Category Archives: Relationships

Public responses to allegations of wrongdoing by your friends


You’ve seen the little clip: a person does something wrong and the camera crew films a neighbor–or family member–making a comment about the character of the person.

“He was a quiet boy, never caused any trouble.”

So, let’s say one of your good friends was accused of abuse of children. How would you respond to reporters (or bloggers asking for you to weigh in)? Should you speak? Stay silent? Would it matter if the friend was a regular Joe or a famous leader of a church? Would it matter if you were famous or in leadership? Would it matter if you both served on an important ministry together? Should you wait until the court case has finished or speak your mind about what you know even if the case is not completed?

This is the question that has been raging a bit regarding the ongoing complaints of clerical and child abuse (and now a civil lawsuit) against Sovereign Grace Ministries leaders. After many calls for colleagues of SGM leadership to speak out against child abuse as they had against Penn State, two different sets of public letters were published commenting on the cases.

You be the judge: would it have been better to publish this and this explanation or to remain silent?

It seems to me that silences and then explanations of any length rarely serve any good purpose. Those who wish for you to speak will not be happy you waited. Then when you speak, you are likely to say things that will say more than you intended and reveal more than you care to reveal. For example, if you point out the fact that civil lawsuits are notoriously hard to litigate, may arise from those desiring to receive monetary damages, may damage innocent reputations, you would be speaking the truth. All of these things are possible. But it is easy to reveal more than intended,

  • when you speak after a significant portion of the lawsuit has been dismissed, not on fact but due to missing a statute of limitations deadline
  • when you speak more sentences about questions of merit and only a few sentences about the need for justice for victims
  • when you raise doubts about civil allegations while you hide behind the fact that you are not finder of fact (AKA the judge or jury)

A better response?

Say something immediately or nothing at all.

Of course, it is ALWAYS easier to criticize and to offer hind-sight answers. I do not think that I am above protecting a friend. I suspect I would be tempted to act in just the same way. We want to protect those we know and love and to doubt those we do not know. But, consider for a moment, how this response:

Our friend has been accused of doing some very horrific acts (or failures to act). These are serious charges. We love our friend. These charges doe not seem to fit the man we know, and yet we know that anyone is capable of [sin/crime]. We will support him. And yet, our support does not hinder the need for truth, justice, and healing for all victims. We will be meeting with our friend and encouraging him to speak the truth, to admit any wrongdoing, no matter the risk to so-called reputation. We will examine whether we have any information that would help bring justice in this case and we will not hold this information back to protect our friend. If others have information, we implore you to bring it so that this case can be quickly concluded. We want you to know that we will not tolerate [sin/crime] in other leaders or ourselves. We serve the glory of God and not the glory of each other. We will not be making any further public comments until the case has concluded. This is a difficult time, please be in prayer for all those involved in this case.

Would that be enough? Probably not for some readers, especially if there were longstanding behaviors in question that suggest a system of cover-up. And yet, I think an early statement like this probably eliminates the firestorm that silence or blanket statements of approval create. Once the firestorm starts, there is almost nothing that can be done without a very simple, “we have erred in our silence.” Anything else will be an attempt to parse the silence and so any later words will be parsed by others…and found wanting.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Justice, news, Relationships, Uncategorized

What if your spouse acts the part of empathic listener (but really isn’t)?


You’ve had a bad day. Your spouse comes home and you proceed to tell them about your difficult, frustrating day. When you finish telling your tale of woe, your spouse says the following (with appropriate feeling)

Wow, that really was a tough day. I’m sorry it has been so hard for you. Why don’t you take it easy and I’ll handle…[whatever menial task you would normally do right now]

Normally, this validation would feel quite nice. But what if you knew that your spouse didn’t really feel the warm fuzzies they were trying to send your way? What if they were only saying what they thought you wanted to hear?

Would you still feel loved because of the effort they made? That they wanted to “fake it ’til they make it”?

A recent This American life radio episode covers this very issue. The fifteen minute episode tells of a man with Aspergers who needed to learn how to love his wife and did so by observing and mimicking others who had better social skills. At one point in the show, the interviewer asks his wife if it matters to her that her husband doesn’t feel the empathy he is trying to convey.

Her answer? No.

What would your answer be?

