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Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Dating Relationship
October 12, 2016

I expect we have all seen dating relationships go wrong. We have all seen people move from unwise and unhealthy dating relationships into turbulent, difficult, or even doomed marriages. How can we help people avoid this? What are some danger signs of an unhealthy dating relationship? Lou Priolo’s books have often been helpful to me and this has proven the case once more with a little booklet he’s written on this very subject. He offers a long list of danger signs, but I want to focus on just 6 of them, on the ones I’ve seen most often.

Persistent doubts about the relationship. The first warning sign is the existence of persistent doubts about the relationship. There are many reasons people may experience such doubts. Some of these may be legitimate and some may ridiculous, and the difficulty comes in knowing which is which. Priolo warns, “The Bible teaches that, as a follower of Jesus Christ, you should not move forward until you are confident that what you are about to do is not sin” (see Romans 14:5, 23). We can draw from the Bible a “holding principle” that warns us not to act until we are confident that it will not be sinful to proceed. “If you can’t proceed in doing what you would like to do without having the faith (the scripturally based assurance) that you can do it to the glory of God, it’s best to wait until your conscience has been informed by the Word of God.” If you are having serious, nagging doubts about the wisdom of proceeding toward marriage, make time and effort to resolve those doubts biblically.

Subjects that are off-limits. Another warning sign of an unhealthy dating relationship is the existence of subjects that are off-limits. Are there certain subjects that your boyfriend or girlfriend refuses to discuss? Are there subjects you avoid bringing up out of fear of anger or hurt feelings? There are at least two warning signs wrapped up in such a situation: “These kinds of thought patterns may indicate an inability to biblically resolve conflicts on the part of your partner or an inordinate desire for approval on your part.” It could also be fear—fear of the other person’s emotional or even physical response. Either way, a marriage cannot thrive where a couple has subjects that remain off-limits, where relational intimacy can exist only if certain subjects never come up. Learn to talk to your future spouse about anything and everything and be concerned if subjects remain off-bounds.

Increased physical intimacy. A very serious warning sign within a dating relationship is an increase in physical intimacy—intimacy that is appropriate only within marriage. Of course the cultural expectation is that a couple will quickly ramp up the physical component of their relationship until they are sure they are sexually compatible. Only then will they be convinced that they can have a healthy marriage. But the Bible offers many and repeated warnings about sexual intimacy outside of marriage (which includes, of course, sexual intimacy prior to marriage). In fact, 1 Thessalonians 4 goes so far as to call such sexual activity “defrauding” another person, exploiting them for your own pleasure. Be concerned if your boyfriend or girlfriend ramps up the intimacy or pressures you to ramp it up. Take this lack of self-control and lack of desire for sexual purity as a warning sign and seek out help and counsel from others.

Strong opposition from family and friends. It is wise to be concerned about your relationship if it is opposed by family and trusted friends—especially Christian family and friends. The Bible often teaches the importance of seeking out and heeding wisdom from others. Their wisdom is not inerrant, but it may still be valuable. They may see things you do not. They may have the wisdom and insight you lack. “In the multitude of godly counselors there is wisdom. … If the objections are biblical (if there are valid biblical reasons to consider waiting to get married or to reconsider getting married at all), then wait until the issues are resolved before you move ahead. Let the Scriptures be your guide in all matters of faith and practice.” Ask trusted counselors about your relationship and carefully consider their concerns.

Lack of spiritual harmony. The Bible forbids Christians from marrying non-Christians, so the most important spiritual harmony comes by ensuring your future spouse is a true believer. I have spoken to many brokenhearted husbands and wives who have realized too late that they married an unbeliever. Be convinced! Another kind of spiritual disharmony is when major doctrinal differences divide spouses—issues like disagreements on the roles of husbands and wives or on the way God guides his people, whether through Scripture or through other kinds of revelation. Discuss and decide what you believe about infant baptism and about church attendance and membership. There is nothing more important to a dating relationship than communication, so take time to talk about everything. Talk, listen, and pursue harmony.

