Men’s Issues

9 Serious Questions You Should Ask Before Getting Married

Marriage is supposed to be heavenly, but it can end up being hell on Earth if you (1) marry the wrong person or (2) find out after you’re married that your spouse was hiding some dark secrets. Just ask my friend “Carlos,” who was married for a year before he learned that his wife owed thousands of dollars in credit-card debt. The tension caused by a shopping addiction—and her ongoing deception—led to divorce.

Anyone who’s been through a job interview knows employers try to identify potential problems by asking lots of questions before they hire anyone. Some companies take months to recruit high-level employees because they know one wrong hiring decision can cost millions of dollars. So why wouldn’t you be even more careful before you tie the knot with the person you plan to spend the rest of your life with?

I’m amazed by how many Christian couples don’t use wisdom when choosing a mate or neglect to get premarital counseling before they walk down the aisle together. Any counselor will tell you that couples face major difficulties if they don’t honestly communicate at the beginning of their relationship and put all their cards on the table. You have to ask questions!

If you are a believer in Christ and you want a marriage that honors God, you should make sure you ask these questions before the Big Day.

1. How did your partner come to know Jesus personally? It’s a sad fact that some people pretend to be Christians. They can sing the choruses and mimic the preacher, but their private lives are a different story. They are posers—and some of them are actually attending church to find a cute girl or guy. Don’t fall for a fake. You need a spouse who has a genuine relationship with God.

2. Has your partner been growing spiritually? It’s also a sad fact that many Christians today remain spiritual babies even though they’ve been in church for years. If you want a strong marriage, don’t pursue a person who has no spiritual spark. My wife is beautiful, but what attracted me to her was her passion for God. If your partner has no interest in discipleship, worship, prayer or studying God’s Word, don’t assume they will develop spiritual maturity later.

3. What kind of family life did your partner have? We all come from different backgrounds. Some people grow up in single-parent families, others are raised in alcoholic homes, and others experienced abuse. God can help us overcome any handicaps caused by family dysfunction. But you need to know what you are dealing with before you vow to love your partner “in sickness and in health.” You can’t carry your partner’s burdens or experience deep intimacy unless you share your pain with each other.

4. What is your partner’s dating and marriage history? It’s true that when we come to know Christ “the old things passed away” (2 Cor. 5:17). But that doesn’t mean you can lie about your past. Your potential spouse needs to know if you have been married before, if you have kids living in another city, or if you are obligated to make alimony payments.

5. Does your partner have a criminal record? Employers ask this question—and they sometimes turn away prospective employees who have been sentenced for crimes. You don’t want to wait until your wedding night to learn that your husband is wearing a tattoo on his back that he got in prison. And you should rethink your marriage plans if you learn your boyfriend was convicted of assault.

6. Does your partner struggle with addictions? Many marriages end in divorce because one partner has self-destructive habits. The addict may be hooked on alcohol, drugs, porn or gambling—and a churchgoer with these habits may have learned to hide their behavior. If you see the warning signs of addiction, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s no big deal. You may need to postpone the wedding.

7. Does your partner have debts or a questionable credit history? The financial side of marriage is challenging enough without the extra stress of debt. Wise couples will met with a pastor or mentor before the wedding to discuss a reasonable budget. If you find out your partner owes the equivalent of a year’s salary because of out-of-control spending, you should reconsider this relationship.

8. Has your partner received prayer ministry or counseling for his or her failures, hurts and traumas? God’s grace is bigger than any sin. The Holy Spirit can deliver a person from the shame of adultery, the pain of divorce or the bondage of resentment. But these things don’t just drop off by themselves; people need prayer and counseling to get free from their past. You should insist that your partner get the help he or she needs.

9. Do you and your partner agree about family plans? I know a couple who married without talking about this issue. The man wanted lots of kids; the wife didn’t want any. This will not work! Amos 3:3 says: “Do two people walk hand in hand
 if they aren’t going to the same place?” (The Message). Find a partner who shares your desires and goals.

If you want a marriage that stands through life’s storms, you need a partner who is wholly committed to Jesus and on the path to healing. Your spouse won’t be perfect, but please don’t settle for less than God’s best for you.

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The Shameful Secret of ‘Christian’ Domestic Abuse

Last Saturday, police responded to a call from a home in the tranquil Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. Inside they found that Lyuba Savenok, a 23-year-old mother of two small children, had been stabbed multiple times. She was pregnant with her third child. Both died that morning.

Later, Lyuba’s husband, Yeveginy (“Eugene”), confessed that he had killed his wife and fled the house with his kids. They are now in the custody of family members while he awaits trial.

