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GRACE FOR THE BROKEN

BROKEN
“When I try to look at the term [broken] in particular, I think it is saying that something was right at one point. There is a model out there for the way it is supposed to be and this is not the way it is supposed to be. Something is broken. And then the question is, ‘Can it be fixed?’” – Ed Welch

Is there any concept that is a greater reality in our life today? World issues spiral out of control, national crisis continue to grow, local communities become corrupt, and our families are being ripped apart. Brokenness takes center stage in defining our core identity. Many strive to fill this void and continually watch their dreams get shattered. Is there anyone or anything that can speak into this deep despair? These are questions and concepts that will be entertained at this year’s biblical counseling conference, Grace for the Broken. Be sure to visit our vimeo page, http://www.vimeo.com/foundationscounseling, each month (leading up to the conference) for the latest interview video on what Dr. Ed Welch has to say about this year’s conference topic.

WHAT TO EXPECT
Foundations Christian Counseling Services (FCCS) is excited to be hosting this year’s biblical counseling conference in the Mt. Pocono Region at Innovation Church, 6048 Paradise Valley Road (Rte 940), Cresco, PA. Join us on March 29th, 2014 for a time of reflecting on God’s grace for the broken. Seating is limited, so be sure to register online while space is available.

Registration will begin at 8:30 AM. Complimentary breakfast refreshments will be available during the registration and breaks in-between sessions. Registration can be completed on-line by visiting our website, http://www.foundchristcounsel.org, and clicking on the conference image. The link will take you to the conference page which contains details regarding the day’s agenda, guest speakers, session topics, and location. Follow us on facebook, http://www.facebook.com/foundchristcounsel, to stay connected with the most recent updates.

We hope to see you at the conference!

Praying With Your Spouse

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I had the pleasure of speaking at a Couple’s Seminar this past week and spoke on a topic I had previously not spoken about: Praying together as a couple.  Not a week later, I was approached about this topic on two other occasions.  Taking the hint, I figured it would be best to write about it.

Many Christian couples have a difficult time praying together.  It is especially difficult for some who have never grown up in the church or prayed out loud.  It’s just…awkward.  “What do I pray about?” “What if I don’t do it right?” “Will my spouse be better than I am?” “How do I do it?” “What if my spouse laughs at me?” “What do we do if it’s awkward?”

Let me give you a few points to consider when you desire to pray together.  These aren’t original, but ideas I have gleaned in research.

1.  Praying together can bring a couple closer together through physical touch and uniting hearts in humility seeking the Lord.

2.  Praying together often involves both partners feeling “safe” to pray.  If your relationship is characterized by criticisms, judgments, arguments, etc., now might not be the right time.  But you can pray by yourself that the Lord will change you to         become a safe person and that the Lord will change them as well.

3.  Praying together will seem awkward at first.  Keep going.  It will become more natural.

4.  Before praying together, have a list of things to pray for so you know what to pray for together.

5.  You can start by silently praying together, holding hands and squeezing the other’s hands when you are finished.

6.  Take only a few minutes to pray (5 minutes max) at first, this will limit the “awkward time” and help people not fall asleep.

7.  Dedicate a certain time of the day that best fits your schedules together and be committed to that time.

8.  The Bible does not command that you do this together as a couple, yet it is encouraged that people pray together.  Do not treat this as a “law” you must do nor demand that your spouse pray with you.  This does not bring about the best prayerful attitude.

9.  Do not pray AT your spouse.  In other words, don’t do this: “Dear Lord, please change my self-centered spouse and help him to love me as he ought.” or “Dear God, please help this woman I married to give herself to me and submit to my leadership.”  Just not a good idea.  Prayer is about seeking His will as a couple and not about asking God to do what you want Him to do.  It’s not to be used as a manipulative tactic to change your spouse.  Pray WITH your spouse, not AT them.

10.  Feel free to pre-write your prayers if you feel nervous.

11.  Talk about the obstacles to praying together and work together to overcome them.

12.  Hold hands.

13.  Seek prayer requests from your spouse and pray specifically for your spouse.

This is not an unusual problem for Christians.  It is a good desire to have to pray together, yet it is a horrible demand.  Praying together is not the temperature gauge for a Christian marriage, yet it certainly can be beneficial for the couple and can be very meaningful as well.  Some will refuse to pray together.  This does not mean that they are not Christian or that they don’t pray, simply that they choose to be personal in their faith “me and God”.  Though Scripture does not encourage such an approach (it encourages community), you may continue to pray for them and occasionally ask that they pray for you (even if he or she won’t pray with you).  And please, don’t take it personally.  It’s just where they are in their walk with God and it is up to God to move them if they are willing.

