I write a newspaper column entitled Patching Cracks for the local paper. Every January, I write a column on New Year’s Resolutions exploring the concept behind the practice, the reason most resolutions fail to enact lasting change, and how to improve the odds of a successful resolution. This year, I had a crazy realization. I haven’t ever made a resolution. I’ve written about the practice for years without actually trying it on for size. This year, I resolved to make severalresolutions and to try out my own advice. One of my goals for the year was to read more. However, “more” is pretty nebulous and failing to set a target to hit is the first step to failing altogether. So, I set a high, but attainable goal: I will read 52 books in 2016. Teddy Roosevelt read 2 to 3 books a day, so I figure I can manage to read one a week. Mind you, these are not just any books. I am reading 52 books that will expand me in some way. I love novels, but I don’t want to come to the end without becoming a better man. All of the my reading choices are non-fiction and focused on a topic that relates to me growing as a person. Nearly 6 months into the year, I’ve read nearly 30 books, mostly theology, Bible, counseling, manhood, marriage, or parenting focused. Beyond what I have learned from reading more in general, the effort of reading toward a goal has taught me a few things about reading that are worth sharing.
The goal of reading more started out as a way to test my own advice. However, six months into the experiment, I am finding that expanding myself through reading has been more than worth the effort. It has helped me advance my larger aspiration in life: becoming a better man.
The internet has provided us an amazing resource for engaging with our fellow man, discussing/debating ideas, and heaping foul abuse and nastiness on each other. Engaging in flame wars on the internet and mocking the viewpoint of the other person will do little to change the other person’s perspective. I am shocked at how often my brothers and sisters in Christ devolve to rants and abuse rather thank thoughtful discussion and debate. It is a sad reality that most men don’t bother to be gentlemanly or Christlike while engaging in internet discussion. Unfortunately, even pleasant arguing isn’t typically effective. It takes much more to effectively engage another person and properly represent Jesus in the process. I think the beginning of the problem is that most folks don’t reflect on what is needed to effectively represent Christ in the digital setting. Here are my 7 commandments for acting like a gentleman and an ambassador for Jesus.
A few years ago, while taking a seminary class on Marriage Counseling, I realized that my performance as a husband left much to be desired. I wasn’t the worst husband in the world and, in fact, had become a better husband than I was early in our marriage. Instead of being terrible, I was just ok. That was not ok by me. I love my wife and want my life to be a blessing to her. I want her to make her life better through everything I do. This began my concerted effort to become the man my wife deserves and that God calls me to be. I approached this task in the same manner I approach every challenge and task in life. I’ve read everything I could find and experimented with implementing what I read. The following books are by no means exhaustive, but they are the ones that have influenced me more than any others. I’ve read most of them multiple times.
I came across this quote from Arthur Pink today and thought it was worth sharing, particularly in light of the alarmist things I encounter in my social media feeds on a daily basis lately. It’s easy to find folks to blame for the problems in our nation. Folks post their outrage on social media, flock to politicians peddling easy answers, demand laws that will straighten up the world we live in, and pine for God to set things right. The problem with these solutions is that they are top-down fixes to a bottom-up problem. Decline and decay start in our own homes and churches. We must address our own messes before looking to those of others. In the 2 millennia since its birth, Christianity has changed the world, not through legislation and power, but through discipleship and devotion to the cause of Jesus. Fathers, follow Jesus and grow spiritually. Then, spend time with your families, loving and teaching them who Jesus is and how to follow Him. Devote yourself to your God, your marriage, your family, and your church (in that order). If you want this country to change, start with yourselves. Through prayer and discipleship, Jesus’ following grew to fill the world. It will only happen again through the same efforts.
I love my wife. I want her to love me and think I am a great husband. Heck, I want to be the kind of husband that makes my wife feel loved, appreciated, and treasured. Further, I want her to look to me as a source of comfort, assurance, and joy. Achieving this means courting her throughout our marriage. Sitting around and wanting our marriage to grow stronger without putting forth effort is unrealistic. I also want to be faithful to God’s command that I love my wife like Jesus loved the church. This means serving her. Over and over Jesus taught that love is demonstrated through service. Over the course of 18 years of marriage, I have learned through trial and error (lots and lots of error) that simply doing things for her is a start, but it is not everything. There are all sorts of things I, and lots of husbands, do to mess up the good things we do for them. We men can be thick-headed in regards to relationships and often act stupidly in ways that mess up what we are trying to achieve. Figuring out the big pitfalls and avoiding them is a huge part of courting our wives. Here are a few I have done or have observed in others.
