Putting Off and Putting On

Abusive behavior can often be so damaging and graphic that people helpers who genuinely seek to intervene focus so much on seeing the abusive behavior end that they fail to champion the need for new, behaviors to take their place. The Bible offers us clear instruction regarding the process of change through the means of putting off and putting on.

Simply put, when we are striving to change we must not only cease the destructive behavior but replace it with more God-honoring behavior.

Let’s say we have a man who consistently yells at his wife, and as we question him we uncover additional practices of intimidation such as body language, pounding his fist on the table, and threatening gestures such as clinching his fist. We establish that he wants his wife to conform, give in, so badly that he is willing to scare her to do it. His pride has led him to value getting his way over treating his wife properly. Certainly we want him to put off the intimidating behavior, but what can we ask him to put on for the glory of God? We realize the need to confront him with passages such as Ephesians 5:25-33 to address his lack of Christ-like love, and Colossians 3:19 dealing with the harsh treatment of his wife. Instead of causing his wife fear in order to control her we call the intimidating man to love his wife in such a way that she is not only no longer fearful, but safe, sane, and secure.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.

Passages of scripture such as this remind us that love opposes fear and instead love seeks the well-being of the other, and pursues such with patience and kindness, not intimidation and fear. As such we should expect the man who once intimidated to now be intentional in regards to expressing love and safety.

Note: This takes time.

I’m not suggesting that a single blog post, counseling session, or confrontation will suddenly produce Christ-like love. Moving from intimidation to Christ-like love will require hard work, accountability, and concrete goals designed to measure movement.

More specifically we can highlight an abusive man’s behavior and through the process call him to alternatives. While there are a multiplicity of passages we could reference, here are a few example from my book The Heart of Domestic Abuse.

From Violence to Gentleness:

We can encourage men who use violence to participate in a variety of God-honoring alternatives, but one area we can highlight is gentleness. I have encountered many a man who cringe at the thought of engaging in gentle responses to challenging circumstances, and yet that encouragement is offered consistently as an alternative to violence.

  • As a matter of following Jesus

“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.” Matthew 11:29.

  • As a result of the Spirit’s work

“But the fruit of the Spirit is… gentleness.” Galatians 5:22-23.

  • As a requirement for leadership

“not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 1Timothy 3:3.

“to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” Titus 3:3.

From Ridicule to Encouragement: 

Words are powerful and the venom of verbal abuse seeps into the spirit of its victim. This behavior is not consistent with the person of Christ, or the people he has called us to be. Scripture admonishes us to speak words of truth, and life into those we communicate with.

  • As a means of building others up

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:29-30.

  • As evidence of holiness

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:18-20.

  • As a means of practicing wisdom

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:5-6.

From Minimization, Denial, and Blame to Truth:

Truth and a willingness to speak honestly are key components within the Christian life. Deception and misleading behavior are valuable tools to the abusive man who consistently deceives himself, lies to his spouse, and attempts to misled everyone else. He is a master of manipulation and that must stop, and truth must come forth.

  • As a means of accountability

“ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15.

  • As a means of sanctification

“ Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17.

  • As a matter of obedience

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “ Ephesians 4:25.

From Economic Abuse to Stewardship:

All that we have is God’s and as such he has entrusted us as stewards to manage our possessions wisely. Unfortunately withholding resources is a tremendously useful tool for an abusive man. He must understand the evil nature of such actions and embrace a God-honoring approach to resources in which he attempts to honor God through provision, and generosity.

  • As evidence of his salvation

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”1Timothy 5:8.

  • As a means of acknowledging God’s sovereignty

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16.

  • As a means of care and provision for his family

“ In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5:28-29.

It has been said that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change is therefore a difficult, some would say impossible, unless we use the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Without intervention, it is rare to see the kind of significant heart, desire, and behavior changes we are calling for. It is all the more imperative that we as leaders and people helpers engaged in confrontational ministry that holds abusive men accountable and calls them to repentance.

 

When Anger Takes Over by Joy Forrest

Today’s post is by my friend Joy Forrest and first appeared on her blog at Called to Peace

Anger

In my years of counseling victims of domestic violence, I have met some pretty angry people, and in many cases, their stories have angered me as well. Domestic violence can be unimaginably cruel, and it is difficult to hear the accounts without feeling upset about the injustice of it all. Quite often, victims are not only injured by their spouses, but they find very little support when they reach out for help. The judicial system frequently favors perpetrators, who tend to have greater financial resources, and often seem much more composed in court. Even churches can make matters worse for victims when they don’t understand the dynamics of abuse or interpret scriptures on marital roles harshly. For victims, insult is added to injury on a regular basis.

Living with abuse gives us plenty of reason to be angry, but sometimes our anger becomes sinful and destructive. Unfortunately, when that happens we often find ourselves living with negative consequences. Proverbs 22:24-25 warns, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” We can easily find ourselves compounding the pain and misery of an already bad situation by allowing anger to rule our hearts. It is easy to find yourself responding with anger when you’ve lived with it day in and day out but letting yourself to be consumed by it will merely worsen the situation.

Becoming upset over violence and injustice is not only understandable, but it is also normal. Ephesians 4:26-27 seems to imply that anger is common but warns “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The problem isn’t becoming angry as much as it is failing deal with it quickly. When we stay angry and allow it to control us, we are headed for trouble. It seems that unresolved anger opens our lives to Satan’s destructive schemes (Eph. 4:26-27).

There was a time when I became so angry, I began to suffer physical symptoms. Even worse, I found myself snapping at my children for the littlest things. Rather than being able to offer them the love and support they needed to get through the devastating events they were experiencing, I found myself so consumed with anger that I had nothing left to give. The problem with maintaining anger is that you can’t simply contain it to one area of your life. It spills out onto others and “defiles many” (Heb. 12:15). It is like a poison that damages every relationship in your life, including the most important one of all—your relationship with God. During this period, I found myself feeling as if my prayers were hitting the ceiling. Although I continued to reach out to God, resentment controlled me rather than his Spirit, which left me very isolated from my Helper. I needed to learn how to handle my anger biblically.

Divine vs. Human Anger

Scripture clearly tells us there are things that anger God, and we are created in His image as emotional beings. God’s wrath is provoked by sin, and He hates violence. In Genesis, God told Noah “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (6:13). It was enough to cause God to want to destroy His own creation, so it is certainly understandable when we get upset about it. Even the second part of Malachi 2:16, “God hates divorce” indicates He also hates it when a husband deals violently and unfaithfully with his spouse. The Bible is filled with passages proclaiming our Creator’s hatred of injustice and unfaithfulness. As His children, we should naturally hate the evil that he hates. Our problem is that we usually carry it a little too far. Rather than turning the situation over to God, and leaving justice in His hands, we try to control it.

In reality, much human anger reveals a lack of trust in God. We may be questioning why He has allowed bad things to happen in our lives, and if He really cares. In our minds, we profess that He is good, but in our hearts, we doubt it. We know that His Word commands us to forgive, but we believe that forgiving is like giving a stamp of approval to the abuse. Thoughts like this unconsciously charge God with injustice. When we see our offenders “getting away” with sin, we want to take matters into our own hands, because it seems as though God is sitting back doing nothing. I know that’s how I felt, and I became so miserable that life was not worth living. Over time, God graciously intervened, but it was not an overnight event. It was a process that required me to take some very specific steps.

Face the Truth

People who live with abuse live with lies, and I was certainly no exception. I told myself that my husband couldn’t help it when he blew up, and that he was simply a product of his environment growing up. I tried to hide our violent episodes from everyone to the point that I almost seemed to hide them from myself. For over two decades I went to great lengths to avoid the truth; until one day I could avoid it no longer and found myself angrier than I had ever been. I was worn down by months of constant offenses. Doug had been calling and threatening me 15-20 times a day. I was afraid not to answer, because I felt if he didn’t get me on the phone, he would come out and make good on the threats. Normally, I would just hold the phone away from my ear and let him rant, because I learned that saying anything just made matters worse. On one particular call I heard the screaming stop and put my ear up to the phone just in time to hear him quietly threaten suicide. He slammed down the phone, and that was that. He had made similar threats in the past, but had never followed through, and usually started harassing me again within hours. However, this time I heard nothing for two whole days, and became concerned about him. I drove past his house both days and noticed that his car had not moved. On the third day I decided to take my key to our former home and go check on him. I was scared to death to go in but was so worried that I did it anyway. He was not downstairs, so I tiptoed upstairs and saw him lying deathly still on his bed. He looked extra pale, so I went up and nudged him. As soon as I did he woke up cursing at me, and I ran out as quickly as I could.

Within a few hours I got a call from the county sheriff’s department saying that Doug had come in— and charged me with criminal trespassing. They had a warrant for my arrest, and he urged me to come turn myself in. I was released on my own recognizance, but I was furious! How dare he have me charged as a criminal when I was merely concerned for his well-being? Foolishly, I decided to call and let him know just how awful his action had been, but the conversation only left me more upset. I told him he was the one who needed to be arrested for violence against me, but he said he had only hit me one time in the entire history of our relationship. He basically denied being abusive, and I couldn’t believe his nerve! My response was pure rage. By this point I was learning to turn my strong emotions over to God, so I started writing in my journal, telling Him about all the horrendous things Doug had done over the years.

As I was banging out complaints on my computer keyboard, my friend Karen happened to call to check on me. I told her about my earlier conversation with Doug, and the already lengthy list of offenses I was compiling. Much to my surprise, Karen said “Don’t forget the time he tore up the house, because he was mad at the cat.” I was confused, because I didn’t remember it at all. After she reminded me that they had provided housing, and how it had been resolved, I remembered. The odd thing was that it had only happened 12 months earlier! I was amazed that I could forget it so soon, but I believe that I had gone to such great lengths to hide it I had almost convinced myself it didn’t happen. For the most part, those of us who have been abused remember the abuse. I surely remembered the most traumatic incidents, but sometimes we lie about it so much that we begin to believe our own lies. I’ve met women who have casually told me that they had no problem forgiving their abusive spouses, but they could barely talk about what happened. Some who did open up were still making excuses or denying the severity of the abuse. That is burying anger, not dealing with it.

