Friday, July 31, 2009

Joy and Happiness: The Same or Very Different Emotions?

Happiness, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is based on luck or good fortune. Joy on the other hand, is described as a vivid emotion of pleasure. Thus, happiness depends on circumstance; joy, on our emotional well-being.

At first glance, joy and happiness may seem similar but, really, they are quite different. We may be happy if we win the lottery, but we feel joy when we think about a beloved child or grandchild. Happiness may warm us, but it is joy that creates the fierce heat of emotion that takes our breath away.

We feel joy when we appreciate life-when we contemplate nature, when we recognize our freedom, and when we dwell on our successful relationships with other people; we feel joy when we have faith in something larger than ourselves.

Understanding the difference between joy and hap-piness is not about seeing one as better than the other, but rather about recognizing and celebrating the differences.

One way to understand the differences between joy and happiness is to think about their opposites. While the opposite of happiness is unhappiness, the opposite of joy is fear.

William Blake showed us the dichotomy between opposites. He wrote that two opposing emotions such as fear and joy expand and contract in direct relation to the presence of the other. We cannot feel total joy and total fear at the same time. This is why real joy is the absence of fear.Happiness happens when things go well. Joy on the other hand comes from a swell of emotion within us and sometimes has to be learned. Developing the ability to recognize and feel joy as opposed to continually feeling fear is a freeing experience. As we come to recognize that joy does not depend on more money, bigger cars, or longer holidays then we begin to recognize the strength of this emotion as part of our daily lives, as part of our psyche, and as part of who we are and how we view the world.

If you know joyful people, you will probably notice common traits among them. Joyful people are often healthy, both physically and mentally, they value strong positive relationships, and they don’t allow the extremes of life-sudden highs or sudden lows-to influence them unduly. Joyful people lead a more stable life. But these abilities do not just arrive; they have to be worked at.

Because we now recognize the connection between emotional health and physical health, teaching ourselves to be joyful may be one of the greatest things we can do to enhance our overall health. However, it is important to understand that joy is an emotion that arises from within us and is not affected by the things that happen to us. Instead of looking for external things to provide happiness in our lives, we must strive to find the joy within. We must educate ourselves about joy and work to enhance it in our lives. One way to start is to make a decision to wake up every morning and find joy in our lives. Think about a special person or a devoted pet. Think about the joy derived from a bird’s call or the joy of a day in a forest. It is our choice to be joyful or fearful. Let’s take the time to train ourselves to be joyful-our lives will be both happier and healthier for it.

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Source: alive #254, December 2003

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Greater Submission to Our God

The Bible is absolutely clear that God has revealed Himself to every human in at least two ways: His creation and our consciences. Romans 1:20 says, "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Paul goes on to say that we also have the witness of our con­science telling us there is a sovereign Lawgiver: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them (Romans 2:14-15).

The point is, the only way humans can deny the existence and love of God is by an active choice of the will.


An unfortunate twisting of this biblical concept of "general revelation"-that is, God revealed outside of Scripture-is the over-used and abused phrase, “All truth is God's truth." There is, perhaps, no more dangerous threat to the dike of accurate biblical doctrine that holds back the floods of heresy than this psychological plea to accept all "truth" as God's.

Larry Crabb has written, "Truth is truth, whether scientific truth or theological truth, whether found in the psychologist's laboratory or in the Bible student’s library." Psychologists, however, rarely address one determines what is true, and that question is essential because "scientific" research, findings, and theories are in a constant state of flux. Even more appalling is Dr. Crabb's next sentence: "To speak of biblical truth as some­how more authoritative than scientific truth is really absurd. Truth has authority over error, not over another truth."

I couldn’t disagree more. Biblical truth must have primacy over other "truth," for man's "truth" one day is found to be false the next.

The consequences of such foolish thinking are enormous. Pastor Tom Watson points out, "Using the ‘all truth' philosophy, anything can be proclaimed as truth. For example when Focus on the Family introduced a tape by New Ager Norman Cousins, the announcer made these statements:

We are fully aware that Norman Cousins does not come from an evangelical Christian perspective, but all truth is God's truth. If it's true, it came from God, and the next twenty minutes we feel are true and valuable and will make a contribution in your life. Cousins’ teaching was one of holistic health that one can control pain, bleeding, and infection through a mental process. James said, `This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic' (James 3:15 NASB)."

A dear pastor friend of mine recently commented on the phrase "all truth is God’s truth" by saying, "I agree. And all grass seed is grass seed. You can buy it in a clean container at the garden shop or you can go to the stable and separate it from horse manure."

From a proper source you will get consistent quality in grass seed, while from the stable you will get some grass and some weeds. When you're picking seed out of manure, you never quite know what you're getting. And in the same way, when you’re picking through the world's systems to find "truth" you never quite know what you're getting.

The question is, why would Christian paw through the filth of "hollow and deceptive philosophy" (Colossians 2:8) to find a few seeds of truth when God has already revealed in His Word everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)?


The concept “all truth is God's truth" is seductively appealing until one realizes that data is not the same as truth. To arrive at truth, a person must interpret the data in accordance with reli­able principles of rational analysis. In the physical realm, we must rely upon scientific method (which we discussed earlier), and in the spiritual arena, we must follow consistent biblical hermeneutics (a fancy word for "system of interpretation").

Let me illustrate. A psychologist and a biblical counselor may observe the same person who is exhibiting classical symptoms of depression-exhaustion, loss of appetite, sense of hopelessness, apathy, social withdrawal, insomnia, and so on. Both counselors can ask questions to collect more data. In the end, however, they will probably arrive at different conclu­sions about the root problems and the treatment required because they will analyze the data according to their system of interpretation.

You might well argue, "But the truth is, the person is depressed." Granted. But is that the level of truth people are speaking of when they cry out, "All truth is God’s truth"? I don't believe so. I think they are pleading the case that foundational life-altering truths are just as available from the world as from the Word. And that is where I disagree.

Think carefully about what Larry Crabb said: "To speak of biblical truth as somehow more authoritative than scientific truth is really absurd. Truth has authority over error, not over another truth." His statement is representative of the thinking of those who wish to integrate psychological theories with biblical princi­ples to form a "truth" superior to the Scriptures alone.

We would do well to ask the same question Pilate asked Jesus: "What is truth?" (John 18:38). He was responding to Jesus' min­istry statement, "For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). He had defined truth earlier in the book of John when He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

To suggest that all "truth" is equally authoritative borders on heresy, dear friend, and I urge all Christians to exercise extreme caution when listening to or reading books by "experts" who argue that "all truth is God’s truth.”


