Monday, 31 December 2012

Apart From Me (You) Can Do Nothing

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”—John 15:5

It seems as though I am consistently bumping up against Bible verses that are most convicting.  If someone asked me if I thought that I was remaining in the Lord, I would answer with little hesitation (and in all humility) “of course “.  If the same person asked me a second time, “Are you remaining in the Lord?”  I would begin to get suspicious.  This is beginning to sound like the challenge the Lord offered to Peter three times, i.e. “do you love me?”

Before I answer a second time I need to consider two important phrases in this verse.  Am I bearing much fruit, with the emphasis on much?  Oooouch!  Okay how about some fruit or an occasional piece of fruit? 

Feeling less confident I consider the back part of this verse, “apart from me you can do nothing”.  Intellectually I know that I can do nothing worthwhile or good without the Lord’s direct intervention.  But let me tell you I can do a lot that is bad without the Lord’s help, thank you very much.

I recognize that when I get upset when something minor goes wrong I am incapable, or at least it would seem so, of responding calmly.  I can fret about not having enough for retirement but to no avail.  I can become impatient with things that don’t work right and with people who obviously don’t share my values.  I can be judgmental and critical when someone is not playing the game of life according to my rules.  As for self control, it kind of comes and goes.  Then I’m reminded of the verses that say “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” and “do not be anxious about anything”.  Apart from God I can’t respond to trials of many kinds in a way that would bring glory to him.

In the context of marriage there might be trials of many kinds and there might be times when your anxiety level is high.  These are times when you must turn to God and acknowledge your need for Him.  As husbands and wives we are to glorify Him but apart from Him you will be unable.  I must continually remind myself when faced with something that does not bring out the best in me that God just might be using this event as a teachable moment.  He may want me to learn something about my heart or just to reinforce my need for Him.  In either case I am dependent on Him.

 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Look In, Look Up, Look Out


Yesterday a friend of mine shared a fairly simple, yet profound concept. He suggested that when we get upset with a situation or a person we should first look in, then look up, and then look out.

 Look in:
For me this is the most difficult of the three steps.  It means that if I am frustrated, irritated, aggravated or any other form of “ated” that first I should examine my heart.  I should look inward to see why a particular situation or individual is bothering me.  The reason this step is difficult is because 99% of the time I already know the answer.  Someone or something has violated the sovereign rule of me, my kingdom, my desires, my expectations and/or my perceived needs.  You see it is all about me.  Everyone should live their lives in accordance with my values and play by my rules.

Look up:
Seek God's direction
Once I can acknowledge that the problem I am experiencing is not something that lies outside of me, my next move should be to humble myself before the Creator of the universe, repent, and ask Him to help me see my situation from His perspective.   Whether I need discernment, wisdom, or clarity of thought only God can change my heart and give me the much needed insight.

Look out:
Now I’m in a position to view my situation or other person with a Godly, loving filter.  I realize that in the vast scheme of life most troubling situations are inconsequential, most negative interactions are quickly forgotten – if not, they should be.

look out with a fresh perspective
Let’s connect the dots.  The next time your spouse does something that irritates you look at your heart. Your heart is the nerve center where mind, will and emotions reside. Why did what they say or do bother you so much?  Are you being overly sensitive?  Are you feeling unloved or disrespected?  Was this an intentional slight?   In reality is this a case of your self-centeredness taking over?

Look up.  Seek God’s wisdom.  Seek God’s perspective.  What might He be trying to teach you?  How might your situation be part of God’s development plan for your life?  How might He be using that negative interaction to teach you something about yourself, to help you identify something that He wants to change in you?

Look out.  Armed with a fresh perspective take another look at your situation, re-consider the negative interaction.  When we attempt to look at life through God’s eyes it looks much different.

 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

I Need to be Committed - Part I

I realize the title of this blog opens a number of doors for those of you with rapier wits but I trust the holiday spirit will help to keep you in check.  We were privileged to have Paul Tripp visit our church yesterday.  He laid out five essential principles that a grace filled, evangelical church must be committed to.  As I wrote them down I couldn’t help but think the principles are also ones that are essential for a marriage that would glorify God.

