Change

I’ve spent time with women in stinky relationships–and it’s hard. Life is difficult. Unpredictable. Painful. Hopeful. Then heart-breaking, hope-shattering, disappointing.

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Because women in abuse relationships don’t talk to others about the pain, shame, and abuse, they rarely hear what other women in similar situations say. If they did, they’d hear:

  • “When everything is good, he’s a great guy. When he drinks/does drugs/gets in a bad mood, life is ugly.”
  • “I don’t want to live without him.”
  • “He needs me. I help him. I don’t want to think about what could happen if I’m not there for him.”
  • “The kids love him.”
  • “We need him.”

A woman will leave and return seven times before making a final decision not to go back. The truth is, most abusers don’t change. They say they will. They “try.” They manipulate. But they keep returning to the same habits and patterns of power and control.

The Bible calls this type of individual a fool. He despises wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7), hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22, 29), does not accept counsel (Proverbs 1:30), practices wickedness like sport (Proverbs 10:23),  brings trouble to his house (Proverbs 11:29), is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15), displays anger on impulse (Proverbs 12:16), refuses to turn from evil (Proverbs 13:19), is arrogant, careless and quick-tempered (Proverbs 14:16), and despises his mother (Proverbs 15:20). Sound familiar?

What happens to people who spend time with fools? The Bible says they suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20) and are unable to discern truth from lies (Proverbs 14:7).  Proverbs suggests leaving his presence (Proverbs 14:7) or hiding one’s self (Proverbs 22:3).

What this means is that you–the woman experiencing the trauma, uncertainty, trickery, and abuse–must change. This does not mean you are responsible for the abuse. He is the fool. If you took a snapshot of his life, you would see victim after victim. You are one individual in a string of others. His behavior will continue until he decides to get help. You cannot be his help; his sin is on his own shoulders. No one can bear it except Jesus,  and that requires absolute surrender and repentance. That obviously hasn’t happened. He has a choice. You have a choice.

On your own, you will struggle to call him out, risk his displeasure, and resist evil. One man who spent years running for his life, hiding and enduring persecution wrote, “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). God can give you the strength you need to do what’s right. He is trustworthy. He will deliver and rescue your life from the pit (Job 33:24). Not only that, God has provided a group of individuals, the Church, who are His hands, feet, and body here on earth.

Ask God for help. Look to Jesus. You need His forgiveness for your own sin–and He promises to provide all you need (Philippians 4:19, 2 Peter 1:3-4). Look for a church that teaches from the Bible, whose people love one another. They will love you. They will listen. They will help.

Your abuser will not change. Your circumstances will not change. You must change.

For practical help and information on personal change in an abusive relationship, read Sanctuary: Help and Hope for Victims of Domestic Abuse.

When You’re Up Against Power and Control

I started my morning reading about King Saul and David in the book of 1 Samuel and ended up studying the power and control wheel.

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If you haven’t seen this before, it was developed by a group of individuals to describe the crippling effects of unseen abuse in relationships. Just because someone on the outside can’t see the puppet-strings doesn’t mean they’re not there. An individual may use intimidation, coercion, male privilege, economic pressure, children, possessions, minimizing or blaming to get what he wants. When, or if, that is threatened, he will resort to a different or stronger tack. He has many to choose from. Another word for this is bullying.

Biblically, this is referred to as pride, foolishness, loving self, unrighteousness, wickedness, and evil. These individuals are described as wolves, worthless shepherds, hidden reefs, clouds without water, autumn trees without fruit, wild waves of the sea casting up their own shame like foam (see the book of Jude). The list goes on. Although some of these labels are applied to false teachers in the church, these men, in their homes, mislead and destroy those in their care. They say one thing–appear to be upstanding, righteous, thoughtful in one setting–but are very different at home, depending on what best meets their desires. Some are pastors and leaders in their churches. When that is the case, this description applies in every context.

King Saul was this kind of man. Because of his pride, rebellion, and disobedience, God withdrew His Spirit and the promise of the kingdom. Saul knew David was his competition. Not only that, David had everything Saul wanted. In desperation and envy, Saul sought to destroy David. He threw a spear intending to kill him (numerous times), chastised, punished, and belittled those who helped David, withheld safety and support, hunted and threatened his life. For as many as 16 years David lived under the threat of Saul’s violent attacks.

But God had other plans. David respected Saul’s title and position. He was God’s anointed. God put him in power and God would remove him. For that reason, David refused to fight back. He trusted God no matter how difficult. He refused to harm Saul. He refused to listen to slander or threats on Saul’s life. He would take whatever came his way, trusting God to see him through–because there was more.

David also realized that he was God’s anointed. For that reason, David took precautions to protect himself. He, as the upcoming king and leader of Israel, kept himself out of harm’s way, escaping out of windows, hiding in caves, spying from meadows, and fleeing across mountains. He fled. Made alliances. Sought help. Received assistance. Pursued God’s best. Believing God would see him through, David did what it took to live according to God’s promise and purpose. That is where David found strength.

