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Should Couples Stay In An Adversarial Marriage For The Sake Of Their Children?​

By far, this is one of the most commonly asked questions my clients ask me. The reason why this question is so difficult to answer is because every family is different and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to divorce. Also, the degree of conflict in a marriage plays a large role in children’s divorce adjustment.

Whether parents should stay together for the sake of their children depends to a large degree on the level of stress and disruption in family relationships that often go along with an unhappy or conflictual marriage.
An important question is: would the well-being of my children be improved by my divorce? If the answer is yes, then a divorce can be advantageous. However, if divorce will expose your children to diminished resources, such as more conflict and more difficulty parenting, the answer may be to stay with your spouse – at least for the time-being (unless there is abuse).

What is the degree of conflict in your marriage?
Another thing that all researchers agree upon is that the level of conflict among family members matters a great deal when it comes to looking at the adjustment of children overall. In her landmark book For Better or For Worse, Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington explains that while divorce might cause a huge disruption in the family – by two years later, stabilization and parenting skills have usually improved.

It’s clear that conflict between parents, whether it occurs in an intact, divorced, or remarried family is associated with a wide range of negative effects for children that may be ongoing.
In her thirty years of research involving 1,400 families, Dr. Hetherington discovered that the type of conflict children experience matters. She notes that high-conflict that involves the child, is physically violent, threatening or abusive, and conflict in which the child feels caught in the middle, has the most adverse consequences for children.

The main finding highlighted by Dr. Hetherington is this: while parental divorce may expose children to more risk factors for subsequent social and psychological problems, that association is moderate and the majority of youth (75%) reach adulthood as well-functioning individuals.

Here is a summary of findings regarding whether it is better for parents to stay in a stressful marriage for the sake their children:
  • Divorce is painful but sometimes necessary if a child is exposed to certain types of conflict or abuse. At times, the well-being of a child is enhanced after divorce but every family situation is unique. Whether a child will benefit or be harmed by divorce depends on how many resources and stressors are present.

  • Don’t expose your child to high-conflict that involves the child, is physically violent, threatening or abusive; and conflict in which the child feels caught in the middle.
  • Contemplate your child’s vulnerability to suffering negative consequences of divorce if it occurs. These factors include: the child’s temperament, gender, and a consistent parenting plan that considers the emotional, social, and academic needs of the child.
  • Consider the advantages joint custody or shared parenting if you divorce because research shows that children in these situations fare better than those in sole-custody situations (given there isn’t any abuse).
  • Encourage positive bonds between both yourself and your children after a divorce. This is especially important for fathers and daughters since this is the relationship that’s most vulnerable to disruption after divorce, according to Dr. Linda Nielsen.
  • If you decide to stay in an unhappy marriage it’s a good idea to seek individual and/or couples counseling. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute and stop the “blame game.” Apologize to your partner when appropriate. Be sure to make the apology specific and heartfelt. This will validate your partner’s feelings, encourage their forgiveness and allow you both to move on. Never apology in a cheap or inauthentic way by saying things like, “I’m so sorry you got so upset at me.” It’s better to say something like, “I’m so sorry for spending money on a trip with my sister without telling you, I won’t ever do this again.”

Research shows that many factors determine whether or not unhappy parents should stay in a marriage for the sake of the children. Whether you decide to divorce or not, it’s wise to consider marriage counseling before you make a decision.
If you choose to divorce, take comfort in the fact that most children of divorce are resilient and show good adjustment in the long run. On the other hand, with patience and hard work (and perhaps counseling) some marriages improve over time. The key factors that promote healthy and cultivate an atmosphere of admiration, respect, and tolerance between parents. Also, do your best to maintain a low stress home and minimize adversarial interactions in front of your children.



Change Your Patterns​

Today I went to wash my hands in the restroom and discovered they moved the hand towel dispenser to the other side of the sink. I reached up to dry my hands and there was a sign hanging to the right of the sink, where the dispenser used to be. After a few seconds of confusion, I noticed it is now on the left side.

“Has that always been there?” I thought. It wasn’t until I repeated this entire pattern a second time that I realized it had been moved.

Our patterns are so ingrained in us that we do things without even thinking about it. Our System One is so finely developed that we tie our shoes and wash our hands subconsciously.

To a large degree, these patterns are the heart of who we are. It isn’t all paper towel dispensers and shoelaces. It is also things like defensiveness, anger, and entitlement. These patterns develop after years of repetition, miles of worn track, and the constant drumming of reinforcement.

The Challenge of Change

When we set out to change, it feels impossible. There is the great tide of our System One that propels us continuously in one direction. A direction we are familiar with. A pattern that has developed and, in some ways, has come to define us.
Change seems simple in our minds. Just do something different. But it is a monumental task. We have to transform our patterns in order to truly change.
If they hadn’t moved the dispenser in the bathroom, I likely would have never considered how patterned my behavior was. Our patterns are so ingrained they fade away, so prevalent they seem to disappear even as they determine our course.


Part of our System One is a life of little inconsistencies. We want to change but we don’t want to face the factors that bring change about. The only way to change is for our patterns to become strained.

We love the idea that we can blink and have everything happen anew. We love the idea of a clean slate, a restart. But our patterns are changed by hard work and consistent choices, not by a snap of the fingers.
We cannot suddenly adopt new patterns without the learning and evaluation that comes from straining our old ones.

Strain is the only way to change our patterns. We have to do something different and feel the tension trying to pull us back into the original patterns. One new action or idea is working against years of developed and reinforced patterns. Even the one new thing causes strain. The familiar and the comfortable patterns fight for their way. But for change to truly occur, more strain needs to be induced. One idea against the tide of established patterns is not enough. Two ideas is better. Three different choices better still. There is a tipping point somewhere along the way where our patterns break down and begin anew. But we will never get there until we live in the tension, the strain, and the difficulty of change.

New Patterns

Strain happens when we start to notice evidence that the patterns are not working for us. This invites us to consider different options. The more we consider different ways of living, the more likely we are to change. The more we make different decisions, the more we develop new patterns. We cannot get rid of patterns altogether; it is the way we were made. But we can, over time, replace unhealthy patterns with better ones.

It will take some time – maybe a week, a month, or a year – but, eventually, the dispenser on the left side of the sink will be a new pattern for me. One day soon I will go in there and not reach to the right; I’ll go automatically to the left and not even remember this blog or that I’m doing anything different than I used to.

Often, the same thing happens in our lives. Change is generally slow. It seeps into us. It transforms us through the monotony of consistency. New patterns are changed patterns. And change begins with strain.
Our world is trying so hard to avoid strain, at least when it comes to personal character. And, consequently, we’ve stunted growth. We don’t change. We don’t develop. We only reinforce what we have always been. Changing our patterns means leaning into strain as an opportunity for different choices.



12 Signs You Have An Inner Control Freak (That May Be Coming Out)​

Has he lost that loving feeling?

Are you scratching your head wondering where it’s gone?
Your inner control freak may be driving it (and him) away.
Don’t think you’re a control freak?

Most control freaks don’t.
The problem with control is sometimes you don’t recognize it as control.
You see it as being helpful or honest or just wanting things done right.
But when you try to control the outcome because you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t, you’re a control freak.
Fear is the driver behind control.

When you try to control your husband, he feels disrespected.
That’s a problem.

When you try to control your husband, you send him the message that you don’t think he’s smart enough to do it right.
Honesty, early in my marriage, I felt that way a lot. I thought I was smarter than him or at the very least I knew better.

A controlled is not a happy man. He may tolerate it for a while, but eventually he’ll try to get as far away from you as he can.
If your husband seems distant or is cranky all the time, you might have a problem with control.
If your husband gets the message he can’t do anything right, he won’t to anything at all.

12 signs you have an inner (and outer) control freak​

  1. You ask your husband to do something then tell him how to do it.
  2. You tell your husband how much money he can spend or remind him not to use certain credit cards.
  3. You tell him how you would’ve done it.
  4. You re-do something he’s done.
  5. You speak for him or make decisions for the two of you.
  6. You shoot him disapproving looks, roll your eyes, suck your teeth or sign to let him know you don’t like something.
  7. You criticize him.
  8. You withhold sex.
  9. You give him the silent treatment.
  10. You ask questions that make his choices seem stupid. Is that what you’re having for breakfast? Are you wearing that? Does that match?