 Principle #1 – Have a commitment to patterns of confession and forgiveness.

To commit ourselves to this principle means that we must possess a humility that makes it easy for our husband / wife to approach us, to feel comfortable confessing a sin of omission or commission.  This principle assumes a few other components.  First that each of us will have the courage to speak the truth in love to one another.  Secondly it requires that we willingly extend the same grace and forgiveness that has been extended to us through Christ’s death on Calvary.

Principle #2 - Have a commitment to growth and change

Since I have never met anyone who has become fully sanctified, i.e. possessed all the attributes of Christ, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that each of us has room to grow.  I am older than dirt and I see many places where I need to grow, numerous opportunities to repent and ask God to help me overcome some obvious flaws in my character.   Some of that growth can come about from principle #1 if we allow our spouse to speak into our lives, after all no one on earth knows us better.  If you are someone who has become accustomed to saying, “That’s just the way I am, take me or leave me” you may want to consult the Creator of the universe.  I suspect He may have different plans for your life.

 Principle #3 – Have a commitment to Biblical communication

The book of Ephesians, chapter four, verse 29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  Let’s unpack this verse.  It tells me that I am not to say anything that my spouse could construe as humiliating, debasing, demeaning, undignified or unbecoming.  Next it says I should only say those things that God has laid on my heart that are meant to build my wife up.  Obviously this includes every affirming, supportive and encouraging words that come to mind.  But it also includes, from point #1 those truths that will ultimately help my wife grow in her Christlikeness.  Finally in this step I must consider everything I know about my wife so that I can present the truth in a loving way such that she will hear it.  I must consider the situation, perhaps deferring my comments to a more appropriate time.  Lastly I must consider the process, i.e. how I tell her.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Fruitcake Lovers and Normal People

Every year, right around Christmas, I come out of the closet and admit that I love fruitcake.  I know that I am in the minority.  This much maligned delicacy is the brunt of many jokes and I am offended by them.

I go out of my way to tolerate those of you who put mayonnaise on a lunch meat sandwich.  I try to be understanding of those who quickly reach for the salt before they taste their food.  I look the other way when people I know, love and respect put ketchup on everything.  I could go on but I won’t.

 The point is that we are all different, not right, not wrong, just different.  We are handcrafted by God, not robots off an assembly line.  There are gender differences and personality differences.  We come from different backgrounds.  And some of us are less intelligent than others.

So during a time of year when we celebrate the arrival of God’s Son into the world let’s be more charitable.  Let’s assume that we can learn from one another, that God will allow situations into our lives that draw us to Him or help us to become more like His Son.  Let us be more appreciative of the way that God has made our husband/wife, and how God plans to use that person in our growth.
 
So if you are married to a fruitcake lover cut them some slack, show them some grace.

Friday, 14 December 2012

It's Called a Screwdriver

I was asked if I remember the very first blog that I posted back in April of 2010.  I said yes and here it is:

To say that I am mechanically challenged would be an incredible understatement.  Much to the chagrin of my first wife I didn’t know the difference between a hammer and a hole saw. Interestingly during our dating years this was never a topic of conversation.  On the other hand, my wife’s father believed that he could fix anything, the operative word being “believed”.   This just became one of many expectations that as a new husband I did not fulfill.  My wife had every right to assume that I knew how to change the oil in the car, repair the dishwasher when it broke, etc. because her father could.  I thought I was doing well just to know how to start the car and turn on the dishwasher.  My first wife passed away and I never did get a whole lot better at doing the handy things that so many men can do.

The path to many counseling sessions has been paved with the bricks made of expectations. (That’s as metaphorical as I get)  Most often we bring to marriage some preconceived notion of what it will be like.  Perhaps our parents modeled what we understand marriage to be like.  Sometimes books, movies and TV become the source of our paradigm of what we can expect when we tie the proverbial knot. 