This cute couple with the adorable son and daughter attended a large evangelical church. It was later reported that Lyuba had filed for police protection from her husband when they lived in the Chicago area. She told authorities that Eugene hit her repeatedly, gave her a bloody nose, pulled her hair and once broke a window in a fit of rage.

Police were called to the Savenok home last August, where they learned that Eugene had hit his wife so hard on the back that bruises were evident. He was supposed to answer for that crime in court this week. Now he will be tried for murder.

We all know domestic violence goes on behind closed doors in this country, even in the suburbs. But what is tragic is that it goes on in Christian homes—and this sin is rarely addressed from our pulpits.

Because I have many friends in Russian-speaking churches in this country, I was horrified to hear of the case of Lyuba Savenok—who was from an Estonian heritage. But when I talked to some of my Slavic friends, I learned that domestic abuse is a shameful secret that people only whisper about at church. It is seldom confronted.

“My sister was raped, drugged and hit for 17 years,” one Slavic woman from a midwestern state told me. “I have witnessed emotional abuse, physical abuse and a lot of sexual domination—even the use of drugs—to control women. I think there should be a wide investigation into abuse in the Slavic community.”

One woman from Florida said when her friend sought help from a pastor after being in an abusive marriage for 20 years, she was told to submit to the cruelty. “They told her to become a better wife, and that might change his behavior,” she said.

Some of the people interviewed for this article were even worried about using their names because it is considered inappropriate to talk about abuse in the Slavic church.

“When abuse is brought to light, it is swept under the rug because religious practices have priority,” said one Slavic Christian woman from California. “Unfortunately, church leaders are not equipped to deal with this issue.”

Research shows that domestic violence is rampant in Russian families. And many Slavic women are afraid to even report abuse because their husbands have threatened to hurt them if they do. Tanya Levchyk, who started a Facebook group for Slavic Christian women, said it is past time for Slavic pastors to deal with the elephant in the room.

“Many times Slavic women are afraid to voice their fears because of the great emphasis that is made on reputation in our community,” she said. “They feel they will be ridiculed instead of protected, and it will always be their fault simply because they are female.” Levchyk’s Facebook group now reaches 14,000 women.

My Slavic friend Paul Muzichuk, 31, who has done missions work in eight countries, said he believes the death of Lyuba Savenok should serve as a wake-up call to church leaders—both in the Slavic community and in the wider body of Christ.

“My heart is broken for Slavic women who hide in abusive relationships and hidden pain,” he said. “Fear, religious pride and the Slavic ‘macho’ attitude needs to be confronted so Slavic women can be set free from years of abuse.”

Stephan Karnauch, who grew up in a Slavic home in New York, said it’s past time to expose the painful truth of abuse and to teach men how to treat women with respect. “By exposing this truth we will finally be able to protect families and we will equip our children how to be godly spouses, parents and lovers of Christ,” Karnauch said.

We need to face the fact that Lyuba’s murder doesn’t just represent an issue among Slavic believers. For years American pastors have been telling women to “just submit” to abusive husbands without realizing that such advice can actually provoke more abuse.

Instead of misusing Ephesians 5:22 (“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord”) to put women at risk, we should be using the Bible properly to warn abusers that God strongly opposes men who view their wives as inferior. First Peter 3:7 warns a husband that his prayers will be hindered if he does not honor his wife “as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”

Let’s have the courage to pull the rug back. Let’s confront abuse, heal its victims and stop twisting Scripture to protect abusers.

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How I Found Healing from Sexual Abuse

When I was a boy, something shameful happened to me that I never, ever planned to talk about publicly. During a summer visit to a youth camp in Alabama, an older boy whom I considered a friend took me into the woods and abused me sexually. He then brought me inside a boathouse near the camp’s lake for more experimentation.

The abuse wasn’t penetrative or physically painful, but it inflicted a deep emotional scar. It was as if my 7-year-old soul were branded with a hot iron. I never talked about the incident with anyone after it happened. I buried the trauma so no one would know.

I was glad when my family moved from Alabama so I would never have to see that camp or the boathouse again. Yet the memory followed me like a shadow. It produced self-loathing, fear of exposure, sexual confusion and deep inferiority. As a teenager, I spent lots of energy trying to convince my friends I was OK—yet deep down, I still feared I was hopelessly broken.

Thankfully my healing began at age 18, just before college, when I asked Jesus to fill me with the Holy Spirit. God stripped layers of shame off me as I heard the Father’s voice and experienced His unconditional love. By the time I got married and started a family, the shadow of abuse had grown faint.

