Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

“You slaves must obey your earthly masters in everything you do.  Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you.  Obey them willingly because of your reverent fear of the Lord.  Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.”  (Colossians 3:22-24) NLT

I bet the 2nd word in this passage caught your attention.  Slaves?  Everyone knows the enormous weight and angst that comes with this word, especially in this culture.  When we hear the word “slaves”, we think of injustice, claims of superiority, humans being treated as less than human, and racism in general.  In this country, slavery had its root in racism, prejudice, and injustice.  In the 1st century when Paul was writing, it had a slightly different connotation.  And yet when we read these words, we immediately become angry and dismiss whatever it is he has to say because he’s not talking about slavery as something that must be irradicated. Instead, he seems to condone it! 

So what is Paul really talking about here?  At the time when Paul was writing, slaves and bondservants had been an integral part of Jewish and Roman culture for a long time.  A person could become a slave due to inability to pay a debt or inability to support his family financially.  This is reminiscent of the proverb shown below:

“Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.”  (Proverbs 22:7) NLT

Other reasons a person could become a slave in 1st century Rome were childhood abandonment, being a prisoner of war, or other more nefarious reasons such as piracy or trading captives between nations.  Some actually chose to be slaves, in order to have someone else provide for them.  Apparently selling oneself into slavery in hopes of becoming the servant of a nobleman was not a surprising turn of events in those days.  In fact, the master/slave relationship was much more similar to the employer/employee relationship of today.  When the words above were written by Paul, this was what being a slave or servant meant in that culture. 

For us today, this passage says something to us about how we do our jobs.  Take a look at this passage again, from the perspective of an employee/employer relationship this time.  God is interested in how we work because he is interested in our hearts.  In fact, Paul says that the person we’re really serving at work is Christ.  This is disconcerting for those of us who do things at work that are a little unethical to get ahead, or who treat people poorly in order to get something we want.  When we work, we are compensated or rewarded by God himself.  While we may think that what we have came from us (our effort, our desire, etc.), we can't really claim responsibility for the opportunities that drop into our lap, our abilities, etc. 

"But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!"  (1 Chronicles 29:14) NLT 

For those of us who can’t stand the people we work for or can’t stand our jobs in general, what kind of difference would it make in our ability to focus at work knowing that God is interested in and will reward us for our efforts there in the office?  What God wants from us is faithfulness, honesty, and integrity, not just working hard when they're watching or working to earn "brownie points".  What we do at the office, regardless of who we're working for or what we do, is important to God.  Do you think God is pleased with the way you conduct yourself at work?  Or do you need to make some changes so that your next employee evaluation is a good one? 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Getting Our Way

“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.  The Lord’s servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone.  They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people.  They should gently teach those who oppose the truth.  Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will believe the truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:23-25) NLT

Why do we argue when we’re having discussions about our faith?  When we speak, what is the purpose of our speaking?  Is it to hear ourselves talk, or is it to be heard and understood?  For many of us, it’s simply to convince those around us of our brilliance.  “What I'm saying is the truth and if they would just listen…”  Whether we mean well or not, it's just not an effective way to make a difference in someone's life.   

Not only do we get caught arguing with those outside of the church and treating them with disrespect, we often argue and fight with those in the church as well.  Have you ever had an argument with another Christian about interpretation of scripture or just differences in your beliefs?  What good is that exactly?  Have you ever actually won an argument like that?  If the other party walked off in a huff, that doesn’t count.  You didn’t win anything; they just disengaged.  If you walked away with a damaged relationship, you both lost.

And yet we know that this is not how we are supposed to treat each other.  1st John says that Christians should love one another.  I don't think this is saying we should love those we agree with.  Whether they believe everything we do or not, we are called to love them.  And what does Paul say about love?

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  Love does not demand its own way.  Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. ”  (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) NLT

Love does not demand its own way.  Why can’t we just share our perspectives and not take it personally when they disagree?  What is it in us that we must be right at all costs?  When we talk about what we believe with other Christians, our goal can often be to convince them of our own rightness.  And yet what are the odds that we have it all completely figured out anyway?  Just within the Christian church, I read recently that there are over 30,000 different denominations, all of which have a unique perspective on truth.  It’s not likely that any of us have everything figured out.  We all have things to learn.  So what is it when we walk into a conversation completely assured of our own rightness?  Could it be....  (wait for it)…..   pride?  Arrogance?  It’s one thing to know what you believe and to be able to articulate that effectively.  It’s another to be so driven by your own perceived rightness that you must argue, convince, and beat the other person with a stick until they surrender.

