Unhealthy Forgiveness: Why We Should Not Forgive Misinterpretations

forgivenessConsider these uncomfortable statements. Forgiveness is not always a virtue. Forgiveness can be offensive and destructive to a relationship. There are times when forgiving only reinforces our pride or blindness.

Think through these situations for a moment:

  • A husband feels hurt because his wife “disrespected him” when she asked a question about a decision he was making but genuinely didn’t understand (and he did not adequately explain).
  • A wife feels hurt when her husband “failed to pursue her” when his plans for their anniversary did not match what she was hoping for (but had never disclosed to him what she wanted).
  • A friend feels hurt when the other friend is “unwilling to invest in the relationship” but “investing” means matching the unhealthy, excessive commitment that the first friend gives to the relationship.

In each of these brief vignettes it would be easy for the husband-wife-friend to say, “I forgive you,” and this would healthily remedy the situation. But in each case, forgiveness would be destructive to their own character and the relationship.


In each case the hurt being forgiven was based on a misinterpretation; forgiving would further ingrain this misinterpretation. Accepting this forgiveness offered would add a level of social reinforcement to the misinterpretation.

Consider each situation again:

  • The husband would believe that his communication about decisions was adequate and that anything that aggravated his insecurities was wrong.
  • The wife would believe that a truly loving husband should “just know” what his wife desired and that anything that disappointed her was a sign of a poor marriage.
  • The friend would believe their excessive needy-giving was the Christ-like standard for selfless sacrifice and that everyone else should match their unsustainable level involvement in the life of others.

What is the danger?

If we view forgiveness as only a virtue, then the husband-wife-friend would believe that they responded in “the biblical way” and that any resistance to their overture would reveal hard-heartedness on the other person’s part. Intentional or not, this is a form of manipulation. Even with the best of intentions (which is sometimes true), it contributes to the deterioration of the relationship.

What is missing?

These scenarios reveal a neglect of the guiding principles of Matthew 7:1-5, to take the log out of our eye first. When we fail to properly take into account or role in a relational hardship, even our most biblical practices become destructive rather than helpful. Self-awareness is an essential component of applying the Scriptures to our life and relationships as God intended.

If we do not see ourselves or the situation rightly, we are not applying the Bible to our life or our situation. We are applying the Bible to a figment of our imagination.

That is what is happening is each situation above. Forgiveness becomes a way that the husband-wife-friend tries to force the other person to live in their “alternative reality.”

What is an appropriate response?

If you are on the receiving end of unhealthy forgiveness a two-fold response is recommended: (a) empathy towards the hurt along with (b) an invitation to reconsider the interpretation.

An extension of forgiveness means the other person is hurt. Even if their interpretation is not true; their experience is real. A lack of empathy towards their hurt will only reinforce their interpretation that you are in the wrong.

We can only offer an invitation to reconsider the interpretation. If we aggressively refute the interpretation, a conversation will become a debate. In the context of hurt, this has a very low probability of being fruitful. Additionally, we offer an invitation because our interpretation may be wrong. Hearing from our friend may reveal things we missed in our initial experience of the interaction.

With that said, a response might sound like this:

“I am very sorry that you are hurt. I’m not sure I understand yet why my response-actions was inappropriate. I appreciate your desire to handle this situation as Scripture desires – with repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Can we walk back through what happened to assess what should have happened and what reasonable expectations-responses should have been?”

If you get an affirmative response, there is the opportunity for both of you to learn and grow. Either or both of you may need to repent and forgive.

If you get a defensive or aggressive response (and the situation is significant or repetitive), then you may need to say, “I don’t think I serve you best by accepting your forgiveness. I believe I would be reinforcing an inaccurate interpretation of these events. Can we invite someone we mutually trust to help us discern how honor God and one another in this situation?”

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” or “Favorite Posts on Abusive Relationships” post which address other facets of this subject.

Council of Counselors: Sleep Disorders / Personality Tests / Living with Mental Illness / Autistic Pastor / Burnout

This is a weekly post that highlights resources from other counselors that I have found helpful. The counselors may be from the biblical counseling, Christian psychology, integration, or secular counseling traditions. By linking to a post, I am not giving it my full endorsement, I am merely indicating that I believe it made a unique contribution or raised an important subject for consideration.

Sleep Disorders & the Glory of God by Eric Davis

We hear it time and again. “Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.” “Not getting enough shuteye is a serious problem that can threaten your health and safety.” “Be a good steward of your body by sleeping eight hours.” Good suggestions, no doubt. But for those who suffer with sleep disorders, it’s a cruel tease. By sleep disorder, we’re not talking about getting four or five hours of sleep a few nights per week, but never getting a good chunk in a span of months. Ask someone with a sleep disorder when the last time they got six or seven hours of sleep, and they’ll be thinking back to a different decade.