Inability to resolve conflicts. Another serious warning sign is an inability to resolve conflict. We could go so far as to say that the two essential qualities for a spouse are a shared Christian faith and an ability to resolve conflict in God’s way through God’s Word. If these are in place, everything else can follow. “The difference between a good marriage and a bad marriage is not necessarily that in the former there is little to no conflict and in the latter there is much conflict. The difference is that in a good marriage the conflicts are resolved biblically, quickly, and with a minimum amount of sin.” You will have conflicts and must learn to resolve them in a healthy manner. You also need to understand that conflict is not necessarily bad and, in fact, is often necessary to resolve issues that inevitably arise between sinful human beings. But a healthy marriage depends on a couple learning to work out their issues in a constructive way.

These are just 6 warning signs. For more, and for a workbook approach to identifying and dealing with them, consider picking up Lou Priolo’s booklet Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Dating Relationship.

10 Reasons I'm Thankful To Be a Dad
October 10, 2016

It does me good to consider what I am thankful for, especially since today is Thanksgiving up here in Canada. There are so many things for which I owe gratitude to God, but near the top of the list, and on my mind today, is my children. I’m thankful to be a dad for these reasons and many more:


I am thankful to be a dad for the cuddles. My sixteen-year-old son doesn’t cuddle me anymore, but my girls still do, and I love them for it. I love to hold them close, I love to tell them they are loved, I love to let them know that they are safe, protected, provided for. I cuddle them gently to know that I treasure them. I gather them in my arms and carry them up to bed to let them know I’m strong. And they cuddle me to let me know I’m loved in return. I think I might need their cuddles just as much as they need mine.


I am thankful for the eyes of a daughter for her father. There is something about the way a girl looks at her daddy, something in her eyes that is pure and sweet and deep and maybe even fierce. Her eyes show love, trust…and is it admiration? It’s not like the love of friend to friend or husband to wife or father to son. It’s not better or worse, but different, unique. It’s a love any good daddy wants to treasure.


I am thankful to be a dad because my children push me to grow in holiness. They push me to grow in holiness by exposing my lack of holiness. They don’t mean to—it just happens as we live life together. They expose my impatience, my irritability, my selfishness, my pride. I know they need a dad who doesn’t just demand holiness but who also displays it. So in their own way they’ve pushed me to grow in the noblest traits while putting to death the ugliest.


I am thankful to be a dad to feel protection toward my children. And as a father I do feel fiercely protective toward them. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect them from harm, to prevent them from experiencing pain. Sometimes I read in the news or the history books of a father who has sacrificed his life for his children. I am moved but not surprised. What father wouldn’t trade his life for his child’s? What father wouldn’t throw himself in front of a predator, bus, or bullet to protect his child?


I am thankful to be a dad so I can feel pride in my children. Yes, I know that pride is the chief of sins and that pride comes before a fall. But not this pride. This is the kind of pride God has in his Son, that God has in us, his children. It is a good pride, a pride that desires to give to those children all that they need, a pride that delights in their accomplishments no matter how big or small. This is a pride that seeks the good of the other, that delights in the good of the other. In this way I’m proud of my children, proud to be their dad.


I am thankful to be a dad to grow in humility. Yes, being a dad generates pride (good pride!) but it also generates humility. I see the good traits of my children and know: I can’t take the credit for this. I see their accomplishments and know: They are capable in ways I’m a failure. I see all that they are, all that they do, all that they have become and are becoming, and I have to be humbled, I have to give humble thanks to God for his goodness.


I am thankful to be a dad as it allows me to become a friend. One of the great joys of parenting is experiencing that slow transition through which your children become your friends. What a joy it is to realize that you aren’t only spending time with them because you have to and you aren’t spending time with them just because it’s your parental duty. No, you’re spending time with them because you just plain love them, you love to be with them. Your children have become your friends.