  11. You let him know what’s wrong with him.
  12. You telling him what he should or shouldn’t do.
Control destroys intimacy.
How to do you stop being a control freak?
Just let it go. If you ask him to do something, let him do it instead of correcting him or re-doing it.

When you feel the urge to control, ask yourself, what am I afraid of? Is this worth fighting about? What is the worst thing that can happen?
When you find yourself controlling, apologize. An apology is the fastest way to restore respect.
If you want to bring back that loving feeling, try letting go of control.



Gospel Of John Devotional Guide #2: John 4:27-7:29​

Monday: Read John 4:27-54

In this section, John stresses Jesus as the Word. Jesus speaks and things happen. John also notes that it is the Samaritans and not the Galileans who believe His word.

The disciples return from getting the food (27; cf 4:8) and see that Jesus was speaking with a woman. They must have been amazed to see that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan, let alone a woman, though no one dared to ask Him.

The woman leaves everything behind and rushes into the city and began asking if this was the Christ (29). Just like Philip had told Nathaniel about Jesus and urged him, “come and see” (1:46), so now the Samaritan woman brings many from her city to Jesus. John notes that the Samaritans “believed because of His word” (41-42). This will serve as a contrast to others who believe only because of His signs!

Jesus then appears in Cana. The earlier account in Cana (2:1-12) and this latter account (4:46-54) form an inclusio (a frame) for this section 2:1-4:54. This is confirmed by the fact that John refers back to the turning water into wine (46), which was Jesus’ first “sign” (2:11). And he refers to the healing of the official’s son as the “second sign” (54).
Those in Cana (in Galilee), however, were not as receptive as those in Samaria. After all, as John reminds us, a prophet is not welcome in His home country (4:44).

Jesus does heal the official’s son. John notes that Jesus heals the son from a distance and by means of His spoken word (50). The father, like the Samaritans, “believed the word that Jesus spoke” (50).

Questions to ponder/discuss:
  • The question of believing God/Jesus’ word goes back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve failed to believe what God had spoken and instead listened to the serpent. What are some reasons that hinder you from “believing the Word that Jesus spoke”? (One reason we come up with for not believing His word is that “He never speaks to me.” To which I would respond, “we have 66 books of His word written to you”).
  • Read Psalm 1:1-3: meditate on the Word day and night!
  • Note Proverbs 1:7: this is a good verse to summarize the message of John!



Tuesday: Read John 5:1-47

In John 5-10, John depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of major Jewish festivals. John will mention a festival (Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles) and then show that Jesus either fulfills its primary symbols or that He has authority over the festival itself.

Jesus returns to Jerusalem for “the feast” (1). Jews were required to travel to Jerusalem for three different feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—though most made it to only one of the three). So, we presume that it is one of these three feasts that Jesus is in town for.

NB: If this feast is the Passover, then we may conclude that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3½ years—since it would have spanned 4 Passovers (cf 2:13; 6:4; 13:1).

In this chapter (5:1-47), the Sabbath (which is technically a weekly festival) is fulfilled in Jesus. The chapter is set up almost as a trial scene of sorts.
[2] Jesus’ miracle of healing a paralytic serves as the evidence. The problem is that Jesus healed the paralytic on the Sabbath (9).

The issue of what was permitted on the Sabbath comes from various Jewish expectations and interpretations of the Law. The Jewish authorities had discerned 39 categories of sabbath violations.

NB: we tend to scorn the Pharisees for their “legalism.” This is not a helpful way of reading the NT. They believed it was their obligation to help the people know how to apply the laws in their present context. Jesus’ conflict with them centered around the fact that they were more concerned about maintaining their status in society and the privileges that came with it, than they were with helping the people.

In these 39 provisions, healing was only permitted if it were necessary to save a life. That the man Jesus heals had been an invalid for 38 years suggests that He could have waited another day! Jesus again heals by His spoken word (8).

Jesus answers their complaints (17) (even though no questions were mentioned), by saying, “I’m only doing what my Father does!” (17, 19).

The Jews believed that God continues to work on the Sabbath. After all, He sustains creation (Heb 1:3) and gives life on the Sabbath—babies are born on the Sabbath! Since God works on the Sabbath and is not violating it, Jesus reasons, neither am I! After all, Jesus argues, the son is to learn the trade of his father. The Jewish authorities recognize Jesus’ words as blasphemous, because “He was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (18).

Jesus adds, that even though His own testimony is valid in and of itself (31), He has other witnesses. There is the witness of John the Baptist (33-35). Jesus’ own works testify who He is (36). The Father also testifies (37-38). And Moses testifies (46).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Again, we are left with the question of whether or not we are willing to believe what Jesus has spoken? For instance, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors so much that we are willing to lay down our lives for them. Do we believe these words so that we are willing to do what He says? Or are we too more concerned with maintaining our status?



Wednesday: Read John 6:1-40

In 6:1-71, John portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of the Jewish feast of Passover by noting that Jesus is the bread of life.

In John 4, Jesus offers the woman at the well the gift of water that would become “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (4:14). Now, Jesus offers the gift of bread that also gives “eternal life” (27). Note that the living water (4:10) is the Holy Spirit (7:37-39) and is given by Jesus (4:10). And the Bread of life is Jesus (6:35), and the giver is the Father (32).

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-14) is the only miracle listed in all four Gospels. For John, it is important because Jesus uses this occasion to announce that He is the Bread of Life.

That the Bread Jesus gives “comes down out of heaven” (38) reminds the readers of the manna that Moses fed the Israelites; which also came down from heaven (33; Ps 78:24). Note that Moses’ two miracles were the provision of bread/manna and the passing through the sea.[3] Thus, John follows the story of Jesus’ multiplying bread with Jesus’ walking on the water! Jesus is greater than Moses!

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Jesus’ exhortation “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (27) sounds a lot like Luke’s teaching on the kingdom. The difference is that John substitutes “eternal life” for “kingdom.” For both John and Luke, the command is that we should work towards what is eternal.
  • This, of course, opens up a rabbit hole of questions pertaining to “what is eternal?” To address this briefly, we might note that love is eternal (1 Cor 13:8). Based on the resurrection of Jesus, we would also note that there is a physicality to eternity. In other words, that which is eternal is more than just the “soul” and “heaven.” Perhaps the best way to phrase it is that the things pertaining to the kingdom of God last forever (justice, love, kindness, persons, creation, etc), and the things pertaining to the kingdoms of the world (hate, power through violence, injustice, death, etc) do not last forever. Make it your prayer and effort to “seek first His kingdom” (Matt 6:33).



Thursday: Read John 6:41-71

John 6:41 is quite explicit: Jesus declares Himself to be the Bread of Life (33; think of the manna that Moses provided). John notes that the “Jews were grumbling” (41). This is exactly what the Israelites were doing (“grumbling”) in the account of the manna from heaven (Exod 16:1; Num 14).

Jesus replies that they cannot believe in Him unless they are drawn by the Father (44). The result is that those who are drawn to Him will be “taught of God” (45). And they will believe and gain eternal life (47).

Jesus again affirms that He is the Bread of Life (48). He is the living bread that came down out of heaven (51). To eat of this bread—that is, Christ—is to partake of eternal life (51). This sounds just like the promise in the Garden related to the Tree of Life. If Adam and Eve were to eat from that tree they would live forever (Gen 3:22). Of course, this doesn’t make sense to those listening to Jesus (it baffles many today as well). To make matters worse, Jesus adds, “and drink His blood” (53) to the equation.

This leads “many of His disciples” to grumble (60-61). It is important here to recognize that when John says “disciples” he has in mind a wider group of people who were following Jesus. Well, they were following Jesus until now! John notes, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (66).