Are expectations bad?  Yes!  Expectations are bad because without realizing it they turn into entitlements.  I am entitled to (fill in the blank - conversation, a hug, clean clothes, sex, and appreciation, have my opinion respected, etc.)  What right do I have to expect that my wife should wash and fold my laundry every week?  I don’t remember that being in the marriage vows.  “I take thee Kathleen to be my lawfully wedded wife, provided you wash and fold my laundry every week.”  When an expectation becomes an entitlement we feel cheated if our spouse fails to “perform”.  Resentment builds as they fail to meet other expectations.  And the ones they do meet we don’t appreciate because that is their “duty”.

 And as for my lack of mechanical aptitude at least I set that record straight early on in my relationship with my current wife.  I met Kathleen on line.  One of my first confessions was that I was about as useless as tonsils when it came to fixing things.  She wrote back and asked if my manhood would feel threatened if she could fix things.  I assured her that my manhood would be just fine and we have lived happily ever after.

What do you think, are there any justifiable expectations?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

I'm Not Angry

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

Unfortunately displays of anger can be the beginning of the end of a marriage either literally or figuratively.  No one likes to be screamed at, yelled at or put down. It is not an affective form of communication and usually resolves nothing.

Often anger is caused by fear or the feeling that a person is losing control.  In any event anger, other than righteous indignation, is a sin and often caused by a sin.

When Anger Hurts by Mckay offers some helpful behavioral suggestions to the person wanting to stop their outbursts.  However the first thing to do is to repent and ask God to help you overcome your predisposition to anger and then go to your latest recipient of your anger and ask them to forgive you.

There are three active and three passive approaches to converting an angry exchange into a productive conversation.  First there must be an attitude change.  The angry person must re-orient their thinking.  Moments of conflict must be viewed as opportunities to resolve problems with your partner.  By changing the desired outcome from wanting to punish, control, or get even to one of problem solving the entire climate changes.

 Active approaches:

1.    A healthy response is direct.  Ask for what you want of the other person.  Be sure it is something they can do, something behavioral.  Develop a fallback position, a minimum change that is satisfactory to you.

2.    Negotiate.  Ask the other person for a proposed solution to the problem. 

3.    Self-care.  You deliver an ultimatum.  If we don’t resolve this disagreement about ____________ I will _____________.   You must be willing to follow through.

Passive approaches:

1.    Get information.  What are your concerns?    What do you need in this situation?  How are you being hurt by___________?

2.    Acknowledge / clarify.  So what you want is_______?  You are feeling hurt because_____________?  Be factual and non-judgmental in how you state this question.  No sarcasm.

3.    Withdrawal.  This is a request for a time out.  A time to think, reflect and come back together when cooler heads might prevail.

 Hopefully, if you are prone to become angry these practical skills will help.  However for a lasting change there needs to be a heart change which only comes about through the help of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Do You Ever Overreact?

I really dislike it when I read or hear something that makes me realize that I am still a sinner.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no delusions of being anything else but a sinner; I just hate to face it.

Marriage Matters, by Winston Smith, addresses among other things the concept of idol worship.   He says, “Spotting the activity of idols in our lives can be difficult.  One sure sign of idolatry is when we overreact to something.”   If I had a dime for every time I have overreacted I’d be writing this blog from the Bahamas.

As if that isn’t bad enough Smith goes on to specify some other forms of idol worship such as comfort, security, safety, success, etc.  I feel fairly confident that if I were able to make an exhaustive list you would find something on the list with which you would identify.  Perhaps it’s your kids.

Ironically it was my wife who first identified my overreaction to a minor frustration as being in an idol in my life.  It was during a time when I was throwing one of my hissy fits and she asked me who I was mad at.  The question took me by surprise because I didn’t think that I was mad at anyone in particular, I was just upset that whatever it was that I was working on wasn’t going according to “my” plan.  She gently asked me whether or not I was mad at God.  What, me mad at God?  She then asked me if I thought God had the power to make the thing that was annoying me work the way it should.  I said of course.  I think you can see where this is going.  My need for life to work according to my plans is self centered.  It is as though the world should revolve around me, my comfort, my desires.

