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Relationship Breakdown

There is nothing more painful than a relationship breakdown. Here’s how you can find healing and restoration when strife takes its toll.It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I felt as if I were watching a train wreck in slow motion, and I couldn't do anything to stop it. A great friendship was breaking up.

We had been close at one time, but our relationship had become strained. Words of peace somehow got warped. Confusion and suspicion whispered lies. Then suddenly, a firestorm of words ensued. It was over.

If you've ever experienced the pain of an unexpected relational meltdown, you've probably encountered the spirit of separation. You are not alone. Relationships in the church are under attack. The last decade has set records for divorces and separations, even among Christian leaders—and in the midst of headline-grabbing revivals. read more

Stop With Your Hand

Christian Dating: How Far Is Too Far?

The worlds of dating and Christianity can be two difficult worlds to merge. Find out where the lines are drawn.

Even couples who take responsibility for their actions and trust God to help them stay pure want to know when they’re crossing the line. To offer them help with this vaguely marked boundary, Jason Illian, author of Undressed: The Naked Truth About Love, Sex, and Dating first reminds singles of a simple biblical principle stated in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial” (NIV).

Illian then illustrates that statement with a helpful set of guidelines while comparing physical actions with rungs of a ladder.

“Every rung represents a new physical act you share in a relationship. ... The higher you climb, the more physically satisfying and intimate the experience will become. However, with each step of the ladder, it becomes increasingly more dangerous.”

Rungs 1-4, Illian explains, represent activities that are permissible and can be beneficial—holding hands, hugging and cuddling, kissing, French kissing.

Rungs 5-6 are choices that are permissible but not necessarily beneficial—touching and caressing with clothes on.

Rungs 7-9, the top of the ladder, are neither permissible nor beneficial—petting and groping (under the clothes or without clothes), oral sex and intercourse.

Illian encourages couples to “draw a line and take a step back”—meaning, they ought to prayerfully consider the rung they feel comfortable climbing to “and then choose the rung right underneath it.”

For couples in the process of deciding on their physical boundaries, Mindy Meier, writing in Sex and Dating offers this cautionary observation: “A number of engaged people have shared with me that they wish they had done less sexually—sometimes with a high school girlfriend or boyfriend, sometimes with the one they are about to marry. But no one has ever said they wish they had done more.”

To set boundaries is one thing. However, to keep the standards that are set is a whole different challenge. But there are ways couples can help themselves stick to their rules.

Meier recommends having accountability partners: “Find someone of the same sex who you can be totally honest with, someone who will give you grace when you fail but not let you get by with disobedience to the Lord.”

She also suggests that couples meet in public places, where some privacy is afforded but where they can’t give in to temptation for intimacy.

Author Gary Chapman gives nonsexual examples of ways to show affection, such as words of affirmation, gifts and acts of service. To these, Meier adds “food.”

“Cooking a special meal for the person you’re dating or showing up with a well-loved snack,” she says, “are wonderful ways to say I love you.”

Most important is that a couple talk and pray about the sexual purity aspect of their relationship. God will honor the ones who pursue His standard of holiness and rely on Him for guidance and strength.

As a single person, you can “wait in the right way” by being content in God and pursuing His will while actively looking for a spouse. God created you for relationship and understands the desire you have to find a mate. Involve Him in your search, follow your passions, pursue maturity, be deliberate and don’t stop asking Him for the desires of your heart.

And keep dreaming.

In her book You Matter More Than You Think, Leslie Parrott, co-founder of the Center for Relationship Development, states, “The eventual pain that results from not dreaming—for the fear of being disappointed by an unrealized dream—will always eclipse the pain of a dream that never comes true.”

 


Leigh DeVore is the assistant editor of Charisma magazine. read more

Guard Your Heart From Emotional Ties

As her fingers eased over the piano keys, repeating gently the notes of the last chord of "Purify My Heart," Karen knew in her spirit that many had been touched by the worship this evening. A lingering smile sent her way from Wes, the worship team leader, confirmed it.

Karen slid quietly off the piano bench and headed for the music office. She glanced at her watch. If her husband, Marty, had been here, he would have been irritated that the music had taken so much time. He was always in a hurry to get home to his computer and The Wall Street Journal. She sighed.

"What was the sigh for?" asked Wes, who had been following her down the dimly lit hall of the Sunday school wing. "A pretty lady like you shouldn't have a care in the world! And your piano playing was ... was ... how can I describe the beauty and majesty you draw from those keys? Just being on the same team with you has been a thrill for me."

Karen slowed her steps to match his.

"So what was that sigh all about? You can tell me. We've been friends too long to have secrets."

The soft tones of his voice, his physical closeness, the shadow of his strong, lean frame cast down the hall by the single light behind them brought a great longing for his touch.

Marty never thought of comforting or understanding her, Karen thought to herself wryly. He was always living in another world, a world of business deals and big bucks. He figured she was strong enough to take care of herself.

But he was wrong; Karen was lonely. Surely God had sent Wes into her life to let her know that she was really of special value to someone.

So she poured out her heart to him. And for the first time, Wes reached out and drew her into his arms as she cried.

Together, Karen and Wes stepped closer to the rim of the ledge.

It begins innocently enough. There's no plan to entice or injure anyone, just a desire to express how one feels.

"You are special, really special! I've never met anyone before who understands me like you do."

Or simply, "What fun we have together!"

Something springs to life within us at these words, and the connection is made. There's just one problem: At least one of us is married—to someone else.

The temptation to allow someone into our hearts who has no right to be there lurks in every role of ministry. Worship leaders, musicians, youth ministers, pastors, secretaries and counselors are yielding to it in alarming numbers. The end result—what I call "spiritual adultery"—is rarely discerned until it turns sexual.

Yielding to Temptation
I learned of spiritual adultery the hard way—by succumbing to it myself. It overtook me at a time when I was very confident of my love for God and my devotion to my family.

True, my husband and I had endured some rocky times, with both of us wishing we had married someone more sensitive to our needs. But at this particular time, problems in our marriage were "under control," and we seemed quite happy. I was trusting God that our relationship would, in time, become all that He wanted it to be.

Meanwhile, my teaching at a large, residential discipleship ministry was bearing good fruit. Although all my students were men, I was confident that I was too strong, too mature and too spiritual to be tempted to be unfaithful to God or my husband. I had learned to maintain physical and psychological distance from them by dressing modestly and behaving professionally. I wanted to be an effective teacher, not a distraction.

This had been relatively easy to accomplish in the classroom. But when I was given an intern to train one-on-one, I was in for a surprise.

The intern and I shared an office and worked well together. His deep hunger for God and his grasp of the Scriptures greatly touched me. In turn, he expressed to me how deeply my love for the Lord ministered to his spirit—something I had longed for years to hear from my husband, but hadn't.

We found it very easy to be open with one another about our personal lives. At times, it seemed as though we could read each other's minds! We took every possible opportunity to study together and encourage one another.

I was happier than I could remember ever having been before. The relationship seemed like a gift from God. I was loved for me, just as I was! Someone believed in me and cared what I thought and felt.

But my life became split. There was life at the ministry with the intern, where I was appreciated and understood; and there was life at home, where I felt I never measured up.

My authorities at the ministry warned me not to spend so much time with the intern. But I thought they were being narrow-minded. To abandon such joy was unthinkable! I was going to prove I could be best friends with someone who wasn't my husband and not commit sin.

Turning Point
Then one day I began reading John Sanford's book Why Some Christians Commit Adultery. It opens with a description of spiritual adultery, the unintentional entering into one another's hearts that easily occurs between trusting people who spend time together, especially in ministry.