The sad limitation of "general revelation" is that it removes all excuses about not knowing God, but it cannot provide enough information to be saved or sanctified.
We are accountable for what we know about God, and the physical world tells us about His infinity, His power, and His goodness (Romans 1:20). The vastness of the universe reveals God's infinity and eternal nature; it is so immense that we must measure distances in light years. From the macroscopic view of the cosmos to the microscopic complexity of molecules and atoms, God's limitless nature is so obvious that to deny His exis­tence is the result of willful and active choice.
Like His infinity, God's awesome power is also clearly revealed by nature through the destructive force of nuclear reactions, the deafening roar of Niagara Falls, and the explosive energy of surging volcanoes. From the mighty winds of hurricanes, to the brilliant flashes of lightning, to rolling ocean tides, God's measureless power is plain to see.

Yet even from the signs of nature, God's gracious character is shown with crystal clarity. Jesus said that God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). God’s material provision for all people is a testimony to His love-even for those who despise Him. He "provides food for the raven" (Job 38:41) and even notices when a sparrow dies (Matthew 10:29). All of His care and providence show His love and gentleness to an undeserving world.

That is why God says that we are "without excuse" (Romans 1:20), and if we are without excuse, we will be held accountable for our lives, whether or not we choose to submit to His authority. Paul writes, "each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12), and Peter adds this warning: "They will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead" (1 Peter 4:5).


God has given us enough information in the pages of nature to reveal His existence, but for salvation, we need "special revela­tion"-that which God Himself has revealed to us in the Scriptures. Without this special information, we are hopelessly lost. As Jeremiah writes, "Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD" (Jeremiah 8:7). The result of this spiritual ignorance is that "they go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me" (Jeremiah 9:3).

Have you ever wondered why people are so incurably evil? Why is there so much anger, violence, pain, and sorrow? Why do people persecute one another in the name of religion? Jesus explained it quite simply: "They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me" (John 16:3). Jeremiah is not as gentle in his assessment: "My people are fools; they do not know [God]. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good" (4:22).

To remedy this problem, God has given us the written Word. Paul writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed [or inspired] and is useful for teaching [doctrine], rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Bible is God's "special revelation." It tells us about the origin of the universe, how man came to exist, our purpose on earth, why we suffer, the process of inner healing, and how we can live forever. It explains the past, present, and future of all humanity. None of these things can be understood by "general revelation” alone, so it became necessary for God to communi­cate these truths to humans through the prophecies that are recorded in Scripture.


Many people who are intellectually honest enough to admit the existence of God are still uncomfortable with the fact that God requires each human to make a choice of faith. It is not enough to know that God is, for He also demands a personal response. Moses referred to this obligation when he said to his people, "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The majority of humans foolishly choose death over submis­sion to God, and what’s amazing is that God allows us to go the direction we choose. Joshua said, "If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15).

In His mercy, God often gives us a prolonged period of time to make this most important decision of our existence. But there eventually comes a moment when we must decide what we are going to do about God. Elijah brought to a moment of decision when he said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD Is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).

Perhaps that same choice is now confronting you. Having considered the concept of God’s existence and the insurmount­able evidence pointing toward Him, you must decide for yourself whether you will acknowledge Him as your own God. A liberating fact is that He will never force you to love Him, for He wants your decision to come freely from your heart.

There will come a day, however, when the freedom to choose will be over. Then everyone will acknowledge God as the King of the universe whether they wish to or not. It will be too late for the rebel to be saved, but he will be forced to his knees before Almighty God. "`As surely as I live,' says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God"' (Romans 14:11).

But today, God’s mercy still reigns, and He invites you and all others to "turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:22)


People have been asking this question from the beginning of time: What does God require? The prophet Micah anticipated that question when he wrote, "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

Please note what the passage does not mention: painful ritual, mysterious chanting, monastic robes, official membership in a church, or any of the other trappings of man's religion. In every age and in every location, what God has always required is a loving walk with Him.

In keeping with that metaphor, may I point out the obvious? God has designed our walk to be bipedal, which, being interpreted, means we have two feet. And just as our physical walk requires the balanced cooperation between both feet, so our walk with God is a delicate balance of two foundational elements: Our last chapter will deal with these essential parts of Christian living, but for now, it is enough to understand that both must come from the very core of our being - the heart.

In the New International Version, the word "heart" appears some 541 times, giving us some indication of how important the concept is. The King James Version uses the word 762 times. The reason this concept is so foundational is that the heart controls the rest of our existence. As Proverbs says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23).

For faith to be genuine, it must stem from an authentic conviction of the heart: "It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" (Romans 10:10).

Jesus explained genuine heartfelt submission to God this way: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your entire mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself' (Luke 10:27). Love is the essence of a true walk with God, and it involves every portion of a person’s being. The result of an all-encompassing love for God is that we will also love our fellow man.

But even more than that, we will delight in fulfilling God's will in and through our lives. Jesus was the perfect example of willing submission throughout His time on earth, but especially in the when He said to His Father, "If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).
Many mistakenly believe that submission to God will produce a life of boredom, misery, and loss, but nothing could be further from the truth. That's why Jesus said "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). Dear friend, turn­ing our lives over to Jesus is the path to peace and joy, but you will never know that until you love Him enough to trust Him ... and trust Him enough to obey Him.

Extracted from Ed Buckley’s How Big Is Your God?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why Faith is Needed in Our Church?

How Big is Our God in our praise?

Have you ever stopped to think about how many songs we would have to remove from our hymnals if we sang only the hymns we truly believe? If psychology is true, then many of the old songs are lies. Just flip through an old songbook and you'll see what I mean.

Here's an old one you probably haven't heard in church lately: "There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus, no, not one! No, not one! None else could heal all our soul's diseases, no, not one!, No, not one!" Yet, if our seminaries are right, Jesus is not able to heal our soul's diseases. We desperately need the psychol­ogist to help us make sense of our inner world. We'd better rip that song out.

Here's another: "Calvary covers it all, my past with its sin and stain; my guilt and despair Jesus took on Him there, and Calvary covers it all." Wrong again! Now we're told that to be healed on the inside, we must return to the past and embrace our pain. We have to delve deep into our repressed memories so we can find healing from our guilt and despair. That song has got to go!

And all those gory hymns about Jesus' blood-they're so outdated! "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh! Precious is the flow that makes me white as snow; no other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.... This is all my hope and peace, Nothing but. ..." No, that's too sim­plistic, believing that Jesus' sacrifice can produce wholeness, cleansing, hope, and peace. R-r-r-i p!

"I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary" dares to state that Christ "has the power to change lives today; for He changed me completely, a new life is mine, that is why by the cross I will stay." Ridiculous.

Why, there are dozens that will have to be removed! "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "Blessed Quietness," "Where the Spirit of the Lord Is," "Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners," "Down at the Cross," "Are You Washed in the Blood?" and "It Is Well with My Soul."

Again I am reminded of Ezekiel 33:32, where we read about the foolishness of singing songs that no one believes. "Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice."

Keep in mind that I'm not arguing against singing in the church. I love music! I served as a minister of music for several years in a large metropolitan church. What I am trying to point out, however, is that for many Christians, the music of worship has become a sentimental journey with little content or conviction.

