collect and revisit them—so we can always have the best, most complete picture possible of who we really are and whom we’re really meant to become.

Okay, so what do we do?

Get a notebook or create a document, one dedicated to this purpose. Record what God’s revealed already. Recall moments when you just knew he was speaking—maybe a trusted friend pointed out something true about you; or the story of a particular person in the Bible stood out from all the rest; or you sensed God showing you something about yourself, in prayer. Collect and compile these things. Add more as you get more. Protect and preserve them, so you can return to them . . . and return and return and return.



The Easy Life: How Work, Rest, And Meaning Intertwine​

We went on vacation recently and it was wonderful. Work has been pretty busy and pretty intense lately. We love what we get to do, but it sometimes feels overwhelming. The pressure gets weighty, even though it is mostly a pressure we put on ourselves. The expectations and deadlines loom and swirl. It is so nice to get to take a break, to relax and breathe and breathe a little slower.

There is a reason tourism is one of the highest sources of income for most municipalities. Whether it be a country or a city, people love to visit things. They love to get away.
All of this is nice and lovely, but it can be dangerous too.

Like most people, we found ourselves imagining retirement. We talked about what we would do and how we would just rest forever. I think we all sometimes dream about retirement as this kind of eternal vacation. A time when we just take it easy. We are free of the worry and work of life. Extreme comfort. A never-ending vacation.

The Meaning of Work

We are back home now and I am currently working. I hope most people feel this way, though I am not sure they do: I love coming home from vacation about as much as I love getting away. We adore our lives in Brooklyn. And, with all of its challenges, we enjoy our work.

I am not sure retirement is going to be the haven I imagine. Life needs meaning. And comfort is not the same as meaning. The thing that usually comes with that sense of stress and worry is a sense of purpose. We are worried because we are taking risks. We are stressed because we are doing something that matters. We are tired because we are working very hard at it.

Obviously, this is not true of everyone. A lot of people are just working to work. They might retire and prefer it. But they will probably just rest to rest. It won’t really mean any more or less than their working times. If we are worried and stressed for no reason, the reprieve of retirement is certainly preferable. But not ideal.
Retirement (or vacations, or rest) can become a sort of numbing. Its value is not in and of itself but in the absence of what was numbing us before. We replace one numbing agent with another. And that is not really the same thing as rest.

A Matter of Perspective

One of the things that most annoys me about living in New York is when people talk about how terrible life in the city must be. How they could not possibly live in a place like New York. I get what people are saying and I know they mean well. But if you cannot live somewhere, that says more about you as a person than it does anything about the inherent value of the place. I really think Kylie and I could live anywhere. We love nature and we love the city. We love crowds and we love privacy. We love the challenge of being around lots of diverse perspectives and the comfort of being around like-minded people. There is value in it all.



Want To Be A Better Dad? Here’s How To “Remodel” Your Fathering.​

As my wife will gladly tell you, I run very little risk of being called “handy” with a hammer or with any other tool. Indeed, it’s pretty clear that when God was passing out the carpentry and mechanical skills, I must have been busy reading the Wall Street Journal!

Given this genetic foible in my manhood, I have been forced to live vicariously through the handiness of others by watching episodes of home makeover shows or reading “do it yourself” magazines. In fact, I was doing just that when I can across an article that intrigued me. It chronicled the before and after remodeling of 19th century Harlem, NYC townhouse. Once a private residence, the three-story townhouse had later been turned into a boardinghouse and then abandoned. After many years of neglect, the house’s unique treasures and character were hidden: wooden flooring buried under layers of linoleum and vinyl, detailed woodwork smothered by a decades of paint and drywall, and beautiful pocket doors sealed up inside the walls.

Indeed, the new owner had much work to do, but he did it well. He painstakingly pulled the house apart and then reassembled it, using the dwelling’s original elements whenever possible. Mirrors, marble and wood surfaces were stripped and cleaned. And when repairs were not possible, exact replacements were milled and matched. He stated that his goal was to honor the past while bringing it into harmony with the present.
Being duly inspired by this article, I thought this renovation concept was the perfect metaphor to address one of the most frequent questions I get from dads: “How do I improve my fathering?” So, here are a few helpful strategies for those looking for a blueprint to “remodeling” their fathering.

1) Inspect your “fathering” foundation – When remodeling a house, there are few tasks more important than a thorough inspection of its foundation. Indeed, remodeling an unstable structure is truly an exercise in futility. This applies to remodeling your fathering, too. So you need to “inspect” yourself and consider some tough questions like:
  • “What do you think are the most important attributes of an effective father and how does your fathering measure against these attributes?”
  • “Where are you getting your concept of what it means to be a good father? From your dad? From neighbors or co-workers? From the media?” Are these the best role models?
  • “Is your fathering style “child-centered” or “self-centered?” “Do you really know your kids and what they need from you as their dad?”

Pretty tough questions but necessary ones to consider if you want to build a fathering foundation that will help you be the best dad that you can be.
2) Don’t be reluctant to get help – I suspect that when the owner of the Harlem townhouse first entered the place, he said two things: “What a mess!” and “I need some help…fast!” When remodeling your fathering, you may have a similar initial perspective. So, get help. Reach out to others in your family, at church, at work, and in your community. You never know, someone in your network may have just the perspective or strategy that you need to hear in order to solve a particularly difficult fathering dilemma.

I also encourage you to join a fathering group and if you can find one, start one. You don’t have to be an expert to do this. Why? Because good fathering is less about having all the right answers than about having all the right questions. And, if you are looking for great resources, I highly recommend National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) (www.fatherhood.org). No doubt, NFI has the nation’s largest selection of fatherhood resources for new and experienced dads. If you want to start a group, I suggest the 24/7 Dad Power Hour as a great starting point.

3) Check your “fathering” tool belt – There’s an old saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!” Clearly, having the right tool, at the right time, for the right job is one of the keys to successful remodeling and fathering. Do you have the right tools for the job? If not, there’s hope. Like most things in life, good fathering is skill-based and you can get the tools that you need to do it better. That’s why point #2 is so important. It will help you fill out your fathering tool belt.

4) Pick the right “room” – Experts say that you tend to get the most “bang for your buck” if you remodel your kitchen. In fact, they say that if you are on a tight budget and can only afford one remodeling job, the kitchen is the place to start. This advice is not surprising given that the kitchen is a place where families spend so much time. When working on your fathering, you too should be thoughtful about where to start to get the best return on your efforts as well. For example, do you need to work on the differences between you and your wife’s (or mother of your child) parenting styles?

Or do you need to enhance your communication with your kids? How about getting assistance in setting the right boundaries for your kids? Or maybe you need to focus on being more effective in the way that you discipline? A good rule of thumb is to start based on what your kids need most from you. Trust me. If you ask them, they will tell you!
So, there you have it. Follow this handy blueprint and get started now. After all, just like that old house in Harlem, your kids are unique treasures and may have hidden character attributes only you can uncover or restore.



How Can I Convince My Husband To Go For Marriage Counseling?​

Dear Terry,
Brian and I have been married for seven years and things are going downhill. There were a lot of red flags when we were dating but I ignored them because Brian swept me right off my feet and said he really wanted to make a commitment. But it’s becoming obvious that we just don’t get along.

We argue over little things and our two kids, Becca, 3, and Patrick, 5, are becoming upset and attention seeking. Becca won’t go to sleep on her own and Patrick has been having more temper tantrums.
Before Patrick was born, we already had problems but things started getting worse because we don’t spend time together and I have a stressful new teaching job. Rick comes from a very traditional background and thinks that I should do most of the errands, plus take care of the housework and kids.

It’s getting to the point where I feel resentful and don’t even want to have sex anymore. I know plenty of couples who both work full-time and share responsibilities but we just have an endless round of arguments that never get resolved. It’s gotten worse since I went back to work full-time as a teacher.

We’ve lost most of our loving and passionate feelings for each other and I don’t know how to get them back. I can’t remember the last time we had sex and it didn’t really repair things – we were just going through the motions. My friend Meghan is going for couples counseling and says it helps her marriage but Brian is resistant to going. What can I do to convince Brian to go to see a counselor with me?
Dear Kristin,

Yours is a common problem. What makes for a happy, fulfilled relationship? How can you prevent divorce? The good news is that there are some simple things you can do – positive steps – that can make your relationship better if you and Brian are motivated to make some changes.
One of the main ways you can determine whether couples counseling will help your marriage is your commitment to working on it. For some couples, marriage counseling is really divorce counseling because they’ve already thrown in the towel. For instance, one or both partners may have already decided to end the marriage and he/she uses the counseling as a way to announce this to their partner.

