Monthly Archives: November 2014

3 Ways to Cultivate Thankfulness in Your Life

Thanksgiving_grace_1942In 1863, President Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November the official Thanksgiving holiday. While Thanksgiving had been celebrated irregularly for several hundred years, it was not an official holiday in the United States and was not annually celebrated until this point. It is significant that Lincoln chose to establish the holiday in 1863 because the American Civil war had been raging for several years. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead, the United States was united no more, the nation lay in shambles, and it appeared as though the North wouldn’t win the Civil War. To top it off, Lincoln’s son had died less than a year previous. It was in the midst ofone of the darkest points in American history, and certainly Lincoln’s own life, that he declared that Americans would  dedicate a day to thank God for the blessings that they had received. This is a powerful testimony to the degree of faith and dedication Lincoln had toward God. It is also an attitude that is difficult to muster during times of tragedy.

Thank_you_map_wa-sykIt is tough to stop and say thanks for what God has given you when everything seems to be falling apart. Often, disaster prompts people to turn and ask: “Where is God in all of this difficulty?” or “Why Doesn’t God do something to fix this for me?” Lincoln offers us a terrific model for our attitudes toward God in times of trial. This attitude can seem almost superhuman, and certainly unattainable for normal people. I’d suggest that this is probably the case. But, while it may be impossible for men to be thankful in all circumstances, it is certainly isn’t impossible for God to create an attitude of thanks in man’s heart. I’d argue that this is a product of intentional effort and practice, that God aids us in accomplishing.

  1. Learn to recognize blessings: It isn’t always easy to recognize blessings. This is particularly the case in our culture, where affluence is so abundant that it’s easy to take it for granted. Giving thanks for daily meals can quickly become ritual when the danger of starvation is extremely low. It’s also hard to look for our blessings when we are hurting. Pain has a tendency to act as blinders, blocking our peripheral vision so we cannot see the good in our lives. Instead we focus on the painful. Developing the ability to recognize the blessings in our lives starts with intentionally looking for them. We can also pray for God to open our eyes to the blessings He has given us. In the past, I have created lists and reviewed them regularly. Doing so helped me look at various areas of my life with greater scrutiny.
  2. Learn to say thank you to God daily: The next step to learning an attitude of thankfulness is intentionally taking time to pray and say thanks to God. It is a choice we make. If we train to say thanks when things are normal and when they are great, then it becomes easier to thank God when things are difficult. If we develop the discipline of thanking Him, we train ourselves spiritually to engage in this behavior and assume this stance in our heart.
  3. Learn to see the big picture: One of the recurring themes present in the New Testament letters is a bigger picture perspective on life and eternity. The apostles looked at our current lives in context of God’s future promises. They believed that the lives we live now are preparation for the eternity we will spend with God after we die. Our pain helps us experience the pain Christ experienced. Hardship helps us trust God more deeply and perfect our faith. Even death was seen as moving on to living in heaven with Jesus. This big picture perspective provides us with a point of view that frames blessings and sufferings in terms of God’s provision and eternity. If I understand that everything in this life is preparation for eternity and an opportunity for me to know God more deeply, then I can recognize that all things take place for my betterment. Jesus himself teaches that not a hair can fall from our heads without God’s will and knowledge. If this is true, there is opportunity to be thankful in all circumstances. The big picture is key to success in many areas of the Christian’s life and spiritual maturity.
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3 Basic Steps for Avoiding Holiday Fights

images-1The city of Butte Montana is built over a mine which had been on fire for over twenty years. This was not a roaring blaze, but rather a smoldering fire that simply kept burning year after year. The fire was accidentally set by a fellow named Henshaw, who left a candle burning unattended on a pine beam. The beam caught fire. The fire spread to other beams and kept burning for decades. This is at least partially due to the miners managing to deprive the fire of oxygen, which kept it from burning out of control but also prolonged the burn.