Some of the contemporary songs currently circulating are mindless ditties without a shred of doctrinal content. They are repeated over and over and over until the mind is numbed and the heart is dulled by artificial fervor in an attempt to work up an emotion often confused with worship. Some churches spend a large amount of time trying to generate an emotional spirituality with drums, swaying choirs, screaming and growling soloists, flashing lights, smoke machines and "dancing in the Spirit." If you examine many of the songs, you will find there is little bibli­cal content.

On the opposite side of the worship spectrum is the emo­tionless singing of stiffly proper liturgical hymns with barely a hint of conviction that the messages are true or have deep sig­nificance for our personal walk with God. While the songs may have content, there is a coldness more suited for a walk-in freezer than a sanctuary of worship.

A balance in worship music would seem to be in order-a balance which provides both for content and conviction, mean­ing and emotion, truth and joy. Each church must allow for its own unique personality to emerge, yet the central focus of all our music, it would seem to me, must be on our Lord Jesus and what He has accomplished for us on the cross. We need to ask ourselves, "How big is God in our music?"

How Big is God in Our Preaching?

When I was in seminary, a guest lecturer who pastored a promi­nent church in the Los Angeles area told us that he spent a min­imum of 40 hours in preparation for his sermon each week, and we were duly impressed. I have since come to realize that he was speaking evangelistically. Nonetheless, I believe that when God's people come to church, they have a right to expect a clear mes­sage from His Word.

I am not particularly concerned with homiletical perfection composed of the required introduction, the correct number of outline points, humorous illustrations, a poem, and a compelling close. I am far more interested in hearing a clear and accurate exposition of the passage of Scripture. I want to know what God is saying to us and what He expects us to do as a result.

I do not enjoy listening to a screamer who rages and pounds the pulpit, believing that volume, red complexion, and perspira­tion are a substitute for meaningful content. On the other hand, I suppose I would prefer to sit under the preaching of a screamer than a sleeper. I once had a professor who nearly fell asleep dur­ing his own sermon-I'm not kidding!

What ministers to my heart is a pastor who preaches with power and deep personal conviction the life-changing truths of the Scriptures as he explains the intended meaning and presents an accurate application for our lives.

Unfortunately, there are many pastors who have lost their confidence in the soul-cleansing power of the Scriptures. They cannot preach with conviction because they no longer believe that God means what He says nor that He has the power to deliver souls from bondage to sin.

Only eternity will reveal how many practical atheists inhabit today's pulpits. In Matthew 7 there is a sobering passage regard­ing unbelieving ministers: "Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildo­ers!"' (verses 22-23).

I wonder what the Lord will say to those who weaken the faith of their people by convincing them God is powerless to transform their lives and heal their souls. What of those nationally known radio teachers who tell their listeners that they must understand their dreams to experience inner healing? Moses writes that there are prophets and dreamers who have "tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow" (Deuteronomy 13:5).

What's frightening is that the move from faith to unbelief can be so gradual and subtle we may not even notice when it happens. In Jeremiah, the Lord says, "What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They did not ask, `Where is the LORD?"' (2:5-6). The reason they didn't ask was they didn't know He was gone. The congregations of many churches could rightly ask their pastors, "Where is your God?"

How Big Is God in Our Prayers?

We live in a day of increasing prayerlessness. Oh, there are many who pray, but not in the simple and powerful way the Lord taught us. In an admirable attempt to draw Christians' attention to prayer, some have devised "prayer concerts" and established prayer min­istries. Numerous volumes have been written on prayer, and some, no doubt, are excellent. Nonetheless, it appears that prayer has been affected by our loss of confidence in God.

The disciples, seeing Jesus' power with God, asked Him to teach them about prayer (Luke 11:1). His extended reply is found in Matthew 6, where He first tells us what not to do in prayer. "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites," who pray in order to impress others with their spirituality (Matthew 6:5-6). Second, we are not to think that longer prayers are more effective (verse 7). Then Jesus gives us a model prayer that takes all of 25 seconds to complete. Do you know why His prayer was so effective and sometimes ours are so powerless? Because He was walking moment by moment in obedience to the Father and oftentimes we are not.

I have seen people who prayed for hours at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, believing that God is present in the massive stones remaining from Herod's Temple, yet for all of their sincerity and fervor, God was not moved. Others painfully climb Roman cathedral stairs on their knees, hoping to get God's attention, yet the windows of heaven seem to remain closed.

If sincerity, desperation, and even pain would make prayer effective, then the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 would have pro­duced the most effective prayer meeting in history. We are told that they called on Baal from morning until evening, as Elijah, in effect, asked, "Where is your God?" They danced around their altar in growing desperation and shouted even louder until they finally began slashing themselves with their swords and spears, "but there was no response" (verse 29).

In contrast, Elijah merely prayed for approximately 20 sec­onds (verses 36-37) and "the fire of the LORD fell" (verse 38). Why such a different result? It wasn't the length or volume or passion of the prayer that made it effective; it was the One to whom Elijah prayed that made the difference.

If we do not have an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, our prayers will have little more effect than those of the prophets of Baal. We can organize prayer breakfasts, prayer con­certs, and national days of prayer, but unless we believe that God is still God, our prayers will be meaningless and futile.

Some people, however, do believe in God, and yet their prayers still seem to go unanswered. Why is that? So far as I understand, there are at least three causes for failure in prayer: sin, unbelief, and selfishness, which in effect are the same.

Sin simply short-circuits the prayer process. David wrote, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18). Isaiah confirmed this truth when he wrote, "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hid­den his face from you, so that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2).

Unbelief, a root sin, also prevents successful prayer. James wrote, "When [a man] asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:6-7). Unbelief in God's character and power are the primary cause for all spiritual failure. That is why modern-day prayer is so weak and miserable. We simply don't believe.

The third reason prayer fails is because we ask in a selfish manner. James explained, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:3). God is not a magic genie that we can command and get what we want when we want it. Jesus made that quite clear when He said that we have to pray in His name (see John 16:23)-that is, we must have His authoriza­tion. In other words, He has to sign the request, and the only way He will do that is if our prayer is in agreement with His will (1 John 5:14).

Prayer is not as mysterious as some believe. It is the simple communication of heartfelt desires between a child and his father. What God requires is a genuine heart. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). The formulation of words, the verbal pattern, the tone of voice, and the posture of the body do not really matter. God hears the meaning of our hearts and He cannot be manipulated or deceived.

That's why He says, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). You see, "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).

Do we want our prayers to be answered? Then we must turn from sin.

How Big is Our God in Our Evangelism?

When we believe God's Word, we will seek to bring others to Christ-if not because of compassion for the lost, then as a result of a sincere desire to obey our Father. Hopefully, we will be moti­vated by both.

I am challenged by the burning motivation some people have to share Christ with the world and I admire missionaries who have devoted their entire lives to taking the gospel to other lands. What confuses me, however, is that some of the very groups that work so hard to translate the Scriptures into obscure dialects do not believe what the Bible says.