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Filed under love, marriage, Psychology, Relationships, Uncategorized

Ken Tada: Breast cancer from the husband’s point of view


Last night I had a short but sweet conversation with Ken Tada. That would be Joni Eareckson Tada’s husband. Joni and a few others were presenting yesterday at a Biblical Seminary event. At the Q & A, an audience member asked how we all could pray for Joni and Ken. Ken’s answer was to tell us that in 2010, Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had treatment and now has gone 2.5 years since surgery and chemo. He asked that we pray for continued good health in regards to cancer. He mentioned the important goal of making 5 years without a reoccurrence.

As a fellow husband of a breast cancer survivor, I could relate well to his prayer. We just hit our 3 year anniversary. During our conversation we discussed how such a diagnosis and ensuing suffering brings life into crystal clarity. What is important (relationships, time together, worship, small things like listening to the birds, etc.) and what is not (writing/speaking opportunities, following the news, public affirmation, career advancement) becomes so evident to us. It also taught us both (Ken and I) what vows mean. Now, I would have thought he already understood that being married to Joni. I suppose he did. However, new forms of suffering remind us of what God’s love is like for us.

Last night Joni said that suffering is used by God to purify us, to remove those things that are not from him. I agree. It does so in both the one with cancer as well as the husband.

He and Joni have a new book coming out in April. I saw a copy of it last night. Looks like a good read!

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Filed under breast cancer, marriage, Relationships, suffering, Uncategorized


[A version of this post was first published here on February 24, 2009. Given the content of my previous post, I decided to place it back at the top by republishing today]

Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 1 Cor. 7: 1-4

In the past year I have had several conversations with men about these verses. In every situation one spouse (not always the woman) had refused to engage in certain sexual practices with their spouse. These they found unappealing or disconcerting for a variety of reasons (e.g., a husband did not wish to use sex aids, a wife did not wish to receive oral sex, a spouse found a position brought back memories of abuse, or either found themselves undesirous of any sexual activity).

And so the frustrated spouse remembered these verses and wished to use them to compel their spouse or at least remind them of the duty to provide sex.

So, whose desires trump if the gist of the passage suggests that neither has full ownership of their own body nor has the right to demand in the bedroom? 

Sadly, I have listened to  men argue that women must submit to their husband’s sexual requests. She should fulfill her marital duty, should abstain only for prayer, and that her body is her husband’s. They appeal to this text and to Ephesians 5 which commands women to submit to their husbands.

Here is what is missing in that argument:

1. The husband is commanded to sacrifice everything to love his wife. That would include his desires.

2. This passage clearly states that the wife has control over her husband’s body and thus gets veto power over how he wants to use it in bed.

Some other things from the text that get neglected:

1. The Corinthian church wanted Paul’s opinion about sex and marriage. Paul does not affirm their position. In fact, he says that given the problem of immorality, couples should not unnecessarily tempt each other.

2. Sex is not the highest good in life or in marriage. It would be better to not marry and no, not everything is beneficial. Thus our desires cannot be a god to us.
2. The mutuality of sex is obvious. No one gets trump. The goal of the passages is to encourage each other to look out for problems of temptation.
3. And yet, these aren’t commands but advice (v. 6).

Now consider these application Q & As:

1. Should a spouse comply to a request for sex if they aren’t interested?

Interested is a key word here. Some spouses may wish to engage in sexual activity even as they know their own level of desire isn’t nearly as high as the requesting spouse. But the one who wishes to please their spouse ought not feel compelled or asked to do something they find distasteful or compromising. Couples that can talk through sexual desire differences in a manner where both the asker and the assenter feel heard and supported should not face much difficulty here. It is only when either the asker feels rejected or the assenter feels forced/guilty does differences in sexual desire create trouble.

2. Should one ever use these verses to urge their mate to engage in certain sexual behaviors?

There is a big difference between asking and urging (aka compelling). Lauren Winner says that God oriented sex is unitive and sacramental. It is about giving rather than getting and/or performance. It is hard to imagine how a person would use these verses  in a manner that wouldn’t violate the law of sacrificial love. Recall that these texts are not providing “rights” for either party. The entire Christian life is a “dying to self” experience.  