As the holidays approach and family gathers to celebrate, it is often the case that old smoldering resentments can flare up and create chaos in their wake. Similarly, small disagreements can quickly spread and get out of control. Both of these possibilities are increased during holidays because of the stress rising from  increased financial pressures, stress related to having guests or traveling, and the addition of new chores to already-busy routines. These flare ups can ruin meals, holidays, and even families.

Be conscious of the folks who make you angry: The surest way to avoid this potentiality is by being conscious of what needs to be done in order to prevent fires. For starters, it is necessary for folks to be aware of their own stress levels, particularly when spending time with folks who tend to push buttons, whether consciously or unconsciously. Self-awareness leads to an increased ability to avoid conflict.

Be quick to apologize and let things go: Often, conflicts that arise keep going because everyone involved holds tight to resentment. When people in conflict dig in and refuse to budge or demand apologies for slights, resolution becomes impossible. Finishing the fight often means someone has to let go and say sorry. This may feel like losing, but its far better to lose a little face in the name of harmony than becoming entrenched in bitterness or ruining family time together with pettiness. Pairing the aforementioned self awareness with a willingness to apologize first for any negativity will quickly smooth over most problems.

Knowing the right way to respond: Years ago, a pastor I worked with gave me a guide for the next step for dealing with flare-ups when they arise. The pastor told me that everyone has two options when they encounter the beginnings of an angry exchange. It’s like having 2 buckets, one in each hand. A gas bucket and a water bucket. When we see a fire, we have a choice to make as to which bucket we will throw at the blaze. Our gas bucket will spread the flames with a vengeance. This is like encouraging gossip or answering insult with angry words. Throwing your gas bucket at the wrong time can result in a fire that will go in forever. If we choose to throw the water bucket, we squelch the fire before it spreads. Throwing the water bucket looks like an apology or quieting gossip or simply saying nothing in response to a slight.

The book of James compares the tongue to a spark that can cause fires that burn up people’s lives. James goes on to say that the tongue is so tough to tame that it usually just tames us. This effort to intentionally throw the right bucket when people upset you is far from easy. It takes effort, forgiveness, prayer, and a great deal of intentionally planning to respond the right way. This effort may seem like a headache, but it is worth it to avoid living over 20 years of smoldering fires in the form of family conflict.

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Christians, the Internet, and Rage Porn

angry-desk-flip-lSeveral times in the last few months, while scrolling my Facebook feed, I have come across friends who have posted those annoying fake news stories, that are technically “parodies”, but are not identifiable as parodies in any way, apart from reading the home page of the website it was originally posted on. These posts are usually political, outrageous, completely fabricated, and designed to induce rage in the reader. The thing that has blown me away is that on several occasions I’ve read where a comment will point out that the article is fictional, and the follow up comments will continue to pile on with rage about how “it might as well be true” or “that’s the sort of thing <insert some group here> would actually do.” In short, it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re true, these  articles become an excuse to pour fuel on the fire of rage at an ideological group. They are, what I refer to as “rage porn.” They exist for the sole purpose of feeding an emotional state. They become an excuse to express rage and fury on the internet. Rage porn isn’t limited to the fake stories. There are whole websites that do the same thing with single line quotes and mischaracterizations. In these cases, the news articles will feature a single sentence and an editorial about how evil the speaker and everyone associated with them is. There is not attempt at context or intelligent engagement. The only objective is eliciting an emotional response, because anger is political strength in our culture.

The crazy thing is that this pouring out of rage isn’t purging or venting anger. It’s the sort of anger that gets hotter and bigger the more it’s given voice. It snowballs. The more the reader engages it, the bigger the anger gets. It’s easy to reach the point where the entire perspective held about the opposing ideological group is nothing but venom and hate. It becomes difficult to see those involved as anything other than the caricature that sits pickling in rage, resentment, and bitterness.

Some might question the use of the word pornography to describe this sort of internet material. It’s not usually sexual or lewd. It’s just inflammatory. It serves no purpose other than generating a hateful response. Anger and hate can feel powerful. Many people enjoy feeling justified in the feeling of hate they can aim at others, particularly those who “have it coming.” Most rage porn puts the reader in a position where they can feel moral or intellectual superiority along with reveling in spite. All of these feelings are part of an image; folks seek out and read these articles in order to feel anger. The only difference between these posts and pornography is the emotions produced by consuming it.