Sometimes, the problems in a marriage can be too ingrained and longstanding for the counseling to be effective. For others, they haven’t taken the time to choose a therapist who is a good fit for them. Hopefully, these issues do not pertain to your situation.
All relationships have ups and downs and work stress can have a negative impact on a marriage. You mention that you’re more stressed recently due to your new job and this could be putting more stain on your relationship. Since you just started a new job, this may not be the best time to make a decision about ending your marriage.

You also mentioned that you’d like Brian to do more chores and spend time doing things you enjoy. Perhaps if you discuss your work hours and responsibilities, you can come up with an arrangement that seems fair for both of you and will minimize resentment. Use active listening and “I” statements such as “I’d appreciate more support with the kids and house so I’ll feel less stressed” rather than a “You” statement such as “You never help out around the house.”

The key is taking responsibility for your own behavior and honest communication with your partner. Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman reminds us that friendship is the glue that can hold a marriage together: “Couples who “know each other intimately [and] are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams” are couples who make it.”
How can I convince my husband to go for marriage counseling?
  • Tell Your Partner that an Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure. A motivated couple can begin to explore their problems from a new perspective and can learn new ways to recognize and resolve conflicts as a result of the tools provided by the therapist.
  • Explain to Your Husband that It’s Easier to Work on Your Marriage in a Calm, Low-Stress Setting. A trained counselor has the resources and skills to help you get back on track.
  • Therapy sessions guided by a seasoned couple’s counselor can provide “neutral territory” to help you work through tough issues or to put aside “baggage” that prevents the couple from moving on.
  • Suggest that your husband attend four sessions as a trial and help you select a therapist so he is more engaged in the process.
  • Tell Your Partner you’ll be able to look ahead to the future with more confidence. Couples can decide to rebuild their marriage and make a renewed commitment, or clarify the reasons why they need to separate or end the marriage.

Studies show that focusing on developing shared experiences could help you and Rick rev up the love and passion in your marriage. Also, plan some intentional time together every day – like going for a 30-minute walk or sharing conversation over your favorite beverage. For marriage counseling to be effective, you both need to be willing to take responsibility for your part in the problems, to give each other the benefit of the doubt, and be motivated to repair your relationship. It’s important for you to have realistic expectations because it takes more than a few sessions to shed light on the dynamics and to begin the process of change.


Call Out or Call In?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . and you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free—John 8:32

We cannot mature in our faith without community. We just cannot. The process of maturing isn’t simple, isn’t smooth. It’s one of getting off track and getting on again—again and again. We need help with that. We’re designed to be together. We’re built to need one another. To "grow up healthy in God, robust in love" we need community (Ephesians 4:14-16 MSG).

To help, though, our communities must actually be capable of picking us up and getting us on track and encouraging us on. Our communities must be places where we’re willing to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking that way requires moving beyond simply being polite to one another—and ever ignoring or excusing sin. It also requires moving beyond just pointing out sin or shortcomings or what bothers us or what we think might bother God.

Speaking the truth in love doesn’t require us to call each other out. It requires us to call each other in—into true identity. It requires us to call each other away from sin (e.g., "you don’t need to do that anymore . . .") and into the identities God had in mind when he designed us, built us, and set us in motion (". . . because this is who you really are").

Okay, so what do we do?

Do you have a sense for the true identities of your brothers in community? Get serious about learning. Get intentional about allowing God to show you. When you meet next, have each man bring a favorite story or verse from Scripture. Read them. Talk about them. They’ll point to something true. If a man loves the story of Caleb, for example, it’s likely he’s designed and built to be brave and bold and faithful like Caleb. And his community must help him do just that.



What Jesus Wanted His Disciples (And Us) To Know​

Of the four Gospels in the New testament, I have a particular fondness for the Gospel of John – an account of Jesus’ life written by the disciple he was closest too. It is not a stretch to see John as Jesus’ dearest friend and confidante. It was John who reclined against Jesus’ breast at the last supper, and who leant back into him to ask him a question; it was John was self-refers as ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’; and it was John who remained with Jesus throughout his crucifixion, and to whom Jesus gave care of his own mother. John 19:25-28,

‘Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’

This was not part of the spiritual battle Jesus was fighting; it was the concern of a dying son for his mother, and for his dearest friend.

There is further evidence of John’s closeness to Jesus in the way he writes. Unlike the other three Gospel writers, he doesn’t emphasise signs and wonders, focussing instead on the words and emotions of Jesus. I take great comfort from John’s perspective, especially in the chapters leading up to the crucifixion. After 12 chapters devoted to the life and ministry of Jesus, John devotes 5 chapters to his words, giving us a unique insight into what was weighing on his mind at that time.

Chapters 13-18 are a deeply personal insight into the things Jesus wanted his disciples to know before his death, so let’s take a look at the priorities of Jesus – the things that captured and continue to capture his heart. See the personal way John writes about Jesus. John 13:1,

‘It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’

Jesus’ expression of these emotions was to wash his disciples’ feet – an extraordinary act of service from the Divine to his creation. When Peter understandably objected, Jesus emphasised the importance of the act in verse 8:

Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’

This remains true to this day. A life of faith begins and continues with accepting the service of God. It is an ego crusher, yielding to divine love, but it puts us in the right place to serve others. Verse 14-15:

‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’

A life following Jesus is a life of service. We follow his example.

Next he predicts his betrayal – not from a prophetic distance, but with obvious pain, and then does the same for Peter’s upcoming denial and failure. Verse 21 and 37-38:

‘After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’’

Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’

Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times!

Why did Jesus reveal these things? My view is that he was preparing them for the awful shock and tragedy they were about to experience. Life was about to get seriously dark, and for these few their hopes and dreams would seem to be snuffed out entirely. Even in the context of this troubling knowledge, Jesus was preparing them for his absence. Verse 33 -35:

‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come.

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

In Chapter 14, Jesus offered comfort to his disciples, warning them once again that they couldn’t yet follow him to where he was going, but assuring them that his absence would not be the end of their relationship with him. Verses 1-3:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’

Jesus’ concern for his disciples flows from every word:

  • He wants them to have some understanding of what was to come, so that they were not taken completely unawares. This is an expression of the heart of God in his dealings with us today. Life has its torments and tragedies, and he would have us cling to the knowledge that rejoicing comes in the morning. The New Testament is loaded with wisdom about how to approach trials and suffering, which for me are an echo of Jesus’ compassion and concern for his disciples in the run up to the greatest hardship of their lives. In my own life, I’ve drawn deeply from the overflowing compassion and comfort of God in times of trouble.
  • He even prepares them for their own failures. When morning came, and Peter heard the cockerel crowing, he must have sunk to the deepest and darkest state of self-recrimination. It should be no surprise that the Gospel of John ends with the reinstatement of Peter, on meeting the Lord by the shores of Galilee, where he’d first met and given his life to Jesus. Above all else, our God is a God of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. He is the God of endless chances to respond to love.
  • He urges them to focus on love, giving them a new commandment to hold to even in dark and troubling times. This too, is the very heart of God for us today. How well do we hold to it? How well do we love those around us and in our congregations? Are we wed to gossip, slander, factions, envy, and division, or do we fall in line with God as he builds his church, preparing it to tear down the very gates of Hell?
  • He shows them what service looks like and calls them to do the same. Love and service are the glue that binds us together. They are our greatest spiritual discipline.


Keeping Fueled & Aflame

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Take your everyday, ordinary life . . .
and place it before God as an offering—Romans 12:1

The author of Hebrews laid down a challenge: “. . . let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Eugene Peterson translated it as, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out” (Hebrews 10:24 MSG). What a great challenge for us men, today. It dares us to engage our God-given capacities for imagining and inventing. But, it also dares to direct these capacities toward good purposes, toward God’s purposes.

Too often we use our imaginations to envision prosperous futures for ourselves, futures of comfort and materialism and separation . . . or . . . we use them to envision worrisome futures, futures where our worst fears come to pass. And too often, we use our inventiveness to build our own prosperity . . . or . . . to build barricades around our lives to protect ourselves from our fears.

What if we stopped doing that so much? What if, in faith, we were to refocus these imaginative and inventive capacities? What if we put them toward the task of keeping ourselves, and keeping those around us “fueled and aflame” (Romans 12:11-13 MSG)? What if we dedicated a few moments―every week, every month―to look at ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, and allowed ourselves to dream and create? We wouldn’t be alone. God the Holy Spirit would be right there, in those moments, guiding us, inspiring us.

Okay, so what do we do?

