By / Jul 5

Loving relationships possess great potential. When healthy and lively, they produce some of the sweetest joys of the human experience. But when they go awry, they can leave us with confusion, disappointment, and deep hurt. 

While “our desire for satisfying and loving relationships is a good one,” given by God, “God never intended for us to turn other people into our primary refuge or home,” says Ellen Mary Dykas. She is the author of a new book titled Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ, a 31-day devotional written to help readers “strengthen their relationship with Christ and cultivate godly relationships with others from a place of confidence and peace.” 

If you find yourself in a place where your relationships have gone askew, this book is a resource that will help you set them aright. For more about Toxic Relationships, you can read the conversation we shared with Dykas below.

How would you define a toxic relationship? What is it that makes a relationship toxic or unhealthy?

The idea of something being toxic is that it has become polluted or intruded upon by influences that don’t belong there. In this sense, when sinful dynamics and motivations are the fuel for a relationship, it’s become toxic with sin. My devotional book focuses on relationships that exhibit codependency or idolatrous desires and demand that someone be for us what only God can rightly be. Spouses make wonderful spouses, but lousy mini-messiahs; friends can be a joy and comfort but were never meant to replace Christ in our life. Parent-child relationships are a beautiful way to understand the heart of God for his children, and how children are meant to flourish under a parent’s love, but even family relationships shouldn’t be our source of ultimate identity and worth. 

When we look to a person and what we get from our relationship with them as our source of living water and daily bread, we’re in a danger zone, and idolatry is at play most likely. David said in Psalm 16:1-2, “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Toxic relationships happen when we insert a person’s name into this beautiful promise, and take God’s out, or move it to the sideline.

In the early pages of the book, you encourage your reader to “engage the journey (toward relational health) with faith-fueled realism.” What do you mean by this? Why is it important?

Faith-fueled realism keeps us grounded in our human frailty and God’s amazing grace and power. Faith in Christ and the transformation, which comes through the gospel, IS our inheritance. Yet, while we continue to contend with our sin nature and the powers of darkness, the process of becoming more like Jesus, and relationally healthy and holy, is a long one — a lifelong trajectory of dependence on God as we look to him rather than his creation for purpose and identity. I need a realistic view of my process, anchored completely in the truth of who God is. That is faith-fueled realism.

The book is very practical. In it, you urge readers to fast, to read Scripture daily, to engage in reflection, and to actually perform certain actions, all of which are intended to help them “grow toward relational wholeness.” Why are all these practices so integral to achieving the relational wholeness that you speak of?

I love this question! We need biblical truth to anchor us and practical application of that truth to send it into our lives. Sometimes when we want to grow as Christians we get started in the right direction: we aim to learn new things, understand our hearts more deeply, discern our motivations and how we’ve been off track through sin or foolishness. However, growth happens as the Spirit changes our hearts and we respond by faith with active repentance. I’m hopeful that my devotional book guides readers in steps of discipleship for the heart and then active steps to take at the street level of life.  

Clearly, you structured your book and its major sections intentionally. Can you talk about that? Why, for instance, do you begin with God as our refuge before you discuss the “how-to’s” of relational health?

Good catch; I did indeed organize the sections very intentionally. Let’s be honest that most of us, when facing a sin struggle, usually look for a quick and easy way out; we want to be fixed and cured. In the intro to my book I wrote, “The first section of devotional readings offers you an opportunity to engage in a weeklong fast from having your thoughts preoccupied by any one person or relational situation. If you really—I mean really—want to grow towards relational wholeness, you need to freshly focus on the one who truly meets your needs: God himself!” (p 12). 

I wanted to invite the reader to focus on God, then go on to Section 2 which leads us to a deeper understanding of how toxic codependency starts; why do some of us wrestle with this? Section 3 follows with practical steps to start taking that lead toward freedom. Then I wanted to finish out the months’ worth of readings with a deep immersion in the person of Jesus, our True Refuge. This is not a devotional that focuses 31 days’ worth of reading on your problems and how to quickly solve them. Rather (I hope!), it gently guides the reader through a process that I’ve found is most helpful in breaking these kinds of patterns in our relationships.

In your section titled “The Foundation of Toxic Relationships,” you cover several “roots” that often lead to unhealthy relationships. What foundations or roots, would you say, are the most common?

Of the several I cover, two rise up as common across the boards: unbelief and pain. Unbelief because we just don’t believe what the scriptures teach about God and how people are meant to be enjoyed, loved, and experienced under the loving lordship of Christ. Perhaps someone has never been taught this, or ever seen it modeled. Desires can be a powerful motivator to believe what we want to about people, and a common temptation is to insist that people effectively be a Jesus-replacement in our lives. 

However, I want to quickly address that pain is a common foundation as well. Suffering in this world wounds, breaks, and shapes us. Abandonment, abuse, betrayal, and loss are ‘educators’ which influence what we believe about life, people, and ourselves. When a biblical worldview isn’t in the mix it would be expected that we develop thinking and patterns of life based on what feels good to us, what seems to protect and provide for us. Our world of relationships is a common target for misguided hopes, desires, and the deep healing of heartache that only Christ can accomplish.

Can our poor foundation be repaired? How?

