Association of Biblical Counselors

Association of Biblical Counselors

The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.

Encourage: ABC provides a fellowship of believers committed to life transformation through the Living Word.

Equip: ABC promotes training in biblical counseling and points to resources that deal biblically with all of the issues of life.

Empower: ABC provides excellent materials for growth in Christ and for use in effective biblical counseling.

To find out more, visit the Association of Biblical Counselors website.

Am I Boundary-Driven or Love-Driven?

by Susan Thomas

The word “boundaries” is a popular word in our culture today. From books and pop-psychology, to talk shows and everyday conversations at the local coffee shop, this topic of “boundaries” is a hot topic among people as we try to navigate our relationships.

“I have to establish my boundaries.”

“I need to figure out how to set up better boundaries with my in-laws.”

“You need to define boundaries with your husband so he knows when he’s crossed them!”

“If people don’t respect my boundaries, then I will have to cut off those relationships."

In an era of so many dysfunctional relationships, we all search for answers on how to interact with one another. How can I experience meaningful relationships? How do I respond to difficult people in my life? What do I do when others hurt or disappoint me?

Thankfully, God has a design for our relationships. God is a God of order. There is no question that God has created boundaries for us to abide by in order to live in a healthy, fulfilling way. There is a boundary between the ocean and the sandy shore. There is a boundary between the earth and the sky. God declared a boundary in marriage and sex to include one man, one woman for a lifetime. God has given us order. Furthermore, He has called us to be people who walk with discernment in our relationships. But, we want to make sure we follow His heart as we look at our own interpersonal boundaries. We want to make sure we understand God’s design for our relationships rather than allow a popularized word or concept to define our interactions with others.

I remember a couple that adopted a boundaries mindset. The woman shared with me one day that she had read a book on the subject and that it was really guiding her in her relationships. She went on to describe that her life was like a piece of property with a fence around it. This was her domain given to her by God. She said she needed to make sure that everyone who came into that fenced in yard was right for her life. If people hurt her or she deemed them as toxic, then they were not allowed inside the fence. And, if someone inside the fence began to cause pain or behave in an ungodly way, they were escorted out of the fence. 

As I observed her life, I watched as she struggled with her in-laws and eventually saw her lead her husband to cut them off for months with no communication until she was ready. Not long after, I watched some of her friendships deteriorate. She experienced conflict like we all do at some point. But, rather than work for peace and fight for resolution, she politely escorted them one by one outside the fence of her life. She was very sad. And the people around her were very sad. This unfortunate turn of affairs went on to cause disunity in their church and chaos in her life. She left a trail of tears and pain behind her, and I believe this experience is not unique to her.

I recall another woman who spoke to me about her boundaries. She said, “I can’t be friends with everyone,” and then further explained that people needed to fit into her life if the friendship was going to work. “Otherwise, it’s not happening. ” Again, I was confronted with a cautionary tone that prompted me to examine God’s design for our relationships and the place for boundaries.

So where is the balance? How do we navigate our relationships?

I believe we must begin by answering this question . . .

What drives me?

While God-given boundaries are an important aspect of life, we must be aware of the danger of slipping into a boundary-driven mindset. In our attempt to protect ourselves, we may miss God’s design for our relationships and His call on our lives.

My time here is short. What I do with it is HUGE. What drives me is paramount. We must look carefully at what drives us as we relate to other people. Thankfully, God is clear when it comes to what should drive us in our relationships.

God clearly tells us that we are first and foremost to love Him with all of our being! This is the first commandment. Then He goes on to say . . .

“The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:31, NLT

We are not to be boundary-driven in our relationships with others. We are to be love-driven! We are not to live in such a way that we demand people meet our expectations and then cut them off when they hurt or disappoint us. We are to love the people around us. We are to seek reconciliation rather than only self-protection.

Furthermore, if I live my life behind the fences, it seems my focus might become very me-centered! I am tempted to fixate on my small little yard-of-a-life versus understanding and embracing my call in God’s Kingdom!

When Jesus gave some of his final words to his people (right before He went to be with God the Father) He did not say:

“Go ye therefore and build fences. Make sure that you evaluate each person to see if they are suitable for your yard. Build an airport security system to scan them and see if they can come in. Once they are inside, make sure to pat them down on a regular basis and escort them back out if needed.”


God said, “GO!”

“19) Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20)Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you . . . ” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)


Make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them.

These are very involved and even intimate commands. We are to reach people. Our focus is not to evaluate people. We are to share with them the greatest gift we’ve ever been given . . . Jesus! And as for those who already know Him, we are to encourage them by loving them the way Christ commanded us to love them. And while God-given, healthy boundaries may sometimes be a way to love someone, boundaries must never drive us.

Yes, we must seek God’s design in every relationship we encounter. Not all relationships are supposed to look the same. We must prayerfully seek God’s wisdom and discernment on how to navigate our relationships with one another. We must ask Him, “God, what is my purpose in this relationship?” While God may have different plans for each and every sacred soul in our lives, one purpose is clear for them all:


3 Reasons Why Staying Neutral is not Biblical

by Leslie Vernick

Last month I received an avalanche of responses on my Facebook page to last month’s blog “Let’s Not Call it Abuse.” Many women recounted painful experiences of invalidation, minimization, and silence from their Christian counselor when she disclosed what was happening at home.

From the overwhelming feedback I received, it obvious I hit a raw nerve and I think it best that we, as biblical counselors pay attention.

Refusing to call certain behaviors abuse and watering them down with more palatable words like “mutual sin” is like telling a rape victim that she had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. It’s true but imprecise. It doesn’t tell the whole story. We diminish the reality and intensity of an offense by our choice of words.

One woman, after reading my blog, decided to ask her counselor why he never stood up for her. Why he never confronted her husband on his abusive behavior. He said, “I can’t be your advocate because that would mean taking sides, and I can’t believe one person over the other. I have to counsel someone in a way that won’t drive him away.”

While I understand his position, in these kinds of cases it is unwise. It’s true that the counselor’s goal in marital counseling is to stay neutral and not take sides, but that is not Biblical when it comes to serious and repetitive marital sin. We must not stay silent and not speak the truth just because it may cause someone to get upset, walk away, or stop counseling. Jesus never did. 

Here are three reasons why I believe staying neutral is unbiblical and even dangerous to the individuals as well as the marriage.    

1. We don’t tell the truth.

As biblical counselors we are not merely truth-seekers; we are called to be truth-tellers. If we are counseling someone who is caught in a repetitive and dangerous sin and we minimize it, whitewash it, or ignore it, how are we helping that individual?