It’s not easy to change how we think and how we act. We need help. Take a few minutes to pray and listen for the Holy Spirit. Be still. Consider the question of how you might encourage “love and good deeds” in your family, among your friends, in your community. Whatever comes―if it fits within the principles of Scripture―trust it and make it happen.



3 Steps To Achieve A Healthy And Balanced Relationship​

I hear over and over from women who email or meet with me: “Why can’t I allow myself to be intimate with my partner?” Or: “How come I feel like running every time he seems to take our relationship to the next level.”

For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel they are needed and appreciated for support they give. If they have been let down in the past, the prospect of needing someone can be frightening. Women with a fear of depending on their partner usually aren’t aware of it. Often, they complain that their partner is not meeting their needs but they don’t want to risk being close to him or her.

Our society prizes independence and it’s encouraged in divorced or high-conflict families when parents are preoccupied with their own issues. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with working hard and becoming self-sufficient. But at its root, extreme self-reliance is about fear of being vulnerable.

Take a moment to consider that you might be sabotaging relationship after relationship if you don’t get beyond your fear of being vulnerable. Your fear of showing weakness or exposing yourself to others, for instance, might be preventing you from being totally engaged in an intimate relationship. You may be freezing out the opportunity for love because you are fearful of sharing your inner most thoughts, feelings, and wishes.
Red Flags of Unhealthy Relationship Patterns
  • Are you attracted to partners who want different things from a relationship or have values that are at odds with yours?
  • Are you ignoring character traits or behaviors such as dishonesty, possessiveness, or jealous tendencies?
  • Are you staying in a relationship too long even when you or important people in your life observe that you seem unhappy or feel mistrustful of your partner?
  • Do you pursue partners who are distant or emotionally unavailable even though you know deep down inside that they will never meet your emotional needs?

Reigning in self-reliance will help you build a healthy relationship with a partner who is a good match for you. When you first discover that your independent nature sometimes prevents you from true intimacy, you may be unsure about how to change this pattern. It is often hard to decipher whether self-reliance is positive or negative. Becoming more conscious of your partner’s needs and the value of interdependence is critical to developing lasting love.
3 Steps to Achieving Vulnerability and Interdependence in Relationships
While all relationships present us with risks, they are risks worth taking. The following steps will guide you on your journey to being vulnerable and intimate with a partner:
  • Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about accepting nurturing and support from your partner. Resist the urge to be overly independent and self-reliant around hot-button issues such as money, work, or family matters – like where you might celebrate holidays or go on vacations. Full disclosure about important topics is essential if you want to build intimacy with your partner.
  • Visualize yourself in an honest and open relationship and work toward allowing yourself to be more vulnerable with your partner – let them nurture you and practice being more open about your needs. Vulnerability is a critical aspect of intimacy.
  • Remind yourself daily that it’s healthy to accept help from others and a sign of strength rather than weakness. Developing interdependence with a partner will allow you to become more intimate with them. Don’t let your fear of rejection or loss stop you from achieving trusting, intimate relationships. Surrender your shield and let your partner in.

Taking ownership of your own unhealthy patterns that prevent you from true intimacy is crucial to achieving a balanced relationship and interdependence. You must let others in and embrace the idea that you don’t have to go through life alone. Healthy partnerships are within reach if you let go of fear and believe you are worthy of love and all the gifts it has to offer.



You Can’t Have Your Intimacy And Your Control, Too​

When my husband and I married, I thought it was my responsibility to teach him how to do things the right way. (My way.) When he called me a control freak, I got mad.

But I didn’t know how to stop being a control freak and let my husband take over.
I disguised my control as “help.” As his wife, I made it my number one duty to help him.
He called me bossy.
I told him how to do laundry. He ignored me.

I told him how to load the dishwasher. He ignored me.
I told him how we should manage our money.
He ignored me.

Intimacy in my marriage vanished like frost on a sunny day.
He didn’t want my “help.” He said I was a bossy control freak. (I said that’s redundant.)
Do you have control issues in your marriage? Are you a control freak?
Even though I wouldn’t admit it at the time, I knew he was right.

I was a bossy control freak trying to get my way under the guise of “help”​

I couldn’t find it within myself to let him take over.
I needed to “help.”
For example, I tried to teach him how to separate laundry my way. I separated it by category and color. Whites, undies, towels. He just threw it all in together, which annoyed me.
Week after week, I’d tell him the proper way to do laundry.

Week after week, he defiantly threw it all in together.
The more I tried to control the laundry situation, the dishwasher situation, the money situation… the more he ignored me.
Fortunately those days are over. I’m a recovering control freak. He still does laundry wrong, but I’ve learned skills that allow me to accept it.

Early in my marriage, I didn’t have the relationship skills and didn’t understand how my bossy control-freakiness was affecting intimacy in my marriage.
I didn’t have the experience to know the more I tried to control him, the farther he pushed me away.
I now know when you try to control a man, he feels disrespected. He feels like you’re saying he’s not capable or smart enough to do the job. And in all honesty, I did feel that way. I thought I knew better. But I didn’t.

A man who feels disrespected is not a happy man or an intimate man.
In order to rebuild intimacy in my marriage, I had to learn to stop trying to control everything. It wasn’t easy. But to get the kind of marriage I wanted (or keep the marriage I had), it was necessary.

The strange part about giving up control–besides feeling like he’s going to mess things up–is you actually feel relief, and you can relax.
Doing all the work (or telling him how to do it) not only puts you in control, but it’s also exhausting.
Does the thought of letting your husband take over make you want to throw up?
I get it.

I want my intimacy and my control you, too.​

You can’t have it both ways. Letting go of control is important to intimacy in your marriage. The more you try to control the more distant he will become. He doesn’t want to feel like he’s married to his mother.

If you want intimacy, you can’t have control. You’ve got to choose.
Control is usually driven by fear. When you want to control the outcome, it’s usually because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t.
  • You ty to control the money because you fear going broke or into debt.
  • You try to control what he wears because you fear he’ll embarrass you.
  • You try to control what he eats because you fear he’ll get fat and have a heart attack.
  • You try to control how he takes care of the kids because you fear people will think you’re bad parents.
  • You try to control how he does laundry because you fear he’ll mess up the clothes.
  • You try to control because you fear you’re not enough.
The sooner you relinquish control, the sooner you’ll restore intimacy.
I had to learn to let go to restore my marriage.
Letting go isn’t easy. It’s terrifying. You may have to take baby steps like I did.

Pick one area of your relationship–finance, food, kids, laundry–and relinquish control. Just let it go. Try it for a day or so and see what happens. Let him do it his way or the way he thinks is best.
The more you let go, the more respected he’ll feel. The more respected he feels, the more loved you’ll feel.

The need to control will drive the intimacy right out of your marriage. Give up control and build intimacy instead.



What If My Husband Is Viewing Porn?​

If a wife discovers her husband has been secretly viewing porn, feeling “violated and disappointed” are understatements

What if you discover your husband is viewing porn?
Trust takes a huge hit. And intimacy suffers.
During an episode of a popular show on NBC, one of the main characters suspects her fiancé is viewing pornography.

She’s not upset. She laughs.
In that 10-second scene, NBC normalizes porn in relationships.
If a character on a popular TV show laughs when she thinks her fiancé is viewing porn, why can’t you?
If you discovery your husband is viewing porn, contrary to what NBC says, it’s not funny and it’s not okay.
Porn is a huge industry and a huge problem.
Seventy percent of Christian men view porn.

Other than the people raking in millions in the porn industry, not many have positive things to say about it.
It does not enhance intimacy. It damages it.
It’s an unhealthy way to satisfy a natural desire.
There’s nothing “okay” about it.

If your husband is viewing porn, it has nothing to do with you and don’t let anyone tell you that it does.
If he views porn, it’s about him. Men view porn for a variety of reasons. And you’re not the cause of any of them.
But if you discover your husband has been secretly viewing pornography, you might feel unattractive and violated. You instantly feel distanced from him, not closer.

And you almost certainly won’t laugh.

7 more reasons wives shouldn’t be okay with porn​

1. Porn gives your husband a distorted view of what he should consider attractive.
Porn makes sex about the body and not about the relationship. If your body changes, your husband may have a difficult time getting aroused.
2. Porn affects arousal in your husband affecting sex in your marriage.
In one of the most comprehensive studies on porn consumption ever conducted, researchers found that after being exposed to porn both men and women were significantly less happy with their partner’s looks, sexual performance, and willingness to try new sex acts.
3. Porn creates unrealistic expectations.
People think, “Your husband knows porn is fake.” Reality says he may be wishing you could do some of the things he’s sees on screen because that’s what “hot” sex looks like.
4. Porn can lead your husband to seek sexual satisfaction outside of marriage.
He may become dissatisfied with watching porn and want to participate instead of viewing, which could lead to engagement with prostitutes.
5. Porn makes sex with you seem boring.

