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‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’: And Other Misleading Advice to Young Husbands

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 8:01pm

The title read, “How Do I Get My Husband to Be Less Passive?”


The author, a wife and clinical psychologist, addressed the common complaint that women of various ages bring to her: their husbands lacked passion for anything but the couch and the screen. These wives wanted to know how to get their men to do something other than stare at the television, laptop, or smartphone, and how to get them to initiate something other than physical intimacy.

They wanted their men to plan dates, start conversations, play with the kids, stand up for themselves (at work) and for their wife (with the in-laws), or to show concern for daily decisions. The manly intentionality that had pursued these women during dating had dwindled in marriage.

Age-Old Problem

The complaint, of course, is nothing new. Paradise was lost when the first man took the easy path of appeasement in his marriage. The serpent hissed lies in her ear; he stood silently by. Instead of an uncomfortable moment with his wife, and then crushing the skull of her deceiver, he watched as she took a bite. Compromise bore twins, and he ate too (Genesis 3:6).

And we see Adam’s passivity echoed in countless marriages today. The temptation to be emotionally and spiritually absent, when physically present, has merely changed hairstyles over time. The same unmanly repose still beckons men to recline in the passenger’s seat. God calls out to husbands today with the same question he asked in the garden: “Adam, where are you?”

And where are we? Too often giving into the scheme that affords less responsibility and more opportunity to watch the game. Masculinity that leads through loving sacrifice can feel like an endangered species. And some of the mantras given to me as a newly married man may have hurt, instead of helped, my enlistment into the active-duty husbandry put on display in Jesus Christ.

Consider four naive, and easily misunderstood, words of counsel given to new husbands, even from well-meaning Christian brothers.

‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’

The advice could be redeemable. The husband should lavish his queen with love, finding a great deal of his joy in hers. And one could say it from an eternal perspective: Happy wife (in the Lord), happy life. But what is most often meant by this phrase cannot be missed: a man’s life is less miserable when his woman gets her way.

Such deferment is tempting: no conflict, no unhappy bride, no blame. Just letting her have her way is much more comfortable than making unpopular decisions on weighty matters, that you think (and pray) are spiritually best for her and your family: Whether they be where your children go to school, what church you join, where you live next, when to have children, or countless difficult choices that require spiritual energy, courage, and faith.

But Christ created men to initiate and bear responsibility. His glory is to sacrifice. His mission is to lead his wife and his family from the front, on his knees. Although his charge includes the flourishing of the wife, the health of our leadership does not depend solely upon the daily undulations of our bride’s earthly happiness, but on the consistency with which we obey our Master. You can have a happy, governing wife resulting in a shallow, resistance-free life, and end up with an unhappy Lord.

In the end, a nearsighted “happy wife, happy life” mentality throws the toys in the closet to go outside and play. Happy wife, easier life does not lead to happiness, but to a closet full of regret, bitterness, and selfishness, which we all must open eventually. It backfires on us, leaving even a growing number of unbelievers wondering how to get their men to be less passive. Lasting joy in our marriages is found in living out the drama of Christ and his bride, not Adam and his.

‘Your Spouse Is Your Best Friend’

She is not just your BFF because marriage is not simply friendship. It isn’t a symmetrical partnership in which the relational patterns are interchangeable. The elegance of the dance consists in the man leading assertively, lovingly, thoughtfully, and the woman following fearlessly, receptively, joyfully — which is much more than mere friendship. The dance is improper when the husband attempts to follow.

Now, if we mean that she is the one person with whom you confide most, the one earthly person you treasure most, the one person with whom a day spent doing menial tasks is anything but wasted, then, yes, this is a glory. But our marriages are more than a flat partnership.

The glory of a spouse is more than the glory of a friend. The miraculous event of God joining husband and wife together in a bond that none can break is a rose not to be hidden, even in the beautiful tulip-garden of friendship. The marriage drama enacts that of the Great Romance. This flower, by any other name, must smell distinctly sweet.

To ballet is not to waltz. The moon is not the sun. The companion is not the spouse.

‘Be a Servant Leader’

For sure, an aspect of this is incredibly right: Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give his life for many (Mark 10:45). That the husband should be like Jesus in such self-giving sacrifice is without question or asterisk. Being a servant leader is great advice — when both words are kept together.

Often, however, they are not. The paradox of servant leader devolves, in some minds, into merely meaning servant: You sacrifice your convictions for any and all of her ambitions. You take on her calling, not because of exceptional circumstance but only because you wanted to lay your aspirations down for hers. You coddle her, never asking her to do anything that she does not already want to do — even if you think it best for her ultimate joy in the Lord.

The good-intentioned servant (non)leader, in an honest attempt to love and serve his wife well, abdicates to a kind of service that undermines his call to be a husband and bear responsibility, take initiative, and feel the burden of the hardest decisions.

I prefer sacrificial leadership instead: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). It is a leadership that, while not relinquishing its responsibility or apologizing for its authority, sees leadership as a calling to inconvenience self first for the good of one’s family and neighbor.

‘Marriage Is 50/50’

Marriage, for the man especially, is not 50/50. Manhood doesn’t require her to scratch your back before you’ll scratch hers. Headship doesn’t keep score. You don’t go so far, and no farther, until she catches up. You don’t limit your patience, kindness, gentleness, and goodness until she matches. A husband’s love doesn’t bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things only half the time. Husbands don’t wait for reciprocation to initiate.

Jesus didn’t wait for his bride to meet him halfway. His spouse didn’t take half of the scourging or half of the cross. He, manly he, sacrificed all for her well-being — while she was yet a sinner. He gave all his life for hers. Nothing 50/50 about it. And sacrificial leadership is so happy in this love of Christ that we lay down our lives like he did — even when she isn’t “holding up her end of things.”

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church. We do not bring home the paycheck and expect the wife to pick up the remaining fifty percent of the relational tab with the kids. Marriages that start 50/50, often end 50/50 — splitting half of one’s assets in divorce.

Play the Man You Are

“Why did you wish me milder? Would you have me false to my nature? Rather say I, play the man I am.” Coriolanus, (Shakespeare’s, Coriolanus)

Our feminist-influenced, Bible-ignoring, headship-shaming society wishes real men to be milder. They wish you passive. They wish you silent.

But God entrusts you to speak, to sacrifice, to crush serpents. He calls you to be true to your nature — the one he gave you — and play the man that you are. And that man is not timid, not unassertive, not feeble in the faith: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

It cannot be asked of that man, “How can I get my husband to be less passive?” That man, as C.S. Lewis depicts, goes into battle first and retreats last. He, for truth’s and honor’s sake, “stands fast and suffers long.” God calls you to increasingly be this man, and provides the strength for you to be him when you feel weak. Stand upright, then, be strong, after the true strength and example of Jesus Christ. For your King, your wife, and your future kin.