Biblical counselors are trained to tell the truth when it comes to sins; so, why do we stay silent on marital abuse? Most biblical counselors have no problem telling a woman who decides to divorce her abusive husband that she’s wrong, or God hates divorce. When she’s expressing bitterness and resentment toward her abusive spouse, she’s told that she’s unforgiving and hard hearted. Yet, why in so many situations has no one said to her husband that he is abusive and destructive to her and to their marriage? God’s word is quite clear. Scripture amply supports God’s stance against abuse and the tactics of abusers. 

The Bible says God hates injustice, oppressors, revilers, liars, hypocrites, and those who abuse their power to hurt and take advantage of others. Marriage is not the exception to God’s guidelines on how to treat people.

2. Neutral is not neutral when it comes to abuse and other serious sins.

Yes, it’s true that both people in a marriage are sinners, and, therefore, we should not cast more stones in one direction than another. But speaking the truth doesn’t have to be done with scolding and shame. It can be done in love, but it must be done. 

When we stay silent and refuse to name something for what it is, we are not neutral. Whether we realize it or not, by our silence we collude with the abuser that their behavior isn’t that bad. By our silence the abuser believes that we agree that if only his wife was more _____ he wouldn’t act that way. This places the burden on the abused to manage the abusers actions and attitudes. By our silence, we send the wrong message. We’re implying that we agree with the abuser’s interpretation of reality. That is not neutral or helpful.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, a martyred Lutheran pastor during Adolf Hitler’s regime said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”  When the church refused to speak out against Hitler’s abuse of the Jews, the abuse became culturally acceptable behavior.

3. We fail to love  

In Hans Christian Andersen’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes, the king’s most trusted advisors were afraid to tell him the truth about his new non-existent wardrobe. Instead, they allowed him to make a fool out of himself parading around in his nakedness, believing that he looked fabulous. It took a child who was willing to tell the truth to shake people awake to their fear and foolishness. Those closest to the king failed to love him well by their unwillingness to tell him the truth. 

James reminds us, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

We do someone no favors when we silently collude with his delusion that it is his wife’s problem that he acts this way, or it’s his wife’s sole responsibility to fix their marriage.

In 1836 two sisters in an upper class Southern family, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, took a bold stance against their family practices, their church, and against their culture.

First Sarah, then Angelina, began to speak out against slavery, even though their family owned slaves and their church taught slavery was biblically sanctioned.

They were attacked, persecuted, and were not permitted to return to their own hometowns because people thought they were unbiblical.

Today when we look back, we applaud these young women for their courage and bravery. Today, Christians everywhere are speaking out against modern-day slavery and would never defend slavery as biblical, even though the Bible never speaks directly against it. 

I hope it doesn’t take a hundred years for the church to speak out against any kind of abuse in marriage. I hope it doesn’t take a hundred years for churches to begin to speak out against emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse in marriage and stop turning a blind eye to a woman or man or child being treated as a slave or object, especially in their own home.

I hope that a hundred years from now we look back on this time in church history and feel great shame for the way we have failed to defend or speak out for the victim, and by our silence and often our very words, we have empowered the “Christian” bully to continue to abuse those under his or her care. 

Edmond Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing”.

As Biblical counselors you and I have an obligation and responsibility to do something. We must speak up.

Abuse and the Fear of Man

by Leslie Vernick

Most of us have watched in horror and sadness the unfolding of events in the small town of Steubenville, Ohio. Just in case you’ve not been watching the news, two high school football players were found guilty this past week of sexually assaulting a young woman who was too intoxicated to give her consent for sexual contact, or even to know what was happening to her. While this was taking place, countless other teens watched, laughed, tweeted, and photographed the debauchery.

We’d like to blame what happened on teenage foolishness, adolescent recklessness, the inability of teenagers to understand the consequences of their behavior, and the problem of absentee parents. But I wonder how different the evening might have turned out for both the two convicted young men as well as the victim if just one of their friends would have had the courage to speak up and say, “Stop?”

Why were these adolescents so willing to turn a blind eye to the evil right before them? Were all of these teens too drunk to know right from wrong? Or was there something more universal at work?

I don’t think their reluctance stemmed from drunkenness, but rather from the fear of man. They were too afraid to stand up against what was happening because they feared the disapproval and censure of the group.

Lest we judge these teens too harshly, history tells us that we aren’t much different even as adults. This past year I read two books describing the mindset of the people and culture in Germany and the United States, just prior to World War 2. One was Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas, and the other, In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson.

It was difficult to comprehend how an entire culture including the Christian church closed their eyes to the obvious atrocities that were happening, especially to the Jews. Reading both books helped me to see that it was more appealing to protect and promote allegiance to the country than to care about the individual. By our silence however, we empower the emotional (or political) or sexual bully to continue his sinful behaviors. Jesus was never afraid to speak out about injustice, about oppression, and about hypocritical law keeping to those in power. As his church we must speak out too. 

There is a good deal of research on the effects of positive peer pressure. For example, when bullies are confronted by strong men and told, “We don’t act that way around here,” or, “We don’t treat our women that way,” it yields positive results. How might the young woman in Steubenville have felt the next morning if she woke up at one of her friend’s homes instead of naked in a stranger’s house? If one of her friends had the courage to speak up and gather a group of girls or boys together that would have protected her? How might those two football players felt the next morning when they realized that their friends stopped them from doing the unthinkable? 

A number of women have told me that they begged someone in church leadership to speak to their husband about his destructive behaviors. When we do so, we have an opportunity to stand alongside the victim and bear witness to the sinfulness of her husband’s behaviors as well as help the abuser truly repent. Jesus gives us a method of dealing with difficult people and reconciling relationships. It calls for speaking up. It calls for increasing the pressure and accountability on one who will not take responsibility for their wrongdoing. It calls for the church to sanction and distance themselves from someone who refuses to repent in the hopes that as they feel the pain and shame from the group, they will be willing to change. Sadly, most churches do not implement Matthew 18 or other biblical passages with destructive husbands, and therefore a Christian woman is left without the social support and peer pressure that God provided.

Perhaps you are not a church leader or a person of great influence, but you too can speak out and come alongside a hurting woman or mentor a man who is disrespectful and/or abusive toward his wife. No one heals from destructive relationship patterns through counseling alone. People are wounded in relationships and people are healed in relationships. But it takes real people in real community in real relationships. If the church does not, will not, or cannot provide this for broken people, then where will they go?

7 1/2 Minutes to Courageous Family Communication


7 ½ Hour vs 7 ½ Minutes

We rarely hesitate to send our children to public school for 7 1/2 hours every day. After all it is required by law that we educate our children!

As a homeschooling family, I admit, we didn't always spend a full 7 1/2 hours in formal educational exercises, but we probably spent more than 7 1/2 hours every day in formal and informal educational activities combined. Our children were with us all day, every day, and every moment became a teachable moment. Because we were homeschooling we were used to sitting down in a classroom or formal type setting to teach our children and we had the blessed privilege of beginning with Scripture and teaching everything—from language and grammar and law and science and medicine and history—based on the foundation of God’s Word. In addition, we read the Bible together every day of the week. 