Why You Should Stop Using Your Personality Test As A Crutch by Michael Kelley

Unfortunately, though, personality tests can go very wrong in one simple way: Your personality test is not a license to be a jerk.

Q&A: How Do We Ask for Help When Living with Mental Illness? by Amy Simpson

Question: Our daughter has a mental illness, and our whole family has had to make adjustments to help her. There are times when she does really well, especially when she does what her doctor recommends: gets enough rest, eats well, and works with her therapist. But sometimes things are really hard, and this has a big impact on all of us. We haven’t told many people about our daughter’s illness, but it would be nice if we could have some help and support from our church and from other people we know. But how do we help our church and community understand what we need? We aren’t sure ourselves!

How I Leverage My Autism for Pastoral Ministry  by Lamar Hardwick

On Monday, December 22, 2014, I walked into the office of my therapist. I sat down on her couch with my wife by my side. I took a long deep breath and slowly exhaled, waiting for answers to my 36-year-long question. She grabbed her clip board, glanced over the assessments we had completed in weeks prior, looked me in the eye, and uttered three words that changed my life: “autism spectrum disorder.” While the diagnosis didn’t change who I was, it did change my understanding of who I had been. In many ways, I have spent the years since that diagnosis learning myself all over again.

Four Practical Ways to Avoid Burnout by Eric Geiger

After posting a blog called “Four Warning Signs You Are Approaching Burnout,” I heard from several friends and leaders who were struggling with burnout or felt they were headed in that direction. They wisely recognized warning signs in their lives and were committed to making adjustments. Self-leadership is critical. We must lead ourselves well, and this includes leading ourselves away from burnout. If you cannot lead yourself, you will struggle to lead others. If a leader is unhealthy, all those around the leader are impacted.

What I’m Reading

sleepSecrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders by Dr. Craig Heller. For many of us, sleep is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For others, sleep represents a nightly struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, rest comfortably, and even remain safe until morning. But what is sleep exactly, and why must we do it every night?


Despite the fact that we sped about one-third of our lives in slumber, scientists still aren’t completely certain. Finding the function of sleep is one of the biggest—and most intriguing—challenges facing biologists today.

What is clear: Sleep is as essential to life as food and water. It impacts virtually every aspect of our lives, from our mood to the functioning of our organs, and it contributes to learning and memory, better performance at work, and a more healthy and productive wakeful life overall.

Tweets of the Week

Meaningful Meme

give_receive from Art Rainer

Follow Up Resources for a Sermon from Joel: Regret

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Joel,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday May 13-14, 2017.

This post is written for the individual we can relate to Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you,” because they are in the midst of a season of regret when it feels like what has been destroyed will not be restored.

Dealing With Regret from Equip on Vimeo.

Presentation Handout: EQUIP_Dealing with Regret_Notes

Regret always begins as an opportunity; hence the disappointment. There was something we wanted to be an enduring part of our life that disappeared, was forfeited, or was lost. Regret is never just a moment, but a painful and pivotal change in our life story.

When we neglect mourning the hope that birthed our regret or focus exclusively on the moment in which regret began there are two negative consequences: (a) whatever guidance we receive feels light-weight and cliché, and (b) we miss most of what God has been, is, and wants to do.

In this presentation I walk through the life of Moses in light of his most regrettable moment (Numbers 20:1-13) to illustrate how God’s works redemptively in the midst of the things we regret most deeply.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” which address other facets of this subject.


Forgiveness After Adultery: What It Is and Is Not

forgivingThis post is an excerpt from Step 7 of the True Betrayal seminar manual. If you read the content and feel like it is “ahead of where you are” or “too heavy for you,” then it is recommended that you start at the beginning of this resource.

What is the first thing you need to “do” with all you have learned, understood, and processed to this point [Steps 1-6]? Forgive. Before now forgiveness would probably have been only a well-intentioned promise. When we forgive we absorb the cost of someone else’s sin. But forgiveness should not be a blank check or it easily becomes foolish enablement or willful naivety. Jesus knew the cost of saying the words “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48) or “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). Wise forgiveness, especially when it potentially leads to restoration, knows the cost of the check it writes.

Read Matthew 18:21-35. Notice that precise amounts are given for what is forgiven. Part of the benefit of Steps 2-4 was that you could know what you are forgiving. Too often a passage like this is used to imply that because the offenses against us are small compared to our offenses against God (which is true) that all offenses against us are small (which is false). In reaction to that logic we often resist forgiveness because the act of forgiving seems to minimize the offense. The act of saying, “I forgive you,” assumes the statement, “You wronged me in a way that should not be overlooked or minimized.” It should also include the assumption, “I am only able to assume the debt of your sin against me because God has assumed my debt against Him and promised to cover whatever losses I incur by forgiving others.”