I found more healing when I told a few mentors and friends about the abuse. I was afraid they would recoil in disgust and reject me (most abuse victims expect that response), but they expressed only love and affirmation. Transparency brought freedom. Yet a thin layer of shame lingered. Even though I was involved in full-time ministry by that time, I battled thoughts of disqualification. I seemed confident and successful to others, but I didn’t like myself.

Then a few months ago, after I relocated to Georgia, I realized the camp where the abuse happened was only 90 miles from my house. When I told this to my friend James, he suggested we go there to pray and find more closure.

As we drove onto the camp property, I felt uneasy. It had been 50 years since the incident, yet the place looked exactly like I remembered it—except for two things: The ranger’s house, where the older boy lived, was gone, and so was the wooden boathouse. Only a faint outline of the foundation of that building was visible next to the lake’s edge.

James and I stood on the grass and prayed in the Holy Spirit. No one else was on the property. James asked me to remember again what happened on that spot. Then he added: “The Lord was there when this horrible thing happened. Ask the Lord what He is saying to you.”

My arms were folded in a defensive posture. Maybe after all these years I was still protecting my heart from the pain. But in that peaceful moment, I could see the inside of the dark boathouse, with life jackets, ropes and canoes hanging on the walls. I saw Jesus standing near a frightened little boy. He said: “I will not let this stop you.”

Those words lifted a few hundred pounds off my mind. Jesus wasn’t scolding me, scowling at me with disapproval or writing me off. He had come to my rescue. He was defending me. He was promising me that the enemy’s plan to destroy my life would not prevail.

I knew from that moment that my experience with abuse had absolutely no control over me. The sting had been removed.

I basked in His presence for a few moments, looking out over the lake and remembering that I had learned to swim there during my summer visits. Then I asked James if we could visit one other location. We got in my car and drove to a church in Montgomery, where I gave my heart to Jesus at age six.

When we pulled into the parking lot of Dalraida Baptist Church, my heart leapt. Unlike the old camp boathouse, the church was still there. In fact, a huge new sanctuary stood in front of the old building where I was baptized. The old sanctuary was now the youth ministry center.

“This is amazing,” I told James. “The place where I was abused is gone. But the place where I began my relationship with Jesus is thriving.”

God spoke to me powerfully that day in Montgomery. He showed me that what defines my life—and what controls my future—is not the ugly blemish on my past but the precious faith I embraced when I chose to follow Him. And he reminded me of the truth of Isaiah 54:4a, which says: “Do not fear, for you shall not be ashamed nor be humiliated; for you shall not be put to shame, for you shall forget the shame of your youth.”

What about you? If you’ve experienced sexual abuse, you don’t have to hide your secret or drag the shame around. Jesus knows your pain and your embarrassment. He does not reject you or keep you at arm’s length. Bring your shame into His presence and let His strong embrace heal your wounded soul.

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10 Steps to Finding Your Life Partner

This year, five young friends of mine are getting married: Anibál met his future wife at his church in California, Vitaliy met his fiancée at Christ for the Nations Institute, KC found David on the mission field, Ben met Tiffany while studying at Regent University, and Doug—who has been waiting the longest for his bride—got engaged to Danya last week on his 32nd birthday.

But I have many other friends, some young and some not so young, who are still waiting for the big introduction. For whatever reason, marriage hasn’t happened for them. Single Christians are often told that all they must do is “wait on God” for a mate. But I believe that phrase is both overused and abused. In many cases, a single person doesn’t need to wait on God; the Lord may actually be waiting on you to take some action.

If you want to be married, here are some simple steps that might help move you farther along in the process:

1. Make sure Jesus is on the throne of your life. You can never go wrong when you put God first. Matthew 6:33 says: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Marriage is a need, and God is very eager to meet it. And since it is probably the biggest decision you will ever make, why trust your own instincts to choose the right person? God is the best matchmaker. Ask Him to guide you.

2. Make spiritual growth your priority. A marriage is strong when both the husband and the wife are strong Christians. If either is immature spiritually, problems will multiply. That’s why you should spend your single years becoming a mature disciple. Paul told the Corinthians that single believers should pursue “undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35). Get involved in a church, study God’s Word and become a passionate worshipper.

3. Make a list of your relationship preferences. It’s OK to desire certain qualities in a spouse. Maybe you prefer a girl who is short, a guy who is older than you or someone who has a certain educational background. Psalm 37:4 says: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Just check your motives and make sure your desires are not selfish or unrealistic.

4. Get rid of your false expectations and fantasies. Many singles have totally unrealistic ideas about what marriage and romance are all about. Some girls have been conditioned by Disney cartoons to expect a guy to sweep them off their feet and take them to his fairy tale castle. That’s not going to happen. Neither will you ever feel the level of heartthrob described in romance novels. Pornography has also ruined romance for people; some guys who are addicted to porn can’t even experience normal arousal without it. Come down to earth and get real. Marriage will never resemble your perfect dream world.