But for most families, sitting down for formal teaching and training as a family could feel uncomfortable and unnatural. How many days a week does your family sit together (not in front of the TV or with video games and iPhones in hand!)?

The 7 ½ Minute Challenge

What if your family spent 7 1/2 minutes every day sitting down together at the kitchen table and offering instruction, guidance, encouragement? What if you read seven Bible verses to each other during the 7 1/2 minutes? What if you used these 7 1/2 minutes to cover very important topics for the health of your family? 

After all, you are commanded to keep His statutes and commandments; to love God; and to teach His ways to your children!

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Deuteronomy 6:6–7

What do your children need? 

Spending 7 1/2 minutes around the table and asking them what they need will provide you with the materials or with the subjects that you need to be teaching your family. 

Beginning with Scriptures will keep you focused on pleasing God first and honoring Him in everything you teach your children each day. 

Try this for 7 1/2 days, for 7 1/2 weeks, or more!

A RHEMA Counseling TOOL to Guide You  

These are seven dimensions of wellness of the family that could be addressed during the 7 1/2 precious minutes. What does God teach us in His Word about honoring him in these areas?


B is for body – Does anyone in the family have special physical needs this week? Do you all need to implement a walk together to get more exercise?  (1 Corinthians 3:16–17 & 6:19–20—your body is a temple; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Corinthians 9:27)

E is for emotion – Is anyone depressed or anxious about anything? How can you introduce humor and laughter into your time together? (Proverbs 15:18 – be slow to anger; Philippians 4:6–7; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Proverbs 15:13)

L is for livelihood – What do Dad and Mom do for a living? What do all of the kids want to do as adults? (Exodus 20:8–11, Deuteronomy 5:12–15—God commands us to work; Philippians 4:8-9; Proverbs 16:28; Hebrews 13:18; Colossians 3:23—work as for the Lord; Proverbs 13:4; Philippians 4:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12; Proverbs 14:23)

I is for intellect – How is everyone doing in school? Does anyone need help studying? (Proverbs 1:5—increase in learning; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 10:17; Proverbs 18:15; 2 Peter 1:5—faith, virtue & knowledge; Philippians 1:9–11; Daniel 5:14)

E is for environment – Is there any way to change or improve the home environment to accommodate the needs of all or to provide a more peaceful and comfortable setting? (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 1:1–6; 1 Corinthians 4:2—be found trustworthy; Luke 12:27-30; Psalm 127—the Lord builds the home & verses 3–4—children are a heritage from the Lord... a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior....)

F is for family and friends – How can your family open their home and arms to others to promote lasting and exhorting relationships? (1 Timothy 5:8 provide for your family; Ephesians 6; Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 13; John 15:13; Ecclesiastes 4:10; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 18:24; Proverbs 17:17)

S is for spiritual and soul issues – Can you as parents/leaders enhance the spiritual growth of your children by enjoying Scripture reading or Devotional studies together? (1 Thessalonians 5:23—spirit, soul, and body; Grow—Colossians 1:9–10; 1 Peter 2:1–25; Matthew 5:6; Psalm 1:1–3; 2 Peter 1:5–8)

Have conversations about and ask questions of one another based on these 7 dimensions for 7 ½ minutes!

Let us know what you learned from this short experience. 

Experiencing Some Resistance?

Will there be grumbling and mumbling? Of course there will be because this is not common practice in your family. It feels unnatural and awkward. And sensitive subjects will sometimes arise that need to be addressed during these precious moments. But remember your children don't always want to take a math course or reading or writing course at school. They don't always want to arise early in the morning and get dressed and be ready when it's time to walk out the door. 

Right to Ask / Commanded to Teach

You have as much right to ask them to join with you in this exercise that they are not comfortable with at home, as you do to ask them to do exercises that they don't want to do at school and sports, and at church and in the community.

After all, you are commanded to keep His statutes and commandments; to love God; and to teach His ways to your children when “sitting, walking, lying, and rising”!

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Deuteronomy 6 (English Standard Version, ESV) (Also Deuteronomy 11:11–25)

A wise Pastor once said to our congregation, “Now, if you can find a time when you are not supposed to be instructing your children in God’s ways; when you are not sitting, walking, lying, and rising, you let me know!”

May God Bless you and your family in this endeavor!

Karen Lindwall-Bourg, MA, LPC-S, FT /

How to Find Joy IN Suffering

by Brad Hambrick

When Scripture indicates that Christians should be able to rejoice in their suffering (Rom. 5:3–5) because of the hope we have in the gospel, it can be difficult to accept. Some try to make the teaching more palatable by offering a variant definition of joy; others try to promise that the outcomes of how God redeems suffering will be so significant the pleasure will be greater than the pain.

There are times when either approach can be accurate and helpful. Yes, there are times when our expectations of happiness are so temporal that we need to be challenged. And there are also times when God does amazing things in our hardships which we would never change.

But these two options, by themselves, seem incomplete. I would like to offer a third possibility through a metaphor emphasizing the word in.

There is a rainbow “in” every drop of water. When light passes through a water droplet a full spectrum of colors are revealed. Depending on the source of light, shape of the water, and location of the surface on which the rainbow appears different variants of colors show up. The full ROY G BIV spectrum is there, but the thickness of each color varies.

Here is how the metaphor plays out:  

  • Water represents the suffering we experience.
  • Light represents the redemptive work / truth of God.
  • Colors represent the various religious affections that can be demonstrated; for the purposes of this blog, the expectation that we should experience joy.

Joy is not the only “color” that can express faith (light) in hardship (water). There is also courage, hope, honesty, authenticity, love, etc. Too often in these suffering/joy discussions we get hung up on one color in the rainbow. There are times, perhaps frequently in the early stages of suffering, when “joy” may be the skinny color in the rainbow.

Consider, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted (Matt. 5:4).” In this case the dominant color of faith is authenticity—being vulnerable about the nature of one’s loss. God’s light takes the form of comfort in this context of loss. The result is the capacity for joy, a very skinny color in the immediate moment, is a slowly returned as precious memories you loved one can be savored again.

The reality is that various forms of suffering (water: pure, salted, colored) will produce different emotional experiences. How God cares for and speaks to each of these situations will be different (light: sun, florescent, colored). In return the emotional form our faith takes (color: full emotional spectrum) will be different and may initially be “dark” or “dull” colors.

But the promise is, as we cooperate with God’s redemptive work in the midst of our suffering, the “joy color” will be restored to our emotional experience. Suffering cannot remove the capacity for joy from our experience.