And why wouldn’t it? Chances are you don’t have a 24 inch waist and perfectly shaped Double D’s. Women in pornographic films haven’t had three children. They don’t have stretch marks or love handles. Unlike real women, porn stars are always revved up and ready to go. They’re never tired and they’re always ready to try something exciting and new.

6. Porn reduces your husband’s sex drive.
Men are visual. After watching porn, he may no longer have a desire to satisfy you sexually. It might be too much work. When watching porn, he’s not concerned with satisfying you. It’s not about a mutually satisfying relationship, which may reduce his sex drive because sex with you is too much work.

7. Porn may be a sign of a deeper issue.
Porn is an addictive behavior. Sometimes stress or deep emotional issues can lead a man to view porn. His desire to view porn may have little or nothing to do with you. As disappointing as it is, try not to take it personally. Your self-esteem is not tied to your husband’s addiction.
If you suspect your husband is viewing porn, it’s okay to be mad.

Don’t ignore it. Talk to him.
As hurtful as it is, be careful not to sound like you’re accusing or shaming him.
Chances are, he already feels awful about it.

Encourage him to seek help, either from a pastor, counselor or a like-minded group of men.
Let him know you love him, support him and you want to help him.
As traumatic as this can be, tough issues can lead to greater trust and deeper love.



Mark 16:1-11 – How To Seek God​

Sometimes I have Sisyphean sissy fits.
“I want to see Jesus. I don’t see Jesus. Waaahhhhh!”
I sound like a child who was promised to see Santa but couldn’t.
Why Sisyphean? In English, the word “Sisyphean” has come to mean “”endless and unavailing, as labor or a task.” Or you might remember the myth of Sisyphus, in which king Sisyphus acts as if he’s equal to the gods and they punish him by condemning him to roll a huge rock up a steep hill. However, before he could ever get the rock to the top it always rolled back down, and the cycle would continue endlessly.

So why can’t I see Jesus in the midst of this life that seems so Sisyphean?
Here I am, reading and meditating on Mark 16 and the Resurrection of my Lord Jesus Christ. I know all the right theological things to think, I think. I could think about how strong God is to conquer death; I could remember to give thanks that He rose from the grave; I could even contemplate my own resurrection. All of these are wonderful things to think. And yet I still miss Jesus, and sometimes I can’t see Him or seem to experience His Resurrection.

I think it’s because I don’t have enough love or faith. At least I know I don’t have the love and faith of the women of the Gospels. Consider today the faith these women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – manifested.
First, they offer Jesus the firstfruits of their lives, including their time. Notice when they go to find Jesus: “very early in the morning, on the first day of the week” (verse 2). They don’t wait until after they’ve slept in, and they don’t wait until someone else has first gone. They are like kids the night before Christmas who rise as early as is feasible to go and find their treasure.

Is this the way I seek Jesus?
Do I seek Him first thing in the morning, with great anticipation and desire? Is seeking Him an urgent business for me?
Second, they go to anoint His body. They fully expect to see only the dead body of Jesus, and yet they still go early to anoint it. Surely this could have waited. But not in the hearts and minds of these women.

Is this the way I seek Jesus?
Do I seek ways to anoint His body, to beautify and glorify Him? Do I desire His glory so much that even little ways I can give Him glory are important to me? There are times when He seems dead to me, or actually that I seem dead to Him. There are some days when I don’t seek Him first thing in the morning and expect to see Him alive in my life. Do I go anyway? Half of seeing Jesus, I’m convinced, is making the effort to see Him even when we’re not sure He’ll appear.

It’s like that in our life with Him, isn’t it. Even in that sacred time we each spend with Him in our private devotions or corporate worship, we don’t always feel or see Him, do we? Maybe we’ve prayed one day and felt the power of the Holy Spirit or the joy of His presence. And so we return the next day only to find that it feels like we’re just going through the motions. What happens on the third day, the day after we’ve been disappointed? Do we still get up with joyful anticipation and seek Him? Don’t be surprised when He doesn’t come one day the same way He came the day before: He wants you to seek Him – not an experience or feeling.

And maybe if we sought Him among the living, that is, is His Body, the Church, we’d find a body to anoint and beautify and take care of, no matter how decaying that Body may appear to be.
Third, they went not knowing how in the world they would roll the stone away. For all they knew, they would find a dead Jesus locked in a tomb they couldn’t access. But, out of faith and love and hope, they went anyway.

Is this the way I seek Jesus?
Do I have the faith that can remove stones from tombs, or am I so limited by my human sight that I don’t even dare to attempt to find Him? Have I been so disappointed by a Sisyphean life or so drugged by life into a catatonic state that I no longer make the effort I once made to see Him?
A miraculous thing happened when these faithful women went out in these ways to seek Jesus: they found Him! Initially, what they found was an empty tomb. Then, the angel appeared to them, and only then did Jesus appear to them.

Even after they had made the pilgrimage to see Him, they had to wait. They saw evidences of Him, signs and wonders that led them to Him. And so don’t be discouraged, my soul, if you do not see Him at first, but remain faithful.

Seek Him with the firstfruits of your life, with passion and persistence. Come looking for ways to glorify Him, and come even when it’s a gray day outside and you’re tired and don’t feel like it. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see Him the way you expect to see Him at first, but come with hope and love.
Every day for the Christian is a day of resurrection for every day is a day in which Jesus Christ has already been resurrected and is one day closer to our own day of resurrection.

Every day begins with Jesus dead in a sealed tomb, as far as we know. It’s only when we rise with hope, seek Him with love, and persevere with faith that we will see Him each and every day.

Seek Him in this way, and see if He doesn’t happen to miraculously show up in your life today!
Prayer: O God, whose blessed Son did manifest Himself to these holy women who sought Him first thing in the morning; Open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we, patiently and passionately seeking thee, may behold thee in all they works; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Points for Meditation:

  1. What obstacles keep me from seeking Jesus with passion and patience?
  2. Consider the ways that He has come to you over the years, so that you may be prepared to find Him when He appears.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way to more faithfully seek Jesus today that I might more perfectly see Him.



Focus On Changing Yourself, Not Your Partner To Find Lasting Love​

What makes for a happy, fulfilled relationship? While this is a complex question that doesn’t lend itself to a quick answer, there are aspects of successful and lasting relationships that have been studied by experts and many approaches to pick from. The good news is that if you are in a relatively happy relationship, there are some simple things you can do – positive behaviors – that can make your relationship better.

While I believe it’s important to be vulnerable with your partner – to be open and reveal yourself without fear of rejection – it’s also critical to take responsibility for your own actions. While vulnerability can enhance intimacy between you and your partner, it’s important not to blame your relationship problems on negative traits that you see in them. Dr. Lisa Firestone writes, “The focus needs to shift away from how to “fix” the other person and toward a broader view of how to repair the relationship.”
A typical example is Tess and Kevin, both in their mid-forties and married for six years. “I’ve been miserable for some time,” complains Tess. “I’ve asked Kevin to be more sensitive to my needs, but he doesn’t seem to be trying. He always puts others before me.” To this Kevin says: “Tess just doesn’t accept me for who I am. She needs to be more tolerant of who I am.” The common thread in this couples statements is their focus on “fixing” their partner.

After 40 years of groundbreaking research, John Gottman has revealed seven principles that will prevent a marriage from breaking up. After reviewing his book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, I’m listing four principles that I’ve seen change the dynamic of a marriage in a positive way. Keep in mind that one of Gottman’s guiding principles for a successful marriage is the five- to-one ratio – meaning for every negative interaction in a relationship, you need five positive interactions.

1. Nurture fondness and admiration: Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities – even as you grapple with their flaws – and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day.

2. Let your partner influence you: Search for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement. Listen to their point of view and avoid the blame game.

3. Overcome a gridlock: Often perpetual conflicts go unresolved when we get stuck in negative patterns of relating such as the distancer-pursuer pattern – a tug-of-war where one person actively tries to change the other person, and the other resists it.

4. Create shared meaning together: Dr. Gottman found that couples who have an intentional sense of shared purpose, meaning, values; and customs for family life – such as rituals for holidays – are generally happier.
In Gottman’s acclaimed book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail he uses a metaphor of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (depicting the end of times in the New Testament) to elaborate on his theory of couples communication. This metaphor can be used to describe the following communication styles to depict the end of a relationship.

1. Criticism: According to Gottman, criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an attack on the person. Consequently, you are cutting to the core of their character when you criticize. For instance, a complaint is: “I was worried when you were late. We agreed that you’d call when you were running late.” Versus a criticism: “You never think about me, you’re so selfish!”