For followers of Jesus, these stirring hatred and rage in our hearts is contrary to the lifestyle we are called to live. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to pray for those who mistreat us. He even demonstrates this attitude by praying for the Roman soldiers who were crucifying him. Paul directs us not to allow the sun to set on our anger. John’s first epistle tells us that anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. More directly, Paul writes the church in Ephesus:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:30-32
warning-42657_640Believers have no place in their lives for stoking the flames of rage over politics or anything else. We may mourn over sin in the world. We can feel free to disagree with the actions of others. We can speak out for Christ and the protection of the innocent and helpless. At the end of the day, we must love those who Christ bled and died for. We need to pray for the folks we would be tempted to judge and love the folks we are more tempted to despise. It’s important to note that love involves more than lip service. If I rage at and trash talk a person, then explain that I love them; I am not doing much in the way of demonstrating my love toward them. Our call is to serve and to love concretely. This isn’t easy. Turning to reading materials that inflame our rage at “the enemy” does little to produce the sort of holiness that Christ is directing us to.
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Why Self Help Doesn’t Help

2427949527_37cee71670_zThe world of publishing has witnessed an interesting phenomena over the last few years. Sales of print books have slumped in almost every category as ebooks sales have surged. The only arm of book printing that has experienced growth over the last several years has been in the area of self-help. Self improvement book sales have defied the trend in the industry by experiencing a boom. Between books on weight loss, ways to improve your marriage, methods for overcoming depression, improve your career standing, and all manner of other do-it-yourself-to-yourself books; Americans are still buying. In our self-obsessed culture, feeling bad or inadequate is simply unacceptable. This has prompted a veritable gold rush of publishing in this area. The world of Christian books has not missed out on this trend. “Christian self-help” books are extraordinarily popular. I include quotation marks because far too often these books are simply christian flavored versions of their secular counterparts. Rather than being a distinct worldview, self-help Christianity has a tendency toward nearly identical in approach with bible verses attached to the ideas at strategic locations. At issue isn’t the notion of working to improve our health, emotional wellbeing, income prospects, or anything else we feel discontentedness toward. The issue is related to a basic philosophical incompatibility that exists between Biblical Christianity and most self-help approaches to the world.

One of the basic theological tenants of Christianity is the concept of total depravity. Basically, this teaches the because man is sinful from birth, he is incapable of following God of his own accord. Man’s natural bent is rebellion against his creator. The only way we are able to have a relationship with God is through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. When a person becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit enables us to follow God and to overcome sin in our lives. One of the foundational concepts behind most self-help systems is that you can overcome any challenges you may face in life. The solution to life’s ills is found by unlocking potential within you. The conflict between this philosophy and depravity make the two positions incompatible. One points to our inborn ability to do right, while the other points to our dependency on God’s provision to overcome. The incompatibility of the two makes the self-help approach problematic from the Christian worldview.

Romans 7 offers the best comment on the matter, when Paul writes about his ongoing frustration that the good he desires to do is seldom reflected in his actions, because sin rules his body. Ultimately, his comfort for this condition is found in Christ’s saving work on the cross. Believers finding themselves in unfortunate life circumstances or trapped in destructive patterns, recognize that relief is only obtained in Christ’s redeeming work and sanctification through the Spirit’s working in their lives.

Self-help can be a band-aid solution for some problems, but can never fix the core problem that all men face. Only God’s redeeming and recreating work can fix the problems that lay at in the hearts of all men.
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4 Keys to a Successful Romantic Weekend Away with Your Spouse