God does not call us to be emotionally fake—the equivalent of adding food coloring to the water to force the “appropriate-Christian” color change. Instead, God calls us to trust him that the capacity for joy is not removed from our life by the pollution of suffering.

While I know this is stretching the metaphor even further, I believe it is another important point to be made, sometimes God restores the capacity for joy by wiping away the droplet in the form of a tear and collecting it as a tender treasure (Psalm 56:8). God often choose tenderness as his “light,” even more than explanation, as the way he restores our capacity for joy.

Any post built on metaphors runs the risk of being as confusing as clarifying. My attempt has been to help those who are suffering see that God does not expect you to force a pleasant emotion on these experiences. God can comfort you in this moment and still bring forth the “color of joy” in the experience while honoring the genuine emotional turmoil of your suffering.

5 Warning Signs a Marriage May be Destructive

by Leslie Vernick

When Emma first met Rick, she was instantly smitten by his handsome features, strong masculine build, his take-charge personality, and over-the-top charm. Ten months later they were married in a fairytale wedding in front of over 200 friends and family.

Once they returned home from their honeymoon, Rick made it clear to Emma that he was the head of their home. He immediately took over the family finances, told Emma that he didn’t like her best friend, Cheryl, and he didn’t want her hanging with her anymore. He said she was a bad influence. Despite that fact that Emma worked full time as a project engineer, Rick found fault with everything she did. It was never good enough or up to his standards. 

Sometimes, Rick would leave for hours at a time and not tell her where he was. When she questioned where he went, he told her it was none of her business. Many nights she endured Rick’s tongue lashings, telling her how incompetent, stupid, or disappointing she was. Emma tried hard to please Rick, hoping that he’d acknowledge her efforts, but somehow she always fell short. The more she tried, the more he found wrong. 

Now, five years and two children later, Emma feels broken and scared. What was so wrong with her that Rick couldn’t love her? Why couldn’t she make her husband happy? He called her the most foul and degrading names. Emma felt like she was dying. Who could she talk to? What should she do? Did anyone see or care about what was happening to her?

Emma’s cries echo the despair of many women who find themselves in a marriage that is destructive and damaging to their emotional, spiritual, mental, financial, and physical well-being. Emotional abuse is something the church still fails to recognize, yet it is real and it’s pervasive.

When Emma comes to you for counseling because she’s depressed or has problems with her kids, the following are five sign posts that tell you her marriage may be destructive..

1. She feels controlled: Does her spouse regularly squash her perspective on things? Does he refuse to work with her as a partner and share power in decision making? 

2. She feels afraid: Obviously whenever there is any kind of physical or verbal abuse the marriage is destructive. Emma wasn’t physically abused, but she felt afraid to put her foot down and challenge Rick on anything. Her self-esteem and worth were constantly diminished by Rick’s overbearing personality, and she felt afraid she was losing who she was within her marriage.

Does her spouse bully her, threaten her, humiliate her, intimidate her, force or coerce her to do things she doesn’t want to do? 

3. She often feels confused: Rick was in charge of finances. However, when late payment charges started coming in, Emma brought it to Rick’s attention. Rick got angry and accused Emma of failing to remind him when they were due. Emma didn’t know she was supposed to remind Rick, and when she did remind him of things, he accused her of trying to control him. 

Does her spouse mislead her, deny things that she knows are true, lie about things, or try to get her to blame herself or other people when he messes up?

4. She feels dismissed: Emma lost her voice in her marriage. Her perspective, feelings, desires, and needs are regularly ignored or minimized. 

Does her spouse ignore her feelings and act indifferently to her and her needs? 

5. She feels objectified: Rick wanted a happy and willing wife in the bedroom but wasn’t interested in Emma as a person. He never asked about her day, didn’t encourage her interests, and got angry when she asked him to do something for her when there was nothing in it for him. 

Does her spouse act as if her sole purpose is to meet his needs and make him happy? 

If you recognize that a woman’s marriage may be destructive, the following are four things you can do to help her take to make necessary changes.   

1. Help her tell the truth, especially to herself. She can’t see clearly what her next steps will be until she takes this first one. Many women feel terrified to admit, even to themselves, that their marriage is destructive. Instead, they pretend, minimize, rationalize, and make excuses. Like Emma did, many women blame themselves for their husband’s mistreatment and say, “I shouldn’t have said (or done) that. It’s my fault I made him mad.” But healthy people live in truth not fantasy. The worst lies a person tells are the ones she tells herself. She won’t get or accept the help she needs unless she can first tell herself the truth; her marriage is emotionally destructive.

2. Help her find support: Most women feel a lot of shame about being abused. It’s hard to admit the ugly truth to herself, let alone share it with someone else. Isolation is a tactic used by concentration camp guards to maintain control over prisoners. Inquire whether her husband is isolating her from other people. The more she complies to keep peace, the more power and control he will gain over her. Educate her about abusive tactics and help her find a support group where she can share her story with a few safe women who understand and can pray with her. 

3. Help her learn to speak up and set boundaries. Healthy individuals already know how to do this, and that’s why they don’t allow themselves to be repeat victims. When a wife has lost her freedom to say “no,” she’s been muzzled or restricted like a child. This is not healthy for her as an adult woman or a wife. She is her husband’s partner, but that does not mean that a godly wife simply keeps silent when her spouse steers the family car off a cliff. Her silence only enables his destructive behavior to continue. Instead, teach her to lovingly yet firmly speak up and set boundaries so that he might come to his senses, see his destructive behaviors, and repent.

4.  Help her implement appropriate consequences: One of life’s great teachers is consequences (Galatians 6:7). Sadly, many women have been encouraged to mitigate negative consequences because “love covers a multitude of sins.” But sometimes someone’s sin is so repetitive and hurtful the only way to shock someone awake is to implement strong negative consequences. For example, a wife might refuse to drive with her husband if he’s regularly indulged in road rage or she may initiate a biblical separation because he refuses to change his abusive behaviors. 

What’s happening behind closed doors is not only destructive to her; it’s harmful to her children as well as to her spouse. No man feels good about himself when he mistreats the people he’s promised to love and protect. For the family’s future, change needs to happen and that change begins as you empower her to wisely and biblically stand up for what’s true, what’s good, and what’s right.

5 Reasons We Argue about Greatness

by John Henderson

“But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” (Luke 22:26)

Each of us, more likely than not, carries in mind some idea about greatness in human life. If someone were to ask, “What does it mean to be great, or a great person?” we could probably drum up some kind of definition. And that’s what I want you to do now. Define greatness. Consider what you think it means and involves.