I am thankful to be a dad for the hope my children give. In my children I see hope—hope for the church, hope for humanity. I see children who are kind and moral and growing in godliness. I see children who have been raised in a way that stands out from the world around them. I see children who know that they need to be heavenly-minded if they are to be of any earthly good. I see my children and feel hope.


I am thankful to be a dad to appreciate beauty. What dad isn’t convinced that his daughters are the most beautiful creatures in all the earth? What dad doesn’t love to hear the question, “Daddy, how do I look?” She approaches with her dress on, she does a twirl, her hair flies, her dress puffs. “How do I look?” There is only one appropriate answer: “You look perfect. You look beautiful.” And she does.


I am thankful to be a dad so I can better appreciate the fatherhood of God. God reveals himself to us as Father—Father to the Son and Father to all those whom he adopts into his family. Being a father to my children has given me glimpses—vague and fleeting glimpses, perhaps—of what it means for God to be Father. Seeing God as Father challenges me to love like God loves, to parent like God parents. Seeing God as Father allows me to rest secure, knowing that my children have a bigger, better Father who will provide for their every need.

October 09, 2016

One of the great joys of blogging is receiving feedback from those who read what I write. Every week or two I like to collect some of the letters to the editor that I receive and share them here. What I share today represents the best of the week that was.

Letters on Jesus Always, the Sequel to Jesus Calling

Tim: These really are the best of what I received this week on the subjects of Jesus Always and Jesus Calling.

First of all, EVERYONE HAS A GIFT!! Sarah has a gift of hearing from the Lord! She brings us closer to him! I feel like all you’re doing is wanting publicity in downing someone else. How do you think GOD feels about that?! Sarah is doing what GOD told her to do and you’re against it; meaning you’re going against GODs will! He does NOT like ugly and that is everything that you are being. YOU NEED TO PRAY! Pray & figure out what GOD wants for you instead of going against what He wants for someone else. Sarah has a life to live and message to send. Ask GOD what YOUR calling is…let Sarah’s relationship with GOD be her own. Shes helping people and you’re tearing them down. Im praying for you.
—Cameron C, Knoxville, TN


Stop being a hater because nobody wants to ready your crap. Have a blessed day.
—Aven P, Cheraw, SC

Letters on No One Else Is Coming

Thank you for writing the article about 20Schemes, and specifically about the Petes in Barlanark. I wanted to add a hearty “amen” to what you have written and add another personal vouching for the lads.

Our church has supported the Petes for some time now. This past summer I had the privilege of taking a small team to Barlanark to see the ministry firsthand. It isn’t dazzling. It isn’t showy. It isn’t glamorous. We weren’t expecting that though. What we expected and saw was that it is hard, it is necessary, and it is good.

I remember being in a conversation with David Murray (of PRTS and a native Scot himself) a few years ago where he commented offhand that he thinks 20Schemes may be Scotland’s last hope. Indeed, what we personally saw in Barlanark was a people that are hopeless. But the reason why 20Schemes can be characterized as the “last hope” is because they bring the gospel of hope to the hopeless. Hope Community Church Barlanark is the perfect name to describe the church that is being planted.

I would encourage both individual Christians and churches to come alongside the work happening in Scotland. Pray, give, go, and send. The Lord of the Harvest is planting and gathering. What a privilege to be part of His work.
—Bryan W, Rothbury, MI

Letters on Why Does the Universe Look So Old?

Tim: Not surprisingly, the majority of responses to this article were opposed to what I wrote. Still, many of the responses were both kind and reasonable.