No Thought, After Thought & Fore Thought: The Process of Loving Well

“Wow, that didn’t even occur to me.”

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This is the thought that occurs when a person asks a question about something that doesn’t even cross their mind.  It doesn’t have to be something important, just a topic that you haven’t really thought about or thought through.  In marriage, it is the thought that  comes when one realizes that he or she is living in their own little world and not thinking about anything outside of it.   The busyness of life often gets in the way…as does the sinful and selfish nature.  When we live in our own little worlds too long, we look to others as being a part of our worlds…but their existence is to make our worlds better…easier.  We forget (or pay little attention) that others are important.  We forget that their needs and desires are important.  We forget or have not even realized yet that they do not exist to serve us, but in Christ, we exist to serve them.  This is our sinful, self-centered nature.  Thoughts of others’ desires and needs do not occur to us because we live in our own worlds.  How do we change this?  Well, admitting it is the first step.  Confess this to God, and by His Spirit, begin to apply the love God gave you to your spouse (or others).

“Aw man…I should have thought about that before!”

This is the second step of process.  It is the beginning of awareness of the sinful state of the selfish mind and awareness of the desire and need to love others.  Demonstrating love may not be easy at first, but as one becomes more aware of God’s call to serve others, the afterthoughts occur more regularly.  These afterthoughts are not intended to bring guilt, but are a sign of greater things to come…if you remain aware of self-centeredness and begin to place priority in loving others.  Chances are, as you continue to be aware, you will at other times begin to plan out times of serving, date nights, giving praise, making love, etc (for your spouse) or serving other people in other ways.

“Let me think about this first.”

This is third step in the process of loving well.  This is the intentional practice of Christ-likeness, where thought, effort, and humility merge into an action of love for another person (or people).  It is the full awareness of others’ needs and in love, placing those above your own.  I remember several getaways with my wife and I.  Our trip to Niagara Falls on our 15th Anniversary was thought out, planned, and, I must say, well executed.  At this time, I loved well (though sadly other times I fail).  Another time my wife had planned a secret getaway for my birthday where she kidnapped me and we went to a Bed-and-Breakfast.  The thought and planning behind the action meant she loved well.  Both trips are etched in our memories.  Fore thought (or before-thought) is essential when we are not in the regular practice of loving well.  Jesus had thought of us when he went to the cross.  So, too, we must think of others before ourselves.

Loving well can be difficult, especially since we often go against the grain of our sinful natures where our desires are for others to love us well.  However, when we recognize our self-centered natures, confess and repent, begin to be aware of others needs and desires, and then intentionally commit to loving well, we will move forward by God’s grace to love others well.  So, how are you doing in this area?

The Marriage Trap

When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching the movie, The Parent Trap. A story of twins separated at birth who met each other at a camp, switched places, and worked hard to reunite their parents. They plotted to “trap” their parents into getting together and rekindling their romance. And, of course, it worked and they’re all one big happy family.

Often, there are many people who feel trapped in marriage. As a counselor, I meet with people regularly who correctly cite Scripture in saying “God hates divorce” and believe that God would rather them be miserably trapped in marriage. “My husband is a jerk. He treats the dog better than me. If God hates divorce, then I am trapped in this miserable marriage. I guess this is God’s will for me.”

Sadly, many experience poor treatment by their spouses who do not treat them as God would desire. These spouses often tolerate a lot of negative comments, blaming, criticism, etc.   The spouse on the receiving end often feels emotionally empty…and trapped.  This often leads to an “either/or” thinking.  Either I remain trapped, or I find new life outside the marriage and get my “needs” met elsewhere.

Does God leave us trapped in a miserable marriage? Is this really his will? Are the “either/or” choices all there are?

Here are some points to consider:

1. What are your greatest emotional needs? Our spouses are not supposed to meet our deepest emotional needs of love, worth, and forgiveness. Though God has called husbands to love their wives (as Christ loved the church), these greatest needs must first be met in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Though God has called wives to respect their husbands, ultimately husbands must first recognize the honor received through Christ, in that he died for them because he honors them (men & women) above all living things. It is right to desire love and respect from spouses, because that is what we should do, but when we seek them from our spouses apart from God, we place too much on our spouses. Again, we are to find these things ultimately from God first.

2. What are your greatest physical needs? Is your life in danger due to your spouses actions? Do you need to be physically safe? If so, this may certainly warrant leaving a home (though not necessarily a marriage) for safety. Even Jesus and Paul ran when people picked up stones to throw at him.