When I read this description, I knew something wasn't right. I asked for the afternoon off and headed for a public park in the next town.

All the way there, I begged God to show me my heart. As I spent hours walking the footpaths in the park, God brought back to me memory after memory of times I had denied Him, abused my leadership position in the ministry, betrayed trust and become a law unto myself.

Finally, face down on the ground, I cried out to God for mercy. My heart broke as I saw my darkness, and I repented of what He had shown me.

He met me there in that special moment, and I knew I was forgiven. But the long process of cleansing would take years and would prove to be full of pain—as well as great promise—for my life.

In the months to come, God taught me, step by step as I could bear it, deeper matters regarding love and the sanctity of my spirit. One night, when I found myself unable to sleep, I stumbled upon Malachi 2:14-16: "The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the [husband] of your youth, because you have broken faith with [him], though [he] is your partner, the [husband] of your marriage covenant.

"Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the [husband] of your youth" (NIV).

I was pierced through! For the first time, I had a revelation of how serious God was about covenant. It didn't matter in the slightest how happy I was with my husband. At all costs, I was to "guard my spirit" and not break faith with him. I had sinned on both counts.

I also had broken faith with God. He had told me to trust Him in all things and not to have any other gods in my life. But I had made an idol out of "being loved."

I had broken God's heart by looking to someone else to meet my needs. I had forgotten that I was indeed His Bride, too, married to Him forever. He had been loving me dearly all the time, but I had not learned to draw from that love.

The intern suffered immeasurably as a new Christian because I had allowed him to look to me instead of to God for deep friendship and love. I had sinned in thinking I had the right to be anything special to him.

For more than a year after that, the Lord washed me over and over again as I wept at His feet. His great mercy, love and forgiveness comforted me as each lesson was burned into my heart.

In the midst of the healing process, the Lord reminded me of something. Nine months before I met the intern, I had prayed that God would send His refiner's fire into my life to expose and burn up anything in my heart that could come between Him and me. God had simply answered my prayer! I began to sense His holiness as never before and to learn how thoroughly I am to worship Him.

Because spiritual adultery is not sexual, we often are not on guard against it. But it is every bit as dangerous. It slowly eats away at our relationships with God and others, inevitably destroying intimacy and trust. Little by little, it poisons our spirits, setting the stage for sexual adultery.

Are You at Risk?
Candidates for spiritual adultery are typically committed and spiritually sensitive people who would be appalled at the thought of ever being unfaithful to God or their spouses.

But they usually share a common misconception: that human love can rescue them from their weaknesses and failures, hurts and sorrows, and that it is their inalienable right. They haven't fully grasped the truth that God can not only meet their needs but also more than compensate for a lack of love from others. Without realizing it, they have judged His love insufficient.

The truth is that God's love is perfect all the time! It is always there, always capable of making us truly happy. And the best news is that it isn't based on our performance, and it never pulls back.

Renewed Marriage
During the months that followed my repentance, my husband and I were greatly helped through Christian counseling. We slowly discovered and dealt with the root problems and judgments within each of our hearts that had set the stage for spiritual adultery.

It has taken a long time, but we have finally become good friends who can tell the truth and bear to hear it from each other. We have a brand-new respect for each other, out of which is growing a faithful love.

This can be your story, too—if you are willing to let go of improper relationships rather than clinging to them. Wishing things were different or that you had married someone else will throw you into the lap of deception—not help you grow.

Feelings of powerlessness, inferiority, loneliness, rejection, anger and jealousy, along with poor communication, an excessive desire for attention, fantasizing and ungratefulness must be acknowledged and resolved. You need to forgive, repent, and be cleansed and healed.

If you have connected deeply with someone else, ask God to dissolve all spiritual and emotional ties with that other person and to totally take away any vestiges of unseemly love or affection that might still be in you.

After separating yourself from the person spiritually, you must also separate physically. The person must be dead to you! It is often necessary to change churches, move into a different ministry or even leave the area.

For a time, thoughts and longings for that person usually return, even though you have repented. When they do, take them captive and give up ownership of them to God. Don't dwell on them! Use the temptation as an opportunity to thank God for saving you from a worse fate, and recommit yourself to faithfulness to God and your family.

If it is your mate who falls into spiritual adultery, ask yourself what insensitivity on your part might have contributed to it. You may need to do some soul-searching and repenting of your own.

Start talking with and truly listening to your spouse. Swallow your pride, and get help for your marriage before it is too late. You and your mate are more important than any ministry, and if leaving the ministry will facilitate healing, do it.

Those of us in ministry must have our lives in order. Whatever seeds of selfishness or imbalance we allow into our private lives will be sown alongside the good seed of the Word we minister. Every part of the kingdom of self must be torn down to produce an undefiled life message that is safe to give to others.

Illegal bonding, spirit to spirit, pollutes our lives, marriages and ministries. It destroys discernment and twists reality. We must guard our hearts at any cost. It is time to take responsibility and grow up! Spiritual adultery is a deadly deception; no one involved in it escapes unscathed.

Joyce Strong is a conference speaker and instructor at the Bible Teachers Institute in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Her 20 years of teaching experience include 16 years with Teen Challenge. A graduate of Houghton College, she titled her first book Hearts Aflame. Adapted from Lambs on the Ledge by Joyce Strong, copyright 1995. Published by Christian Publications. Used by permission. read more

Who Are You Trying to Please?

People-pleasers are everywhere. They can parade as successful pastors or as top-of-the-corporate-ladder executives. The most easily identified are the passive, co-dependent types.

All pleasers are out to prove they are valuable people—trying to quiet the voice within that says they aren’t. People-pleasers play a tape that says, “People will love and accept me if I please them.” Their myth says, “You are somebody when you please others.”

Pleasers believe that a failure to please will result in rejection and the false assumption that they are not valuable. As a result, they go about trying to make everybody but themselves happy.

This frequently requires pleasers to keep their own thoughts, desires and needs locked away in their inner selves. They believe their mission on Earth is to drive themselves into an emotional breakdown, if necessary, to make sure others approve of them. When they fail to please someone, they feel guilty or believe (probably unconsciously) that their world is going to end.

The paradoxical dynamic that takes place is that the very individuals to whom people-pleasers try to prove their worth very often use and abuse them. Instead of gaining respect as a pleaser, you often lose it. So trying to please everyone to feel you are “somebody” is a dead-end street. You will eventually find yourself exhausted, disillusioned and feeling less like somebody than ever.

Instead, resolve with God’s help to redirect your life and energy toward becoming a whole and healthy person who does not require the acceptance and affirmation of others to say, “I am valuable.”

Are You a People-Pleaser?

The first step toward freedom from “people pleasing” is to determine if you are a people-pleaser. You can do this by honestly answering the following questions:

* Do you accept responsibility for the happiness of others?

* Do you believe you can make others happy?

* Do you feel guilty when you think of yourself instead of others?

* Do you feel guilty when you tell someone no?

* Do you believe it is un-Christian to think of yourself and your own health and emotional well-being?

* Do you feel better about yourself when you give in to the desires of others rather than pleasing yourself?

* Are you able to set boundaries when it comes to your own health and emotional well-being?

* Do you understand what it means to set boundaries?

A people-pleaser would answer “yes” to the first six questions and “no” to the last two. If you conclude that you are a people-pleaser, then what are you to do?

If you are a people-pleaser, you need to redirect your need to please. Your focus needs to change from horizontal to vertical. In other words, you need to become more concerned with what pleases God than with what pleases others. They are not the same thing, as many people believe.


Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (NKJV). But if we are going to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (and people-pleasers literally do this), then it must be to God alone. We are to please Him first, and He is the only one we are to worship.

The flip side of this truth is that when we give our all to please others, we are in fact engaging in a type of worship toward those we want to please. Many pleasers believe this kind of behavior is “virtuous,” but it isn’t—because it is done with the unconscious motive of getting approval and acceptance in return.

Are we to please God hoping to get something from Him? No, we please Him by recognizing what we have already received from Him. When God brings us into relationship with Himself, we become somebody. The full realization of this comes with time as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s efforts to “grow us” into the persons we were meant to be.

Once our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit, we begin to see and understand that it is God’s will for us to seek to “be somebody” in His sight rather than in the eyes of others. We can also find an answer to the question I am asked so often: “What am I supposed to do when I am asked to do this or that?”

For the Christian, the answer is simple: Focus on pleasing God by seeking to know His will for each situation as it arises. It is not necessarily God’s will for us to do everything we are asked to do, even in the church! When our heart’s desire is to please God, we will be able to put others’ needs and desires in a healthy perspective.

Weary people-pleaser, ask God to forgive you for trying to please everyone else besides Him. Begin to believe you are now somebody in the kingdom of God because God says so.

We change our beliefs about our personhood by believing the truths of God’s Word rather than by continuing to believe our myths. This is the first step toward positive change. Next come the behavioral changes.

Changing Pleaser Behavior

People-pleasers need to budget their time and energy as they would financial budgets. This means they must prioritize their lives and determine how much time will be allotted for specific people and activities, including themselves. I suggest the following order (in order of importance): relationship with God; family (marriage, children, parents); employment; personal time (time alone with God, time alone with self); self-care; church; community; other.

God asks for the No. 1 position in our lives. We commit to that when we make the decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ (see Luke 14:25-33). The problem is that some people-pleasers wrongly believe that being “a good Christian” means pleasing others. They believe they are putting God first when they say “yes” to a good cause, especially if it is a church-related activity. They have not confronted this myth with reality.

When God reigns at the top of our list of priorities, we can trust Him to show us where to place other people, ourselves and all other involvements. When our vertical relationship with God is right, then our horizontal relationships will naturally fall into their rightful places. The same is true of the commitments we make.

So how do we divide or budget our time commitments according to our priorities? First, we must recognize that God wants us to make our families our No. 1 priority under Him. When over-commitment begins to rob us of time that should be given to our families, it is time to say “no.”

You may notice that after employment I listed “personal time.” It makes sense to me that if you don’t take some time for yourself, then the time you give to others won’t amount to much! If there ever was a person with a vision, a purpose and a consuming passion, it was Jesus the Son of Man. Yet He was not a people-pleaser. Have you noticed that when He needed time for Himself, He took it?


The Gospel of Luke records, “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place” (Luke 4:42, NIV). Since the Lord had been up all night healing the sick and casting out demons, He was exhausted. Instead of expecting His heavenly Father to give Him supernatural strength to continue, the Lord recognized His need for rest and rejuvenation.

We need to designate time in our busy schedules for us to nurture our relationships with our heavenly Father. We must be fed from the Word of God and energized by the Holy Spirit to be fruit-bearing Christians.

We also need time to minister to ourselves. This means taking time for reflection, time that is used to get in touch with ourselves to find out where we are, where we want to go and (sometimes) where we have been.

These times of reflection should always be under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We must become still and quiet to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit that is so vital to our spiritual health. The Scriptures tell us He knows all about us, and He knows the mind of God (see Rom. 8:27). We need this information to confront our myths with reality.

Quiet times provide the vital opportunities people-pleasers need to get things into perspective. A clear perspective can help pleasers make wise decisions about all the requests and demands put on their time by others. This helps bring order and control to their agitated lives as they sort out their priorities and allocate their time. By spending time with God and with themselves, people-pleasers will be able to put the obligations of home, church, community and other areas in their rightful places in their time budgets.

People-pleasers often experience guilt when it comes to saying “yes” to themselves. But it can prove to be one of the best investments of time you will ever make.

Another vital step needed to break free from people-pleasing is to learn how to set boundaries. Boundaries differentiate us from other people.

People-pleasers have difficulty erecting fences between themselves and others. They lack the ability to set limits that declare what they will or will not do, or what they will or will not tolerate.

People-pleasers can be unaware that certain things belong to them personally, such as the right to say “no” when they want to say no, and “yes” when they want to say yes. They can also be too afraid to build personal fences for fear of hurting others or of somehow displeasing God.

The truth of the matter is that when we allow others to take advantage of us, we are encouraging and assisting them in their disobedience. God is not pleased with anyone who uses and abuses another!

People-pleasers can gain the respect and sense of personhood they are searching for by setting firm boundaries regarding their involvement in the lives of others. When it is necessary to tell others “no” to choose what is best for ourselves (according to our God-ordained priorities), or even to submit to our own valid needs or desires, we should do it graciously but steadfastly.

People-pleasers can effectively change their self-defeating behavior once they begin to view themselves as separate from others, sharing equal standing in the kingdom of God with everyone else. Each individual person bears the image of the Creator Himself.

Everyone enters the kingdom “by grace...through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Grace is “the unmerited favor of God,” and we don’t receive it by our “works” or good deeds (see v. 9).

We all enter God’s kingdom through the same gate: Jesus Christ. None of us is good enough to enter on our own merits. Our real value depends solely on our potential in Christ.

You and I have every reason to accept ourselves once we are convinced that we are children of God and that we are loved, forgiven and accepted by Him. When we are self-accepting, we don’t have to seek the approval and acceptance of others to confirm our personhood.

As pleasers accept the truth of their value in Christ and learn to budget their time according to their priorities and limits, they will soon feel positive new feelings about themselves. Their old behavior of looking to others for affirmation will fall away, and they will find themselves seeking out God rather than people for the satisfaction that only He can provide.

Freda V. Crews, D.Min., Ph.D., is a certified clinical mental health counselor. Adapted from Get Off Your Own Back by Freda V. Crews, copyright © 1997. Published by Treasure House, an imprint of Destiny Image Publishers, Inc. Used by permission. read more

Fidelity Is Forever

In recent years, the body of Christ has been almost overwhelmed with reports of church leaders who have been unfaithful in their marriages. When this happens to our leaders, the result can be that all Christians have deep concerns about who will stay pure.

Thankfully, God offers unlimited grace and forgiveness for wrongdoing. But we must never underestimate the power of sexual sin.

Romans 7:23-25 reminds us of the mind's power as we battle to overcome temptation: "But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me" (NLT).

Throughout the apostle Paul's books, he returns to the message that to overcome sin we must recognize and understand the mind and its power.

Recently my colleague Dr. Joe McIlhaney and I explored new research on human brain activity for our book Hooked: How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children. In writing Hooked, I was struck by the wisdom Paul possessed 2,000 years ago apart from the aid of modern scientific discoveries.

According to science, we are far more complex and intelligently designed than we appear to be on the surface. Understanding this is vital to equipping our response to a sex-crazed culture.

Science reveals a sex-and-brain partnership that fully supports the Bible's guidance to remain faithful in our marriages. As Christians, we need to understand what is going on inside our brains so we can wage war where the largest battlefield exists—our minds.

According to science, the largest sex organ is the brain. Scientific evidence reveals that the brain releases a series of hormones that knit individuals into relationships that complement the biblical vision of two becoming one flesh. For a female, meaningful physical touching produces oxytocin in the brain that bonds her to a mate. Men have the same reaction when vasopressin is released.