The point of this blog is to foster communication.  I write a lot of entries that you may or may not agree with, but my goal for this blog was not to convince you of anything.  It was to give us things to think about and to start discussions.  What if by being willing to discuss our differences we can all learn something new?  If we're not talking, we're not learning.  If we all walk into conversations hoping to learn something, I think we're on the right track.

God loves those around us just as much as he loves us.  And I think he expects us to treat them with respect and love whether they agree with us or not.  Respect means allowing the other person to agree or disagree--to make up their own mind.  Do your best to rationally explain why you believe what you believe.  If they choose to disagree, let them.  That’s what love does.  We know that because that’s what God does, and God is love.  Jesus didn’t make you believe.  He didn’t beat you over the head until you finally gave up.  He knocked.  For some of us, he knocked for a long time—because he loves you.  Let's follow His example.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Room To Grow

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  Be humble and gentle.   Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3) NLT

Sometimes our expectations for each other can be a little on the unreasonable side.  Have you ever had a talk with someone about something they shouldn’t be doing (kids, maybe) only to have them turn around and do it again the very next day?  What was your reaction like? 

This dynamic plays out at our house on a regular basis.  My wife and I each have things that we haven’t yet been able to outgrow, even though we’ve discussed them many times.  Mine are more related to forgetfulness, being distracted, and not listening.  It drives my wife nuts to have to tell me the same story a second time because somehow I can’t remember the previous conversation.  We spent what feels like over 40 hours total in conversations about how she really doesn’t want to remind me to take the trash out or feed the dog every day.  If it’s something that’s my responsibility to perform, it should be my responsibility to manage as well.  It’s a perfectly valid request, and yet I have enormous difficulty remembering to do these things.  And, when she does remind me I end up cranky because being reminded is internalized within me as failure on my part.  So she ends up not wanting to remind me and I can’t seem to remember, which means it doesn’t get done until finally somebody can’t take it anymore and someone gets angry.  I'm reasonably certain that we're not the ony couple to have experienced this dynamic.

The bottom line is that we get tired of being affected by the same old issues in a person’s life.  Women, don’t you get tired of reminding your child (or husband) to pick up the dirty clothes off of the floor?  It seems like such a simple thing.  Why can’t you explain how much it bothers you and then have the issue be resolved from that point forward?  The bottom line is that we don’t turn on a dime.  Sin doesn't stop on a dime.  Neither do bad habits, addictions, character flaws...  One discussion won’t undo years of learned behavior. 

My 6 year old went through a stretch this year in kindergarten where he would come home with a negative report about his behavior 4 days out of 5 each week.  It was incredibly frustrating for us as parents, and I learned from watching him that it was frustrating for him as well.  The more he tried to be good, the more frustrated he would get at his inability to pull it off.  His other frustrating habit is arguing and telling others what to do (including my wife and me).  My wife finally got sick of it and implemented something I thought was brilliant:  self help days.  Since he thought he was smarter than us, for two days he got to do everything for himself.  He had to fix his own breakfast, lunch, and dinner, figure out his homework and bedtime routine by himself, read himself a book, etc.  We did it for two days.  We made it clear that we wanted to help but this was what he had earned because of his behavior.  At the end of it, we had a discussion about lessons learned and he said the most amazing thing:  “I really want to not do that again ever.  I just don’t know if I can do it.” 

“When I want to do good, I don’t.  And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway…  It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind.  This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me." (Romans 7:19, 21-23) NLT

Sound familiar?  We can clearly see this dynamic in those around us, can’t we?  If you’re honest about it, you can see this in yourself as well.  Most of us have plenty of grace and mercy with regard to our own inability to do whatever it is we’re supposed to do.  It’s those other people that give us trouble.  But what does Paul say in Ephesians chapter 4 (shown above)?  We should be humble, gentle, patient… and we should make allowances for each other’s faults.  We need grace for those around us who haven’t figured out how to be perfect either.  Why?  So we can be united in peace.  Grace, mercy, humbleness, patience….  If you want peace in your home, it starts with you.  And the solution is much more about how you respond to the failures of those around you than it is about their ability to change their behavior. 