2. Contempt: When you communicate in this manner, you are being disrespectful – using sarcasm, ridicule, mimicking, icy tone of voice, or name-calling. The goal is to make the person feel despised or worthless.

3. Defensiveness: We all get defensive at times – especially when a relationship is on the rocks or we feel we’re being treated unfairly. However, defensiveness is a way of blaming our partner and not taking responsibility for our own actions.

4. Stonewalling: This is when one partner shuts down or withdraws from the interaction. Unfortunately, this becomes a habit and issues that get swept under the rug are never resolved – leaving the partner who feels hurt even more resentful.
The next time you feel like making a request that your partner change, be sure to examine the part you play. Notice if you can spot any of the Four Horsemen and then observe their effects on your partner. Don’t take love for granted or expect that your partner will alter their behavior simply because you’ve asked them to. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness. So next time you feel upset at your partner, check out what’s going on inside yourself – at the very least – pause and reflect before you place the blame on them.



You Want Control? You Got It!​

We all want control. The reason we are frustrated, the reason we make mistakes, and the reason we throw blame at others is because we are daily faced with the reality that we cannot control everything.

If we could control everything, we would never have to face rejection or disappointment. We would never have to be confused. We would never feel pain. And so, whether consciously or subconsciously, control is the thing we are after.

Out of Control

We are stymied at every corner. We are not in control. Or, are we…
Our worldview is so binary that we make control a pass/fail endeavor. In this regard, we obviously fail.
When we think about control, we are thinking about all things external. We want to control the way others feel and behave, like some sort of love potion. We want to control our circumstances so that the world would be different.

Think of it this way – if you were granted three wishes from a genie what would you wish? Most of us would chose to change external things – we would want money or even happiness (the genies usually warn they can’t make people fall in love, otherwise we’d always pick that one).

We want to control what is outside of us. And we drive ourselves crazy trying to manipulate people and massage circumstances so that they fall a little more surely under our control. Yet people and circumstances are resistant (they, after all, are trying to control us!)

In Control

The popular reaction to this is a binary surrender of control. I am not in complete control so I will give up trying to control altogether. So, we submit fully to others, to circumstances, to addictions and emotions. We plunge fully into the out of control idea.
We make ourselves victims.
The issue here is that we are in control… of some things. We do have control. Just not in the all-encompassing God-like manner we wish we did. We shirk responsibility. We neglect stewardship. If we can’t control the outcomes, we let the character decay.

The truth is, there are exactly three things we can control. But the catch is they are all external. They are about who you are, not what the world is.
The three things you can control are: your attitude; your choices; and whom you trust.
So, you want control? Great! Take it. Do it properly. Stop complaining about what you can’t control and accept what you can. I’m sure you would be a delightful tyrant if given the chance. But you aren’t meant to control everyone else. You aren’t meant to control the outcomes and the circumstances (heck, most of the time we can’t even understand them). But you are meant to take responsibility for who you are, to not throw off your internal stewardship. Control is yours for the taking. Take it.



Abundance Redefined​

Humans are made for abundance. But the question is “an abundance of what?” Life’s greatest challenge is discovering the truest source of abundance. We are promised it from all sorts of angles. Consumer products, religion, intellect, money, power, fame. We are searching for more and more and more. Our hearts are hardwired for an abundant life.

We tend to get it wrong along the way. Material abundance can lead us astray. What we seek to possess ends up possessing us. Our fear of loss can rob us of the kind of joy that only comes on the other side of risk. Sensual pleasures can become unhealthy addictions.

Conversely, all these things can lead to greater impact as we seek to serve. Through service, we are awakened to abundance. Our materials become a blessing to share. Taking pleasure in the right things can lead to a life filled with thanksgiving. And social abundance can provide the opportunity to be a great example.


It is well documented that human beings are never satisfied. We chase after more and never seem to find it.
One of the reasons for this is that we view abundance as a finish line rather than a resource. We think abundance means the absence of pain, the end of suffering and confusion. Perhaps it is most true to say that we are not suffering from a lack of abundance but a lack of awareness. We don’t see the abundance in front of us and so, having not recognized it, we continue to search, demanding it manifest according to our own definitions rather than according to the truth.

Our circumstances are not perfect. Abundance is an opportunity not a finish line. It is not a pile of money at the end of the rainbow. It is a never-ending supply of choices. Opportunity after opportunity to express who we are, discover the depths of truth, and participate in our vision.


Grace is the truest source of abundance. When we seek and live under the grace of God, we are equipped with the abundance for every good deed. Not just some good deeds. Every good deed.
God promises that if we share our material abundance His favor will more than fill up whatever we need to do every good deed. If we share our pleasures, and our social abundance, God will fill up whatever tank we empty. When we seek God’s way, he promises there will never be a lack of fuel to do every good deed. It is an amazing promise. It is an amazing grace.


Living in the Tension

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Set your minds on things that are above,
not on things that are on earth—Colossians 3:2

You can’t be successful in life without compromising. That’s a lie. You can’t get ahead without adopting the values of the places where you live and where you work. That’s not true. Now, there’s tension, of course. Our cities, our workplaces are part of the world, and the ruler of this world is the enemy (John 12:31, John 14:30, 1 John 5:19). That’s why arrogance, greed, and materialism often characterize these places and bring admiration and status, recognition and promotion. There’s tension because, while the enemy may rule the world—for now—he doesn’t rule us (Colossians 1:13). The one who rules us stands for humility, generosity, and love.

The lie is that we should try to ease this tension—that we should, by compromising, try to make things easier on ourselves. It’s from the enemy. It’s one he uses often:

"Go ahead. It's just the way things work in the real world."
"You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to compete . . . to survive."
"Relax. Everybody does it."
But we’re "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession" (1 Peter 2:9). To be that is to live in the tension. You see, we’re sent "into the world," but we mustn’t be "of the world" (John 17:14-19). When we’re willing to live in the tension, and only then, can this broken world feel the full weight of who we really are—who God intends us to be, with him.

Okay, so what do we do?

This week, when you walk into any situation—into work in the morning; into conversations with colleagues; into the schools your kids attend; into a restaurant with friends—declare ahead of time, in prayer, that you’re bringing the Kingdom of Jesus with you. Then act like it.


What God's Like

[ 1 min read ★ ]

I believe; help my unbelief—Mark 9:24

What should we believe about God? We’re told he’s big and powerful—so big and so powerful, in fact, he created . . . everything (Colossians 1:16). We’re told he sees everything and knows everything and can do anything (Isaiah 55:9; Hebrews 4:13; Ephesians 3:20). We’re told it’s always been so (Psalm 90:1-2).

"‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’" (Revelation 1:8).
We're also told, despite his size and power, he cares about each of us (Matthew 10:29-31); he loves us, no matter what, even to the point of laying down his life for ours (John 3:16); he wants to spend time with us and for us to know him (Revelation 3:20); and he protects and helps us and never wavers (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
We should believe all that, but do we, really? Most of us, if we were honest, would confess much belief, but some unbelief too. That’s okay; God can handle it. As his followers, though, we can’t leave it there. We must seek to learn more about him. We must seek to reconcile our beliefs with who he says he is. You see, how we see him, what we believe about him, affects everything we do. The "most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do," wrote A.W. Tozer, "but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like."

Okay, so what do we do?

Search your heart and mind, rigorously and honestly. Identify areas of unbelief. Then, be bold. Bring them to God, in prayer. Ask for help. Ask him to teach you about himself. Ask him to help your unbelief.



When Enemies Attack: Lessons From The Book Of Nehemiah​

When God anoints a man or a woman to do a great work, there will inevitably be resistance. That resistance can take many forms, issuing in a variety of attacks. Also, the greater the work ordained, the more intense and more subtle the attacks will be. This is a spiritual truth that anyone seeking to please God and follow Christ must be ready to accept. Perpetual blessings and comfortable lives are rare commodities for those heaven-bent on imitating Christ.

In the book of Nehemiah, we are told of the last canonical phase of Israel’s history prior to the advent of the Messiah. The work that Nehemiah is tasked to do is on a grand scale: rebuild the dilapidated walls of Jerusalem, so that the exiles who have returned from Babylon can once again worship Yahweh and live in the land in relative peace and security. This is truly a task of “biblical proportions,” in both the literal and (anachronistically) figurative sense. God calls Nehemiah specifically to carry out this task– this divine mission of restoration. It is the final leg in what has up to now been a nearly 100-year-long return of God’s people to the Holy Land.