Jesus then asks the “12” if they want to leave. Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (68).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Too often passages like this are dealt with in a sort of either/or frame of mind. It is suggested that either Jesus was talking about literally eating and drinking His body/blood, or He was talking about metaphorically eating and drinking His body. This sort of either/or approach is actually the product of modern enlightenment thinking and does not reflect well what Jesus would have meant.
  • We know that when Jesus says that we must eat and drink Him that He was talking about “believing in Him” (see John’s note in 6:64). But could it be that Jesus means by believing in Him that we also literally look to Him as our source of bread and water—maybe not in a cannibalistic way, but in the sense that we find our nourishment in Him and the Spirit? This is more than just “believing” it is “believing and partaking.” If you have access to a body of believers in which you are able to take communion, I encourage you to do so and to recognize that you are both “believing and partaking” of Christ. (when we get to 1 Corinthians, we will add another element to our understanding of communion).



riday: Read John 7:1-39

The events of John 7-8 take place during the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (2). Once again, John portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of this feast! In order to understand what John describes in these chapters, we need to reflect a bit on the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Feast of Tabernacles occurs every year in the Fall. It commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from Egyptian slavery, as well as their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness: during which time they lived in tents (hence, the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths). The Feast was also associated with the ingathering of the Fall harvest (grapes and olives—tree and vine). Most significantly it was connected with the formation of the nation of Israel—thus it was a very political event taking place in the midst of the Roman world. During the time of the NT, the Feast also looked forward to a new Exodus when they would be set free from Roman oppression and a renewed Israel would be established.

The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the 3 major feasts in Israel for which the Israelites were required to attend (most attended only one of the 3: Tabernacles, Passover, and Pentecost). Tabernacles may have been the most popular of the feasts because it was associated with joy. Tabernacles lasted seven days with a special festival assembly on the 8th day.

During the Feast of Tabernacles, there was much dancing in the courtyards of the Temple, and massive lights and torches were lit that illuminated much of Jerusalem each night (this was a significant thing in the ancient world). Each day there was a processional led by the High Priest that began with the drawing of water from the pool of Siloam and carried to the Temple. During the processional, the people sang the Hallel Psalms (113-118). This singing climaxed with the singing of “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success” (Ps 118:25).

Jesus encounters the Jewish authorities in dialogue. Again, He asserts that He was sent by the Father (16). They were still angry with Jesus because He healed a man on the Sabbath (5:1-17).

Some begin to wonder if Jesus might be the Christ/Messiah (26). But they discount it because they, “know where Jesus is from”; but, they reasoned, no one knows where the Messiah comes from (27).

This is one of many instances of John’s use of irony. John expects his readers to see the irony of the fact that the people conclude that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because they “know where He is from,” but we (the readers) know that Jesus is from God and that they don’t know this (29).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • The story of the coming of Jesus, sent from God, in the Gospel of John reminds us of a key question: “would we have been like the Jewish authorities and rejected Jesus because He didn’t match what we were expecting, or what we were wanting”?
  • John is clear: one of the reasons they rejected Jesus is because they were seeking their own glory—which, he says, came from one another (5:41-44). In other words, we have been asking if we are willing to believe that Jesus really is the source of life? —and by “believe” we mean a wholesale belief that transforms our very being. Or do we “believe” just enough so that we can go to heaven, but not enough to where it actually makes a difference in how we live and love? For John, there is a huge difference. One form of belief gives life, and the other does not.


Can You Handle The Truth?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . woe to him who is alone when he falls
and has not another to lift him up—Ecclesiastes 4:10

Support and encouragement are crucial for friendship, of course. But by themselves, they aren’t enough—not even close. True friendship requires more. The kind of friendship God intends requires that we look deeper, that we try to see things only friends can see. And it requires that we tell the truth (Ephesians 4:15). So, when friends are stuck or struggling with denial or passivity or sin, true friendship requires that we face awkwardness or embarrassment or fear of rejection head-on, and that we name problems honestly (though gently, too) and make every attempt to challenge and push, rescue and restore (Galatians 6:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). True friendship requires that we go "all in." It requires that we be willing to initiate tough conversations, when tough conversations are needed.

The inverse, of course, is that we need friendship like that too. To lead robust, upright lives, we too need friends who are willing to be honest. To lead robust, upright lives, we too need friends who, like God, love us too much to let us to get stuck or struggle on our own. To lead robust, upright lives, we too need friends who are "all in" and willing to initiate tough conversations. We must be intentional about surrounding ourselves with such men . . . and, as hard as it might be, we must be willing to learn how to hear honest feedback without indignation, defensiveness, or counterattack.

Okay, so what do we do?

Have you explicitly empowered any man, or group of men, to search you and know you? Have you let any man, or group of men, know your entire story and explicitly empowered him, or them, to speak honestly into your life? If you haven’t, steel your courage and take that step. It’s one most men will never take.



Setting God-Honoring Boundaries For Purity: Advice For Women From Wise Christ Followers​

A reader commented on one of my blogs about sexual purity and Christian leaders:

I have appreciated your thoughtful response. I do wish you could do an article on how to protect yourself from ungodly leaders claiming to be spiritual… I am dumbfounded when I read about a wife texting a “godly” leader and she hasn’t shared her texts with her husband from the beginning. …she should be communicating with a husband-wife team and possibly have another woman she trusts reading the responses as well. Being asked to send photos of yourself, not to mention nude photos should be a definite alert. How did it even get to that point? Being asked to keep things secret is always an alarm point for me, and I let people know I keep myself free to always share things with my parents since I don’t have a husband. It saves me a lot of trouble if I let people know that upfront.
Let me be absolutely clear upfront. This blog is not about blaming victims of sexual abuse or about excusing the abuses of leaders. (Nor is it about women being the problem.) As I’ve written before:

Sexual involvement with one who has come to seek emotional help or spiritual guidance should not only be considered fornication or adultery—it should be considered sexual abuse. Sexual activity that comes out of a ministry context is comparable to child sexual abuse, where the supposedly mature and stable adult figure takes advantage of his or her authority and credibility to initiate or allow a sexual encounter with the immature and vulnerable. In such cases, the person in ministry is not a victim but a predator. And it is all the worse because we are trusted representatives of Christ.
[When some have] said, “These were adult women who were consenting adults,” they failed to recognize the imbalance of power between an established Christian leader with great verbal skills who is in the obvious power position and who exerts influence on someone. While it isn’t a righteous response, it’s understandable that someone could not only be flattered by the man’s interest but also reason, “I thought doing this was wrong, but he knows the Bible far better than I do, maybe it’s really okay.” Is that rationalizing? Of course. But when Jesus talked about abusive leaders being wolves among the sheep, surely he wasn’t putting equal blame on the sheep as on the wolves.
Obviously it is sin for anyone to commit adultery, either to initiate it or to voluntarily engage in it. But the greater sin is committed by the one who uses his or her power position to manipulate or seduce another. All sins are evil (James 2:10) but Jesus spoke of “greater sins” (John 19:11). All sin is wrong, but some sins are worse than others (Matthew 10:14-15).

This is why we need to create a culture in our churches and ministries where when people bring up concerns about a leader’s actions, they are taken seriously and the claims are thoroughly investigated, not automatically dismissed based on the leader’s word alone.

Still, I believe it is wise for Christian women, just like men, to have clear boundaries when it comes to purity and relationships, and to teach boundaries to their children and teens. This isn’t about legalism or about earning our salvation, or about following a list of rules just to appear more godly. It’s simply about being wise, and honoring God in our choices by guarding our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). (And as I’ve written before, because boundaries protect us, they actually bring freedom and joy, not misery and confinement.)