Should they be held accountable?  Of course!  My son is now is in the middle of a 3 week stretch with no negative feedback about his behavior at school, and I believe this is largely because we held him accountable for his actions.  The trick is to figure out how to do that without exasperation, without anger, and without negatively impacting relationships.  You may have "authoritative control" now (or at least feel like you do) but one day all you will have left is the ability to influence.  If you've spent years damaging the relationship with hurtful words and actions, you may not even have that.  Should we discipline our kids?  Good grief, yes.  But discipline doesn't need to involve explosiveness, scorn, ridicule, or damaged relationships.  Do you need to work on having more grace, mercy, humbleness, and patience?  Which relationships would most be impacted if you had these things in abundance? 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Living With Discomfort

“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.  But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers.  You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.  What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler.  Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways.  God will judge those on the outside; but as the scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) NLT

For many of us, the last thing we want to do is start a discussion with a friend about sin in their lives.  This may rank right up there with not wanting to talk to non-Christians about our faith.  How unbelievably uncomfortable!  It’s much cleaner and simpler if we can all just avoid uncomfortable situations.  And yet it seems that uncomfortable situations are apparently our calling by God.  We’re called to share our faith with those around us which can be uncomfortable (some of us get squeamish about just saying the name Jesus in conversation), and here Paul charges us to “judge” those within the church who are blatantly sinning among us. 

According to earlier verses, the situation that prompted these verses to be written was that a man in the church was having an affair with “his father’s wife”.  Clearly this has a certain “ick” factor associated with it, and yet apparently it wasn’t really bothering these Corinthians very much.  They did what we do.  They probably talked about them behind their backs for a little while until they got bored and moved on, having gotten used to it as just the way things are now.  Why should we say anything?  Their sin doesn’t affect us!  Or does it?  Earlier in the passage, Paul explains why he is so concerned about this:

“How terrible that you should boast about your spirituality, and yet you let this sort of thing go on.  Don’t you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected?  Remove this wicked person from among you so that you can stay pure…” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7) NLT

Paul’s concern is that, the more we have sin around us, the more we become desensitized to it.  God wants us to stay as far away from sin as possible to keep sin from eventually starting to feel normal or acceptable.  The catch, as we see in the earlier passage, is that Paul is not talking about staying away from people who sin outside the church.  We should be leveraging relationships with those outside the church to help them see and experience the saving love of Jesus.  But those relationships are not our most trusted advisors—those we do life with on a daily basis.  We love them and care for them, we pray for them and hope for them.  But they should not be our most trusted advisors.  The advice we would receive from them is based on how they see the world.  We are hopefully aspiring to see things from a God-centric perspective. 

But as for those in the church, their sin could cause other Christians to stumble (maybe even you). 

Sin always has negative consequences but they’re not always visible right away.  When we live in that state with seemingly no consequences for a period of time, we start to relax and settle in.  Other things we would have never done in the past start to look interesting.  Before long, it can turn into an addiction and we begin to lose control of it.  At that point, the consequences often start rolling in. 

Paul warns us to guard ourselves and those in our circle of influence.  Even though it’s uncomfortable, we need to help our fellow Christians see what they’re doing and get help.  If they won’t get help, the wisest thing we can do, according to Paul, is create distance between ourselves and their sin.  We are all susceptible and none of us can just live around sin for extended periods of time without being affected somehow.  For our own safety, it’s better to just work through the discomfort and do the hard thing-- create distance.  This becomes a consequence to them as well, which may serve as a catalyst to turn them around.  And for you, it’s obedience—and God always honors that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“For Men Only” Part 2 - Ears To Hear

“What a shame, what folly, to give advice before listening to the facts!”  (Proverbs 18:13) NLT

My wife and I have been reading Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn’s books “For Men Only” and “For Women Only”.  In the previous post, I gave an excerpt that was very beneficial to me about providing reassurance and continuing to pursue your wife even though the wedding is over.  Today, I want to share an excerpt from “For Men Only” about listening.  Specifically, men need to learn how to do it.  I found this to be full of insight and is an example of what is found throughout the book.  I hope you enjoy!

We’ve all heard, “She doesn’t want you to fix it, she just wants you to listen.”  But even though that phrase is accurate (according to all our interviews), most guys have no idea what it means or how to do it.
I’ll explain how in a minute, but first, here’s what it means.  Three things:
She doesn’t want you to fix it = she doesn’t need you to fix it.

Incase you’re wondering, this doesn’t mean “She doesn’t need you to do anything.”  More on that later.  Instead, the key is to understand why she’s sharing something.  And it’s not—as we think—because she needs our help.
Even if a man provided a very “reasonable” solution to the problem under discussion, just 5 percent of women said that would actually solve their problem.  Add it up, guys.  95 percent of women feel that a reasonable solution would not solve their problem.

