Monday, July 21, 2014

Complaining: Rewriting the Story God is Writing



Summer is a time of fun and leisure—being lazy on the beach and entertaining around the pool. It is also a time for Blockbuster movies—scrolling movie review websites to find great stories to get lost in all summer long only to resurface at the beginning of Fall.

The movie industry rakes in billions of dollars from summer movie-goers. We crave great storytelling—whether it be a romantic comedy or an adventurous sci-fi thriller. We each have personal motives for choosing the movies we watch. We may want to see a chaotic world come to a peaceful resolution in two hours or a broken person become whole again by the end of the movie.
This is great for the fantasy world, but it becomes a serious problem when we begin to view real life the way we view movies. We want the romance, adventure, thrill, and drama of our personal lives to be resolved in two hours and to resurface from the story unscathed. 

Reality
Reality is too real. Unlike movie spectators, we experience real pain—the pain of divorce, death of loved ones, broken relationships, failed businesses, foreclosures, illnesses and national unrest. We are shocked and confused when undesirable circumstances in our lives take more than a day to resolve themselves. 

Human nature compels us to try to fix the problems in our lives by any means necessary. We get angry and frustrated when we can’t control our circumstances and God won’t act as our personal genie to fix everything with the snap of His finger. We begin to grumble in our hearts only to spew out negative expressions of discontent. We complain against others, the world and ultimately God about the unwanted parts of our life story.  

Biblical Complaining
Throughout the Bible, we read about casting our cares on God (Ps 55:22; 1 Pe 5:7) and pouring out our hearts to the Lord (Ps 62:8). God wants us to bring our complaints before Him in such a way that honors Him. Biblical complaining is pouring out our concerns and feelings before the Lord without attacking His character. This type of complaining always ends with praises for who God is. Psalm 102 is a good example. The psalmist pours out his complaint to the Lord. He is afflicted and overwhelmed. He finds relief only when he reflects on God’s sovereignty and eternal purposes in his circumstances.

Sinful Complaining
Sinful complaining is trying to rewrite the story God has written. We are the characters and God is the Author. The novelist will sometimes say that the character they created begins to dictate the story of the novel. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen in God’s story. God is the novelist and we are His characters. We do not possess the power to dictate the story of our lives—but we act like we do. The Bible is written from God’s point of view. He has and is creating the characters and telling each individual story. 

Complaining is the symptom of a deep-seated spiritual problem. It is a failure to trust God and to submit to His will. When we complain sinfully, we reject God’s authority, providence and sovereignty over our lives. In Phil 2:14, we are commanded to “do everything without grumbling.” Why? Because He wants us to “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation—to shine among them like stars in the sky—holding firm to the word of life” (15-16). Our life circumstances—good and bad—are a part of God’s eternal purposes that are sometimes beyond our understanding. 

The Faces of Complaining
Complaining has many faces. It can look like blaming God, unbelief, failing to trust God, rejecting God’s will and rebelling against God. The story of the Israelites have all five elements of complaining in one event. Numbers 13 and 14 tell the story of the Israelites’ unbelief when God sent men to spy out the land of Canaan. Caleb and Joshua brought back a factual report of the land and a positive charge to obey God. But the other spies gave a bad report causing the Israelites to complain out of fear and disobey God (Num 14:2, 36). 

Immediately unbelief arose in their hearts. They chose to believe the bad report and not believe the report God gave to Caleb and Joshua (Num 13:31). Next, they failed to trust God when they “lifted up their voices and cried...and wept that night” (Num 14:1). Then they blamed Moses, Aaron and God for bringing them to the wilderness to die instead of leaving them to die in Egypt (Num 14:2-3). Furthermore, they rejected God’s will when they said, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt” (Num 14:4). Finally, they rebelled against God when they planned to stone Moses and Aaron (Num 14:10). As a result, God judged the Israelites causing that complaining generation to die in the wilderness never receiving the Lord’s blessing. 