3. What are some other options besides a) leaving, and b) being trapped and miserable? What actions are you doing (or not doing) that are contributing to this cycle? Are your actions enabling (not causing) your spouse’s actions? If you change…the relationship will change.

4. What godly help are you seeking? Are you speaking with your pastor or a counselor? Even if your spouse is unwilling to go, you can go and seek godly wisdom and learn to be confident in who you are (through Christ) and begin to change inside.

This list is just to get you started and thinking that a struggling marriage is not a trap that God has you in to be miserable. His desire for you is to first find your fulfillment in Him. When you find fulfillment in Him, your life takes on meaning and direction. God will give you the wisdom and strength to alter the direction of your marriage in a way that honors him.  For more on this, read The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick.

Don’t give in to The Happiness Trap, that is, “God doesn’t want me to be miserable, but God wants me to be happy. So, I’ll leave my marriage so I can be happy.”  When you seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him.  Happiness is found in relationship to Him and not due to circumstances or relationships with others.  More on this in The Happiness Trap (next blog).

Lip Guards

In some professional sports like football and hockey, each player has to wear a mouth guard to protect their teeth in case they get hit by another player or puck.  Athletes probably value their teeth, and like myself, hate going to the dentist. If something is important to you, you protect it.
For some reason, this year I’ve been paying closer attention to the news, sports, etc., and have noticed that many people like to speak their minds without giving much thought as to how their words will affect others.  This, of course, doesn’t just happen with Twitter or Facebook, etc, but in marriages, too.  To speak one’s mind quickly and tell people how you feel just feels good to do. Maybe it feels powerful.  Maybe it just feels right.  But often times, it is not good.  How many times have you heard of people having to apologize for things they said “off the cuff”? How many times have you had to apologize for doing the same thing?
Proverbs 13:3 says, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”  I’m convinced that some people need lip guards all the time and all people need lip guards some of the time.  Although there hasn’t been such an invention yet (perhaps I will invent one and go on the TV show, Shark Tank!), we will have to guard our lips the old fashion way…through self-control and humility.  Self-control because…well…that’s obvious.  Stopping and thinking first is highly under-rated.  We also need humility because when we vent quickly, we often place ourselves, our needs, our desires, etc. above everyone else.  We don’t care how or what others think, including God.  We see our opinions as worthy of being considered and listened to when perhaps what we need to do is consider where our words may take us first.  According to Proverbs, our words may lead us to “ruin“…ruined reputations and ruined relationships.

Don’t let your reputation or relationships end up in ruins.  In humility, consider others’ thoughts and feelings first and whether what might be said would either build up or tear down.  Until the official physical lip guard is invented, this will have to do!

Believe!

This morning, I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of being called a liar by one of my children. Well, he actually said, “you lied,” but that is essentially saying the same thing.  The thing is, we remembered things differently, but instead of saying that he does not remember that or saying how he remembered the event, accusations were made as to my intent or motive.
Tonight, I have the opportunity to speak to about a dozen women from Truth For Women about mentoring women in the Lehigh Valley. One of the topics that we are going to touch on is leading people to Christ in the mentoring relationship. One key term continues to be raised in my preparation: the term “believe.” As I searched the Scriptures for the term “believe” on http://www.biblegateway.com (I recommend doing that, by the way), I was pulled towards the importance of belief in the eyes of God.  What is it about belief that is so important?  Well, that we believe he exists, that we believe He sent His son to die for our sins, that we believe Christ was raised from the dead, that we believe His Word, that we believe without doubt, etc.  One verse that hit me was this:

1 John 5:10
… Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

If we choose not to believe Him – that He is telling the truth, that He stands for truth, that He is the truth – we instead believe that He is lying…that He is a liar.  If another person tells you something that you do not believe, you are saying that they are either lying, they are wrong, or they mis-remembered (that’s my new favorite term – sure beats saying that I forgot!), all the while believing that you are right and they are wrong.  When we choose to dis-believe God, or believe He does not exist or that what He revealed about Himself in His word is fictitious, we are accusing Him of lying.  God does not mis-remember (He remembers all – though “forgets” our sins or chooses not to hold our sins against us).  God is never wrong (He is always right). So therefore the logical conclusion must be that He is lying.

When we accuse others of lying, we make two assumptions:  #1) We are right; and #2) Their intent was to purposely deceive.  When we “know” that we are right, we take a position of holding the truth…the truth is within us.  If the truth is within us, and our truth is right, then the other person is wrong.  Their truth simply cannot be.  They are a liar.