cabinMy kids spent last weekend on a ranch in the foothills of the mountain range near our town. The ranch is the home of one of the elders from my church and his family. The kids love spending time there chasing cows, riding horses, feeding chickens, and doing all the other things they do on the ranch. With the children away for a couple days, my wife and I were free to take a weekend away mini-vacation. We spent the night at a bed and breakfast situated in a ghost town; we then spent the day christmas shopping; and finally spent a night at home alone together. We do these mini-vacations twice a year, and have found that they are a perfect opportunity to spend time together, focusing on each other. We love our kids, but they demand a great deal of attention. I don’t begrudge them that attention, and in fact, feel that it’s our duty as parents to love our children and meet their emotional and relational needs. The challenge that comes with meeting the hefty attention and emotional needs of children is in maintaining a healthy relationship with each other. It’s easy for the marriage to go on the back burner when you’ve got kids to attend to. I’ve written several articles on the importance of date nights. The mini-vacation is a step beyond date night. It’s taking a day or two away to be together, alone. I know couples who haven’t spent days alone together in years, since they were first married, because of the demands of parenting. My wife and I agreed that keeping our relationship vital was good for us and for the kids, so we are intentional about planning these overnight dates a couple times a year. The trick is that it’s not an instant success. Weekends away need to be approached with appropriate expectations and with a degree of careful planning to ensure their success. Here are a few things we have recognized and learned from our experiences:
  • wood stoveMake Careful arrangements for Your Children: As important as the time together is, your first responsibility is for the safety and care of your children. The plans you come up with for their care need to be carefully considered. They need to be comfortable with the arrangement. The person watching them needs to be responsible and knowledgable in caring for kids. There needs to be plans in place in the case of an emergency, and you need to plan for their care and comfort. Family is ideal for this sort of arrangement, particularly grandparents. Another possibility is utilizing a sitter. I know couples who take turns watching each others children to support date nights. Taking turns with another couple watching watching kids is another way to make the weekend away possible.
  • Weekends away are no substitute for regular time spent: If you haven’t had alone time together in 6 moths, taking a weekend away is good, but it isn’t going to make up for all the time you haven’t spent together. Relationships take regular time spent together. Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. Marriage health involves dating your spouse, spending time together, and working on your relationship. Weekends away are a sort of icing on the cake. They are are not the whole dessert cart.
  • Don’t forget why you are doing the trip: The purpose of the mini-vacation is to spend time as a married couple, alone. It’s tempting to try to get stuff done without kids in the house or to fit in all sorts of vacation activities. Don’t get bogged down in planning a crazy outing or long trip. My wife and I have been tempted to use our days away to knock out christmas shopping or to plan a great luxury vacation. The point is to spend time together. The best husband-wife getaway we have gone on was to a hot spring resort in western Montana. We spent most of the weekend lounging around, talking, and reading. We enjoyed each other’s company in a relaxing way.
  • Be Realistic: The weekend away isn’t a cure all. If you’re having communication problems, you can take the lower pressure environment as an opportunity to work on it. viewIt probably won’t fix the problem for good. It may help, but you’ll likely still need to work at it. Another way that realism is important is in the area of romance. Wives, frustrated with their husband’s lack of romantic efforts, may not find that their husband is instantly transformed into Don Juan. Husbands who are looking for their wives to suddenly have a supercharged libido, may wind up frustrated. In both cases, unrealistic expectations can sour the weekend. Both of these problems are best dealt with through communicating with each other about the frustrations. The best plan is to be realistic and have realistic expectations about your time away.
  • Enjoy each other: I write a lot about communication and focusing on the relationship, which may give the impression that the whole weekend away needs to be some sort of marriage encounter or therapeutic retreat. Time away is best utilized as an opportunity to enjoy each other, to have fun, to talk, to nap, and to be intimate without kids or the pressures that accompany marriage.
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Marriage, Words, and Staying Together for the Long Haul