Embracing the Story God is Writing
 At the root of sinful complaining is discontentment. To be discontent is to be dissatisfied. When we are not satisfied with our circumstances, then we are tempted to complain sinfully. There is either something we want that we don’t have or something we have that we don’t want. Discontentment propagates ingratitude, discouragement, depression and anxiety. As a result, we view life from our perspective as if we are writing our story and not God. 

Cultivate Contentment
Overcoming sinful complaining is found in contentment. Contentment is “an internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances” (Holman Bible Dictionary). Although it is a command (Heb 13:5), contentment must be nurtured and cultivated. It is a learning process. The apostle Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstance (Phil 4:11-12). 

To cultivate contentment, first, we must get to know the Author of our lives. Knowing who is writing our story is the basis of contentment. Second, we must know who we are in Christ. We are the characters created in the image of God. We must view ourselves and our circumstances from God’s point of view and not our own. Third, we must embrace this season of life because it is a part of a bigger story. We may not be able to see the whole picture. However, by faith we trust in God’s sovereignty, authority and providence in fitting our story into His bigger story.

This article was first published in http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2014/07/15/complaining-rewriting-the-story-god-is-writing/

           

             

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Cultivating Gospel-Centered Friendships

“Taking a break from our friendship.” That was the title in the subject line of an email I received from a dear friend. My jaw dropped and my heart sank. It felt weird—like a boyfriend breaking up with me in grade school. First, she stated how much she appreciated our friendship; then proceeded to explain why she needed to take a break. She expressed her understanding of how busy I was with my daughter, work, etc., but felt that I had been “rude” and “flaky” about planning to spend time together and then cancelling due to other conflicts.

Although I was offended, she was right. At the end of the email, she left open the possibility to continue our friendship “at another time or season in life that is maybe less busy.” It was clear what she needed from me; however, life got busier and I wasn’t able to give to her what she was asking. I received that email a year ago and my heart still aches over it.

Friendships play an important role in our lives. From early childhood, children naturally gravitate toward forming bonds with other children. This tendency continues into the teens years and adulthood. God created us as relational beings. He put the desire for friendship in our hearts. Just as God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, He instituted friendship. However, just as Adam and Eve marred God’s purpose for marriage, the Fall marred God’s purpose for friendship.

A Friend of God

Webster defines friendship as a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. God’s illustration of friendship goes a lot deeper. He demonstrated a depth of intimacy when He spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). God expressed such grace and kindness to Moses on a deeper level than a master to a servant. He entrusted Moses with a greater revelation of Himself. Imagine having a relationship with God like that! Yet the fact is we do have that kind of friendship with God through Jesus Christ: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection has given believers extraordinary access to the heart of God making us His friend for whom Christ laid down His life (John 15:13). Everything we have in Him, He wants us to give to others. God gives the gift of friendship. This type of friendship is gospel-centered. Our relationship with Jesus Christ is the bedrock on which gospel-centered friendships are based. The gospel is the power of God that transforms our earthly friendships. It frees us to be the kind of friend people need.

Characteristics of Gospel-Centered Friendships

Christ-centered

Gospel-centered friendships are centered on Christ. They are chosen by God. Jan was a new employee. When I first saw her, I was immediately drawn to her. I knew I had to meet her. A few weeks later, I approached her to introduce myself. Right away we became instant friends. To my delight, she was a Christian. We both had great love and affection for Jesus Christ. We encouraged each other in Christ, enjoyed discussing Scripture and spoke from a Christian worldview. Our friendship grew based on that common ground.

We became kindred spirits and prayer partners. We took our workplace frustrations and walked the parking lot in prayer. We experienced God’s great power in answer to our prayers. Everyone at work knew we had a special friendship so that when she announced that she was moving, my coworkers approached me with sympathy. Now we only communicate occasionally. God had a purpose for our friendship for a season. Although we don’t talk everyday like we use to, she is my gospel-centered friend for eternity.