Does it mean being wealthy or powerful? Does it mean being loved and accepted by people? Does it mean being served at nice restaurants, or spas, or resorts? Is greatness having a marriage you can be proud of at church? Could it be the quality of your children - their behavior, health, marriages, and ministries? Could it be your personal health, physical fitness, and body image?

Could it be your ability to resist temptation and not fall to sin? Could it be size of your ministry? Do you define greatest as being incredibly productive in ministry and better than all those people who don’t succeed, or fall so terribly short? Spoken or not, we each carry some kind of personal scorecard. What line items compose your scorecard?

In Luke 22 we get a glimpse into the upper room where Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover and established the Lord’s Supper. What a scene! Jesus reclining at table with His followers, enjoying a feast (Passover) that Jesus Himself fulfilled, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). At some point in the evening He established communion, a new ceremony to help us remember what He was about to do at the cross.

Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and then passed it to His disciples saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19) When I think about this image, substitution comes to mind - His body broken in our place. He became our sin so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In the same way He took the cup, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20) Here I think of atonement. His blood pays for sin. It ratifies the new covenant. The shedding of His blood satisfies the wrath of God. The substitution of His body and blood in our place absorbs God’s wrath and provides a way for us to be redeemed and reconciled. What a glorious Person and reality to remember!

The Unfortunate, Oh-So-Common Debate

In the atmosphere of this beautiful and critical event, “there arose a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). And I think we are meant to realize this wasn’t a random conversation, nor was Jesus Christ the unanimous and rapid choice. They weren’t actually focused on Him, or the significance of His body and blood being broken and poured out for their salvation. It’s been 5 minutes and they’ve already forgotten what He just said and did.

Something in His words, however, did register: “behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table” (Luke 22:21). The statement sends them reeling. They’re wondering, “Who’s He talking about?” Their argument about who’s the greatest probably builds from this question. Each man is submitting their compelling case for why it couldn’t possibly be him since he is, in fact, better than everyone else.

“Nothing can be more humiliating than that the disciples should have had such contentions, and in such a time and place. That just as Jesus was contemplating his own death, and labouring to prepare them for it, they should strive and contend about office and rank, shows how deeply seated is the love of power; how ambition will find its way into the most secret and sacred places; and how even the disciples of the meek and lowly Jesus are sometimes actuated by this most base and wicked feeling.” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament)

Why Does This Happen?

1.      Because our sinful flesh wants the glory

I think Barnes said it well, “deeply seated is the love of power.” We don’t have to develop our love for power. It’s already there in our hearts. Ambition finds its way into the most secret and sacred places because we carry it in. We carry it into the pulpit. We carry it into the elder meeting. It walks with us into the workplace, the kitchen, and the counseling room, just the way it walked into the upper room. Selfish ambition blinds us to the splendor of God displayed before our very eyes. It stirs irrelevant and fruitless conversations quite detached from what really matters.

2.      Because we tend to think of ourselves more highly than we ought

The idea of betraying Jesus seems plausible for everyone in the room, except me, of course. Denying the Lord was inconceivable to Peter and the rest of the disciples, let alone betraying Him. If we were present, then we would have argued the same. We tend to think of ourselves, of our faith, loyalty, and strength too highly. When we’re told someone in the group will betray, deny, or abandon Jesus Christ, whether permanently or temporarily, whether completely or in part, we typically don’t step forward as the leading choice. We submit more likely candidates. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

3.      Because we tend to move into a state of insecurity and defensiveness when life starts to go wrong

The scene in upper room was first a celebration, then a time for sober expectation. Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the One who would set everything straight and establish the kingdom of God on earth. Yet for a number of days Jesus has been speaking of his death and resurrection. Now He’s talking about betrayal and torture and execution. It’ seems to be getting worse, not better. The wheels of the kingdom seem to be falling off. The supposed-to-be-winners were apparently becoming the losers. The disciples, each in their own way, start to panic and defend themselves. We’re inclined the same way.

4.      Because pronouncing our greatness in devotion to Jesus Christ sounds good, not bad

Telling other people how much we love Jesus sounds like a wonderful testimony to the glory of Christ and His grace. Sometimes it can be. Or it could be a claim to our personal greatness. We can be slow to realize that our faithfulness to the Lord is firstly a work of His Spirit (Romans 12:3-21; Galatians 5:22-23). Peter and the other disciples had a delusional picture of their devotion to Christ. We often relate to the Lord and others inside the same delusional picture.

5.      Because we’re probably more shaped by the world than we realize

The rulers of the Gentiles lorded their authority. The great men of the first century demanded honor, respect, and service. They loved the title, “Benefactor” (Luke 22:25) – which means, one benefiting those put into their care. Yet almost every leader of Jesus’ day used their position for personal gain. Greatness meant being benefited. It meant standing on top. It meant wielding influence to get what you wanted. It meant being served, not serving. It meant being first, not last. The disciples were probably more shaped by their culture then they realized. So are we. Everything that was true then is still true now.

The Lord’s Response

Jesus responds to the disciples with challenging words and an even more challenging example. After summarizing the world’s way of lording authority, Jesus said, “Not this way with you.” (Luke 22:26) He gave a simple and clear corrective. Don’t define greatness the way the world defines greatness. Define it by humble, joyful service. Don’t claw for the top. Strive for the bottom.

The paradigm Jesus imparted would have strange to the disciples. It remains entirely unique. The world will do it one way. We are to do it another. The world handles rank, strength, and glory in one form, whereas the people God are to handle them in another. “Become like the youngest… like the servant.” (Luke 22:26)

In other words, become like one who expects and receives the least honor and power, especially those who occupy positions of authority. Become like the one who receives less respect; Deflect glory, don’t absorb it; Give deference, don’t horde it. Assume a kind of meekness the world tends to devalue and avoid. Especially if you have received a seat of leadership, occupy the place with the attitude of a servant. I think that’s what Jesus is trying to convey.

“I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27) Even though He deserved all honor, all the power, all the glory, all the privilege, all the possessions, all the worship, Jesus lived as a slave. Even though He was their Teacher and Lord, as He remains today, He related to the disciples from the posture of a humble, sacrificial servant. In fact, John 13 tells the story of Jesus washing their feet. It shows Jesus putting His understanding of greatness into action.

Our Response

After washing the disciples feet Jesus said, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” (John 13:15) Jesus provided words and works for us to enjoy and obey. He’s not telling us to forsake leadership, but to forsake the world’s form of leadership. He’s showing us who God really is, and how we can become like Him and reflect Him in the world. Consider a few questions for thought and prayer.

·         In your marriage, family, ministry, and relationships to others, do you assume the posture of joyful servant? Or is it beneath you?

·         In which direction do you exert most of your energy, to climb up or to climb down?

·         When humiliated, condescended upon, dishonored, or unnoticed in your service to others, what do you say to yourself and to God? Do you say: “This is good for me. Thank you Lord!” Or do you grumble, complain, defend, fight, and dispute?