love-167044_640One of the biggest blessings I have experienced during my 2 years as a small town pastor has happened during my visits to the local nursing home. While there, I have met several married couples who have been together for decades longer than I have been alive. I have enjoyed watching couples eat together and spend time visiting. I am inspired by these folks and aspire to be together with my wife decades after we both said “I do.” To this end, I have been reading about the difference between couples who divorce and those who remain married for years. One of the interesting tidbits I came across in my reading was related to a decades-long study observing married couples. This study produced an interesting revelation regarding communication between spouses. Couples who exchanged insults or harsh words 5 out of every 100 verbal exchange tended to not divorce. If you increase the number of disparaging remarks to 10 out of every 100 exchanges, the likelihood of divorce increased dramatically. It hardly seems like a big deal, but careless words can take a toll on any relationship. Perhaps this is more so the case with marriage because husbands and wives make themselves vulnerable to each other as a part of their intimate relationship. In that setting, it doesn’t take much to wound each other significantly. The book of Proverbs makes a great comment on this matter: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Poorly chosen words can injure us. For a spouse, this injury can result in a closing off of intimacy, and often more unpleasant words spoken in retaliation. In turn, this results in more injury, more closing off emotionally, and more harsh words. The snowball effect of a few careless words will have a dramatic impact. One of the biggest differences between married for life and divorced is how much insulting takes place, and the difference isn’t vast. One of the truly challenging issues related to harsh words is that these wounds are not always easily discerned. Hurt feelings related to careless words are often hidden from plain view. They are hidden in the heart and can continue to cause pain well after they have been spoken because they are remembered and replayed.

There are several basic steps that can be taken to overcome this sort of injury in a relationship. First, a real effort must be taken toward carefully choosing the words spoken in marriage. It doesn’t take a large reduction in unpleasant words as statistics bear out. Any effort will make an impact. Second, repairing the damage caused by previous negative exchanges begins with figuring out what injuries took place and apologizing. This isn’t easy because partners aren’t always willing to talk about injuries caused by words. It takes persistence and perseverance to brings these wounds into the open and repair them. This work may seem tedious, but a long and happy marriage is a more than adequate payoff for the effort.

I originally wrote this piece for the Mountaineer. It was originally published in 4/14.

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4 Techniques for Managing Childrens’ Behavior

IMG_2990Early in my career, I worked at a facility for children with emotional disorders. We provided services for children ranging in age from 8 to 18. Many of our clients came from juvenile detention and it wasn’t unusual for them to have received little parental discipline or direction. One of the major challenges of the job was getting our adolescent clients through their everyday routine without major blowups, violence, or even having them just sit down and refuse to do anything at all. This was particularly challenging when it came to doing chores, going to school, and going to bed on time. During the first few months at the agency the training regimen is excessive, between behavior intervention techniques, therapeutic crisis intervention, and basic relational techniques. During that time I learned a grab bag of techniques for convincing kids to follow directions or to stop acting badly without resorting to physical intervention. As a parent, I’m increasingly discovering how useful these techniques are in raising and disciplining my own children. Having options when it comes to kids is great because they can be incredibly frustrating. Being able to choose an approach gives you a sense of control that can feel like it’s in short supply when you have only one or two approaches. The following are the interventions that I have found most useful in parenting:
  • 971904_10151370209716599_114566200_nPlanned Ignoring/Positive Attention This technique is based on the assumption that kids sometimes act out in an effort to get your attention or to get you to act in a particular way. Simply put, you do not reward undesirable behavior at all. You don’t cater to it or even acknowledge it. When they do what you want, you lavish praise and attention on them. One of the most obvious examples of this is the temper tantrum. Every morning I dress my 3 year old daughter and take her to work with me. Since she reached the age of 2 she has begun to disagree with me regarding the right wardrobe choices. This sometimes results in a fit of screaming and carrying on. Since it’s in my own home, I’m under no pressure to engage it. So, I usually walk away and let her yell. When she realizes that it’s not working she stops. On the other hand, when she asks for different clothes appropriately, I praise her and listen to her opinion. This approach works best with annoying behaviors when there are no time pressures. It essentially allows the child to figure out that what they are doing isn’t working. If they have a fit in the middle of the grocery store, ignoring it isn’t the right choice. If they are playing with knives, ignoring it is a bad idea.
  • Redirection- Kids have a tendency to lock into ideas or behaviors, not easily letting go. This tunnel vision makes it hard for them to let go of what they are locked onto. This can be inconvenient when they get upset about something they don’t understand, want to do but cannot, or something they just won’t let go of. Sometimes the solution to this is redirecting their attention, getting the child to pay attention to something else that will draw their focus away from whatever it is that they are locked on to. Typically, this involves picking a new area of focus and giving them a reason to focus on it. Years ago I was working with a young man who had become very upset about losing some privileges. He worked himself into a tizzy and was acting out loudly. I sat down with him and began telling him a story about my dog. I put a lot of energy into the story and was animated in my telling of it. I maintained eye contact with the boy the whole time. He slowly calmed down as his focus shifted and he went from cussing and throwing things to listening to my silly story. The story worked because I gave him a new focus, I held his attention through eye contact, and I was energetic and interesting. This drew him away from his tunnel vision.
  • Giving them choices- For some reason, children sometimes decide to just dig in and do the opposite of whatever you tell them. I pick out a shirt for her to wear and she doesn’t want it, no matter what I pick out. Part of reason this happens is because as kids mature they begin to assert more and more control over their environment. This prompts them to simply dig in because they can. One solution is offering 2 or 3 choices, which allows us them to have some control over the situation. The approach applies in all sorts of situations. I’ve had success using this when choosing what to feed the kids, who will read bedtime stories, etc. This approach is mostly effective when the child is resisting based on their desire to control their environment.
  • Hurdle Help- Hurdle help involves turning a large task into small, easily accomplished steps. My daughter struggles with cleaning up the giant messes she seems to be able to make. When directed to clean, she will respond that it’s too much and that she cannot possibly do it by herself. Prodding and pushing only results in her yelling that she cannot do it. Instead, I tell her to pick up one specific toy, for example her toy train, and put it in the toy box. Then another and another. This continues until she is in the process of picking up toys. I’ve used it with older students who were struggling with being overwhelmed by school assignments, like writing papers. Instead of saying: “write the paper,” I tell them to pick out a smaller task to accomplish, followed by another, until the paper is completed. Hurdle help works well in situations when a task or expectation is too much to take on altogether, either because the child is overwhelmed or too stubborn to do a larger task.
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5 Reasons Secrecy Hinders Recovery from Pornography Addiction