5. Set your moral standards high and never sell out. Every unmarried Christian needs a list of non-negotiables. Never compromise your sexual purity. If a sweet-talking guy from your church’s worship team tries to lure you into a one-night stand, refuse his charm. If you feel attracted to a girl and then realize she flirts with every guy and doesn’t share your values, back off. And never, ever date a nonbeliever with the intention of converting them. “Missionary dating” rarely has a good outcome.

6. Get busy with your life and career. The worst thing any single can do is sit around waiting for a mate. Moping is not attractive—it’s pitiful. Don’t be desperate. God loves you just the way you are, and you don’t need a husband or wife to make you valuable. Live your life. Finish your education, achieve your professional goals and get involved in ministry. It’s more likely you will find your mate while pursuing your dreams than while sitting in a corner mourning your singleness. (And remember: Love does not pay the bills. You need a job to be married!)

7. Seek emotional healing. I know singles who jump from one dysfunctional dating relationship to the next and never realize they have serious issues to address. Don’t wait until you are married to realize you have addictions, bitterness or unresolved pain. If you don’t get rid of your drama now, your marriage will be filled with drama. Seek prayer ministry at your church or find a counselor.

8. Take care of yourself physically. You don’t have to be a cover girl or a GQ stud to find a mate. We come in all shapes and sizes, and your spouse is going to love you and all your imperfections. But making yourself more attractive doesn’t hurt! If you always look like you just got out of bed, ask some honest friends to give you a makeover. If you need to lose weight, stop making excuses and start a sensible food plan and exercise routine.

9. Develop an active social life. Some Christian guys I know are afraid to ask a girl out for coffee, yet they play video games all day while complaining about loneliness. Hello? You will never find a mate in a vacuum. You have to break out of your shell and make yourself available. You don’t have to pair up when you gather with a group of singles for fellowship. Many dating relationships start as innocent friendships—and then a romantic spark turns into a flame.

10. Find a married mentor to help you prepare. You don’t have to navigate the journey from dating to marriage all by yourself. Seek out a trusted older friend to help you. Ask questions. Share your fears. Marriage is a huge decision, but a mentor can give you the courage to embrace your future. And they will be cheering the loudest at your wedding because they’ve played a small part in God’s miracle.

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10 Worst Mistakes Christians Make When Dating

Singles make up a big percentage of any given church, and pastors spend a lot of time teaching about marriage and parenting. But how do you actually find the right person to marry?

You won’t hear much teaching about dating in most churches. It’s like we’re afraid to touch the subject—so people just feel their way in the dark and figure out romance on their own.

Our awkwardness about this topic is one reason single Christians make so many relationship blunders—and why many marriages start out on the wrong foot. I asked some of my single friends and one of my daughters to help me compile this list of most common dating mistakes. Here are the Top 10:

1. Being desperate for a relationship. Some singles freak out when they hit age 25. They stop trusting God and begin a nail-biting search for a mate. My friend Nicole Doyley, author of The Wait, says she knows women who are so frantic about finding Prince Charming that they immediately fall for any guy who asks them out. “They should see the warning signs, but don’t,” Nicole says. “They start praying immediately if this is ‘the one’ and they quickly become blind to his faults.”

2. Being too picky. On the flip side, some singles are waiting for the perfect human specimen to sweep them off their feet. Picky guys want a girl who could appear in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. Or, some Christian women expect to marry a spiritual giant who prays four hours a day. Be realistic. Whoever you date will have feet of clay and plenty of flaws to match your own.

3. Not developing healthy friendships with the opposite sex. Oftentimes too much pressure is placed on Christian singles to pair up, especially if they are attending a Bible college with a reputation for being a wedding factory. And in that pressure cooker it’s difficult for guys and girls to enjoy nonromantic friendships. Relax and make friends, and don’t view every opposite-sex friend as a potential marriage partner.

4. Letting other people control your relationship. Church friends usually mean well, but some people don’t know how to stay out of other people’s business. They will engage in what I call “prophetic meddling” by dropping hints, manipulating you to go out with someone or pushing you to marry someone you don’t even want to be with. And while the gift of prophecy is valuable, you should never let personal prophecies steer your decisions about marriage. Let God personally guide you in this very personal area of life.

5. Ignoring proper boundaries. Some Christian couples are extremely naïve about the power of a romantic bond. They don’t realize that feelings can zoom from zero to 90 miles an hour in a few seconds, and that one kiss can lead to intercourse if you don’t have your emergency brake on at all times. If you are in a dating relationship, you must know your boundaries, discuss them with your partner and commit to staying pure. Don’t be stupid. Don’t spiritualize your lust and suggest, “Let’s go to your apartment and pray.” Don’t wait until clothes come off to determine what is out of bounds.