Both suggested reasons for the universe looking old have problems. “The universe looks old because the Creator made it whole” misses the fact that the universe does not merely look old, but it looks like it has a complete history. It’s reasonable to suggest that an instantly created Adam would have looked a few decades old, but Adam would not need growth rings in his bones, a navel, scars, memories, or other evidence of a nonexistent series of events. But when we look at the earth, or at the universe, we see clear evidence of a lengthy series of events. The wine at Cana resembled the product of a year’s work by a vine, but it didn’t have a fictional label crediting it to a particular vineyard or genuine bits of bugs and dirt to give the appearance of normal winemaking techniques.

Likewise, identifying looking old as due to sin is problematic on many counts. God said it was good; this says it looked bad. Although human aging as we know it is marred by sin, the idea that looking old is because of sin sounds more like a modernistic cult of youth than Biblical appreciation for maturity.

The modern young-earth interpretation is not all that traditional. Non-24 hour interpretations of the days of creation were common in the early church. By the early 1800’s, the geologic evidence for a vast age of the earth was not only firmly scientifically established but also widely accepted in the church, with young-earth positions regaining popularity only in the past half-century as a result of the popularity of the erroneous scientific claims of creation science.

Not that science should dictate our exegesis, but it may indicate places where our exegesis is off, as Augustine suggested. And we must be honest in reporting what science indicates, whether or not it fits what we want. Both theology and science must rigidly stick to the evidence, rather than “here’s how I think it should work”.
—David C, Boiling Springs, NC


It is very unfortunate that respected Christian spokesmen like John MacArthur and Albert Mohler insist on continuing to promote the totally unnecessary false choice of either the facts of nature or one particular interpretation of the Bible. It is obvious that the book of Genesis was not intended to teach science and that there are many passages in the Bible that are not intended to be taken in a rigidly literal manner. If these men were to publically allow for the possibility of other ways to interpret Genesis, Christianity might not be losing so many young people. Equating Christianity with Young Earth Creationism hasn’t saved anyone, but it has caused many to be lost. I grant that there are theological issues that need to be worked out and then disseminated, but this is being done, on the internet and in the literature. We need to get to the point where creation and evolution becomes just another one of those secondary issues on which Christians graciously agree that alternative views are possible.
—Paul B, New Kensington, PA


I see the lens of the creation camera as on the earth and focused on the earth and viewing the heavens from an earthly perspective. The universe declares the glory of God, but earth is the stage of God’s creative, providential and redemptive work in and for man. The Cosmos manifests the divine grandeur but does so in a way that is anthropocentric. This is illustrated by the greater and lesser lights being created for the benefit of man on the earth. Then God made the stars also. Given the anthropocentric nature of the universe this statement cannot really mean anything unless these stars were immediately visible with the radiated light created with them reaching earth at the very moment of their creation. We are, each of us, behind the lens as the drama unfolds. The camera sees each stage as it unfolds from the perspective of the stage. The stars are the backdrop to the stage, the universe the theatre. we watch and observe the immediacy of each unfolding act of God’s unveiling of Himself in the His creation. We see it’s all immediately as Adam would had He been created first.
—Donald M, Glasgow, Scotland

Letters on Those Exquisite Forms of Love That Do Not Speak Your Language

First, I want to say that I agree with much of what you say here. And obviously, the Bible offers so much more than the love languages concept. However, I think you are perhaps a bit too cynical about the benefits of understanding love languages. I don’t think it has to be this dark and greedy thing that you paint it to be.

I don’t think most people learn about love languages for their own benefit. I don’t think everyone is reading about love languages to hold over their spouse’s head, “see, this is my love languages and you aren’t meeting that.”