Entrust it to Him

After admitting the truth, we must put it in His hands. A great deal of healing happened in me the day I finally faced the truth and conceded just how horrible things had been. Let me clarify. I do not think I was healed simply because I finally told myself the truth. That was only part of it. The reason I found healing was that I was pouring out my hurts to God and committing them to Him. The truth was too overwhelming for me to handle on my own, but I knew my heart was safe with Him. Psalm 62:8 encourages us to pour out our hearts to God, and that is what I did on that day. When you face constant offenses, it will often require you to surrender your anger again and again, but it will guard your soul. Commit the offenses you have suffered to Him. It is the only way to avoid carrying them yourself, and He is far better equipped to handle them. Each night when you lay your head on your pillow, drop those heavy burdens at His feet and trust Him to fight your battles.

Choose to Forgive

For many of us, forgiving our abusers can be the toughest battle we face in the recovery process, but it is a necessary step in overcoming the anger that comes from abuse. Although it may seem that facing the truth about the hurts I had experienced would have made it harder to forgive, it actually helped, because I realized it was too big for me to handle alone. I knew I could not face the pain without God’s help. I also knew His Word commanded me to forgive, but I needed a lot of help in working through it. At the height of my anger, our ladies’ Bible study decided to work through Kay Arthur’s Lord, Heal My Hurts. When I picked up the book, I noticed a chapter in the Table of Contents entitled “How Can I Forgive?” It was the very question I had been asking myself, and this wonderful Bible study helped me figure it out. When I was able to forgive, it was as if a thousand-pound burden had been taken off my shoulders.

There were a few common misconceptions I had to overcome in order to truly forgive, and I’ve seen many other survivors struggle with them as well. As a child, I was taught to forgive and forget. When my siblings and I asked for forgiveness, we were taught to respond with, “That’s ok. I forgive you.” Then, we were expected to hug and make up. Basically, that formed my view of how the process should look, but it was a very flawed perspective, because it caused me to believe that forgiveness would always lead to reconciliation. I also thought forgiving meant I simply had to minimize or dismiss the offenses as though they had never happened. Thankfully, I was wrong on both counts. Biblical forgiveness is placing the offender in God’s hands and leaving justice to Him. It is letting go of our own need for vengeance; but it definitely is not dismissing the hurt as though it wasn’t that bad or that it never happened. Romans 12:17-21 gives us instructions on dealing with those who harm us. Romans 12: 17-19 instructs us not to repay evil with evil and not to take revenge, but to leave room for God’s wrath.

We must trust that He will handle the situation in His time and with perfect justice. Also, we need to refuse to stoop to our abusers’ level by taking revenge. Usually when we refuse to let go of our anger and desire for retaliation, it is because we don’t trust that His way of dealing with it is better than ours. We will never find peace until we realize He always has our best interest at heart, and He is working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29). Regardless of how things may look in the present, there will come a day when your abuser will have to bow before Him, perhaps in great fear and trembling, and confess that He is Lord (Ph. 2:10-11). We need to trust Him to make all things right in due time.

Resolve to Believe Him

Letting go of anger and believing God is definitely a choice, and not a simple process. For me it was hard work! It meant learning how to choose His truth over my feelings, and trust that He cared deeply for me— even when it didn’t feel that way. One day a phrase from Isaiah 50:7 spoke to me. This prophecy about Jesus predicted that he would set his face “like flint” to accomplish the Father’s plan.  There was something about His determination in this verse that resonated in me because I knew that my outcome would be tied to my decision to believe Him. I decided that I would resolve to believe, no matter what happened or how I felt. I pray that as you read this, you will decide to do the same. To overcome anger, and its damaging consequences in your life, you must determine to do it God’s way rather than your own.

The Process

Dealing with anger His way requires taking several steps. It means being honest with yourself, and no longer minimizing or making excuses for the abuse. In order to truly heal, you must face and give the full weight of the burden to God. Commit your anger to God quickly, and do not let it fester. Let Him fight your battles. Sure, there may be actions you will need to take to protect yourself and your children, but you won’t have to try and control things or force your version of justice anymore. Choose to forgive your abuser, recognizing that it will set you free, and leave justice in God’s hands. Correct any thinking that is contrary to God’s truth and believe that God will redeem your sorrows. Remember that He is for you, and that even though He will not violate the free will of your abuser, He is sovereign, and He wants to use your trials for good. Finally, seek scriptures that provide instructions on wisely dealing with anger, and choose to apply them. Please see Appendix A at the end of this book for a list.

 

*Note: I do believe there comes a time in the healing process when staying angry can actually help us move forward. We have to become justifiably angry at the sin we’ve endured so that we will no longer make excuses for it or continue to subject ourselves to it. The problem comes when we allow the anger to control us rather than giving God control.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Joy’s book, Called to Peace: A Survivor’s Guide to Finding Peace and Healing After Domestic Abuse.

The Trouble with Victims

This week we are sharing a post by our friend and PeaceWorks University Faculty member Joy Forrest. Joy is the author of the book "Called to Peace: A Survivor's Guide to Hope and Peace after Abuse." You can order your copy here CALLED TO PEACE

I lived over twenty-five years my life as a victim. From the time I was 14 until I was nearly 40 I was involved in an abusive relationship, and breaking free was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. During those tumultuous years, I lost nearly everything I owned and barely escaped with my life and my two girls. In the years that followed, I faced great financial loss, angry children, and continued threats on my life. I had nightmares, and found myself freaking out at things that had nothing to do with me. When I heard people around me complain about everyday struggles I wanted to laugh in their faces and say, “Are you kidding me?! That’s nothing!” I wanted the world to know that I had been wronged, and somehow come and make it right.

The odd thing is the more I complained, the less people wanted to listen. They seemed to alienate themselves from me, which made my situation even more miserable. I could have stayed in that pattern forever, but as I cried out to God I began to realize I would never be an overcomer until I dropped my victim mentality. I realized that people did not know how to handle the severity of my losses. I am sure it made them uncomfortable—perhaps even guilty that they had been blessed with an easier life. I realized that I needed to stop making my unfortunate past my identity, and made a decision to pour my complaints out to God rather than people. I chose to believe his promises towards me rather than my feelings. Although that decision did not immediately change my circumstances, it did make all the difference in the world. Today I am a victor rather than a victim, because I decided to believe him.

In the years since I transitioned from victim to victor, I have many opportunities to work with other victims. I have seen some apply themselves to the truths of God’s Word, and basically blossom before my very eyes. In those cases, it has truly been like watching butterflies come out of their cocoons. From all outward appearances their situations have seemed hopeless, but God has performed miracles for those who have learned to trust him. Trust like this involves a decision to believe God rather than emotions and past experience. I have never seen God disappoint those who have chosen to really trust him. The outcome has always been beautiful.

On the other hand, some of the women I have tried to help have refused to let go of that victim mentality. When I direct them to God’s promises, they give me a thousand reasons not to believe them. Their attitude reminds me of the man Jesus healed at the pool in Bethesda in John 5. Even though he stationed himself in the place where the angel stirred the water to be healed, he basically told Jesus it was impossible, because somebody always beat him to the water. He was full of bitterness and excuses. When Jesus healed him in spite of his negativity, he showed no joy, nor did he stop to thank Jesus. Instead, when the religious leaders rebuked him for carrying his pallet, he blamed Jesus. Jesus knew his heart and came to him later with a warning, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14).  But he simply went out and reported Jesus to the leaders. Jesus set him free, but he chose to remain bitter.

That’s the problem with so many victims, they fail to see and appreciate God’s provision in their lives. Instead, they choose to remain bitter, and make excuses for hanging on to their anger. They basically cut themselves off from God’s blessings and blame everyone around them (even God) for their negative circumstances. I love to contrast the story of the man at the pool with the healing of the man born blind in John 9. When Jesus healed him his life was changed immediately. He became a believer, and was willing to profess his faith in spite of harsh opposition. As far as outward circumstances go, he probably fared worse than the man healed at the pool. Yet, he was filled with joy over what Jesus had done for him. Like King David (who spent years running for his life) he chose to praise God in the presence of his enemies rather than cling to bitterness.

The truth is that bad things happen in this world. Many of us end up at victims at some point, and it grieves God’s heart. We suffer unjustly and it isn’t fair, but God knows exactly how that feels (Heb. 4:15). Our God is a redeemer, and nothing is wasted when we know him. He can turn our mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11), and use tribulation to mold us into the image of his son (Rom. 8:29). But in the midst of our troubles we must choose to trust him. We must choose to let go of the bitterness that poisons every relationship in our lives and keeps us in bondage (Heb. 12:15). The problem with victims is they are often not willing to make this choice. Instead, they hold tenaciously to their right to be miserable and angry, and unwittingly finish the job their enemies began.

joy-head-shot.jpg

Joy Forrest has been an advocate for victims of domestic violence since 1997. She holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and held the position of Community Educator for Safe Space Domestic Violence Services in Louisburg, NC from 2000-2001. She has served as a biblical counselor in church settings since 2004. Her own experiences as a former victim of domestic abuse, along with her involvement with Safe Space and church counseling, caused her to see a major need for churches to become better equipped to help families affected by DV. In January 2015, she helped establish Called to Peace Ministries to promote domestic violence awareness, particularly within the faith community. Joy is also a Certified Advocate with the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the author of the book "Called to Peace." Learn more about Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

Gossip

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by PeaceWorks University member, James Fields:

There's a perception in the church that all discussions about other people are gossip. This perception is based on Scripture repeatedly telling us that gossip is a sinful thing (Leviticus 19:16, 2 Corinthians 12:20, James 4:11, 1 Timothy 5:13). Sometimes, we as leaders, pastors, and counselors take the admonishments too far. Victims begin to think that they can’t share pain with anyone, for fear of being in sin. This should not be. There are plenty of good reasons for us to share the hurts we feel with those around us. Scripture points out the need for it when it asks us to take a friend with us to confront someone (Matthew 18:15-20). It points to it when it tells us that there is benefit in wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15). The Word shows us the need for it when it tells us to carry each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2).