God Rules the Heart of Every Man: Elijah’s Battle with the Prophets of Baal

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 11:01am

The people of God may appear weak, but God loves to be at a disadvantage — just before he wins.

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We All Battle Brokenness: Not Just Those with Same-Sex Attraction

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 8:00am

All of our brokenness — whether same-sex attraction, anger, or greed — follows us from our fall into sin. We all await final restoration.

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You Do Not Have Much Time

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 8:01pm

Of the many video clips I watched of Billy Graham in the week of his death, one in particular has stuck with me. Preaching in Southern Seminary Chapel in 1982, Graham said that at sixty-four years old his greatest surprise in life was the brevity of life: “If someone had told me when I was twenty years old that life was very short and would pass — just like that — I wouldn’t have believed it. And if I tell you that, you don’t believe it either. I cannot get young people to understand how brief life is, how quickly it passes.”

Time. Flying past us. Not enough of it. Slipping away from us. Always pressed for it. Wishing we were better at managing it. Feeling guilty we don’t have more for someone special, or something noble. We are always running out of time. And Billy Graham is right — oh, how quickly it passes.

Time is a profoundly theological entity. An eternal God teaches creatures some of his greatest lessons in the vehicle of time. It has both a linear and a circular form — you can’t repeat time, even as it gifts you many things on a repeating loop. All of it educates us about what God loves and about what it means to be human, giving us at least three great lessons.

1. The path of wisdom respects time’s rhythms.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It’s worth pausing right there, at the entrance to this most famous of reflections on time.

Scripture says there is a time for all things, but our world counters that, instead, all things can be done all the time. Most technology, for instance, has harnessed us to the lie that we can throw off the creaturely restraints of time and have access to everything always, without waiting, without stopping, and without needing to rest.

Electricity blurs the boundaries between working while it is day and sleeping while it is night. Our online life has become our timeless master, as several screens ping commands without end which we obey without question. Gyms, fuel stations, libraries, offices, and supermarkets are open 24-7 and we come to believe we can do everything all the time. There is no particular season for anything. We do what we want, when we want.

Wise people respect time’s rhythms. Dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, night. God made six days to work, one day to rest. This structures a week, which repeats over a month, and the months in years.

Many people try to live rhythm-free lives by simply doing whatever they feel like doing in any given moment, without proper attention to whether it is the right time to do that thing; this actually tears at the fabric of what it means to be human. We are now discovering that our constant, season-less attention to digital media is diminishing our personhood.

In years of pastoral ministry, I have not seen many families unravel who unswervingly observe the Lord’s Day together with deliberate joy and routine hospitality. I have witnessed others whose interruptible devotion to the corporate body is merely a symptom of the irregular rhythms in other areas of life.

2. The path of folly seeks to control time’s seasons.

Rhythms are not all there is in an ordinary life under the sun — there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2), there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), there is “a time to love, and a time to hate” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). These are seasons, not rhythms, for there is no predictability to their appearance in our timelines and often their presence takes us by surprise.

It takes the eye of faith to see that God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), because we often live with life’s ugliness and pain as much as its beauty and delight. Further, these are relational seasons: they involve people we love and lose, those we wrong and forgive, those we befriend and those who do us harm. We are profoundly relational beings and most of our lives are taken up with navigating the different seasons of our relationships and the effects they have on us.

Such seasons expose how little control we actually have over our lives. Zack Eswine says, “Many of our frustrations rise from our blindness to the change of season or to the pain or joy of them, and we struggle to adjust our expectations” (Recovering Eden, 130). What do we do with those seasons which bring wrecking-ball damage to our tidy little realms? Where do we turn?

Ecclesiastes helps us to see that one of the seasons we do not control is the time for justice. “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). There will be a time, one day, for divine time travel: “God seeks what has been driven away” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). All the events of human history that have slipped through the hourglass of time into the past might be lost to us — but they are never lost to God. One day, he will dial back time and fetch the past into his present to bring it to account. Every time will have its day in court.

Foolish people seek all the answers to life in each and every season of life. But some seasons yield only questions, not answers. Some seasons bring a wound that will not heal; it might take a lifetime to learn that we “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The story of my life has broken characters, jarring interruptions, unexpected joys and relationships caught up in unresolved tensions and difficulties. In God’s kindness I have, as yet, unfinished chapters. But my story is not the story. “The story reveals that there will be a time for judgment, and believers trust that judgment will finally prevail” (Craig Bartholomew, 180–181).

3. The path of life embraces time’s reversals.

This perspective is the gospel’s now-and-not-yet voice speaking in the unfamiliar accent of Ecclesiastes. Today is the time of suffering and anguish, of work and pleasure, of toil and terror; tomorrow is the time of glory and judgment, of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in world without end.

Now, this; tomorrow, that. The Lord Jesus fills our time with the unspeakable comfort of promised great reversals. Lose your life today for the sake of Jesus and his gospel; save it tomorrow. Gain the world now; forfeit your soul then. Be ashamed of Jesus in the time of this sinful generation; witness him being ashamed of you in the time of his coming in the glory of the Father and the holy angels (Mark 8:35–38).

Believers on the road to life know that the experiences of time can be reversed. The gospel turns the world on its head. Marred beyond human resemblance, the Servant of the Lord comes, in time, to shut the mouths of kings; buried with the wicked, he comes, in time, to divide the spoils of the strong (Isaiah 52–53). Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who are hungry, those who lose everything in the here and now, for the day of reversal is coming and the reward will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5).

How Do I Find God’s Will for My Life?

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 8:00pm

Security, comfort, and wealth aren’t the primary guides for our job decisions. God is. But how do we discern his will?

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God Is Not Afraid of the Dark

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 8:02pm

Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. (1 John 5:4)

There is plenty of darkness in the world to make any of us tremble.

Cancer ravages our families, killing half a million more every year in the United States alone. Divorce continues to rip apart families, and leave young children frantically treading water emotionally. Pressures are mounting in our society to demonize and suppress Christianity. Racial tensions and conflict seem to be surging after years of perceived progress. One hundred thousand babies are aborted every day around the world.

And underneath all the darkness, we can see lies an even darker, more terrifying darkness. The apostle Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). An entire system of spiritual darkness — spearheaded by Satan himself, carried out by hordes of demons, and influencing every corner of the earth — rages right below the surface of our everyday lives.

How do we live with any hope while we drown in all of this darkness?

Darkness Is Really Dark

If we have found Jesus, we don’t have to hide from the dark anymore — no matter how dark our days become. God sent his Son Jesus “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). His light doesn’t make the darkness any less dark; it just conquers every shadow with something stronger.