 Rather I needed to see this as well as many other times in my daily journey as an ordinary moment, a time when I can trust that God is working on my heart.  Whatever I allow to control my behavior in a way that does not glorify God has become an idol at that point in time.
The next time you get upset with your husband, wife, children or life in general ask yourself what is it that I am seeking.  Why is this incident bothering me so?  Invariably I suspect, if you are honest with yourself it is because things are not going according to your plan.  Whether it is as insignificant as how the tooth paste tube is squeezed or something far more important most often your desires become the idol

Friday, 7 December 2012

Grading on a Curve


However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:33

In my life time I have logged a good number of classroom hours.  I always felt relieved when the teacher or professor said they were going to grade on a curve.  Even though I was usually helping to lower the curve it gave me a sense of false confidence that perhaps I could earn a reasonable grade.  This became increasingly difficult as I went on to graduate studies.  There was no curve and an “A” began over 93 percent.  Thus I was unable to help my fellow man, by setting the bar low as I had done in so many of my previous classes.

One of my absolute favorite classes was a New Testament survey course.  The professor told us when we would be having quizzes and exactly what would be on them.  He did the same thing for the final.  His rationale was that he wanted us to learn material that he deemed important.  He usually included an essay question that would allow the over achievers to differentiate themselves.

So what does my pathetic academic record have to do with marriage?  Let me connect the dots.  I recently read a blog that suggested that couples should reflect on their marriage and ask themselves “Is my marriage all I thought it would be?; How does my partner measure up?, etc.”  In a way this is grading your marriage on a curve.  You are subjectively and arbitrarily setting a bench mark to which you are comparing your marriage. You either compare your married life to your preconceived notion of what you thought it would be like or to the marriages of couples whom you know.  To set the bar really low you can take solace in the fact that you are not among the fifty percent of couples who divorce. 

Now back to my New Testament survey course.  God, not unlike my professor, wants us to learn specific things about His marriage course.  He doesn’t’ want us to spend needless hours wondering what it takes to get a good grade in marriage, i.e. have a marriage that is joy filled and that brings honor to Him.  In relatively few verses He provides the answer to the question, “How can I be the husband / wife that God has called me to be?”  Ephesians 5:21-33; 1Peter 3:1-7; and1Corinthians 7:1-16 provide most of the answers you will need to do well in His course.  

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Friends of the Opposite Sex

The question has been asked whether or not it is okay for a married person to have friends of the opposite sex.

It is hard to give a definitive answer to this question but my gut tells me that it is not a good idea.  First of all current research seems to be indicating that the best marriage partners are people of the opposite sex who are or could be best friends.  You have much in common, or you are interested in the person for some other reason, or you just enjoy the company of one another.

Secondly, a recent study done by the University of Wisconsin indicates that men are often attracted to their female friends AND they presume their female friend is attracted to them.

We are not talking about casual acquaintances when we are talking friends.  A friend is someone you call in the middle of the night when you have just received bad news.  A friend is someone in whom you confide your deepest, most intimate secrets.  A friend cares about you so much that they accept you for who you are but they are willing to run the risk of being candid regarding some possible flaw.  A friend is someone you laugh and cry with, someone who will sit in a hospital waiting room with you for hours awaiting the doctor’s report.
 
I’m good at stating the obvious.  Let’s assume that a relatively high percentage of married couples are in a marriage that they find less than fulfilling, which our divorce statistics would tend to substantiate.  Let’s assume two well meaning individuals of the opposite sex, who are in a marriage that is less than satisfactory, begin to develop a friendship.  How long will it be before they each realize the other is unhappy?  If you can’t see where this is going you have led a very sheltered life.

1Peter 5:8 tells us that we should be “sober minded; be watchful.  (Because) Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Satan likes nothing better than to bring down a marriage, particularly a Christian marriage because such a marriage is to be a reflection of the Son’s relationship to His bride, the church.  Marriage is to glorify God.  If Satan can make a mockery of it, he gets one in the win column.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Win - Win

25 “.... so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  1Corinthians 12:25-6

Gary Smalley
In an article co-authored by Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham entitled “Win-Win” they emphasize the importance of considering each other as equally important in the quest for a fulfilling marriage, one that brings glory to God.  They offered the following analogy to drive their point home:

Imagine what would happen if your body tried to function according  to the rules of a win-lose system.  Suppose your heart and your kidneys got into a heated debate about which one most needed a steady blood supply, winner take all.