Instead, there are 2 very beneficial things that we can learn:

  1. My spouse’s love language. In learning about love languages, I can choose to learn how I can best love him. I think that is why most people learn about love languages—to love their spouse better, and not in a selfish way. It’s important that we understand how our spouse’s love language differs from our own because our nature is to do what we understand. For example, if my love language is affection, I might be very affectionate toward my spouse. Not that it’s a bad thing, but if his love language is acts of service then I need to do that too. Why? Because I want him to feel loved, so I want to learn about what makes him most feel loved.
  2. The second reason is somewhat related to the first. If I learn about my husband’s love language, then I can better appreciate the ways that he shows me love, even if they aren’t necessarily speaking my love language. You mention the dark and greedy growl and making your own love language the ultimate and only acceptable expression of love. I would disagree here. I think we are naturally prone to do that, without anyone telling us to. I think learning about love languages helps us do the opposite because instead of saying, “hey you aren’t showing me affection, so you don’t love me.” I can step back and look at the ways he is showing me love through his own love language and learn to better appreciate those things.

I think we should all look for the ways our spouses show us love anyway, but I do think that learning about love languages can assist with that and doesn’t have to be the negative thing that you ascribe to it.
—Crystal B, Marion, KY

Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing Loved Ones Are in Hell
October 08, 2016

Heaven is far too perfect, far too sinless, far too other for us to imagine in our fallen minds. Our attempts to put brush to canvas have led to depictions of cherubs on clouds, idyllic colors of dawn, Christ as a blinding light, a faceless adoring throng. Some of these attempts to capture heaven’s splendors are beautiful and even captivating, yet we know they are also incomplete. They are, at best, the barest reflection of what awaits. Our imaginations must always fall short of heaven’s glorious perfections.

Revelation 21:4 assures us that in heaven God himself will wipe away our tears, that there will be no death, no sorrow, no crying, and no pain. There is a deeply comforting certainty in our future—a certainty of joy, bliss, comfort, peace, love, and perfection. However, those of us with non-believing family members and friends can find this certainty an area of intense struggle. Why? Because we know that not everyone will be there with us. Many we love today will have an eternal experience of pain, torment, and separation. How could we ever enjoy heaven if our loved ones are in hell? R.C. Sproul tackled this question at a Ligonier Ministries conference years ago and I appreciate his answer.

Sproul begins by recounting a humorous moment from his seminary days. After attending an event in which a speaker unabashedly tore away at Reformed doctrine, young Sproul, disturbed by what he heard, quipped to his professor, “If John Calvin would have heard that sermon, he would have turned over in his grave.” His professor gravely responded, “Young man, don’t you know that nothing can disturb the felicity John Calvin is experiencing right now?”

He reflected little on their interaction, but shortly after heard that same professor’s answer to how a Christian can enjoy heaven knowing of loved ones in hell: “You will be so sanctified that you will be able to see your own mother in hell and rejoice knowing that God’s perfect justice is being carried out.” Sproul’s knee-jerk reaction was to scoff, even laugh, at the lunacy of such a statement.

At face value his professor’s answer felt wrong, insensitive even. However, if we can be certain that our future in heaven is one of undisturbed joy and that at the sight of God’s perfect justice our hearts will cry in adoration, nothing, not even the just fate of the unsaved friend or family member, will disturb our gladness.

Why, then, does our knee-jerk reaction match Sproul’s on this side of eternity? Sproul provides three answers:

We do not know God. That is, we do not really know God. We do not know him as he actually is. We especially don’t know him as the God who is holy, holy, holy. In fact, we are often even offended by his holiness, as if it is an ignoble or capricious trait. We cannot imagine how we could be content in heaven while loved ones are in hell because our knowledge of God is too small.

We do not know ourselves. We do not know God as we ought but we also don’t know ourselves as we ought. Try as we might, we remain oblivious to how truly heinous our sin is, how truly filthy we are in the sight of God, and how incredible our salvation is. It is so human for us to sin that we may even feel as if God is somehow obligated to forgive us. We need better self-knowledge—the kind God gives by his Spirit through his Word. We cannot imagine how we could be content in heaven while loved ones are in hell because we do not know ourselves as well as we ought.