6. Missionary dating. Never start a romantic relationship with a guy or girl who is not a believer. Christians who do this usually justify it with the old “I know I can change him/her” line. But the opposite happens: The unbeliever changes you—after he or she has broken your heart, compromised your morals or damaged your faith.

7. Lack of healthy confidence. Some guys I know are stuck in a state of spiritual limbo when it comes to their dating life. They may admire a girl from afar, but they just can’t muster up the nerve to break the ice and start a conversation. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” If you are going to find a wife, you don’t just sit there until you are 40. Develop some healthy aggression. And while it is true that some women prefer to be pursued, remember that Ruth proposed to Boaz in the Old Testament story. Don’t be so demure that your future husband can’t even notice you.

8. Expecting the person you are dating to “fix” you. God wants singles to have undistracted devotion to Jesus (see 1 Cor. 7:35). Yet too often we look to other people to bring the inner fulfillment that only Christ gives. Many singles fall into the trap of finding a boyfriend or girlfriend to heal the wounds caused by childhood trauma, their parents’ divorce or their dads’ addictions. Seek healing from the Holy Spirit for those issues before you commit to a serious relationship.

9. Spiritual stalking. I’ve met guys in church who drive by girls’ houses regularly, monitor their moves and troll their Facebook pages. That’s creepy. If you have to sneak around like a private detective to get a date, you need a new strategy. If a woman tells you she is not interested in going out with you, honor her request and move on. Don’t develop an unhealthy obsession. And never, never, never tell a girl: “God told me you will be my wife.” That’s manipulative and could fall under the category of sexual harassment.

10. Not discerning a spiritual predator. One single female friend of mine said she went out with a man who did a financial seminar at her church. Because the guy was invited to speak from a pulpit she assumed he was a man of character, but he tried to get her into bed with him on the first date. It became quickly obvious he was an imposter. Beware of wolves. You must walk in the Spirit if you want to protect your purity and save yourself for the right person.

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8 Reasons Why Watching Porn Is Just Plain Stupid

I have prayed for countless men who admit they struggle with porn. After we prayed together they got a level of victory over the habit, but some came back to me asking for more practical steps to freedom—because porn is assaulting us from all sides today.

My response: You must be ruthless. Paul told the Corinthians: “I discipline my body and make it my slave” (1 Cor. 9:27, NASB). You must ask God for the power to control your urges, and run every time you feel tempted. You should also consider that it’s really dumb to look at porn, for the following reasons:

1. Porn is a huge waste of time. A 2008 study of graduate students found that 48 percent of young adult males look at porn weekly, and some view it daily. The statistics for women aren’t as high, but numbers are rising. The problem is that the more porn you look at, the more you need—and porn addicts spend hours (and sometimes lots of money) looking for bigger thrills. You’d be a lot healthier if you spent that time exercising, studying or hanging out with friends. Or praying!

2. Porn imbeds images in your memory. Philippians 4:8 says: “Whatever is pure … dwell on these things.” A Christian who indulges in porn is filing thousands of unholy images in his or her brain. Those images will emerge during a conversation, during sleep or even during worship at church! Why would you want those movies showing in your brain every day?

3. Porn changes your view of sex and other people. Porn addicts begin to view people as body parts. And married men who are addicts often try to force their wives to engage in degrading acts they’ve seen in films or photos. I’ve counseled guys who find it difficult to enjoy married sex because it’s not as satisfying as the porn they consumed for years before marriage. Psychologists have proven that teenage boys who watch a lot of porn become much more sexually aggressive and assume girls want to be treated roughly.

4. Porn harms your sex life. Secular counselors have released countless studies proving that the human brain is “rewired” (in other words, damaged) by watching porn. The chemical dopamine is released when we feel sexual stimulation, but a porn addict needs higher and higher levels of this to be stimulated. He will search for more hard-core porn to satisfy the urge—and in some cases will experience erectile dysfunction because he can’t satisfy the need for a thrill.

5. Porn grieves the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (MEV). When you grieve someone he gets quiet. When a Christian makes sinful choices, the Lord does not condemn us but He will withdraw the sense of His presence so we become desperate for Him again. A mature Christian learns to avoid anything that offends the Holy Spirit.

6. Porn brings condemnation and shame. Many Christians go through life feeling spiritually defeated because guilt weighs them down. Romans 8:6 tells us: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (NASB). If you focus your attention on porn, you will live in a depressing spiritual rut. Get up, repent, receive forgiveness and learn to overcome your habit by trusting in His indwelling power. To find total healing you should admit your struggle to someone else (see James 5:16). Transparency brings freedom.