One major translation organization, for instance, has done a wonderful job of taking the Bible to the nations. Yet they have stated in writing that psychology lies at the very core of their ministry and they insist that their personnel receive psychological testing to determine emotional fitness for the mission field. We have letters from former missionaries from this organization who were forced to leave because of its stand on psychology.

One missionary with another organization told us that the people he worked with were hungry for spiritual encouragement and they asked the headquarters to send a Bible teacher to the field. Imagine their disappointment when a psychologist got off the plane to help them deal with their personal dysfunctions.

I have heard reports of a major "Christian" psychiatric clinic sending psychologists to the mission field, and we have been told by various missionaries that psychology is sweeping into third­ world countries, weakening the infant church. Would you blame a native for doubting the missionary who tells him that God can give him eternal life when that very same missionary needs a psy­chologist to solve his own problems because he believes the Bible is not enough to heal his wounded heart? Wouldn't the native be justified in asking, "How big is your God?"

Aren't our neighbors, relatives, friends, and fellow workers also justified in wondering what Jesus has to offer them if He cannot give us peace of heart and mind without psychotherapy and drugs? Our unbelief has weakened our witness.

How Big is God in Our Fellowship?

Practical atheism has emptied churches all across the land. Mainline Protestant churches are dying just as they did in England when formalism and unbelief spread across the island. When attendance at church is viewed as an inconvenient oblig­ation rather than a joyful privilege, atheism has come home to roost.

Let me ask you-are you faithful in your church attendance? Do you go because you want to be with other believers, worship, and feed on God's Word, or do you go out of reluctant duty? Once again, it's all a matter of the heart, isn't it?

If we truly believe God is present when His people join together, and if we actually expect Him to speak to our hearts through His Word, and if we love Him with a depth too great for words, we will look forward to our time at church.

Perhaps the problem is that we aren't hearing His Word at the church we attend. Then maybe it is time to find a church where God's Word is faithfully delivered.

Or, maybe there is a coldness in the fellowship that repels you. Why not introduce a warm smile and loving handshake? Someone has to begin the warming trend, and it may as well be you.

When our family is away from our home church, on vacation or business, we make it a practice to be in attendance at church wherever we are. Worship is not an option for us; it is a consistent habit and pleasure. We have found warm fellowship regardless of the locale, because where Jesus is worshiped in spirit and in truth, there is an instant bond.

On our radio broadcast, callers will sometimes talk about their problems and say they just can't find a church that's warm and friendly. When I press for details, it often turns out that they have never settled in one church long enough for people to get to know them. Instead, they flit from one church to another like moths around street lights. After a while, they lose interest and stop attending altogether, blaming churches for being insensitive and uncaring.

This is, of course, another form of practical atheism. The habit of not attending church is blatant disobedience to the clear commands of Scripture. Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

There is simply no valid excuse for not being in regular atten­dance in church unless you are physically bedridden. The fact that there are hypocrites in the church is no excuse, either. Though there are hypocrites in every church, you will also find some sincere believers living consistent lives if you will just take the time to find them.

Perhaps you have gone to church and found the sermons to be boring and dry. God will not accept that as an excuse for dropping out of regular worship attendance, for if we go with a heart ready to receive from God's Word we will find food for the soul. If you are not stirred by the Word of God, I encourage you to examine your own heart to see if there is a root of bitterness or spirit of criticism coming between you and God's blessing. On the other hand, if you can honestly say that you are open to Scripture and are not looking for things to criticize, and you are still left spiritually empty, then perhaps it is time to find a differ­ent church where your soul's needs can be met.

Don't leave too quickly or make the mistake of expecting your church to be perfect. You will never find such a place this side of heaven. Be patient with your pastor and the people who attend your church, and do your part to help make it the best church it can possibly be. "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3) so that the world will have no cause to ask, "How big is your God?"

How Big is God in Our Stewardship?

I've often heard that the last topic Christians want to hear about is giving, so I've placed this last on the list. Perhaps the most tan­gible sign of practical atheism is revealed by a person's checkbook. I'll be even more specific: Those who do not give generously to the Lord's work and to those in need do not trust God to supply. They prefer to trust in their own resources, and if that's the way they want it, God will step back, and they will be the poorer for it. Proverbs puts it this way: "One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty" (11:24).

God promises to bless those who are generous. "He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses" (Proverbs 28:27). And He warns that those who hoard will suffer loss: "I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner" (Ecclesiastes 5:13).

Perhaps you are thinking, I would like to give to the Lord and to others in need. I really would. But I can't afford it right now. In a year or so, I’ll give, but not now. Be honest with yourself: How many years have you been saying that?

I know a man who for more than twenty years has been promising himself that he would begin tithing as soon as things eased up a bit, and for that same length of time I have watched him suffer loss after loss. He has cheated himself and his family of years of God's blessing by his unbelief that God would meet their needs if he would only give generously to the Lord.

I believe there is a universal principle of stewardship: If we refuse to give God what He has asked, He will see to it that we do not have the money to spend on ourselves. It will be taken from us in medical bills, automobile repairs, or some other unex­pected expense. On the other hand, if we give to God willingly from our hearts, He has made another promise: "I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit" (Malachi 3:11). God will stretch your resources in ways you have never known.

The purpose in our giving, you see, is not to meet God's needs. He already owns it all. The reason He has told us to give is to draw our hearts into the spiritual realm, "for where your trea­sure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34).

Do you really trust the Lord? Do you believe He can and will provide for your every need? Then put it to the test. That is the exact invitation He gives in Malachi 3:10: "Test me in this ... and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." Try it! Begin a systematic giving plan, even though it will hurt at first. You will be surprised how the Lord will stretch what you have left over so that every need is met.

One more point about biblical giving: We need to do it will­ingly. God will still bless, even if we obey Him reluctantly, but He much prefers that we give because we love Him. Read this passage carefully as you consider whether you are a practical atheist in your giving:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

As it is written: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else (2 Corinthians 9:6-13).

Let's look at the passage carefully. First, another principle of stewardship: You reap in direct proportion to what you sow. Just as this is true in agriculture, so it is in the spiritual world. God has a way of returning our investment with interest if it is given unselfishly. Proverbs 19:17 says, "He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done."

As in all other areas of our relationship with the Father, the motives of our heart are of vital concern to God. Paul writes, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). And, friend, it is not hard to be cheerful when we give if we truly love the Lord and believe that He will never remain our debtor.

The final principle in the above passage is that as we give in loving obedience, God will see to it that we have all we need and more so that we can give even more-to "enlarge the harvest of your righteousness." And look at this promise: "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion."

Have you said, "Oh, I just wish I had more to give!"? Well, you can have more if you will begin giving from the little you have now. I am not preaching a prosperity gospel here, by the way. Our motive must not be to enrich ourselves, but to glorify the Lord and to minister to others.

It is amazing how few Christians ever learn this powerful principle of giving. Do you realize that if every believer supported his church faithfully with his tithes and offerings that every need would be met and there would be an abundance for missionary outreach as well?

