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How Biblical Counseling Transformed My Marriage

Truth in Love 284

We began to see our relationship in light of pleasing God, rather than just pleasing ourselves.

Nov 9, 2020

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast we have a wonderful opportunity to listen in on a conversation by our Director of Training Center Certification, Dr. Sam Stephens, and our wonderful brother, a faithful servant of the Lord, Tim Keeter. Many of you know Tim as one of our teachers through our CDTs (our Counseling Discipleship Trainings, which are regional trainings that happen throughout the U.S. Tim is also an elder at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, Alabama. He works as an aerospace engineer. I mean this guy is wicked smart. I love talking to Tim about all those really fun and fascinating things.

He’s also married to Carmen and has three children. He and Carmen are empty nesters, getting accustomed to having three children who are now out of the home. I’m always so blessed when I get to spend some time with Tim, and I’m very excited that you’re going to get to hear a little bit of his story and how the Lord used a significant church to minister to he and his wife. I can’t wait for you to hear this conversation, and look forward to you hearing Sam and Tim as they talked about the importance of biblical counseling as it relates to redeeming marriage. 

Sam Stephens: Well Tim, it’s so great to have you in the studio for the first time here in Kansas City. We’re glad that you’re here. I want to talk to you a little bit about your testimony.

This is kind of a unique podcast for us lately. Our listeners have had a little bit of philosophy. We’ve been talking about methodology and counseling, but this is more of a testimonial—about how you, and actually your wife as well, were both introduced to biblical counseling. I’d love to hear a little bit about your story. 

Tim Keeter: Thanks Sam. It’s always a pleasure to spend some time with you here. Our testimony is really nothing spectacular compared to many. It’s not full of a lot of extreme drama, but ultimately, as we all know, it’s not our story. It’s a story of how the Lord works through the faithful ministry of His Word by other believers practicing the one anothers. So in a sense all the things you have been talking about come together in our personal narratives. The point here is there’s probably many couples just like we were in our early years, in your churches now.

To kind of dive in with a little bit of background, both of us grew up in the 80s. We were teenagers back in the 80s. We attended churches where we heard the gospel preached faithfully. I’m very particularly thankful that the influence of my parents and my pastor encouraged me to have a very high few view of Scripture’s authority and infallibility. That went with me on this journey. Clarity on biblical counseling, at least at that time, was widely unknown—the need for it, the training of it, and that type of thing. It was in pockets, still in its infancy in a lot of ways.

We met in college. We met at Auburn University and we were married in 1992. I was 22 and she was 20, which is a little frightening now because that’s the ages of my two youngest children pretty much. But I’ll say too that premarital counseling in our backgrounds lacked the kind of training and teaching and intentional discipleship that thankfully is a lot more common now, at least by my observation. I knew the Bible had things to say about roles and we had observed those things in our homes growing up, but we’d never really been, for example, specifically taken through Genesis 2:18-24 for example and told how it informs Ephesians 5, and how that is contextually informed by Ephesians 1 through 4, and what that really means in terms of our relationship reflecting the relationship between Christ and His bride the church.

We graduated there, or I did, and moved from the deep South to Lafayette, Indiana. I was in graduate school where my time was dominated by teaching assistantships and coursework and graduate research. Carmen transferred up and finished her undergraduate degree up there while working a lot. We were far away from everything we had known, but again we were minimally prepared to establish a godly home. We were kind of improvising—based on what we think we saw. And guess what—we were not on the same page.

A couple examples real quick: I was clear on that I was the head of the home, so to speak, but my understanding of that only went so far as to know that I have responsibilities, I have to make decisions, I have to be responsible for the finances. I had really very little clue on how that role reflected the love of Christ for His church. Carmen kind of came into the marriage as well with little to no understanding of that. She was focused on fierce independence in all things, and that ranged from physical protection, to finances, to child rearing. She would say things like, “My mom’s my best friend. Not you.”