The following advice comes from a Revive Our Hearts conversation between Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Mary Kassian, two sisters I greatly appreciate. Though this is geared towards women, the principles are applicable to both men and women:

Nancy: I know when I’ve talked in the past about hedges and boundaries on this program, invariably we’ll get emails from listeners saying, be more specific. “What are some of your hedges? What are some of your boundaries?” I’ve always been hesitant to do that because I don’t want to say that the hedges that I’ve put in place in my life are exactly in every detail what someone else should put into their life. But I have found that women have been helped as I’ve been willing to share some of the practical hedges that I’ve put into my life.
I’m a single woman. Mary, you’re a married woman. [Note: Nancy married Robert Wolgemuth in 2015.] Let’s just for the sake of mentoring and encouraging women who are listening and may not have been mothered, may not have been counseled in some of these practical areas, let’s start with you as a married woman. You love Brent. You’ve been married thirty years now. You want to protect your marriage. You want to guard your own heart. So what are some of the practical ways that you’ve set out to establish hedges and boundaries to protect that relationship?
Mary: One of the practical ways is what I call a seclusion hedge. And that is to ensure that I interact with men that I am not married to, men who are other than Brent, in a public venue and not in a private venue. I avoid places that are secluded. So if I’m meeting with someone, a colleague, it will be in a room where others can watch or that has glass doors, or glass windows, or we leave the door open. I avoid being in secluded, private, isolated places with men that I’m not married to.
Nancy: I know we practice that within our ministry. I don’t meet in a room alone with a man without the door being ajar or windows in the room. Some people see that kind of thing and think that seems so extreme. That seems obsessive. Yet I’m thinking, if you don’t violate that seclusion principle, you’re unlikely to be in an emotionally or physically adulterous relationship. People probably never have an affair with someone that they’ve never been alone with in a private setting.
You can call it obsessive. But I so value the marriages of my colleagues and the men that serve in our ministry, the men that I work with. I’m thinking it’s worth it for them and for me, for their marriages, for my life, to put some of those boundaries up. Is this a biblical mandate to keep the doors open? I’m not going to call it that, but I think there’s a lot of wisdom in it.
Mary: I think there is a lot of wisdom in it. Proverbs tells us that the wise person foresees danger and takes precautions.
Nancy: Prudent.

Mary: Is very, very prudent. It’s just a smart thing to do. When Brent does that for me, I appreciate that I know that he’s not going to be having meetings off somewhere with a woman alone. And he knows that I will honor him in the same way. It’s just a way of respecting my marriage, and it’s a way of respecting the marriages of other people as well.

Nancy: I think another way of putting up appropriate hedges and boundaries is in the whole area of communication. This is something that I’ve watched just take down a lot of women and a lot of marriages. The whole email/Facebook communication; how can we think about that in a wise way rather than a wild way.

Mary: Well, I think that we need to be careful with where we go in our communication. If I communicate with someone other than Brent, another man, I try to avoid really personal topics. I can confide in girlfriends, but I can’t confide in other men. If I’m having a heartache, or if I’m having something very personal going on in my life, or if I’m having a struggle in my marriage, it’s just inappropriate for me to be sharing personal information.
If I do share personal information, I need to be very cautious to share that information in a way that my husband is aware that I’m sharing it or that he is included in it. So if I’m saying something personal, how I really enjoyed church this weekend, I might type something like, “My husband and I really enjoyed being at church this weekend.” Or I would use “we” phrases and always make sure to make it very clear that I am married and I’m committed to my marriage. I am not just an “I;” I am a “we” in terms of being a couple. That just draws that boundary very, very clearly right up front that this is place, this is a line that is not getting crossed.

Nancy: I know some couples who have practically handled that in relation to their Facebook account. They don’t have their own individual Facebook accounts; they have a Facebook account. If they’re going to do it all, together. It has both of their names on it. So when you’re communicating with the one, you realize the other partner has access to that, is seeing that material. I think that helps keep away from private or secret communication that could become a time bomb waiting to go off.

Mary: It really could become one. I appreciate Brent often will CC me on an email if he’s communicating with a woman and needs to set something up or tell her something. If it’s just purely business, he doesn’t always do that. But if there’s anything of a private or personal nature, he’ll CC me on it, or he will tell me about it. I will do the same for him. That just really honors, it nails down those hedges and boundaries. It honors our marriage. It keeps us safe.

Nancy: I don’t want to belabor the point too much, but I think as much as we have seen of emotional adultery, sometimes leading to physical adultery, but illicit relationships being fueled through email, through Facebook, through instant messaging, through various social media, these things can be great blessings if they are used in a wise way. But we’re seeing just monumental collapse of trust and covenant and breaches of fidelity and faithfulness through these means.

I talked recently with a couple, a man who is in full-time Christian ministry. His wife has become addicted to Facebook, and through means of Facebook she has reconnected with an old sweetheart who she is now carrying on an emotional affair with, and it is devastating her marriage. I assume it’s devastating his as well in his situation.
But this is something that is rampant even among believers. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’m going to have an affair.” They first breach smaller, individual, single hedges or boundaries and then find that leading to another, leading to another, leading to another larger compromise. And it’s like Proverbs says, “The end leads to death” (see verse 27).

Mary: It does lead to death. You and I have both seen it numerous times where just a little compromise, because it’s not sin just to send an email, and it’s not sin to share a little bit, and it’s not sin to share a little bit more. But there’s an erosion that takes place, and a chipping away at those boundaries. Those boundaries get pushed to different levels and different places. And you cross more and more boundaries until every boundary is crossed, emotionally, if not physically.

So to protect ourselves, to keep ourselves safe, to keep ourselves pure, to honor our marriages and the marriages of those around us, we do need to establish those types of boundaries.



How To Deal With Past Hurts And Resentments In Marriage​

When my husband and I got married shortly after I graduated college, I waged a personal vendetta against him which dated back to high school.
Sounds crazy, right? Why would I marry someone I harbored resentment against? I was hurt by something that had happened in the past, and I refused to let it go.
It should’ve been settled long ago, and it was…for him. Long before he’d asked me to marry him, he’d put the incident in a box and stuck it way back in the corner of his mind.
Not me.

Click here for Get Your Husband’s Attention in 5 Days Challenge (without getting naked)! and other resources

It was such a tiny thing, but it burrowed down into my heart and took root where I nursed and cared for it. And like anything that’s well cared for, it grew.
I put the incident in a prominent place in our lives. I wielded that thing like an ancient torture device against my husband. If we had a problem, I’d pull it out. My attitude was killing my marriage before it got started.

The problem with holding onto old hurts is you accumulate new ones. Little hurts become bigger ones when we nurse them and pile new ones on top.
We say we want a harmonious relationship, but when we let hurts get in the way, it becomes difficult. There’s nothing more dangerous to a marriage than unhealed hurts.

We all have a default setting called “human.” When we default to human, our selfish, retaliatory nature comes out like a roaring lion. We think the other person deserves to hurt like they hurt us. We justify our feelings as “righteous.” But, God doesn’t.
I had to make a decision to let it go. I still have to decide to let go of things that hurt me, if I want a healthy marriage.

Maybe you’re holding on to something that has happened in your past. Maybe it’s not a hurt your husband caused. Maybe it’s a wound inflicted by someone else in your life.
Letting go of past hurts isn’t easy, but it is necessary.
Here are steps I use when working through hurts or resentments in my marriage:

1. Pray
Tell God how you feel. He’ll understand. Tell Him you’re angry or hurt or lonely. He’ll comfort and reassure you. He may even give you a new attitude towards the situation. He might even make you aware of your contribution to the situation.

2. Forgive yourself
This is harder than it sounds because many times when we’re hurt, we blame ourselves to a certain degree. Maybe we’ve done something to contribute to the situation. I partly blamed myself for the high-school hurt. So, the madder I got at myself, the madder I got at him. Begin with forgiving yourself.

3. Separate yourself
This can be as simple as going into a room alone to pray and think about the situation or taking a walk. Try to look at the situation from an objective point of view. Pretend you’re talking to a friend. How would you advise her? Tell her how you would’ve handled the situation differently.

4. Write about it
Writing is a healthy outlet because you can get your point across without someone interrupting you. Be real. Write about how you feel, why you’re hurt. What you’d like to see happen. Write all the things you’d like to say to your husband—yeah, even the ugly things. After you’ve exhausted your feelings on paper, tear it up. Then write another letter telling him how you feel.
Use language that expresses how you feel, not what he did. It’s a good idea to start by telling him things you appreciate about him. Tell him you know he didn’t mean to hurt you (and chances are he really didn’t). Then close by acknowledging your contribution to the situation or how you could’ve handled it differently.
If he did intend to hurt you, tell him you are working through forgiving him. Remember you love him. The disagreement or hurt isn’t bigger than your relationship.

5. Hold hands
When I was newly married, someone advised me to always hold hands with my husband, even when I’m unhappy with him. Holding hands was difficult for me. It wasn’t modeled for me growing up. But, there’s something about physical touch that softens the heart.
When we say “I do,” we relinquish all rights to hold on to stuff. If we’ve made a commitment to God, part of that commitment includes making our marriages the best they can be. Go to the source of all forgiveness: Jesus Christ. It is crucial to the ability to let go.