That means we don’t need to pretend the darkness isn’t dark after all — that cancer isn’t really devastating to a family, that divorce doesn’t really shatter everyone involved, that abortion isn’t really a decades-long genocide — that whatever darkness you’re facing personally isn’t really that hard or painful or scary. But we also don’t need to face the darkness alone.

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). And in Christ, he has shined his light into every hidden corner of our darkness. He was not afraid of the dark, but came into our darkness. He left the safety of heaven to walk in the shadows with us — to die in these shadows, so that we might leave them behind.

And then he rose from the darkness to prove that the darkness had been stripped of its power — in the name of Jesus.

God Overcomes the Darkness

And because this Jesus, your Jesus, conquered the darkness, you too can overcome the darkness in this world. The apostle John writes, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome [the worst in the world], for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Do you believe him? Even as you watch the stream of discouraging and depressing news in our nation and from around the world? Even when you stare at the trials and suffering in your life?

Your God has overcome this world. And in his name, you have overcome this world. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Darkness in You

God is not afraid of the darkness in this world, and he is not afraid of the darkness in you. When he found us, we were not only trapped in darkness; we “loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19). One reason the darkness around us is so terrifying is that we see so much of ourselves in it — our weaknesses, our fears, our brokenness, our sin. For many of us, no darkness is more intimidating than our own.

But if we have put our faith in Christ, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts” — not just out there in the world, but in each of our hearts — “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). In the same way, he turned on the blinding sun in a galaxy of darkness, he opened the eyes of your heart to see his glory in his Son. He banished your darkness, and made you a lover of the light.

The remaining darkness in you trembles at the sound of his name. Sing “Jesus” over all of your fears and insecurities, over all of your guilt and shame. Enjoy the freedom and forgiveness of walking with him in his victory. And then run back into the darkness to call others into the light.

Desiring God partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than one hundred popular worship songs and hymns.

Philippians 2:12–13: How Obedient Christians ‘Produce’ Salvation

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 8:01am

If God saves us by grace alone through faith alone, what does it mean to work out our salvation?

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You Kept Your Promises to Mom: Six Reasons We Love Faithful Fathers

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 8:02pm

Sunday is not Mother’s Day, and Mother’s Day is not Parent’s Day. In God’s common kindness, on the third Sunday of June, at least in the United States, we honor fathers.

Even though we often praise mothers and fathers for generic virtues that could be true of either — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control — it is also fitting to give thought to what it means to honor a father as father. What makes Dad a dad (and not a mom)?

Of course, no earthly father is perfect. Many, if not most, have obvious flaws, and clearly some are manifestly “worse” than others. And the stakes are great in fatherly failures or fatherlessness, because of God’s particular calling on fathers as fathers. When fathers fail, the devastation can be deep and enduring. The dysfunction and pain can last a lifetime, and echo in subsequent generations. And yet even when our fathers have failed us, we still typically have something to be thankful for — and not just virtues that overlap with Mom’s, but qualities that were distinct manifestations of his fatherly masculinity.

What might you say to Dad? Consider several ways you might honor your father as father this year. Perhaps just one applies, or a few, but you can honor Dad for what you can. And for fathers, especially young fathers, consider these reminders of the high calling God has given us.

1. Dad, you were present and available.

One of the great tragedies in our day is how absent many fathers are. And many more are present physically, but unavailable emotionally. A father’s presence, or absence, will shape his home profoundly. “Thanks for being there” or “You were always there” may sound simple, but these can be significant words for a father to hear from a child. As Robert Coleman writes about discipleship, “The only way that a father can properly raise a family is to be with it.”

And when a father is present and available, he is able to know his children personally and specifically, not just generally — and to speak into their lives personally. Because Paul had been present and available (1 Thessalonians 2:8–10), he could write, “You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you . . .” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). He knew them specifically and could speak into their lives, as a father, with specificity, not just in generalities.

2. You carried a special weight for the family.

God calls fathers to gladly assume sacrificial responsibility for his wife and family. It begins with a special kind of care for Mom. God requires more of a husband in relation to his wife than God requires of the wife in relation to her husband (Ephesians 5:22–33; Colossians 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7).

Then, as an extension, fathers also shoulder a peculiar responsibility to initiate toward, provide for, and protect the family. God gives men the broad emotional shoulders for carrying the weight of the family, by faith. God means for dads to carry more burdens than moms, not less, and even with their strong shoulders, to regularly come to the end of themselves, and lean consciously on God with specific trust.

3. You did not abuse your fatherly power.

God gives fathers a remarkable power in the lives of their children. A finite, dependent, insecure child unavoidably looks to dad for safety and love and affirmation. And God calls fathers to use their dad power to help their children, not hurt them. To serve them, not control them. To encourage them, not demean them. To give to them, not take from them. God calls dads to buckstop the hardest decisions, not just the easy ones — to selflessly own the toughest calls instead of always selfishly making the simple ones.

When Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children,” he is acknowledging the extraordinary power dads have (Ephesians 6:4). Dad’s effect on his children will not be neutral. His power, even if he remains unconscious of it, will work for the child’s good or ill, for establishing in righteousness or provoking to sin. God gives dads this power to use on their children’s behalf, not against them. The heart of fatherhood, like the heart of Christ, is self-sacrifice to serve, not be served (Mark 10:45). Taking our cues from Jesus doesn’t mean dad assumes his place on the throne, but that he “gives himself up” (Ephesians 5:25) for the good of his children.

4. You formed our identities.

Christians often sum up the six days of creation in Genesis 1 as “forming” and “filling.” Days 1–3: God forms the world. Days 4–6: he fills the world with its inhabitants. Similarly, dads and moms have complementary callings in forming and filling, whether the home and its culture or the children and their upbringing.

In particular, dads have a special power in forming or shaping the identities of their children, while mothers fill and develop. Dad’s forming work happens not only through words, but words are important, even central (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). We might say that dads name and moms nurture. Dad names and forms (as Mom nurtures and fills) the children’s identities, especially their spiritual identities. Who can estimate the lifelong impact of seeing dad engaged in corporate worship, leading in prayer, reading God’s words, or saying, “I love Jesus”?

And Dad’s role is vital in affirming sons as future men, and daughters as future women. Dads speak and show to their sons that they are like dad, and that’s good. Sons learn from dad how to care for others, as dad does for mom. And dads speak and show to daughters that they are like mom, and that’s very good. Daughters learn from dad how a man cares for a woman, as dad cares for mom.

