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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin

Crosswalk.com blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

Lord Jesus, I’m desperate.

Desperate for strength. Desperate for renewal. Desperate for fresh breath. Desperate for change.

I am worn and weary. My strength fails me. My heart, my body…they fail me.

I need YOU.

I need a fresh dose of your power, of your Spirit. I need a fresh filling of your strength, of your energy. I need to be renewed so I can mount up with wings like eagles, so I can run and not faint.

My heart is heavy and burdened. This life is hard, so very hard. The burdens this journey throws at me—loss, grief, death, illness—it’s more than I can handle. I try every day to cast my cares on you because I know you care for me, but it’s hard. The grief is with me every day, even as I seek to rest in you. The pain of watching those I love suffer from the demons haunting them is often more than I can bear. The struggle to overcome bitterness and grief can be all-consuming.

I know your yoke is easy and your burden is light. I know you promise your perfect peace as I seek to put all my trust in you. I know you promise to make all things beautiful in your time. But as I wait, it’s hard. It’s hard to trust and believe. It’s hard to constantly turn my thoughts to you and think on things that are lovely and noble and true and right. It’s hard not to let this world get the best of me.

But I ask. I ask you to help me, to help me focus my thoughts and my hearts. I ask you to help me rest in you. I ask us to help me trust you to keep all of your promises because you are good. I ask you to take my circumstances and make them good and beautiful in spite of where I am today.

I ask you to help my unbelief.

I find myself crying out to you day and night. You calm my soul even as I turn my heart to you. May I long for you as the deer longs for streams of water. May I thirst for you even as the tears flood my face (Psalm 42:1-3).

I know you are my refuge and strength and that you always stand ready to help in times just like this. I will choose not to fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble. Let the oceans roar and foam and the mountains tremble as the waters surge! (Psalm 46:1-3) And as the world chaotically moves around me, I will rest in you. I will choose to be still and know that you are God (Psalm 46:10).

Father, I am empty. But you are my rescuer, my cup-filler. You are the joy of my heart, my only hope. I come to you asking for more—more of your power, more of your strength, more of your renewal.

More of You.

You are the only one who can take my life and make it what you want it to be—what I want it to be. I surrender my heart, my soul, my will—my all.

I am yours.

Take me. Take my heartaches and pains. Take my grief and my exhaustion. Take it and renew me.

And I will forever stand and worship you.

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It takes two…

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase as it applies to many different things in this life. I spent the majority of my life believing that divorce took two, that if a divorce occurred it was because both people were responsible for the failure.

I now know just how wrong that belief is.

Divorce is not always the result of two people failing to be fully committed. Many times, it is about one person who chooses to become hardened by sin, about one person who chooses to turn his/her back on the covenant, about one person who chooses to walk away from God and his/her spouse.

The myth that it takes two to destroy a marriage is one that has been perpetuated for years. And it’s a myth that needs to be forever put to rest.

After walking through my own divorce, I’ve realized I once believed many lies about divorce. Maybe you have heard or believed them yourself. Here’s some of the most common myths and the truths that contradict them.

Myth: It takes two people to end a marriage.

Truth: It only takes one person with a hardened heart set on following his or her own selfish desires rather than submitting to God to destroy a marriage.

If only he had met her emotional needs. If only she had been more supportive. If only he had been a better provider. If only she had been more attentive to his needs. If only he had done a better job showing her love. If only he had been more romantic. If only…

The truth is you can have the most loving, faithful, supportive spouse and still choose to follow your own selfish desires.  The truth is it only takes one person to walk away from God, away from a marriage, away from a covenant. It only takes one spouse to decide the marriage isn’t worth fighting for. It only takes one person who is discontent and focused on what he/she doesn’t have instead of the beautiful gifts God has provided. It only takes one…

Myth: An unfaithful spouse only wanders because his/her needs aren’t being met at home.

Truth: The faithful spouse is never responsible for the sins of the unfaithful spouse.

We would never think to blame a spouse for other sins. If a man rapes a woman, we would never blame his wife for his sins. We wouldn’t blame a husband if his wife was arrested for DUI. But adultery? We blame the faithful spouse! She must not have been meeting his sexual needs. He must have been absorbed in his work. Why are spouses blamed, told that if they had been meeting their spouse’s need, they wouldn’t have strayed?