7. Porn is filthy. The Covenant Eyes ministry has reported that 66 percent of porn performers have herpes, and 7 percent have HIV. Porn is full of disease. It’s gross. James 1:21 says: “So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives” (NLT). The Greek word for “filth” (rhyparia) can mean “obscenity” or “moral defilement.” The next time you are tempted to look at a porn site, imagine yourself standing in a latrine, up to your neck in human waste. Don’t soak your soul in filth!

8. Porn will pull you into worse sexual sin. Never downplay the power of temptation. You may think you can “manage” your sin, but the truth is that porn is a beast. It is stronger than you are. It is a cruel taskmaster that will take control and make you do things you regret. I have counseled men who admitted to me that porn was their first step toward adultery.

If you are struggling to stay free from porn, tape this article to your computer screen and read it before logging on. You may even want to write the words “DON’T BE STUPID” at the top of this list to remind you that purity is still important in this pornographic world. Get a grip. Use self-control. Don’t let porn destroy your life—or your relationship with God.

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10 Spiritual Lessons I Learned at the Gym

I started a serious fitness plan in 2015. I had gained weight, and I was watching guys my age pack on pounds. Because I have some big dreams that will take several more years to achieve, I need to stay healthy and able to travel. So I talked to some friends about their workout routines, joined a gym and changed my eating habits.

The hard work is paying off. I’ve not only lost weight and gained muscle but I’ve learned some valuable spiritual lessons in the process. God speaks to me even while I do planks, sit-ups and bench presses! Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned that will help you get fit both physically and spiritually:

  1. Your DIET makes all the difference. If you don’t eat right, no exercise routine will benefit you. Some people talk themselves into believing if they run on a treadmill for 30 minutes they can binge on ice cream, Big Macs or bags of Doritos. Good luck with that! If you want to lose weight and add muscle you must cut the empty carbs and eat more protein and power foods.

The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians because they wanted spiritual “milk” instead of “solid food” (1 Cor. 3:1-2). You will not grow spiritually until you wean yourself off of spiritual fluff and start eating the meat of the Word. Bible study is hard work, but when you dig deep you will grasp revelation from the Holy Spirit.

  1. Develop a PLAN for growth—and follow it. If you approach exercise haphazardly, the results will be minimal. The same is true about discipleship. Some Christians are tossed around by every wind of doctrine or every wave of trendy teaching because they have no goal. But the apostle Paul was focused. He said: “I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Your goal should be to know Jesus and to make Him known to others. Don’t get distracted.
  2. To grow muscle you must RESIST. When I lift a 30-pound dumbbell or do push-ups, I am using weights or my own body weight to create resistance. The tension caused by the resistance, called hypertrophy, causes muscle fibers to expand. The “burn” you feel after exercise is evidence that your muscle is growing. The same is true in the spirit. If you resist temptation, you will grow spiritually even though it may hurt. But if you give into temptation, you will stay spiritually flabby and weak.
  3. CORE exercises are vital! The best fitness instructors will tell you’ll never be truly fit if you don’t pay attention to your abdominal muscles. You may hate planks or crunches, but a healthy core is the foundation of a good physique. The same is true for you spiritually. The core of a Christian is his or her prayer life. Neglect prayer and you will lose your power. The secret of the apostle Paul’s spiritual life was 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.”
  4. You will never make progress if you aren’t CONSISTENT. Because I travel a lot, I cannot always go to a gym. So I found a fitness routine that I can use no matter where I am. All I need is a floor, a chair and some rubber exercise cords and I can work out for an hour using body weight alone. But having this plan is useless if I don’t do it four times a week. The more consistent I am, the more results I will see. Don’t be a quitter. He who endures to the end will be saved!
  5. VARY your exercise routine. Our body is like a computer, and it can get used to a routine if we do the same exercises week after week. Trainers recommend that you “surprise” your body by mixing up exercises. You should do the same in your spiritual training. Don’t get in a religious rut. Sing a “new song” to the Lord. Be open to the new things He wants to teach you.
  6. You’ll make more progress if you have a COACH. When I decided to start my routine, I asked a friend from South Africa named Jabin to devise a plan for me. Jabin is an athlete who knows a lot more about fitness than I do. He not only made a plan but he showed me how to do each exercise.

A lot of Christians are trying to become disciples on their own, without a mentor. Jesus showed us the model of discipleship; He invested in His followers and then commissioned them to train others. You will grow spiritually if you have someone to help you.