“Hey, I pump blood through the whole body”, declares the heart. “Without me, every organ dies – including you.”That my be,” retorts the kidneys, “but if the blood doesn’t go through me, all you accomplish with your incessant pumping is to poison the entire system. And then guess who dies?

What affects on part of the body often affects another and so it is with a husband and wife.  “The heart cannot win at the expense of the kidneys any more than the kidneys can win at the expense of the heart.”

 When God provided Adam with a “helper”, He was providing Adam with someone who could make up for some of his deficiencies much like Adam could augment that which Eve brought into the relationship.

In 1Peter 5:5-6 the Apostle Paul encourages the members of the body to “… clothe ourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

When a husband and wife take advantage of the skills, talents, abilities and perspectives that each brings to the marriage they have the potential to accomplish much. 

Sometimes as couples we focus on the weaknesses of one another instead of the strengths.  Make a list today of all your partner’s strengths that supplement, augment or makes up for your deficiencies.

This becomes even more important when you are one of God’s more “mature” children. “Kathleen have you seen my car keys?”

 

Friday, 30 November 2012

There Are No Ordinary Moments in Marriage

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  1John 4:7-12  ESV

In chapter one of Marriage Matters Winston Smith makes two key points.

1.    We are prone to handle the ordinary moments of marriage on our own as if God were uninterested in the things that trouble us.

A quick glance at 1John 4:7-12 should dispel any notion that God is disinterested in anything that happens to one of His children.  Matthew 10:39 says “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”  Does that sound like a God that is disinterested in you.  We are told in Acts 17:28 that “…in him we live and move and have our being.”  Every breath of every day comes from Him.  Hopefully you are convinced that it is not God who decides to abdicate the mundane, monotonous and the messy.  We choose to exclude Him.

2.    God is love, and when we find it hard to love, we need Him all the more. A lack of love means we should not just look more closely at our marriage, but at ourselves and God.  If we have any hope of having more love in our marriage, it’s going to mean having more of God in our marriage.

 Oooouch!  The implication here is that if we are not “feeling” particularly loving we best look at our relationship with God.  If God is love and God is living in us then His love should be flowing through us.

Don’t you just hate it when these Christian authors begin to get up close and personal?  The good news is that God does care about your marriage.  He does love you and He very much wants to help.  Invite Him in to the ordinary moments of your marriage.

 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Ball Field to Bedroom to Billfold

My accountability group is reading The True Measure of a Man.  Chapter five describes how many of us guys attempt to prove our masculinity based on erroneous assumptions. Joe Erhmann, a former football coach, identified the cultural progression of false masculinity with the expression “from ball field to bedroom to billfold.”  This may be a little crass to some of you but I think he makes a valid, if not sad, observation.  Many guys begin to evaluate their maleness based on their athletic prowess.  For the boys who are always picked last (or not at all) they begin to feel less than, whereas the fastest boys with the best arms, etc. are looked up to.  The next test of masculinity comes after puberty.  Which guys date the cutest most popular girls?  The young man who had no one to take to the prom doesn’t feel very good about himself.  The last measurement tends to be financial success and all the “toys” it brings.  It is a cycle of competing and comparing ourselves with all men in our sphere of influence.  What is totally absent is any mention of God.  I am assuming that woman probably have their own cultural markers which most likely exclude God as well.

These “trophies” we collect, or fail to collect, do not give meaning and purpose to our lives. Romans 8:29 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” seems to offer an alternative standard, one with eternal rewards.  According to Scripture the essence of what it means to be an authentic man is made up of character, wisdom and the ability to love.

So what does all this have to do with marriage?  If as a husband I am striving to be more Christlike I think it has a lot to do with marriage.  My wife will not have a hard time submitting to me because she senses that I love her as much as I love myself.  In addition to being other centered, I will exhibit character qualities that reflect the impact of Chris on my life. I will show a concern for people that brings glory to God.  By seeking wisdom I will tend to make better decisions and choices for my family, my church and my employer.