“The fact is, what your spouse has done against you and God may be inexcusable, but it is not unforgiveable (p. 30).” Mike Summers in Help! My Spouse Has Been Unfaithful

So what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is the choice to no longer require someone to receive the punishment that their sin deserves. Forgiveness is an act of faith that trusts that the penalty for sin was sufficiently paid by Christ on the cross or will be paid by the sinner in Hell. Forgiveness is a willingness to treat the offender as gracious wisdom would allow given the offender’s response to their sin.

“Forgiveness is not a human function. You may have to begin by asking God to give you the desire to be obedient. There’s no sense in pretending (p. 170).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

Forgiveness vs. Restoration: These terms are distinct but have significant overlap. All restoration is rooted in forgiveness, but not all forgiveness will result in restoration. In the discussion below the tone of forgiveness implies a movement towards restoration. However, if your spouse is unrepentant of his/her sin, then your personal recovery may involve applying these principles without the particular applications made towards restoration.

Gary and Mona Shriver in their book Unfaithful describe five things that forgiveness is not (p.165-166; modified, bold text only).  As you read these use them to calm the fears of “I could never forgive because…” You will likely find that many of the things you say you could not do are not actually what forgiveness requires.

1. Forgiveness is not containing or restraining hurt and anger.

If this is how we conceive of forgiveness, then forgiveness becomes a synonym for being fake. Forgiveness becomes a form of self-imposed silencing rather than other-minded expression of grace. With this bad definition of forgiveness, we resist godly self-control in the name of resisting hypocritical forgiveness.

“There are a couple of principles that can help you deal with unresolved anger. Don’t allow your anger to control you. If we are out of control verbally or physically, we are in sin. And the truth is that no real work gets done in that atmosphere… Additionally, it is important to understand that processing and venting are two different things (p. 152).” Gary & Mona Shriver in Unfaithful

Forgiveness is what allows us to express hurt as hurt rather than hurt as anger. Even after forgiveness the hurt still hurts. It is just that after forgiveness the penalty for that hurt which anger tries to generate has already been relinquished by the forgiver. When you forgive you are not making a commitment not to hurt. You are making a commitment about what you will do with hurt when it flares.

2. Forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook.

Forgiveness is the complete opposite of saying, “That’s okay.” If the action being forgiven were “okay” then no forgiveness would be needed. Forgiveness is not the same as saying, “This is finished. Nothing more needs to be said about this.” Forgiveness is the start of restoration not the culmination. When God forgives us He does not assume we are a “finished product.” God remains active in our life to remove the sin He forgave. Similarly, when you forgive your spouse that is the beginning of restoring the marriage to what God intended it to be and which may involve continued dealing with fall out of his/her sin.

“Forgiveness is an important part of recovering from adultery, but forgiveness isn’t God’s way of ‘dropping the subject’ (p. 18).” Winston Smith in Help! My Spouse Committed Adultery

3. Forgiveness is not an excuse.

Forgiveness does not reclassify the offense from a sin to a mistake. Mistakes are excused. Sins are forgiven. Sometimes we resist forgiving because we do not want to ratify this perceived downgrade in the significance of the offense. Forgiveness is not a downgrade. Forgiveness inherently classifies an offense at the top level of wrongness.

On the opposite side of making an excuse for your spouse’s sin, is over personalizing his/her sin. While your spouse’s sin was absolutely against you, it may or may not have been about you. As you seek to express forgiveness by not dwelling on your spouse’s sin, you may have to battle against validating each way your imagination can conceive that your spouse’s sin was “meant” to harm or insult you.

4. Forgiveness is not forgetting or some kind of sentimental amnesia.

Forgiveness is not the culmination of a journey but the commitment to complete a journey. Forgiving does not require a rush of warm emotions towards your spouse that are consistently stronger than the emotions of hurt you feel towards his/her sin. This conception would make forgiveness a state of being to achieve rather than a promise being given.

A naïve-amnesia view of forgiveness implies that your spouse’s struggle with lust is over and that any future offense can/should be responded to without reference to past/forgiven sexual sin. Forgiveness does mean that you will allow unclear facts to be examined before making accusations and that progress would be considered in determining how to respond to a relapse. The social network each of you have built while working through False Love and True Betrayal, should allow for these assessments to be made in a wise, healthy manner.

So what does forgiveness mean you are committing to do with your memories, fears, and imagination? Forgiveness does not add anything new to how you respond to your memories, fears, and imagination that wisdom did not already advise before you forgave. The patient honesty that was outlined in Step 2-6 is the kind of response you should give. Forgiveness is not a commitment to become non-emotional ; but honoringly emotional.