But, Ed, you might be thinking, we are living in the age of grace and are not under the Law, so we don't have to tithe. I agree. God has never limited us to 10 percent. But I have never heard anyone use the "grace giving" argument to increase their giving, have you?

I'm not trying to tell you the amount you are to give, except that the Lord says we are to give to Him generously, willingly, obediently, and faithfully. What would your checkbook say about your pattern of giving?

In our praise, our preaching, our prayer, our passion to evan­gelize, our participation in attendance and fellowship, and our stewardship, much is revealed about the condition of our faith. And much is revealed about how big our God is.

Enough said about the problems. Now it's time to look into the biblical solutions for practical atheism. Move with me into the next section, and you will see how we can rebuild our personal faith for a joy-filled walk with our heavenly Father.

Faith for Healing a Marriage

Faith for healing a marriage in many ways, as we have already seen from Paul's list of the fruit of sinful living in Galatians 5. He reminds Titus that many people "claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him" (Titus 1:16).

It is not only our personal lives that are affected when our faith becomes weak. Our closest relationships also suffer when we act as practical atheists. This is especially true in the home.


A couple with six children came to me for marriage counseling. The husband was a hard worker, providing marginally for their needs. He insisted that his wife remain at home with the chil­dren so she could school them. In her frustration at being "cooped up" all day long with children, she often complained to him that she needed help. Instead of giving her a sympa­thetic hearing, he belittled her concerns and suggested she was becoming emotionally unstable. She in turn became increasingly bitter toward her husband, and he reacted with sharp-edged sar­casm, putting her down at every opportunity. Though both were sincere believers in Christ, their relationship was growing more and more hostile by the day.

I worked with them for weeks,-showing them the principles of a healthy marriage as found in the Scriptures, but each deter­mined to wait for the other to make the first move. Neither had the faith to trust God to work in the other's heart if each would choose to be the first to submit to His Word.

As far as I know, they are still in turmoil and misery because their continued actions deny God.

Their case is not unusual. Over the years, we have ministered to hundreds of couples whose marriages seemed to have great potential, but instead became powerful arguments for remaining single. How do Christian marriages get so messed up? Let's quickly look at seven major causes of unhappy marriages.


Physical Attractions

Many marriages are troubled before they even begin. Young couples accept the cultural notion that engaging in sex before marriage is acceptable and inevitable. They misunderstand the very purpose and foundation of marriage-a commitment of companionship. This concept is outlined in Genesis 2:18,23-24, which says, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him ... She shall be called `woman,' for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

The biblical emphasis in marriage is upon becoming closely united in every way-spiritually, mentally, socially, and physically. In too many cases, however, Christian men and women are drawn into marriage for the same reason unbelievers are-physi­cal attraction. It's not that physical attraction is wrong in and of itself. God has designed us in such a way that we are normally drawn to the opposite sex and we find certain physical attributes pleasing and attractive. This is clearly illustrated in the Song of Solomon. But if sexual desire is the primary motivation for a marriage, the couple is headed for serious problems.

Mixed Marriage

Another cause of marriage difficulties is mixed marriage. By mixed marriage, I am not referring to interracial unions, but to those who come together from different faiths. Marriage can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but when a couple adds the difference in strong religious convictions, they are asking for trouble.

I once had a Catholic woman and a Mormon man ask me to officiate their wedding. Our policy is that we do not perform marriages for couples not attending our church, but I agreed to counsel them. When they arrived, I asked them why they were not being married in one of their own churches, and they replied that their own priests would not permit it. In addition, their par­ents strongly opposed their marriage.

"And you think I would go against your parents' wishes?" I asked. I explained to them the likely consequences of marrying someone who does not share the same faith: inability to worship together, to pray together, to raise their children in the same faith, or to settle problems within the context of the same reli­gious framework.

I asked them to think about it for a few days before they made a final decision. A short time later, the young woman called me to say that she had broken the engagement. But it rarely works this way. Normally, the couple has already decided they are going to marry no matter what anyone says. And they end up paying the consequences for years to come.

Unrealistic Expectations

It is not unusual for couples to enter marriage with unrealis­tic expectations of perpetual bliss. The young woman is con­vinced that she will be able to change her fiance into something nearly human once they are married, and the young man has the mistaken idea that his wife will be dedicated to fulfilling his every fantasy and desire. She thinks he will grow up and become responsible. He thinks she will retain her youthful figure. She thinks he will be charming and attentive to her every mood. He thinks she will understand his need to join a ball league. She thinks he will continue to look into her eyes and listen to every thought which spills from her lips. He thinks she will appreciate his wisdom and hard work. Too late, they discover that they have each married a sinner more focused on self than the needs of the other.

A teenage couple sat before me asking if I would marry them. Neither had completed high school. He was working in a low-skilled, low-paying job with little prospect for advancement. She was planning on subsidizing their income by babysitting. They had virtually no concept of how expensive it is to set up housekeeping, yet they were convinced they could overcome the odds and make a success of their marriage. One of her motives, however, was to get away from her mother and stepfather, whom she despised. She thought her young man was the way to accom­plish this goal, but it would have been a wrong beginning. After I discussed the issue with his parents, it was clear that marriage was out of the question for the present time and the wedding was called off.


As I inevitably state when performing a wedding, marriage is intended to be a preview of heaven, but in far too many homes, it is instead a foretaste of hell. Rather than providing love and romance, comfort and companionship, and joy and satisfaction, for many, marriage is a disappointment too great for words.

What is surprising to some and a shame to all believers is that this heartbreaking disillusionment appears in Christian homes as well as pagan. Practical atheism emerges from its dark and gloomy den, casting an evil shadow of hopelessness upon husbands and wives alike, convincing them their marriages cannot be saved, even by God Himself.

I know a pastor whose wife suddenly decided she no longer wanted to be married. She was tired of the demands of ministry and motherhood and felt she had lost all love for her husband. She walked away from a weeping husband and two beautiful children into a life of immorality and loneliness. When the divorce was finalized, she literally strode out of the courthouse waving her fist over her head in triumph.

A former missionary from Hong Kong wrote me that lie and his wife had returned to America due to his wife's health and an emotional breakdown. She was so depressed that she ended up in a Christian mental health hospital where she was diagnosed as having a "uni-polar mood disorder." After nearly $100,000 spent for therapy in seven series of treatments, she finally separatcd from her husband on the grounds of incompatibility because lie didn't agree that psychological counseling was helping her get better and he wanted her to follow biblical counseling instead. He wrote me,

I am sure this story is not the first such story that you have heard, but I just wanted to thank you for your book on why we should not trust Christian psychology. What I have found out over the last few years of my life has cer­tainly turned my heart even more toward the fact that God's Word holds the answers to our deepest sorrows. I pray that ministries like the one the Lord has given you will continue to inform the Christian community of the fallacies behind a bankrupt system like psychology.