These verses need to be meditated on so that our definition of gossip paints a full and accurate picture. We need to have a great understanding of this so that when we teach on it in counseling sessions, with hurting friends, or from the pulpit we don’t arm domestic abusers with a tool to suppress their spouses and give victims a fear of speaking out when they need help most.

Given the tension in these verses, how do we know what is gossip and what is an acceptable and wise way to be honest with those around us?

Gossip seeks to slander and tear down (Proverbs 10:18, Ephesians 4:29, and James 4:11).

Gossip seeks to shoot the breeze (Proverbs 10:19 & 1 Timothy 5:13).

Gossip seeks to mettle (Exodus 23:1 & Proverbs 26:20-22)

Gossip seeks to satisfy self (Proverbs 11:13 & Romans 1:29-32).

What should we counsel godly couples to do when it comes to tension at home? These steps are an attempt at a more balanced approach to teaching gossip without making the abused feel like a sinner for coming forward with their marital or family abuse stories. By teaching about gossip in this way, we are actively taking away the tool of “gossip” as a spiritual oppression weapon.

Take Time and Pray

Seek your own heart and try to uncover your motives. How did you contribute to the incident? In most conflicts in life, this step alone gives us all we need to go back to our spouse and resolve the conflict as we genuinely apologize for how we sinned toward them. In the times where we didn't contribute to the incident or we can't think of a way in which we sinned, we'll likely need further counsel. Either to help us find the best, most God glorifying way to call out our spouse's sin or to further reveal our own hearts. (As Jeremiah 17:9 points out, our hearts are deceitfully wicked and impossible to understand.)


How Churches Can Help Fight Abuse

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

Sexual harassment and assault have been headline news a lot lately. As tragic as these episodes are to read about, it’s even more tragic to realize that mistreatment, oppression and abuse are also found in our churches. However, the church is also well-positioned to prevent, identify and intervene in unhealthy relationships. What are some practical steps that churches can take to help fight abuse in the church and among its members?

Prevention

Obviously, the most helpful approach is to prevent sinful behavior rather than deal with it after it happens. Churches should take seriously their responsibility to screen and train pastors, staff members, and those who volunteer with at-risk populations, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled. This should include everything from background checks for all church workers and volunteers, development of policies to protect the vulnerable, and ongoing training and oversight to ensure compliance. Resources such as On Guard by Deepak Reju can help church leaders think through practical steps to make their churches resistant to those who would harm children and other vulnerable people.

Prevention of abuse among church members is more indirect, but no less important. This would involve clear teaching from the pulpit about servant leadership, the proper use of authority and clear denunciations of misusing one’s role. One of the best observations I’ve heard in a sermon is, “If you’re enjoying the perks of leadership, you’re doing in wrong.” The value and worth of all people, regardless of nationality, gender, age or gifting must be emphasized. Naturally, such teaching must be accompanied by wise and humble exercise of pastoral authority.

Church membership is an important factor in helping a church know its people more intimately, and gives it authority to act when troubling situations arise. Cultivating a grace-filled ethos that encourages transparency, being known, and mutual confession of sin can also make it harder to hide all types of sin.

Identification

Since preventive steps are not foolproof, churches must also take steps to identify problematic situations as quickly as possible. It can be helpful to have booklets on abuse and information on women’s shelters and services in the ladies’ restroom, where resources can be more discreetly obtained. Such resources should be accompanied by a clear message to seek help if they have any concerns about their relationship. Women who have been told that they just need to forgive and submit need to hear that the most loving thing they can do is to interrupt the oppressive cycle in their relationships.

Training for pastors, staff and other church leaders helps identify oppressive relationships by equipping them to recognize problematic patterns of behavior. While formal training is ideal — such as CCEF’s course on abusive relationships — this will not be possible for everyone. However, there are also a number of other books and resources that provide guidance on the nature of abusive relationships, such as Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s Is It My Fault?, Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Marriage and The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and GRACE (www.netgrace.org). These resources open the category of mistreatment beyond physical or sexual abuse to include verbal/emotional abuse, financial control and intimidation.

Intervention

Once an abusive relationship has been identified, the church needs to determine how it can help address the situation. Ideally, churches would have pastors and/or staff who are qualified to work with both parties to untangle complicated and confusing situations and address the complexities of abusive behaviors and relationships. Since this clearly won’t be possible in all cases, church leaders should not hesitate to seek outside help when needed and connect those involved in the troubled relationship with law enforcement, women’s shelters, legal or financial planning services, or addiction or mental health treatment, as appropriate. If you learn about a worrisome situation and are uncertain how to proceed, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org or 1-800-799-7233), which is open 24/7 for assistance. Even when care must be sought outside the church, church leaders, at a minimum, should be prepared to walk alongside both parties to address the myriad spiritual needs that exist on both sides of troubled relationships. The gospel speaks to both the oppressor and the oppressed, offering hope, comfort and the possibility of true change and restoration. All of the books mentioned above, as well as Chris Moles’ The Heart of Domestic Abuse, are helpful resources for addressing issues faced by both the abused and the abuser.

When possible, diaconal funds can be of great assistance to help with practical needs, especially if outside care or separation are appropriate. As you consider steps forward in a difficult relationship, remember to be patient with women who are wrestling with decisions about how and when to address their situations. Allowing an oppressed woman to make her own choices helps to reestablish her sense of self and her own agency in the relationship.

While churches will vary greatly in the ways they can address this difficult issue, all churches should seek to be proactive in the fight against abuse in all its forms, remembering the Lord’s heart for the oppressed (Judg 2:18). Although it is difficult work, church leaders can be encouraged and hopeful as they fulfill their call by “patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:24-25).

Note: While men can also be victims of abuse, this article refers to women and children for the sake of simplicity and because they represent the majority of victims of domestic abuse.

Brenda Pauken

Is Change Really Possible

If I could simplify one of the most common questions I receive it would be, "can destructive people really change?” I want to honestly offer a few answers to this question by changing the words slightly.

Can They Change?

Simple Answer – Of course they can.

I have heard the sentiment many times that people cannot change. The understanding is that thieves are always thieves, liars are always liars, and abusers will always be abusive. I believe the Bible teaches that change is not only possible but necessary. God desires the unbelieving to practice repentance and experience transformation. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He desires the believer to practice repentance as well, calling us to put off the old man and to “Put on your new nature, created to be like God–truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:24)

Honest Answer – Anyone can change but the potential for change does not guarantee that it will happen.

Do They Change?

Simple Answer – Yes…Well, kind of…It depends.

I’ve been doing this work for some time now and I have seen many men make changes. Sometimes those changes are radical. It’s exhilarating to watch men make such dramatic shifts in thinking and behavior. I’ve also seen men make some necessary behavioral changes to avoid consequences or pain. This may make things safer in the short term but lacks the power that the gospel promises. Lastly, I’ve seen men attempt to manipulate everyone with superficial changes designed to deceive others into leaving them be.

Honest Answer – They do when they choose to, but motives are important in understanding the validity of these changes, and initial 'changes' do not guarantee transformation. 

Will They Change?

Simple Answer – Do you have someone in mind?

As I read this question again I have the tendency to hear this, “will the person I love change?” The honest answer is I don’t know. Unfortunately the individual most desperate for change is often the one who is being victimized. The last thing I want to do is give false hope that your positive attitude or faith that change is possible will lead to your loved one’s transformation. The truth is you are not responsible for their changes but for your own safety, and sanity. While you may desperately want them to get help that is a decision they alone can make.

Honest Answer – I do not know if the person you love will ever change.

Final Thought:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:13-17

Have you ever heard the saying, the proof is in the pudding? Biblically speaking we know that change has occurred when change occurs. I recently had an interesting discussion with an individual who couldn’t articulate the difference between confession and repentance. Acknowledging one’s sin is a wonderful first step but it is still a first step. When is a liar no longer a liar? When he says, “I know I lie” or when we witness him consistently telling the truth? Change is possible, but change is hard.

A few years ago I was invited to participate in a webinar through Our Daily Bread Ministries. This was the event where I first met my friend Leslie Vernick. Many important concepts related to change and the church's responsibility are covered in this webinar.   

Watch the Webinar Here

 

Six (6) Attributes That Can Replace Abusive Actions

This post first appeared as a guest post for my friend Leslie Vernick at www.leslievernick.com

Behavioral change without heart change is a kin to paying a tremendous amount of money for a new paint job on a car without an engine.

Changing the outer appearance doesn’t solve the real problem. Character development is essential to the process of transformation, but not just becoming nicer, or more compliant but becoming more like Christ. Ephesians 5 is a common passage used to describe a husband’s role in marriage and many pastors will use this passage to encourage certain behaviors. I too use this passage but suggest we begin in verse one which calls us all to “…be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.”

While there are many aspects of God’s character we can encourage men to adopt, allow me to suggest one passage which I highlight in my book The Heart of Domestic Abuse. Here God describes himself using six (6) attributes, which Jesus readily demonstrated during his life on earth and of which we are called to imitate. In addition, to an obedient Christian these six attributes have a direct impact on the Christian marriage. In Exodus 34 , Moses has returned to construct new tablets after smashing the originals following the discovery of idol worship in the camp. After completing the tablets God approaches Moses and makes this declaration about himself.

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…” Exodus 34:6-7

While God shares additional information about his character in the remaining portion of the passage these six characteristics stand out as adoptable attributes consistent with the call to conformity.