Bottom line, God could care less whether or not you or I can throw a football 70 yards. God is not impressed if you or I dated and married the most popular girl in our high school.  The amount of possessions we may have amassed do not compare with the riches that await us.  

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Happiest Day of Your Life

Deepak Reju
In his blog entitled “10 Ways that Satan Loves to Watch Marriages Fall Apart”, Deepak Reju makes the following statements:

Marriage can be extremely messy. As sinners we can do dumb things in marriage—we hurt one another; we make false assumptions and then miscommunicate; we manipulate or say mean things to our spouse; we think less about serving and more about being served. We don’t always follow God’s Word or advice from godly leaders. We put our hopes in the world or each other more than we put hope in God.
We don’t need Satan to ruin our marriage. We do plenty of unhelpful things on our own to ruin our marriages. I’m sure Satan enjoys having a front row seat, watching our folly and foolishness.

In addition to the destructive messages that we send to one another Satan uses our culture in devious and subtle ways to reinforce our negative feelings.  For example a comment during a TV program appeared to be an innocent enough when the speaker said “Her wedding day” referring to the bride, “should have been the happiest day of her life.”  Perhaps that explains why the average wedding costs over $30,000 but I digress.  IF the wedding day is the happiest day of a couple’s life together it would mean from that point on it is all downhill.  Certainly your wedding day should be one of the happiest days of your life with many more to follow. 
As I reviewed Deepak’s list of ten behaviors that adversely affect marriage there were no surprises.  Self-centeredness headed the list.  Unfulfilled expectations, a lack of intimacy and filling the void in our life with work, kids, social media, etc. head the list of ways Satan attacks marriages.
Unemployment line
1 Peter 5:8 says that Satan prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour.  We in America have certainly made Satan’s job simple. At the pace we are going Satan will need to collect unemployment.
The happiest day of your life should be the day Jesus became your Lord and Savior.  Much of life is a series of choices.  Your happiness depends more on making choices that glorify God than making choices that satisfy your desires.  A husband who attempts to love his wife as much as he loves himself will have a most happy wife.   A wife who respects and reverences, notices, regards, honors, prefers, venerates, esteems, defers to,  praises, loves and admires him exceedingly will have a very happy husband. (Ephesians 5:33 Amplified Bible)

Friday, 23 November 2012

Haunted By Your Past

Nicolas Ellen
It seems that I have recently written on the topic of being deeply hurt by past life events, but then I figured it will probably take more than one blog to heal you.  In a blog by Nicolas Ellen entitled “4 Wisdom Principles for Dealing with Your Past” I found some advice that is worthy to pass on.

Principle # 1: Seek to Overcome Past Desires in the Present (Numbers 11:1-6)
You must begin to adjust your desires to fit your situation. Accept that God may not allow you to have what you want right now at the level you desire it. Seek to enjoy what God is allowing you to have while obeying God in the responsibilities He has given you. Accept His sufficiency above your preoccupation with protecting yourself and providing for yourself.

Principle # 2: View God According to His Character and Not According to Your Past (Genesis 50: 15-20)
Your view of God shapes your decisions concerning every problem you encounter. If you truly embrace the facts that God is in control, He knows the best course of action to bring about His glory and your greatest good, and God always has your best interest at heart, it could change your perspective of the past.

Principle # 3: Confess Present Sin from Past Experiences (Proverbs 28:13-14)
You must identify your present ungodly actions, which have developed from the past experience, and turn away from them. Look at the way you act around people as a result of your past experience. Are you unloving or unkind? Confess, repent, and replace those actions with kindness, and politeness. Freedom comes as we deal with the sin properly instead of rationalizing and justifying ourselves. We must fess up where we messed up, let go, and move on!
This step may be hard to swallow since you are the one who feels like the victim.   Unfortunately it is not unusual for someone who has been hurt to hurt someone else.  You may put unreasonable demands on a relationship because of wounds from the past.  You may have even copied the behavior that so adversely affected you.