Yes, through the heart transformation and healing that only Christ can bring! When Jesus began his public ministry (see Luke 4:16-20), he quoted Isaiah 61, a messianic passage, and claims to be the Messiah. Jesus alone can do more than “repair” but radically remake our hearts into something new, whole, forgiven, and free. The process of faith + humility + dependence + active steps of change leads to new fruit bearing out of our lives, including in our world of relationships. 

What role does/should the spiritual family, the church, play in our pursuit of relational health?

I’ll quote from my book as this is an important topic for me: 

“Relationships within the body of Christ, through local churches, are crucial for our growth as followers of Jesus. God has no only children; you have many brothers and sisters, and it’s important to proactively pursue relationships centered on the gospel through a community of faith” (p. 49). 

A family of believers with whom we ‘do life’ allows us to be known, loved, and encouraged in specific ways. The process of disentangling yourself from a codependent relationship is not only painful and messy, but a long process (usually). God has provided others to guide and support us as we seek to grow new patterns of relationship; it’s crucial to have ‘on the ground’ journey companions to keep us moving forward.

When pursuing relational health, one of your encouragements for the reader is to “live hidden in plain sight.” What do you mean by that?

Colossians 3:1-4 says that through our union with Jesus we are in fact “hidden” in him. I’ve pondered recently how our relationship with him can’t be posted on social media, or made visible in and of itself. It’s mysterious, spiritual, and hidden as Christ has made his home in us and we abide in him through the power of the Spirit (see John 15:1-11). Our common temptation is to seek to hide ‘in’ a person, rather than in Christ, effectively attempting to make that person our home. 

As rich and deep as our relationships with people can be, the closest friendship and the most intimate and one-flesh marriage relationship are only a shadow or taste of our union with Jesus. The fruits of our oneness with Christ are indeed visible as the life of Christ bears out of us in loving deeds and a lifestyle of faith. To live hidden in plain sight, then, is to actively engage relationships with people through our close relationship with Jesus. We let people off the hook for being our life source and draw from the hidden, yet very real, intimacy we share with Christ.

The book’s final section centers on the person of Jesus and who he is for the believer. What role does meditating on Jesus play in our pursuit of relational health?

Meditating on Jesus is a way we not only think about Jesus (with the mind of Christ! 1 Cor 2:16) but a pathway with which we commune with him. Isn’t this amazing?! We can meditate, fantasize, or daydream about a person but we’re not communing with a person through those practices. We are separate from people but united through Christ alone. Like the branches in John 15 making a home in the True Vine of Christ, we are knit together through the life of Christ in all of us. Codependent relationships seek a direct union with a person, which depends on what we get or give in the relationship, rather than “Christ between us.” So, as we meditate on Christ, we allow his truth to have a home in us (Col. 3:16), and we set him apart as Lord over all of our relationships. Jesus is then central and supreme (Col. 1:16-18) over the relationship, rather than the relationship being our lord.

For readers who find themselves in a toxic relationship, what do you hope this book accomplishes for them? How would you encourage them moving forward?

My hope is that any reader who is in the throes of a toxic mess will be comforted, coached, and challenged through this devotional. Truly, as I have experienced the anguish of these messy entanglements, I know how much shame and hopelessness can overwhelm a person’s heart. Christ does not shame you for your relationship struggles but invites you to take a bold step away and out of what is not of him. God’s Word may not have the exact vocabulary for what we call things now, like ‘codependency,’ but his wisdom touches all areas of our human life. He knows we are prone to make idols of his greatest gifts, including people. For this Christ came, to set you free and call you to let go, surrender, and to pray Phillippians 2:13, that you would be willing to have your desires and will changed. You may feel terrified to let go of a relationship as it is; Jesus is with you in it and will not disappoint or fail you. Take a step to look to him, ask a fellow believer for help, and trust that your obedience will bear fruit. You can trust him to carry and bear this burden for you (Psa. 68:19-20).

By / Apr 20

During the past 12 months at home, my children and I have enjoyed learning about and imagining faraway places through books and documentaries. We like to talk about where my three young sons would like to go, which animals they would see, and the people they would meet. This thought experiment is not far from the truth. I pray my children will have the opportunity to travel the world and meet many people from all walks of life. 

As a parent, it’s both thrilling and challenging to consider how my children will engage a future world, one they will inhabit without me by their side. How can I prepare them for the diverse experiences, opportunities, and relationships that lay ahead? In addition to instilling a faith in God, my husband and I are committed to teaching our children to see and value the inherent dignity of every person. We believe this reflects God’s character and his care. And we pray that our children learn to see those in need and respond in love and service for the vulnerable. Here are a few ways we are aiming toward this. 

Instill personal worth

Before a person can show honor to someone else, they have to live with a sense of personal dignity. Our children must understand that God made them, loves them, and sent his Son to redeem them. It’s important for Christian parents to prioritize this teaching right alongside the biblical teachings of depravity and sin, (Gen. 3; Rom. 5), not emphasizing one more than the other. 

We want them to know that no matter what they do, what happens to them, or what other people say about them, their worth is secure in Christ. We desire that they know the unchanging character of God so that they may proclaim it to themselves in times of doubt: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34). In addition, we want them to live with appropriate expectations of how they should be treated respectfully and kindly by those around them. 