Redemptive

Gospel-centered friendships are redemptive. Linda and Nancy had a friendship that was thirty-years deep—until Nancy’s betrayal. Linda was unable to attend the women’s bible study for several weeks due to personal painful circumstances. Linda found out that Nancy told several women in the bible study about her situation. Linda dropped out of the bible study and avoided Nancy at church. They didn’t speak for two years. Linda heard from a mutual friend that Nancy was battling cancer. Linda’s heart was broken for her friend. God used Ephesians 4:32 to convict Linda’s heart—“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Linda laid aside her resentment and chose to forgive Nancy. God restored their friendship.

Sacrificial

Gospel-centered friendships are sacrificial. They are an investment of the heart. After my husband left our marriage, I went through a three-year depression. Somewhere in the midst of that depression, I was talking to my dear friend on the phone who lived an hour away. I can still picture it. I was sitting on my bedroom floor sifting through a pile of bills and paperwork. I have no idea what I said or sounded like, but my friend told me that she was driving down to take my little daughter to the Mall so that I can have some time to myself. (I think she felt sorry for my daughter being cooped up with a sad mommy!)

God used that time alone with me to get my attention. Through many tears and wrestling with God, a decision was made in my heart to release the pain and embrace Him. I began to come out of my depression. Thanks to my friend’s sacrificial love and investment in our friendship, I was able to connect with God again. She is truly a friend that loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17).

Cultivating Gospel-Centered Friendships

Gospel-centered friendships must be cultivated. They are like gardens needing continuous attention to nurture the vegetation and to keep out the weeds. In order to keep your friendships saturated with the gospel, you’ll need to pay attention to the nurturing and quality of your friendships. Weeds love to germinate in blind spots and weaknesses.

Grace-filled

Gospel-centered friendships live by grace. Unrealistic expectations have no place in this kind of relationship. Friendships cross the line when there are feelings of dependence. If a friend withdraws slightly and you feel like there’s been a death—that is bondage. Grace frees us from having to perform or walk on egg shells to keep a friendship. Grace recognizes that we are sinners who can’t save ourselves. We need to walk in grace for our friends and ourselves because we will fail each other.

Edify

Gospel-centered friendships are edifying. They build up one another in Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26). Friends who suck the life out of people are not centered on Christ. That kind of friend seeks to fulfill their lives in relationships. Our fulfillment is found in Christ alone. A gospel-centered friend drives others to God and not to herself. That means making room for her to develop friendships with others. We must encourage our friends to embrace others who are spiritually beneficial.

Speak the Truth in Love

Gospel-centered friendships speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This requires humility. Self-righteousness speaks truth that is demanding, judgmental, and condescending. Friends focused on Christ seek to serve the interest of others rather than their own interest (Philippians 2:4). It is frustrating to see a friend walking in sin. It is unloving not to speak the truth to her. However, this truth must be spoken with much grace and kindness in humility. A humble spirit softens the blow when confronting a friend’s sin issue keeping the love relationship intact.

Remember that Christians are unique; therefore our friendships are unique. We are still sinners, but how we respond and relate to each other is different. Friendships that are gospel-centered demonstrate grace, mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness. Let these truths change your perspective on how you are being a friend. Let the gospel of Jesus Christ transform your friendships.

This article was first published at http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2014/04/02/cultivating-gospel-centered-friendships/

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Why Did He Marry Me?

 

An unfortunate phenomenon is unveiling in the Christian church. Christian wives are discovering that their husbands have been leading secret lives of homosexuality. Media reports tell of high-profile Christian leaders who “come out of the closet” after being caught in scandalous escapades. However, the wives—left on the sidelines and forgotten—suffer in silence and isolation. As biblical counselors, we are called to give them the hope of the Gospel and to lead them to the throne of grace, repentance, and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Her Story

Christine found herself far from her family and friends, raising her children, and married to the man of her dreams—or so she thought. Shortly into the marriage, Christine’s new husband, Mark became somebody else. She detected symptoms of a deep conflict in Mark’s life since the beginning of their marriage.