1.Compassionate: God describes himself as compassionate and Jesus models compassion numerous times in the Gospels. In particular, Matthew 8, tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion as he looked out over the people. For the Christian, compassion is a necessary characteristic to embrace in response to being wronged or even perceptions of harm. Consider Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” In response to the temptation to become sinfully angry that can express itself through bitterness, rage, name-calling, gossip, and even violence, Paul calls the believer, among other responses, to act with compassion.

2.Gracious: In many ways the opposition from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day stemmed from their inability or unwillingness embrace his words of grace. The Christ-follower is compelled throughout the Scripture to imitate this characteristic. In particular, Colossians 4, instructs the believer to, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Imagine for a moment the husband who repents of the damaging effects of his words, recognizes the selfish posture of his heart and determines to conform the image of Christ in part by speaking to his wife with grace.

3.Slow to Anger. Jesus did not come to us with condemnation but hope and salvation. He patiently calls us to redemption and then calls us to love each other with that same longsuffering conviction. In the James 1, the pastor leaves little room for doubt in our conformity to this principle when he says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The excuse, “I have a short fuse,” falls silent under the weight of our conformity to Christ who has time and again suffered long on our behalf.

4.Abounding in Love. Scripture resounds with truth regarding God’s love. We sing songs to His great love. We are recipients of His wonderful love. From an early age many of us recited that, “God loved us so much that he gave us his son.” God’s love is among the central themes of the Bible, and we are commanded to imitate him by loving others, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Love is our go to in the process of becoming like Jesus, and the characteristic most directly related to the husband’s interactions with his wife, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

5.Faithfulness. The faithfulness of God resonates in the stories of saints throughout the scripture, as well as, those we encounter in our lifetime. We rely upon His promise to be faithful in our temptation. Our faithful God has united us with Christ and called us into fellowship with him. Our families should be able to trust us as we consistently trust in God. We are faithful in part because He has taught us faithfulness. His Spirit reminds us of His faithfulness and in turn empowers us to be faithful.

6.Forgiving.  Our God is a forgiving God and Jesus models this characteristic beautifully as he forgives sinners and unmistakably when he cries, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Even while on the cross Jesus promotes the power of forgiveness. Why are we so hesitant in our circumstances to embrace this life of forgiveness? Where once an abusive man held his family hostage with selfish expectations, the mind of Christ calls him to surrender his past desires for a new Christ-like conformity which includes forgiveness. In light of God’s forgiveness through Christ, this man has little alternative than to follow the instructions given by Paul when he says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The most influential realization obtained by a forgiving person is the fact that he is himself forgiven. If the abusive man can experience forgiveness for the grievous sin he has perpetrated against his family ,than certainly forgiveness can be anticipated and even expected from him.

Let us strive to teach that change comes when we replace negative actions and patterns with better ones. 

Am I Really Forgiven?

Today's post is by my friend Bev Moore.

Jill thought for a long time about God’s forgiveness. She had spent so many years dealing with feelings of condemnation and guilt.  What she was experiencing now seemed like a dream—something too good to be true. She was nervous that something was going to go wrong, or that maybe God was waiting to heap on the guilt the next time she messed up.

Many of our counselees can identify with Jill.  When they are introduced to the gospel—that they can be forgiven by God’s grace—it’s almost more than they can believe.  But by God’s grace they do believe!  Yet sometimes they feel uneasy but they’re not quite sure why.

One thing that really helped Jill was reading how Jesus demonstrated His love for a woman who desperately needed His forgiveness. It wasn’t hard for Jill to identify with the woman in this story. Jill got to see the love and compassion Jesus freely gave to someone like her.

It’s the beautiful story found in Luke 7:36-50 where Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While there a woman who had lived a sinful life came to the house with an alabaster jar of perfume and she wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She kissed His feet and anointed them with the perfume. Simon was repulsed by what he saw and couldn’t believe Jesus could allow Himself to be touched by this “sinner.”  

Jesus knew what Simon was thinking and told him a story involving a moneylender and two men that owed him money and how the moneylender forgave both debts.  Jesus asked Simon which man he thought would love the moneylender more. Simon knew that the man with the bigger debt canceled would love the moneylender more. Here is how the rest of this scene played out:

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:43-50)

What a striking contrast between two people—a Pharisee, who placed his faith in his own self-righteousness and goodness, who erroneously believed he had a very small debt he owed to God, and believed he could earn God’s favor by keeping the rules. And a woman who knew she had a huge debt she owed to God and she could never even begin to repay Him, but who put her faith in Jesus. This woman was well aware of her guilt and her need for forgiveness. She knew she had to come to Jesus for the forgiveness she desperately wanted and needed.

For some, believing that God will forgive every sin is difficult to accept as true. Why? Here are several reasons to consider:

• We doubt that God will ever accept us after what we’ve done. We think that our sin is too big or too awful for God to forgive.

• We continually repeat our sin, feeling trapped in a never-ending cycle of defeat and despair.

• We fail to grasp the holiness of God and His hatred of sin so we fail to see our sin as a direct offense against God.

• We attempt to establish our own standard of righteousness and feel defeated and unforgiveable when our performance doesn’t measure up to our satisfaction.

• We fail to grasp the depth of God’s forgiving grace through the sacrifice of His Son’s life.

Jill was grateful for God’s forgiveness, but wrestled with this thought: “I just can’t forgive myself for the things I’ve done.” Very often we feel regret, shame, and condemnation for the things we’ve done that have caused us and others pain and heartache. It feels like we need to forgive ourselves, but it’s a misconception that we have wronged ourselves. Our sin is against God (and possibly others), and it’s His forgiveness that we need. We may feel the need to forgive ourselves so that we can feel better about ourselves, but nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to do this. Forgiveness was purchased for us at the cross because ultimately our sin is against God.

In order to get past the regret we have regarding our sin, we have to keep our heart and mind focused on the cross and what Jesus did for us there. When the devil wants to remind us of battles lost and tries to rub our noses in our failures, we can confidently say to him, “I am worse than you think, but I have a GREAT BIG GOD who is bigger than all my sin. He has washed me and made me whiter than snow through the blood of Jesus Christ!”

But what if I don’t feel forgiven?  Forgiveness is a fact, just like guilt is a fact. I don’t always feel guilt when I am guilty, nor will I always feel forgiven when I confess my sin to God and He forgives me. There may be residual regret and possibly painful consequences that are reminders of our sin. But we have to focus on the truth of God’s Word: if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we base our forgiveness on feelings, what does that say about what Christ has done for us? Could we be saying that not only did He have to die for our sin, but now He has to give us the feelings we desire in order to believe and/or feel we are forgiven? Are we saying that what He has already done was not enough? We can certainly spend a lot of time trying to feel good about ourselves, but that should not be the goal. We are to humbly live by faith in the truth, not faith in our feelings!  

We have to help our counselees focus on God’s Word and pray that the Holy Spirit will renew their minds with the truth so that they can walk in the light and in the precious freedom of God’s forgiveness.

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Bev Moore (M.A.B.C.) is on the counseling staff at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN. She is married to George and they have two grown sons. She co-authored In the Aftermath: Past the Pain of Childhood Sexual Abuse. 

Churches and Domestic Abuse Policy

Some churches have approached me regarding domestic abuse policies and while I do not have a standard response yet, I will be creating a process in the future, I do find it helpful to see what others have done. Below is an example of a first draft proposal created by one local church.

Domestic abuse, or intimate partner abuse, is the desecration of the image of God in the abuser’s spouse or intimate partner through a pattern of intentionally misusing power, overtly or covertly, in words or actions, to gratify self.

  • Abuse is an assault upon the image of God in another human being.

  • Abuse usually occurs in a pattern that is typically increasing in frequency and/or intensity. 

  • Abuse is intentional, though the abuser may not be self-aware enough to recognize the intentions of his or her heart. Abuse is never perpetrated on accident.

  • Abuse is about the misuse of power to control or manipulate another for selfish gain. It is an act of oppression.

  • Abuse can involve physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, economic, spiritual, or psychological means.

  • The goal of abuse is self-gratification – to get what one wants at the expense of another.

Domestic abuse, which can be used interchangeably with the term “domestic violence”, is pervasive in our culture. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetime. Domestic abuse is under-reported, so those statistics are conservative. We know statistically that domestic abuse is just as pervasive at ______________ as it is in the culture, and so we must be alerted to it.

Domestic violence in any form – physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or spiritual – is an assault upon the image of God in a fellow human being, and is therefore an assault upon God himself. When it is between a husband and a wife, it further violates the one-flesh covenantal relationship that God established. Under no circumstance is abuse ever justified. Neither is it ever the fault of the victim. Domestic abuse severely damages relationships and often destroys the relationship beyond repair. An act of abuse is never an act of Christian love. Christ's self-giving love encourages the full growth of the individual, while domestic abuse seeks to stifle the victim's autonomy through dominance, replacing love with violence and fear. Given this acknowledgement, ________________ Church affirms the following:

  • domestic abuse in all its forms is sinful and incompatible with the Christian faith and a Christian way of living;

  • all abuse is spiritually damaging for both the person being abused and the person who is abusing;

  • domestic abuse is a serious problem which occurs in church families as well as in wider society;

  • domestic abuse is not primarily an anger problem, a marriage problem, the victim’s problem, or even a legal problem, but rather a sin problem;

  • domestic abuse is primarily perpetrated by men, against the very people whom God has given these men to protect and shepherd - women and children.

  • we will listen to, believe, support, and care for those affected by domestic abuse;

  • we will urge abused persons to consider their own safety and that of family members first and to seek help from the church, professional counseling, and legal resources, to bring healing to the individuals and, if possible, to the marriage relationship;

  • we will discipline abusers and remove them from the church if they are unrepentant;

  • we will work with local domestic violence support agencies, will learn from them and support them in appropriate ways, and will publicize their work;

  • we will teach that domestic abuse is a sin;

  • we will teach what it means to be male and female image-bearers of God, equal in value, dignity and worth;

  • we will train all pastors/elders, ministers/deacons, and lay leaders;

  • we will seek to utilize trained professionals to encourage best practices and keep church members and leadership trained on and informed about the implementation of this domestic abuse policy.