7 Ways To Avoid A Toxic Relationship​

Dear Terry,
My husband and I have been married for six years. When we started dating, it was like fireworks going off every time we were together. We could not keep our hands off of each other. In the past three years, things have really soured between us and I am no longer in love with him. His business went belly up a few years ago and that’s when he just stopped caring about everything, especially me.

Prior to losing his business, we had problems because my husband worked too much and ignored me at home saying he was tired. Things are much worse now. I have to make an appointment to see him but half of those are not kept. He lies about where he is or where he has been. I am so heart broken and he just goes on with his same daily routine. I don’t know if he has a girlfriend but he would probably deny it. I don’t know how to leave but I do think it wouldn’t come as a surprise to our kids because their dad is never home and they either see us arguing or living separate lives.

Please tell me if my marriage is worth saving!

Dear Sabrina,
Hello. I understand your situation and believe a counselor might be able to help you. This is a common, complicated situation and should not be taken lightly or quickly. You can get a referral from friends or your physician. You should take it slow and speak to a professional counselor in person. But I would consider marriage counseling first if you have not tried it and you are both willing to attend.

If your husband is unwilling to participate in couples counseling, you should consider going by yourself to get a better perspective on your life and clarity about your future. That being said, you deserve to be loved and respected and to live a life with some joy and appreciation from a partner.

Letting go of toxic relationships is never easy. Yet with self-awareness and tools, you can begin to value yourself enough to set better boundaries with your husband if you choose to stay married. And it is possible to end a relationship or marriage that is self-defeating, abusive, or self-destructive and to thrive with support from others and improved self-esteem.

Before you can begin to build successful relationships, you must have healthy self-esteem – which means believing in yourself. One of the key things to consider is: how do you treat yourself? No one will treat you with respect if you devalue yourself. You must rid yourself of self-defeating thoughts such as “I’m stupid” or “No one will ever love me” if you want to build relationships based on love, trust, and intimacy.

If your romantic relationship or marriage brings out your insecurities and causes you to mistrust your own judgment this relationship may not be the best one for you. Many people become involved or even obsessed with the wrong partner – someone who is emotionally unavailable, romantically involved with other partners, addicted to substances – or who cannot love them back.

Many people who are in unhealthy relationships ask themselves “Why do I stay with a partner who treats me poorly? Or, “How can I be sure to recognize destructive patterns in relationships and take steps to change them?”

7 ways to avoid a toxic relationship and have a healthy partnership:
  1. Increase self-awareness about the choices you make in relationships. For instance, many people settle for relationships that are wrong for them because they fear being single. Women are especially likely to feel stigma when they are not part of a couple.
  2. Give thought to your deal breakers. According to Huffington Post Divorce editor, Brittany Wong, it’s important to ask yourself “What are your deal breakers – the laundry list of things you simply won’t tolerate in someone you’re thinking of getting serious with?” Try making a list of at least ten characteristics that are essential to you in a partner such as being active or affectionate.
  3. Don’t settle for less than you deserve. When you compromise too many of the values that are important to you, these relationships usually fail. Focus on your deal breakers and pick a partner who is someone who you can share a life with and deepen your love with over time.

  4. Set an expectation of mutual respect. You can accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. If you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left. A partner who truly cares about you is a boost to your self-esteem. He or she values you, gives you compliments, and encourages you to do things that are in your best interest.
  5. Notice if your partner keeps his/her agreements. Are they someone who you can trust because they demonstrate consistency between their words and actions? When someone is interested in you, they’ll keep their agreements.
  6. Seek a partner who you have both chemistry and compatibility with. Even if you meet someone who is not a heart-throb, be patient and see if your attraction grows over time. Look for qualities such as compassion, generosity, and consideration because these are characteristics that describe someone who is a dynamite long-term partner.
  7. Don’t compromise your values. Figure out your core beliefs and stand by them. Ask for what you need and speak up when something bothers you.
The best partner will compliment you and bring out your very best. When you are with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. Author Jill P. Weber writes: “The more you view others’ mistreatment of you as something you have the ability to fix, tweak, or amend, the harder it is to develop a positive sense of yourself. Seeing yourself exclusively from the eyes of others disconnects you from the day-to-day, moment to moment experience of your life.”



3 Ways To Know If You’re Ready For A Relationship​

Do you think you are ready to enter a committed relationship ? Read below, to see if you truly are !

1. Do you Love the Lord with all Your Heart ?​

Is the Lord your everything ? A good indicator that God is your everything is seeing where you spend your time. How much time do you devote yourself to the Word and prayer ? Are you filling your mind with that which will put your affections on things above? Is making Jesus’ name known a top priority? Are you serving in your local body? Remember, loving the Lord is the biggest commandment God has given us.

To be in a relationship and ultimately marriage that is successful, one must be rooted in the foundation of God. When God brings two people together, it’s for the furtherance of God’s kingdom. Your season of singleness must be focused on learning your role as a child of God.
When you enter a relationship you are not looking for someone to complete you. That’s God’s job. This foundation will help you when your relationship will go through tough times (which it will). When your partner doesn’t give you the attention you need you can rest knowing that God has your back!

2. Are you the Petty Master?​

If you are entering a relationship you must ensure that all feelings of animosity from the past are resolved. Ex – relationships that have left you with lingering feelings of anger, wrath and spite must be resolved. If you had a bad childhood, you’d be surprised how such trauma can be projected on future relationships. Ask God to examine your thoughts and heart and allow Him to bring healing to any unresolved issues. Constantly take authority over thoughts that bring animosity. Forgive those who have wronged you. The Bible takes it one step further and even says to pray for those who persecute you. Remember, you want your new relationship to start on a clean slate. In the present, you must be one who doesn’t get easily angered over small things.

3. Are you Creating a Better Future for Yourself?​

Are you someone with ambition ? Are you working to create a future for not just yourself, but those around you ? You can take courses to learn practical household keeping skills such as cooking. Are you working, in school, focused on your business ? Do you practice good discipline and working towards building good credit, budgeting and more ? Are you actively finding ways to get out of debt ? These are some of the many questions to ask yourself. Don’t stress if you have not mastered good stewardship principles. You can always start practicing now ! This is important because your significant other would want you to bring something to the table as well.



What It Takes To Truly See Someone​

We live in New York and walk by thousands of people every day. A group of friends was talking recently about whether or not New Yorkers are rude or if they are just busy, unable to stop and see every one of the millions of others in the city.

The conversation made me think about what it takes to truly see someone. As much as New Yorkers can’t interact deeply with every person they come across, there is a large amount of “people watching” we do. On the trains. In the park. Waiting to cross the street. We’re glancing around and noticing individuals for one reason or another. And there is the constant flow of people in the background, a blurred sort of motion that adds energy to the setting of the city.

But how often do I truly see someone? Even my friends and family. Those I do know and have developed relationships with. Is it possible I don’t even see them?

Look Around

Seeing people takes looking. What I mean is, it takes intent. If I am glancing at people on the train because I am bored, I will see them only enough to quell my boredom. If I pay attention to the people in my life only to the degree they validate or affirm me, I will only see them for that purpose. I’ll lose interest as soon as the purpose isn’t being met.

We see to the degree we look. If I want to truly see someone, it takes intent. I have to be interested in who they are. One of the hardest things about truly seeing others is that we are so stuck in our own heads. People are pawns. To truly see them, we have to want to truly see them.
This is a question of value. If we value people as means to our ends, we will see them as such. But if we see people as part of a more royal WE who are pursuing the mission of communal life together, we will see them as a kind of partner on the journey. An extension of who we are and how our identity achieves purpose rather than an other who really has nothing to do with ME.

Know Your Filters

Once we establish the true value of another, the way their diversity and opinion and perspective can serve the whole, the next step to truly seeing someone is internal.
We all have filters that affect the way we see one another. We have a bias toward political parties, religiousness, and sports teams, just to name a few easy ones. We start to color people based on these biases; it is the way our brains make quick work of perceiving people. But sometimes our biases are inaccurate. Sometimes they are dead wrong.

The important thing to consider is that most of what we think when we judge another person is more indicative of us and our perceptions than the deep truth of the person we are interacting with. The humility to understand our own filters won’t keep us from seeing through them. But it will help us to understand what we are seeing and why.
And being aware of this makes it much more likely for us to see the holes or inaccuracies of our own filters. It makes it more likely to see the other person for who they are rather than for what our filters make of them.