Here’s a good example. We had the biggest fight of our entire relationship not three days into our marriage. We are on our honeymoon. We were in Disney World and we’re in line. There’s lots of lines in Disney World for something. A group of young men from another country were right behind us. I think they were irritated that we weren’t advancing in the line as soon as a hole opened up or something, and my wife turned around and kind of tried to calm him down and they got pretty ugly with her. So I stepped in front of her and the whole focus for me was protecting her from those guys that were getting little bit hot under the collar. And much to my shock and surprise, she turned her attention from them to me and right there in front of everybody says, “I don’t need you to protect me. What are you doing? I got this.” And, by the way I have full permission from my wife to share these things. 

We loved each other, but we didn’t resolve conflict well. We didn’t have the same goals for finances. I was very extreme on the frugal side—Carmel would get knots in her stomach every time I pulled out budget paperwork—and we would fight in the grocery store over Prego versus Raghu. We didn’t have unity over finances or spaghetti sauce. On child-rearing philosophy, she majored in Early Childhood Education and so she was very all in on what she was being taught. I remember one time she said, “I need to be the one to make most of the decisions about child-rearing rearing because this is my expertise.” And we had different attitudes about churches. 

So we’re shivering in Indiana in a run-down married student housing cinderblock building with a car that was rust colored with hints of light blue. Our relationship was like a lot that you probably have in your churches. We were headed down some good paths, but also some potentially destructive, graceless paths. 

Sam Stephens: What led you all to seek out counseling? How did that come about? 

Tim Keeter: We didn’t seek it, that’s for sure. It happened. That’s the wonderful part of the story. I actually went up there a semester right before we got married. By God’s grace, through the invitation of a classmate who became a close friend (Brent Aucoin who’s now on staff at Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana), I found Faith Church. Brent had been up there a semester before me and had been attending this church and invited me there. 

The pastor at the time was Bill Goode, and the Assistant Pastor was Steve Viars, who some of you have heard of, but it was also the headquarters for NANC, which is the what we called ACBC before ACBC. When I brought Carmen up to Lafayette, we were married. I told her where we’re going to church and she kind of wanted to start visiting all over again, but I said this is where we going to go, I kind of like it. 

We put our happy Southern church faces on. We got involved in music and children’s Sunday school and things, but here’s the cool thing: The impact of counseling was such a part of the church culture up there, it was just the way people thought about ministering. It wasn’t some separate little thing off in the corner. It didn’t take long before they figured out, even before we did, that a lot of what we came to church with was a little bit of facade in terms of our relationship. We were actually being in informally counseled months before we knew we were being counseled.

Foundationally, Pastor Goode was expositing the Word week after week. That’s so important. The truth is what the Spirit uses the sanctify us. Some of the older married ladies, for example, would pull Carmen aside. And she would come home mad, saying, “I’m never going back there again.” But they gradually and patiently chipped away at areas of her heart that were kind of hard and needed instruction. And the married men would have us in their homes, and that allowed us to observe the husband-wife relationships, the loving character of a godly man and with his children. That provided this home setting where when these guys would finally speak to me, I knew I wanted to hear what they had to say. Then some of them would pull me aside and challenge me directly on how to love and lead my wife. They got me involved in these Saturday morning things called Men of Faith, where basically if I go back and look at all my notes, they’re the same notes they were teaching in the counseling workshops. They were just focused on the guy. In the whole culture of the guys, they wanted to love their wives more. We talked about it, it wasn’t just showing up and talking about sports and drinking coffees.

Sam Stephens: It was intentional. 

Tim Keeter: It was intentional, but it was genuine. Everybody was there, as far as I could tell. We heard the Word taught and applied. The leadership in the home. We took other classes like budgeting to make sure we were being good stewards in every aspect.

Sam Stephens: What you’re describing for me sounds like—and I’ve heard this recently—not a church with the counseling center, but the church as a counseling center. There’s a culture of care there at Faith.

Tim Keeter: There was. And like I said most of it was informal, as I think is the norm. Now, we did have some formal counseling. I have distinct images of sitting on Pastor Goode’s couch in his house and him handing me Jay Adams’ Christ and Your Problems booklet and assigning me homework, and those kinds of things too. But most of it was just gentle admonition, exhortations, making sure I was being observant to the things I needed to be observant to in my home. And just being around us, making sure we weren’t just showing up for church and that was it. 