“As the man of the house, God put me in charge, so my wife has to obey my direction… or else she is sinning against God.” This silly line has been used time and again to justify all manner of sinful behavior, mistreatment of women, tyrannical rule in the home, and in itself has the potential to be a blasphemous statement. In fact, much of the anger that is raised the idea of men leading in the home or church is rooted in the wicked mistreatment of families using this idea as an excuse. I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to figure out how to be a Godly husband. (This is not a humble brag because I’ve actually been married for almost 18 years. Better late than never.) The biggest struggle I’ve encountered in the process has been related to the matter of headship in the home. I suspect that the struggle I am experiencing is a good thing. Not struggling with it could rise from an overly simple or self-serving understanding of the concept. It is far better to wrestle with this idea and approach the matter with fear and trembling. The understanding I have reached thus far is far from the “Woman! Get me a sandwich!” mentality that’s often the default perspective.
The most important part of understanding authority in the Scriptures is that it is exemplified in Jesus’ example and His relationship with the Father. Jesus is our Lord. Lord is a bit of a culturally foreign idea for us. The ancient world “lord” meant “boss” or “master”. Paul takes this idea a step further and refers to himself as a slave to Christ. As such, we do well to observe Jesus’ example of how authority is properly exercised if we desire to exercise it as well. This is particularly important because Jesus explains the source of his authority over us. He does so in John 5. To paraphrase, he says that he has authority because God gives it to him. That authority is linked to the requirement that it be exercised in harmony with the Father’s will. So, the Father has authority and will. Jesus wields the Father’s authority, but he must do it in harmony with the Father’s will. Otherwise, he ceases to have authority. This arrangement of submission and bestowing is made possible by the fact that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. The Son submits to the Father because he loves Him. The Father gives the Son authority because he loves him.
Now, if a man has authority in his home, it is either Jesus’ authority or it is in rebellion against God. To use authority for his own interests and agenda would be sin. So it is with men. If we are given headship in our home, it is only the case that we have authority as long as we are operating in harmony with Jesus’ will and teachings. If we fail to do so, our authority dissolves. Jesus said that he can do nothing on his own. The same is true of husbands and, incidentally, the same is also true with pastors. They have authority to preach, teach, and lead as long as they are doing so in harmony with Jesus’ teachings. Pastors cannot preach their own opinions, mistreat their flock, or live the high life while their people are hungry. To do so is rebellion against God. If a pastor fails to lead folks to Jesus, God’s people are to follow Christ instead of the pastor. They only follow the pastor when he looks like Jesus, wielding his authority by operating in his teachings and will. For husbands, breaking from God’s teaching and will leaves them standing on their own. Further, because such a man’s wife is called to follow Jesus, following Jesus takes precedent over all. She is only called to follow her husband when he is acting like Jesus. Period. The husband, like the pastor, carries the responsibility to follow, obey, and point to Jesus.
The implications of Jesus’ authority go further still. Jesus told his disciples that they were to lead, but not as the Gentile rulers do. Their leadership was to be marked by selfless service and self-sacrifice. They could not demand that the church wait on them hand and foot. Rather, they were responsible to serve their people. The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven will be the servant to all. Jesus offered the best example of this when he washed his disciples feet at the last supper. In ancient cultures, foot washing was a task reserved for the lowest man in the house. Foot washers were often ridiculed in popular literature of the era and Jews debated in court over whether or not a person could willingly wash their loved one’s feet as a show of devotion, with most Jews considering to to be too humiliating an act to be legal. Jesus demonstrated leadership by humiliating himself and washing his disciples’ feet, even Judas’! Greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God is exercised through humble, loving service. This example of leadership is to be emulated by a man if he wishes to operate in the headship that Paul mentions in Ephesians. Loving, humble, selfless service are what is demanded. It is a mark of the pollution of the world in the church’s understanding of authority that we default to the idea that husbands being head in their marriage means that the family serves and submits to him. The family follows Jesus. The husband is to point to Jesus and imitate Him. NOT doing so is a sin of being passive after being commanded to be active in leadership of the home, which was Adam’s first sin: Standing by passively and allowing the serpent to deceive Eve. Sadly, this is the archetype for many mens’ sins today.
There is a final component to the service and headship of Jesus. Jesus’ ultimate act of service was to die for his people. So it is for men in headship of the home. They are to die for their family. This may not mean a physical death. It may entail giving up on their desires, free time, rest, comfort, and interests in the name of loving their family the best way possible. That’s the heart of the matter: loving your family the best way possible. Love your wife the way Jesus loved the church. Show her Jesus in your actions and attitudes. You point to Him every day as the object of our worship. Do all of this whether your family deserves it or not.
Some folks might read my words and ask: then what is the point of having authority, if it doesn’t do you any good? This is a question that demonstrates thinking outside of the mindset of the Christian faith. We do not serve for our own benefit in this life. We serve because we are motivated to do so by our love for God and our family. Further, we do so because serving our family makes us more like Jesus. Becoming like and growing close to Jesus is the ultimate aim of the Christian faith. It is the purpose for which we’re saved. A man’s headship in the home should not be to his worldly advantage or for his own comfort. We serve in this way because it is our duty as servants of Jesus.