5. You disciplined us for our good.

God calls fathers to lead the way in discipline and correction. Paul charges fathers in particular, not parents in general, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This doesn’t mean Mom is not involved in discipline. She most certainly is. But fathers bear a special burden in formation, and in doing so, they teach us about our heavenly Father:

What son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7–11)

God calls fathers to love their children enough to discipline them — not in a way that’s convenient for dad, but costly to him, both in time and emotional energy. Convenient discipline comes from selfishness. Costly discipline flows from love.

6. You kept your promises to Mom.

Looking back on my childhood now, no words from my father move me more deeply to joy and gratitude like remembering his blood-earnest promise, “I will never divorce your mom.” Growing up in the 80s and early 90s, seeing friend after friend suffering through the process and aftermath of their parents’ divorce, my father’s words were bedrock under our feet as kids trying to find our legs in a confusing world. I could see it in my father’s eyes and hear it in his voice. Come what may, he would never abandon my mother.

The foundation of our family, under God, wasn’t Mom’s commitment to Dad, vital as it was. It was Dad’s unbreakable, unassailable commitment to Mom. In this way, Dad taught us deep down, long before we could understand it enough to express it, that the bedrock foundation of the new covenant is not the church’s commitment to Christ, but Christ’s to the church. As good as it was to hear, and believe, that Dad would never divorce Mom, he was simply echoing another’s words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Dad, you kept your promises to Mom, and oh what fruit grew in this soil.

Sleep Under God’s Sovereignty

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 8:00am

God made us to sleep for roughly a third of our lives. We will bear the most fruit for him when we humble ourselves and get proper rest.

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God’s Unexpected Answer to Our Prayers for Revival

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 8:01pm

Doesn’t your heart burn when you read about the early days of the Christian church? “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. . . .” (Acts 2:42–47).

That young seedling of a church burst out of holy ground in the garden of God with joyful, beautiful vibrancy as the young Christians met, worshiped, prayed, witnessed, and cared for one another. Don’t you long for that experience? I do, every time I read it. I pray for it often, and I expect I will continue to pray for it during my earthly sojourn.

One Essential Factor

We often attempt to capture this kind of experience by trying various ways of “doing church” together. And I think this is a healthy, Spirit-inspired longing and pursuit (keeping in mind that no methodology has the power to produce what only the Holy Spirit can do). But there was a factor at play in the early church’s vital life that we tend to overlook.

It’s a factor we might not think to pray for, but one that helped provide the fertile environment in which the first-generation church flourished. That factor was a hostile culture and the desperate situations of many saints. When we pray for revival and robust churches, we may expect God to give us answers that look like Acts 2:42–47. But we become discouraged when we experience hostile rejection and desperation, not recognizing these as important parts of a spiritually fertile environment.

What We Often Overlook

When we take a careful look at Luke’s account of these seemingly idyllic early church days, a more complex picture emerges. We begin to see it in this description of generosity we love so much:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44–25)

What was happening that prompted this outbreak of possession-sharing? A significant number of Christians were experiencing significant material needs. Why? Because not everybody was having favor on them.

Luke reports that these Christians had “favor with all the people” (Acts 2:47). But let’s remember that this “favor” was fickle, was by no means universal (the Jewish leaders, for example), and did not last long. There was a brief window of favor with a critical mass of Jerusalem’s hoi polloi — the same people who had also favored the miracle-working Jesus, until he said hard things, or was arrested, condemned, and executed. They likely favored the church in large measure due to the apostles’ awe-inspiring miracles (Acts 2:43). But we see this favor-window close as soon as we get to Acts 4 — when the persecution really begins.

Revival Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

The remarkable generosity of Christians was drawn out because of necessity. It’s likely that most, if not all, of the new converts, were being kicked out of their synagogues — the hub of spiritual and social life in Jewish communities — for becoming followers of Jesus. This was already taking place during Jesus’s lifetime (John 9:22). Surely it was happening in the months after Jesus’s resurrection, when the religious leaders were doing their best to snuff out this new sect.

And that being the case, it’s also likely many new Christians were being disowned and disinherited by their families. It’s easy to have uninvested favor toward a group until your child or your sibling or your spouse joins, and the familial, social, religious, and economic costs become personal. Then painful disruptions begin. And these disruptions would have created immediate housing needs and resulted in many Christians suddenly finding themselves unemployed, since so many businesses were family-based.

In other words, the wonderful generosity did not happen in a vacuum. It was a response to sudden, painful, and desperate needs. Christians possessing this world’s goods saw their brothers and sisters in need and could not close their hearts against them because they were filled with God’s love (1 John 3:17). Their desperate need and acute suffering contributed to the remarkable fellowship the believers experienced.

Where Glad and Generous Hearts Grow

Think of the times you’ve experienced the most intense and wonderful fellowship with others. How many of those occurred in difficult, perhaps even dangerous, times in your or someone else’s life?

Yes, the Spirit was moving powerfully in the early church. But like the Spirit often does, he was moving in response to people’s faith, which was heightened because of the overwhelming needs and adversity they were facing. Again, when have you experienced the Spirit most powerfully in your life? I imagine it’s typically happened when desperation drove you to need and seek him.

We should not romanticize persecution or affliction. They are evils. However, throughout biblical and church history, we find a consistent pattern: “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46) tend to grow best when adversity, often in the forms of persecution and affliction, is part of the church’s life. Persecution and affliction provide the gracious and sanctifying opportunities for Christians to experience the love of Christ in very personal ways, as we extend it to and receive it from one another — the opportunities to demonstrate the gospel visibly to a watching world.

The gospel becomes more real to us the more we feel our need of it.

So let’s keep praying for revival, and keep longing to be like that radically loving, generously giving, passionately praying, boldly witnessing community of first-generation saints. But let’s remember the hostile, painful, desperate context in which the church was born. And as we pray, let’s “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon [us] to test [us], as though something strange were happening to [us]” (1 Peter 4:12). It is altogether likely we are experiencing God’s unexpected answers to our prayers.

Does Scripture Forbid Entrepreneurs from Raising Big Money?

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 8:00pm

A bank account with seven, eight, or nine zeros is not necessarily sinful. But it is dangerous for hearts that easily treasure dollar signs.

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The Hardest Part of Mothering

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 11:02am

No one warned me. No one told me that after training our children to sleep through the night, after helping them learn the ways of kindness and the value of hard work, after teaching them the joy of reading and the delight of knowing the living word, after determining to most gladly spend and be spent for their souls, no one told me that the hardest part of mothering was still ahead — the part when they leave.

The hardest part of mothering, for me, has been emptying our nest well. It’s not that I hadn’t looked forward to it. What mother doesn’t long for nights of uninterrupted sleep and days free from the responsibility of keeping little ones safe and happy? Who doesn’t anticipate dates without making babysitter arrangements, cooking and doing laundry for only two, flowing conversations between you and your husband without the guardedness of what little ears might hear?