We do not know what glorification means. The last link of the Golden Chain of Romans 8:28-30 is glorification. Though we tend to focus most on predestination and justification, they are simply the means to that great end of glorification. We ought to long for the day when we are glorified, when we and everything else is purified of all traces of sin. Heaven is so much more than the absence of death and deterioration—it is also the absence of sin. Can you imagine a place where there is no sin? Do you look forward to a place of no sin? That is our hope! We cannot imagine how we could be content in heaven while loved ones are in hell because we think too little of the beauty of glorification.

Until we are glorified, our sympathies will rest more easily with human beings than with God—his glory and perfect justice. But as Sproul explains in his talk, “once sin is removed from my life… and I love the Lord my God with all of my heart and all of my soul in undiluted perfection, my compassion, my love, my concern will be much more for the vindication of God’s holiness than for a corrupt fallen kinsmen of mine.” And so we pray for the lost, we share the gospel with them, we plead for their souls. And all the while we trust in the God who is good and who does only what is good.

Daddy How Do I Look
October 07, 2016

Daddy, how do I look?”

Eyes sparkling. Cheeks glowing. Is that a touch of makeup, a little something to accentuate the green of her eyes? Since when has she been wearing makeup? She twirls daintily on silver shoes, hair streaming, dress floating.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

She looks thirteen or twenty-three. She’s so big and so tiny, so old and so young, so wise and so innocent. When did she grow up? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was born, this morning that she took her first steps, this afternoon that she learned her ABCs? How can she already be graduating to high school? What happened to all the years, all the days, all the moments? I thought they would go by so much slower. I wish I had known.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

I’d die for her. Does she know that? Does it even matter? I’d throw myself in front of a bus for her. I’d take a bullet. I’d do anything to keep her safe, to protect her from harm. I’m her daddy and it’s my duty. I’m her daddy and it’s my joy to love her fiercely, to love her gently, to love her without any contradiction between the two. I do. In that moment I do.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

This world is too dark for the likes of her. She’s too sweet, too tiny, too good, too pure. How will she make her way? How will she survive? How will she navigate the mess we’ve made here. God, protect her. God, keep her. She’s yours anyway, right? She’s mine for a day and yours for eternity. Bless her. Remember her. Don’t forget about her. Don’t neglect her. Please.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

A tear, a smile: “You look perfect.”

No One Else Is Coming
October 06, 2016

Sometimes it’s the little lines that get you, the parentheticals, the throw-aways. I heard one a few days ago: “No one else is coming.” It’s what you say when you realize that a responsibility has now fallen to you. You were hoping and waiting for backup, for reinforcements, for someone—anyone—else. But then you realize: No one else is coming. So you roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Earlier this week I was in Barlanark, a grey and gritty neighborhood in Glasgow. Barlanark is properly a scheme, one of nearly 100 dotting Scotland’s most populated city. What’s a scheme, you ask? A scheme is a social housing development, a place where most of the homes are owned by the government and distributed to the poor. It’s a place bearing all the marks of hard poverty—shattered families, absentee fathers, deep addictions, and a near-complete absence of the gospel. Thousands of people live in the homes and apartments of Barlanark. Only the smallest majority, maybe one half of one percent, know Jesus.

I was there to visit the Petes. A number of years ago, a local lad named Pete came to Barlanark to begin an outreach to the youth. He soon hired a second Pete and for a number of years they collaborated in building relationships with the youth, telling them about Jesus. They grew to have a real love for the people of that community. Though the work was slow and grueling, though it took its toll on them and their families, they saw some measure of success, they saw God’s hand of blessing.

The Petes

But the Petes came to understand there was a limitation on that work. If they were going to reach Barlanark—to really reach it with the gospel, to see the gospel take root, to see lives transformed—there needed to be a church there. It couldn’t be a church near the scheme or around the scheme. It had to be a church in the scheme—a Barlanark church for Barlanark people. They worked, waited, prayed, and hoped. They waited for a church planter to develop a heart for their neighborhood, to come with a calling, a mandate, a core team. But after a while they had to face it: “We realized, no one else is coming.”