What’s more, fully 60 percent of the women felt the offered solution—no matter how reasonable--was a negative.  Some appreciated their man’s suggestion, some didn’t, but the majority felt that it detracted from the sense that he was listening and being supportive.

 “She just wants you to listen” = she wants you to focus on her feelings, not the problem.

She’s not sharing something so you can fix it; she’s sharing it so you can understand how she feels about something that is bothering her.  

Here’s the thing:  For most of our lives, we men have trained ourselves to cut through the clutter of emotion in order to focus on the “real issue.”  Instead, we need to grasp the single most important key to being a good listener:  For our wife, her negative feelings about a problem are the real issue.  In other words, the feelings are what she is trying most to share and have understood, even more than the problem itself.
“It” = an emotional problem, not a technical one

The “she doesn’t want you to fix it” mantra has confused many of us because we know some situations require a fix.  So here’s how you know the difference: If it’s an area of emotional concern, apply listening skills.  If it’s not, apply fixing skills.

Apply listening skills to areas that define a woman’s relationships, well-being, and sense of self-worth.  Home stresses, for example.  Work.  Friendships.  Conflicts.  


This simply doesn’t apply to those times when your wife tells you something is starting to howl under the gear shift in her Toyota and what should we do?  In such cases, you can safely put away your gender translation gear.
“How not to listen.”
1. tell her she’s overreacting
2. question her version of the facts
3. wonder aloud about the time of the month
4. ask her to quit crying
5. offer spiritual correction (“Are you sure you’re not just envious?”)

For you husbands out there, what can you do to apply these ideas so that it’s something that impacts your relationship and not just something interesting you read?  Odds are this is a legitimate desire of hers, and you have an opportunity to give her what she wants.  A key component in relationships is having both people give sacrificially to the other.  In the last two posts we covered pursuing and listening.  What if you put forth the effort to hit these two things out of the park?   What impact could that have on your relationship?  Give it a shot!  A better relationship can start right here with you.  All you have to do is decide and implement.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Here are a couple random videos that I fell in love with. 

The first one I got off of Kevin DeYoung’s blog.  Yes, I stole it.  But at least I’m giving him credit!!  Parts of this one are hysterical.  Don't bail on it.  It's worth it.  But make sure you watch it with sound.

The second one is for you musical techno-geeks.  It's a clip of a performance I saw live at my church over Christmas.  They called it the Northpoint iBand (Christmas carols performed with nothing but iPads and iPhones).


Part 2 of "For Men Only" tomorrow!

Monday, January 17, 2011

“For Men Only” Part 1 - The Deal Is Never Closed

“And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word...  In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies.”  (Psalm 43:3) NLT

Husbands, have you ever been exasperated with the seemingly insurmountable complexity of your wife?  I’m pretty sure this is universal.  We perceive that sometimes their actions are completely random with no logical explanation at all.  It’s like the way I view cats.  I don’t have a lot of experience with cats, honestly.  My entire life has been spent with a dog or two in the house.  What little experience I do have has led me to believe (accurately or not) that cats are completely unpredictable and uncomprehendable.  One minute the cat’s looking you in the eye and the next minute it’s standing on top of your head with no logical explanation for what just happened.  I think men tend to see women this same way.

Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn released two complimentary books a few years ago called “For Men Only” and “For Women Only”.  My wife and I each read both books and spent time asking each other questions about the things found in the books that we found especially interesting.  First I read “For Women Only” to see how much of the book about men made sense.  She did the same with my book.  It turns out that, though we each said there were subtle things in the books that were untrue of us, the books had tons of great insights.  There were things we hadn’t really realized about ourselves until we read the books and spent some time thinking through it.  For the next couple posts, I want to give a few highights of things in the “For Men Only” book that were especially helpful to me.

The Truth About “I Do”

It’s no surprise that women need to feel loved.  What is a surprise is that buried inside most women--even those in great relationships--is a latent insecurity about whether their man really loves them, and whether the relationship is okay.  This sense of vulnerability may usually be under the surface of their minds, but when it is triggered, most women show signs of distress until the concern is resolved.

You can read “show signs of distress” as “drive their man nuts” if you want.
For example, have you ever wondered why your wife:

1. asks, “Do you love me?” even though you’ve done nothing to indicate you’ve changed your mind about loving her? (In fact you just told her you loved her this morning on the way out the door!)

2. takes your need for space or “cave” time as an indication that you’re upset with and trying to get away from her?