Hopeful: My Response to the ACBC Conference

Light in the Darkness, Biblical Counseling and Abuse. This was the theme for the 2018 national conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. I must admit that when I heard about the theme I was bit concerned. Biblical counselors have not always had the best reputation when it comes to addressing the problems of abuse. In fact we tend to mirror the church at large which has traditionally misunderstood and mismanaged the issue. My concern was shared by many in the work of intervention and prevention, as well as, many victims and survivors that have reached out to us over the past year anticipating the conference. ACBC announced a record attendance of over 2,000 for this year’s conference I believe highlighting both the interest in the topic and intrigue in our response. So, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the event and summarize where I think we stand as a movement.

First, allow me to reiterate how much I love Biblical Counseling and how desperate I have been to see this wonderful movement and the people who call it home become better equipped and competent when speaking and counseling on abuse. These are my people, this is my tribe, and I dearly love them. I want to share with you three highlights that encouraged me this week.

Highlights

  1. Dr. Heath Lambert gave the opening plenary session entitled, “What every victim needs to know.” Dr. Lambert skillfully walked us through the story of Joseph highlighting all the ways in which he was abused by those more powerful than he such as his brothers, potipher’s wife, and the Egyptian prison system. Dr. Lambert drew very clear lines from Scripture, and possibly from his own experience as a survivor to free Joseph and therefore any other victim of the responsibility for the abuse. Clearly, precisely, and often Dr. Lambert reminded us that abuse is not the responsibility of the victim, but solely the sin of the perpetrator. He then offered words of hope to those who suffer abuse knowing that even when sinned against “what others meant for evil, God can use for good” by declaring…

    “By the grace of Jesus, wonderful things can come from the horror of your abuse.

    There are some things that God teaches his children in the school of affliction that he will not teach them anywhere else.

    God uses the horror of your abuse to increase your ministry faithfulness. Ministers are forged in the fires of affliction.”

  2. Survivor Story: One of the things I have found lacking in most, not all, Christian responses to abuse are survivor stories. Most events feature keynote speakers who will define terms, unpack cases, or walk the audience through a related passage of Scripture, all of which are good but lack the power of story. ACBC correctly asked my friend Pam Gannon to share her story and the hope she found in the gospel. Pam delivered a near perfect blend of personal narrative and Scriptural insight to clearly show the devastation of abuse and the greater hope of redemption. This was for me the key event of the conference and well worth the time and investment if this plenary is offered. And, to my knowledge received the first standing ovation ever at an ACBC conference.

    Just as God can grow a pure white daisy from the charred remains, so can he grow a soul from the charred remains of abuse.”

  3. Dr. Dale Johnson is the new executive director of ACBC. He was installed Tuesday afternoon and had the pleasure of offering the last plenary of the conference, “Counseling the abuser.” I’ll admit that when I heard that someone else would be delivering this talk I was a bit taken aback, didn’t they realize this was my wheelhouse? Honestly I had never met Dr. Johnson, and this topic can offer so much hope or can really rob people of hope. I sat nervous as the session began but was soon over taken with emotion. I can honestly say I’ve never heard the content delivered better. I was struck by Dr. Johnson’s high view of accountability and responsibility, his call to Biblical repentance, and insistence that we (Biblical Counselors) take the lead and cultivate safety in our churches. Two-thirds of the way through his presentation I sunk into a sense of relief and following the closing prayer I rushed the stage to thank him.

    An abuser is someone who demands his wants rather than submits to his responsibilities at the expense of someone else’s dignity.”

    It’s inappropriate to declare Biblical counselors in general safe for victims of abuse, but after this week I do feel confident saying there is much reason to hope. I know there are no perfect interventions or counselors, and that we have a long way to go. But, if what I saw this week is any indication of where the Biblical counseling movement is headed, then I AM HOPEFUL.

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Pastor Chris and Dr. Johnson following the last plenary session.

Helping the Church Respond

This week I have the privilege of presenting at the national conference for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors in Ft. Worth, Texas. Last year ACBC announced that their annual conference would focus on the issue of abuse and since then I have personally been contacted by many victims, survivors, and advocates who are excited and concerned about this decision. Biblical counseling has not had the best reputation for addressing domestic abuse in particular and while a focused conference is welcomed many are curious as to what will be said. While I cannot speak for all presenters I am excited to be presenting at this conference and believe Biblical counselors are uniquely positioned to lead in the area of intervention and prevention. It will require humility, faithfulness, and a teachable spirit but I’m confident that we can be known as confident and competent people helpers in this area.

My talk is entitled “Domestic Violence in the Christian Home; Helping the Church respond Con’t” This will serve as a follow up presentation to the plenary address I gave at the Faith Biblical Counseling Training Conference in February. I’ve include a copy of that presentation for you below.

Please pray for all the presenters week, as well as all the victims, survivors, and offenders who may be attending, as well as the Biblical Counseling movement.

Peace, -Chris

Abuse: Domestic Violence and a Call to Repentance

This post recently appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Blog.

One of the reasons I believe biblical counseling can be an effective response to domestic abuse is our emphasis on the biblical principle of putting off and putting on. If a man who has made abusive choices claims to be a believer, then it is required of us within the church to call him to repentance by holding him accountable to completely abandon the wickedness of abuse and embrace a new and better way. Simply put, when we are striving to promote change, we must not only call the counselee to cease the destructive behavior, but also to replace it with God-honoring behavior. The end result of this confrontation should produce either evidence (fruit) of repentance or confirm his unbelief and the need for continued consequences.

Let’s say we have a man who consistently yells at his wife, and as we question him we uncover additional practices of intimidation, such as body language, pounding his fist on the table, and threatening gestures such as clenching his fist. We establish that he wants his wife to conform (give in) so badly that he is willing to scare her to do it. His pride has led him to value getting his way over treating his wife properly. Certainly, we want him to put off the intimidating behavior, but what can we ask him to put on for the glory of God? What are we looking for that will evidence the new patterns of repentance? We realize the need to confront him with passages such as Ephesians 5:25-33 to address his lack of Christ-like love, and Colossians 3:19 in dealing with the harsh treatment of his wife. Instead of causing his wife fear in order to control her, we call the intimidating man to love his wife in such a way that she is not only no longer fearful, but safe, sane, and secure.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Passages of Scripture such as this remind us that love opposes fear and instead seeks the well-being of the other and does so with patience and kindness, not intimidation and fear. As such, we should expect the man who once intimidated to now be intentional in regards to expressing love and safety.

Note: this takes time.

I’m not suggesting that a single blog post, counseling session, or confrontation will suddenly produce Christ-like love. Moving from intimidation to Christ-like love will require hard work, consistent long-term accountability, and concrete goals designed to measure movement.

More specifically, we can highlight an abusive man’s behavior, contrast that with Scripture, and through the process craft and call him to biblical alternatives. While there are a multiplicity of passages we could reference, here are a few examples from my book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse.

From Violence to Gentleness

We can encourage men who have used violence to participate in a variety of God-honoring alternatives, but one area we can highlight is gentleness. I have encountered many men who cringe at the thought of engaging in gentle responses to challenging circumstances, and yet that encouragement is offered consistently in Scripture as an alternative to violence.

  • As a matter of following Jesus: “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” (Matt. 11:29).

  • As a result of the Spirit’s work: “But the fruit of the Spirit is…  gentleness” (Gal. 5:22-23).

  • As a requirement for leadership: “…not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1Tim. 3:30); “…to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:3).

From Ridicule to Encouragement

Words are powerful and the venom of verbal abuse seeps into the spirit of its victim. This behavior is not consistent with the person of Christ or the people He has called us to be. Scripture admonishes us to speak words of truth and life into those we communicate with.

  • As a means of building others up: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:29-30).

  • As evidence of holiness: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matt. 15:18-20).

  • As a means of practicing wisdom: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5-6).

From Minimization, Denial, and Blame to Truth

Truth and a willingness to speak honestly are key components within the Christian life. Deception and misleading behavior are valuable tools to the abusive man who consistently deceives himself, lies to his wife, and attempts to mislead everyone else. He is a master of manipulation, and that must stop and truth must come forth.

  • As a means of accountability: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

  • As a means of sanctification: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

  • As a matter of obedience: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25).

It has been said that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change is difficult, some would say impossible, unless we use the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Without intervention, it is rare to see the kind of significant heart, desire, and behavior changes we are calling for. It is all the more imperative that we as leaders and people-helpers engage in confrontational ministry that holds abusive men accountable and calls them to repentance.

Questions for Reflection

Are you and your church equipped to engage in confrontational ministry? Have you considered continued education in the area of domestic violence intervention and prevention?

Rev. Chris Moles (M.A.B.C.) is a Certified Biblical Counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC). He is also a certified group facilitator in domestic violence intervention and prevention. Chris is the author of The Heart of Domestic Abuse; Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Violence and Control in the Home and founder of PeaceWorks University, a membership website that exists to help train, commission, and support biblical counselors and others to address the problem of domestic violence with the gospel of peace.

Domestic Violence: Not An Anger Problem

“I was just so angry.”

“I couldn’t help myself.”

“I just snapped!”

Words like these are common in the work I do with men who use violence in the home. Many of the men I have worked with will insist that they are not abusive, but simply need to learn how to control their anger. Unfortunately, it’s not just the guys I work with that see violence as an anger problem. I’ll occasionally hear of men being court ordered to anger management classes following domestic abuse.  My conversations with Pastors and ministry leaders will also include descriptions of abuse in terms of his anger and the solutions that are offered revolve around self-control and addressing anger. The rationale may go something like this, “violence is the result of anger and therefore, we must address the perpetrators anger and anger cues in order to properly end the violence.” Now, I’m not suggesting that we avoid discussions about anger but rather that we place it in the proper context, especially when we are addressing domestic violence. I’m afraid we miss the heart if we only address anger and anger cues. After all abusers will certainly blame the victim for their anger, and cite them as the most prominent anger cue. This strategy runs the risk of leaving the heart untouched encouraging patterns of control that are nothing more than “respectable” forms of abuse. How may pastors and ministry leaders view an abusive man’s anger? Here are a couple suggestions.