·         When you consider the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, does it really humble you as a leader?

You're Always in School

by Paul Tripp

I remember when I graduated from seminary my dad said, "You know, you're still in school, it's just a different kind of school than you've been in the last three years. Pay attention and learn your lessons well." Dad was right; we're all being schooled every day. So it's appropriate to ask in the never-ending learning center that’s human life, who is schooling you? There’s never a day that passes without you being taken to school in some way. Life is really all about teaching and learning. And there’s a way in which neither stops from the first day until the last day of your life. So perhaps one of the most important diagnostic questions that each of us should be asking is this: “Do I approach life as a student?” 

If you’re committed to know and understand; if you’re committed to journey from ignorance to knowledge and from foolishness to wisdom; if you’re interested in more than your own plan and perspective, then it only makes sense to learn at the feet of the world’s best Teacher. Who could know more or be wiser than the One who put the universe into motion; who presently holds it together, and who controls its destiny? Who could know more about the true meaning and purpose of life? Who could know more about your identity? Who could know more about the environment in which you live? Who could know more about the foundational questions of life? 

The Proverbs say it very well: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” I like John Calvin’s paraphrase of that: “There is no knowing that does not begin with knowing God.” There can be no better place to go to school than to the University of the Lord and there could be no better course of study than the way of the Lord. 

His way is wisdom, and wisdom requires understanding his way. So where are you going for wisdom? Whose school have you been attending? Who shapes your definition of the meaning and purpose of life? Who tells you who you are and what you should be doing? Who crafts the way you look at the surrounding world? Who defines your problems? Who instructs you as to how they will be solved? Who helps you to determine your life’s direction? Who tells you what’s functionally important and what isn’t? Who shapes your relationships? Who clarifies your thinking in moments of difficulty? Are you really a faithful student in the school of the Lord, or do you just audit now and then when it’s convenient? Let me suggest the characteristics of a student in the school of the Lord. 

A healthy cynicism toward your own wisdom.

Sin reduces all of us to fools; but it does something else that’s even more insidious; it makes us believe that we are wise. Independent wisdom was both the seductive temptation and the delusional desire behind the fall. One of the primary reasons Adam and Eve were attracted to the fruit was that it was “to be desired to make one wise.” But eating the fruit didn’t result in wisdom; no, it opened the floodgates of foolishness, and we’ve been drowning in its waters ever since. 

You and I were never created with the autonomous capacity to be wise. Wisdom doesn’t come through research, experience, and study. Wisdom comes by revelation and relationship. You only get wisdom from the One who is its ultimate source, the Lord. 

A humble sense of need.

We all get lulled to sleep by feelings of arrival, by feeling satisfied with our character, our knowledge, and our behavior. We have little desire for further growth. You know what it’s like. We all have the capacity to be too easily satisfied. Because we know more today than we did yesterday, we quit working to know more tomorrow. Rather than gratitude for what God has taught us, motivating us to learn more, we get smug and lazy, quite content to consider ourselves God’s graduates. 

A willing and open heart.

Willingness and openness are the essential characteristics of any good student. Why, you may ask? Because learning not only shows me what I didn’t know, but it points out the places where what I thought I knew was, in fact, wrong. I can’t tell you how many defensive students I’ve met in my many years of teaching. “Defensive student” is actually an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or low-fat butter. You can’t be defensive and be a student. You have to open up your heart. You have to be willing to be told that you’re wrong. You have to submit yourself to someone who knows better and knows more. Defending what you know won’t lead to either further or corrected understanding. Willingness to listen, consider, and change are in the heart of every good student. 

Discernment, focus, and determination.

Discernment means that you have to make sure you’re submitting yourself to qualified teachers. Paul says in Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Once you’re sitting at the feet of those who represent the Teacher of teachers, then continued learning takes focus. 

You live in a world of many, many voices. All of them are interpreting your world and all of them are vying for the allegiance of your heart. And you have to remember that learning is a process, not an event. One truth opens the doorway to another truth. One truth functions as an interpreter of a truth previously introduced but now understood more fully. Learning is a lifelong process, and because it is, it requires perseverance. 

Commitment to act on what you are learning. Any seasoned teacher will tell you that real learning takes place after the students leave the classroom and practice what they’ve been taught. The God who’s your teacher will orchestrate events, situations, and relationships for the purpose of causing you to live what you’ve been learning. Life is his classroom, and in every new location on each new day, provides a rich and God-given environment to understand more deeply and to live more wisely. So good students always carry with them the commitment to look for ways to apply what they’ve been learning, and they know that as they do, their learning will continue. 

By God’s grace we haven’t been left to our own wisdom. We’ve been brought into personal communion with the One who is the source of everything that’s wise and true. So these questions remain: Are you a committed student? Whose school are you attending? 

Perhaps the psalmist’s prayer should be a daily plea for all of us: 

"Teach me your way, O LORD, 
and lead me on a level path 
because of my enemies." 
Psalms 27:11

Depression and the Ministry

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

A Common Scenario

Pastor Bill and his wife Lisa had a growing church and a good marriage, but something was wrong. For over six months Bill felt tired much of the time. He found himself snapping at his kids and growing more distant from his loving wife. His sermon preparation was arduous and he had lost the passion in the pulpit he once had. He was beginning to dread Sundays because he had to face his flock and deliver a message. He stopped doing the things he loved—riding his bike with a friend and even playing golf. He was eating more and exercising less.

Bill had lost his 1st wife years before, but had handled the loss amazingly well. He continued to preach and serve others with only a short period of grieving. Two years later he remarried a godly woman who had been friends with his wife. Other than his recent struggle with “motivation,” Bill and his new wife and family were doing great. Now his wife and the elders were concerned with what appeared to be burn-out. Was he having some type of mid-life crisis, was he in a spiritual slump, or did he have a physical issue going on that was sapping his energy? Bill couldn’t figure it out. He was spiritually dry, could not concentrate in prayer, and woke up many nights with anxiety. He came to counseling wondering what was going on and just wanted life to go back to normal.

Causes of Depression

Depression certainly can emerge from unconfessed sin as we see in Psalm 51 with King David, but depression can also be a part of suffering loss or being soul weary. There can also be complicating factors like a thyroid disorder, sleep apnea, or diabetes that may bring on depressive symptoms. It is important to do a thorough assessment and rule out physical factors before focusing on the heart.

The symptoms of depression can be like a dummy light on the dashboard, but, if ignored, they are more like a seized engine. Here are some common symptoms—see if you can identify these in Bill’s life or if you have any of them present in your own life.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Depression varies and is best thought of on a continuum from mild to severe. Mild depression might only include a few of these symptoms like fatigue, increased or decreased appetite, insomnia, periods of feeling down or sad, trouble concentrating, and/or loss of motivation. With youth, irritability and restlessness may be more predominant.