3. seems to turn critical or pushy for no reason you can figure?

4. gets crabby or “excessively emotional” and seems to push you away--but is unhappy or angry when you stay away?

If you’re like me, you react to these seemingly unrelated behaviors with confusion and frustration.
But our research for “For Men Only” has persuaded me that every single one of those behaviors is related, and many are easy to resolve.
As the token embedded male for our surveys and focus groups, I was in for a number of surprises on the subject of women’s relational, triggered insecurity.

My First Surprise--How frequent these feelings are

Seven out of every ten women said their relationship and how their man felt about them was anywhere from “occasionally” to nearly always on their minds.  Fewer than 20 percent said that they wondered about it only when things were difficult.
My Second Surprise--How intensely painful these feelings are

Almost every woman I asked said she cared about her man so much that when this relational insecurity was triggered, it was very painful--sometimes almost debilitating--and it became difficult, if not impossible, for them to get it off their minds.
You and I have every right to think the woman we love shouldn’t feel insecure.  We’re faithful, we go to work, we do love her...and we’re still here.  But just because we think our wife should feel secure doesn’t mean that she always does.  Which leads me to my third realization.

My Third Surprise--How resistant to “logic” (ie. my logic) her feelings remain

As Shaunti points out:  “It’s irrelevent whether she should ‘know logically’ that she’s loved.  If she doesn’t feel loved, it’s the same for her as if she isn’t loved.”
So how do you and I address the fact that our wife carries around this fundamental insecurity about our love?  Based on all the research, there are two key solutions:

1) In the face of insecurity, reassure her.
2) Even after you’ve caught her, continue to pursue her.

Thankfully, both are completely doable for ordinary guys like you and me.

I’ve listed below some practical ideas found later in the chapter about how to reassure her.  Each of these has a section underneath it in the book giving more detail.

1. During conflict, reassure her of your love

2. When you need space, reassure her that it’s not about her

3. If she needs to talk about the relationship, do your best to listen without becoming defensive

4. If she is being difficult, don’t stop--keep reassuring her of your love

And finally, another excerpt about continuing the pursuit:

Pursuit is action--it’s what you did when you first saw her and wanted to make her yours.  It prevents a lot of her insecurity.  It fills up her emotional bank account.  And pursuit is what she still deeply desires and needs in her marriage, even if us “close the deal” kind of guys are already on to the next big deal--completing our education, launching a career, raising kids, perfecting our golf swing...

All worthy goals, mind you.  But they tend to make us forget that the pursuit of her that we thought was completed really isn’t.
Big-screen answer:  Give chase.
Pixel answer:  Ask yourself, What did I do when I was dating that made me so pickin’ irresistible?

For me, this was great practical advice.  I’m still working on learning how to implement this, but it’s getting better and better.  I’ve had to be very purposeful about it.  It isn’t the kind of thing you read and it just becomes a part of you.  But I ask you, is she worth it?  Did you drop your pursuit on the floor when you got married?  Most of us did.  If so, how do you pick it back up?  Let’s be creative and pursue the mess out of her, even if she’s standing still!  If you catch her, give her another head start and try again.  I believe without a doubt that you’ll thank yourself for it later.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Looking Through God's Glasses

“For you are God, my only safe haven.  Why have you tossed me aside?  Why must I wander around in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?  Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me.  Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live.”  (Psalm 43:3) NLT

Do you sometimes wish you could see the world the way God does?  “Lord, help me to see the way you see.”  As I go through life, I am occasionally able to recognize when I am viewing those around me through the lens of my own frustration, irritation, and selfishness.  I have occasionally looked at people as resources to get what I want.  Other times I look at them through the lens of my own hurt feelings or damaged sense of pride.  It’s an ugly thing to see in yourself.  

This dynamic has never been as clear as it was sitting in church several years ago when events from my past came rushing back to me simply from seeing one woman’s face.  We had just finished the worship time and I had sat back down in my seat.  I looked up and saw a woman I had previously worked with that we’ll call Ginger.  She was about to be baptized.  At my church, baptisms are accompanied by a short one to two minute video where the person being baptized tells the story of how life events and circumstances brought them to Jesus.  And there she was!  Wasn’t this the woman, I thought, who stabbed me in the back at work and talked my boss into removing me as team lead because she and I weren’t seeing eye to eye?  And I began to recall all of the stories I had been told in hallway office conversations about this person’s personal conduct.  She was the kind of person who would lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead.  And I had been the victim of it.  And there she was on the big screen telling us how she was a Jesus Follower?  She was forgiven?  Not by me she wasn’t...