Sam Stephens: What would you say were the real turning points of change for both of you? 

Tim Keeter: That’s a question I posed to my wife, and I knew the answer this time as well because she’s shared it with me many times as well as other people that we’ve been able to disciple ourselves.

Carmen would say that things really started to catch on when I started taking those classes, those Men of Faith classes. Saturday mornings, I was up at 6:30 a.m., had to be there—I’m not that much of a morning person—on my only day to sleep in, given all my other responsibilities. In her words, I was very gung-ho about it. I would come home pretty worked up and excited about what I was getting. It was very practical, but also theologically grounded very well—just like that church has a reputation for it.

Ironically, she was pretty embittered about it at first, because we were both full-time students and okay, here’s something taking more time away from what was already being required by research and your professors and all the other things. Then she really noticed when I started applying that stuff in our home. She noticed the Lord working through me in that area, she would say. That created a desire for her to pursue what she saw. She saw that it was a result of the teaching, she put those two together, and wanted more of it herself.

Carmen would say it didn’t just transform our marriage. It could have saved it in her perspective, in terms of the path that she thought she was on. And not just that, it made it sing in so many ways. I mean we’re so grateful. We began to see our relationship in light of pleasing God, rather than just pleasing ourselves or fulfilling our own dreams and desires. Our bent shifted, basically, from eyes off Tim to eyes on Jesus. Eyes off Carmen, eyes on Jesus. From selfish goals to worship goals. From using others to loving others. It just completely reoriented us in terms of what it meant to love one another.

And of course the Holy Spirit works in the Scriptures. What did it for us was being saturated in the ministry of the Word at that church. The culture was there, including the leadership. Everyone was engaged in regular normal discipleship, and that has to begin with the leadership. They have to be part of it as they equip the saints to do that as well. In a healthy church, that’s what you should see. Instruction is necessary, but it’s not enough. We have to observe it. We have to be shown how to apply it, and held accountable to apply. That’s really what began it. I’m thankful for that, because it happened sort of a year in, we were up there for a little over two years and then we moved away. 

Sam Stephens: How many years now has it been that you guys have been married? 

Tim Keeter: We’ve been married 28 years.

Sam Stephens: As a result of—for a relatively short amount of time—you being introduced to biblical counseling early in your marriage, what does your marriage look like now as compared to what it was then? 

Tim Keeter: We’re still growing, Sam, but the thing that got lit in our hearts, it was so impactful to us and not lost on us. When we moved back down to Huntsville, we’ve been in Huntsville now for 26 years, we wanted to extend what we have been given to other young married couples. That became a fire in our belly for a while. I mean, that’s the normal flow of discipleship, right? The Lord blesses you in certain ways and you want to comfort others with the comfort by which you’ve been comforted, and extend and bend that grace out. 

We found ourselves in different places and ministering and teaching Sunday schools. The churches I was in at the time let me use the material that Faith let me bring. This will date me some; I brought down a whole stack of three and a half inch floppies—just tons of teaching material. We wanted to help other hurting couples. And of course they began to take what we had to say as real, and started to coming to us with their problems and that drove me to want to become certified and become better trained because I wanted to shepherd better. We’re still growing, we’re still working through issues as they surface, we’re still working through issues of impatience and discouragements and various manifestations of pride, but we can definitely trace the beginning back obviously to where the Lord saved us. But that big inflection point in the growth curve, we can trace back to the impact of biblical counseling at Faith Church. 

Sam Stephens: What an amazing testimony, because it speaks to so many different things. So many times in your testimony, you mentioned the practicalities of theology and that’s lost sometimes in ministry. It’s essential that we think about and consider the truths of the faith, the truths of the gospel, but all of these things are to be lived out and experienced in our lives—God calls us to that. 

I’ll tell you on behalf of our listeners, thank you so much for sharing this testimony. Thank Carmen too, who I’m sure is listening now. It’s just amazing to see the transformation that biblical counseling brought and had a big hand in your marriage. It’s been a blessing to all of us, again thank you for sharing that. 

Tim Keeter: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.