  1. TWO are better than one. I don’t always get to exercise with a gym partner, but when I do I find that I have a better workout with better results. I push harder when someone is there to encourage me. The same is true in your walk with God. So many of us try to live the Christian life alone, yet Jesus sent out His disciples two by two. Every David needs a Jonathan to reach his full potential. Having a friend to “spot” you is a sure way to grow as a disciple.
  2. Fitness requires REST. One of the first things my friend Jabin taught me about weightlifting was the importance of resting in between reps. Muscles will not grow if you push them incessantly without breaks. Rest is a spiritual principle that was programmed into our world when God rested on the seventh day. Some people think they can get ahead by working 24/7, but work without rest only leads to burnout. In your spiritual life, take the needed time to relax, unwind, play and reflect on God’s goodness.
  3. God can use FAILURE to help you grow. I have another fitness coach, a pastor named Mark, who encouraged me to use the principle of “failure” in my weight lifting. He taught me that on my last set of each exercise, I should keep lifting until I can’t go any more. “Lifting to failure” increases blood flow to the muscle and boosts muscle growth. It will also make you sweat!

The old gym slogan, “No pain, no gain,” is also a spiritual truth. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says: “Whatever your hands find to do, do with your strength.” Don’t be halfhearted in serving the Lord. Throw all your energy into whatever He calls you to do, and you will reap the blessings.

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Don’t Swallow the ‘Red Pill’

Zach and Amanda (not their real names) were happily married and attending a growing church on the east coast. They started a family and got involved in ministry. Things were going well for this young Christian couple. But then Zach took a major spiritual detour.

He swallowed the Red Pill.

You may not know anything about this infamous pill, but you need to learn fast before it affects marriages in your church. Some Christian men today have come under its influence, mainly through the popular Reddit online discussion site.

At first Amanda noticed her husband was developing odd attitudes about women. He would talk about how “all women” are highly emotional and how they want to manipulate men. Then Zach began to play mind games with his wife: ignoring her, blaming her for everything or cutting off sexual contact for days to teach her a lesson.

Then he started demanding total submission from Amanda. He began quoting 1 Peter 3:6, which says that Sarah called her husband Abraham “lord.” Meanwhile he would sometimes call his wife stupid if they argued.

“It was definitely mental and psychological abuse,” Amanda says. “His love was conditional. He would say, ‘You need to follow me completely, and then I will give you what you need.'”

Finally, Amanda couldn’t take it anymore. She began to fear that Zach might abuse her physically. “I was constantly crying. I was miserable and depressed,” she told me this week in an interview. Although Amanda is not ready to give up her marriage, and she hopes for restoration, her trust in Zach is shattered, and she has started seeing a counselor.

The Christian community needs to be on the alert for the influence of the Red Pill movement because it’s developing a cult-like following. It is described as a “men’s rights movement”—which sounds benevolent enough—but the fruit of this movement is anything but right.

Many authors over the years have advocated a men’s movement, including Robert Bly, Rollo Tomassi or the Christian blogger known as Dalrock. But Red Pill has taken the philosophy to the level of a religion. The Red Pill discussion site was launched in 2012 by Robert Fisher, a congressman from New Hampshire who describes himself as both preacher’s kid and atheist. He hid his true identity on the site for a few years, but he resigned from his government post last month after his connection to Red Pill was revealed.

The movement is much bigger than Robert Fisher now. The site has 200,000 active subscribers. It promotes the idea that there is a “war on men” in modern culture and that the only way to fight back is to demand total submission. It even preaches that all women secretly want to be dominated because they are inferior. Some of the most outlandish tenets of this patriarchal online cult include these:

  • Despite what feminists say, women don’t want equality or respect—they want to be dominated by a strong man.
  • Women today should spend more time on their personal appearance and less on work or education because men are not attracted to intelligent women.
  • The stereotypical American woman is a “self-entitled brat” who has been influenced by “feminist hogwash.”
  • All women are alike. Red Pill advocates invented a buzzword, “AWALT,” to explain this concept. It means “All Women Are Like That.”
  • Men should consider male-dominated trades because mechanics, electricians and plumbers are able to avoid negative female influences in the workplace. Men in a corporate culture or in academia risk being emasculated by women.

The actual name of the movement is a reference to the 1999 movie The Matrix, in which the character Neo takes a red pill to tap into the dark secrets of the universe. Followers of Red Pill are urged to open their eyes so they can see that women have collectively joined together in a global conspiracy to dominate men.

Fisher, who started Red Pill to help men navigate “the woes of dating in the American culture,” certainly does not espouse Christian ideas of holiness or decency. Part of Red Pill’s philosophy is to help men conquer women sexually. Fisher wrote in 2013: “I treat women like they’re subordinate creatures, and suddenly they respect me.”