Most of the time, when we are listening to someone, we are just waiting for our turn to speak. We are thinking about ourselves and how this applies to our own lives. Which of MY stories can I tell in this context? What knowledge can I display in this conversation?
We are all fighting so hard to be heard. That includes the person you are trying to see. If we can’t hear, truly hear, what another person is saying, we cannot truly see them. This is an unfortunate reality in many close relationships, including marriages. We are competing to be heard. And nobody is winning. Like belonging, being heard is a two way street. Being seen is a two-way street. If we want it for ourselves, we have to be willing to be on the other side of it too.



People On The Internet Are Not Your Pastor​

The Internet has made it profoundly easy for any with access to the web to build a platform. Not only has it enabled prominent, disqualified pastors to continue to have an audience, it has given many a young man aspiring to greatness a place to develop an audience. It has given people the ability to be seen as a pastor, though they lack the necessary qualifications, and in many cases, arrogantly presume they need not apply themselves to the rigor of theological education in conjunction to a lengthy period of inspection from other, godly men.

As I’ve written on disqualified pastors in the past, and have no real desire to bring that issue to the forefront here—my focus now is largely on those men seeking to build their own platform, especially those who do so with little to no regard for the office of an elder. Some are gifted, new converts who will be thrust into the limelight too soon only to fall at a later date (1 Tim. 3:6). This is a particularly sad, slow-motion train wreck that modern American Evangelicals seem to deliberately ignore, even though it is in vogue for them to watch it all unfold before them with a sense of glee that lacks much introspection as to why these men fail in such grand ways.

Others are men who haven’t proven themselves to be diligent students of the Scriptures, yet they invariably see themselves as having the gift of teaching. Perhaps this is true—yet for many, they are not willing to undergo formal theological training, nor place themselves under the headship of their elders for a season to be discipled. In other words, they are not willing to be proven by those who are already proven, yet nonetheless continue to teach as if they are. Many of these young men are braggadocios, manipulative, and seek to preach the gospel out of envy and rivalry (Phil. 1:15). In other words, though they may be intellectually gifted and deeply love theology, they fail in the moral qualifications of an overseer.

If I am to be brutally honest though, many more fancy themselves to be morally and doctrinally qualified, ignoring any and all who challenge them. Having a “pastor” who is morally and doctrinally inept is not a problem limited to the confines of the Internet. However, it is a particularly easy in our modern climate for anyone with a computer to take a direct swing at people far brighter and more qualified than they. It also makes it abundantly easy for false teachers to go relatively unchecked as they propagate their false teaching to anyone who will give them the time of day, which sadly, is often to millions of people depending on who we have in mind.

Of course, there is always another dynamic to be accounted for in all of this. There are those who simultaneously prop up these types of people and give them a broader platform. I’m not positive there is one particular reason above another that makes all of this so, but I am willing to defer my hesitations. My suspicion is that many truly don’t know their Bibles all that well, or perhaps they know it, but don’t believe it when it comes to the non-negotiable qualifications an overseer must have. Couple this with a heightened sense of self-importance and the matching confidence to boot, an infatuation with the celebrity culture within Evangelicalism, and perhaps even a low view of the local church, and the resultant mix is an individual who seeks renown and a people willing to give it to them.

I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt here though. I truly believe many theologically apt young men can fall into the trap of seeking renown under the auspices of serving Christ. Yet more to the point: I believe both the apt and the inept who develop the desire for renown initially do so out of an earnest desire to serve Christ and make an impact for the Kingdom. They desire to do big things for God, neglecting to see that it is the mundane, day-to-day faithfulness which is big in God’s eyes.

The true pity of it though is that for many of them, there are no safeguards in place for them in place to do this in a biblical manner. One of the things that I am thankful for is the accountability my local church offers in this regard. I know that my words here are every bit as subject to scrutiny by my elders as any others that I might speak in person at my local church. I am not a lone-ranger blogger, nor am I outside of the disciplinary process if I err.

My elders probe at the state of my heart and my household. What that simply means is that I am held accountable to my elders and would need to give an account to them for what I write if it was not up to snuff, so to speak. I would likewise be asked to step back from writing if my personal life and family life were in shambles. What’s more than this is that I know I am held accountable by my friend and founder of this blog, Jack Lee.

He is also held accountable by his church, and we are both held accountable by several other friends to varying degrees outside of our churches. We aren’t above scrutiny, correction, rebuke, and having to eat our own words—and we do our best to represent the Bible’s teachings as accurately and carefully as possible. We also do our best to charitably navigate areas of legitimate disagreement with in-house matters of the faith.

There is protection in that, both for us as contributors and for those who read our blog. There are older, wiser men above us who are not afraid to ask hard questions and challenge us, yet we are also surrounded by godly peers who do the same. There have been times where either we or a guest contributor has desired to publish something that has not made it before the public eye, namely because we didn’t see it as something that would end up being edifying.

There have been other times where posts have been taken down, retracted, or clarified. Our goal has always been quality over quantity, and while we recognize we can’t (nor shouldn’t) please everyone, we can say with confidence that we do our best toward to be found faithful. None of this is written to toot our own horn, but rather to simply say that we take this deadly seriously, because neither of us believe Christians should do such things outside of the purview of their elders, whom God has entrusted their souls to. Our peers are an added bonus—yet the buck stops with our elders at the end of the day and in the same token, that should really be said of everyone. God has designed it to be this way.

The reason for this is relatively simple: the Internet is not your church, and therefore, people on the internet are not your pastor. No people other than your elders are accountable for your souls, at least not to the same degree. People will invariably be accountable to some degree on the basis of their words, no doubt, yet they are not the ones whom God has primarily charged to shepherd you (Heb. 13:17).

Another blog post could be written entirely on this alone, as the author of Hebrews is also particularly concerned with why they ought to be obedient and submissive to these shepherds, yet for our purposes, let’s simply focus on the fact that he doesn’t call you to obedience and submission to another leader, nor especially a “thought leader” in the broader Evangelical world. God calls you to obedience and submission to your local church’s elders. Not John MacArthur. Not John Piper. Not [insert famous pastor here]. Not some random dude in a Christian Facebook group with an opinion. Your elders. To put it another way: you are entrusting your soul to someone God has not.

In one sense, we truly are in a strange dilemma; none of the apostles would have foreseen what blessings the Internet would bring for the spread of the gospel and sound, biblical teaching—yet also, what dangers would lie in wait for Christ’s sheep. Many of the dangers we recognize; there are notoriously false teachers that any discerning Christian is aware of. Yet many dangers are still present beyond these flagrant wolves. There are many well-meaning Christians who have neglected the command in James 3:1 that few should teach.

The reason I believe this might be the case is simply because they haven’t taken the warning all that seriously—that God will legitimately judge them on the basis of what they teach. This is particularly why biblically qualified elders are so important to this whole process, as they are the ones able to confirm one’s aptitude for teaching, as well as one’s moral life. Sidelining this process does no one any favors, as excitable, winsome, or charismatic as the person may be. In the end, we don’t need more people rising as if they are qualified to teach when the best thing they could do for everyone involved is to settle down, submit themselves to disciplined, formal teaching, and a period of lengthy examination from other qualified men.

As strange as a dilemma we might be in with blogging, podcasting, vlogging, live videos, podcasting, conferences, books, etc.—we do know that the Scriptures still speak to this issue. We are to obey and submit ourselves to our elders. At best, those who aim to teach you outside of your local church should be seen as a helpful supplement. Unfortunately, much of the time they are not, which invariably means those whom God has sovereignly ordained to shepherd you are continually dealing with competing and often conflicting voices. True, your pastor is no John Piper—he’s the man God has gifted you with instead (Eph. 4:11). The amount of times I have seen Christians asking for counsel from strangers on the internet is positively alarming to me, given not only the reluctance people have in going to their own elders, but because the advice that is often given is terrible advice.

If you desire to hear enough opinions that you can eventually placate your guilty conscience, then any internet forum is for you. You will find exactly what you want to hear. If you want wisdom, drown out the cacophony of conflicting voices and entrust yourself to the one who has actually proven to be wise. Entrust yourself to the counsel of a man whose life you can actually examine the fruit of and desire to follow as he follows Christ.