Tell stories 

How do children learn? How did Jesus teach? Through stories! What an amazing gift God has given us in the medium of stories. Tell stories about when your children came into your family, how you prayed for them, and how you loved them before you met them. Teach about God’s plan for their lives and how he has chosen you to be a family. Demonstrate with your words how valuable they are to you and to the Lord.

Stories are also a great way to build a sense of identity and community. Tell stories about your family, especially the family members who have passed or those who live far away. Talk about what you love about them. What makes each person unique? How did God design them? Share stories about your family in the faith, about those who welcomed you into a new community, or who showed love to you when you did not deserve it. Explain how they made you feel, utilizing an emotional vocabulary that your children could use. Help your children to see themselves as a part of these groups—their family and the church—and how the characteristics you’ve discussed should inhabit their lives. 

Foster diverse relationships

Revelation 7 describes a crowd “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” We should seek to make our present relationships reflect our future ones—full of diversity. Look for opportunities to introduce your children to families and individuals who are culturally different than you. Help your child understand that although differences do exist, we are all made in the image of God intentionally (Gen. 1:27). Do this purposefully, with grace and humility. Otherwise, most of us will drift into monolithic spaces on our own. 

Intergenerational relationships are important as well. Your local church is a great place for these relationships to grow. If you have the gift of grandparents and great-grandparents, invest in those relationships. Watch as your children learn to love someone who is 80 years older than they. Let them ask their curious questions and ponder what it means to grow older, while also learning what it means to show respect.   

Store up good things 

In all of these places, in all of these ways, nothing is more important than you, the parent or guardian, leading by example. Your children will watch how you speak and how you act. Pray and ask the Lord to reveal to you any thoughts that do not reflect God’s love and the inherent worth of all people. Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” 

Take time to store up the good things from the Lord and his Word that demonstrate his love for all people (John 3:16). In a world where differences so often stir up division and anger, may we be and raise the people who will take the opportunity to marvel at the multifaceted beauty of God’s creation and demonstrate the gracious and compassionate love of our Savior to those around us. 

This article originally appeared here

Photo attribution: RyanJLane | Getty Images

By / Apr 19

Recently, I was reading a book and was impressed by the scholar’s careful exposition, nuanced approach, and charitable engagement with critics. Naturally, in the age of social media, I decided to look up the author online and was surprised by what I found. It seemed that the scholar was acting a certain way on one medium and a different way on the other. Social media tends to tempt a number of us to post things that we would never publish in a book, much less say in person to another human being.

“The medium is the metaphor”

There is often a significant disconnect between how we portray ourselves online and then personally with others. This is notable because social media and digital culture tends to bifurcate our lives, giving us the impression that we have an “online” life and a “real” life. We frequently use technology to portray ourselves in certain ways depending on the medium, where the medium often dictates to us how we are to live, understand truth, and navigate the tensions in life. Neil Postman, in his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, describes this reality by using the phrase “the medium is the metaphor.” He writes how the medium in which something is communicated has significant bearing on the content itself and the reception of that message.

Postman describes this phenomenon by saying, “Major new medium changes the structure of discourse; it does so by encouraging certain uses of the intellect, and by demanding a certain form of content—in a phrase, by creating new forms of truth telling” (27). Earlier in the book, he writes how this concept may also be portrayed in the Bible when God forbids his people from making images of him in the Decalogue (Exo. 20:4) because he knows that it will alter the way that his people see him and hear his call on their lives.

Postman claims that every form of media favors a particular kind of content, and these forms are able to take command of a culture, shaping it toward a particular end. He argues that the rise of television media significantly altered the way that we thought about the world, the nature of truth, and even how we structure our lives. It became both a “meta-medium” that directs our knowledge of the world as well as a “myth” that functioned below our conscious awareness (78-79). He deems these new forms or methods of knowledge “dangerous and absurdist” as they replaced the prior emphasis on the written word.

Since Postman died in 2003, we can only speculate how he might describe the exponential breakdown of truth and ways that we process information in 2021 with social media. I can only imagine that he would be even more alarmed at the dangerous perversions of “truth” from conspiracy theories, fake news, and deepfakes, as well as the disconnected lives that people exhibit online, in print, and in person.

What does this mean for us?

So if Postman is correct—and I think he is—then what does that mean for those of us who inhabit this age of social media?

First, we each need to recognize how digital tools like social media are constantly shaping or discipling us each day. We must realize that the power these digital mediums have over us is not only altering how we think about truth, the world around us, and our neighbors but also altering how we depict ourselves. The reality is that we often mimic what we see online to the detriment of our souls and public witness.

Why is it that we tend to post takedowns without context or subtweets of those with whom we disagree? Why is it that we feel we must comment on every bit of news, especially on things about which we have little or no prior knowledge about? Why is it that we will spend countless amounts of time crafting a perfect post that someone will spend mere milliseconds reading in order to garner additional likes, shares, or engagement? Why is it that we will act charitably and gracefully toward someone in person or in long-form writing, only to turn around and seek to disgracefully dunk on them with an uncharitable post, clickbait title, or angry rant just to be seen as the right kind of person to our own tribe or to appease our naysayers?