In public, he was usually friendly, enthusiastic, and charismatic. In the privacy of their home, Mark was a different person — often moody, pensive, and withdrawn. He became increasingly controlling and critical. He became argumentative when discussing their marital relationship, especially their lack of intimacy in the bedroom. Mark repeatedly rejected Christine when approached for intimate encounters.  

After Christine brought up the issue to the point of anger numerous times, the relationship began to resemble a honeymoon phase. For a few weeks, Mark initiated intimacy so frequently that there was no need for his wife to badger him anymore. Christine felt manipulated. "It was almost too much," she thought, but dared not say anything. Once she was getting used to his attention, however, he abruptly stopped pursuing her. Weeks and months would pass without intimacy.

She felt as if she were living in the Twilight Zone. She knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She tried to complete the missing part of the puzzle and couldn’t find the right piece. She believed there was something wrong with her because Mark repeatedly said she had a problem, not he. She wanted to make him happy, but she was clueless as to how.


Her Heart Issues

When a Christian wife marries the man of her dreams, devotes years, sometimes decades, building a Christian home, only to have it run through her fingers like sand on the seashore, it can be devastating. It can shake the foundations of her faith. She either knowingly or unknowingly married a man who struggles with homosexuality.

The wife faces unique issues. The psychological and emotional manipulation can cause her to believe she's going insane and losing her sense of femininity. She might believe her womanhood has been devalued and rejected, as she understands that she can't fulfill her husband's desires for a man.  She tries to understand why her husband chose her to be his wife and realizes that her entire marriage was based on a web of lies.

She reaches a new level of anger, which turns into devastating grief. Grief over tremendous loss—the loss over her sexuality being wasted on someone who could not appreciate it, the loss of the years of her youth, which she can never regain,  the loss of the dreams, ideals, and values that had identified her and their marriage, and the loss of her assumption of how God is sovereign over people’s lives.


How to Counsel Her

Christine is in desperate need of hope. The biblical counselor can offer her the hope of the Gospel. The goal is to help her to embrace the Gospel, to die for the Gospel, and to live the Gospel.

Embrace the Gospel

Christine must believe who Christ is and what He has done for her in His life, death, and resurrection. This is where her identity lies,—not in her marital status. The Gospel proclaims the good news that her life is not her own.

God meticulously crafts our suffering. It was not a mistake that she was her husband’s wife. She must humble herself to what God has allowed to happen in His sovereign good plan. First Peter 4:12 tells us not to be surprised at difficult trials as if they’re strange things happening to us. These things happen for our testing and for transforming us into the image of Christ. Remembering this truth will rebuild the foundation of her faith.

Die for the Gospel

Christine must die to her false concept of God. We often try to bring God into our self-identity instead of surrendering ourselves to the identity we have in Christ. The Gospel doesn’t promise Christine the perfect marriage or one that would last forever. Christine doesn’t have the power to remold the Gospel into her likeness.

Dying for the Gospel is dying to self because Jesus died for us. God gave His only begotten Son to die on the cross for not only her sin, but also for her husband’s sin. Yes, Jesus died for the sin of homosexuality. He died for the sins of manipulation, deception, cheating, lying, and stealing.

Live the Gospel

The Gospel dramatically transforms our identities and agendas. Living the Gospel starts with putting our hope in God’s extravagant love for us. Romans 5:5 tell us that “hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts.”

The Gospel reminds Christine that God loves her. He’s given her a Rescuer, a Provider, a Comforter and an Enabler found only in Jesus Christ. In Him she has streams of living water flowing from her innermost being. This fresh living water will triumph over the difficult process of denial, shock, anger, shattered emotions, and confusion.

The Gospel tells Christine that God sees her tears and hears her cry. He will help when she is helpless and will act on her behalf. The abundance and constancy of God’s grace will carry her through biblical forgiveness and redemption. In Christ she will run the race until it’s finished. Whatever God starts, He finishes.
Article first published at:
http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2013/04/09/why-did-he-marry-me/