The idea that I’m driving at here is not that it is necessarily bad to learn from others outside of your local church. Rather, my point is that if the broader church understood and submitted themselves to the importance of the qualifications of elders, there would be far fewer people climbing into a place of authority they don’t belong in. Yet more to the point: if you can’t entrust your soul to your elders, it is most definitely time to find a new church. Of course, the assumption here is that you are a faithful, God-fearing Christian who actually desires to obey and submit yourself to your elders as the Scripture commands; not begrudgingly, but joyfully. It also assumes your motives for leaving said church are good and biblical motives.

Given the climate of the modern Evangelical church and my penchant for remembering that even Christ did not entrust Himself to men, for He knew all men, I am hard-pressed to think this is often the case. Rather, I see these as simultaneous problems; the people want to obey and submit themselves to one whom God hasn’t entrusted their souls to, and that man is happy to gain their trust for nefarious reasons. The solution to these things are one in the same: we submit ourselves to our elders. We develop the conviction that at the end of the day, their counsel and advice matters most, and what’s more than this is that we actually intend to heed it.



Dark Days Of Depression​

‘Some say that you’re a Christian, so you shouldn’t feel depressed. But I guess, they haven’t read the Psalms in depth’

“The LORD heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NLT)​

Nizam is a friend of mine. He has a firm and deep Christian faith, and is an inspirational spoken word artist. I have shared one of his modern poetry performances before on here.
Nizam also suffers from depression.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week (see the UK’s Mind Charity). Suicide remains the leading cause of death in men under fifty.
Nizam has bravely decided to share a video which expresses how he felt in the middle of a significant period of clinical depression.
This video is raw. It is emotional. It will help you understand how depression feels.
It will also highlight some of the misconceptions many Christians have, and the way a depressed person can feel about well meaning but ultimately unhelpful comments.

Make no mistake, a Christian can get depressed.
I hope that Nizam’s video will stir your compassion and if you are depressed yourself help you feel that you are NOT alone.
Nizam assures me that he is in a much better place now, but his piece deliberately does not offer an overly simplistic solution. Like many other chronic illnesses, depression can be with someone for a very long time.

Friends and family are often much better at offering support to people with acute illness than we are helping someone who has been struggling for years or even decades. There may be someone in your circle this week who needs you to ask “How are you really?”
If you are unfamiliar with the spoken word it is a form of modern poetry that doesn’t have to rhyme but does use word plays and pithy lines such as,
’I get refereed to get some medication from a psychiatrist. But then I get odd looks from the congregation like “why am I even trying this? Cause all you’ve got to do is just pray and read your Bible, Niz”. But I wonder, would they same thing too if I had cancer? And tell me not to go to Chemo cause Jesus is the answer.’
This latest poem is reflective of Psalm 42, where the psalmist is crying out to God in distress (‘my tears have been my food day and night’) but ends with Nizam acknowledging that God is his only hope (‘Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God’).
You can watch Nizam’s video here:

Dark Days by Nizam Speaks​

Oliver Cromwell used to say to his troops before battle “Trust in God, but keep your gunpowder dry!” And so we come to Jesus and pray believing for his help, and yet also pursue medical help and counselling if required knowing that God heals in many different ways. One day he will indeed wipe away every tear and all sorrow and pain will cease. Until that day we live in an imperfect, fallen world, and God’s promises to us are for now but also not yet.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4, ESV)



The Secret To True Greatness​

Everybody wants to be great. We want lives of importance. Lives that matter and impact others around us. Lives that both satisfy our longings and affect the world around us.

In our pursuit of greatness, we have ruined ourselves. In the name of greatness, we are greedy, willing to lie and deceive, full of animosity and antagonism.
More and more people are seeing through the façade of superficial success into the heart of true greatness. Simple observation shows us that fame, money, and political power do not make a person great. They, like just about everything else, are neutral positions that can be used for evil just as much as good, if not more.
So, what does true greatness look like? The compulsion for importance still lingers in our souls. And despite our false starts and our pessimism, it really is available. Pursuing greatness means leaving the false perceptions behind and being willing to step into the strange and paradoxical truths about what it means to be a person of purpose.


One of the strangest truths about pursuing greatness is that a little bit of self-denial is actually good. We tend to think that since we want to be great, we have to pound the pavement of our own grandness all the time. Our greatness, though, is hiding behind a bush. It is elusive.

The secret to true greatness is that it requires humility. This certainly seems like a contradiction. But we become great by restraining ourselves. This is because greatness is bigger than we are. In order to discover it, we have to be willing to shut down the parts of us that are not in alignment with greatness. In order to participate in true freedom, we need boundaries. In order to be healthy, we need to refuse things that taste good. Self-restraint is a positive attribute throughout the structure of the human experience.

If we hold tightly to the current version of ourselves, we will never change. Never progress. Never grow or learn. Greatness is a process that requires boundaries. It requires a Transcendent Vision to stretch us past ourselves. We grow into greatness by discovering where we need to press forward and where we need to hold back.


Greatness is the degree to which we participate in truth. We waste so much time trying to redefine greatness to fit the mold we are currently operating in rather than finding the reality of what it is.
Greatness, like truth itself, thrives in community. It is WE There. Each of us is at our best in a context. When we become siloed and narcissistic, we disqualify ourselves from the truth.

Disciplines in all walks of life – spiritual to physical, mental to social – help invite us into a fuller understanding of the reality of life around us. Greatness is nothing more than understanding the world we live in and operating in response to the truths we’ve found. It is not about being worshipped. People resent those in charge who oppress and ignore them. It is about loving and serving. What makes us great is the ability to see ourselves as a beautiful part of a beautiful whole. This is why wisdom, vulnerability, discernment and compassion are the true marks of greatness.

Humility is hard work. We’d much rather give into our instincts and base desires. And then throw a tantrum until both we and others believe the lies we are operating out of. But these pursuits are a house of cards destined to crumble. True and lasting greatness is found in love alone.



Why Do We Bother With Relationships?​

Almost every human is actively pursuing relationship. We like having friends. We are desperate for a spouse (or a dating partner). We want to be a part of group, to be in the in-crowd. We are afraid of being left out and isolated.


The reality is relationships are hard. They induce conflict, annoyances, offenses, and frustrations. They are sources of stress and they demand so much from us. Many relationships end in failure and heartbreak. Yet we still pursue them with fervor. We may spend a short period swearing off dating or friendship altogether; we may binge on Netflix and hide in our homes, but we eventually get back to it. The draw of relationships is too strong to ignore forever.

Despite their challenges, relationships remain a significant source of value in people’s lives. Here are a few thoughts to remind you why we pursue relationships, why they matter, and why they are worth fighting for.


Everybody wants to be important. Meaning and purpose are the main driver for every human soul. Relationships are the mechanism by which we measure and experience importance. Our worst punishment is solitary confinement. Our biggest fear is isolation and rejection. We need a context in which to exercise the importance we long for.

All of our struggles with relationships come when we abuse our need for validation. We act as if we are the only one in the relationship needing validation. We see others as our cheerleaders. We abuse and manipulate others to get the validation we seek.
But all of the beauty within our relationships comes when we maximize our need for validation in unity with the needs of others. Harmony requires a diversity of notes. When we demand to be the only note, the music of meaning does not reverberate in our souls. The strange reality is that we are at our best when we serve. We receive the sense of importance by loving and empowering others and receiving the same from those around us.

Shared Vision

Just like the sound of harmony, we are more beautiful together than we are alone. There are things in life that are too great for any one human to contain. Truth. Love. The reason we long for relationships is because we are searching for these transcendent things. We want something more than ourself. And as hard as it is, as frustrating and annoying as it can be, we know deep down that meaning is bigger than the parameters of our lives.

The meaning of life is like one of those doors in SciFi movies that takes two matching keys to unlock. We cannot do it ourselves. We need to be who we are in conjunction with others in order to experience the best of life. We cannot find meaning without relationships. And that is the reason we seek it out relentlessly. And something that should be celebrated.



6 Ways To Find Happiness With An Emotionally Unavailable Partner​

Dear Terry,
I’ve been unhappy for a long time because my husband and I are like roommates and rarely spend time together. We’ve been married 20 years and have two kids, 14 and 16. My husband is pretty emotionally unavailable. It’s not really anything to do with our kids since they are busy teenagers who are independent in most ways.