While these issues are complex and much more can (and should) be written on these issues, we need to see that the medium itself is encouraging and shaping us toward that end. But it is far too easy to scapegoat the platforms or technologies today, rather than taking personal responsibility for our own actions and for the disconnect in our digital lives.

Second, we need to recognize that we think the digital world is cut off from reality. We tend to view it like a private megaphone that we can use to say and do things that we never would otherwise. Social media can easily become merely performative and fuel our addictions to self aggrandizement. We build platforms on outrage and then seem surprised when our outrage fails to satisfy. Thus, we must continue to dial it up in order to keep people coming back as they grow more and more desensitized to this type of content.

This point was brought home to me over the weekend when a friend and former pastor of mine posted about how he recently heard two different stories that detailed how someone’s online presence affected their “real life.” Both stories involved a person either being hired or being passed over for a professorship based on their online activities and public disposition. He explained how our online activities have become part of our resumes. While the medium of social media may encourage or even allow us to divide our lives in some type of digital fairyland disconnected from reality, the things we do online are very public and will have long-lasting effects on us, not only in terms of job opportunities but also on our souls. 

Each person must evaluate these things for themselves and reach a conclusion about how to move forward in this digital economy. Some will intentionally step back from social media and pursue obscurity online as they invest in the people and places right in front of them. Others will use digital platforms to encourage, challenge, and teach others but must do so with their eyes open to the detriments and dangerous effects of these tools. While we may think we are fighting the culture war or protecting the sheep through our digital engagement, we may actually be leading others and even ourselves astray by failing to remember that we are called to be above reproach in all places and through all mediums (Titus 1:6-8), and to model Christlikeness as members of the body of Christ.

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By / Mar 30

At the very core of who we are exists a deep desire and fundamental need for connection, belonging, and security found only within relationships. This eternal truth can be traced back to the very beginning of time.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

God’s design for connection

The community between the Father, Son, and Spirit is imprinted on the human soul—we bear the imago Dei, “image of God.” As the creation narrative unfolds, God reflects on his creation of Adam, remarking, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God’s response to Adam’s solitude is the creation of Eve, Adam’s partner. The height of joy and depth of trust experienced through loving relationships and secure attachment are fundamentally God’s idea and God’s design. 

More than 2,000 years later, we take our place in history longing for connection—remembering this foundational truth and holding onto this eternal hope for ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, and perhaps most importantly for our children. Yes, God created us to be in relationship—at peace with him, with others, and in our hearts. And yet, with the fall of mankind into sin, we now experience the pain of broken relationships and the vulnerability of isolation. This is the painful reality for many of the children Show Hope seeks to serve—children who have been orphaned. 

It is not uncommon for children who come home through adoption and foster care to have had exposure to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, trauma, loss, and/or neglect. As these children enter our families and our stories intertwine with theirs, tensions may surface. We must ask ourselves, How do we effectively communicate the truth of the gospel—an invitation into a forever relationship with Christ—to our children who may carry attachment injuries and associate belonging and connection with fear?

As scientific research expounds, our understanding of the human brain is only beginning to grasp the fullness and complexities of God’s design. And as only God could design, the human brain is pliable and can be rewired. Developmental psychologist and advocate for children Dr. Karyn Purvis once said, “Our children were harmed in relationship, and they will experience healing through nurturing relationships.” When we step into the journey of caring for children who have been affected by early loss and trauma, an incredible invitation is extended. We have the opportunity to help rewrite the narrative—to help lead our children to places of emotional, physical, and neurological healing by being the hands and feet of Christ. 

Furthermore, by choosing to love children from difficult beginnings, we are afforded a front-row seat as God’s miraculous work unfolds. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the sacredness, beauty, and peace of imago Dei is reimagined and reaffirmed as our children become at home with our love. 

Surely, no one person could do this work alone or without the encouragement and support of a wider community. This is why Show Hope’s Pre+Post Adoption Support exists. We understand—as many of you do—that the adoption journey doesn’t end the day a child is welcomed home. Because of the difficult beginnings many of our children have experienced, we must work diligently to help them reimagine home and experience belonging and connection.  

Learn how to build trust and connection with vulnerable children

Families affected by adoption and/or foster care can benefit from Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) methods developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU, which exists to bring attachment and connection in families. TBRI “is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children.” At its core, TBRI works to promote trust and connection between caregivers and children by addressing physical and emotional needs while also disarming fear-based behavior. 

And, so, while TBRI may be perceived as clinical in nature as it involves the complexities of science, at Show Hope, we believe that at its core, TBRI is an expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, with Michael and Amy Monroe, wrote, 

The longing of the human heart is to connect and belong. We long to connect with our Creator, in whose image we have been made, and by God’s grace such a connection is possible. As relational beings, we also have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human conditions is undoubtedly between a parent and child.

Build a community of support

Another practical step in serving and equipping families and caregivers is launching a support or small group for individuals and parents affected by adoption and/or foster care within your church or faith community. Perhaps you can begin meeting weekly or monthly in prayer, study, and conversation. A great resource to walk through is Created to Connect. This study guide sheds light and goes deeper into the biblical principles that serve as the foundation for the philosophy and interventions detailed in The Connected Child by Drs. Purvis and Cross. 