And in that way they were called—called to the work of planting a church in one of Scotland’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The church will open soon—Easter perhaps, or early summer. It will be called Hope Community Church Barlanark and it will be that Barlanark church for Barlanark people. Already they’ve found office space in the very heart of the scheme, within the community center, if you can believe it. They hold prayer meetings there every morning, they host groups for moms and tots, they invite people to study the Bible, they tell people about Jesus. There has been a response—a small but real response. Some have heard the gospel and believed. Some have heard the gospel and begun to listen, to consider its claims. The work is slow, but it’s real. It’s happening. God is moving.

The Petes have found help in their work. An organization called 20schemes has come alongside them to provide care, mentoring, resources, oversight. 20schemes has a vision to see the gospel impact Scotland’s schemes and they are now working with the Petes and their growing core team to see them form a church. That church can use support, and especially the kind of support that comes when an established church partners with a new one—prayer, finance, and mission teams. If you’re interested in helping the gospel reach Scotland’s poorest people, why don’t you get in touch with 20schemes? Why don’t you join a vision trip, visit Barlanark, and see what the Lord is doing?

God gave the Petes a desire to care for the kids of Barlanark. That desire grew into a love for those kids, for their families, for their neighborhoods. That love grew into a calling—a calling to plant and pastor a church right there in that scheme. I wonder if God would give you a burden to support them or even to join them in their work. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s calling someone like you to yet another of the hundreds of schemes that don’t have any gospel witness. Because at this point, no one else is coming.

This video is a couple of years old so a wee bit outdated, but it introduces the Petes, their work, and their accents:

Those Exquisite Forms of Love That Do Not Speak Your Language
October 05, 2016

The book has been out for years, and by this time just about every Christian has been introduced to the “love language” parlance. We know that love languages refer to the varied ways people give and receive love. Some feel loved when they receive affection, others when they receive gifts or affirming words. There are five of these languages and most of us have been taught to rank them in order of personal preference. Well and good. God has created us in different ways and vive la difference.

Still, one of the most helpful things I ever learned about love languages came not from the book but from a critical review. In an issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling David Powlison expressed a mix of admiration and concern for the love languages, and even years after I first read his comments, one of the central critiques stands out: “The love language model does not highlight those exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak your language’.” That packs a powerful punch. Let me explain how.

When we are honest about love languages, we admit they are prone to begin to speak with a “dark and greedy growl.” Here’s how it works for me: I am never far from making my preferred love language the ultimate expression or even proof of my wife’s love for me. When I have it I feel loved; when I lack it I feel unloved. It takes surprisingly little time for “I feel most loved when you are affectionate with me” to become “I don’t feel loved unless you are affectionate with me” to degenerate all the way to “You need to speak my language if you expect me to love you in return.” For another person, “I feel cherished when we spend quality time together” may soon become, “I feel loved when you drop everything to focus on me, are completely understanding, give me unconditional love, agree with all my opinions, and never disagree with me, question me, or interrupt me.” These are good languages filtered through a bad heart.

That is one genuine concern and every marriage counsellor has run into it: “I just don’t feel loved.” But there is a related issue—the one that Powlison highlights in his review. When I demand that people speak my preferred love language, when it becomes the one way I receive love, I unnecessarily narrow my experience of love. I miss out on all of those “exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak my language’.” Sure, I experience the language I prefer, and it is good to be loved this way! But I miss out on so many others including the ones others may most love to speak. The challenge and joy of love languages is not in demanding someone else learn to speak my language or manipulating them until they learn to do so. It is in learning how to speak other languages, to receive love in new ways. As long as I am satisfied with only the language I prefer, I miss out on the joy of those other four languages and the millions of others that exist beyond the reductionist categories.