Ray and I had invested ourselves deeply and wholeheartedly in raising our four children, hoping to one day send them out to serve our kind King in whatever ways he asked of them. In those days of intense parenting, I admit that I did look forward to a more moderate pace of life. When the time came for each one to go to college or to take their final leave of us as they married, they eagerly stepped out into their future. We had, by God’s grace, prepared them. The problem was, I hadn’t prepared me!

Hang on to Him, Not Them

I hadn’t prepared myself for the loss of their precious faces around our dinner table, the absence of our daily interactions of care and love for each other, their unavailability for our prayer times after family devotions. As we shopped and packed for college for each budding adult, I found myself wanting to say, “No! You can’t be eighteen already! We just brought you home from the hospital last week!” And I kept worrying, “Have I done enough, said enough, been enough?” I was scared for them, and I was scared for me.

That fear made me want to keep them close. Who would guide them, correct them, support them?

So, I had to preach to myself what I had told my children countless times: Your soul will find true rest in God alone. Don’t look to any other thing or person or achievement for your ultimate happiness. Only God through Jesus Christ will satisfy your deepest needs. Cling to him. Often I have looked to Psalm 62:1–2, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

It is unfair to our children to give them a more prominent place in our hearts than Jesus Christ. That is too massive a responsibility for them to carry. I had to learn to hang on to Jesus more tightly, as I let each child go.

As Discipline Ends, Let Devotion Grow

Like most young moms, my days were full of parental training and discipline. I insisted that my children obey me the first time I asked, so that in their adulthood they would obey God without argument or delay. I taught them to make their beds and tidy up their rooms to prepare them to keep a home someday. I wanted them to see that good nutrition and healthy play honored God because their bodies were made to be the very temple of the Holy Spirit. I helped them understand their sexuality and anticipate what a happy marriage could look like for them in the years ahead.

But now the training time was over. I would never discipline them again. So it was time for something new — a deep devotion. I took on a new role as their chief encourager and head cheerleader. I got to step back and trust them to make important life choices without my motherly interference. Deeper devotion meant freeing them, rather than guilting or goading them into my preferences.

I had had my own chance to choose — a college, a career, a husband. Why rob them of the privileges we had been training them for since they were tiny? Now it was their turn, and that meant bridling my tongue.

Talk Less, Pray More

When the kids were younger, my parenting was Show and Tell. I would show them something and tell them why or how we were going to do it. Now that they are adults, I just show them, as humbly as I can. I try to model — imperfectly, but still I try — the kind of parent God wants them to be to our grandchildren.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t talk about situations, people, choices. It just means I talk to God about it, rather than (or at least before) I talk to my child. In my prayer notebook I keep a page for each member of our family, with requests and heart-cries and Bible verses I am asking God to fulfill in their lives. I bring to him my fears and concerns. Wouldn’t parental guidance be better coming from their heavenly Father than an earthly parent? His counsel is perfect.

Ray and I are nearing our seventies. Soon our lives will be over. We are praying that God will help our children “pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul” (1 Kings 2:4). We have freed them to serve the cause of Christ in their generation, hopefully without any subtle pressure from us about what we think that should look like. So now they can seek God personally in what to study, whom to marry, where to live, how to spend their money, their holidays, their energies. That means we talk less, and pray more.

Empty Nest, Full Life

Although my nest is empty now, my life is actually richer. As my responsibilities at home have lightened, I’ve been able to serve more at our home church, especially in our children’s ministry. I’m freer to meet with young women and encourage them through conversations and personal care to keep close to Jesus, and to love their husbands and children. I have more time to minister outside of our local church as well, as I travel to speak. The energies once needed for my own children can now be offered outside our home for the glory of Christ.

And our kids come home frequently with their own children. What fun we have! We get to eat, play, read, and pray together. There is nothing sweeter. And in between visits, I stay connected with cards and gifts, with phone chats and visits to their homes. We want to keep influencing the coming generations to set their hope on God (Psalm 78:7).

Yes, this has been the hardest stage of mothering for me, but also the most glorious, and it can be glorious for you too. To see your kids love the Lord, marry godly spouses, and invest their lives with eternity in view is worth everything. Ray and I find ourselves echoing David’s question to God, “Who are we, O Lord God, and what is our house, that you have brought us thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18).

Every Love That Slipped Away

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 8:02pm

Our story seemed to come right out of a movie.

We had been dating for two and a half years when God planted a desire for Jesus in my heart. I began yearning for him; she didn’t. I started seeking him; she just watched. I rose up and followed him; she stayed put. Our relationship stretched, frayed, and finally ripped apart. I walked away from the girl I was sure I would marry.

Fast-forward a few months. A friend shares the gospel with her, and she believes. We begin talking again, become friends again, start dating again. God had torn us apart to bring us back together. He had killed our romance so he might raise it from the dead. He had taken away my girlfriend and given her back to me, now as a sister as well.

Or so it seemed.

Soon after we began dating again, I spiraled into a spiritual depression — darkened, doubting, feeling God-forsaken. Life began to feel unmanageable, my heart untamable. I needed to summon all my energy simply to keep my spiritual sanity. And so, for the second time, I watched as our relationship fell apart.

She left the state and we never talked again. My twenties turned from a decade of marriage and kids to singleness and waiting.

Love Lost

If you are single in or beyond your twenties, you have likely felt the sting of love lost.

Many know the heartsickness of a failed relationship — of romance that blossomed for a time before fading and falling. And now we’re left with the ghosts of a happier time: shoeboxes full of old notes, memories of dinners and walks and jokes, fantasies of what life might be like if things had just gone differently.

Others of us almost wish we could have gone through a breakup. Instead, all we have are the memories of missed chances — the first quiet notes of a song that died away.

As I reflect on my twenties, I call to mind nights where I lay awake, my mind tossing with thoughts of “But it seemed so right . . . ” and “If I had only . . . ” and “I wish I could just go back and . . . ” But the questions, regrets, and perplexities are not the only voices in this storm. God himself speaks, with more than enough strength to calm our internal tempests. What does he say?

1. You are not an orphan in the land of love.

At times, I have navigated relationships like a romantic orphan. I have anxiously roamed the land of love as if no one watched out for me, as if love and marriage rested solely on my ability to find and keep a girlfriend. I have played the statistics game as I’ve grown older, nervously watching the crowd of single people dwindle to an awkward few. I have kicked myself for all I should have done differently.