Moderate depression might also include periods of hopelessness, nagging physical issues, feeling alone, a loss of pleasure in most things that were once of high interest.

Severe depression is likely to include guilt, feeling of worthlessness, times of uncontrolled weeping and isolation, trouble functioning at work or even taking care of one’s basic needs, exhaustion and physical lethargy. If left unchecked it can lead to thoughts of suicide or suicidal behavior.

The Unique Vulnerability of Pastors

In Bill’s story, we can see many of the moderate symptoms of depression. He ignored the earlier signs and never really grieved the loss of his wife or the friends they had together. While he seemed to cope well with the loss and the growing pressure of single parenting, he began a slow descent into a depression that affected him spiritually, physically, and mentally. He began to rely on years of experience and a drive to not let anyone down. He was neither serving out of the overflow of a vital relationship with God nor was he leaning into his community for support and accountability.

Like Bill, many ministry leaders struggle to be transparent for several reasons. It may seem odd or counter intuitive, but the average pastor usually does not have a “Proverbs 17:17 friend.” I have heard over and over, “Who could I tell?” “Who could I burden with this?” “Who can I trust?” “I fear I might lose my job.” Like David, pastors might utter in the privacy of their own thoughts, “… no one cares for my soul” (Ps 142:4).

Another issue for pastors is spiritual warfare. Satan is a real adversary, and he is particularly good at isolating and targeting pastors and their families. Many pastors grow weary and disconnected. Soon they start to perform outside their position in Christ and fear the opinion of others rather than leaning into community.

As Bill stopped abiding, he started performing. He was now even more susceptible to spiritual attacks, feeling like a hypocrite, and running on empty. This “perfect storm” can lead to despair often resulting in pastors and ministry leaders leaving the ministry. It is a good thing to consider whether depression has already affected your ministry or whether you need to make adjustments now to avoid this slippery slope.

Victory over the Shame of Sexual Abuse

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

On several occasions I spoken on the topic of sexual abuse and the shame associated with it. Shame is such a pervasive part of any kind of abuse or any sin. What has profoundly impacted me as I’ve thought about all this is how my brothers and sisters are overwhelmed by the sin of sexual abuse and the shame that accompanies it.

Driven Undercover by Shame

I’ve also thought a lot lately about my own shame. I  have a propensity to want to hide or depersonalize my pain by distraction—just not being real with people. Shame leads me to a place where I can’t even worship without self-consciousness.

Shame is universal and started in the garden of Eden. God covered our shame over and over but Christ absorbed it once and for all at the Cross. We get that intellectually, but those who have been abused hear other voices—voices of condemnation and humiliation. Their shame seems so much deeper. It can easily enter the soul like deadly venom. Shame drives us undercover, but the cost is great. We can hide so well. God calls us out of hiding, asking us to consider, “Where are you?”

Slaying the Goliath of Shame

Shame can be such a giant. God wants us to be victors, but how are we to slay the Goliath of shame? It is only through Christ’s blood and His divine power that we dare enter battle. We dare not cower or in our fear give way to the god of this world. Satan wants to keep us from the freedom found in Christ and the power found in forgiveness at the cross. Christ despised the shame of the cross and slayed the giant for us.

Imagine if David had dropped his slingshot and run. David was mocked, tried on the wrong armor, but then remembered who he was and that the battle was not his. He was not alone. Taking one small smooth stone and the courage mustered from his zeal for God, he faced Goliath, dropping him like a giant redwood. But he did not just knock him out; he cut his head off!

Shame can come and go, until you have a funeral and forgive once and for all. Just think about that. What would it be like if we knew the power of God to overcome shame? Jesus despising the shame of the cross, bleeding, naked and in soul pain, took on the shame that was ours.

There is nothing that robs the perpetrator of haunting our memories or possessing our soul like our identification with the passion of Christ. We are so much more than what has happened to us. We need to reorient our whole identity with His life in us. We have to finish the journey going from the garden to the cross, from being overwhelmed at the garden to being victorious at the cross, defeating death and shame forever. Not that we would be rid of our pain… not necessarily… but that the pain would be redeemed pain.

There is Therefore Now No Condemnation

Satan hates this truth… that pain can be used for God’s glory. Satan hates it and will lie to us so we look away from Christ. Yet, even the most heinous sins of our past will be redeemed for the glory of the only one worthy of our worship and for our good!

Just think about the word redemption. Our self-condemnation serves no godly purpose. It is Satan’s trick to keep us from freedom. A cheap ploy to rob us of the deep conviction and then the even deeper mercy that gives peace.

A Personal Invitation: From Victim to Victor

Come to Christ, confess, weep, receive His love, and rest in Him. Perfect love drives out fear. Rebuke the lies, listen to the voice of Truth, and receive the comfort of His Spirit. Don’t give your perpetrator, Satan, one more moment of satisfaction. Remember, he who conceals his sin will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes his sin will receive mercy (Proverbs 28:13). If you were abused, you did not bring any shame on to yourself. However, you are living under it if you identify more with being a victim than with being a victor in Christ.

Confess any bitterness, release the shame, and quit hiding from God. Hiding in itself is a sin. Come into the light. He will replace with righteous robes those flimsy fig leaves that keep you in humiliation and fear. He will redeem your pain—over time you will be healed at a soul level.

You will be a mighty instrument of redemption for others. Others will see and praise God. We need you. Your courage, your story, your vulnerability will surely be used to purify and give hope to many. God will shine once again through you, and His glory will be revealed through the cracks left as a reminder that we are but jars of clay.

10 Hard Steps to Healing after an Affair

by Leslie Vernick

Sexual infidelity is betrayal of the deepest kind, and most marriages don’t fully recover. That’s why Jesus said it was one of the few grounds for divorce (Matthew 19:9). For a marriage to heal, both the unfaithful spouse and the one betrayed must fight hard to rebuild their relationship.

After disclosure, couples may seek pastoral or professional help. This is important because without outside accountability most couples will not do the work necessary to heal the damage even if they choose to stay married.

As biblical counselors, it is crucial that we understand that adultery is always evidence of a deeper more sinister problem. Before a marriage can be rebuilt, the root heart problem(s) must be identified and owned.

Let me illustrate. Many years ago near where I live, the city of Allentown, PA, was held spellbound by the drama surrounding a giant sinkhole that threatened to topple an entire office structure called Corporate Office Plaza. The sinkhole had developed in the middle of the night and quickly spread over 50 feet wide and 18 feet deep. 