Maybe it’s not adultery. Maybe it is abuse or pornography or addiction. Why would we assume that the victimized spouse is somehow responsible for the sins of the spouse lost in sin? A faithful spouse is never responsible for the sins of a spouse who strays.

Myth: Prayerfully seeking a spouse guarantees you will never be divorced.

Truth: All humans have a propensity for sin and have the ability to wander if they choose not to faithfully follow God.

I lived this one, too. I guarantee I prayed and sought God’s wisdom before I ever said, “I do.” I assumed that marrying the one God called me to ensured I would never be divorced. Unfortunately, humans are prone to wander, to stray from God’s best.

The only guarantee in marriage is trouble will come. The question becomes one of commitment. Will both individuals choose complete surrender to God and His ways? Will both spouses choose to remain fully committed to the marriage? If the answer is no, your marriage is in jeopardy.  

Myth: Because God hates divorce, you must remain in your marriage regardless of the situation.

Truth: God loves people more than He loves the institution of marriage.

I have no doubt God hates divorce. He hates divorce because He looks down with a Daddy’s heart of love for His children, and His heart breaks over the pain and devastation divorce brings about. He doesn’t hate divorce because it is some great sin. How do I know?

Look at the context of Malachi 2:16 which is often translated, “I hate divorce,” says the Lord… The entire context is about the unfaithful husband who hurts his wife with his unloving actions! It’s about the spouse who fails to hold up his end of the covenant. It’s about the spouse who repeatedly heaps pain and abuse on his wife.

I don’t know where we misconstrued God’s heart, His word, and decided that the institution of marriage was of greater importance than God’s dearly loved children. God’s heart is—and always has been—about loving those who are hurting, about helping the downtrodden. I promise walking through divorce makes you feel like “one of the least of these.”

Myth: All divorces are sinful.

Truth: All divorces are caused by sin, but the act of legally ending a marriage is not always sinful.

I do not believe that when I walked into the courthouse and filed to legally end my marriage I committed a sin of any type. All I did was acknowledge the covenant was legally over. My husband ended our marriage with unrepentant adultery, on-going pornography, and his verbal abuse.

Sin was definitely involved in my marriage, but I did not sin in the legal ending of my marriage. I simply acknowledged the sin my husband had committed, causing our marriage to be irreparably damaged.

Myth: If it’s truly an abusive marriage, the abused spouse should have no problem walking away.

Truth: The abused spouse has been so damaged by the emotional and mental abuse, he/she usually believes he/she deserves the treatment.

I’ve heard people say abused spouses just need to choose to walk away from the abuse. These people have obviously never lived in an abusive situation. Abused spouses are usually just surviving. They may not see the abuse for what it is. They have been so beat down and conditioned to believe it’s all their fault. They truly believe if they could just get their act together, the marriage would be saved.

Abuse victims are trapped in a world of self-doubt and self-blame. They have no confidence to walk away. They are told repeatedly they deserve what they get—and no better. Abuse is a prison, and it’s not easy to escape.

Myth: Forgiveness necessitates reconciliation.

Truth: Forgiveness is always necessary, but reconciliation is not.

Forgiveness is a command from God. Everyone who has walked through the pain of an unwanted divorce must somehow reach a place of forgiveness, of letting go of the bitterness that so easily consumes. Forgiveness is letting go of the pain caused by someone else and choosing to release the person from any claim to compensation for the hurt.

But nowhere in scripture are we taught that forgiveness requires reconciliation. Sometimes reconciliation happens, but sometimes it does not. I chose to set very firm boundaries to protect myself from any ongoing verbal and emotional abuse. I chose to only communicate in writing so I didn’t have to worry about enduring another unwarranted verbal barrage. I chose to forgive, but I also chose not to reconcile.

Myth: God will not use a divorced person.

Truth: Divorce does not make a person any less qualified for ministry.