And all the while, I had forgotten that the first line of the Lord’s Prayer applies to my singleness and dating: “Our Father in heaven . . . ” (Matthew 6:9). Too often, I have treated my Father as if he cared little for my love life — as if he were a distant patriarch and not “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). I have returned from dates racked with uncertainty, forgetting that I came home to a Father who knows my needs and is eager to listen (Matthew 6:32). I have let years of singleness sink me into self-reproach, forgetting that my Father bends his shoulders to carry every regret (Psalm 55:22).

In cultures that practice arranged marriage, most children don’t wonder whether they’ll get married, because they have a father who will find a spouse for them. Christians have something better: a Father who provides exactly what we need to hallow his name — whether that means a spouse or not (Matthew 6:9).

So you don’t need to grow desperate. You don’t need to worry about how old you’re getting. You don’t need to pummel yourself for past mistakes. Behind every failed love story is a Father who sees more than you do, knows more than you do, loves more than you do, and never stops doing good to you (Jeremiah 32:40).

2. The love you never asked for is on the way.

I have sometimes sounded like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who walked away from Jesus’s crucifixion saying, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). I have similarly walked away from the ruins of a relationship and thought to myself, “But I had hoped she would be the one I’d marry.” “But I had hoped her feelings would change.” “But I had hoped to have kids by now.” And as with the disciples, I fail to see that God is preparing the gift I never dreamed to ask for.

In his Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis puts the truth in a demon’s mouth: “He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with his left” (72). Fundamentally, God is not a taker, but a giver — generous, lavish, and overflowing (Psalm 84:11). So when he takes a relationship from us, he takes it to make room for something better.

Of course, the “something better” will likely overturn our expectations — and thank God, because our ideas of “better” are rarely what’s best. Instead of a dream spouse, God may give someone we would have scarcely considered in the past, someone whom we grow to cherish and, twenty-five years from now, call “better.” Or he may work the even greater wonder of launching us into free and fruitful singleness, and satisfy us so deeply with his own love that, with Paul, we call our lot “better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).

Or the better love may never come in this world, and we may die with disappointment still smoldering in our chest. But if we do, we will wake up to find that every agony prepared the way for a love that is weighty, indestructible, and, alongside the best romance this world can offer, incomparably better (2 Corinthians 4:17).

3. Jesus is making your single heart whole.

Years ago, I lay awake at midnight, my head swirling as if all my separate regrets, worries, and relational disappointments joined forces for a united attack. I came to church the next day desperate.

As we began singing, a familiar song caught my ears, lifted my head, and gave me the words I needed:

Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

He, my Savior, makes me whole. What is God doing in all our lost loves? He is not punishing us for past indiscretions. He is not dangling a gift before our eyes just to snatch it away. He is making us whole.

To be sure, marriage offers a kind of wholeness that singleness doesn’t. A lover’s bold claim of finding his other half is not completely off the mark. It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and the shadow of a partner can leave us feeling painfully incomplete.

But there is a richer kind of wholeness that God loves to give: the wholeness of being happy in Jesus, no matter what comes. The wholeness of saying, in the style of Habbakuk, “Though the fig tree should not blossom,” and though no spouse should sleep beside me, and no lover’s arms embrace me, and no child’s smile cheer me, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17–18).

In the absence of a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, we are not absent a lover. And here, amid all the regrets of love lost, and all the agonizing what-ifs, and all the dreams lying dead at our feet, we have the opportunity to feel in the deepest parts of us: Jesus Christ is the lover of my soul.

And in him we are whole.

An Unpopular Path to Happiness

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 8:00am

God designed you to give, not just to get. When you give cheerfully, God will bless you with more than you could ever let go of.

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When They Hurt You with Words

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 8:02pm

The spirit of the old adage “words will never harm me” is not the sentiment of the Scriptures. Words can hurt, even when directed from an unknown profile online. God made a world in which words are powerful. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). And as public discourse falls to new lows in the digital age, God has not left us without a guide for how to respond to the pain when we are persecuted with words.

Leaf through the New Testament, and you’ll find verbal attacks on Jesus, his apostles, and his church on nearly every page. At times, these attacks escalate to physical persecution — the stoning of Stephen, the martyrdom of James, the imprisonments of Peter and Paul, the crucifixion of Christ — but what remains constant, and significant, is a torrent of verbal persecution against Jesus and his people. And verbal persecution is not less than persecution because it’s verbal.

Have You Been Reviled?

Slander and revile are two of the main words for verbal attack in the English New Testament, and both occur frequently. Early Christians were so accustomed to being spoken against that they developed a rich vocabulary (if you call it that) of being slandered, reviled, insulted, maligned, mocked, and spoken evil against (at least six different Greek verbs, along with several related nouns and adjectives). Of the English terms, revile may be the least common in normal usage today. One dictionary defines it as “to criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner.”

To take our cues from specific biblical texts, revile can mean “to speak evil against” (Matthew 5:11; Mark 9:39; Acts 19:9; 23:4); it is the opposite of verbally honoring someone (Mark 7:10). Reviling is an attempt to injure with words (1 Peter 3:16). We see it at Jesus’s crucifixion, where “those who passed by derided him” with their words, and the chief priests, scribes, and elders “mocked him,” and “the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Matthew 27:39–44).

But Jesus not only endured it; he prepared us for it as well. He and his apostles, and the early church, model for us how to receive and respond to slander and reviling.

1. Expect the world to say the worst.

Amid this rich vocabulary of verbal attack, the New Testament sends no mixed signals as to whether Christians will be maligned. We will. Jews and Gentiles together bombarded Jesus and his disciples with verbal attacks. Physical persecution came and went, but reviling remained constant.

When Paul arrived in Rome, the Jews reported to him, about Christianity, “With regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22). For Christians, being reviled is not a matter of if but when: “when they speak against you” (1 Peter 2:12). Unbelievers “are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery” — so what do they do? “They malign you” (1 Peter 4:4).

After all, should we not expect the world, under the power of the devil (1 John 5:19; Ephesians 2:2), to lie about us? The Greek for devil (diabolos) actually means slanderer (1 Timothy 3:11; Titus 2:3). As Jesus said to his revilers in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. . . . When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

2. Consider the cause.

We should not assume that all verbal opposition we receive is good. Being reviled for Jesus’s sake and for his gospel is one thing; being reviled for our own folly and sin is another (1 Peter 3:17; 4:15–16).

As far as it depends on us, we want to “give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Timothy 5:14). Slander itself is no win for the church. We want to do what we can, within reason and without compromise, to keep God’s name and word and teaching from reviling (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:5). “Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil” (Romans 14:16). But when the world speaks evil against us because of Jesus, we embrace it. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

3. Do not revile in return.

Christ’s calling to his church is crystal clear: Do not respond in kind. Do not stoop to the level of your revilers. “Keep your conduct honorable” (1 Peter 2:12). “Speak evil of no one” (Titus 3:2), including those who have spoken evil of you. Do not become a verbal vigilante, but “entrust yourself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). And as his redeemed, taste the joy of walking in his steps: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23).