2014-09-24-canstockphoto13219245copyThere’s a saying that originated in AA: You are only as sick as your secrets. The more an addict hides their sickness, the worse it will become. Without outside assistance, recovery is nearly impossible. This is particularly the case with pornography addiction. Recovery from pornography addiction comes with some significant hurdles to beginning and sustaining recovery. Perhaps the biggest challenge in beginning the pr ocess of recovery is overcoming the shame associated with the addiction. This is particularly the case because of the social stigma accompanying sexual problems. This stigma and its bedfellow, shame, keep pornography addicts hiding in the darkness, often knowing that they need help, but unwilling to seek it out of fear of the judgement of others. This is particularly the case for married addicts, who risk losing their spouse by coming clean about their problem. The secretiveness makes recovery nearly impossible because of the nature of addiction. Simply put, addiction is a disease in which the stimulus reward process in the brain begins to dominate the addict’s behavior. The process reaches a point where the addict simply cannot stop using. In fact, one of the diagnostic criteria for addiction is repeated, failed attempts to control using. Pornography addicts may do this by deciding to quit using altogether, only to start again later. They may also try to come up with artificial ways of limiting their pornography consumption or the time spent searching for or looking at porn. These efforts inevitably fail. Secrecy eliminates the support essential to the recovery process for the following reasons:

Addicts need accountability: The inability of the addict to control their using through their own efforts means that they cannot effect change without outside help. They need other people to confess their failings and struggles, too. Further, they need outside perspectives regarding the best way to deal with their temptations and struggles. This is particularly important for pornography addiction, where using can be so easily hidden.inadequacy-447731_640

Addicts need help working through thinking errors: Another major complication that secrecy brings to recovery is related to thinking problems. Addicts develop sophisticated thinking mechanisms to protect their using. Thinking errors can be very difficult to identify without outside input and discussion. Further, addicts can easily become overwhelmed by their faulty thinking, which can be extraordinarily difficult to untangle. This requires the addict to talk through their thinking on different issues with other addicts.