As part of that support or small group, recruit volunteers who can be on-call to help meet the everyday needs of adoptive and/or foster care families. It can be as simple as setting up a meal train for heavy, busy seasons of life or offering childcare for parents to have a night out for reconnecting. The adoption and/or foster care journey is not meant to be traveled alone. As a local church or individuals, we have the opportunity to come alongside children and families in service and support. 

Find hope for the journey

Show Hope’s new Hope for the Journey Conference will premiere on Friday, April 9, with a broadcast period through Mon., May 31. The conference includes training in TBRI, a new teaching component called The Gospel + TBRI, and Practical Perspectives videos featuring the voices of adult adoptees and foster youth alumni as well as adoptive and foster families. The conference targets parents and caregivers meeting the everyday needs of children impacted by adoption and/or foster care, and remains a resource for churches, agencies, and other organizations as they support and equip the families, caregivers, and the communities they serve. It can be a great opportunity to educate volunteers on the needs of children and families affected by adoption and/or foster care. 

Will you join with us in showing up and showing hope?

By / Feb 18

Living in a digital age, there are few problems that can’t be fixed with a smartphone. Trends over the past few years indicate that singles have been finding this to be true even of finding a date—nearly half of young adults say that they have tried to get hitched using a dating app or site. Thanks to mediums like Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Hinge, and many others, linking up with a potential partner is only a swipe away.

As our age becomes increasingly digitized, it should be no surprise that Christians are among those trying to find partners online. But while it is commendable to desire marriage and we can rejoice that technology can aid the search for a spouse, the way these services are designed can be problematic. Christians searching for a spouse on these mediums should be cautious of these potential pitfalls:

1. Dating apps can be consumeristic and individualistic

Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge work by having the user browse through a plethora of profiles, hoping for matches by “liking” or “disliking” the countless individuals that come through their feed. The apps’ algorithms tailor the sample of profiles to the user’s personal fancies, promoting potential partners based on the number of preferences they meet. This creates the possibility of turning one’s search for a date into what is essentially an internet shopping experience, where the “items” that are ultimately meant to fulfill the user’s wants and needs are real people. Individuals that have been secured as matches become comparable to objects in an online shopping cart.

While there is nothing wrong with preferring some qualities in potential partners over others, the seemingly infinite sample dating apps give us makes it easy to imagine that there is someone out there who is more perfect than the one currently right in front of us. Under this assumption, the search for one’s spouse is individualistic and self-centered—the goal of marriage becomes not how we may serve God and our spouse, but how a partner may fulfill our own desires.

2. They can perpetuate lust

Christians who are prone to lustful thoughts upon visual triggers should be aware of the ways dating apps can perpetuate this form of sin. Because of the relative inability to use one’s personality to attract likes, a profile’s images are what drive matches—both men and women listed a person’s photos as the most important indicator of their like-worthiness. Men are advised to strategize their profile photos, and women are incentivized to draw attention with sexually suggestive images. 

While lust is just as prevalent offline as it is online, dating apps present a unique challenge to purity. Because of the distinct role photos play in earning and issuing likes, coupled with the sheer volume of images users are able to swipe through, it is not difficult for one to get carried away scrutinizing the physical attractiveness of one individual after the other. To be clear, the issue is not the act of liking a person’s profile because of his or her appearance, but the enticing effects the alluring photos on these apps may bring about. Lust that can arise from the unchecked use of these services is harmful for the person who has been tempted into adultery of the heart (Matt. 5:28), and it is also dehumanizing for the countless individuals who have been objectified and evaluated solely on their physical qualities. Christians should keep this unique nature of dating apps in mind as they use them.

3. Dating apps can be addictive

Dating apps are deliberately addictive. Psychology Today notes how programmers intentionally work “to ‘gamify’ dating so you’ll become addicted to the experience of ‘playing’ it and will soon come back for more.” On top of the hooking nature of swiping through profiles, the rush one receives upon finding a match or receiving a like gives validation and boosts confidence. These dopamine spikes urge the user to get back to swiping, looking at more advertisements, or paying more fees for the service, generating more revenue for the developers. 

These addictive tendencies may also reinforce a consumeristic disposition toward dating and could habituate the objectification of people of the opposite sex. The obsessive nature of dating apps demands that singles use them with caution and moderation so as to avoid these destructive patterns.

How should Christians use dating apps?

The first and most important thing to note about these dangers is that all three make one’s own personal fulfillment the center of relationship-finding. But to place one’s own wants or needs as the object of a relationship or marriage cuts directly against biblical teaching. Paul describes the profound mystery of marriage as an image of Christ’s oneness with his church (Eph. 5:31-33). It is for this reason that husbands are called to give themselves up for their wives as Christ did for the church (5:25-29), and wives are likewise called to devote themselves to their husbands as the church does to the Lord (5:22-24). Contrary to the sentiments that can easily be perpetuated by dating apps, Scripture describes an individual’s relationship with his or her spouse as a self-giving endeavor (cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-5). 

Because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.