The Set-Up​

Although scholars have wrestled with the difficult chronology of Ezra-Nehemiah, we can say with confidence that there were three main waves of returnees between roughly 536 and 446 BC (or, on another theory, between 536 and 501 BC). Sheshbazzar and Zerubabbel lead the first wave of returnees into the land. Under Zerubabbel’s leadership, the foundation of the temple is laid and ultimately the temple is rebuilt. This happens roughly around the year 516 BC, 70 years after the 587 exile at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.

After these events, Ezra, the priestly scribe, returns to restore the Law of God to the people. This is either very shortly after the temple rededication in 516-15 BC or a generation later in 458 BC. Either way, by this time the people of God have begun to repopulate the land, the temple of God is reestablished and the Law of God is once again present among God’s people, its authority reimplemented.

However, the city of Jerusalem is still in shambles. To accomplish the final stage of this fourfold restoration plan (People, Temple, Law and City), God calls Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the Persian king, to His service. Now Nehemiah will be serving the true King, not merely an earthly prince. Nehemiah returns to the land after receiving permission from Artaxerxes and focuses his entire being on repairing the walls of Jerusalem. It is in the land, in the Holy City of Zion, that he will meet the enemies of God, confronting those opposed to divine providence.

The Players​

Nehemiah is our hero, the anointed servant of God. However, there are other players in the story. There is the Persian king, who, regardless of his own religious loyalties and pagan beliefs, is nevertheless an agent of divine providence. Artaxerxes (probably Artaxerxes Longaminus , but perhaps Darius) releases Nehemiah from his service. In allowing him to undertake his mission, Artaxerxes ensures that God’s plan will unfold and His purposes come to fruition. This is in spite of the Persian king’s own ignorance of the divine decree. God works through even the mightiest tyrants and most tyrannical despots. That may be something to keep in mind today, as many suffer under the hand of various “strong” men, both in the East and the West.

Of course there are the other players too. There are the explicit agents of God’s restoration plan we have already mentioned: Sheshbazzar, Zerubabbel, Ezra and our own Nehemiah. These follow God and faithfully execute His will in service to God’s people, those present in their own time and the ancestors who have long passed. Finally there are the enemies in the land, those who out of spite, envy and the lust for power intentionally seek to undermine God’s work in the world. In the Book of Nehemiah, these enemies are embodied in three local rulers: Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshom.
There is a fourth type of player in the story, one that does play a role in the part of the narrative I will examine. That is the prophets– the mouthpieces of God. However, here too there are those who genuinely speak the words of God (Haggai and Zechariah, for example) and those who are voices of deceit and servants of Satan (Shemaiah and Noadiah).

In sum, there are four kinds of figures we meet in this story of restoration: the pagan kings who unwittingly do God’s will, God’s faithful servants who explicitly do His will, God’s enemies who explicitly try to undermine His will and two types of prophets: those that speak truth and those that speak lies. The focus of this essay will be on the methods used by those who intentionally seek to undermine God’s will and on how the faithful servant responds to them.

One Kind of Attack: Brute Violence​

From the outset, the local, Samaritan, Ammonite and Arab “authorities” in Israel: Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshom, are united against the work of God’s people. Earlier in the narrative, there is the threat of physical violence on the community at large. The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem infuriates Sanballat, who flies into a rage at the thought of God’s plans being accomplished.
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious. He mocked the Jews before his colleagues and the powerful men of Samaria, and said, “What are these pathetic Jews doing? Can they restore [it] by themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they ever finish it? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble.”
Nehemiah 4:1-2

This fury transforms into violent, physical aggression:
When Sanballat, Tobiah, and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the repair to the walls of Jerusalem was progressing and that the gaps were being closed, they became furious. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw it into confusion.
Nehemiah 4:7-8
The hatred of God and His people, and God’s plan for His people, often results in sheer physical violence. The history of the Jews, a true mystery in the course of human events, testifies to this truth. How this ancient people has survived pogrom and Holocaust with nearly every generation is a fact that causes many to contemplate transcendent, cosmic explanations. Yet, at the same time, the fact that no other ancient people group from the Bible still exists also cries out for a similar explanation.

The Culmination of Brute Violence against God and His People​

Of course, we see the same primal hatred most poignantly displayed about four centuries after Nehemiah with the coming of the Christ. First we see it in Herod’s rage at the announcement of the Messiah, a rage which motivates the command to slaughter the innocents at Bethlehem. Then, we see it most poignantly at the cross of Christ when the prophetic words of Isaiah are fulfilled:

He was oppressed and afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a Lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent
before her shearers,
He was taken away because of
oppression and judgment;
For He was cut off from the land
of the living;
He was struck because of
My people’s rebellion.
Isaiah 53:7-8
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!
All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Matthew 27:24-25

The same primal fury breaks out again at the beginning of God’s construction of the new Israel, which is the Church. After Stephen, the first martyr of the new ekklesia or community of God, announces to the Jews the reality of the risen Messiah, he is met with the same vitriol that met Nehemiah and Jesus. Nehemiah was attempting to rebuild the stones of God’s city, Stephen was proclaiming a new city, one made of living stones (see 1 Peter 2):
When they heard these things, they were enraged in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him [Stephen]. But Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
Then they screamed at the top of their voices, stopped their ears, and rushed against him. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him.
Acts 7:54-58
In sum, sometimes God’s enemies attacks with simple, brute violence– kinetic force as the military terms it. The Christian today must be ready for such attacks, albeit not necessarily desirous for them. This means that, like Stephen, there must be an openness to embrace non-violence and non-resistance, if one is being attacked specifically for one’s faith in Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel. Martyrdom is always a possibility for the Christian man or woman chosen to do God’s good work in the world.

An Historical Example of Great Report​

The are many contemporary accounts of acts of martyrdom, but I will mention just one recent one. In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, the American theologian who had invited the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer to teach theology in New York during Hitler’s rise to power, Bonhoeffer writes:
I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1939 Letter to Reinhold Niebuhr
Bonhoeffer realizes only a few weeks into his second visit to America that he cannot stay in safety. His call to Christ is a call back to Germany, back into the lion’s den (or, the Eagle’s Nest in this case). While Bonhoeffer could not have predicted his death, just as Stephen could not have predicted his, Bonhoeffer did eventually die at the hands of the Nazis. He was hung on April 9th 1945, just a few weeks before the Victory in Europe. It is this type of willingness to sacrifice one’s physical life that is the ultimate test of Christian faith–then and now.

Another Kind of Attack: Striking the Shepherd​

The next phase of the enemy attack is to shift from aggression against the whole community to aggression against the community’s leader. Thus, in Chapter 6, after Sanballat and Tobiah’s aggression against the returnees as a group is abandoned, their focus becomes Nehemiah himself. This is the typical strike the shepherd to scatter the sheep tactic, an indelible feature of human conflict.

The prophet Zechariah speaks about how this is not only a particular and contingent reality, but a universal truth of human existence. It is a dynamic so central to the human story that it is through an apparent strike to God’s final Shepherd that God’s enemy Satan believes he has defeated God’s ultimate plan of restoration.
Sword, awake against My shepherd,
against the man who is
My associate–
the declaration of the LORD of Hosts,
Strike the shepherd, and the sheep
will be scattered;
Zechariah 13:7
Nehemiah, in this sense, prefigures the final and ultimate shepherd of God’s people: Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written:
I will strike the shepherd
and the sheep of the flock
will be scattered.
Matthew 26:31

The chief priests, the Sanhedrin and high priest at the time, Caiaphas, carry out a plot of destruction against the Good Shepherd, in the same way Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshom carried out a plot of destruction against a good shepherd:
One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.
John 11:49-50
And so the first shift in tactics we see in Nehemiah 6 is the shift from attacking the entire community to trying to take out its leader. Sanballat and his comrades believe that if they can take out Nehemiah, the Israelites will scatter and the walls will remain in ruin. But how will they go about doing this without resorting to their prior tactic of outright aggression?