It helps to think about it this way: God speaks a language that doesn’t suit any of our natural preferences. He didn’t woo or win us by condescending to our preferred language, but by teaching us a whole new one. Powlison says, “You and I need to learn a new language if we are to become fit to live with each other and with God. The greatest love ever shown does not speak the instinctively self-centered language of the recipients of such love. In fundamental ways, the love of Christ speaks contrary to your ‘love language’ and ‘felt needs’.” God loved us so much he spoke a language we didn’t want to hear, and we learned to receive it as the best language of all. There are other languages we need to learn that will teach us more truths, deeper truths, about love.

It is God’s grace that keeps us from such narrow views of love, from receiving love according to only our preferences. Yes, we all have a preferred language. But there is joy to be had beyond it. Says Powlison, “God’s grace aims to destroy the lordship of the five love languages, even while teaching us to speak the countless love languages with greater fluency.”


3 Quick Questions Before Quitting Your Church
October 03, 2016

We all know there are times and circumstances in which the only right course of action is to leave a church. If the church leadership has apostatized or proven themselves unqualified for ministry, if they are preaching a false gospel, if they have surrendered to the culture, we need to get out. We can leave these churches boldly and without looking back, shaking the dust from our feet.

But more often than not, we leave churches for what we might consider discretionary reasons. We don’t need to leave, but choose to leave. And we typically do this when we feel weary of the people, when we feel like they aren’t interested in us anymore, when relationships feel cool rather than warm, when we feel like we need a fresh start.

I wonder if you are in such a place right now—you are part of a church but feeling restless, ready to move on. Maybe you’ve attended another church a time or two and are finding yourself drawn to that congregation, to those people. It’s not always wrong to leave a church under such circumstances, but before you do, I would want to ask three important questions, all of which I’ve asked many times as an elder and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church:

Here’s the first question: Have you been praying for the people of this church? Your love for others grows in direction proportion to your prayer for them. As you pray for people, you find that you love them. You are called to pray for your enemies in the hope that they will become your brothers and sisters and for strangers in the hope that they will become your friends. How much more, then, are you to pray for your fellow church members? When you don’t pray for the people in your church you may soon find your heart cooling toward them. Once your love cools you may find yourself blaming them for your discontentment when really it began within you. Before you leave a church, first determine that you will take a period of time to pray—to pray for the people specifically and by name. Then see if your heart remains cool and distant.

Here’s the second question: Have you been serving the people of this church? Your love for others grows hand-in-hand with your service to them. As you do love toward others you naturally feel love toward others. Too many Christians prefer to be served rather than looking for every opportunity to serve. They gauge their emotional response to the church by the actions others have taken or not taken toward them. Yet God’s first call to us is not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:5-11). The more we imitate Christ in his selfless service, the more our love grows warm. Before you leave a church, first determine that you will take a period of time to serve that church—to creatively seek out opportunities to serve and surprise. Then see if your heart remains cool and distant.

And one last question: Have you been with the people of this church? Have you been there on Sunday morning, and if you have, have you been all-in, looking for people to speak to, new people to meet, coffee to brew, chairs to stack? Have you been at the Sunday evening or mid-week services, or the prayer meetings, or the small groups? If everyone else in the church is getting together three times a week while you parachute for a quick Sunday morning fix, you will necessarily feel like an outsider looking in. You need to embrace the whole life of a church, not just the one main gathering. Before you leave a church, first determine that for a time you will commit to it all the way. Then see if your heart remains cool and distant.

Under many circumstances we have freedom before God to move from one church to another. In some cases this is a necessary course of action while in others it is a sinful course of action. Most of the time, though it is discretionary, depending on the particulars, the circumstances, the heart. Before you make such a move, do consider the questions: Have you been praying for the people of the church? Have you been serving the people of the church? Have you been with the people of the church? Love grows cold where there is no prayer. Love grows cold where there is no service and no togetherness. In other words, love grows cold where there is no love—no expression of love through prayer, through deeds, through fellowship.