I think we just have different needs for being close and my husband, Joshua, rarely initiates conversations with me, physical contact, or sexual intimacy except late at night when I’m tired. I do love him but I would like to connect more emotionally and not be made to feel that I’m bothering him.
What can I do to change this dynamic between myself and Joshua so we can be close, like we were in the early years of our marriage?


Dear Diane,
While it may seem like an odd concept that you can find happiness with someone who is emotionally unavailable, it’s entirely possible if you have realistic expectations. By the way, it’s not the same as settling for less than you deserve.
A problem exists when the pattern of pursuing and distancing becomes ingrained because the behavior of one partner provokes and maintains the behavior of the other. While all couples need autonomy and closeness, many couples struggle with the pursuer-distancer dance—feeling chronically dissatisfied with the degree of intimacy in their relationship.

While pursuing and distancing are common ways that couples relate to one another when they are under stress, these patterns can become dysfunctional. If they go unnoticed and persist for a long time, they can even lead to the downfall of a relationship or marriage.

According to Dr. John Gottman, a renowned relationship expert, the tendency of men to withdraw and women to pursue is wired into our physiology and reflects a basic gender difference. In his classic “Love Lab” observations he’s noted that this pattern is extremely common and is a major contributor to marital breakdown.
Dr. Gottman cautions us that if it’s not examined, the pursuer-distancer pattern will persist into a second marriage or subsequent intimate relationships. If this pattern isn’t reversed, it’s easy to see how both partners can begin to feel criticized and contempt for each other—two of the major warning signs that their marriage is doomed to fail, according to Dr. Gottman.
Ways to communicate with your partner to support him/her and grow together:

  • “I feel left out when you don’t talk to me about what’s going on in your head, and I’d like to know what you’re thinking.”
  • “I feel hurt when you read the paper when we’re eating dinner, because I’d like to learn more about your day.”
  • “I feel unimportant to you when you don’t include me in plans with your friends. I’d like to be kept posted, even if you prefer to see them on your own.”
Rather than expressing criticism or contempt, this type of dialogue will hopefully foster positive communication since the intent is to get information rather than to criticize or nag. In fact, many of the women I’ve counseled who are pursuers don’t feel good about nagging their partner to open up and they want more supportive ways to improve communication.

6 Ways to find happiness with an emotionally unavailable partner:
  • Accept that the pattern exists and find some positives in living with a partner who has a different style of relating. For instance, they might cause you to be more reflective if you are a pursuer.
  • Work on changing your reactions to your partner. For example, if you are a pursuer, take up walking fast to release stress or a hobby such as scrapbooking to occupy your time.
  • Write in a journal or dialogue with a close friend or trusted therapist—it can be extremely helpful to get a healthier perspective on your relationship.
  • If your partner seems overwhelmed, give him or her space but not in anger or blame. Disengage as a way to restore your composure not to punish your partner.
  • Attempt to take a break for at least 20 minutes when you feel you’re being overreactive to triggers such as your partner giving you the silent treatment. For instance, listening to music or reading a magazine is a great distraction because you can flip through pages rather mindlessly.
  • Resume a conversation with your partner when you feel refreshed and able to talk calmly and rationally. Always use a soft start up such as “I love you and miss spending time with you,” rather than a criticism.

At times, you might find it easier to blame your partner rather than to acknowledge your part in the problem between you. However, real change starts with you. Repair work begins with expressing your intent in a positive way and taking responsibility for your part in it. Both people need to make a commitment to work on improving their relationship in order to break a negative pattern.



Lean Hard Into That Rudder​

I’ve always found James’ teaching on taming the tongue exciting and bewildering in equal measure. His claim is extraordinary – that by controlling our tongues we can master our bodies and take charge of the direction of our entire lives. On the one hand this is empowering, but on the other I’ve never been able to understand the mechanics he’s implying, until now. First, the passage. James 3: 2-8,

‘Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.’

I want to share the understanding I’ve gained, but first, it’s worth pointing out how this passage can be abused. Within the Faith Movement, for example, there is pressure to mask your pain and suffering. I attended a Bible School in that movement where there was only one acceptable answer to the question ‘How are you?’, and that was:

“I’m blessed!”

I remember being in a room full of vulnerable people and misfits, all proudly announcing that they were blessed while psychologically and relationally coming apart at the seams. The theory on offer was that if you leant hard into that rudder, speaking out only positive affirmations, you would steer your life in that direction. In other words, what you say will come to pass. The dysfunctional and damaging nature of that sort of interaction is exactly as you might imagine it to be. This has nothing to do with faith and is devoid of compassion. I’ve even heard a person insist on saying ‘I’m blessed’ after losing a loved one.

This bizarre and forced behaviour is a clear misapplication of James’ teaching. Remember, James also taught ‘let your yes be yes and your no be no’ – i.e., be honest. So when considering how to apply James’ words, we’re dealing with honest speech.

Now to something more edifying:

My darling Chanel and I have been together for 6 years. I love her in ways I never knew was possible, and am always grateful for the blessing she is in my life, but like any couple we’ve had to work at things, and especially at how we communicate.
One of the biggest differences between us is how we use words. I’m a wordsmith, and express myself primarily through well-crafted sentences. Chanel is more tactile, and her use of words is functional, and often random. She’ll pick a word that sounds like it means what she wants it to mean and insert it into a sentence.

I used to trip up over this. Despite all the goodness in our relationship, I’d feel a little catch inside me when she used the wrong words, which awoke doubts about how good a match we were. I’m embarrassed to expose this aspect of my behaviour on a public forum, but it serves a purpose.

Chanel didn’t help the situation, because she wanted to learn and would frequently ask me to correct her if she said something wrong. Doing so made me feel distant from her, like I was her examiner rather than her partner, and I reached a point where I felt we were drifting apart as a result. Doubts about our relationship grew in my mind, magnified by the focus on her words. I made up my mind – no more correcting Chanel, even if she asks me to.

To start with it was hard. Changing any kind of habit is a challenge because the mind wants to go there as a matter of course. I found myself biting my tongue, resisting the words which wanted to come out. To start with it was tough – really hard, daily discipline I had to force on myself.

I persisted, weakening that unwanted impulse until one day it was gone. I’d say it took between 1 and 2 years to banish completely, but boy was I pleased with the result. I no longer even notice the words Chanel chooses; I just feel what she means. It’s a mystical bond now, so natural and organic it surpasses what I knew of communication before.

When we step away from what we think we need and accept a person for who they are, all manner of unexpected intimacies can blossom in the space you’ve created. Chanel is my best friend and dearest companion. When she comes through the door exhausted at the end of a long day running her business, we take sweet, playful refuge in each other. I get excited when I hear her car pull up, and doubly so if we’re going on a date or having an adventure. In summary, things are good. Really, really good!

When I think back to how distant we felt before I put in the work on the communication front, it’s night and day. Something as small as a bad verbal habit was keeping us apart, and something as simple as putting a stop to it opened up light and space for us to enjoy.

It was only yesterday, when dwelling on this, that I realised I had been putting James 3 into practice. The tongue can be a restless evil; it can be the spark that sets a whole forest on fire; it’s the rudder which steers the ship. The way forward for me was to lean hard into the rudder, without stinting, and it could be the way forward for you.

Ask any marriage counsellor and they will tell you that most relationship difficulties stem from communication – not even necessarily what is said, but how it is said; different ways of giving and receiving love, whether or not we interrupt the other person, and leave room for them to speak. Do we really listen, and take what our loved one says seriously?

Speech reveals a host of bad habits and attitudes, and is often the focus and fulcrum of confrontation. The tongue can truly be a restless evil. On the other hand, speech can be considerate, caring, even-handed, and kind. It can bind wounds rather than inflict them.

Whatever conflicts you and your loved one are going through, or you and your family are experiencing, whatever fallouts happen between friends, I pray you will identify where things are going wrong and lean hard into that rudder without stinting. When you alter the angle of a rudder, the ship does not immediately respond. It takes time to turn, but turn it will. In taming the tongue, it’s important to commit to the long haul. This is not a quick fix. It’s true discipleship.