As one who was called to ministry at a young age, I found myself questioning who I was when I went through my divorce. I was taught that divorced people were not qualified for the ministry. That left me in a difficult situation, knowing I was called, knowing my divorce was not because of my own sins, and believing I was no longer qualified to be a minister of the gospel. It was a process to reconcile God’s call on my life with my unwanted divorce.

I don’t see anywhere in scripture where divorce disqualified anyone from being used by God. King David was an adulterer and a murderer, and yet he was used mightily. Paul (once known as Saul) lived a life of outright rebellion against God, and yet he wrote much of the New Testament. Peter denied knowing Christ and yet he is known as the father of the Church. If God’s chosen vessels could live such heinous lives and yet still be the vessels he used to spread the Gospel, how can we assume that a divorce—especially for a faithful spouse who had unwanted divorce thrust upon him/her—would disqualify one from ministry?

I find it quite ironic that through divorce, God has opened more doors for me to minister. I have the blessing of reaching an audience far wider and greater because of my divorce than I ever would have as a pastor’s wife in Oklahoma. I find it interesting that the very thing some would say disqualified me from ministry is the very thing God has used to qualify me to be used for His kingdom.

Divorce is a immensely painful event that cuts to the bone, piercing the soul like no other pain. But divorce is not an unforgivable sin. It is not the end of life. It is not the end of your usefulness to God.

For me, it was the beginning. The beginning of a beautiful new relationship with Christ. The beginning of understanding the depths of His love toward me. The beginning of an intimacy with Him I had never known before. While I would never choose to walk through the pain of adultery and divorce again, I am so thankful for who it has helped me become, for the story of redemption God has given me. Divorce is not a scarlet letter “D” stamped across my forehead; it is a scar that is a testimony to the healing power of God.

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Halfpoint

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my then husband about the woman he was having an affair with.

“It’s just exhilarating that someone like that would be interested in me,” he said.

Adultery hits at the core of your being. Every ounce of self-confidence and self-respect you carry is destroyed. You look in the mirror day after day, criticizing every aspect of your appearance. You question everything about yourself, doubting even your greatest strengths. You begin to see yourself as worthless, unlovable.

You ask the question: “Why was I not enough to keep my spouse satisfied?”

And here’s the answer: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

Your spouse’s adultery is not about you. It is not about your weaknesses. It is not about your appearance. It is not about your failures or even your successes. It is not about what you are doing or not doing. The truth is your spouse’s decision to have an affair has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.

I encourage you to evaluate your marriage and see what you contributed to the demise of your covenant. Maybe you nagged. Maybe you were too busy with the kids or your career. Maybe you contributed to financial problems. Maybe, like me, you enabled your spouse to live in a selfish manner by not confronting their sinful behaviors.

But no matter what your contribution was, the affair IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple of American icons. Tiger Woods was married to an absolutely, drop-dead gorgeous woman, and yet he strayed. It’s not about your appearance. Arnold Schwarzenegger had been married to his beautiful and successful wife, Maria Shriver, for over 25 years when it became public that he had fathered a child with his employee. It’s not about your abilities.

But, adultery is not limited to Hollywood and sports icons. The news is full of pastors who have fallen from grace by engaging in adulterous relationships, leaving their loving and supportive spouses to pick up the pieces. Christian recording artists are caught, leaving their careers a pile of rubble. Our churches are full of amazing spouses who are left devastated by the affairs of their Christian spouses.

Even in the Bible we see adultery, forbidden relationships that developed in spite of faithful, loving spouses. I wrote a post some time ago about a biblical love triangle. In it, I focused on David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. Despite Uriah being a faithful, responsible man, a man of integrity and courage, his wife chose to participate in an adulterous relationship with King David. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH URIAH.

Hear me out: If your spouse has chosen to have an affair, it has nothing to do with you! It is not a reflection on who you are. It is not a reflection on your successes or failures. It is not a reflection on what type of spouse you have been. It is not a reflection on your inner or outer beauty.

It is a reflection on who your spouse is, the condition of his/her heart.

And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.  For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.  All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:20-23

Adultery is about a hardened heart, a heart that is harboring evil, immoral thoughts deep within. Adultery is about a person who has refused to let God and his word penetrate the deep recesses of the heart, allowing him to have free reign and transform from the inside out. Adultery is about the deceit and evil of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Adultery is about failing to allow God to replace the heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

While there are many contributing factors to an affair, I have found some themes that seem to be very common among the stories I hear each and every day.