5. Forgiveness is not trust or reconciliation.

The next section will talk about the process of restoring trust. But, for the moment, know that forgiving and trusting or forgiving and saying things are “back to normal,” are not the same thing. If you feel like you have to be “there yet” in order to forgive, then this belief will impair both your ability to forgive and progress towards restoring the marriage.

Read Ephesians 4:31-32. This passage describes where you should be at this stage in the process. There should be a commitment to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander (v. 31).” Forgiveness is when you make this commitment, not the declaration of its completion. After reading this section on forgiveness in light of the journey you have been on, how do you understand the phrase “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (v. 32)” differently? What is different in how you view your forgiveness from God? What is different about what you believe God is asking of you towards others?

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Adultery” or “Favorite Posts on Pornography” post which address other facets of this subject.

Council of Counselors: Too Tired for Sex / Body-Soul Care / Life Expectancy / Unfair Parenting / Distracted Prayer

This is a weekly post that highlights resources from other counselors that I have found helpful. The counselors may be from the biblical counseling, Christian psychology, integration, or secular counseling traditions. By linking to a post, I am not giving it my full endorsement, I am merely indicating that I believe it made a unique contribution or raised an important subject for consideration.

When You’re Too Tired for Sex with Your Spouse by Lauren Lambert

Sex can be complicated to discuss because it’s personal and intimate. But I want to talk about a specific sexual struggle: the exhausted married woman who doesn’t feel like having sex with her husband, but should do it anyway. She doesn’t have complicating factors like marital abuse happening in her life. She doesn’t have sexual traumas making sex difficult for her. She’s just tired.

Considering Body and Soul in Counseling: Psychotropic Medications by Sam Williams

Psychotropic medications are a sensitive topic; most people you talk to will have fairly strong opinions about whether or not they should be used in treating a host of life’s problems. In thinking about this, though, it’s helpful to take a step back and consider who we are as human persons. In doing so, this helps us understand where life issues fall on the spectrum between spiritual problems and physical problems. Once we understand where a particular issue falls on that spectrum, we can better assess the place that psychotropic medication may have for a given counselee.

Life Expectancy Can Vary By 20 Years Depending On Where You Live by Rob Stein

New research documents significant disparities in the life spans of Americans depending on where they live. And those gaps appear to be widening, according to the research.

7 Ways Parents Unfairly Provoke Our Children by Tim Challies

Parents, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This single sentence combines the New Testament’s two most prominent passages on parenting and, as I said yesterday (see Fathers (and Mothers), Do Not Provoke Your Children!), offers a significant warning to parents: We can parent our children in such a way that we provoke them to anger and discouragement. There are times when we so provoke our children that anger is the fitting and inevitable response. Today I want to offer a few ways that we, as parents, may provoke our children to that kind of anger and discouragement.

7 Ways to Fight Distraction in Prayer by Gavin Ortlund

Distraction can be a huge hindrance in our prayer life, but I’m also discovering it provides an opportunity for growth. Here are seven strategies for fighting and harnessing distraction to deepen and direct our prayers.

What I’m Reading

what you loveYou Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith. Who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. And while we desire to shape culture, we are not often aware of how culture shapes us. We might not realize the ways our hearts are being taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. Smith helps readers recognize the formative power of culture and the transformative possibilities of Christian practices. He explains that worship is the “imagination station” that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom. This is why the church and worshiping in a local community of believers should be the hub and heart of Christian formation and discipleship.

Following the publication of his influential work Desiring the Kingdom, Smith received numerous requests from pastors and leaders for a more accessible version of that book’s content. No mere abridgment, this new book draws on years of Smith’s popular presentations on the ideas in Desiring the Kingdom to offer a fresh, bottom-up rearticulation. The author creatively uses film, literature, and music illustrations to engage readers and includes new material on marriage, family, youth ministry, and faith and work. He also suggests individual and communal practices for shaping the Christian life.

Tweets of the Week


Meaningful Meme


On the Lighter Side

Because, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” Proverbs 17:22.

For the NBA fans out there.


Follow Up Resources for a Sermon from Hosea

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “what now” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon “Hosea,” preached at The Summit Church Saturday-Sunday May 6-7, 2017. This post is written as a letter to an individual in the throes of adultery; someone in the role of Gomer. Even if you are in the Hosea role, hopefully this post can offer you a new way to pray for your wayward spouse and resources to aid you in this painful season of waiting.



I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter. I can only imagine that it is hard for you to believe that anyone can understand what you’re going through. You are making some of the hardest decisions of your life in the name of love and, no matter what you do, people you love are going to be hurt deeply. That would leave most people feeling both trapped and highly defensive.

To make matters worse, those who knew you and your spouse as mutual friends or have a Christian background overwhelmingly take the position that you should end your affair and pursue your marriage. They make it sound “easy” and “obvious;” which only supports your belief that no one understands.