1. Anger as an excuse

Anger can easily be used as an excuse for sin. Statements such as “I snapped” “I lost control.” or “My temper got the best of me.” may be accurate descriptions of the man’s emotional and behavioral responses but they are, by no means, excusable simply because we can recognize that he was angry. This is especially true for pastors who are working with husbands who have abused their wife. Scriptures like Ephesians 4:26-27 give us clear instructions on anger and its relationship to sin and the implications of sinful anger in the life of a believer.  “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  Men who use anger as an excuse need a clear reminder that regardless of emotional pressure, abuse is sinful as well as a careful warning of the impact of their sin on both the victim and themselves.

2. Anger as a tactic

Pastors and ministry leaders would do well to see outbursts of anger and expressions of rage as potential tools used by an abusive man to intimidate and control his partner. I have heard many men admit that fear through threat and intimidation is as effective as physical assault. A man’s rage will often illicit the same result as physical violence.  This form of anger is not simply an emotional response but evidence of oppressive desires. “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” Proverbs 15:18 I have encountered many men who create a climate of fear within the home. An abusive man will use his anger as a tool to intimidate and manipulate his spouse into conformity with his desires.

Final Thought

Lastly, let me encourage you to view anger as a window into a man’s heart. Don’t ignore his anger. We are not listening to confirm an allegation, or understand his side of the story we are listening for the heart. Listen for the themes that will pinpoint the nature of his desires. His anger will likely point us to desires for control, tendencies to manipulate, and beliefs of entitlement?  Restate stories back to him highlighting his behaviors, his desires, and the impact of both. His anger may very well reveal his beliefs about God, himself, and others.

 

Don't Confess Your Sins?

HOW COUNSELING VICTIMS TO CONFESS THEIR SIN EMBOLDENS ABUSERS

Last week in our support group for survivors of domestic abuse, one of the participants approached me after class to tell me about a counseling session she had with a biblical counselor at her church a few days earlier. This dear lady is living with a very harsh husband who constantly berates her. He tells her how worthless he thinks she is regularly, so she went to counseling in hopes of finding a way to have peace in the midst of a very destructive marriage. Her counselor rightly told her that the only person she can change is herself, and then began to help her uncover her sins and shortcomings as a wife. The focus was on the marriage, and in the end, my friend left with a popular book on how to be a godly wife. As she relayed the story tears came to her eyes. She explained how she had spent years trying to be a better wife, and looking at her own sin, but that only seemed to worsen her husband’s sense of entitlement.

My friend also told me about the many counseling sessions she and her husband had attended together over the years, and how the counsel in those sessions was nearly always the same. Somehow she was made to feel responsible for her husband’s sin. If she would just be more submissive, more “quiet and gentle,” and more loving maybe her husband would be won without a word. She was always encouraged to look at her own sin, and never to keep a record of the wrongs done to her. For over 2 decades that is what she has done, but things have only gotten worse.

In joint counseling sessions, her husband usually listened very intently to all the instructions the given to her, as well as her confessions of missing the mark in their relationship. It actually seemed those counseling sessions gave him ammunition when they got back home. The counselors had merely confirmed his beliefs about her incompetence as a wife, and proven that he needed to take a stronger hand in leadership. The truth is that their counselors had probably confronted his sin as well, but he simply chose to ignore those parts of the sessions. Besides, he was able to get his wife to freely admit to more than her fair share of the blame, so it was easy to turn the main focus of most sessions to that.

Abusive people are skilled at diverting the focus of counseling to less important issues. They also love to find counselors who will focus on marital roles rather than heart issues. Counselors who encourage wives to submit and yield to their husbands’ leadership can cause great harm. In all my years of working as an advocate, I’ve never seen a situation where submitting to sinful mistreatment saved a marriage. Usually, it has the opposite effect. It only serves to empower and embolden hearts that are filled with pride, while victims are left taking on the burden for the entire relationship.

No matter if the counseling is balanced, and equally focused on both spouses’ sin, an abusive person will only hear instructions aimed at his or her spouse. As a result, even the best marital counselors will find themselves doing more harm than good. They may not see it in a session where the offending spouse is nodding his head in approval, and acting extremely motivated for change. However, things change once the couple gets back home, and the abuser begins to taunt his spouse using the advice of the counselor. When it comes to abusive and destructive relationships, marital counseling just doesn’t work. Instead, it usually makes matters worse– particularly counsel that focuses on the victim’s sin in front of an oppressive spouse.* If you’re living in an abusive relationship (read more here if you’re not sure), I encourage you to steer clear of joint martial counseling, or any counseling that puts the burden of the relationship and the abuse on you.

Let me just say that I am a biblical counselor! I believe in the sufficiency of scripture, and acknowledge that sin is the root cause of the overwhelming majority of problems we see in counseling. However, as an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse, I’ve seen a very troubling trend when it comes to our counseling strategies in cases of abuse. We’ve been taught that we need to get to the root sin issues with our clients, and rightly so. The problem occurs when we fail to recognize clear patterns of oppression that are nearly always present in cases of abuse. When we put couples in the same room for marital counseling and ask victims to confess their sins to their oppressors, we are arming their abusers. God’s heart is for the weak and afflicted, and he opposes proud oppressors (Zec. 7:10, Ps. 72:4, Ps. 82:3-4). May he give us wisdom to do the same.

“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps. 82:2-4

*Of course, victims are not without sin, but when we encourage confession of sin in front of an abuser we merely feed both spouses’ faulty assumptions that the victim’s sin caused the abuse. In my years of counseling, I’d have to say the victims’ sin is rarely what counselors assume– it’s not provoking the abuse! More likely, it is being ruled by “fear of man.” Counsel that puts the burden for the abuse on the victim is not only ineffective, but extremely harmful.

 

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Joy Forrest has been an advocate for victims of domestic violence since 1997. She holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and held the position of Community Educator for Safe Space Domestic Violence Services in Louisburg, NC from 2000-2001. She has served as a biblical counselor in church settings since 2004. Her own experiences as a former victim of domestic abuse, along with her involvement with Safe Space and church counseling, caused her to see a major need for churches to become better equipped to help families affected by DV. In January 2015, she helped establish Called to Peace Ministries to promote domestic violence awareness, particularly within the faith community. Joy is also a Certified Advocate with the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the author of the book "Called to Peace." Learn more about Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

Jonah, Judgement, and a call to Nineveh

Recently I had the privilege of presenting at the International Association of Biblical Counselors annual conference in Denver, Colorado. I had a wonderful time interacting with friends, colleagues, and participants both at our table and in the workshop time. As an added bonus, my wife and I drove down to Colorado Springs to visit some friends, see some sites, enjoy some Ethiopian food, and visit the headquarters of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (our church denomination). During our visit to Colorado Springs we worshiped with The Clay House, a C&MA church in town and I was struck by how timely the pastor's message was. The sermon was from Jonah chapter four, now I must admit I haven't spent a lot of time in Jonah, at least in my adulthood, but one thought from that message struck me as it pertains to the work we do. 

* Jonah Wanted Wrath Not Repentance

“He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”                                                                               Jonah 4:2-3

I appreciate Jonah’s anger here and I can relate to his frustration with the attributes of God. Grace, compassion, patience, and love are inconvenient virtues when, like Jonah, we want judgment on our enemies. A few years ago I was attending an event for domestic violence awareness month and a friend of mine introduced me to some folks around the table and when one individual gathered what my role on the team was their words and demeanor became less than kind. You see, this individual had strong thoughts regarding ‘appropriate’ responses to perpetrators, all of which were unrealistic and most were cruel. I listened though and didn’t offer much push back to them. I believed that this person was speaking out of great hurt and nothing I could say would soften the thought that our psycho-educational classes were somehow, “letting men of the hook.” Believe it not I encounter similar thoughts and attitudes from within the Christian world. In fact, many of the challenges and quite frankly attacks I have received for the work I do rushed through my head as the pastor said, “Jonah is content, in so much as he can dispense the judgment of God, but furious at the thought of God’s mercy, but you rarely have one without the other.”

We Preach Repentance - This is what we do. I can make no apologies for teaching and calling folks to repentance. Repentance does not, and I have been clear about this, negate consequences for sin, guarantee restoration of relationships, remove accountability, or demand immediate trust. If we are called to Nineveh then I’m suggesting we must preach repentance, and in doing so let’s be clear regarding the severity of God’s judgment without despising the availability of His mercy.

Note: I know for a fact that many folks who deserve justice have not, as of this post, received it. I am aware that churches and ministries have sinfully punished victims and rewarded perpetrators. We must guard against the temptation to demand only judgment as a means of satisfying the sins of the past. Repentance, mercy, and hope should remain in our vocabulary.

Was it Jonah’s poor view of God that led him to disobedience and despair? Actually, it seems he has a clear picture of God and it was in fact God’s character and the potential for mercy that angered Jonah.

Have you ever been there? Have you wanted fire from heaven so badly that when it didn’t come you’ve settled for fire in your own spirit in the form of hate, anger, or despair?  

 

“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh,in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” Jonah 4:11

How a Pastor’s Wife Came to Care about Domestic Abuse

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by a PeaceWorks University member who would like to remain anonymous.

Tunnel vision is real. In a culture that encourages its people to prioritize the pleasure and progress of self, it is no surprise people are unlikely to care deeply about injustice unless they must. Until injustice affects them directly, marking them with a personal experience of pain or loss, most individuals tend to focus exclusively on their own lives and have little capacity to be concerned with the difficulties of others.