Another tenet of Red Pill involves “negging,” a flirting technique used by pick-up artists. Men are encouraged to use low-grade insults or offensive teasing to undermine a woman’s self-confidence—so that she will ultimately be more vulnerable to a man’s sexual advances.

Believe it or not, Christian men today are embracing these crazy, unbiblical ideas. They think God wants them to be crude, abusive and dominant—even though the Bible calls husbands to be humble, kind and compassionate models of sacrificial love (see Eph. 5:25-30).

If anyone around you is taking this Red Pill, warn them now. If anyone in your church is promoting these toxic ideas, don’t let them spread, or you will face a crisis. Now is the time to teach men that godly masculinity isn’t about bossing women around or acting superior.

Real men aren’t macho, abusive or controlling. Real men don’t put women down or feel threatened by them. Real men don’t compete with women; they are happy to be equal partners with them. Real men don’t swallow the Red Pill.

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Break Free From the Patriarchal Spirit

Mexico is a violent place for women. When I visited the city of Monterrey a few years ago, a pastor’s wife named Estér told me she visited a hospital every month to pray for one or more women who had been seriously injured by their husbands. In some cases, the victim was a minister’s wife.

“It is so common here,” Estér told me. “The pastor’s wife just goes home from the hospital, puts makeup on her bruises and never tells anyone what happened.”

Last week, I traveled to the city of Querétaro in central Mexico to speak at a Christian men’s conference. During my visit, I learned that a new wave of domestic violence has hit the country. It is estimated that at least seven women are killed every day in Mexico by their husbands or partners.

And the violence is becoming more deadly due to increased rivalry between drug cartels. Women are often used as pawns by gang leaders to inflict revenge on each other.

Two years ago, more than 7,000 women had been reported missing in Mexico, half of them under the age of 18. Domestic violence is often the reason Mexican women try to sneak over the U.S. border.

How can we respond to this tragedy? Of course, we should provide shelters and counseling for female victims. But the most effective strategy is to go to the root of the problem—by confronting the men who abuse. And this must start in the church, because Christian men often abuse their wives and then justify their behavior with Bible verses.

For too long, the evangelical church has ignored the problem of abuse, and this has enabled abusers. We insist on teaching that men have some kind of God-ordained power to be “priests of the home”—when Scripture actually teaches that all Christians—male and female—are priests. (The Bible actually never calls husbands “priests of the home.”)

God never intended marriage to be about hierarchy, domination, control or abuse. If we are ever going to stop abuse in the church, we must teach men to break free from a patriarchal spirit. We must take these three scriptural steps:

  1. Treat your wife as an equal. It’s true that God asks women to submit to their husbands; yet in the same passage in Ephesians, husbands and wives are instructed to submit to each other (see Eph. 5:21). Paul taught that married people have authority over each other’s bodies (see 1 Cor. 7:3-4), again stressing the concept of mutual submission. And Peter warned husbands that their prayers would be “hindered” if they do not treat their wives as “fellow heir[s] of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7, NASB). If wives are fellow-heirs, they are equals!

The gospel not only restores human beings to a relationship with God, but it reaffirms the dignity of women and their equal value. When a husband understands this and treats his wife with honor and respect, his marriage will reflect heaven.

  1. Serve your wife selflessly. Many Christian husbands ignorantly think Scripture gives them the right to boss their wives around, bark orders, demand sex or manipulate them with threats. They interpret the verse “the husband is the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:23, MEV) to mean that they can sit in their recliners like kings while their wives do all the housework and take care of the children.

That is not a marriage, it’s slavery. In God’s kingdom, “headship” is not dictatorship—it is servanthood.

Paul introduced a radical concept: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). This is the opposite of a cocky, macho attitude. A husband who loves Jesus will get out of his recliner and help with the dishes, play with the children and share the burden of family responsibilities. A husband’s love should be sacrificial.

  1. Encourage your wife’s spiritual gifts. I’ve known many Christian men over the years who kept their wives under tight surveillance. An insecure husband doesn’t want his wife to further her education, start a career or assume any leadership role because he views her as inferior (or maybe because his wife’s success exposes his weakness). Yet God’s desire is for a husband to be his wife’s biggest cheerleader. The man who was married to the Proverbs 31 woman, for example, praised his wife—not only for her virtue but also because of her success in the marketplace (see Prov. 31:28-29).

The Holy Spirit has the power to subdue the male ego. But we will never overcome the crisis of domestic abuse until we begin teaching the gospel of gender equality and challenging Christian men to swallow their patriarchal pride. Let’s quit promoting erroneous religious notions about male domination and get back to what the Bible really says about equality, mutual submission and honor.

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