These chemicals show us that we are created for committed marriage relationships. But another chemical comes into play—one that can support these bonds or break them down.

Dopamine is a brain hormone that rewards us for doing exciting activities. The God-given gift of sex is exciting and when the bonding act of love is rewarded with dopamine, we become "hooked"—even addicted—to this bonding activity with our spouses. The reaction of all three chemicals support the importance of fidelity in marriage.

Sex is more than just an exciting experience; it's an intimate, cherished act for two individuals to deepen their bond between each other. When we are exposed to the ideas, attitudes and behaviors of this world—the culture of casual sex—the challenge lies in how we respond.

When an individual begins to search for immediate opportunities to fulfill their natural dopamine fix through extramarital relationships, the consequences include a chemical bond that literally addicts that person to sin. God's desire is to free us from such slavery.

Both God and science are calling us to a higher standard. Pastors, spouses, couples, singles, anyone who calls himself a Christian, needs to recognize that the mind is a battlefield and that our actions have a literal addictive effect.

Scripture is clear about how we Christians should revere our marriages—it is depicted in Christ's faithful, committed love for His church. Science confirms fidelity is both God's intent and a gift that was placed in our own brains the day we were fearfully and wonderfully made in His image.


Freda McKissic Bush, M.D., is the co-author of the new book Hooked: New Science On How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children. Maintaining an active OB-GYN practice in Jackson, Mississippi, Bush also serves on the board of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health. Her passion is to help women "raise the standard" to be all they were created to be. read more

Are You Trapped in Bad Company?

Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." —1 Corinthians 15:33

Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote in his masterpiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha, "Tell me thy company, and I will tell thee what thou art." There is some truth to that statement. We are known by the company we keep.

We often believe that this concept applies only in our interaction with unbelievers; however, this can be applied to our relationship within the body of Christ, also.

Some years ago I was in a situation where I found myself unwittingly in the grip of someone who I could see was not good for me. The person was a professing Christian, but I found myself in his grip, and I was leaning on him. I realized that this was wrong, and God delivered me from the situation. I was so thankful.

Am I advising you to avoid altogether unbelievers or certain members within the body of Christ? Most certainly not. However, ask the Lord to shine His light on the various relationships in your life.

Could it be that at this moment you are in this snare? You are trapped with bad company, and they are doing you no good. Maybe, however, you have rationalized the situation and made up excuses, concluding that you can be an exception. You wouldn't recommend anybody else to do what you are doing.

The worst thing that you can do, however, is to begin to think that you are the exception to the rule. For the devil will come alongside and say that you are different, that you can associate with wrong company. Then, before you know it, you are in a trap.

It is a wonderful thing to realize that God delivers us from bad company.

Maybe you are in a situation where you are being wrongly influenced, and as a consequence you have lost the sense of inner peace. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But bad company causes you to lose the peace that God wants you to have. I ask you, are you in the grip of bad company?

Excerpted from Higher Ground (Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1995). read more

Girl with Valentine

How to Ruin Valentine's Day

I think the quickest way to ruin Valentine's Day is with strife.

"Strife" means "vigorous or bitter conflict, discord and antagonism; to quarrel, struggle or clash; competition; rivalry."

James 3:14-16 tells us clearly, "If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work" (KJV).

Strife is devilish. It opens the door for the enemy to bring confusion and evil into our lives. Love, on the other hand, is the source of power for any successful relationship. Galatians 5:6 even tells us that our faith works through love.

Satan is continuously sending situations our way to tempt us to yield to the opposite of love, which is selfishness.

During this season of love we can study God's Word and learn what authentic love is and what it is not. First Corinthians 13 reveals its attributes: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (vv. 4-8, NKJV).

So make a decision to keep strife out of every relationship and keep love in. At home, work, school and church, commit to walk in love. If at any moment you slip up and get into strife, simply make it right.

Say to the other person: "Please forgive me. I love you. I don't want to be in strife with you."

Then say to the Lord: "Father, I repent of that attitude. I refuse to yield to strife or to any enemy of love. I choose to walk in love."

Keep acting on what you know about love from God's Word. Walk in love. When you do, you will keep your faith strong and the blessings of God will be continually evident to everyone ... for love never fails! Don't let strife ruin your Valentine's Day.


Gloria Copeland is co-founder and vice president of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

 

 

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The Dad Who Wasn't There

About a year after our father died, my sister Kathy became suicidal and was admitted into the psychiatric ward of the hospital. She had attempted suicide in the past. Now her despair was an unprotested submission to defeat. Five years of counseling and prayer seemed to have changed little.

“I’m so tired of trying,” she told me one day. “I don’t feel close to God. I don’t care about living. If it weren’t for my kids, I’d just give up.” read more

Don’t Be Offended

Offense is one of the most binding traps into which a believer can fall; here's why it is imperative you avoid it.

Years ago, people built traps in order to catch birds. They would balance a box on a stick tied to a rope and birdseed or other food would be placed under the box. When a bird came to eat the seed, the stick would trip, and the box would fall on the unsuspecting bird.

In Greek, that stick is called the skandalizo, translated “to offend.” When skandalizo becomes your portion—and it will—and you find yourself in a spiritually or emotionally dark box, it is often difficult to recover because you can feel like you’re fighting a tar baby. Every move is the wrong one. Every prayer sounds like a poorly verbalized whimper. All counsel seems petty or counterproductive.

Being scandalized or offended is one of the most binding traps into which a believer can fall. In many ways, it goes far beyond simply being hurt, deceived or ensnared by carnal sin; it has the capacity to totally undermine and destroy our walk with the Lord. When we have been scandalized, we really do not care what anyone thinks. We feel the early signs of deep-seated anger, and if we are not careful we can rapidly be sucked into the vacuum of rage and depression.

Jesus warned us about not being offended. We must allow God to do things that we would never expect. Maturity involves guarding against stumbling, falling into sin, or giving up our faith because our expectations were unmet.

Bob Mumford is a veteran charismatic Bible teacher and founder of Lifechangers ministry. read more

Bridging the Chasm Between Singles and Marrieds

To my surprise, I've remained single far longer than I ever expected or wanted to. As the years have progressed, I have found myself increasingly challenged by the need for answers to the tough things I was facing. Unfortunately, resources to help me and those like me have been few.

It is good for us to want others in our lives whom we love and who love us. But I have found it difficult, as a single, to sustain the level of relationship with other people I believe God wants me to have.

Various barriers inhibit this, and He wants to remove them. He wants to open the floodgates to abundantly meet the relational needs of singles today.

  read more

Put God First

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. —Matthew 10:37

All relationships must ever be subservient to God's greater glory. No matter how close people get to each other, they must be closer to God. The irony is, the closer people are to God, the more they will love each other. The more they put the voice of God prior to their commitment to each other, the more they really respect each other. read more

What Is Love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. —1 Corinthians 13:4-5 read more

Don't Hold On to Your Hurts

Jesus commands us to forgive, yet most of us treat His words as suggestions. We must learn to release all offense.


All of us have been wounded at some time in our lives, many of us deeply. And it's not something to take lightly. People experience real pain when they or those they love are hurt by another person. Yet we know that the Bible commands us to forgive--and that extending total forgiveness to our offenders is the only way we will ever find true freedom and release.

Certainly if our offenders would put on sackcloth and ashes as a show of repentance, it would be much easier to forgive them. But remember, at the foot of Jesus' cross no one seemed very sorry. There was no justice at His "trial"--if you could even call it that. A perverse glee filled the faces of the people who demanded His death: "'Crucify him!'" they shouted (Mark 15:13, NKJV). Furthermore, "those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!'" (vv. 29-­30).