But what can the foundational principles of a biblical marriage weighed against these possible pitfalls inform us about how Christians should use dating apps? I encourage singles using or considering signing up for a dating app to consider these three points of advice:

Know yourself. This requires daily prayer and meditation on the Word. Earnestly examine your heart and ask God to do the same (Psa. 139:23-24). Be aware of what sins you are naturally drawn to, and be diligent in fighting them. Do you become addicted easily? Are alluring photos a constant source of temptation for you? If so, it may not be wise to download a dating app. Prayerfully consider your weaknesses and whether or not your use of one of these mediums will exploit them.

Monitor yourself. As you use dating apps, continually observe the effects it has on your thoughts and attitude, and adjust your activity accordingly. If you find yourself becoming addicted or if you notice lustful tendencies arising, consider setting time limits or periodically remove the app from your device to take breaks. To combat consumeristic dispositions and objectifying others on the site, strive to be more intentional in your interactions with the individuals you match with—take steps to get to know them as people and fellow image-bearers by loving and encouraging them.

The most effective way you can monitor your heart for this purpose is by immersing yourself in a rich, gospel-centered body of believers who will lovingly hold you accountable. Find members within your local church who will disciple you, exhort you to purity, and encourage you amidst singleness. Sin cannot be adequately fought in isolation, and fellow members of a local congregation are indispensable to guard against temptations that may arise with the use of dating apps.

Comfort yourself with the gospel. Whether or not you are able to use a dating app in a healthy manner, as you pray God will provide you a husband or wife, pray most of all that he will provide you contentment in his Son (Phil. 4:11-13). Remember also that marriage, as beautiful as it may be, is merely a foretaste of what is to come when Christ returns. If you are in him, you will one day experience joys that far outshine even the greatest blessings of marriage. As you wait and hope for a spouse, wait and hope for that day even more.

Do this through constant prayer and devotion. Share with your neighbors the hope you have within you (1 Pet. 3:15). Commit yourself to a local congregation, and serve it dutifully. It is within these assemblies of saints that we are given a glimpse of that future day when we are all gathered around the throne. Such actions may not fill the hole left by singleness, but they will point you to the One who does.   

Taking into account God’s decrees for humanity to have dominion over creation (Gen 1:28) and for man to leave his parents to be united to his wife (2:24), we can infer that it is quite human to cultivate the Earth through innovation and use such advancements for the purpose of finding a spouse. But because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.

By / Jan 21

Dan Trippie, pastor of Restoration Church in Buffalo, New York, talks about how the pandemic has allowed his church to build good relationships with the community.

By / Sep 7

For most of my career, I’ve gone to the office. There is something to the ritual of getting dressed up, leaving the house, and reporting to work. My father didn’t do white-collar work, so I never saw him grab a briefcase, but I did hear him stir in the early morning hours before hearing the garage open and his work van pull out of the driveway. I’m glad my kids were accustomed to seeing me leave to go and do what we are created to do: work, create, and innovate.

But this pandemic has forced us into new rhythms, hasn’t it? In the last few years I’ve spent more time working from home as my employers have given me that flexibility, but one day a week working at the kitchen table turned into five days a week in a newly-created office space as COVID-19 initiated a massive exodus from corporate spaces.

I’ve had mixed feelings about working from home all these months. On the one hand, I miss the camaraderie of an office, the casual drop-in conversations that often spark new ideas, and the seemingly idle banter that shapes the culture of an office environment and builds friendships. 

And yet, I’ve enjoyed working from home in many ways. Though I’m focused on my work, my wife and kids are always nearby. We’ve gotten closer as a family in these many months together, enjoying meals and walks and conversations, some intentional, some impromptu. I also don’t hate dressing less casual, with sweatpants as the new workwear.

Most of all, God has helped me see work in new ways. I’d like to share five of them here.

1. I’ve learned to be grateful for my work.

Working from home is an adjustment, but I’m reminded as I read the headlines and talk to friends and family that I’m working while many are not. I’m fortunate to have steady work that is in demand. So even on the most frustrating days, where the thorns and thistles of a fallen world choke out the joy of our labors, if we are working and that paycheck is dropping into the bank account, we should praise the Lord for his provision and pray for those who are jobless.

2. I’ve learned to be flexible in my work.

Flexibility isn’t a word you will find in the Bible, but it is definitely implied. 2020 has produced so much upheaval. Many of the regular rhythms we were used to—our commutes, lunches out with colleagues, travel—have been upended. Kids are at home when they should be at school. And for those marginalized by shutdowns and the virus, their entire economic situation has been turned upside down. Business owners have lost everything, workers are unable to find employment, and people are sick and dying from the coronavirus.

We are having to learn trust alongside gratitude. Flexibility means having an open-handedness and the willingness to regularly rely on God’s sovereignty in the midst of uncertainty.

3. I’ve learned to appreciate the value of the work itself.

There is something about being in the place where you live all the time that makes a job seem less like a job. And I often have to remind my children that I’m actually working and not just hanging out. Yet, ironically, the blurring of lines makes me better value the actual work for its worth.