God has been moving me more and more towards understanding his grace, that my actions will never win his favor or cause him to keep his love for me.  His number one concern is whether we believe in His Truth.  Belief in Him, in His ability and in His love will bring forth the necessary changes and fruit in our lives, but apart from this belief (or faith) in him, we cannot please Him (it is sin) because it comes from disbelief (or is not done in faith – see Rom 14:23).

For there to be change in our lives…to forgive, to fall back in love, to restore a broken marriage, to refrain from addictions, to become a godly wife or husband…all of this must be done with belief.  We must first believe that God can and will change our hearts.  Belief in Him is a submission of our lives, putting aside what we once believed would bring us what we wanted.  It is saying #1) God, you are right (and true) and #2) Your intent is to love me and set me free…therefore, I believe.

If you’re looking for change in your life, believe in Him and the one He sent.  Anything less is disbelief & sin. It is calling God a liar. Believe, my friends. Believe.

Respect in A Godly Marriage

In the 1970’s, Aretha Franklin topped the charts with the song RESPECT.  The popular lyrics, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me” were popularly sung all throughout the country.  According to Wikipedia, this song was used for the feminist movement demanding respect from men.  The original author of this song, Otis Redding, did not intend this song to be used for the feminist movement, but instead was a plea to a woman (hopefully his wife), to give  him respect.  Check out the original lyrics:

What you want baby I got / What you need you know I got it / All I’m askin’ is for a little respect  /  Then you come home Baby when you come home / Respect
I’m out to give you all my money / But all I’m askin in return honey / Is to give me my proper respect

In a survey done with men, the question was asked:  “Would you rather feel alone and unloved or inadequate and disrespected?”  74% said they would rather feel alone and unloved while 26% said they would rather feel inadequate and disrespected.*  3 out of 4 men desire to be respected by their wives.  This should not astound us as we look at Scripture.  After all, wives are instructed by Paul to respect their husbands Eph 5:22-24, 33.  But in such studies, we begin to understand why such instructions were given; because men strongly desire the respect of their wives (often this is given willingly through submission).

So what does it mean to respect your husbands?  To understand this, we need to again look at the greater marriage between the bride (the church) and bridegroom (Christ).  How does the bride show honor and reverence to Christ?

1) The Bride gives praise to the bridegroom:  Ladies, your husbands desire your praise (for you to lift him up).  So often, words spoken to husbands are words of correction (correcting what he does wrong to how you want it done), criticism, and carelessness, often with the intent on creating him into the image of how you want him to be.  The Bride cannot change the Bridegroom.  You can influence him to act, but you cannot change him. Tell him that you are proud of him and in the man that he has become and is becoming.  You can give praise to him in private and in front of the kids and in public.  Don’t be shy about it.

2)  The Bride believes in the Bridegroom:  Though our belief in Christ is for salvation from our sins, believing in your husbands is having faith in him…faith that he will do the right thing, do a good job, make the right decisions, etc. and then following them (this is the submission part).  Now your husband may make some poor decisions, however, your faith in him shows that you are with him no matter what.  It is demonstrating confidence in him and in being a team and it is this confidence in him that means just as much as his love does to you.  Do not argue with his decisions or question his knowledge.  You may gently influence and bring in a few things worth considering, but arguing and trying to get him to do what you want demonstrates that you do not believe in him….thus, disrespect.

3) The Bride communicates with the Bridegroom in honor:  When we speak to Christ, we generally do so with respect and honor, considering who He is and what he has done for us.  Similarly, as you communicate to your husbands, be mindful of bitterness, tones, words expressed, etc.  Don’t just expect your husbands to know what you want as he is not all-knowing as God.  Even though Christ knows what you need, he still requests us to ask for what you need.  Unlike Christ, however, your husband may not know what you need.  Please ask him anyway.  If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.  One thing that is important to communicate is thanksgiving.  Thanking him for his hard work, for doing what he can to provide for the family, for fixing things, for whatever he does for you and for the family.  Giving thanks is a form of giving honor and respect.

Respect goes a long way in a man.  If you wish to motivate him, to touch his heart, to impact him significantly, it is in the form of respect.  Think about all the ways that you honor Christ and go, honor your husband in similar ways and see what happens.  Paul does not instruct wives to give respect only when they are getting love, he instructs respect to be given. Period.  It is not conditional as to how or if  he loves you (as the husbands command to love is not based on whether respect id given or not).  No matter if your marriage is great or struggling, you won’t regret committing to giving respect your husband.

This portion was taken from the Marriage Seminar: Building a Godly Marriage.  For more information about this seminar from Foundations Christian Counseling Services, please call Fred Jacoby at 570-402-5088.

*Survey found in For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn (p. 22-23).  Another helpful resource is Love & Respect by Dr. Eggerichs