What was Jesus' response? "'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do'" (Luke 23:34).

This must be our response as well.

Jesus could have said, "I forgive you." But such words might have been misinterpreted and wasted, like casting His pearls before swine (see Matt. 7:6). Instead Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, a far more grand gesture.

Asking the Father to forgive them showed not only that Jesus Himself had forgiven them and released them from their guilt but also that He wanted His Father to refrain from punishing them. It was not a perfunctory prayer; Jesus meant it. And it was gloriously answered! These offenders were among those who were converted after Peter's address on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:14-41).

God has given us a mandate in His Word regarding forgiveness: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13, NIV).

It's not a suggestion. We must totally forgive those who hurt us.

Totally forgiving someone doesn't necessarily mean you will want to spend your vacation with him or her, but it does mean that you release the bitterness in your heart about what the person has done. We can take our example from the way God treats us.

How does He forgive? Unequivocally and unconditionally. He never holds our sins, which are many, against us or tells others what we did. In practical terms, total forgiveness encompasses all of the following aspects:

1. Being aware of what someone has done, and still forgiving. Total forgiveness is not being oblivious to what an offender did; it is not covering up, excusing or refusing to acknowledge what happened. Total forgiveness is achieved only when we acknowledge what was done without any denial or covering up--and still refuse to make the offender pay for his crime.

Total forgiveness is painful. It hurts when we kiss revenge goodbye. It hurts to think that the person is getting away with what he did and nobody else will ever find out. But when we are able to fully acknowledge what he did and still desire in our hearts that God bless him in spite of his wrong, we cross over into a supernatural realm. We begin to be a little more like Jesus; we begin to change into the image of Christ.

2. Choosing to keep no records of wrong. The Bible says that love "keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Cor. 13:5). Love is a choice. Total forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling--at least at first--but an act of the will. It is the choice to tear up the record of wrongs we have been keeping.

We clearly see and acknowledge the evil that was done to us, but we erase it--or destroy the record--before it becomes lodged in our hearts. This way resentment does not have a chance to grow.

We must learn to erase the wrong rather than file it away in our mental computer. When we do this all the time--as a lifestyle--we not only avoid bitterness, but we also eventually experience total forgiveness as a feeling--and it is a good feeling.

3. Refusing to punish. Refusing to punish those who deserve it--giving up the natural desire to see them "get what's coming to them"--is the essence of total forgiveness.

Our human nature cannot bear the thought that someone who hurt us would get away with what he has done. It seems so unfair! We want vengeance. But vindication is God's prerogative alone. In Deuteronomy 32:35 He tells us clearly, "Vengeance is Mine, and recompense" (NKJV).

4. Not telling what they did. There is often a need to talk with someone about how you have been hurt, and this can be therapeutic if it is done with the right heart attitude. But if sharing is necessary, choose the person you tell very carefully, making sure that person is trustworthy and will never repeat your situation to those it does not concern.

Anyone who truly forgives, however, does not gossip about his offender. Talking about how you have been wounded with the purpose of hurting your enemy's reputation or credibility is a form of punishing him. We divulge what that person did so others will think less of him.

When I recall that total forgiveness is forgiving others as I have been forgiven, I remember:

* I won't be punished for my sins.
**Nobody will know about my sins, for no sins that are under the blood of Christ will be exposed or held against me.

5. Being merciful. When it comes to being merciful, this is our Lord's command: "Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). In the Greek language, mercy is the opposite of wrath or justice. One difference between grace and mercy is that grace is getting what we don't deserve (favor), and mercy is not getting what we do deserve (justice). So when we show mercy we are withholding justice from those who have injured us, and that is one aspect of godliness.

There is a fringe benefit for those of us who show mercy: We will also be shown mercy (see Matt. 5:7). This shows that total forgiveness is not devoid of self-interest. "The merciful man does good for his own soul" (Prov. 11:17).

6. Showing graciousness. True forgiveness shows grace and mercy at the same time. There is an interesting Greek word, epieikes, that means "forbearance" or "tolerance." In Philippians 4:5 this word is translated "gentleness."

It comes down to our English word "graciousness." It implies an exceedingly rare act of grace. It cuts right across a legalistic spirit, which is what comes naturally to most of us. This concept is quite threatening to those of us who think that being inflexible for the truth is the ultimate virtue.

Graciousness is withholding certain facts you know to be true in order to leave your enemy's reputation unscathed. Graciousness is shown by what you don't say, even if what you could say would be true.

Self-righteous people find it almost impossible to be gracious; they claim always to be after "the truth," no matter the cost. Total forgiveness sometimes means overlooking what you perceive to be the truth and not letting on about anything that could damage another person.

7. Letting it start in your heart. Total forgiveness must take place in the heart or it is worthless, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). If we have not truly forgiven those who hurt us, it will come out--sooner or later. But if it has indeed taken place in the heart, our words will show it. When there is bitterness, it will eventually manifest itself; when there is love, there is "no cause for stumbling" (1 John 2:10).

Because forgiveness takes place in the heart, reconciliation is not a necessary prerequisite. Those who believe they are not required to forgive until their offender has first repented and been reconciled to them are not following Jesus' example on the cross. If He had waited until His enemies felt some guilt or shame for their words and actions, He never would have forgiven them.

8. Relinquishing bitterness. Bitterness is an excessive desire for vengeance that comes from deep resentment. It heads the list of things that grieve the Spirit of God (see Eph. 4:30-32). And it is one of the most frequent causes of our missing the grace of God. "[Look] carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Heb. 12:15).

We must, therefore, begin to get rid of a bitter and unforgiving spirit; otherwise, the attempt to forgive will fail. Relinquishing bitterness is an open invitation for the Holy Spirit to give you His peace, His joy and the knowledge of His will.

This is extremely important when it comes to the matter of reconciliation. If I have totally forgiven a person who has hurt me, I will have no bitterness, and I should not feel the slightest bit of guilt or shame for not wanting a complete restoration of that relationship.

Even if there never had been a friendship in the first place, if someone has greatly wronged me, I can forgive him and yet see it as totally reasonable not to invite him to lunch every Sunday.

How can we be sure that there is no bitterness left in our hearts? Bitterness is gone when there is no desire to get even or punish the offender, when I do or say nothing that would hurt his reputation or future, and when I truly wish him well in all he seeks to do.

9. Forgiving God. Although we often do not see it at first, all of our bitterness is ultimately traceable to a resentment of God. Why? Because deep in our hearts we believe He is the one who allowed bad things to happen.

Only a fool would claim to know the full answer to the question, "Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue when He has the power to stop it?"

But there is a partial answer: He does so in order that we may believe. There would be no need for faith if we knew the answer about the origin of evil and the reason for suffering. I know only that it is what makes faith possible.

God can turn evil into blessing. He causes things to work together for good. God did not send His Son into the world to explain evil but rather to save us from it and to exemplify a life of suffering. Jesus suffered as no one else has or ever will.

One day God will clear His own name from the charge of being unjust, but in the meantime, we need to trust Him and take Him at His Word that He is just and merciful.

If we will patiently wait for God's purposes to be fulfilled, in the end--this is a guarantee--we will say that He has done all things well, even in what He permitted. He was never guilty in the first place, but because He sometimes appears to us to have been unfair, we must relinquish our bitterness and wholly forgive Him.