In the end, I do not have a lot to say about a wife’s part in the whole equation, apart from the fact that she is not obligated to put up with evil, abuse, or foolishness. I have mainly focused on my job. I figure that if I do my job right, everything else will naturally fall into place. Beyond that, I’m far too busy trying to understand the requirements of my role and live up to being like Jesus to worry about my wife’s job. The mistake husbands often make in relation to their wives in this area is that they become so focused on what she should do that they ignore their own responsibilities and role. In a way, it reminds me of my kids. They get so overly focused on their siblings failure to do their chores that they neglect their own chores. They accuse each other without doing their job. Men, worry about the log in your own eye before pointing to the sawdust speck in your wife’s.
A final thought, Peter warns men to be careful to treat their wives right so that their prayers won’t be hindered. Years ago a friend told me that this can be boiled down to the hard truth that if you’re not right with your wife, God doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. That’s something to take very seriously. It’s enough to demand humility, fear, and trembling in our handling of our role as husband.
Last year, I read Theodore Rex, a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Amongst the many things that stood out to me in the life of that great man was that he took his children camping almost every night while staying at his vacation home. This was a man who was the leader of the free world, a world class intellectual, and a war hero. He was not too busy or too important to sleep under the stars with his children. I am willing to wager that for all the great things that Teddy was, his kids valued that time spent with him more than anything else. As dads, we often get distracted by our work, our hobbies, and our comforts; all to the detriment of the time we spend with our kids. Putting forth the effort to create special times with them is important. It is when the real impact of our parenting will blossom. Camping is a unique way to do this, because it takes us out of our comfort zone and away from our distraction, forcing us to pay attention to each other. For a child, camping with dad is a great adventure and a privilege. Here are a few of the things I have learned from camping with my kids.
I love my wife more than I can say. Unfortunately, I often neglect to say or show it. I may just be in the remedial class of romantic husbands, but a few years ago, I realized that I didn’t do nearly a good enough job telling/showing my wife what she means to me. Saying “I love you” is a good start, but I have discovered that actions speak much louder than words when it comes to making her feel loved. In fact, I’d argue that love is best shown through actio, rather than words. Jesus demonstrates this principle through his service and sacrifice for those he loved. Certainly words are necessary, but actions are vital. My biggest problem in showing my wife how much I love her is conjuring up clever ideas for showing it. Knowing what to do is a real challenge.
For around 7 years before coming to Montana, I was a vegetarian. I did not eat meat. When I moved to Montana, into a cattle ranching community, it just made a lot less sense to be a vegetarian. So, I now eat meat. If I were to tell people that I am still a vegetarian, it wouldn’t be accurate. I cannot truthfully say: “I am a vegetarian that eats meat with almost every meal.” The fact that I now eat meat makes me not vegetarian. The label implies certain things about my personal practices. This may seem like an obvious point, but it is important to understand that if I am going to accurately make statements about myself or my beliefs, they must reflect my reality.
“I love my wife and children.” When I say this, it can mean several things. The most basic meaning of the word “love” in this context is associated with an emotional affinity. I feel emotionally connected to my wife and children. The larger meaning of the word refers to selfless service and care. It is larger than a simple feeling. It is important to note something about the difference between the two. Love that is simply a feeling carries with it a degree of selfishness. The feeling of infatuation that is commonly associated with the simple emotion of love is pleasant. People enjoy feeling it. “You make me feel good.” The greek word for this type of love is eros. It is not a bad thing, it is just different from the deeper definition of love I referred to earlier.
Selfless love, which in greek is agape, refers to love that is primarily concerned about the object of love. The New Testament depicts agape love as an action type word. It is exemplified in Jesus’ death on the cross. According to the Bible, this act of self-sacrifice was Jesus’ taking punishment for the sins we commit. It goes so far as to say that we are God’s enemies before He redeems us through the cross. This means that agape love is so selfless that it would willingly give up everything for the object of that love, even if the object of love doesn’t return the affection at the moment. Agape love is selfless giving. It is more than feelings, though feelings can and do accompany agape love. They just don’t define it. Ultimately, this is the love that God intended to exist between spouses and for parents to have toward their children. Unfortunately, this also often goes against the dominant cultural attitude of “I should be happy no matter what” and “if it feels good, I should do it.”
When I say that I love my wife, I mean more than simply that I feel a certain way. I mean that I am committed to selflessly serve and care for her. It means that I am committed to a lifestyle that God intended for spouses to assume as a part of marriage. I am not perfect in this effort, but I strive to live that way. This is what God calls all spouses to strive for. If I claim I love my family, but pursue my own interests first and foremost, I am like the guy who claims to be a vegetarian, but eats meat every meal.