My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
2 He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

3 How long will you assail a man,
That you may murder him, all of you,
Like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence?
4 They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position;
They delight in falsehood;
They bless with their mouth,
But inwardly they curse. Selah.

5 My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.
8 Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah.

9 Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie;
In the balances they go up;
They are together lighter than breath.
10 Do not trust in oppression
And do not vainly hope in robbery;
If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.

11 Once God has spoken;
Twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God;
12 And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord,
For You recompense a man according to his work. (Psalm 62)

Submissive Equality

Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that submission in marriage means everything. If a husband is displeased, it’s because his wife isn’t submitting. If the marriage is struggling, it’s because she’s not submitting “in everything.” There a mistaken understanding that, because marriage represents Christ and the Church, the husband (representing Christ) is right and the wife (representing the Church) is at fault. Somewhere along the line we lost the reality that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The example of David and Saul is one of a submissive equal–both were God’s anointed–in which the designated authority was sinfully jealous, capricious, and malicious. (Marriage is also a relationship of submissive equality–if you struggle with that, do some Bible digging.) David was wooed into the relationship by his ability and God’s sovereign hand. Once there, Saul used David, turning on him time and time again.

When given an opportunity to exact vengeance, David responded, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 24:6). He refused to harm Saul. But the fact that Saul was the governing authority did not mean David had to give in to Saul’s sinful whims. David fled to save his life; he sought help from Jonathon, the priests, his family, and those the Lord sent his way. He resisted evil as an example of godliness. God blessed his efforts and preserved his life. Difficult? Yes. Unfair? In human terms. Good? Yes, in as much as David honored and glorified God with his decisions and responses.

David endured manipulation and exploitation, but when it came to physical endangerment and the threat of his life, he fled. His respect for God’s anointed extended to himself as well as Saul. God chose David and appointed him to be king. That was David’s confidence–God had made a promise. David’s commitment to guard what God had entrusted to him included his personal protection and that of his family.

A woman who suffers mistreatment at the hand of her husband must put her confidence in God. This confidence is not in herself, her choices, and actions. It is certainly not in her husband or marriage, but in God alone. Amy Baker says that hope results from trust; not pie-in-the-sky, someday-my-prince-will-come hope. God offers true hope as we trust fully in Him, guarding His gifts and promises, acting in faith to protect one’s physical life, health, children, and spiritual growth. If you belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ, you belong to Him and nothing (nothing!) changes that. Faith is not passive, it is an active commitment to put God first, doing what is right and good, resisting evil, and trusting Him with the results.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:3-23)

Why Address Sin?

“If a woman is not to blame for her abuse, aren’t you finger-pointing and blaming the victim to talk about her sin?”

When a woman comes to a pastor, biblical counselor, or older woman for help, the last thing that should be addressed is her sin. Literally. The last thing. Her primary need is practical help, hope, and comfort in the face of unjust suffering; mental, emotional, psychological, physical. She is a sufferer. There is no other, better term.  Because Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse had to be written all at once, it addresses every part of a woman’s spiritual life: salvation, suffering, and sanctification. Sanctuary speaks to her position as a child of God, a saint who is fully forgiven. The greater portion of the book acknowledges her suffering as a woman experiencing domestic abuse. Finally, Sanctuary addresses her reality as a sinner. To look at some parts of her life (saint and sufferer) without seeing her as a whole person would be a disservice. Forgiveness, freedom, and and long-term healing are the result of confession and repentance.

As a victim of abuse learns to cry out to and trust God and His people, there will be a time to walk through sinful thought patterns and habits–things that prevent her from addressing her husband, seeking help, or finding the courage to change. According to statistics, a woman will return to an abusive relationship seven times. That reason alone should move us beyond safety, escape and relief to a desire for personal transformation, which is only available by faith in the substitutionary life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The greater element is her relationship with God; her spiritual growth and ability to glorify God as she lives out the beauty of her original design. In that case, the most unloving act is to provide immediate help, help her feel better, and send her out the door, still dependent on her abuser, desiring to change him or fix their marriage, tied to a need for approval, appreciation and affection from someone other than God, who alone is worthy.

Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  Sanctuary shows women, churches, and the people who love them how to apply the power of God and His awe-some love for her to a man acting wickedly and sinfully. By faith, she can transfer blame to the deserving individual, the abuser, placing her burden of sin and shame on Jesus Christ. She is then able to live abundantly: free of guilt, shame, failure, and condemnation.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, (Romans 8:1-6)

Forgiveness without Reconciliation pt. 2

Forgiveness is costly. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” He was not providing a blanket forgiveness. He was petitioning His Father, willing to pay the price for their sin against Him. In the same way, Jesus took the punishment of my sin so I wouldn’t have to. That is love–and it is the kind of love only Jesus can give.

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None of us can take another’s punishment for sin. We have our own to worry about. But forgiveness* is a promise to withhold punishment for another’s sin against us. It may seem a petty thing–and in the scope of eternity it is–but in the moment, depending on the offense, it is astronomical. What does it look like to forgive a husband who belittles you in public? Demeans you in front of the children? Withholds finances? Takes joy in making your pain?