Paul took up the same mantle: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat” (1 Corinthians 4:12–13). So also Peter charges us to respond “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15–16). When we do not “revile in return,” we put our revilers to shame.

Christians do not respond in kind. We lose the battle, and undermine our commission, when we let revilers make us into revilers. And it’s not just a matter of strategy, but of spiritual life and death. “Revilers,” 1 Corinthians 6:10 warns, “will not inherit the kingdom of God,” and Christians are instructed “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is . . . a reviler” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Christ expects, even demands, that our speech be different from the world’s, even when we respond to the world’s mean words.

4. Leap for joy.

Leap for joy? That might seem way over the top. Can’t we just take our cues from the apostles in Acts 5:41? “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Amen, rejoice. Yes. Jesus’s own words in the Sermon on the Mount guide us: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12). But Luke 6:22–23 doesn’t leave it at simply rejoicing:

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”

Whether you’re just rejoicing in God deep down, or finding the emotional wherewithal, in the Spirit, to “leap for joy,” the point is clear: When others dishonor you, and exclude you, and utter all manner of evil against you, and even spurn your name as evil — and that on Jesus’s account, not on the account of your own folly — this is not new, and you are not alone (“so their fathers did to the prophets”). You have a great cause for joy. Their reviling you for his sake means you are with him! And you will know him more as you share in the verbal persecution he endured (Philippians 3:10).

5. On the contrary, bless.

There is one more shocking possibility for Christians, even more astounding than leaping for joy: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

This indeed is the spirit of Christ, and gives the most striking testimony of the Spirit of Christ at work in us. The grace and power of God not only enable us to expect and evaluate reviling, and not respond in kind but even rejoice, but also repay reviling with blessing. This is Christlikeness. This is Christian maturity (Matthew 5:48). This reflects the magnanimous heart of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:45). This is the enemy-love to which Jesus not only calls us but works in us by his Spirit. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

In Christ, we have found ourselves blessed when we deserved to be cursed. We have come to know a Father who does not revile those who humbly seek him (James 1:5). When reviled, we now have the opportunity to bless undeserving revilers, just as we have been blessed from above — and will be further blessed for doing so (“that you may obtain a blessing,” 1 Peter 3:9).

The swelling ocean of reviling in our day is not just an obstacle to be endured. It is an opportunity for gospel advance — and for deeper joy.

How Do I Overcome Crippling Self-Consciousness?

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 8:00pm

An excessive self-focus leads to either discouragement or pride. So what steps can we take to conquer the curse of self-consciousness?

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Complementarians Should Be Toughest on Abuse

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 11:01am

“The great thing about Rebecca,” said my female, non-Christian friend on first meeting my boyfriend, “is that you can treat her like junk and she will always love you and always forgive you.”

If there is a type of woman who would hide domestic abuse, year after year, I conform. Had I married an abusive man, I would likely have done so. Thank God I did not. My then-boyfriend, now-husband channels his strength to protect me and our kids. But was I more at risk because I married a Christian man, and because after much wrestling I have come to complementarian beliefs about marriage?

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:22–23). Tragically, these holy words have been misused to justify horrible abuse. But using complementarian theology to justify abuse is like defacing a “Do Not Enter” sign until it says, “Enter.” Consider five reasons why complementarians, of all people, should have the least tolerance for spousal abuse.

1. God calls husbands to sacrificial love.

Some summarize complementarian theology as “husbands lead, wives submit,” but this is not what the Bible says. God calls wives to submit (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1). But the primary command to husbands is not lead. It is love (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; Colossians 3:19). To be sure, the explanation for why wives should submit to their husbands implies that husbands should lead (Ephesians 5:23). But lest we should misunderstand what leading means (as we are wont to do), Paul calls husbands to self-denying, Christlike, sacrificial love: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

How did Christ love the church? He loved to the point of rejection, beatings, nakedness, and death. Were this command given to wives, we might more easily imagine it justifying spousal abuse. But it is not. “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies,” Paul continues. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:28–29). The command in Colossians comes with a prohibition: “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). It would take an exegetical gymnast to interpret Paul’s vision of marriage as an excuse for spousal abuse.

2. Strength is for honoring, not control.

From a biblical perspective, the relative physical strength of men is not a tool for power play, but a motivation for empathy and honor. “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Fail to honor your wife, Peter warns, and your relationship with God will be hindered.

3. Spousal abuse is a gospel-denying sin.

When a woman bravely acknowledges abuse, complementarian theology should drive her pastor (and other men in the church as well) to confront her husband with his sin. Not only is he sinning in the general sense of harming a neighbor. The abusive husband is committing the gospel-denying sin of disgracing his cross-shaped role of sacrificial love. Marriage to his victim does not excuse the sin. It compounds it.

God calls Christian men in general, and pastors specifically, to protect the vulnerable. This means taking sacrificial action to see that an abused wife, and her children, are cared for and made safe; that civil law-breaking is not covered up but reported to civil authorities; and that an abusive husband shows radical repentance and commits to ongoing accountability.

In some situations, we will need to provide a wife and children with alternative housing and support while we handle the husband (who also may be excluded from fellowship in line with the biblical teaching on church discipline, 1 Corinthians 5:9–13). We must not be naïve: abusers frequently say sorry and then continue in their patterns. Sin patterns are hard to break, and we do not want to enable them.

4. Jesus teaches vulnerability and protection.

Due to its distortions and misuses, some believe complementarian theology must be abandoned to keep women safe. But imagine Paul and Peter had said nothing about wives. An unthoughtful pastor might use Jesus’s own words to justify sending a woman back into a dangerous situation. “Do not resist the one who is evil,” says our Lord. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39). In Christ, we all enter the world with a posture of vulnerability. This is Christian Ethics 101. But on page after page of the Scriptures, God calls his people to protect the oppressed — particularly women and children.

This ethic emerges from God’s own character. As Psalm 146 proclaims, the Lord “executes justice for the oppressed,” “sets the prisoners free,” “lifts up those who are bowed down,” and “upholds the widow and the fatherless” (Psalm 146:7–9). God is “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). He commands his people both to rescue the oppressed and to resist the oppressor (Jeremiah 22:3).

Jesus consistently modeled and reemphasized this. He came “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18) and his relationships with women lifted them up in extraordinary ways. Jesus shamed Simon the Pharisee with the moral example of the “sinful” woman, who outstripped him in every measure of love (Luke 7:36–50). Jesus affirmed Mary as she sat at his feet with the male disciples (Luke 10:38–42). He rescued the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11) and spoke against divorce to protect women from abandonment (Matthew 19:3–9). If our churches abandon women to abuse, we are stopping our ears to the Scriptures.