Principle # 4: Pursue the Future Prize in Christ (Colossians 3:1-4 and Philippians 3:13-14)
You must set your mind on things above instead of things below. If you don’t do this, you will find yourself disobedient and unloving in the present towards God and others because of past experiences. You must set your mind on things above instead of things below (Colossians 3:1-4). If you don’t do this, you will find yourself disobedient and unloving in the present towards God and others because of past experiences. You must enjoy what God has provided now without being consumed with what you believed you lacked in the past.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Cost of Marriage Counseling

A recent blog posted my Mort Fertel (the Marriage Counseling Blog) addressed the real possibility that for some the cost of marriage counseling is prohibitive. He then gave some suggestions for ways a couple might reduce some of the burden.

He suggested:

Check with Your Health Insurance Company

Investigate your company’s Employee Assistance Program

Work with a Mental Health Agency to help interpret your insurance policy

Re-Evaluate Your Budget (and Priorities)

Inquire About Resources through your doctor, try to negotiate a payment plan…

Self-Help Resources

I would add, talk to someone where you worship.  Counseling can be very expensive and can last an extended period of time.  Depending on whose statistics you choose to believe much marriage counseling is ineffective.  What follows is my cynical, biased assessment of marriage counseling.

It will be most effective if:

·       You are both committed Christians and have a covenant marriage.  This means there is no exit strategy; you are “lifers”, for better or for worse.

·       You have been married less than ten years. 
 
      You are both willing to come to counseling.

·       You both accept and acknowledge that you each need to change and that you are coming to learn how you can be a better husband or wife NOT coming to change your partner.

·       You accept the premise that the purpose of marriage is to glorify God.

·       You seek a Biblical or Nouthetic counselor, i.e. one who truly uses Scripture in an attempt to bring healing and change.

·       You seek a counselor who specializes in marriage counseling.

Certainly there are secular counselors who have had a successful track record.  Obviously I am suggesting that the fewer of the above criteria that you as a couple meet the more difficult it will be to have satisfying, long-term results.

 I am fortunate that I work for a church.  I am able to provide counseling for free.  My biggest concern is that my counseling may be worth what I am charging.  There is often a gap between the aspirations of any counselor and his/her ability to deliver.  That is particularly true when as a counselor you not only want to serve the couple but God as well.

 

Monday, 19 November 2012

FTT

In his book The Me I Want to Be John Ortberg refers to FTT, a medical diagnosis that gets entered into the chart of an infant who, for unknown reasons, is unable to gain weight or grow.  “Psychologists have begun to speak of what is perhaps the largest mental health problem in our day.  It is not depression or anxiety, at least not at clinical levels.  It is languishing – a ‘failure to thrive’ (FTT).”  Ortberg then goes on to define languishing as “the condition of someone who may be able to function but has lost a sense of hope and meaning.  Languishing is not the presence of mental illness; it is the absence of mental and emotional vitality…a weariness of soul and an inability to delight in life.”

Unfortunately these terms describe far too many married couples who claim to be Christians.  I do not want to offend anyone or presume that I know the condition of someone’s heart.  One’s salvation is only known by the Lord.  However, I do believe that the primary purpose of marriage is to glorify God.  To that end I believe God wants us to be filled with his joy.  We as Christians should need lose hope or meaning.  We need never lose our mental or emotional vitality.

Before you get to ticked or say “you have no idea of what being married to _______ is like” I would say you are right.  I also believe that God is more concerned about our holiness than our happiness.  I know even the most committed of Christians experience some horrific tragedies.  I know that some of the most sincere Christians that have ever walked this planet have suffered from depression, anxiety and other maladies.  I also know what it was like to be in a difficult marriage prior to the untimely death of my first wife.

Robertson & Muriel
I know too that God doesn’t want us to look to our circumstances to give us joy; to look to another human for hope; or to depend on what we have or don’t have to give our life meaning.  If your marriage is failing to thrive it is not glorifying God.  One only needs to hear the Robertson McQuilkin story to understand how even in the midst of incredible emotional pain a child of God can express joy.  McQuilkin was the president of Columbia International University in South Carolina as his wife, Muriel, battled Alzheimer’s disease. At the height of his career he resigned to take care of his wife.

If yours is a marriage that is FTT, seek a Biblical marriage counselor.  God wants you to have a marriage that is flourishing.