The first clue that something was wrong came when operators of the city's reservoirs noticed a two-foot drop in water levels in the middle of the night. Crews were sent out to search for the leak and discovered a widening sinkhole that was swallowing up the water.  At dawn, before any businesses opened, the menacing sinkhole began its destruction in the street. Corporate Office Plaza began to sink and crumble. Huge shards of glass and bricks tumbled to the pavement below as the building began to buckle and crack, teetering on the verge of collapse.

“Can’t this building be stabilized?” the new anchors questioned. Business owners asked, “Can we at least go in to salvage our things?” It was February and many of the businesses occupying th building were accounting firms who were smack in the middle of tax season.

Unfortunately, Corporate Office Plaza was ruined. Destroyed from deep within by a force that was unobserved and unknown until too late.

In the same way, when adultery is exposed, what looked like a good marriage on the outside suddenly and dramatically begins to crumble. The very foundation, upon which that structure has been built, is questioned. What happened? What went wrong? How do we fix this? Is it even fixable?

Just like Corporate Office Plaza could not be safely rebuilt without first addressing the sinkhole problem, a marriage cannot be rebuilt without addressing the inner issues going on in the heart that led to someone to choose to betray and lie to his or her partner.

Below are ten (10) areas we need to explore with couples experiencing the pain of infidelity so that healing can take place.

  1. Does the spouse who committed adultery take ownership and repent for his or her choice without blaming? Please note, in addition, there may be serious marital issues that need to be addressed that may have contributed to the adulterer’s feelings of anger, resentment, and loneliness in the marriage that made his or her choice to cheat feel reasonable and acceptable. But those issues are secondary to first taking full responsibility and repenting for one’s choice to be unfaithful.
  2. Is there a willingness on the part of the adulterer to do the work of self-examination to understand better why he/she made that choice so that the triggers and excuses are addressed? Is he/she willing to look at the deep heart issues that allowed him to make this choice—the sinkholes in his life like pride, entitlement, selfishness, anger, poor impulse control, sexual addiction, and/or family history issues?
  3. Is there a genuine sorrow for the pain he/she has caused the spouse? Often times we see the “guilty” spouse in pain, but it’s more for the pain they’re in than the pain they’ve caused. Perhaps he is conflicted about whether to stay in the affair or in the marriage. Or she is in pain because she’s been caught, humiliated, or fears the loss of her children or financial security through divorce. But we don’t see any genuine acknowledgment or awareness for the pain they’ve caused their spouse.
  4. Is the adulterous spouse willing to sit with his/her spouse and really listen to her hurt and heartache over this and show compassion, empathy, and care no matter how long it takes?
  5. Is the injured spouse willing to forgive even if right now he/she doesn’t know how to do that?
  6. Is the injured spouse willing to take a hard look at ways he/she may have contributed to neglect in the marriage or other unresolved problems that created emotional distancing to develop? What were the sinkholes in the marriage before this happened?
  7. Is the injured spouse willing to be honest with her feelings of sadness, hurt, anger and do the hard work to work through them and move past them? So often there is pressure to sweep one’s negative emotions under the rug and forgive and move on without doing the hard work of actually feeling them and letting them go.
  8. Is the injured spouse willing to acknowledge the positive changes his/her spouse is making toward rebuilding trust and healing the marriage?
  9. Is the couple able to tolerate that the healing process goes in fits and starts? It isn’t a smooth ride.
  10. Is the spouse who committed adultery willing to be patient with the process as his/her spouse struggles to let it go, gets retriggered with old memories or current reminders, or can’t immediately feel trust or warm feelings for his/her spouse? Does the adulterer show empathy and compassion for his/her partner’s struggle or irritation and impatience? Is the adulterer willing to do what it takes to rebuild her trust?

A marriage that has suffered infidelity can come through it stronger and healthier than it was before the affair if together a couple does the hard work. Sadly, often a couple wants a quick fix and aren’t willing to do what it takes. But think of it this way. If Corporate Plaza had been rebuilt without addressing why the sinkhole was there and how to prevent it from happening in the future, it would have been foolish. The entire structure would be vulnerable to the same problem happening all over again.

In the same way, let’s be careful as biblical counselors to not try to repair the marriage after adultery without addressing the sinkholes that got them there in the first place.

Quick to Judge

by Paul Tripp

Sometimes we're quicker to judge than to comfort.

This hit me recently on the streets of Philadelphia, where I live. I walked by a young homeless person begging on the street and immediately thought to myself, "I wonder what they did to get themselves here."

Wow. That's about as far from a gracious response as you can get!

It's an embarrassing story for me to tell, but I'm willing to confess it because I'm convinced of this: criticism often comes more quickly to us than compassion.

See if any of these examples resonate with you recently:

  • We yell at our children for doing the same things we did as kidsL "When I was your age, I would have never thought about doing that!"
  • We look down on the parents in the restaurant who can't keep their kids in line: "I can't believe they're letting them misbehave like that in public!"
  • We think there's little excuse for being poor and have no sympathy for those who struggle to pay their bills: "Look at all the unwise decisions they make with their money!"
  • We scorn those who are not as smart or successful as we are: "They're so lazy; if they only worked harder they could do something with their life!"

Maybe you didn't say those exact words, but if you search long enough, you'll find examples of that self-righteousness functioning in your heart. When we look at ourselves and see strong, wise, capable, mature, and righteous people, we tend to look down on those who have not achieved what we think we have achieved.

So, here's what God, in love, will do: he will put us in situations where our weakness, foolishness, and immaturity are exposed so that we might become more sensitive and patient with others who struggle.

I remember when my father died. I had long prided myself on how well I understood and could communicate the important doctrine of God's sovereignty. But when my dad passed, God's plan didn't make sense. It looked chaotic and completely out of his control. Since then, I've grown to be comforting of people in tough situations who can't make sense of God's plan for their life.

The Apostle Paul captures this in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (ESV)

So, the next time you experience a hard moment, tell yourself this: "These moments are not just for my own growth in grace, but for my calling to be a tool of that same grace in the life of a fellow sufferer."

By sending difficulty your way, God is softening your heart and sharpening your edges so that you may be ready to make the comfort of the invisible Father visible in the life of the weary pilgrim he has placed in your pathway.

God intends for you to give away the comfort you've been given. The grace that has given you hope is meant to spill over into hope for the person next to you. What a plan!

God bless

Paul David Tripp


  • Can you identify with any of those 5 judgmental statements? If not those specifically, find a similar response from your life.
  • What is self-righteous about your response?
  • How would grace have responded? (Remember: grace never calls wrong "right"; it calls wrong "wrong" but does so in grace)
  • In what ways have you suffered or experienced loss recently? How did the "God of all comfort" comfort you?
  • How can you share that same comfort with someone suffering in a similar fashion? Be specific and make a plan to be an agent of comfort this week!