5. You’re twice as safe with a Christian man.

We all know of instances where Christians have failed — individually and corporately — to protect women from abusive men. But philosopher Christian Miller cites evidence that church attendance is correlated with much lower levels of domestic abuse.

Indeed, men who do not attend church have been found to be 49% more likely to be abusive at home than men who attend once a week or more (The Character Gap, 235). But that differential is not enough.

Christian husbands who are striving to love your wives as Christ loved the church, we appreciate you — and we need you. We need you to show your sons what it means to man up and love. We need you to be your brothers’ keeper. We need you not to assume that there are no abusive men in your church, your small group, or your family. We all are capable of egregious sin, and without support and accountability, that can manifest itself in ugly ways.

No woman wants to acknowledge spousal abuse. Many will suffer in silence, while their husbands maintain a godly pretense. We need you to work with your wives and sisters in Christ to ensure that no one in your sphere is issuing scars or hiding them. We need you to be like Christ to your wives, and to be like Christ in your church, speaking up with courage, standing up for women, and hating abuse in all its forms. Twice as safe is not enough — let’s make women a hundred times safer with Christian men.

Showcase the Gospel

Christianity in general, and complementarian theology in particular, is no more an excuse for spousal abuse than a doctor’s license is an excuse for murder. Complementarian marriage rests on the bedrock of Christ’s love for his church — a love that took him to the cross. It is a covenant commitment between a man and a woman designed to mirror — however imperfectly — Christ’s sacrificial love for his church and our joyful submission to him.

Christian men who abuse their wives are committing egregious, gospel-denying sin. Let’s stand together in Christ to oppose them, not because we don’t believe the Bible’s challenging words about marriage, but because we do. The biblical sign says, “Do Not Enter.” Let’s keep the door firmly shut.

Philippians 2:12–13: How to Work Out Your Salvation

Tue, 06/12/2018 - 8:01am

Obedience is neither the rock upon which our salvation rests nor the optional ribbon placed upon eternal life. It is essential. And it is empowered by God.

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What Are You Waiting For?

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 8:02pm

God’s children are always waiting on him for something.

We wait for God to fulfill particular promises (Hebrews 6:15), deliver us from our enemies (Psalm 27:11, 14), provide our material needs (Philippians 4:19), rescue us when we’re in trouble (Psalm 40:1), deliver us from all kinds of fears (Psalm 34:4), renew our spiritual strength when we’re weary (Isaiah 40:31), deliver us from depression and despondency (Psalm 88:1, 6), bring about righteousness and justice when wickedness and injustice surge (Isaiah 26:8), redeem our broken, failing bodies (Romans 8:23), and finally grant Jesus’s return (Titus 2:13).

Learning to wait on God is a crucial faith-development exercise and faith-displaying showcase. That’s why we experience it frequently. But because the things we’re waiting on God for are often things we deeply desire, we can become so preoccupied with them that we neglect things God has given us to do now.

So, what are you waiting for?

Keep Things in Perspective

Psalm 37 is a song of soul-counsel for waiting saints. It was composed by King David, an experienced wait-er. In it, he describes the potentially debilitating anxiety and confusion we experience while waiting on God.

The context of the psalm is the perplexing experience of the “righteous” (those who love, fear, and trust God) who linger, or languish, in some experience of deprivation, or injustice, waiting for God to act. Meanwhile, the “wicked” (those who do not love, fear, and trust God) are prospering. But we don’t always merely envy the prosperous wicked; we also can envy the prosperous righteous. So, the psalm can be applied anywhere we are tempted to be sinfully anxious or envious in our waiting.

The first thing David says is this: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb” (Psalm 37:1–2). Variations on this point repeat throughout the psalm. David’s point is keep things in eternal perspective.

Life will be over quickly — for the righteous, as well as for the wicked. Soon all the things we’ve waited for here will be in the past. “The wicked will be no more” and “the righteous shall inherit the land . . . forever” (Psalm 37:10, 29). Fretting and frustration “tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8) — evil envying of the wicked whose prosperity will vanish like smoke (Psalm 37:20) or evil, “unspiritual” and “demonic” envying of other Christians (James 3:14–15).

The truth is, most of our lives are actually spent attending to lots and lots of things God wants us to do while we’re waiting on him for a few significant somethings. We don’t have much time in life. We don’t want to waste any of it being unnecessarily anxious and preoccupied with what we do not have or have not done.

Call to Trust

When it comes to waiting, here is what God wants us to do:

Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off. (Psalm 37:34)

The New Testament equivalent says it this way:

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6–7)

Humble waiting looks like this: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7). And, yes, this can be difficult. God knows this. That’s why the Bible is chock-full of examples of what difficult waiting looks like. God wants us to know that he understands, and he wants us to believe that “all things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). It is possible to wait in the patient peace of faith.

Trust God, Do Good

But God has much more for us than merely waiting for him. He has a lot for us to do right now, right where we are:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (Psalm 37:3)

Trusting the Lord — casting, not carrying, our anxieties — frees us to dwell contentedly, whatever our situation (Philippians 4:11–13), and faithfully “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). When we take our eyes off what we’re waiting for and look around, we’ll discover more opportunities to do good — right now, where we are — than we could possibly do!

There are God’s own words to store up in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), overwhelming needs around us to pray for (Ephesians 6:18), afflicted and grieving saints to comfort (2 Corinthians 1:4), discouraged saints to encourage (1 Thessalonians 5:14), a local church’s mission to embrace (1 Peter 4:10), neighbors to love enough to pursue with goodness and mercy (Galatians 5:14), the poor not to forget (Galatians 2:10), and missionaries to support (2 Corinthians 9:10–12).

It might feel to us like the things we’re waiting on God for are the main things. But someday we might discover that the most important fruit ever produced in our lives came from faithfully doing good while we waited.

Delight Yourself in the Lord

So what are you waiting for? And how are you waiting?

These are good questions to ask ourselves. Where God has called us to wait for him, are we waiting in the patient peace of faith, or with a sinful anxiety that’s eating up time and energy God wants us to spend elsewhere? If the latter is our experience, David gives us the antidote, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

Delight in God delivers us from anxiety-filled anticipation because it shifts our focus from what we’re waiting for, to whom we’re waiting for (Psalm 39:7). “O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul” (Isaiah 26:8). When God is the desire of our hearts, we can be sure God will give us the desires of our hearts.

Waiting on God is a part of the Christian life — a constant part. We want to learn how to wait well. And part of waiting well is not allowing our waiting for God to distract us from the good God wants us to do while we wait.

God Hates What Happened to You

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 8:00am

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