 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Eye Exam

If you have ever had your eyes examined you may recall that the doctor tried having you look through different lenses to determine which lens provided the greatest clarity for each eye.

I realize that many of the people I deal with have a difficult time forgiving those who have inflicted past and/or current wounds.  Winston Smith, in his book Marriage Matters  describes the feeling as in “the darkest moments of hurt, you may look inside of yourself to find some help in forgiving and feel that you’re hunting for water at the bottom of a dry well. When you’re consumed by your own hurt, where does forgiveness come from?” The “go-to” Scripture reminds us that each of us has been forgiven much.

Furthermore Smith writes “Our ability to forgive comes from appreciating and living out of God’s forgiveness. If you don’t yet understand how much you’ve been forgiven, just remember that your forgiveness required the death of God’s own perfect son. When you appreciate and live out of the joy and gratitude of God’s forgiveness, it becomes easier to forgive others.”

“Bestowing forgiveness isn’t about looking inside yourself to find an appropriate emotional response; it’s about focusing on God’s love and grace and asking for the ability to pass it on to (the one you need to forgive).”

For those who have a strong “vertical connection” i.e. have been able to really internalize the love of God and truly appreciate, as best a human can, God’s sacrificial act this Scriptural reminder is enough to enable us to extend forgiveness in the most grievous of situations.  This is one potential lens through which you can view forgiveness, one which I would call the “thankful” lens.

There at least two additional lenses that might enable you to see the wound you have received in a less distorted way.  One such way is to accept that Matthew 6:14-15 is one of the most disturbing passages in all of Scripture, at least for me.  For what it says to me is that if I am unwilling to forgive my brother /sister in Christ that God will not forgive me.  I would call this lens the “Scare me out of my wits” lens.
 
The final lens might be called the “it’s all about me” lens.  Which when taken at face value appeals to most of us.  This approach suggests that failure to forgive will most likely manifest itself in a physical and/or psychological problem for the one who is unwilling to forgive.  It is referred to Biblically as a “root of bitterness.”

The final lens provides a “painful but helpful” view of your situation.  Assume that God is trying to get your attention.  What valuable lesson does he want you to learn from the pain that has been inflicted on you.

Hopefully one of these lenses will work for you.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Jesus Cares - Really!

Kevin Carson posted a blog entitled “Enjoy Your Day – Jesus Cares”.  My first instinct was to delete the post.  First of all I am well aware that Jesus cares.  Secondly I thought there are a lot of people who are hurting and to tell them to enjoy their day and that Jesus cares seemed unfeeling, uncaring and too cliché.  Boy was I wrong.

I’m certain that some of you who are reading this blog are experiencing some real struggles, be they marital, financial, or a problem parenting, etc.  Perhaps you are not feeling the love right now.  Consider the following:

In recounting the events surrounding the resurrection of Lazarus Kevin postulates:

First, Jesus demonstrates His love and care even when we as His people do not understand or at times even believe. He sees His two heartbroken friends who love Him. Jesus cares that they hurt and mourn with a general sense of unbelief. So Jesus cries. Interesting response, isn’t it? John makes it clear that Jesus had already determined to raise Lazarus from death. He told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I make wake him up” (John 11:11). So, the end of this story is already known to Jesus. He understands better than anyone present that this is getting ready to change from a funeral to a party. Yet, Jesus still hurt because His friends hurt and were weak in faith. The good news for us is that Jesus is no different today. Friends, Jesus cares…
Even before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus shares with Martha the ultimate hope each person has regardless of one’s pressures and hardships. In Jesus, we live. In your current struggle, you may be questioning how much Jesus loves and cares for you. You do not need to look any further than the cross of Jesus Christ to be encouraged by the love and care of Jesus.

During times of great difficulty most Christians can still intellectually acknowledge that Jesus cares.  What we need to remember is that when we are hurting we have a great High Priest who is standing by our side, weeping.  He cares that we are hurting and that we are weak in our faith.  The end of our story is already known by Jesus and He wants us to truly believe that indeed “all things will work together for good” for our Lord and Savior went to the cross for you and for me.
Enjoy your day!