10. Forgiving ourselves. There is no lasting joy in forgiveness if it doesn't include forgiving ourselves. It is as wrong as not forgiving others because God loves us just as much as He loves His other children, and He is just as unhappy when we don't forgive ourselves as He is when we hold a grudge against others.

Put simply, we matter to God. He wants our lives to be filled with joy. That's why He commands us to forgive even ourselves.

Total forgiveness brings such joy and satisfaction that I am almost tempted to call it a selfish enterprise. In fact, studies show that the first person to experience delight when forgiveness takes place is the one who forgives.

So, for your own sake, obey God. Let go of your hurts by forgiving--totally--those who have wounded you.

 


Forgiveness 101

Of his more than 3,500 sermons, R.T. Kendall says the message in his book Total Forgiveness is the most vital.

A noted Bible teacher and former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England, R.T. Kendall has given his share of sermons. But he says the message in his book Total Forgiveness (Charisma House) has garnered an overwhelming response. He spoke with us about what it means to release offense.

What prompted you to write this book?

It was born in the greatest trial of my life at the time. An old friend, Josif Tson, said to me: "R.T., you must totally forgive [those who hurt you]. Until you totally forgive them you will be in chains. Release them, and you will be released." Nobody had ever talked to me like that before. But it was the greatest single word anybody ever said to me.

How can someone know whether he or she has totally forgiven?

We do not tell people what "they" did to us; we will not let them be afraid of us; we will not let them feel guilty for what they did; we let them save face, as God lets us save face; we assure them that their secret is safe with us forever; we do not do it once--total forgiveness is what we do every single day as long as we live; and finally, we pray for them--as Jesus did, that they will be forgiven, let off the hook.

What are the consequences of not forgiving totally?

Spiritually, we grieve the Holy Spirit. Physically, holding a grudge can cause high blood pressure, arthritis, kidney disease and other ailments. Emotionally or psychologically, it will shape your personality so that you become unpopular with people; they avoid you because you are a constant complainer.

What would you say to someone who feels they have been hurt so deeply they cannot forgive?

I would assure them I do understand their hurt. But not forgiving is always counter- productive. They are hurting themselves more than they realize.

How has this message changed you personally?

Totally forgiving those who have hurt me is the greatest thing I ever did in my life. I cannot exaggerate this. It has shaped my personality, my marriage and my preaching.

Is it possible to forgive and forget?

Total forgiveness is not forgetting. We do not play games with ourselves. We never forget what they did, nor are we required to. In fact, it is not true forgiveness unless we know what they did but still forgive.

What would you say to those who struggle with forgiving themselves?

Not forgiving ourselves is a combination of self-pity and self-righteousness, and we must come to terms with the fact that God wants us to forgive ourselves.Those who are hardest on themselves are usually hardest on others. And the closer we come to forgiving others, the easier it will be to forgive ourselves.

How have others responded to this message?

Of all my sermons on record (about 3,500, if you can believe that), my message on total forgiveness brings the greatest response of all I have ever preached.

How has unforgiveness hindered the body of Christ?

Immeasurably. Forgiveness is almost certainly the greatest need in the church today. Unforgiveness divides members, marriages, pastor and deacons, pastor and pastor, friends. It destroys unity, grieves the Holy Spirit and delays revival.

What are the benefits of forgiveness?

It can in some cases hasten the baptism of the Spirit. It will save homes. It will bring mental health quicker than 1,000 hours of psychiatric counseling (and I am not against this). The sooner a person forgives, the sooner they can live with themselves, like people, be liked and enjoy God's presence.


R.T. Kendall pastored Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is the author of more than 30 books, including The Word and the Spirit, The Sensitivity of the Spirit and Total Forgiveness, all from Charisma House. read more

Ways to Bless Your Pastor

We can't expect our pastors and their families to be perfect. We have to love them—flaws and all—just as Christ loves us. In honor of pastor's appreciation month, here are some practical ways to bless your pastor.

Consistently pray for your pastor. Make it a regular discipline in your prayer time. Don’t just pray, “God bless pastor”; do spiritual warfare! Bind principalities and powers that would seek to destroy his marriage and children.

Implore the Spirit of God to move mightily in their lives. Station mighty angels of God around their home and children to push back the forces of darkness that try to attack them. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you specific guidance so that you can pray effectively. Pray also for associate ministers, missionaries and other Christian leaders that you support.

Give the pastor and his family time together. Encourage them to take family vacations and getaways. Pastors live their lives in a fishbowl. They need some private times with their spouse and children.

Give them a gift certificate to a nice restaurant, and offer to baby-sit their children. Encourage others in the congregation to do the same. If someone in the congregation has a vacation home, suggest that it would be a blessing to let the pastor’s family use it for a week. Buy them tickets to a sports event, concert or circus. Create opportunities for them to be together.

Assure the pastor and his family members that they are loved and accepted. Tell them plainly that no one expects them to be perfect. Let them know that the congregation is committed to them and that it’s OK to be vulnerable. Many times pastors don’t realize that when they share their weaknesses it encourages the congregation to also be open with their faults.

 

Tamara Lowe is a speaker and author who lives in Tampa, Florida. She and her husband, Peter, have two children. read more

Resist Lust's Temptation


Month after month, one particular article on my Web site receives an unusually high number of hits: "Overcoming Sexual Temptation." Many Christians, such as the reader quoted below, find sexual temptation a difficult struggle and walk in constant condemnation.

"I have failed God many times in the area of sexual lust. I find myself thinking about impure thoughts. I confess my sin, ask forgiveness and repent. I do OK for a few days but find myself back where I started. I feel out of control. How can I break this cycle?"

Here are the steps:

1. Stop sexual thoughts. Think on things that are pure, as the Scriptures command (see Phil. 4:8). You can control where your thoughts go by making a mental choice to focus on something nonsexual.

2. Remove sources of sexual temptation. Identify the things in your life that are contributing to the problem. Then remove them as sources of temptation. Areas to check include:

Movies: Avoid ones that encourage lust and erotica. They make it impossible for you to "flee from temptation."

Television: It may be time to rethink channel and program choices.

Magazines: The visual images can be arousing. The stories and suggestions often encourage lust.

Books: Reading steamy romance novels won't help you focus your thoughts on what is pure and virtuous.

Peer group: What values are reinforced? How explicit and graphic is the talk? Is being a virgin considered weird? Are your friends committing adultery?

Family: Some families don't model appropriate sexual behavior, limit sexual exposure or have good sexual boundaries. Know what's right and what isn't.

Computer: The Internet gives easy access to pornography. Put on parental controls or a filter system or unsubscribe if you can't seem to resist.

Alcohol: More illicit sex happens under the influence of alcohol because inhibitions are removed. Don't indulge.

Job environment: Resist pressure to be part of the group, go to bars and engage in sexual talk. And watch those opposite-sex friendships. Many affairs begin with an understanding, sympathetic, listening co-worker.

3. Purpose in your heart to follow God's Word. Don't be ruled by passion. No matter what you feel, act with your brain and not your emotions.

4. Don't put yourself in tempting places. In the same way that a recovered alcoholic would shun going into a bar, you must avoid going to places that make resistance tough (for example, X-rated movies, strip joints, bars). When Satan tempted Eve, she engaged him in conversation instead of telling him to go crawl somewhere else. We all know the outcome of her choice!

5. Resist with the Word. When Satan came to Jesus, His defense was to speak the Word. Satan did not argue with Scripture; he left.

6. Don't lie to yourself. Many Christians think they can handle a lot more sexually explicit material than they can. We aren't aware of the subtle influence it has and the desensitization that takes place as a result of regular exposure.