3. Are there situations that might cause a couple to abstain from sex other than for prayer?

Absolutely. The text doesn’t cover every situation. Health factors obviously limit sexual activity. These may include non-genital disease, STDs, and even past or present traumas. Generally speaking, married individuals enjoy sex. So, if one is resistant to sex or to certain sex practices, it probably won’t take much time to uncover problems in the relationship or other illnesses. Note here that this 1 Corinthian text focuses on the problem of sexual immorality. Paul gives several pieces of advice (give yourself to ministry, avoid marriage, get married, watch out for each other, etc.) but nowhere does he command any of these activities. His goal is to help the church avoid the sins of idolatry and adultery. When we take the text and look for a passage to defend our “must-haves”, we miss out on the larger context and purpose and fall into the very sin Paul is exhorting us to avoid–idoloatry.

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March 8, 2013 · 5:07 am

Better objectives than reconciliation?


When you experience a broken relationship, do you long for the day when what is broken is made new? I do, even when I know that the chances of restoration and reconciliation are slight.

However, I’ve written a post over at our faculty blog suggesting that as good a goal as reconciliation is, it makes for a poor objective for us. Wonder why I think little of reconciliation as an objective? Click the link to find out and to consider some alternate objectives.

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, conflicts, Relationships

Mistakes we make when responding to minor false accusations


Picture this. You are a manager. One of your subordinates, John, accuses you of playing favorites–giving more opportunities for development and promotion to one person and intentionally ignoring the one making the accusation. You absolutely believe the accusation is baseless due to a misunderstanding of workflow and skill sets.

What would be your usual response? Explain? Pull the, “I’m the authority here, I do what I think is right” card? Silence and an eye roll? I imagine most of us choose the explain option. If feels right that we should clarify the misunderstanding.

Why is explaining wrong?

Let me clarify. Explaining isn’t necessarily a sin (though it could be). Surprisingly it rarely helps the situation when offered first. Why is this?

  1. Pointing out the facts as you see them almost always sounds like a defense
  2. Defenses (AKA explanations) rarely address the root concern of the other leaving them feeling unheard

A better way

Contrary to our natural tendency to defend against an attack, the best strategy is to validate the concerns of the other. If the employee is concerned they are getting passed over (and you can imagine they have been feeling this for a long while when they finally speak it to you), your explanation of the facts does NOTHING to address their concerns. A loving, Spirit-empowered response will take to heart their fears. “John, I bet you’ve been feeling this for some time. It is important to me that I hear and understand what you are feeling. I do not want you having the impression that you are not valued. I would be happy to explain why Lisa got the new position and how I see your future here. Can we set a time to talk about this tomorrow?”

One of the reasons we don’t validate others first is that we fear our own view of the facts will be swallowed up in the opinions of others. In addition we fear that validation will be heard as agreement. Be wary of these feelings. In fact, when you give the accuser the chance to state their concerns/case first (and do so in a way that they feel heard), your own views are much more likely to be heard.

Now, if only I could employ this technique with better success (on my part) with my teenaged boys! If you don’t know already, such a simple technique of validation requires a massive dose of humility and self-sacrificial love. You cannot do this in your own strength!

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Filed under christian counseling, conflicts, Family, Relationships, Uncategorized

The duty to confront your friends


You’ve probably read about the recent resignation of David Petraeus as Director of the CIA. While we could chalk this up to another episode of “be sure your sins will find you out” and explore the features of his downfall from squeaky clean (by appearance) to cheater, there is another angle you might consider. In the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper included a sidebar to the story telling of several colleagues and friends who recognized a problem long before it came out. They saw some things that didn’t look right, that didn’t fit with his character. They saw him being too chummy and spending too much time with “the other woman.”

The big question: did they bother to confront him? The story doesn’t tell us this, but it surely is the question we ought to be asking, not only of them, but also of ourselves. When we see friends acting in ways that appear out of line, do we love them enough to tell them so? Do we love them enough to risk losing the relationship should they become angry with us? I, for one, have been guilty of not saying something when I saw a friend spending more time with a colleague than is wise. I have no idea if my friend engaged in inappropriate behavior. But even when someone doesn’t engage in sexual activity with someone other than their spouse, this does not mean the person isn’t putting their life, their marriage, their soul in grave danger. Emotional affairs have torn apart marriages just as physical affairs do.