Furthermore, it leaves you feeling very alone and as if your adultery partner is the only one who can sympathetically understand. Who do you talk to in order to get unbiased advice? Is there unbiased advice? After all, you’re going to choose one path and radically alter the lives of many people you love dearly. That’s likely why you’ve tried to live in two worlds until now.

Let’s start with this reality: you are going to choose. You are going to choose to pursue a life with your spouse (and children, if you have them) or your adultery partner (with your children passing between homes in a blended family, if you have them). Unless you delay until your spouse and/or adultery partner abandons you, you will make a choice between these two options.

More than mere choosing, you are going to choose not knowing the outcome. You do not know if your current marriage will get better (supposing you had grievances about how it was before). You do not know if your spouse will be able to forgive you or will be willing to work on restoring the marriage (regardless of what your spouse says in the time after your disclosure or their discovery of the affair).

But, your potential future with your adultery partner is equally uncertain, although it likely doesn’t feel that way now. To this point the affair has been a fantasy. In reality, you know less about what this relationship will be like than you knew about what your current marriage would be like when you were dating and engaged. An affair is a relationship built on deceit and artificially fueled by the passion-allegiance of a shared secret and not having to bear the weight of day-to-day life. The story line of “forbidden love” evaporates as soon as there are “shared responsibilities” and no “them” to keep “us” apart.

This begins to get at why you haven’t already chosen. If you are like most people in your situation, you are looking for the route by which no one gets hurt, or those who get hurt, hurt the least. This is another fantasy. Sex forms a bond (I Cor. 6:16). When you sever either relationship, there will be pain. One or both relationships will die and your choices will be the largest deciding factor in which one. This is not meant to be a guilt-statement, but a reality-statement to sober you to the situation you have created.

Please keep reading. I recognize these words are painful. But if they are true, which I doubt you can deny, they merit your attention. This is not a choice you want to make by accident. It is too important to too many people you care about to allow that to happen. If you love anyone in this scenario besides yourself, you will quit stringing everyone along.

Chances are you’ve come to this point many times in your own internal dialogue since your affair began. The dead end has likely been, “But what do I do? There doesn’t seem to be any good options.” Then life goes on, so you continued living a double life.

In this letter, I want to offer you a path forward. I do not pretend it to be easy. But, be honest, neither path is going to be easy, so that shouldn’t be a criteria.

  1. Choose. The longer you delay, the more angst you create for everyone and the more pain that will result when a choice is finally made. You do not honor or care for anyone well by delaying. It is the epitome of selfishness to make people you allegedly care about to wait. The fact that you’ve allowed things to go this long should cause you to humbly question how wise and loving your intentions have been about this affair.
  2. To honor God, choose your marriage. Your spouse is not the primary person you’ve offended with your unfaithfulness. To make this decision as if your happiness and pleasure is the primary concern reveals a decision making process that will undermine either relationship. It is not hyper-spiritual to say that self-centeredness will destroy any relationship. It is common sense. I would encourage you to reflect intently on Luke 9:23-24 as you consider this decision and the overall direction of your life. If you are a Christian, this is the life you chose. It is a good life with a faithful God, if you will return to him and trust him with your life and marriage.
  3. Be honest. Often, in a crisis, we believe a “step in the right direction” is a monumental step of faith. We want full credit for partial honesty. This is why too many marriages die the death of a thousand confessions. It’s not the infidelity that kills them, but the pattern of incremental-partial honesty. Don’t say “yes” to “Have you told me everything?” unless the answer is actually “yes.” More damaging than your infidelity is your post-infidelity dishonesty. You might ask, “How much detail is needed to be honest?” That is a fair question and here is guidance on the subject.
  4. End the affair definitively. The longer you vacillate, the more pain and turmoil you will create for everyone. There is nothing pleasant about this step. Rarely does it provide the emotional affirmation that often comes with making a right choice. But it is essential to restoring any emotional or relational sanity to your life. “Closure” in an adulterous relationship is a fiction that inevitably leads to relapse.
  5. Don’t do this alone. Chances are, as your affair grew, you began to separate yourself from the people you previously considered to be trusted voices and examples of character. It is hard to be around people you respect when you are knowingly doing something dishonorable. Reconnect with these relationships. This will require a comparable level of honesty as you’ve given your spouse in point #3. But, unless you let these people in, then the only voice advocating for your walk with God, the restoration of your marriage, or providing you emotional support will be your hurt spouse.
  6. Have a process to guide you and your spouse in the recovery process. “What will we do after I open the Pandora’s Box of being honest about my affair?” Realize this box will be opened either voluntarily or involuntarily. This is the question that keep many people in your situation silent. The False Love (for you) and True Betrayal (for your spouse) materials are meant to be complementing studies to guide couples in situations like yours. They can be studied with a pastor, trusted mentor couple, or counselor (see point #5).
  7. Don’t confuse marital restoration with marital enrichment. This is the most common mistake after a marital crisis and will result in comparing dating-phase-affair with recovery-phase-marriage. Doing the things you should have been doing all along (dating, listening, flowers, sex, etc…) will not resolve infidelity. Marriage restoration is taking a relationship that is broken and making it functional. That is the focus of the False Love and True Betrayal seminars. Marriage enrichment is taking a marriage that is functional and making it excellent. That is the focus of the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series; which would be a quality series to study when you complete the False Love and True Betrayal materials.