Work is not an office or a construction site or a studio, though these are arenas for what we do with our hands and minds. Work is the labor we do, resulting in something meaningful. It glorifies God when we create and innovate and serve. We often see a job as a means to an end, when we need to recognize the work itself as a way we image our working God.

4. I’ve learned to create better margins.

One of the dangers of working from home is the creeping way that work becomes all-consuming. Even in normal times, it is hard to put the phone down or close the laptop, but when your desk is in the living room, it’s harder to tell yourself that it’s closing time. It’s easy to eat through lunch at your desk.

Early on in the pandemic, we made a decision to convert a part of our downstairs into an office instead of me taking over the dining room table. This has helped me create margin. My work is there in that spot, and when I leave it, I’m not at work (unless I’m pacing the neighborhood on a phone call or radio interview). I still struggle with unplugging and unwinding, but these months home have helped me create cleaner lines.

5. I’ve learned to appreciate the preciousness of embodied relationships.

Thankfully, we live in an era where technological innovations have allowed us to do meaningful work from home. Technology can be problematic in a fallen world and have perverse incentives, but innovation is actually fulfilling the Genesis mandate, fashioning advances from the raw materials of God’s good creation.

And yet, as wonderful as it is to be able to do video calls, to host conferences and gatherings virtually, and to be able to call and text and email, none of this can come close to replacing actual embodied human interaction. Screens only get us so far. We were made and fashioned by God for community and meaningful interaction. 

I suspect that while work from home will be a permanent option for a good number of organizations, this lesson might be the most profound for all of us. For many, there will be a growing desire to see and enjoy the people we work alongside and to form those bonds that can last a lifetime. And while COVID-19 has interrupted these things for a season, we can go about our work knowing that, whether at home or in a building, whatever God has given us to do is a gift. Our faithfulness in and out of season is what he requires and what brings him pleasure.

By / Aug 27

Amid the cultural upheaval of COVID-19 and what has turned out to be one of the most eventful years in modern history, a dehumanizing and predatory perversion of technology has been spreading in the darkness of our communities: pornography. While the out-of-sight nature of pornography makes it is easier to shrug off its insidiousness, especially given the social unrest of the moment, the rise in predatory marketing plans and expanded pornography use should not be left alone because of the monumental human dignity implications.

As the coronavirus lockdowns went into effect throughout the world in March, Pornhub, the world’s largest online pornography provider, announced that they were providing users in Italy free access and subscriber privileges due to the nation’s outbreak and isolation. The company has also provided similar access to users in other nations such as Spain and France. In light of the free and open access to this pornographic content, Pornhub self-reported on their official blog that daily usage increased by 38-61% throughout these European countries, which led them to also claim that “people all over Europe were happy to have distractions while quarantined at home.” According to the company’s June analytics report, “worldwide traffic to Pornhub continues to be much higher than it was before the Coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide.”

The company also demonstrates how people are also searching for virus-related pornography. According to Pornhub’s report, there have “been more than 18.5 million searches containing Corona, 1.5 million containing Covid and 11.8 million containing Quarantine. More than 1250 coronavirus themed videos have been uploaded to Pornhub, with many being viewed over 1 million times.”

None of this should come as a surprise because the pornography industry is well-suited for a worldwide pandmeic. As the Economist reports, the industry “has already largely moved online; and its consumers often voluntarily self-isolate.” This pandemic has not created a pornography problem in our communities and homes, but it has esacerbated a deep and disturbing trend of separating sexual desire from relational wholeness and marital fidelity.

The problem of porn

Statistics can only take us so far in understanding the deceptive nature of pornography and how it is ruining so many lives throughout our world. At the heart of pornography use is not just young men and women who are unable to control their sexual desires or openly reject God’s good design for our sexuality. The core of the problem is an acceptance of a worldview and morality that isolates our sexuality from our whole person. This deep division of body and mind from flesh and desires contributes to the growing trend of the normalization of pornography and the perversion of human sexuality.

The unbridled mantra of our day is that the real you is your deepest desires and emotions, cut off from the embodied nature of humanity. As Nancy Pearcey states in her book Love Thy Body, “sexual intercourse, the most intimate of bodily experiences, has been disconnected from personal relations” (emphasis original). This bifurcation of humanity has led to countless perversions and abuses of fellow image-bearers, most evidently seen in the rise of the sexual revolution and the corresponding rise of pornography worldwide.

As the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

When we separate what it means to be an embodied soul, the use of pornography becomes commonplace because it allows for the sexual high outside of any relational context and reduces humanity down to what writer Melinda Selmys describes as a “wet machine,” which could also be understood as a soulless body or organic machine. The real you—the disembodied ghost— controls this machine in order to pursue pleasure in any way you see fit, regardless of the cost to yourself or others.