Addicts need someone to talk to for stress relief: The stimulus reward cycle gets out of control when using becomes the primary mode for dealing with stressors, or more accurately, avoiding dealing with stressors. The accumulated negative feelings and memories put constant pressure on the addict and perpetuate the cycle of addiction. Recovery requires that the addict have access to individuals who can listen as the addict talks out their stressors. They need an outlet to let off emotional steam. Without it, the addict will simply go back to using.

Addicts need perspective: Talking with those who have successfully gone through recovery is helpful to the addict because it makes it clear that the journey has a destination that is reachable. Further, addicts tend to blow things out of proportion. They need outside input to keep the scale of situations clear in their minds. Without this scale, the addict can easily get overwhelmed by circumstances.

Addicts need help focusing: It’s easy for addicts to get distracted or to come up short regarding what they need to do next. Input from an outside perspective can help the addict to keep focused and take the steps necessary for recovery. It’s very easy to become distracted and to drift away from working toward recovery. Addicts need outside support to prevent them from losing focus.

keyboard-114439_640One of the major difficulties with opening up about pornography addiction is finding appropriate people to begin talking with. Ministers or counselors are a decent place to start. Both are common in most communities. I also recommend Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin or through the associated website: http://www.samsonsociety.com. The Samson Society website is a good resource for finding recovery meetings and materials.

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Book Review- You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity

1280x720-XqZBetween 16 years of marriage and earning my Masters Degree in pastoral counseling, I have read dozens and dozens of books on marriage, relationships, sex, and parenting. Francis and Lisa Chan’s book, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity is one of the best, particularly because it is one of the only that is solely devoted to marriage and family in terms of the big picture implications of faith, spiritual development, and eternal life. Whereas many books of the genre focus on particular aspects of relational dynamics, communications, or commitment, You and Me Forever presents an approach to marriage purely in the context of Paul’s directions in Ephesians 5 that the husband is to stand in the position of Christ in relation to his bride, the church. Chan argues that this means that husbands are to love sacrificially, serve, and most importantly to prepare their wives spiritually for eternity. This is accomplished through leadership, teaching, and prayer. Chan’s commitment to this approach is well illustrated in the opening chapters of the book, which do not deal with marriage directly at all, but rather present a Biblical framework for salvation and sanctification. He argues that the husband’s first responsibility is to be saved and grow spiritually. Without this foundation, he is incapable of fulfilling his role in the marriage. After establishing this basic element, Chan goes on to discuss eternity and Heaven. He asserts that if the majority of our time with our spouses is going to be spent in Heaven, Paul’s direction for husbands to live their lives preparing their wives for eternity becomes a supreme act of love. He argues that time spent in Heaven, rejoicing in God’s presence will make the work, service, and sacrifice in this life worthwhile. The text goes on to apply this concept to marital conflict, parenting, and other areas of the marriage relationship. The text presents a big picture perspective that marriage and family exist with the mission of pursuing deeper relationships with Jesus. Through those deeper relationships and our imitation of Him, harmony is introduced into the marriage because we are imitating a selfless Savior and working toward a common goal.

The ideas presented in the text aren’t new ones, per se. I’ve come across the basic ideas in other marriage books on more than one occasion. I would argue that what’s new and refreshing about this book is its undiluted focus that Chan takes in presenting the truth that marriage is an institution that exists for the purpose of discipleship and glorifying God. You and Me Forever takes this concept and works through it thoroughly, without allowing for distractions. If you’ve read my blog, you know that I like practical advice. As a guy, I want a to-do list that I can work through. Chan’s book doesn’t work toward being a self-help user manual with tidbits of advice, but I found its treatment of a topic that can be somewhat abstract to be simultaneously practical. As he works through the implications of spiritual leadership and imitating Christ, he constantly brings the ideas back to every day examples from his own life. This results in a book that presents big ideas that find application in everyday circumstances.