And I realized something about myself.  I didn’t see the way God sees at all.  Here was a person who needed the love of Jesus just like I did.  She needed forgiveness, needed salvation, needed a savior.  She needed God’s help to know how to live.  Of course she had selfishishly done bad things to me.  She had selfishly done bad things to a lot of people.  That’s who she was, because she had not yet been given a new life, she had not yet been given the Holy Spirit who shows us how to live.  She had not yet been adopted and experienced the love and mercy of Christ.  Hadn’t I done terrible things to people and hadn’t the world revolved around me when I was younger?  And yet God was able to see past my sin and find something valuable to Him--something worth saving.  She was no less worth saving than I was.  It was a painful moment for me, but it was also a spectacular moment of growth.  

Shouldn’t we see those around us in light of eternity and in context of their need rather than what they’ve done?  Is there someone in your life that you can’t seem to see correctly through the lens of God’s love and mercy?  Maybe you need to forgive someone who wronged you or pick up the phone and try to reconnect with someone you walked away from years ago.  Is your rightness getting in the way of your ability to be a light to this dark world?  We need to see clearly.  We need to pick up and put on our glasses with the God-made prescription and see the world clearly.  Let’s ask God to hep us see the way he sees, so we can not only see those around us more clearly but ourselves as well.  And then maybe even the face of God will begin to slowly come into focus.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dating Part 2 - Buying or Selling

I learned a lot of things from my dating experiences since the divorce I went through.  My “wise counsel” buddy and I had many discussions about it, including the importance of buying and not selling.  It’s easy to treat the dating process like we’re trying to make a sale.  We just want to be accepted, loved, and appreciated, and it doesn’t matter so much who the buyer is.  But this ends up being a terrible approach if we’re actually looking for someone to be with long term.  What do we do when we’re buying something?  We hunt for exactly the right fit for us.  When we’re buying relationally, we’re doing our best to avoid relationships with people who are not what we need.  Many of us have seen relationships that were incredibly painful to be around.  Others of us have been in those relationships and don’t want to go there again.  So what can we do to avoid relationships with people who are not right for us?

I understand that Initially we want to have a “let’s just have fun and not over-think it” kind of phase.  I think this is a natural phase to be in early on.  Even at that stage, I think there are some preliminary questions like “Are you a Christian” that should come up.  But as a rule I think it’s reasonable to save the serious discussions for a little later if that’s what works for you.  But eventually the time will come where you are both becoming more emotionally invested.  So I ask, how emotionally invested do you want to be with someone you may not be able to be with long term?  The longer the relationship, the stronger the attachment and the more painful it is to move on.  On the flip side, I don’t think we want to be throwing away perfectly good relationships out of fear of the unknown or fear of commitment.  We should strive for a balanced approach that is motivated by wisdom and not fear and anxiety.  

How compatible are the two of you and does it seem reasonable that a long term relationship could work?  If you’re currently in the dating world, have you given much thought to what you’re looking for and what you’re desperately trying to avoid?  I’m sure there are things that down the road you would consider to be deal-breakers once you’ve bumped into them.  The goal is to identify them and proactively deal with them before you get too emotionally involved in a relationship.  If you’re not compatible and the relationship is not going to last, I think it’s better to find that out as soon as possible and move on.  I know it’s not intuitive because sometimes emotionally we just don’t want to be alone (even though we may not admit it).  But being with the wrong person allows emotional energy to be spent where it shouldn’t be and prevents you from being available when the right person does come along.  If we are in a place where we would rather be with the wrong person than be alone, I think that’s a red flag that we’re not ready to date.  This attitude probably means that we are unable to be happy and whole on our own and that we require someone to sustain us.  This kind of codependent relationship is very unhealthy and will probably not end well.  The best thing we can do is spend time on our own and learn to be complete in God and within ourselves.    

Early on in the dating process for me, I began to figure out what I was really looking for.  Here is a short partial list to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.  I was looking for a woman who:
  • has a deep, growing relationship with Jesus
  • believes in commitment
  • is humble and puts others first
  • is not proud and has the ability to admit when she's wrong
  • is not manipulative or controlling
  • is not abusive, selfish, or mean
  • loves children
  • can effectively manage their own money
  • exhibits self control
  • is comfortable for me and not draining/annoying to be around
  • has her own list of things she is looking for in a man
Notice the last one in the list.  In a dating relationship, I think it’s very important for both people to be buyers.  Each person in the relationship must be responsible for determining how comfortable they are and how well “the shoe fits.”  There could be things that make it not a good fit for them that you will never notice or know about unless they tell you.  For them to not take responsibility for their part is not just inviting their own future pain but yours as well.  