7. Keep your walk with the Lord strong. Develop an intimate relationship with your heavenly Father. Difficult times come when we get out of fellowship with God. He doesn't leave us; we stop relating to Him. It is imperative that we stay connected.

8. If you fall, don't live in condemnation. Recognize your mistake, ask God to forgive you and turn from sin. True repentance involves a turning from the behavior. I have worked with a number of people who repent but go right back to the behavior because they haven't made necessary changes, aren't ready to give up the immediate gratification that accompanies lust or don't exercise their spiritual authority over sin.

Finally, if you still have difficulty, speak to a therapist or minister. There could be a spiritual, emotional or psychological root that requires more intense work. Getting free from lust is not impossible, but it will require significant changes in your thought life and behavior. read more

Forgive

Let Go of Your Hurts

Jesus commands us to forgive, yet most of us treat His words as suggestions. We must learn to release all offense.


All of us have been wounded at some time in our lives, many of us deeply. And it's not something to take lightly. People experience real pain when they or those they love are hurt by another person. Yet we know that the Bible commands us to forgive--and that extending total forgiveness to our offenders is the only way we will ever find true freedom and release.

Certainly if our offenders would put on sackcloth and ashes as a show of repentance, it would be much easier to forgive them. But remember, at the foot of Jesus' cross no one seemed very sorry. There was no justice at His "trial"--if you could even call it that. A perverse glee filled the faces of the people who demanded His death: "'Crucify him!'" they shouted (Mark 15:13, NKJV). Furthermore, "those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!'" (vv. 29-­30).

What was Jesus' response? "'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do'" (Luke 23:34).

This must be our response as well.

Jesus could have said, "I forgive you." But such words might have been misinterpreted and wasted, like casting His pearls before swine (see Matt. 7:6). Instead Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, a far more grand gesture.

Asking the Father to forgive them showed not only that Jesus Himself had forgiven them and released them from their guilt but also that He wanted His Father to refrain from punishing them. It was not a perfunctory prayer; Jesus meant it. And it was gloriously answered! These offenders were among those who were converted after Peter's address on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:14-41).

God has given us a mandate in His Word regarding forgiveness: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13, NIV).

It's not a suggestion. We must totally forgive those who hurt us.

Totally forgiving someone doesn't necessarily mean you will want to spend your vacation with him or her, but it does mean that you release the bitterness in your heart about what the person has done. We can take our example from the way God treats us.

How does He forgive? Unequivocally and unconditionally. He never holds our sins, which are many, against us or tells others what we did. In practical terms, total forgiveness encompasses all of the following aspects:

1. Being aware of what someone has done, and still forgiving. Total forgiveness is not being oblivious to what an offender did; it is not covering up, excusing or refusing to acknowledge what happened. Total forgiveness is achieved only when we acknowledge what was done without any denial or covering up--and still refuse to make the offender pay for his crime.

Total forgiveness is painful. It hurts when we kiss revenge goodbye. It hurts to think that the person is getting away with what he did and nobody else will ever find out. But when we are able to fully acknowledge what he did and still desire in our hearts that God bless him in spite of his wrong, we cross over into a supernatural realm. We begin to be a little more like Jesus; we begin to change into the image of Christ.

2. Choosing to keep no records of wrong. The Bible says that love "keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Cor. 13:5). Love is a choice. Total forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling--at least at first--but an act of the will. It is the choice to tear up the record of wrongs we have been keeping.

We clearly see and acknowledge the evil that was done to us, but we erase it--or destroy the record--before it becomes lodged in our hearts. This way resentment does not have a chance to grow.

We must learn to erase the wrong rather than file it away in our mental computer. When we do this all the time--as a lifestyle--we not only avoid bitterness, but we also eventually experience total forgiveness as a feeling--and it is a good feeling.

3. Refusing to punish. Refusing to punish those who deserve it--giving up the natural desire to see them "get what's coming to them"--is the essence of total forgiveness.

Our human nature cannot bear the thought that someone who hurt us would get away with what he has done. It seems so unfair! We want vengeance. But vindication is God's prerogative alone. In Deuteronomy 32:35 He tells us clearly, "Vengeance is Mine, and recompense" (NKJV).

4. Not telling what they did. There is often a need to talk with someone about how you have been hurt, and this can be therapeutic if it is done with the right heart attitude. But if sharing is necessary, choose the person you tell very carefully, making sure that person is trustworthy and will never repeat your situation to those it does not concern.

Anyone who truly forgives, however, does not gossip about his offender. Talking about how you have been wounded with the purpose of hurting your enemy's reputation or credibility is a form of punishing him. We divulge what that person did so others will think less of him.

When I recall that total forgiveness is forgiving others as I have been forgiven, I remember:

* I won't be punished for my sins.
**Nobody will know about my sins, for no sins that are under the blood of Christ will be exposed or held against me.

5. Being merciful. When it comes to being merciful, this is our Lord's command: "Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). In the Greek language, mercy is the opposite of wrath or justice. One difference between grace and mercy is that grace is getting what we don't deserve (favor), and mercy is not getting what we do deserve (justice). So when we show mercy we are withholding justice from those who have injured us, and that is one aspect of godliness.

There is a fringe benefit for those of us who show mercy: We will also be shown mercy (see Matt. 5:7). This shows that total forgiveness is not devoid of self-interest. "The merciful man does good for his own soul" (Prov. 11:17).

6. Showing graciousness. True forgiveness shows grace and mercy at the same time. There is an interesting Greek word, epieikes, that means "forbearance" or "tolerance." In Philippians 4:5 this word is translated "gentleness."

It comes down to our English word "graciousness." It implies an exceedingly rare act of grace. It cuts right across a legalistic spirit, which is what comes naturally to most of us. This concept is quite threatening to those of us who think that being inflexible for the truth is the ultimate virtue.

Graciousness is withholding certain facts you know to be true in order to leave your enemy's reputation unscathed. Graciousness is shown by what you don't say, even if what you could say would be true.

Self-righteous people find it almost impossible to be gracious; they claim always to be after "the truth," no matter the cost. Total forgiveness sometimes means overlooking what you perceive to be the truth and not letting on about anything that could damage another person.

7. Letting it start in your heart. Total forgiveness must take place in the heart or it is worthless, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). If we have not truly forgiven those who hurt us, it will come out--sooner or later. But if it has indeed taken place in the heart, our words will show it. When there is bitterness, it will eventually manifest itself; when there is love, there is "no cause for stumbling" (1 John 2:10).

Because forgiveness takes place in the heart, reconciliation is not a necessary prerequisite. Those who believe they are not required to forgive until their offender has first repented and been reconciled to them are not following Jesus' example on the cross. If He had waited until His enemies felt some guilt or shame for their words and actions, He never would have forgiven them.

8. Relinquishing bitterness. Bitterness is an excessive desire for vengeance that comes from deep resentment. It heads the list of things that grieve the Spirit of God (see Eph. 4:30-32). And it is one of the most frequent causes of our missing the grace of God. "[Look] carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Heb. 12:15).

We must, therefore, begin to get rid of a bitter and unforgiving spirit; otherwise, the attempt to forgive will fail. Relinquishing bitterness is an open invitation for the Holy Spirit to give you His peace, His joy and the knowledge of His will.

This is extremely important when it comes to the matter of reconciliation. If I have totally forgiven a person who has hurt me, I will have no bitterness, and I should not feel the slightest bit of guilt or shame for not wanting a complete restoration of that relationship.

Even if there never had been a friendship in the first place, if someone has greatly wronged me, I can forgive him and yet see it as totally reasonable not to invite him to lunch every Sunday.