These steps may seem daunting, and they are challenging. But I believe they represent what it means to honor God in your situation. As you’ve wrestled with the question of, “What do I do now?” I believe you will come to see that they do represent God’s best for you and your family; as such, they are for your good and not just your moral obligation.

As you come to the end of this letter, I would ask you to do two things. First, sincerely pray. Don’t just reflect in your mind and see what feels best, but have a conversation with God about what he would have you do. Ask God, “What would honor You most in my situation?” Second, call a friend. Quit waiting and talk with someone who has the best interest of you and your marriage at heart. Isolation will result in continued procrastination. Don’t leave yourself the option of waiting.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I pray you will follow its counsel and walk in integrity and faith. Yes, the road ahead is hard, but any alternative road without the blessing and favor of God is harder.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Adultery” or “Favorite Posts on Pornography” post which address other facets of this subject.

Pre-Marital Mentoring FAQs: What if we learn the couple is living together?

This post is one in a series of frequently asked questions by those who use the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series as part of their church’s pre-marital program. The responses are written as we use them at the Summit Church. Your church may need to tweak the responses in order to better fit your ministry context.

The principles from question #2 apply to this situation. Our church policy is that a Summit pastor will not perform the wedding for a couple who are living together before marriage. So if this issue arises and a Summit pastor is unaware, please let that pastor know.

However, we want this subject to start a conversation rather than end it, so we have created a video to address this common issue (www.bradhambrick.com/cohabitation). If your couple is living together and doesn’t understand or agree with Summit’s policy, there are two advisements we would make:

  1. Continue to meet with the couple. We want the opportunity to influence them with biblical, gospel-centered teaching as much as they will allow. You, as mentors, are one of the churches primary means of doing so.
  2. Encourage them to watch the video (script below) and consider acting on the recommendations made at the end.

Cohabitation: A Conversation Starter by Brad Hambrick from The Summit Institute on Vimeo.

Cohabitation: A Conversation Starter

When dating or engaged couples are preparing for marriage they often ask questions like this one:

My fiancé and I are getting married in a few months, but have been living together for a while. When we were doing our pre-marital counseling we were told living together before marriage was wrong and that we should live separately until we’re married. We want to honor God, but don’t understand why this is a big deal if we love each other and will be married in a few months anyway. We’re not trying to be rebellious, but we want to understand why a change like this would be necessary.

That’s a good, honest question. Let me start by saying if you’re thinking about marriage, that’s a good thing. Marriage can be one of God’s greatest earthly blessings. Our goal at The Summit Church is to help you lay the best possible foundation for a lasting and satisfying marriage.

But both statistics and the Bible indicate that living together before marriage decreases the quality and longevity of marriage. We don’t think we would be a good friend to you, your relationship, or future marriage if we didn’t raise this concern for you to consider.

Secular studies (meaning those without a “Christian bias”) consistently show several things.

  • The divorce rate is higher among couples who live together before they marry. Consider these statistics…
    • … about 50% of all marriages end in divorce.
    • … but 67% of couples who cohabit before marriage divorce.
    • … while only 30-40% of first marriages who don’t cohabit before marriage end in divorce.
    • That means living together before marriage makes divorce twice as likely for a first marriage.
  • Even the health and financial benefits commonly associated with marriage are less for couples who cohabit before marriage.
  • And the sex life of couples who cohabit before marriage is not as strong as those who don’t.
  • Actually, the only “benefit” from cohabiting found in secular studies is that live-in boyfriends do more housework, on average, than married men.

I’ll let you make sense of the last point and make that a point of emphasis at our next men’s event.

There are many sociological reasons for these statistics, that could be discussed but that would come across as “piling on.” We do believe these statistics point to a deeper spiritual reality – God created marriage and assigned living together and sex as special privileges that come with marriage. From the very beginning of creation God gave the pattern for marriage:

When doing the first marriage ceremony in Genesis 2:24 God says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

In John 4:18 when Jesus was having one of His more famous conversations with the woman at the well one of the things He pointed out to call her to repentance is that the man she was living with was not her husband.

Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”

The Bible is clear that God made marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life. God created marriage and it is when we follow His pattern that we experience the blessing God intended marriage to be.

If the idea of marriage-as-covenant is new or confusing to you, I would recommend the video at bradhambrick.com/covenant. This video will help you see the significance of the marriage ceremony as a covenant making ceremony.

There are many reasons why couples believe it is necessary or “more practical” to live together before marriage:

  • Financial benefit of one rent or mortgage payment
  • “Try out” marriage to make sure you’re compatible
  • Thinking it would damage your relationship to split up before marriage

But if these perceived benefits were actually helpful, then the statistics would not be what they are. My goal here isn’t to debate you through a computer screen. We’re not trying to “win an argument.” Instead, we (as a church) want to come alongside you and help you honor God in your marital preparation.

Here is what we would ask you to consider doing next:

  • Commit to honor God and give your marriage the best opportunity to flourish by choosing to live separately and abstain from sex until you are married.
  • If you think this is not possible for financial reasons, let your small group leader or a Summit pastor know so we can help you with living arrangements. You don’t have to follow God alone. You have a church family to help you in this journey.
  • Continue or begin in our church’s Preparing for Marriage ministry. Information about this program can be found at summitrdu.com/pfm. The more you learn about God’s design for marriage the more the principles of this conversation will make sense to you.

Last of all, I want to say “thank you” for taking these few minutes to consider how to put your marriage in the best position to succeed. That is a sign of humility and maturity which should be a blessing to your marriage for years to come. We want The Summit to be a safe place for the two of you to follow God together and experience the joy of life together as God designed.

Council of Counselors: Absent Father / Psychotropic Medications / Friend Magnet / Brainy Women / Grow Up

This is a weekly post that highlights resources from other counselors that I have found helpful. The counselors may be from the biblical counseling, Christian psychology, integration, or secular counseling traditions. By linking to a post, I am not giving it my full endorsement, I am merely indicating that I believe it made a unique contribution or raised an important subject for consideration.

Father to the Fatherless What to Believe When Dad Walks Away by Jonathan Edwards

A.W. Tozer says, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (The Knowledge of the Holy). What we think about our heavenly Father says a lot about who we are. But what if our thoughts about our Father are entangled with and stained by the abuse and abandonment of our earthly father? Anyone who has experienced the acute pain of dad walking out knows it can be all-consuming. I have, and I know. Dad driving away shattered the one thing I believed to be indestructible, superhuman even: my family. But family turned out to be more fluid than I once thought . . . and hoped.

  • If you enjoyed this post, consider Jonathan’s book Left highlighted in the “What I’m Reading” section below.

How Many Pills Are Too Many? by  

The point of prescription drugs is to help us get or feel well. Yet so many Americans take multiple medications that doctors are being encouraged to pause before prescribing and think about “deprescribing” as well.

How to be a Friend Magnet by Christine Hoover

So, for my darling friends who are worried about having too many BFFs to handle, this is what I would say: honor all and be deep friends with some. Be friendly and hospitable to all and give intimate attention to a few. Welcome all. Keep an eye out for all. Love all. You don’t have to be close friends with everyone, but you can certainly use your God-given influence to bless others and connect women with one another. Be a friend magnet and you’ll attract joy too.

How Brainy Women Benefit the Church by Hannah Anderson

Although I didn’t realize it then, our collective understanding of intelligence—and my perception of my own intelligence—had been taking shape for several years. A recent study by Lin Bian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, reveals that children as young as six are already forming views about the nature of intelligence, including associating it with masculinity. Standing in that hallway was the first time I remember questioning whether being a “smart” girl was a benefit or a social liability.

  • For excellent resources on women’s ministry I have greatly appreciated the writings of Sharon Hodde Miller.

Growing Up: Six Basic Steps toward Maturity by David Gundersen

How can young people move toward maturity? How can adolescents grow into young adults? How can college students move through the college years with increasing integrity, character, maturity, skill, and productivity? Here are six basic steps to help the saplings of the next generation add rings as they reach for the light.

What I’m Reading

leftLeft: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves by Jonathan Edwards. Nothing hurts like the abandonment of a parent. In Left, Jonathan Edwards writes a raw and riveting reflection on his life as an abandoned child. What should you do when you are left by a parent?

This book is brutally honest, but it provides hope for anyone struggling with the absence of a parent. For those who do not know this pain, Left provides a window into the lives of others. Abandonment always leaves scars, but Jesus heals. And He will never leave you.

Tweets of the Week

Meaningful Meme


On the Lighter Side

Because, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” Proverbs 17:22.