Three Attacks on Nehemiah: First, Delay and Distract​

The first non-violent attack on Nehemiah himself comes in the form of an attempt to delay and distract him from his task. It is subtle. But in human history, many are defeated both in the realm of physical battle and in spiritual warfare through this simple tactic.
Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no gap left in it (though up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?” 4 They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.
Nehemiah 6:1-4

While it may be the case this is a set-up to literally assassinate Nehemiah, it is not clear that physical elimination is meant here. The fact that the three foes send the same message four times in the same way, and that they imply they only want to talk, likely indicates their desire to simply detract Nehemiah from his work. Biding time is one way the enemy of God keeps us from serving the Lord. The idea being to get us off track just enough, so as to take us away from the centrality of our mission. Delays and distractions can engender apathy, one of the greatest weapons against the human will.
Delay tactics therefore are an important part of military doctrine. Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3-90 defines the purpose of delay operations:
54. The three forms of the retrograde are delay, withdrawal, and retirement. Joint doctrine defines a delaying operation as an operation in which a force under pressure trades space for time by slowing down the enemy’s momentum and inflicting maximum damage on the enemy without, in principle, becoming decisively engaged (JP 3-04). In delays, units yield ground to gain time while retaining flexibility and freedom of action to inflict the maximum damage on the enemy.
ADP 3-90, para 54 [emphasis added]
To win time without direct engagement is one of the Devil’s craftiest means of attack. The Devil knows that a direct attack by his demons, especially in a culture filled with skepticism, would likely have the opposite effect on the non-believer or apathetic Christian. Extraordinary manifestations of the demonic would quickly awaken us from our undogmatic slumber.

A far easier means to defeat God’s work in the world, or, at least, people participating in that work, is what C.S. Lewis labelled the “safe road.” It is along this soft, gradual path that Satan often eliminates his targets. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis points out how distractions are far more effective weapons than “extraordinary” attacks. First, the elder tempter, Screwtape, advises the younger tempter, Wormwood, on the practicalities of this method:
You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return.
Today we have far more opportunities for distraction than just newspaper columns and fireplaces. We have endless movies, livestream sports, television shows, newsfeeds and, yes, even Twitter to stare at for hours on end. The end effect of these “Weapons of Mass Distraction” is the gradual road to hell:
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Perhaps murder is no better than Netflix, if Netflix can do the trick!
Of course Nehemiah’s response to his adversaries’ delay and distract tactic is straightforward. He doesn’t go and he tells them why:
So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?” 4 They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5
In short, Nehemiah’s will to one thing (see Kierkegaard’s Sermon here) cannot be broken and, being unbroken, his heart remains pure in its desire to serve God. The enemy plot is foiled for now, and the mission continues.

Next Attack: Slanderous Insinuation​

The insinuation of a lie is worse than an outright lie. A clever enemy, therefore, knows how to mask their evil intentions by disguising them in language that seems aimed at the good, the moral or even the beautiful. This not only shifts the focus from the enemy’s own allegation to the target of the allegation, but gives the enemy of God an escape route, a way to avoid being directly implicated in his own lie.
The serpent’s words in the garden are not formal contradictions, they are slanderous insinuations. Satan does not tell Eve directly, “God didn’t say ‘don’t eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Certainly He said you may!'” Instead Satan poses the leading question “Did God really say…?,” and then goes on to falsely attribute to God, as if Satan is making an innocent mistake, a ban on the fruit of all the trees of the garden, not just this particular tree.

In a court of law, Satan could have been cross-examined and found innocent, since he didn’t really say anything that outright contradicted the truth. Adam and Eve did not die after they ate the fruit (not physically at least), and they did become more like God in one sense, gaining knowledge they otherwise would not have had, or, at least, not right away. Satan, like any good liar (he is the father of lies) provides for himself an air of plausible deniability. We can imagine Satan saying in a human court that he must have just misunderstood what he overheard God say, and claim he was only trying to help the poor naked woman looking for food.

Propaganda And The Mouths of The Wicked​

Those who desire control will often present their opponents as threats to the public good. Being evil, this is exactly what Sanballat does in the next phase of his attack on our hero:
In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem also says it—that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall; and according to this report you wish to become their king. 7 You have also set up prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘There is a king in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these words. So come, therefore, and let us confer together.”
8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind” 9 —for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
Nehemiah 6:5-9

Like Satan, Sanballat does not come straight out in his “open letter” and accuse Nehemiah of insurrection. Instead he writes, “It is reported among the nations…that you and the Jews intend to rebel.” “Really?,” one might ask, “reported by whom?” And, “Which nations?” This is typical of how the wicked lie, through the use of propaganda. Satan is not dumb, nor are his slaves.
But the damage is already done when such insinuations are made public. This letter, unlike the four previous attempts, is not a private communique. It is designed to stir up fear and dissent among the local population, a fear of Nehemiah that probably was not present beforehand. We can imagine the local farmer or shepherd upon hearing of the contents of Sanballat’s letter saying, “oh no, what is this Nehemiah really up to? He seemed like such a decent Jew!”
A second feature of slanderous insinuation is the covering up of the slanderer’s own intentions by accusing his opponent of the very same thing he intends. This is a hallmark of propaganda that French sociologist and theologian Jaques Ellul points out in his seminal work on the topic:
Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions. There are two salient aspects of this fact. First of all, the propagandist must insist on the purity of their own intentions and, at the same time, hurl accusations at his enemy. But the accusation is never made haphazardly or groundlessly.
The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit….The accusation aimed at the other’s intention clearly reveals the intention of the accuser. But the public cannot see this because the revelation is interwoven with facts.
Jaques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes [emphasis added]

It is not Nehemiah that desires power or to be a king, it is Sanballat and his cohorts. So, in order to take the spotlight off of their own covetousness, they try to shine it on their nemesis. After all, he is building a defensive wall. The accusations are false but not with out grounds. Thus, the public cannot see the true intentions of the slanderers, because there are some facts that support their claim. This is deceit in its most refined form. It is why men like Saul Alinsky dedicated his famous manual on dissent, Rules for Radicals, to Lucifer who “won himself a kingdom.”
Roughly 450 years later in Jerusalem, the leaders of the city would do the same thing to Jesus, falsely accusing Him of wanting power when, in fact, it was the scribes and pharisees who feared losing their influence:
Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do since this man does many signs? If we let Him continue in this way, everybody will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place and our nation.
John 11:45-48

The Contemporary Scene and Nehemiah’s Response​

In today’s political environment in America this is a preferred tactic of those who oppose God’s truth. Opposition research or OPPO is not novel in human history (we obviously see it here in Nehemiah). However given today’s technology and the ever-present media, we are inundated with an endless stream of slanderous insinuation. The consistent airing of other people’s dirty laundry, or, more precisely, the insinuation of dirty laundry even when there is none, is our culture’s preferred mode of attack. The perception of evil is just as effective in changing the tide of a battle as an actual evil, especially in a culture that moves as fast as ours.
But Nehemiah does not fall for the trap set for him. Thus we have another example from the Bible to model our lives after. And so we should mirror Nehemiah’s response, telling the truth and standing fast on what we know to be the case:
Then I replied to him, “There is nothing to these rumors you are spreading; you are inventing them in your own mind.” For they were all trying to intimidate us, saying “They will become discouraged in the work, and it will never be finished.”
But now, strengthen my hands.
Nehemiah 6:8-9
As such, when Christians today here such slanderous insinuations as “It is heard among the people that you Christians are homophobic” or “It is heard among the people that you Christians want to control women’s bodies” or “It is heard among the people that you Christians are anti-trans,” then we, like Nehemiah, can respond in kind: “There is nothing to these rumors you are spreading, you are inventing them in your mind.” In doing this, we can return to the business of doing God’s work on earth, for these slanderous insinuators are only trying to discourage that work.

Final Attack: Subterfuge and The Appeal to Self-Preservation​

The final attack on Nehemiah is the worst kind because it comes from within. When I worked in Army Intelligence there were counter-intelligence posters everywhere reminding us that “The most dangerous enemy is the one within your own walls” or a poster with a sinister looking face saying “He/She has a desk right next to yours: OPSEC” And of course there was truth in these advertisements. In the earliest days of the Church, the apostle John tells us that already God’s people had been infiltrated with false converts and false teachers. John calls these infiltrators “antichrists:”
18 Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. 20
1 John 2:18-20
In Nehemiah’s case this subterfuge from within comes through the voice of a false prophet, Shemaiah.
I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, son of Mehetable, who was restricted [to his house]. He said:
Let us meet at the house of God inside the temple. Let us shut the temple doors because they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you tonight!
Nehemiah 6:10

Here we see the most egregious form of attack, an attack on God’s anointed servant from within God’s people by someone masquerading as another of God’s servants. Could the deception be any more subtle than this! Yet, even this kind of attack is allowed by God to test our resolve and prove our faith.
Many, many genuine believers in Christ have experienced great betrayal from within their Christian community. One could write volumes about abuses at the hands of pastors or betrayals by spouses who claim Christ yet live only to frustrate the spiritual life of their godly husband or wife. Here the false prophet Shemaiah attempts to get Nehemiah to do one thing, something that would ruin his reputation in the eyes of those he is leading. That one thing is the temptation to self-preservation.
In the Gospels we are told that Peter does the same thing to Christ. Shortly after receiving and proclaiming the truth of the Christ, Peter tempts Jesus in the same way Shemaiah tempts Nehemiah:
From then on Jesus began to point out to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised on the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You!”
But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you are not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.
Matthew 16:21-23