We have a duty to not let our fear of man get in the way when we see things that signal to us a problem. We don’t need to become accusatory, but a few loving questions (and more than just one!) are in order.

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Filed under adultery, Relationships

3 Signs of Repentance Every Church Leader Should Learn


Regular readers will notice that I have posted little of late. The combination of too much to do at this point in the semester (2 weeks to go!) plus nothing much to say are the reasons why. However, I have a new post over at the faculty blog at www.biblical.edu. This post is a version of a short essay that I wrote for the AACC Christian Counseling Today magazine in 2006.

On regular occasions church leaders request consultations about complex pastoral cases in their churches. The most frequent consultation has to do with some form of abuse or offense by one parishioner against another. The offending party wants to be reconciled with the victim party but the victim party is hesitant if not downright refusing such reconciliation. In other situations, the church is trying to figure how long to discipline or restrict the parishioner. The big question is commonly,

“How do we know when [name] is really repentant?”

Here’s the problem with answering this question. The fruits of repentance are quite hard to distinguish from their counterfeits. Tears, words, and time are poor estimates of true repentance. However, there are some very good evidences of repentance. Click GRACE Repentance for my 3 signs every church leader should know.

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Filed under Abuse, Relationships, Repentance

What is missing in Camping’s apology? The link between repentance and restorative justice


Ever had someone hurt you, apologize, but you still felt like something was missing? Did you think it was your problem because you couldn’t forgive? Is it possible that their apology didn’t go far enough? Have you had a chance to hear about Harold Camping’s recent apology for picking dates in 2011 for the rapture to take place? The good news is that he admits what he did was a sin and that he will no longer seek to discover the date when Jesus returns. Read his apology on the Family Radio website.

But there are a few problems with his apology. I mean…problems beyond his attempt to focus more on the good his sin did for the kingdom of God than on actually apologizing for the actual sin. His apology amounts to something akin to, “I’m sorry I was reckless and crashed your car but I got out unscathed and people heard me thank God for surviving it so it’s all good.”

What is missing? Acknowledgement of hurt, willingness to restore

Read his apology again. You will see he fails to repent directly to those he hurt most–the ones who gave sacrificially to fund his insanity. He never names the specific sins committed nor the hurts he caused. Further, and this is most telling, he makes no offer to restore victims of his offenses. If he acknowledges he misled people and in doing so received benefit from his sin, might he not desire to follow the path of Zaccheus? To give back what he took (that would be a start) and even give back more?

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Eph 4:28

Repentance is then shown not just in stopping bad behavior but replacing it with behaviors that are righteous and good.

What is restorative justice?

This week I will be in Tennessee speaking on the relationship between repentance and restorative justice. Restorative justice (RJ) is the idea that victims, offenders, and community ought to be in dialogue together to (a) understand the impact of offenses, (b) determine together ways to restore both victim and offender, and (c) to allow the community to have a say in the matter. It doesn’t oppose the rule of law but believes that the judicial approach is not always the best approach and tends to focus on punishment to the exclusion of restoration. RJ does not work unless victims are interested in it and offenders are remorseful. But, in those cases where there may be interest and some remorse, it may allow offenders the opportunity to get the depth of the pain they caused and offer them opportunities to “restore what the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)

Restoring vs. penance?

If you are like me you may be tempted to swing between to polar opposites when you are confronted with your own offenses: defensiveness or penance. Sometimes we want our apology to be the last word. We want to be forgiven and our offense treated as if it never happened. Other times we want to grovel and do penance so that the offended party will think better of us. During this season of lent, let us be aware of our offenses and the necessary sacrifice to cleanse us. But let us also be willing to seek the betterment of those we harm “with joy.”

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Filed under Forgiveness, news, Relationships, sin, Uncategorized

New post on creation v. fall approach to relationships


I apologize for the absence here of late. Somehow, my “free time” has been eaten up, this despite my having not taught a class since October 25. Little meetings and assignments add up to a boatload of work! I’m looking forward to getting back into the classroom just so I can have a regular schedule. However, I have a new post up on the Biblical Faculty blog site on the impact of our “glasses” on our relationships. What do you look for most? The good (creation) or the bad (fall) in those around you?

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Filed under christian counseling, Christianity, counseling, Relationships