Pastor Bulkley, I want you to know that my church has stood behind me throughout this whole ordeal. From the very beginning, our church has not only provided a lov­ing atmosphere to grow spiritually, but it also has an excellent pastor who is committed to the Word of God. He has tied to help us in our situation, but due to what has happened, our church had to write a letter to my wife because of her refusal to come back to the home. The pas­tor and our elders arc all aware of the situation and the efforts that I have personally made toward reconciliation. I am not sure at this point if our marriage will ever be recon­ciled, but I do know that by not taking a godly and biblical stand there is no hope for any kind of reconciliation.

A veteran missionary wife with more than twenty years of service in Europe was now back in America and was tired of financially supporting her husband, who had proven himself incapable of providing for his wife and children. She had prayed for him and pleaded with him over the years, to no avail, as he led them further and further into debt. In desperation and too ashamed to expose the matter to her pastor, she turned to a Christian psychologist for advice and was told that there was no hope for her marriage and that her best course of action was to divorce her husband. Though there was never any sexual unfaith­fulness and no biblical grounds for a divorce, she was so full of despair that she finally divorced her husband.

Across the nation, regardless of economic status, church affiliation, educational achievement, ethnic background, or geo­graphic location, Christian marriages are being torn apart by unbelief. That's right-unbelief! Christians no longer believe that God is able to heal their wounded hearts, restore their bro­ken relationships, rekindle their love, or rebuild their homes.

But God is able. Let me tell you how.


Both Must Commit to Obeying God's Word No Matter What the Mate Does

One of the first questions I ask couples who come to me for counsel is this: "If I can show you from the Bible what God wants you to do, will you each commit right now to do it?" The question is like a hand grenade blowing off the battle armor as it explodes in the warring couple's faces. The initial reaction I normally see is fear and reluctance to make such a sweeping commitment, but as I explain it further, they begin to relax, realizing that each is protected by the balanced instructions in God's Word.

I point out that both must make the commitment individually regardless of what the other does. When they ask, "But what about her?" or "What about him?" I am reminded of Peter when he was confronted by Jesus with the overwhelming commission to feed Christ's sheep. Peter looked around and saw John a little way off and asked, "Lord, what about him?" Do you remember what Jesus replied? He said, "What is that to you? You must fol­low me" (John 21:22).

The first step is this: You must decide that you are going to humbly follow after Christ no matter what your mate does. Your job is not to change your mate, but to obey the Lord. The moment you make that commitment, healing has begun.

Divorce Must Not Be an Option

If you want the Lord to rebuild your marriage you must put the option of divorce out of your mind. Remember that God Himself said, "I hate divorce ... and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment.... So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith" (Malachi 2:16).

If God hates divorce so much, why was it permitted even in Israel? That is the precise question Jesus was asked in Matthew 19:7: "Why then ... did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus answered, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithful­ness, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matthew 19:8-9).

Note that Jesus did recognize a biblical cause for divorce: infidelity. But short of that, He said God never intends for a mar­riage to end in divorce.

For some people, that is just too rigid a position. Even Jesus' own disciples objected and said, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry" (Matthew 19:10).

Did you catch what Jesus described as the primary cause of divorce? "Because your hearts were hard." When angry couples come into my office, the hardness of their hearts is written plainly on their faces. But I have watched hard hearts melt when both hus­band and wife submitted their hurt feelings to the Lord and rejected divorce as an option. It was their next step in the healing process.

Each Must Examine His or Her Own Heart

For healing to continue, both partners must examine their hearts before God to see how they have contributed to re with their own sinful attitudes and actions. It's the (7 "Get-the-Log-Out-of-Your-Own-Eye" Principle. Read this passage carefully and meditate on it for a moment:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

Since in God's plan our mates are also our spiritual brothers and sisters, it would be perfectly appropriate to read the above passage with the word husband or wife in place of "brother." Go back and try it, and see what happens.

You see, our natural tendency is to see the faults in others while we ignore or excuse our own failings. This is especially true in marriage, in which we have unlimited opportunity to observe the character flaws and irritating habits of our mates.

Don't make the mistake of casually looking inward to see if any minor flaws float to the top of your consciousness. Our con­sciences are not well equipped to detect sin unless they have been calibrated and sensitized by the Scriptures. That's why Jeremiah writes, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Here is a key principle if you are going to find real peace in your own life: Don't allow anyone to teach you to trust your heart! It will always lead you astray. If a counselor or psychologist tells you to trust your heart, get up and leave his office. He's leading you down a false path.

So how can you examine your heart? Through Jeremiah, God said, "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve" (Jeremiah 17:10). Along the same line, David writes, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts" (Psalm 139:23).

Let me ask you, dear reader, how has your mate sinned against you? What has he or she done that has caused you so much pain, anger, and bitterness that you wish you could end your marriage?

I hope you replied, "That's not important anymore. What I must concentrate on now is what I have done that has damaged our marriage." If you said that, bless your heart; you are already on your way toward healing.

When we stop looking for the sin in our mate and allow the Lord to show us our own sins, then humility, gentleness, and mercy develop, which can result in genuine forgiveness. Paul tells us, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).There are perhaps no more powerfully healing words than these:” I was so very wrong. Will you forgive me?" No longer demand­ing an apology from the other, each confesses his or her own sin to the Lord and to the mate, asking for forgiveness. Oh, dear child of God, wonderful restoration of peace and joy is just around the corner!

Each Must Repent of His or Her Sin

It is not enough to know where we have sinned. We must now turn from it and allow the Lord to change our behavior and thoughts. Do you understand that true repentance involves sorrow for past behavior? Isaiah writes, "The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth" (Isaiah 22:12). God emphasized this aspect of repentance when He said, "Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning" (Joel 2:12). It isn't that God gets pleasure out of our misery; the reason Scripture calls for genuine remorse is that "godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret" (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Genuine repentance results in radical changes of behavior. As Daniel advised his king, "Renounce your sins by doing what is right" (Daniel 4:27). God is not impressed by verbal repentance unless it is validated by deeds. That is exactly what James was get­ting at when he wrote, "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do" (James 2:18). Paul said that wherever he went, no matter who he was addressing, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repen­tance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20).

Countless husbands have sat in counseling offices shaking their heads in frustration as they say, "I don't get it! I told her I was sorry. What more does she want?" Dear friend, what your wife wants is to see by your consistent actions that your life is really changed. She has heard your weak apologies too many times to count. She is tired of your broken promises that it will never hap­pen again. Like James, she is saying, "Don't tell me. Show me!"

It will take time to rebuild the trust, but when proper actions and attitudes are consistently evident in your life, a new joy and peace will appear that would have seemed impossible just a short time ago. Peter preached this to his countrymen when he said, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 9:19).

Do you want to restore a lightness of spirit, a sense of joy, a depth of peace in your heart once again? Then turn toward God in wholehearted repentance, and you will find a refreshment you could only dream of before.