But neither Jesus nor Nehemiah gives in to the temptation of self-preservation. The Spirit of God works in both Nehemiah and in Jesus’ human nature to strengthen their resolve. Later, in the garden of Gethsemane we see Jesus struggle once again with the temptation to self-preservation when he prays:
Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
Luke 21:41-42
In spite of the cosmic ordeal that lies before Him, Christ abdicates his freedom to the Father’s will. Nehemiah’s reaction to Shemaiah’s subterfuge is not as pure as that of the Christ, but nevertheless his response prefigures Christ’s willingness to fulfill the divine mission:
But I said, “Should a man like me run away? How can I enter the temple and live? I will not go.”
I realized that God had not sent him, because of the prophecy he spoke against me. Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired, so that I would be intimidated, do as he suggested, sin, and get a bad reputation, in order that they could discredit me.
Nehemiah 6:11-13

In recognizing Shemaiah’s false words and staying true to God’s call, Nehemiah avoids losing the respect of his followers and, in doing so, overcomes the last attack of his enemies. The end result is the finished wall of Jerusalem:
The wall was completed in 52 days, on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul. When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God.
Nehemiah 6:15-16
The completed work of God has an immediate effect on God’s enemies. Nehemiah’s faith, his focus, and his will to carry out God’s plan turns the tables on his adversaries. In the end they are the ones without confidence, intimidated by the handiwork of God worked through His loyal servant. All their machinations have come to naught as God’s plan of restoration is complete. Of course the completion of the walls of Jerusalem is only a foreshadowing of the ultimate restoration plan of God, which is proclaimed by Christ on the cross:
When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said ‘It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His Spirit
John 19:30

And just as Nehemiah in completing his task did not lose the people of God, so Jesus in completing His did not lose us.
What To Do, When Enemies Attack?

Conclusion: God’s Work Will Be Done, But Expect Enemy Attacks​

In sum, one should expect the enemy to attack if one commits to the authentic service of God. In Mark’s Gospel the “crowd” is often contrasted with “disciples.” James Edwards, commenting on Mark 2:1-12, highlights the difference between those who stand by and passively watch Jesus, and those who actively seek Him:
The throng in the courtyard is blocking a needy party [the men with the paralyzed friend] from reaching Jesus. The crowed stands and observes; disciples must commit themselves to action, as illustrated by the plucky squad of four. If an opening to Jesus cannot be found, one must be made. That is a description of faith: it will remove any obstacle–even a roof, if necessary–to get to Jesus.
James Edwards, Commentary on Mark, 75

The Christian serves an active God (a God who is actus purus, in fact). But many who sit in the crowd are inactive, apathetic to the call of Christ. This is understandable, because few of us want to face enemies. However, the reality of the Christian life was summed up by the German martyr Bonhoeffer, when he wrote these words:
When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.
I end with an account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own death at the Flossenbürg concentration camp:
A decade later, a camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s hanging described the scene: “The prisoners … were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
This is the Christian faith. Will you heed the call?



Grasping The Truth Of Romans 8:28 Will Change Our Perspective On Suffering​

One of the most arresting statements in Scripture is this one: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Different translations of this passage suggest different nuances: for those who love God, “all things work together for good” (ESV, KJV); “in all things God works for the good” (NIV); “God causes all things to work together for good” (NASB). In each case there’s an omni-inclusiveness in “all things.”

The context of this passage shows that in the midst of a world that groans under suffering and evil, God’s main concern is conforming His children to the image of Christ. And He works through the challenging circumstances of our lives to help develop that Christlikeness in us. We can be assured that whatever difficulty He has allowed in our lives has been Father-filtered, through His fingers of wisdom and love.

Todd DuBord pastors Mt. Lassen Community Church in Chester, California. Todd and his wife Tracy become dear friends of Nanci’s and mine over the years, and in 2019, we did an interview for his church together about suffering. Todd recently did a sermon on how to think about suffering, and shared a clip of me talking about Romans 8:28 and why God allows us to experience suffering:

Perhaps the greatest test of whether we believe Romans 8:28 is to identify the very worst things that have happened to us, and then ask if we believe that, in the end, God will somehow, truly use them for our good. Do I actually believe that’s true of everything, including His decision to not heal Nanci and to not prevent her from dying from cancer? Yes, I actually do. So did Nanci and so does Nanci now, more than ever. My pain in missing her is great, but while our relationship has been interrupted, it absolutely has not ended.
A few mornings ago I read the wonderful interaction between Jesus and Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died. It spoke to my head and heart, and I hope it does to yours:
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha believed it, not understanding all it entailed. I too believe it today, three weeks since Nanci’s life ended in this present world under the Curse and began in a world that cannot be touched by sin and death. I believe it more than I ever have because for four years I had a front row seat in beholding how a faithful and loving God tenderly used my wife’s sufferings, which were sometimes intensely painful for both of us, to deepen her trust in Jesus and to increase her love for Him, and my love for Him and her. I feel like I have just seen a four-year miracle unfold. The pain is still raw, but the joy comes in waves to overwhelm it.

I can relate to the perspectives of Malcolm Muggeridge, who reflecting on his long life, wrote,
Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained.



Is Codependency Stopping You From Getting The Love You Want?​

Recently, I asked a client this question: “What is it that stops you from getting what you want out of a relationship?” Her answer was: “It’s too hard to go through a breakup and to be alone.” My response went something like this: “Maybe it’s time to examine your fears and the ways you might be self-sabotaging.” I find that many people aren’t always aware that they may be excessively dependent on their partner to feel good about themselves.

So what can you do if you are paralyzed by fear or unable to risk leaving a relationship that is unhealthy for you? First, you need to acknowledge the anxiety. Fear doesn’t go away by itself — it tends to morph into something else. If you sometimes find that you sabotage your own needs in relationships, there could be many reasons. However, codependency symptoms are common for people who grew up in a dysfunctional home—especially if you took on the role of a caretaker.
According to codependency expert, Darlene Lancer, most American families are dysfunctional — so you’re in the majority if you grew up in one. She writes, “Researchers also found that codependent symptoms got worse if left untreated. The good news is that they’re reversible.”

Many people fear getting hurt emotionally and might flee a healthy relationship or engage in some form of self-protective behavior by staying in an unhealthy one. For many people, pain is what they know. Conflict is comfortable. Dealing with an unavailable, distant, or inappropriate partner is their “wheelhouse”. A partner who wants nothing more than to be with them and make them a top priority is alien.

Do you find yourself falling into one or more of these codependent relationship patterns?
  • People pleasing: You go above and beyond to make others happy. You might avoid confronting your partner about important issues because you fear rejection or worry more about his or her feelings than your own.
  • Define your self-worth by others: Do you care too much about what others think of you?
  • Ignore red flags: Do you ignore a partner’s dishonesty, possessiveness, or jealous tendencies?
  • Give too much in a relationship: You might even ignore your own self-care or feel that you’re being selfish if you take care of yourself.
  • Have poor boundaries: This can mean you have trouble saying “no” to the requests of others or allow others to take advantage of you.
  • Stay in a relationship with someone who is distant, unavailable, or abusive — even though you know deep down inside that they may never meet your emotional

In her Huffington Post article Why Women Stay in Bad Marriages, author Allison Pescosolido writes, “Nothing erodes self-esteem quicker than an unhealthy relationship. Many women remain in dysfunctional marriages because they are convinced that this is what they deserve.” In some cases, there is no need to end the relationship. I’ve learned that relationships can heal if people change. But in order to heal from an unhealthy pattern of codependency, it’s important to regain control of your thoughts and make your needs a priority.
Steps to Reclaiming Healthy Love in Your Life:
  • Visualize yourself in a loving relationship that meets your needs. If your current relationship is destructive, look at ways you self-sabotage and examine your own behaviors.
  • Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about your self-worth. You don’t need to prove anything to another person about your worth.
  • Notice your negative self-judgments. Be kind and compassionate toward yourself.
  • Remind yourself daily that it’s healthy to accept help from others and a sign of strength rather than weakness. Counseling, friendships, and on-line resources can be tremendously helpful to supporting you in your journey of finding a happy relationship.
  • Don’t let your fear of rejection stop you from achieving loving, intimate relationships. Surrender your shield and let others in.

Take a moment to consider that you may be freezing out the opportunity to love someone who can meet you half way. Author Karen McMahon writes, “By focusing on your healing and personal growth you will energetically transform your life and begin to attract others (friends, bosses, companions) who are your emotional equals.”