Growing up, I had been aware of domestic abuse in a very narrow yet nebulous sense. I knew it existed, but assumed it was rare. As a teenager I remember seeing various TV programs in which a series regular would happen upon a bruised and battered woman or child and rescue them through some selfless good deed, all within the span of a thirty-minute episode. These stories, while successfully pulling at my heartstrings, portrayed abuse simplistically: perpetrators were ugly, raging monsters quickly brought to justice and victims were people helplessly broken but easily healed. Watching these scenarios play out on my TV screen, I often thought, "How sad. I'm so glad my home is not like that."

Years later, as a recent Christian university graduate, I married my husband, who at the time was freshly entering vocational ministry. In the early days of our marriage, as my life naturally separated from my parents’, I began to recognize tactics of abuse in my upbringing. As I started living married life with a man who loved and served me, imitating the Christ he worshipped, I became cognizant of how warped my view of marital love and care actually was. Often noting the differences between my husband’s responses to conflicts, inconveniences, or mistakes I would make and the responses I had been accustomed to, I finally saw that much of my distorted thinking was a result of the abuse I had experienced. Realizing this, we sought out counsel and support from individuals well-equipped to address domestic abuse and its effects with the hope and help of the gospel. It took time as we slowly untangled my deeply ingrained ways of thinking and feeling. In Scripture I learned to see God's good plan for love and marriage. By his grace, I began to better understand the abuse I had experienced and began to heal. After two or three years of this much needed but tedious process, my husband and I were healthier and more whole. Through the care of God’s people and the truth of His Word, I had found healing for my wounds. As a couple we were that much stronger having worked through my painful experiences together. I will forever be thankful for my husband's patience, grace, care, and understanding during that time. Having gone through such an emotionally exhausting season of life, it seemed that we could now focus on living our happily ever as pastor and wife, ready to move on to a life of ministry with my pain and the ugliness of abuse behind us.

Unsurprisingly, this was not God's intention for our life or ministry. As I healed, though at first timid and hesitant, I began to share my story. Over time, as I became more comfortable and confident speaking about my experience of abuse and healing in everyday conversation, women responded by sharing stories of their own. As a pastor's wife, still relatively new to marriage and ministry, I began to hear story  

after story of abusive husbands and fathers who had used their power and position to hurt, humiliate, and harass these women. It seemed the more I talked, the more I was talked to. The more I was willing to be vulnerable, the more vulnerable women would become. It quickly became apparent I could not avoid the topic of abuse. It was part of me and because it was part of me, it was now a part of my ministry.

For many pastors and pastors’ wives though, abuse is not a part of your story, so you struggle to see why it should be a part of your ministry. The reality is, more than likely, you have already been directly affected by this issue. Statistically*, you already know [not a few, but many] women or children in your church community who have endured some form of abuse in their lifetime. Personally, you have many reasons to be concerned.

What is more, as a Christian, you have every reason to be concerned. Scripture is littered with themes of God’s active justice, care, and concern for the oppressed. These [primarily] women and children are image bearers of their Creator and as such they deserve the compassionate care and protection of their Shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).

While tunnel vision may be the norm in our culture, it should never be a phrase used to describe God’s people, especially those in church leadership. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, as those who intimately know the “Father of mercies” and the “God of all comfort” we are “able to comfort those who are in any affliction” regardless of whether we have been marked by that particular affliction. In the case of abuse, you don’t have to have experienced this injustice to care deeply about it. Care deeply because these are your people. Care deeply because this is your God.

*https://ncadv.org/statistics

 

Guest Post - This is the Face of Domestic Violence

This week we continue in our PeaceWorks University member submission series. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by a PeaceWorks University member who would like to remain anonymous. The post first appeared on Called to Peace

“You need to leave…go to another state…get out with the baby…don’t tell your husband…go…!” I heard urgency in her voice. It was my first counseling appointment with someone outside the church after over 3 years in an abusive marriage. It was November 2017. Suicide was in my thoughts. Were it not for my infant son, I think I would have acted on such thoughts.

I married in the fall of 2014. I had no idea I was in for a ride of the worst sort.

Literally the day after our wedding, the daily abuse began, to my utter shock and confusion. He’d been so committed, it had seemed, to the Lord during dating. He got baptized, was going to church, doing Bible study, reading the Word, and would pray with me at the end of each phone call. Now we were married and the battering began. It started with verbal abuse – swearing, yelling at me, and threats of divorcing me.

For career reasons, roughly 6 weeks after marrying, we moved to California. The drive together across the country was torture, and I was the target. One night on our drive, he was falling asleep at the wheel but refused to stop for a hotel despite my pleas. It was the first time I called 911. I feared for my life.

Once in California, we found a church and began marriage counseling. Two years of marriage counseling commenced with our pastor. The pastor gave some of the best, deepest expository sermons in church that I’d ever heard, so I respected him, and he was someone my husband was willing to attend counseling with, so I wanted to make it work – even when it meant submitting to things I disagreed with.

The pastor was one of the only people I told everything to, often texting him amidst “events” as they happened. He told me not to tell other people about my marriage, because that made my husband feel disrespected. He told me I was angry, too, like my husband, it’s just that I didn’t demonstrate it outwardly; I needed to work on my anger. I needed to serve, just not be a doormat (how does that work with an abuser

who won’t honor boundaries?) He told me to say I was sorry to my husband, even if it wasn’t my fault, to regain peace. He told me to go back to my husband (after a brief separation, for example), and questioned me about calling the cops.

Once I called 911, about 6 months after marrying, to get police to just supervise my attempt to depart, since my husband was had grabbed both my wrists preventing me from leaving when I was trying to physically separate from his verbal attack. The pastor from then on questioned me, messing with my mind about engaging law enforcement aid in the future. “Why are you calling the cops? Has he physically hurt you? If not, why are you calling them? Your husband says he won’t physically hurt you.”

So, I stopped calling the cops. I greatly reduced my talking to others outside of the pastor and his wife.

About a year and half into counseling, my husband seemed to be changing - the abuse less daily and more infrequent. The pastor approved of our trying for a child. I got pregnant almost right away.

Once the baby came, it was not long, however, before the same violent man emerged with a new vengeance. Property damage to my stuff. Packing up with dramatic flair to “leave me.” Daily swearing in front of the baby. Yelling at the baby. Shaking the surface where the baby was sitting, causing the baby anxiety and fear.

And as a new mom, I was expected to still do it all – all the housework, help him search for jobs late at night, work full time at a high stress job, care for our son, iron his clothes, prepare his meals. And if my reading the Bible interfered with his plans, he tormented me enough that I could not read it in his presence. My marriage was a nightmare but I still didn’t understand why.

By November of last year, I started reaching out outside the church for help, and started to hear more than one counselor use the word “separate.” An in-home Christian nanny saw enough of the rising tensions to decide she wanted to inform me of something important: my husband was a narcissist. I found Leslie Vernick, and watched one of her webinars. That scared me, because I realized I was in the situation she was describing.

It was domestic violence and it had not been addressed as such. It was if a hidden, lurking monster suddenly loomed in front of me, saying, “Bahaha! You found me! I’m the root of all the confusion and chaos in your marriage!” Suddenly, the dots all connected and the weird seemingly unassociated behaviors made sense.

Fast forward to this summer, and between my son being older and some other logistical changes that made leaving more doable, an incident occurred with my husband that led to my separating back to the east coast.

It’s been nearly 8 weeks now. More clarity has come upon my departure. I understand how mind control and coercion are real. I could not even see the situation fully until I was out.

A pastor referred me to Joy Forrest Brown, who quickly connected me with a local domestic violence trained counselor. I found a local domestic violence organization and started receiving support. I applied for and was confirmed to receive welfare benefits. I wanted to cry showing up for charity food or sitting in the domestic violence building waiting for help. It’s been a low place, my place.

I went from working at a high paying job to leaning on charity and government programs. I was so ashamed, I didn’t want to tell friends or family I was back and why. It all seemed so surreal, so sudden, so unexpected. I hadn’t planned for it to really come to this. I always tried to keep believing the best, hoping the best, praying for my husband, forgiving and forgetting. But my husband wasn’t changing and leaving became necessary.

I’m still very much in the process of seeking stability in my situation, but for any out there in a similar spot, I want to encourage you with some things God has been ministering to me. First, he sees you – he sees the abused one. Just like Hagar who was cast out with her son. Sarah told Abraham to force her to leave, and God told Abraham to listen to Sarah. What?! God told Abraham to proceed? Yup. And sometimes the next step in God’s plan is not the one we wanted. But God showed up to Hagar in the wilderness as her provision ran out and she’d overnight become a single mom. He “heard the lad crying” and promised to also make her son a great nation. God took care of them when her earthly provision had come to an end. (Genesis 21:8-21)

And so God is doing for me, and will do for you as you wait upon Him. He’s encouraging me that my role is to rest in Him, trust Him, wait on Him (Psalm 37). Of course, I am to do my part to take actions to seek stability, but it’s up to Him to provide for my needs. He is – even albeit through unexpected means at times! – and He will do so for all who call upon and wait for Him.

How Can I Forgive Myself

Today's post is from my friend Joy.  The original post can be found on her blog at Called to Peace Ministries.

“How can I ever forgive myself?” It’s a question I’ve heard many times in my years of counseling. In fact, I get it! I know very well how it is to be plagued with guilt and remorse over a bad decision. When I finally broke free from a 23 year abusive relationship, I lived with regret on a daily basis. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to believe the lies  that had kept me bound up for so long, and couldn’t believe how I had foolishly disregarded the harmful impact on my children. As much as I tried to tell myself that I did the best I could at the time, I was overwhelmed with remorse. The fact that I was still living with the consequences of my failures seemed to make it even harder to let myself off the hook.

As with the many other struggles I faced as a survivor of abuse, I went to scripture to find the answer to overcoming the guilt and shame I carried. First of all, I found nothing there that spoke to a need to forgive myself. The Bible urges us to forgive one another, and to receive God’s forgiveness, but never once does it tell us to forgive ourselves. Rather, it reminds us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). It also lets us know that if we confess our sin He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). My study of scripture led me to the conclusion that rather than focusing on myself, I needed to focus on His finished work on the cross. I needed to accept what He had done for me– anything less would be the equivalent of saying His work on the cross was not effective for my sin. It was also choosing to walk in condemnation even though He had set me free from it.