Pornography. I was visiting with a pastor one day, telling him my story. He looked me in the face and said, “Your ex-husband has a pornography problem.” Sure, I knew there had been some small issues with pornography, but I didn’t know just how big of a problem it actually was. And, I had been reassured it was no big deal, it was just something all men do.

The pastor went on to suggest I read “Every Young Man’s Battle” with my boys and help break the cycle. Although I was uncertain, I decided to at least peruse the book. The reality of my life began to unfold through the pages of that book. I suddenly came face-to-face with the reality that pornography was a much bigger problem than I ever realized. My ex-husband’s mind was so warped by pornography that women had become nothing more than objects used to gratify his selfish desires. I was nothing more than an object to gratify his selfish desires.

Pornography is devastating. It rewires the brain, changes the way men look at women. It destroys a woman’s value. And, once it is in the mind, those images are burned there for eternity. It takes a lot of time, energy, and counseling to overcome the hold that pornographic images have on a man. (Women may also succumb, but it is a different type of pull).

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman. Job 31:1

Discontent. One of the last sermons my ex-husband preached before I learned of his affair was on temptation from the book of James. He made the statement that temptation happens when Satan gets us to doubt the good gifts God has placed in our lives. That statement has stuck in my head for years, because that was the exact method of operation used on my husband. You see, my husband was surrounded by a loving wife, three amazing kids, and a great church. And yet, rather than focusing on all he had, he was focused on what he perceived he didn’t have. His church wasn’t big enough. Finances were tough. Rather than recognizing all of the good gifts in his life, he felt as if God was withholding better things from him. He began to doubt the good gifts in his life.

Discontent happens when we focus on those things we don’t have. Discontent happens when we fail to see the blessings God has given us. Philippians 4 tells us to think on those things that are lovely, noble, true, right, excellent and praiseworthy so God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Paul then continues with:

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. Philippians 4:12

Contentment changes the way we view life. Contentment changes the way we view circumstances. Contentment changes the way we view our spouse and our marriage. Contentment keeps our eyes from wandering to those things that would seek to ultimately destroy us.

Selfishness. I have yet to hear a story of adultery in which the offending party was always looking out for the good of his/her spouse. Instead, I hear repeatedly how the offending spouse was concerned only about his/her needs and desires. I hear about the one-sided nature of the relationship, how in retrospect it was all about one person.

Selfishness is a work of the flesh, in direct opposition to the fruit of the spirit. A selfish spouse often seeks to fulfill his/her own wants and desires instead of seeking to be a blessing to the faithful spouse.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other… When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures Galatians 5:16-19 (selected portions)

Could it be any more clear?

Addiction. I had an addiction counselor define addiction as self on the throne, as an attempt to fill a God-shaped void with something other than God. It is an attempt to mask a deep pain, perhaps a deep wound that occurred in childhood. Of course, we all think of drugs and alcohol when we think of addiction. The truth is, however, we can attempt to fill that void with anything. Have you ever known someone who was addicted to shopping? Or books? Or anything else? Have you ever known someone who couldn’t understand the concept of moderation, that everything was done to an extreme?

As I look back, I see the seeds of addiction in my ex-husband. It wasn’t drugs or alcohol. But, he used socially acceptable items to try to mask his pain. We had more books than a Christian book store. We had more movies than a Blockbuster video. We had more music than iTunes. I now realize each obsession was about masking a pain was deep inside of him, perhaps wounds inflicted during his childhood.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you. Isaiah 26:3

Our only addiction should be to God, his word. If we fix our thoughts on him, we will be at peace.

If you have been the victim of adultery, please hear me when I say IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. You are precious, greatly loved, chosen. You are the apple of his eye, his treasured possession. You are child of the King, heir to all the treasures of heaven. Your spouse’s actions are about him/her. They are not a reflection on you.

Look in the mirror and love the image looking back at you. Hold your head high knowing you are approved. Remind yourself daily that your spouse’s actions are simply not a reflection on who you are. It is not about you.

 

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