Each Must Change His or Her Thought Patterns

After you have invited the Lord to expose the sin in your own life and have genuinely repented of it, you must allow the Lord to change the very way you think about handling problems of living. If the Bible is true, then Christians have resources for healing that the world cannot begin to match. That's why seri­ous medical researchers are beginning to examine the effects of prayer and faith on the healing process.

Ironically, twelve-step support groups flourish in churches that have more confidence in psychological techniques than in the Word of God. Pastors refer their parishioners with "serious problems" to "mind experts" because they believe the Bible by itself is insufficient to produce wholeness.

That Paul would disagree strongly is evident in his statement that our weapons "have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). He would be horrified to see how low a view today's church has of the Scriptures and how high a view people have of the world's methods of change. He wrote that it's neces­sary for us to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and ... take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Take a closer look at that last thought: We "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Left to ourselves, we will think the way the world thinks-in rebellion against God. To take our thoughts captive for Christ, we must make a concerted, willful, conscious effort to submit our minds to the control of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps turning your mind over to God is a frightening thought for you, but consider this: "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). Do you understand what the Scriptures are say­ing? Thinking the world's way ultimately ends in misery and destruction, whereas training our minds to think God's way pro­duces genuine peace of heart and mind. That is why Paul coun­seled us, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:2).

Because I have dealt at length in another book with the subject of changing the way we think, I will touch only briefly on the process of renewing our minds as explained in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 2 Timothy 3.

Taking every thought captive for Christ is described in Ephesians 4:22-24 as putting "off your old self," being "made new in the attitude of your minds," and putting "on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

In Romans 12:1-2 we are told to offer our "bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." In contrast, we must "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be trans­formed by the renewing of your mind."

How do we accomplish this daunting task? Paul lays out four biblical steps in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for [1] teaching, [2] rebuking, [3] correcting and [4] training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thor­oughly equipped for every good work.

1. We Must Learn Correct Doctrine. Believe it or not, the health of your marriage depends upon your obedience to the principles and commands of God's Word. To do that, you must know what those principles and commands are. There is no shortcut to biblical knowledge; you must read, study, meditate, and obey the Bible over and over, day after day, week after week, year after year. It is one of the most important disciplines we could ever acquire.

2. We Must Courageously Confront Our Own Sin. That's what rebuking is-an exposure of sin. Unless we are willing to see our sin as the awful rebellion against God that it truly is, we will desperately cling to it. Think about this: The reason most people remain captive to their sin is they love their sin more than they love God. I can tell you categorically, I have never yet met an addict who loved Jesus more than his drug. I have never met an adulterer who loved Jesus more than his immorality. And I have never met a person who loves Jesus with all his heart who has remained a helpless captive to his sin. Do you want to be free? Then call your destructive behavior what it is: sin.

3. We Must Correct Our Thoughts and Behavior. The Greek term for "correcting," epanorthosis, literally means "to make upright again." Simply put, correction means stopping the wrong and doing the right. It is not enough to know what God expects and to know how short we have fallen from His standards. Now we must do something about it. This is where most people fail in the process of change. I know of a man who has suffered for years with obsessive behaviors and talked to psychologists, psy­chiatrists, medical doctors, counselors, and pastors in hopes of finding a magical way out of his bondage. He wanted to use the "dry cleaner approach" for his healing: "Here's my dysfunction, preacher. I'll stop by on Friday when it's fixed!" That is, he wanted to drop off his problems at my office for me to cure, and he didn't want to do any of the work himself.

Correction demands 1) a firm decision to change (Joshua 24:15); 2) confession to others (James 5:16); 3) prayer support (Ephesians 6:18); 4) consistent Bible study (Psalm 119:9-11); 5) fellowship, encouragement, and accountability (Hebrews10:23-25); and 6) determined actions of obedience (James1:22). Correction is putting off wrong patterns of thinking and acting and replacing them with those which are pleasing to God.

4. We Must Maintain Our Walk with God. To be changed is an ongoing battle to build up the new nature by training ourselves in righteousness. Practice, practice, practice! As Paul wrote, "What­ever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:9).

Each Must Learn to Love by Faith

We have already touched upon obedience as it relates to changing the way we think, but the point is worth repeating here. Obedient action is far more important than subjective emo­tions. Too many couples mistakenly believe that the feeling of love must be present before the marriage can survive.

"We just don't love each other anymore!" is a phrase every experienced biblical counselor has heard in one form or another. And the proper response is, "So?"

I mean it! The issue at this point is not emotion, but obedi­ence to the Lord. Do you want to please Him or not? If so, the question is not, "Do I feel love for this person?" but, "Am I will­ing to be loving in obedience to my Lord?"

As one master counselor is fond of asking, "Is your mate your enemy?" Many, thinking the counselor will finally see just how hopeless the situation actually is, eagerly respond, "Absolutely!"

"And what does the Bible say we are to do with our enemies?"

Some may not know, or may choose not to reply, but the answer is found in Matthew 5:44: "I tell you: Love your ene­mies and pray for those who persecute you." Jesus' command is not to feel a fuzzy emotion, but to care for the other person with Christlike compassion and gentleness. It is the agape love you have heard about-Christ's unselfish love. It is a love that puts others ahead of our own desires. It is the decision to love unselfishly, which must precede the fluctuating emotions so often identified as love.

One of our married couples recently shared their testimony in our new members class. They had been separated for more than five years and had fallen hopelessly out of love. During the separation, the husband had accepted Christ as Savior. The wife told us, "I knew divorce was not pleasing to the Lord, but I just didn't love my husband any longer. I finally prayed, `Lord, if you want us together, you're going to have to change my heart.' And He did!" When she softened her heart before the Lord and was willing for Him to create His love, it happened. They are back together, with a glow on their faces, two more children around their table, and another one on the way.

The Character of Christ Must Be Developed in Both Mates

What qualities were you looking for in a mate before you got married? Some years back, I wrote my daughters the following letter as they began searching for God's choice of a partner for their lives:

Counseling is starting to pile up again - lots of marriage problems. That's why I'm so very concerned that you find the man God has chosen for you. Be sure whoever you com­mit your heart to is genuinely in love with the Lord and has a happy family background. So many young men come from messed-up homes and they have no idea what it is to be a husband and father. They are not usually thinking of lifelong companionship unless they have seen their parents genuinely in love. Not just romantic love, mind you, but love that grows from absolute commitment to the marriage, whatever comes. I say "grows" intentionally, because the love you experience early in marriage is nothing compared to what it can become as both put the other ahead of their own desires.

Your mother has been that sort of wife. Her unselfishness and sense of humor help make our home a joyful refuge from the harshness of the world. We have found such peace and contentment in and with each other as we both seek to obey the Lord individually and together. She amazes me with all she does, and she keeps such a sweet-and mischievous-atti­tude through it all. She has been the model daughter-in-law to Gramma. No one has been more helpful to her than Marlowe. I am so very thankful for her and I bless the moment I first saw her walk into chorale rehearsal. I had no idea how blessed I was that she would fall in love with me. I had no idea how very capable she was in so many areas. Not only does she plan the music for the church, but now she is also growing in her ability as a Bible teacher. The women love her so very much and they enjoy her sense of humor and the fact that she doesn't take herself too seriously. No pastor could ask for a more wonderful partner in the ministry.