Although I finally realized I had no right to continue to condemn myself, I was still overwhelmed with sorrow about the consequences of my choices earlier in life. For many years after I left the abuse, I continued to watch my children struggle as a result of their tumultuous upbringing– and my failures as a parent. Over time, I finally learned to establish boundaries with them, but it seemed to be too little too late. In the long run, all I could do was surrender them to His loving hands. All my fear-motivated attempts to control them seemed to push them further away. One day as I was crying out to God about it, I sensed in my spirit that He was not done with them yet, and that He was even sovereign over my mistakes and failures. I realized that just as He was using my pain and suffering for His good purposes, He could do the same with my kids. It took many years to see things turn around, but as I surrendered them to His loving hands He worked in amazing ways.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the weight of guilt from your past, there are two truths that will set you free –if you apply them. First, you must choose to believe God’s proclamation that you have been set free from condemnation by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He took the penalty for all your failures, and took the shame on Himself. If you have received Him, you are free from sin, guilt and condemnation. Telling yourself otherwise is to believe the lie that His sacrifice was not good enough. Second, you must trust God’s sovereignty. This means that He will somehow use the pain and sorrow you experienced for His good purposes (Rom. 8:28). Believing He is sovereign is worthless if you do not believe He is good, so if you doubt His goodness you must start by remedying that problem. Scripture is filled with proclamations of His lovingkindness, and suffering does not diminish His character!

He specializes in turning ashes into beauty (Is. 61:3). As you choose to embrace Him in your pain you will experience the reality of this truth. Full surrender to our good God will never disappoint, but holding on shame and self-condemnation will keep you in bondage. Freedom is a choice, and you will find it as you shift your focus from yourself (and your mistakes) to His abundantly sufficient grace.

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Joy Forrest has been an advocate for victims of domestic violence since 1997. She holds an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and held the position of Community Educator for Safe Space Domestic Violence Services in Louisburg, NC from 2000-2001. She has served as a biblical counselor in church settings since 2004. Her own experiences as a former victim of domestic abuse, along with her involvement with Safe Space and church counseling, caused her to see a major need for churches to become better equipped to help families affected by DV. In January 2015, she helped establish Called to Peace Ministries to promote domestic violence awareness, particularly within the faith community. Joy is also a Certified Advocate with the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Learn more about Joy at www.calledtopeace.org

Guest Post - How to Get Your Wife Back

This week we would like to introduce a new blog series consisting of submissions by our very own
PeaceWorks University members. Many in our membership are already actively engaging the topic of domestic abuse through their own writing and we would like to give them the opportunity for additional exposure as well as thoughtful feedback from our readership. Please be aware that the views presented in this series do not necessarily represent the views of Chris Moles or PeaceWorks University.

This week’s post was submitted by PeaceWorks University member, Rosanna Brubacker, and originally appeared on her blog, Thyme on My Path.

https://thymeonmypathblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/how-to-get-your-wife-back/

Here you are, abandoned and alone…wondering how you messed up your life so badly and wishing you could somehow miraculously undo the results of your actions.  You wanted a hint of hope, so you asked me.  I don’t know your story, but this is my answer.  I’m warning you.  It will be the hardest thing you ever did.  You will be beginning your life all over again and becoming a different person.  If you succeed, you will be a hero.  Here is how to get your wife back.

  1. Never say a bad word about your wife. Don’t shred her character. This is the most important step. Sure, you will be able to recall things about her or things she did that were wrong, but remember this: she can do the exact same thing about you. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

  2. Respect and honor her. If she felt disappointed and betrayed enough to leave you, work on this. Do not treat her like a wife, treat her like a potential girlfriend. Win her like you would a woman you never met before.  There is no place in your life in which you have a right to talk to her about her place in the home, her role in the home or her responsibilities to you as a wife.  She probably knows everything about that and if she does not, it is the role of a woman to teach her how to be a good wife.  Your job is to be the man she enjoys being around.

  3. Apologize and repent. If, and when she brings things up again, apologize and repent again.  “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.”  It goes a long way.  Do this every time.  Yes, it may be often.

  4. Don’t minimize your offenses. In fact, go into detail about why your offenses were wrong. That way she believes you really mean it. If you don’t know why you were wrong, find out and whatever you do, don’t deny it. If an action of yours made her feel unsafe or violated, you had better find out how not to repeat it.  Your job is to protect your woman, not to dictate to her or to make her feel unsafe or uncared for. You are the leader.  Lead out by exemplifying the kind of person you wish she was.  Go ahead, be her hero.  Make her feel safe, valued, important, honored and loved.

  5. Be humble. Don’t talk about spiritual things, right now. Right now, you are not a leader. The woman who followed you started running the opposite direction because you made her feel threatened.  She knows all your faults.  That time you started belittling how she parented?  She remembers that.  That time you started shaming her for the way she talked to someone?  She thinks about that every time she sees that individual.  She’s trying to forget the pain your actions caused her.  She knows your faults.  Walk in humility and grow into your place.  Acting holier than her will not work.  She knows how holy you really are.

  6. Build your relationship with Christ. This could have been my first point, but I chose to put it under the point about humility which goes along with pretending to be holy. God knows you.  He knows your weaknesses and where you went wrong.  He wants you to love him more than you love your wife and he longs to build an intimate relationship with you, just like you long to build an intimate relationship with your wife.  Do not fail to seek him with all your heart.  He is the healing for your pain, the source of your joy, the intimate lover of your heart, the balm for your wound.  He is the ultimate leader who laid down his very life for his often way-ward bride.  Do you love your wife like that?  Would you die for her?

  7. Limit your contact with other women. You have no business building a relationship with other women. Be loyal to your wife. If you find yourself longing for a woman’s approval, remember you once had hers.  She once loved you enough to marry you.  She once trusted you.  Another woman has no place in your heart and God calls that adultery.

  8. Be accountable. When you are sweating out the loneliness and the gut-wrenching hard work of allowing God to reveal your sin and to learn new principles of how to live, you’ll need a good man or two or three in your life that will treat you like a son. They can teach you how to honor your wife and be loyal to her. You can go to them when you are angry and they can walk you through the repentance and the sorrow and get you back to being willing to climb the next mountain and scale the next wall.

  9. Don’t compliment other women. You have a wife to compliment. One day you saw that girl and thought, “She’s sweet and beautiful and I want to marry her.”  She’s still sweet and beautiful.  That girl is still there.  Date her when she begins trusting you enough to date again.  Compliment her.

  10. Get counseling. “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (Song of Solomon 2:15). It’s the little things that lead up to the destruction of the marriage.  It’s the bad habits that creep in and run about unobstructed. When the habits grow up into full-fledged monsters, it has gone way too far. I do not advise couples counseling for deeply entrenched habits such as abusive relationships.  Individual counseling helps you deal with the things that come up in your life.  When you can handle your own personal issues, and deal with them wisely with knowledge and integrity, then you can handle your side of a relationship.  When your wife sees you working on the issues in your life, she can see that you are actually changing and becoming the man she knew you were behind the bluff you were putting on.  Go find the humble, kind, godly man you once were.  If you never were humble and kind, go find Jesus.  He will teach you how to be like him. “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” (Matthew 11:29). “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Blessings, my friend, as you become your wife’s hero.

 

PEACEWORKS UNIVERSITY

PeaceWorks University is our online community dedicated to practical, professional, ministry training designed to help you grow in your response to domestic violence in the Christian home.  PeaceWorks University is a perfect coaching option for pastors, ministry leaders, biblical counselors, and people helpers. 

Telling the Truth to Yourself

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

So often when I ask men to share with me how they came to be in a batterer intervention group I find they are eager to “set the record straight.” Generally speaking, most of the men I have worked with put forth a great deal of effort to convince me that they are in fact victims. Some will vacillate back and forth between excuses ranging from unfortunate circumstances to a feminist agenda bent on destroying families. Regardless of the rationale one truth remains consistent, they are being treated unfairly. The temptation for these men is to deny their own responsibility, usually by highlighting their partner’s problems. Many will insist she needs the class far more than they. Sometimes it may seem like I’m out to get them or that I’m unwilling to listen to their side of the story. The reality is that change will not happen in our own hearts as long as we continue to defend our own pride with lies or half-truths.

Put off Denial

Our pride convinces us that wicked behavior is sometimes necessary to maintain control or that malicious intent is justified when we feel wronged. This attitude may have led you to physically harm your partner or to call her ugly names. Perhaps you’ve thrown things across the room or punched holes in the walls to communicate you’re not pleased with her choices. If any of this is true than you may also find it necessary to hide certain details, bend certain truths to minimize your behavior while emphasizing the ways in which you’ve been wronged. This tendency toward denial is not going to help produce the change you really need. It’s a trap so devastating that it will not only destroy your relationship but will also ensnare your heart. I’m pleading with you to accept responsibility for your actions. Acknowledge the abusive behavior and the impact it has had on your partner.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”  James 4:8-10

Change is a difficult and often times a lengthy process that requires, among other things, taking responsibility. You must acknowledge the truth about yourself and put off the denial. Would you be willing to speak truth to yourself today?

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”  Ephesians 4:25

Final Thought

If I were to ask you about your abusive behavior what would say? Would your story include statements like these?

“I’ve done nothing wrong!”

“She knows how to push my buttons.”

“This is all blown out of proportion.”

Let me encourage you to recount the story again, but this time only focus on your actions. Fight the temptation to justify them, excuse them away or gloss over them. Make a list of the ways in which you harmed your partner. Have you physically harmed her? Have you called her ugly names? Have you damaged her reputation with lies? Telling the truth will not fix everything that seems wrong in your life right now, but it is a far better choice than lying to yourself and others.

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