Alongside this division of body and soul, another dehumanizing effect of pornography is the objectification the person on the other side of the screen (or even headset, in light of the explosive growth of VR porn in the last few years). One of the ways this manifests itself is in the faceless nature of pornography and the obession over the body. God designed the face to play a major role in how we see each other as individuals and subjects, worthy of respect and honor, and made in his image (Gen. 1:26-28). As the late philosopher Roger Scruton describes in The Face of God,

“The underlying tendency of erotic images in our time is to present the body as the focus and meaning of desire, the place where it all occurs, in the momentary spasm of sensual pleasure of which the soul is at best a spectator, and no part of the game. In pornography the face has no role to play, other than to be subjected to the empire of the body. Kisses are of no significance, and eyes look nowhere since they are searching for nothing beyond present pleasure. All of this amounts to a marginalization, indeed a kind of desecration, of the human face.” (107)

Scruton goes on to show that this desecration of the face leads to a “canceling out of the subject,” rendering sex—especially in a pornographic culture—“not as a relation between subjects but a relation between objects.” Through the use of pornography, we naturally objectify the other because we are not concerned with them as a fellow human but rather as an instrument that leads to our sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure becomes the primary goal of the user rather than a deep and intimate connection with another image-bearer as a whole person. 

Predatory porn

The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. These victims often see sexual acts as the only way to provide for themselves or even as a way to attain fulfilment or freedom.

During this pandemic, some people are turning to various pornographic websites like IsMyGirl to earn extra income. This particular site offers predatory promises by signing up to become a model. According to a March press release, the company opened up lucrative “opportunities” for furloughed or out-of-work McDonald’s employees. The popular pornography platform stated, “in an effort to help McDonald’s employees, and to make sure they can continue to provide for themselves and their families, we want to help provide them with a legitimate option.”

This “legitimate” option is nothing less than asking others to sell their bodies in order to make ends meet during these extraordinary times. But as the culture around us continues to buy into the lie of the sexual revolution, the Church has a call to proclaim the goodness of the created order and the redemption found in Jesus Christ.

While it may be tempting to overlook those stuck in cycles of pornography use or even the industry itself, Christians have the mandate to speak out against the predatory practices of the entire pornographic industry. Part of this mandate will mean that some believers will need to address and seek help for their own pornography addictions. For others, it will mean speaking out against these dehumanizing atrocities in order to expose the lies and predation of the porngraphic industry. 

The Christan moral witness proclaims that sex is not designed for a temporary high, online exploit, or even a late-night addiction. We are more than just machines. We are people created in God’s image. We are embodied souls who are offered redemption by the God who took on flesh himself in order to save us from ourselves. And our hope in the midst of this porn pandemic is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time. As the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us. 

By / Oct 23

We live in a world where issues arise in the news and culture daily. Behind every issue, however, is a person—a person made in the image of God. This new ERLC Podcast series, “How to Handle,” will tackle tough issues for today with the hopes of equipping the church on how to handle the topic, care for those struggling with sin and temptation, and care for those who have been hurt. 

Subscribe here

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By / Feb 8

When was the last time you had a deep, soul-satisfying conversation?

My guess is you remember it precisely, because meaningful conversation is such a rarity. Not to bash lighthearted banter—because having a fun is one important aspect of relating to others. And it’s not that we are refusing to speak to each other, because in our hyper-connected world, we are actually sharing plenty! As writer Sherry Turkle says, “We are so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to talk to one another about what really matters.”

In today’s deluge of words, however, I’ve found that my soul is often still parched. I crave deep, soul-satisfying conversation that affirms I am not alone in my hopes, fears, dreams and disappointments. Finding the time and space for such conversation is tough for all of us. It used to be that people gathered regularly—daily, even—on front porches, by the hearth, around kitchen tables. Vital information would be shared; stories would be told, time and again, renewed with each telling. Community was being built with shared words, laughter and tears. People knew each other’s stories and knew where they belonged.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the art of storytelling, and with it, we’ve lost our sense of community. Lack of community is devastating because God made us to be in close relationship with others. Even in the perfection of Eden, the one thing God labelled as “not good” was Adam’s aloneness (Gen. 2:18). Community is good because it reflects the perfection of our God who is three-in-one, the perfect fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit. And so God fashioned another human for Adam, so that he would have a human to fellowship with and be known by.

Likewise, we need community and meaningful relationships. Sharing our lives is, in essence, the sharing of stories. We tell each other the episodes and chapters of our lives, and this is the key to restoring community and the building the meaningful relationships we all crave.

As good as that sounds, I often feel at a loss, not really knowing where to begin. How do I, for example, build a deeper friendship with a friend I’ve known for years but only at a surface level? To grow the friendship, I would need to know more of her story. All stories, including those of our lives, follow the basic plot line elements of beginnings, obstacles, hope and future (from Spread Truth’s resource Life as We Know It). To know my friend’s story, I need to get the shape of it by learning about her:

Beginnings: Do I know how her story began? What characters played central roles? The setting and location? Favorite childhood memories?

Obstacles: Do I know the difficulties she has faced? Where has her story taken dark turns? What rough patches has she endured? How have these shaped her approach to life?

Hope: Do I know who or what has brought her hope? When did her story take a turn for the better? What makes her come alive?

Future: Do I know her dreams? What legacy does she want to leave? What does she want to accomplish in life? How does she think this life ends?

Questions like these are countless! Each one will help me know my friend’s story, cutting a path for a deeper relationship and true community.

Pursuing community with the people around us will, of course, take a bit of intentionality. At first, it may feel awkward. But we are simply out of practice! We have to be brave, have courage. Community and connectedness will grow as we purposefully speak about the deeper things that truly matter.