Has Your Marriage Been Impacted by Pornography or Adultery? Help for Both Spouses: Video Tandem 9 of 9

When sexual sin impacts a marriage there is often a great deal of confusion exacerbated by shame. A couple is not sure what to do and is embarrassed to ask for help. The result is often either passivity (pretending everything is okay or that things will get better without help) or reactivity (taking a bold action with little sense of purpose or intent to follow through). The False Love and True Betrayal series are meant to provide couples with guidance for these difficult times.

These two, complementing seminars are each comprised of 9 steps and are meant to supplement a mentoring or counseling relationship. The presentation material is longer for the earlier steps than it is for the latter steps for two reasons. First, the early steps are the time of greatest confusion and, therefore, require more guidance. Second, once a solid foundation is laid for restoration the latter steps become more self-evident.

These materials are meant to guide a couple through the marital restoration phase — taking a marriage that is broken or in crisis and getting back to basic working order.

The Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series is meant to guide a couple through the marital enrichment phase — taking a marriage that is in basic working order and refining it to be increasingly, mutually satisfying. Often it is a misunderstanding between restoration and enrichment that derails a couples sincere efforts at marital reconciliation after the discovery of sexual sin.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

True Betrayal – Step Nine

True Betrayal: Step 9 from Equip on Vimeo.

False Love – Step Nine

False Love: Step 9 from Equip on Vimeo.

Blog Post: 9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for God’s Glory

Council of Counselors: Parentings Teens / Post-Abortion / Cultural Humility / Signs of a Faithful Husband / Anger

This is a weekly post that highlights resources from other counselors that I have found helpful. The counselors may be from the biblical counseling, Christian psychology, integration, or secular counseling traditions. By linking to a post, I am not giving it my full endorsement, I am merely indicating that I believe it made a unique contribution or raised an important subject for consideration.

A High School Counselor’s Tips on Parenting Teenagers by Leia Joseph

I have had the privilege of spending the last 13 years working as a music teacher and crisis counselor for teens. The following six tips represent a handful of lessons I have learned along the way. If you are the parent of a teenager or pre-teen, I pray that you find this helpful.

Post-Abortion Counseling by Julie Ganschow

It is estimated that 43 percent of women under the age of forty-five have had an abortion. One in six women in the evangelical Christian church is post-abortive.1 We live in a culture that idolizes personal choice and convenience, and as a result, more women than we are aware of are dealing with the aftereffects of abortion. Because of this, we have to know how to minister to this group of people in our churches. Below, we’ll take a look at three key ways we can minister to them well.

The Need for Cultural Humility by Dave

I had an interesting conversation with a couple at church a few Sundays ago. They both were born in Africa, but have lived in the US for a number of years. In discussing children, they told me that they were concerned about raising their daughter in America because of the dangers here. Without a second thought, I knew exactly what they were talking about. As Americans we have become accustomed to comfort, such that we think we deserve it. We have grown cold to the suffering of those in the majority world, and we are greatly tempted to live only for ourselves.

  • If you want to learn more about cultural intelligence, see the “What I’m Reading” section below.

8 Signs of a Man Who Will Never Stop Loving You by Matt Duczeminski

We men sometimes get a bad rap. The stereotypical “man” doesn’t do any of the following. However, the only men who are actually like this are created by writers as sitcom fodder (hopefully). In truth, when a man finds the person he knows he’ll be spending the rest of his life with, he’ll certainly work his hardest to keep them by his side at all times. If you have a man that adheres to the following, you know he’s a keeper for life.

When Anger Rears Its Ugly Head by Duski Van Vleet

I’ve been trying to get control of my temper since my husband and I were married.  A day planned and interrupted by children with different agendas; a husband who needs my support instead of first offering his, longings unrealized; efforts unseen—all of this often leads me not to a dependent conversation with my Father, but to self-reliant angry outbursts demanding my desires be fulfilled.  

What I’m Reading

CICustoms of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are by David Livermore. Taught by an international adviser to leaders of Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and governments, this eye-opening course reveals how you can actively improve your cultural intelligence in an increasingly globalized world.

Based on groundbreaking research, these 24 lectures address dynamics and customs related to working, socializing, dining, marriage and family – all the areas necessary to help you function with a greater level of respect and effectiveness wherever you go. You’ll also encounter practical tips and crucial context for greeting, interacting with, and even managing people from other parts of the world.

In the first half, you’ll analyze 10 cultural value dimensions that researchers have identified as helpful for comparing cultures; and you’ll see how these “archetypes” play out in day-to-day lives. In the second half, you’ll look at 10 cultural clusters around the world that – when combined with your understanding of the 10 cultural dimensions – provide strategic insight into how to be more effective as you live, work, and travel in our globalized world.

Tweets of the Week

Meaningful Meme


On the Lighter Side

Because, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” Proverbs 17:22.

As both a professor and a student I resonate with this one.