At the end of the day, a breakup is better than a bad marriage that ends in divorce.  The important thing is to not internalize negative messages about yourself when breakups occur.  When someone walks away, it doesn’t say anything about you or them.  It just says something about the two of you together.  Eventually, God will bring someone into your life who is right for you.  All we can do is trust Him, follow closely, and walk the path before us.  If we’re following Him, God will make sure we end up at the right destination.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dating Part 1 - The Recovery

As discussed in the previous post, I went through a divorce a few years ago.  Eventually, I ended up in the dating world.  I decided to jump into the land of and eHarmony and try the online dating thing.  I hadn’t done much dating before my previous marriage.  I’m fairly introverted, and I had trouble just putting myself out there and asking women out.  In high school especially, I was constantly worried about what everyone else would think about who I was with.  My best friend in high school was more or less the rock star of the school and he and I were inseperable.  I had gone from being a complete unknown to someone recognizable seemingly overnight, and I had difficulty with this transition.  Even after the divorce, I noticed some of these old feelings creeping up in me.  I had to look myself in the eye and decide that I was finding the right person for me--not for those around me.  At the same time, I knew that I needed wise counsel as I walked through the dating process.  I needed someone who would tell me if I was going in the ditch or setting myself up for pain later on.  And, I needed to commit to opening up to that person so they could help me do the right thing.  This was not a difficult thing since a friend and I had been doing exactly that for each other since we met in 2000.  So with wise counsel firmly in place, I started down the road called “Dating”.

I learned a lot about myself through this process, and I learned a lot about dating in general.  The first lesson was that the divorce had completely screwed me up relationally in several ways.  I discovered early on that I had abandonment issues and my self confidence had taken a nose dive from its earlier status of “abysmal”.  I discovered this in my very first dating relationship which I managed to accidentally shoot in the head after the second date.  NOTE:  I accidentally killed the relationship--not the poor woman I was with.  Anyway, the second date was very nice and I liked her a lot.  I took her back home, gave her a kiss, got in the car, and drove home completely freaked out (about the kiss).  When I got home I began to reprocess the events of the evening.  I remembered showering, being unable to spray deodorant because my can was empty, realizing I had more in my gym bag in the car, and deciding to spray myself when I got in the car.  So I finished getting dressed, walked to the car, and drove to her house....  Ruh roh.  I had spent the entire night without deodorant!!!  Eeek!!!  

So I did what anyone with abandonment issues and low self confidence would do.  I sent her an email apologizing profusely, explaining the situation to her and asking her to please give me one more chance.  Yes, I did...  The next day when I hadn’t heard from her, I called her on the phone and did it all over again on her voicemail.  Three days later, she called to say hi having never heard the voicemail or read the email.  It was a great conversation!  And once again, I explained what happened.  We laughed about it (which I was thankful for) and she explained that she hadn't noticed anything that night and had a great time.  After the call, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Two days later, I received an email saying that she didn’t feel that we were right for each other.  I was shocked!!!  We had such a great time on the phone!  But then it dawned on me that she had finally read the email and heard the voicemail.  I later called my wise counsel buddy and explained the entire story to him in between his insertions of “Oh no!!! You didn’t!!” and "Dude, she's gonna think you're nuts!".  Clearly abandonment was something that needed focused attention if I was going to have healthy relationships.

It’s important to deal with your issues.  Many of us have been negatively affected by events in our past, but our natural tendency is to bury those things and try to move on as if they never happened.  It may feel too painful to actually deal with the pain directly, but if we don’t it can negatively affect every other relationship we have.  Traumatic events in our lives don’t just cause pain.  They also send messages to us subconsciously.  In my case, there were messages like “you’re not worth keeping”, “you can’t survive on your own”, “women can’t be trusted”, “God can’t be trusted”, and “women will just up and leave any time without warning”.  The thought of this poor woman walking away after date #2 conjured up the feelings from the divorce, as if the two events were the same!  It produced a very unhealthy response in me and it was that response that caused her to walk away.  Leaving our issues untreated can sabotage relationships we try to start, leaving us alone with even deeper wounds.  It can also hurt those around us as the pain we’re suppressing finds other outlets.