That is what I want for you. I want you to marry a hus­band that you can respect for his wisdom and knowledge, his humility and desire to listen to others, his diligence and patience, his vision and courage, his seriousness and good humor. I want someone who will laugh with you and cry with you. Someone who takes his job, but not himself, seri­ously. Someone who will comfort you when you're lonely and fearful and will protect you from a wicked world. Someone who will cuddle children in his strong arms and get misty-eyed when they go off to kindergarten.

Someone who is thankful for everything, realizing how blessed he is for health, family, friends, and the free gift of salvation. Someone who is thoughtful of others and polite, but is not easily intimidated or impressed. Someone who will open the door for you and walk on the outside protecting you from passing cars. Someone who can deny himself and his own desires, able to control his spending. Someone who has learned the joy of giving to the Lord and to those in need. Someone who is balanced, not given to extremes of mood, opinion, or doctrine, yet someone who is fanatical about the absolute authority of the Scriptures.

Someone who will guide you and your children with the principles of the Scripture and will be an example because he obeys the Word himself. Someone who is humble enough to know how very little he knows and is always willing to learn.

Someone who says yes as often as possible, but knows when to say no and has the courage to say it. Someone who is not afraid of hard work, and knows how to play. Someone who is competitive, but enjoys the game, even if he loses. Someone who has a desire to understand life, people, tools, projects, children, marriage, the Scriptures, and how to walk with God.

Someone who is more concerned with your inner spirit than outer beauty. Someone who is organized enough to get a job done, but relaxed enough that he won't lose his sancti­fication when the house is cluttered and needs dusting. Someone who can present himself with dignity at the right time, but who can be silly when it's called for. Someone who can eat as happily with paper plates and plastic ware as with fine china and silver. Someone who likes healthy food and french fries.

Someone who enjoys people. Someone secure enough to ask for advice from a variety of people. Someone who will lis­ten ... to me. But someone who knows where God is lead­ing him and his family and has the determination to see it through. Someone I can respect and love as another son. Someone I can thank God for bringing into our lives. Someone I can be proud of as the father of my grandchil­dren. Someone who will lead his family and friends closer to the Lord by the way he conducts his life. Someone who knows he isn't perfect, but is trying to be holy as our Lord is holy. Someone who apologizes and asks for forgiveness when he has wronged someone. Someone who can look into his child's wide eyes and say, "I'm sorry. I was wrong."

When you find someone like that, your mother and I will lift our hearts toward heaven and say, "Thank you, dear Lord, for answering our prayers of more than twenty years." I want to remind you that no one you meet will fulfill all those qualifications immediately. It takes time to grow as a husband and father. The main things you need to look for now are: a genuine walk with the Lord, good family back­ground, intelligence, spontaneous sense of humor, gentle­ness, humility, and a willingness to grow in the fruit of the Spirit toward maturity in Christ. The rest will come.

Love from your sentimental ol' Daddy!

What matters in a marriage is not physical beauty, but depth of character. For a marriage to be fully restored, both the husband and wife must individually develop the character of Christ in their own inner lives. Paul describes these qualities in Galatians 5, where he writes, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Peter lists these qualities: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godli­ness, brotherly kindness and love (2 Peter 1:5-7), and says that we must "make every effort" to develop them in our lives.

Space does not allow me to develop each of these character traits for our current study, but it would be well worth your time to do a word study on each of the qualities God says we are to develop. As you meditate on them, you will begin to see the holi­ness and purity of Christ, the only One who has ever fit the description.

Your marriage will grow stronger and sweeter in direct pro­portion to the development of these spiritual characteristics in both husband and wife.

Marriage Must Be Maintained and Nurtured Continually

As your marriage is restored through obedience and the choice of love, it must be consciously maintained and nurtured. According to the dictionary, the word maintain has at least five shades of meaning:

  1. To continue; carry on: maintain good relations.
  2. To preserve or keep in a given existing condition, as of efficiency or repair.
  3. a. To provide for: maintain a family.

b. To keep in existence; sustain: food to maintain life.

  1. To defend, as against danger or attack.
  2. To declare to be true; affirm.

Each of these definitions apply to marriage, and you will note that maintenance requires deliberate effort and is best done before serious damage occurs. That's the difference between maintenance and repair. To be sure, maintenance is hard work, but it is normally easier and less costly than repair. It is amazing to me that there are many husbands who will spend countless hours maintaining their cars or computers, but will not invest even a few moments per day to strengthen their own marriages.

A major component in marriage maintenance is nourishing the relationship, and that takes time. To nourish means to feed, to help to grow, to develop or cultivate. The term nourish comes from the Latin nutrire, which meant "to suckle." It is the ulti­mate picture of a mother's tender care for her child who is deeply loved. It is that sort of tenderness that Paul instructs husbands about when he writes, "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church" (Ephesians 5:28-29, emphasis added).

May I ask you right now-especially if you are a husband­ what are you doing to maintain and nourish your marriage? Are you spending time with your mate, learning to understand one another's language, sharing moments of joy and pain, under­standing and making room for each other's weaknesses while encouraging growth?

In all fairness, wives are normally much better at marriage maintenance and nurturing than husbands are. I have known exceptions, but this sort of thing often comes more naturally for women than men. This means that we men must work much harder to develop relational skills if we are going to meet our wife's needs.

There are, however, some women who take their husband's love for granted. I have a friend who over the years has consistently written cards and notes to his wife, and to my sur­prise she has not responded in the way I would have expected. Though her husband has carefully taken time away from his work to share vacations and retreats with her, she has spurned his love and walked away. I'm not sure I'll ever understand it. For what­ever reason, she chose not to maintain and nurture her marriage, and her whole family suffers for it. She has become a practical atheist so far as her marriage is concerned, not trusting and obey­ing God so that He can bring total restoration.

As I examine my own marriage of nearly thirty years, I must confess that I still have a lot of growing to do in the nurturing department. I find it hard to understand why my wife would actually want to be alone with me for an afternoon or evening "date." Receiving flowers and cards mean little to me personally, and I have to consciously remind myself that they can be impor­tant to my darling wife. Even as I write this I am convicted about how long it has been since I have just spontaneously written her a love note.

Excuse me for a few minutes while I take care of that ....

I'm back.

A little love note-such a minor thing, but so very impor­tant. It's a part of maintenance and nurture that takes so little time, yet can mean so very much. I encourage you to take a few moments to write your mate a love note, expressing specifically what you appreciate about his or her character, actions, personal­ity, and life.

Determine that so far as it depends upon you, your marriage is going to be a preview of heaven-a place of comfort, courage, and cheer!

Extracted from Ed Buckley’s How Big Is Your God?