How can we be sure that there is no bitterness left in our hearts? Bitterness is gone when there is no desire to get even or punish the offender, when I do or say nothing that would hurt his reputation or future, and when I truly wish him well in all he seeks to do.

9. Forgiving God. Although we often do not see it at first, all of our bitterness is ultimately traceable to a resentment of God. Why? Because deep in our hearts we believe He is the one who allowed bad things to happen.

Only a fool would claim to know the full answer to the question, "Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue when He has the power to stop it?"

But there is a partial answer: He does so in order that we may believe. There would be no need for faith if we knew the answer about the origin of evil and the reason for suffering. I know only that it is what makes faith possible.

God can turn evil into blessing. He causes things to work together for good. God did not send His Son into the world to explain evil but rather to save us from it and to exemplify a life of suffering. Jesus suffered as no one else has or ever will.

One day God will clear His own name from the charge of being unjust, but in the meantime, we need to trust Him and take Him at His Word that He is just and merciful.

If we will patiently wait for God's purposes to be fulfilled, in the end--this is a guarantee--we will say that He has done all things well, even in what He permitted. He was never guilty in the first place, but because He sometimes appears to us to have been unfair, we must relinquish our bitterness and wholly forgive Him.

10. Forgiving ourselves. There is no lasting joy in forgiveness if it doesn't include forgiving ourselves. It is as wrong as not forgiving others because God loves us just as much as He loves His other children, and He is just as unhappy when we don't forgive ourselves as He is when we hold a grudge against others.

Put simply, we matter to God. He wants our lives to be filled with joy. That's why He commands us to forgive even ourselves.

Total forgiveness brings such joy and satisfaction that I am almost tempted to call it a selfish enterprise. In fact, studies show that the first person to experience delight when forgiveness takes place is the one who forgives.

So, for your own sake, obey God. Let go of your hurts by forgiving--totally--those who have wounded you.

 

R.T. Kendall pastored Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is the author of more than 30 books, including The Word and the Spirit, The Sensitivity of the Spirit and Total Forgiveness, all from Charisma House. read more

Forgive Hug

Forgiveness Is a Lifelong Commitment

Making a lifelong commitment to total forgiveness means that you keep on doing it—for as long as you live.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. —Psalm 51:4

When I consider the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ knows all about my sin but promises to keep what He has forgiven a carefully guarded secret, it increases my gratitude to Him. God does not blackmail us. And when a person is guilty of blackmailing someone else, it gets God's attention. He won't stand for it. To hold another person in perpetual fear by threatening, "I'll tell on you," will quickly bring down the wrath of God. When I ponder the sins for which I have been forgiven, it is enough to shut my mouth for the rest of my life.

Making a lifelong commitment to total forgiveness means that you keep on doing it—for as long as you live. It isn't enough to forgive today and then return to the offense tomorrow. I heard of a person whose wife said, "I thought you forgave me." He replied, "That was yesterday." Total forgiveness is a lifelong commitment, and you may need to practice it every single day of your life until you die. No one said it would be easy.

I have seen some people cave in and return to the offense after they extended their forgiveness to someone. But it is not total forgiveness unless it lasts—no matter how great the temptation is to turn back.

If you are prepared to make a covenant to forgive—and to forgive totally—you must realize you will have to renew that covenant tomorrow. And it may be even harder to do tomorrow than it is today. It could even be harder next week—or next year. But this is a lifetime commitment.

Excerpted from Higher Ground (Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1995). read more

Abuse

How to Identify Abuse

Domestic violence is an ugly problem—and it happens both inside and outside the church. Learn how to recognize it.

 

Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship used by one person to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure or wound someone.

Physical abuse involves hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting and so on. Physical abuse also includes denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use.

Sexual abuse is coercing or attempting to coerce a person into having any sexual contact without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred or treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner.

Emotional abuse is undermining an individual's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. This may include constant criticism, name-calling or damaging a person's relationship with his or her children.

Economic abuse includes making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding access to money or forbidding attendance at school or employment.

Psychological abuse involves causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to one's self, spouse, children, family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, school or work.

Sources: National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Center for Victims of Crime and WomensLaw.org.

To report domestic abuse or seek help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (ndvh.org) at 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); the Religion and Violence E-learning Project (the raveproject.org); Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (peaceandsafety.com); or the Task Force to Stop Abuse Against Women (abuseof women.org).

Domestic Violence: The Shocking Truth

The U.S. surgeon general described violence against women as the No. 1 public health problem of women in America. Statistics vary, largely because much abuse goes unreported, but more than 5 million incidents of "intimate partner violence" occur against U.S. women every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three million such incidents occur against men, but experts say women are at higher risk for abuse.

At least three women are murdered every day by men who say they love them, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and countless others are permanently injured or disfigured. The Journal of the American Medical Women's Association has reported that domestic violence is the leading cause of death in pregnant women.

According to the National Coalition on Homelessness, domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness for women and children in the U.S. The National Center for Children Exposed to Violence reports that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to become abuse victims or victimizers as adults.

In their book No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence, Nancy Nason-Clark, Ph.D., and Catherine Clark Kroeger, Ph.D., report that incidence rates of domestic violence among active churchgoers are about the same as of the general population, but the likelihood of an abused woman seeking help might be lower. Therefore, they say, the potential for more severe violence to go unchecked is higher.

According to the book, roughly 25 percent of women in Latin America are victims of physical abuse; in South Africa one-in-four women is assaulted by her boyfriend or husband each week, and every week in Hungary a woman is killed by her spouse. Internationally, the World Health Organization reports that 20 percent of women are physically or sexually abused in their lifetimes.


Marcia Davis-Seale is a freelance writer based in Mount Vernon, Texas. read more

Gregory-Slayton

The Fruit of (Good) Fatherhood

Why being a better dad is more important today than ever—and how you can be one.

Good fatherhood is a cornerstone of any happy family, and happy families are the cornerstone of our civilization. But fatherhood is under attack. Radicals call it outmoded and unneeded, while countless dads have put fatherhood on autopilot to pursue bigger paychecks and other idols. Yet virtually all research tells us that a good father is vital to the future success of his children. Conversely, fatherhood failure makes children (when grown) much more likely to be convicted of a felony, commit suicide, suffer from severe mental illness, drop out of high school, become a drug addict, etc. In fact, the U.S. government today—at all levels—spends tens of billions of dollars a year treating the symptoms of fatherhood failure. And the problem is getting worse.

Whether you’re the president of the United States, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the guy picking up the garbage, your job as the father of your children is the most important job you’ll ever have. Think about it: Being a dad is the only job that you’ll never lose—unless you quit. It’s the only job that promises lifelong benefits, as well as eternal blessings. And it’s the only job for which you’re uniquely qualified. No one else in the world has the emotional, spiritual and physical qualifications you bring to your job as the father of your children. The research is clear: Children whose grandfathers and even great-grandfathers were men of commitment, competence and character (i.e., good fathers) are more likely to succeed. read more

scared-teen-small

Is Your Teen Getting the Message?

Simple misunderstandings can foster conflict in your relationship with your child. How do you tear down the walls that hinder effective communication?

John stood at our door arrayed in all his black leather splendor. Safety pins ringed his ear lobes; jewelry pierced his nose and lips. Tattoos covered his arms. Both sides of his head were shaved, the hair on top spiked down the middle.

Our daughter had told me her date was coming, but I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me when I opened the door.

My thoughts raced: Should I let this road warrior in? Is my daughter in danger? What will my congregation think if she brings this guy to church? read more

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