amazon linkOne area of trepidation I had coming into reading the book was in the idea of eternal relationship. Jesus teaches that marriage will not continue into eternity, but is instead an institution that exists in the creation only for now. I worried that he would make a theological leap that was unbiblical. I believe he handled this matter in a manner that is faithful to the scriptures. He affirms the teaching that marriage will not be for eternity, but instead suggests that the knowledge of our past relationships will continue to exist, only reframed in terms of eternal truths. This is a concept he works through his book thoroughly. I feel he spent adequate time on this idea to justify it Biblically, but not so much as to bore the non-theology-nerd readers. Some folks may find this unsatisfying, but I would argue that to do so would have detracted from the larger focus and message of the book. I’d like to read more on the idea from a Biblical perspective, but it’s hard to fault the author for making the choice he did in this component of the text.
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Blame, Responsibility, and Arguing in Marriage

UnknownIn the Bible’s account of the fall of man into sin, God calls Adam to account for breaking the only rule that had been given to them for living in the Garden of Eden. They had eaten of the forbidden fruit. The Bible indicates that Adam was standing right there and yet, said nothing as Eve was tempted. Adam isn’t innocent at all. He neglects his role as the spiritual leader in the family by saying nothing to correct the falsehoods in the serpent’s arguments. Adam stands by and allows everything to f all apart, then participates in the rebellion by eating the fruit. His problem is essentially passivity. God confronts him by pointedly asking: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Adam’s response is characteristic of the passivity that got him there in the first place: “The woman you put here with me- she gave me some of the fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Notice what he did there: he blamed God and the woman before mentioning his own actions. It’s HER fault and YOU put her here! Eve in turn, blames the snake for tricking her. This exchange has essentially turned into a template for unhealthy marital interactions. Many an argument between spouses gets stuck in finger-pointing. One or both partners works to pin responsibility for some injustice onto the other. Accepting responsibility is difficult and it’s usually a poor tactic for winning a fight. Often, the best tactic appears to be either denying guilt or justifying behavior.

967d60f40a44da71ee77e43c49b08ad247ced562e02c33a8bd09412aa877bea8Denying guilt is easy to understand. If Adam had simply said: “I didn’t do anything,” it would be denying. Arguing results in heated emotions that can prevent individuals from recognizing their own culpability or even recognizing that a fight has moved well past the point of making sense. Sometimes arguments perpetuate because one or both spouses are angry and simply want the satisfaction of forcing their partner to take responsibility for the fight.

What we saw Adam actually do is justify his behavior. He explains why he was less guilty than everyone else in the room. This is generally seen in arguments when in individual is called out for a particular wrong, and simply responds by saying something to the effect of: “I had to ______, because you ______” or “you started it.” What it comes down to is the person making the argument acknowledges that they did do what they are being accused of doing, but they had to do it because of some outside force that is really at fault for their actions.

Neither denying responsibility nor justifying behavior is a productive response to conflict. They do not help the couple come to a solution that will strengthen the marriage in the long run or do anything but perpetuate bad feelings and/or arguing.

The solution is to simply learn to accept responsibility. Sometimes this means taking a few deep breaths, reigning in the emotions, and being open to accepting blame. This may feel like the equivalent of throwing down your rifle in the middle of a battlefield, but if that’s the case, perhaps it would be valuable to ask if a raging battlefield is how you want your marriage to be. Another potential objection to this solution is that “my wife/husband wouldn’t do this, so why should I.” Ultimately, we can only effect change in our own behavior. We can implore change in our spouse, but we cannot make them act differently. The final guideline is not to take a victim stance, but rather to genuinely accept responsibility, apologize, and strive to communicate in a healthy way. The simple statements: “You’re right. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry” are a silver bullet to salve hurt feelings and end many fights. This is particularly important for husbands, who have a spiritual responsibility to lead their marriage through serving their wife and helping her to grow spiritually. Regular bickering and dirty fighting does little more than burn relationship credibility. Husbands need to put effort into building the credibility that is needed to lead their family. Biblical leadership is accomplished through service, not authoritarian rule. Husbands must focus on the big picture of the marital relationship, rather than getting mired in a win-this-fight-at-all-costs mentality.
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