When we see the ugliness, waste, and offense of sin, we are tempted to retaliate, make him pay, want him to feel the pain and suffering he’s caused. That’s normal and natural. But Jesus can change that. Examining my own heart and sin against God and others brings me to a point of seeing the pain and suffering I brought on Jesus; on friends, church and family members, co-workers, children. And as I fully embrace the price Jesus paid for my sin, all of it, I am able to give him my pain and suffering as a result of others’ sin against me.

Willingness to forgive does not fix the problem. It does not make the offense go away or stop it from happening.  What a heart of forgiveness does do it to take the Jesus-card out of my back pocket and put it in the sin chip-reader. “Charge it to His account. There’s more than enough to cover the cost.” When I delve into Jesus’ forgiveness and extend it to others, I am free from the need to punish them or get revenge. I trust God to take care of things, and I know He will. As far as my own sin, the punishment was at Jesus’ expense. Paul wrote, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

Apart from God’s forgiveness in Christ, I can never be ready and willing to offer forgiveness. But through faith in Jesus, I can choose a heart of forgiveness. If the offending party has not acknowledged, owned, and dealt with his sin, I am free to bring it up when it is in his best interest. In that case, I determine to use his sin against me for Christ’s glory instead of my own.

I will not smash the mirror of God’s Word over someone else’s head, but I may lovingly, gently hold it up as the Standard in non-combative moments to say, “This is what I’m seeing–do you see it, too?” A willingness to love and forgive may mean removing one’s self and children from a dangerous or sinful situation: “I am not going to embrace or be an audience to your sin against God, against me, and against those who are in your care.”

The key is this: *sin cannot be forgiven (or “sent away) until it is acknowledged and forsaken. Until then, we can be willing and ready, dependent on Jesus Christ, extending His kindness and love to the just and the unjust, doing what is right, and using the resources He has put at our disposal.

But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. (Matthew 12:26)

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. (Matthew 16:27)

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God… (1 Peter 3:18)

Why the Term, “Victim?”

Using the word “victim” to describe an individual experiencing domestic abuse is, perhaps, a bit archaic. Old-fashioned. Politically incorrect. Or is it?

The choice of the word is intentional and sets itself up for discussion. What word would you use? Secular society chooses the word, “survivor.” The idea is that anyone who has suffered abuse successfully is not a victim because the word victim denotes weakness and subjugation. Surviving abuse is worthy of recognition. I don’t disagree.

The word, victim, as used in the book, Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse, is a temporary term that applies to an individual suffering unjustly for a limited time in a specific setting. It is not a term of identity, worth, or prophecy.

Why not use the word, “survivor?” Because survivor comes with a t-shirt. Survival is a term of endurance and evident success, but the word, “victor” is so much more powerful. In Christ, and through the power of the gospel, a woman experiencing domestic abuse is not a victim. She is not merely a survivor. She is a victor.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Unjust Suffering

We are all familiar with suffering the consequences of making a poor decision. Children refuse to wear the clothing their parents tell them to and suffer as a result. We like to think that those who cheat, lie, steal, and hurt others will suffer the consequences of their behavior, but we don’t always see it. Is it really true? On the other hand, when women experience domestic violence, abusers tell them, “If only you’d _________, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s your own fault!” What a twisted reality!

That’s why the Bible is so vital to sorting out domestic abuse. It is the only source of absolute truth and God lays it out clearly:

The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:20)

Violence is wrong. Manipulation, deceit, coercion, justification, and posturing are wrong. Using someone to get what you want–power, influence, control–is wrong. The person who lives this way will be held eternally accountable.

The key word is, “eternally.” We may or may not see the consequences now. Asaph saw the injustice of evil men: they were rich, sleek and fat, boasting in themselves and committing acts of violence. Life seemed easy and, somehow, they got away with it. But, Asaph, lamented, his life was uncertain, hard, and he struggled to do what was right. “Why?” he asks. “Why am I trying so hard? What’s the point?”

Then Asaph looked to God and gained a different perspective. This is not the final chapter. From where God sits, unquenchable, eternal judgement is on its way. We may or may not see it in this life, but it will come. In a moment the violent and arrogant will be cast down, tormented by fear and terror. Judgment will come swiftly, inescapably. It is an absolute certainty.

What does God have to say to those who suffer injustice? Asaph wrote these words of encouragement and hope for himself–and for us:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works. (Psalm 73:23-28)

You can belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ,. When you cry out, He hears you. He sees your need and will see you through. Continue to cry out, trust and obey: tell others, ask for help from friends, the local church,  law enforcement and social services. Keep doing what is right, with your eyes on the long-term goal and your faith in the only One who is with you, in you, and empowering you to press on. Run to your Refuge and Sanctuary. He is steadfast, sure, and able.

Want to know more? Order your copy of Sanctuary: Hope and Help for Victims of Domestic Abuse. It’s here to help women and their churches see beyond the immediate and obvious to what’s behind and beyond.