Friday, 30 March 2012

Beware of the Little Foxes

Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
our vineyards that are in bloom.

Dr. John Trent has an interpretation of this verse that makes a lot of sense particularly when applied to marriage.

Apparently grown foxes tend to wait until the grapes are on the vines and then because they can reach the grapes they devour them. For the vintner who has patiently waited for his/her crop to come in this is alarming. However more alarming are the “small foxes” who because of their size are forced to chew the vines off at the base of the vine in order to reach the grapes. This is even more devastating when you realize that it takes years for a vine to produce quality grapes. The interpretation of this verse is that we must be vigilant to catch all the foxes but for certain catch the little ones who do the most damage.

In a marriage Trent likens small issues to little foxes. We as husbands come in the door from work and turn on the Sports channel. Or we have been asked 100 times to take the garbage out on Tuesdays but still forget. Perhaps we never remember to call home if we are running late from the office. Maybe the wife is so frazzled after chasing the kids all day that a microwave dinner is the best she can do. Perhaps the wife has forgotten for the third year in a row to remind her husband that her car’s inspection sticker is due. Possibly she unintentionally wrote a bad check, the third this year.

In the grand scheme of things these “issues” that we have with one another are little foxes that eat at the root of our marriage. If we allow these issues to grow up Trent proposes that things get personal. “All you think about are sports!” “How much intelligence does it take to remember that Tuesday is garbage day?” “The kids are always more important than me!” “How careless can you be, it only takes a minute to subtract a check in the register?”

Trent suggests the next step in the progression is that the relationship begins to fail. A culmination of small issues becomes the basis for personal character assassinations which lead to the demise of the marriage.

The little foxes are the issues that ultimately ruin the vineyard, i.e. your marriage. See those little issues for what they truly are, attack them while they are small before they can do some long-term harm.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Speak the Truth in Love - Part II

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph. 4:15 (NIV)

If you read “Speak the Truth in Love – Part I” this posting will make more sense. The bottom line is that as most of us do not accept anything that sounds remotely critical without getting somewhat defensive. Yet God intends for husbands and wives to help our partners to become more like the Son, as in iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

Speaking the truth in love almost sounds like an oxymoron. If something is true, why do I have to worry about whether or not it comes across as loving? Dah! The reason is that if it does not come across as loving the other person won’t listen. So here are some suggestions culled from a blog posted by Heath Lambert entitled “Gracious Candor”.

1. In humility, avoid thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.(Romans 12:3)
2. In humility, count others more significant than yourself. (Philippians 2)
3. In humility, be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19)
4. In humility, deal with the matter as privately as possible. (Matthew 18)
5. In humility be honest about your own struggles and limitations. (Matthew 7:1-5)
6. In humility, be honest about the grace that you have been shown. (Luke 6:37-38)
7. In humility, speak the truth.( Ephesians 4:15)

I love to state the obvious the key is “in humility.”

Unfortunately there is another component to this speaking the truth in love which may outweigh the “humility” part. If I have not established a loving relationship with an individual, humility will only take me so far. IF however, I am truly convinced that the person really, truly loves me then even if I get defensive I will be more likely to reflect on what has been shared. First of all I know if someone really loves me they wouldn’t try to hurt me, not intentionally. Secondly I know that if the person really loves me it is most likely difficult for them to share something that they know might hurt my feelings.

So perhaps the phrase should say, “In humility and with the love of Christ speak the truth to those who know how deeply you care for them.”
So how should the husband cited in Part I approach his wife in terms of spending and their spiritual growth?

He might say something like “Honey, as I have been going over our expenditures I am getting somewhat concerned. My concern is not only that we are incurring debt but I am equally concerned about our hearts. Perhaps without realizing it the acquisition of “things” has become too important, and we are not being good stewards of God’s resources. Let’s sit together next Saturday and review our spending patterns to be sure that they reflect our priorities.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Speak the Truth in Love - Part I

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)

In my opinion Ephesians 4:15 may be one of the most difficult passages in Scripture to apply to married life. Let’s start with a couple of assumptions. First - the primary purpose for marriage is to glorify God and I’m sure that on your wedding day that is all you were thinking about. Secondly it was God’s intention from the moment we said “I do” to use our spouse to help us develop spiritually. This is not to be construed as nagging.

The euphemism for helping you develop is “constructive criticism.” The typical response to such a generous offer is “Who died and made you king/queen?” Most of us do not take kindly to any form of criticism, whether it is true, i.e. warranted or not. But God didn’t stop at merely assigning us the duty of helping our spouse to grow to become more Christlike, He had the nerve to instruct us to do it “in love.”

Imagine the following conversation:
(Servant-leader husband) “Dear you know how much I adore you. You know that I worship the ground that you walk on. There is just one itsy, bitsy thing that I would like to point out - we are spending more than I am making and to be good stewards we need to dial our spending back.”
(Frustrated, irritated wife) “Are you saying that I am to blame for the financial condition we are in? I re-use Kleenex, I only grocery shop where coupons are doubled, and I haven’t bought any new clothes since Obama became President.”

This conversation is not going to end well and most likely nothing will get resolved.

So where did it go wrong? Assume for the moment that in fact the couple is spending more than they are bringing in. It sounded as though the husband was trying to love and even said we are spending, not you are spending.

The fact is that you can wrap up criticism anyway you like and it is not the gift that keeps on giving. So we need to back up and take a running start at this subject to see how God intended us to help our partners become more like the Son.

Tune in for Part II