Are there events in your past that are still negatively affecting your relationships here in the present?  Now would be a great time to find a Christian counselor and spend the time necessary to get healing.  A counselor doesn’t heal you, God does.  But a counselor does help you think through your issues and help you see the “bad messages” for what they are.  The best thing we can do is run to God instead of running away from the pain.  There are some physical problems that don’t heal on their own and require a visit to the doctor.  Emotional wounds are the same way.  I urge you to trust God and take the next step on your road to healing.  God will walk beside you and you will not be alone.  

Friday, January 7, 2011

Moving On

“You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a letter of divorce.’  But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaihful, causes her to commit adultery.  And anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  (Matthew 5:31-32) NLT

Divorce is actually something I know a thing or two about.  Even before my ex-wife left my then 3 year old son and me and moved on with her life, I had spent quality time researching this topic to understand exactly what the Bible says and doesn’t say about divorce.  I was close to people who were either going through a divorce or could see one in the rear view mirror.  I spent a lot of time talking with them about why divorce is so damaging, where to go from here, etc.  It’s an incredibly emotional and difficult thing to work through with someone.  And of course it’s much, much worse when it happens to you.

For thirteen years of marriage, I believed that we were going to be together for the rest of our lives.  I was shocked to learn of infidelity, of her unwillingness to go to marital counseling because someone else was involved...  I was shocked to learn that I had just become a single parent.  Of course I was thrilled and so thankful that he was going to stay with me, but I never imagined I would be doing it on my own.  And I couldn’t believe that we had adopted this little boy when he was 6 days old only to split up a week after his 3rd birthday.  But there it was--a letter taped to my steering wheel.  And in that moment my whole life changed.  She had been through so much (almost a decade of infertility treatments, deaths of five family members in a year including her father, drunk driving accident and eventual suicide attempt of someone close to her, an adoption attempt that fell through on the day we were supposed to leave the hospital with the baby) and I of course contributed to some of our difficulties.  But even through all of that I couldn’t understand why someone would just walk away.  Still, a year later there we were divorced.

So when I speak of divorce, I speak as someone who has walked through it.  I do my best to see it as God sees it.  Divorce is despised by God, and rightly so.  

“‘For I hate divorce!’ says the Lord, the God of Israel...  ‘So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife.’“  (Malachi 2:16) NLT

I despise divorce myself.  I spent at least a couple months holding my 3 year old son as he sobbed for what felt like an hour every night before he would go to sleep.  Sometimes I would cry with him.  He didn’t deserve to go through that kind of pain.  We love to say that children are resilient.  We say that to make ourselves feel better about the pain we cause them.  Of course my son is happy and doing well now, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been affected by it.  We do eventually heal, but the scars are still there.   

But practically, what else does the Bible say about divorce?  

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’“  (Luke 16:18) NLT

Here Jesus makes it clear that God’s expectation is that marriage is a lifetime commitment.  God doesn’t view divorce as a reasonable end to a marriage.  Divorce is the path chosen by the selfish, and God wants us to run from it.  Jesus makes it clear that getting divorced and marrying someone else is adultery from God’s perspective, because God doesn’t recognize our divorce decree we paid so much money for.  He sees a commitment that should be permanent.  But there are two New Testament reasons where divorce is evidently allowed based on scripture.  

1.  Unfaithfulness  (see Matthew 5:31-32, shown above)
Jesus says that a person is not considered to have sinned if the divorce is based on the other person’s adultery.  Sexual immorality that violates the marriage covenant is allowable grounds for divorce.

2.  Divorce requested by a spouse who is not a believer  (1 Corinthians 7:15, shown below)

“But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.’“  (1 Corinthians 7:15) NLT

For those of us who are dealing with guilt because of having chosen to divorce our respective spouses in the past, it’s important to remember that the sin of divorce is yet another sin for which God is faithful and just to forgive us.  He casts our sin as far as the east is from the west.  In other words, it’s long gone.  Once He has forgiven you, then there’s only the matter of forgiving yourself.  And that you must do if you are to move on and live the life God wants you to live. I believe that in order to follow Him today we must deal with and let go of our past.  Are you dealing with guilt you need to get rid of?  I hope you can find a way to do just that.  Or, are you considering a divorce that will have devastating effects on those around you?  Please consider inviting God into your marriage to help you heal what’s broken and fight for your relationship.  Fight the good fight!  Shouldn't we love each other as God loves us, despite our flaws and issues?  God will certainly bless our efforts.