Tag Archives: Christian

Training Hard for the Fight: A Pastor’s Guide

In recent years, I have found the habits of elite athletes and soldiers interesting. Guys who not only do physical things well, but at a level above everyone else in the world. I am not an athlete, but am starting to appreciate the habits and mindset of folks who are top-tier in their fields. One of the interesting things I have noticed about such people is that they maintain physical discipline even when they are not doing their jobs. A former Navy Seal I follow online talks about getting up early every day to train. This is a man who is no longer fighting wars on the battlefield, but sees his own training and discipline as non-negotiable. Football legend Herschel Walker continued to train hard whether he was playing ball, between seasons, or retired. Training isn’t seen as a component of his career. Rather, it is a way of life. Pushing yourself daily to exceed yesterday’s best is never questioned. These are folks who are elite athletes and warriors by nature, not just by vocation. I am never going to be an athlete or a warrior. I am a pastor. I live a different calling. I exercise hard every day because I want to be better. This new practice and reading about the habits of these men has helped me to realize something powerful. I study and meditate on scripture verses 8 to 9 hours a week so I can teach them on Sundays. I truly love this aspect of my work. However, I struggle with spending time daily reading and studying the same book for my own edification. I also struggle with the daily discipline of prayer. This morning, I realized something convicting. While the elite athletes and soldiers I’ve been reading about do their required trainings as a part of their work, they also do it as a part of their lives. These men get up, train, then go to work and train more. They do it because it is who they are, not because it is their job. I study because it is my job, but if I want to be a man of God, I must study and pray because it is in my nature to do so. I will never be at the elite level of pastorate. I don’t really know that such a thing exists and if it did, I definitely wouldn’t want anyone to refer to me as something like that. However, I love the folks under my pastoral care. I love my family. I love to teach and preach. I love the folks in my community. I love the folks who read my writings and listen to my preaching online. Most of all, I love the God I serve. If all of this is true, and not just something I say, it really ought to be in my nature to hunger for better. I should treat my spiritual state as though my personal spiritual growth will glorify God and minister to those around me. The higher the quality of my spiritual life, the better I will minister to the people I come into contact with. Prayer and personal study are not optional to a person who loves the folks they minister to. It is training. It is conditioning. It creates in us a state of readiness for the moment when we need to love someone we are angry at or forgive the sins of our neighbor. Pastors and brothers in Christ: we must train daily in study and prayer so we can be ready for the moment God calls us to serve. Prayer must be like running. We should do it so much it is natural to us to pray without ceasing. Study should be like lifting weights. It should create strength in us to handle anything we encounter. Paul put it best when he wrote to Timothy: “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for the present and for the future.” Brothers, we must train to be better because it is in our nature.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tin Men: A Perspective On Work and Love

I originally wrote this  for the Big Sandy Mountaineer in the Patching Cracks column. I have updated it for this setting.

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 8.33.32 AMI recently read the Wizard of Oz and was surprised at some of the differences between the film and the novel. The most interesting difference related to the story of the Tin Man, who started out as just an ordinary woodsman. The woodsman was cutting wood to earn money to buy a home for his fiancé, who he loved dearly. While he was working one day, he accidentally cut off his own leg, which he has replaced with a mechanical one. The same kind of accident claims his other leg and his arms, all of which he replaces with mechanical limbs. He discovers that he is able to work much better as a result of replacing his body parts with machine parts. Eventually, he loses his head and splits himself in half and becomes a fully mechanical man. Now he can work all day and all night without ever resting. The problem is that his heart is gone and he no longer cares about the woman he loves. All he cares about is working. Everything else is forgotten entirely.

This story is interesting because, despite being a children’s tale, it illustrates a sad phenomena that takes place all the time in our world. I have met many men who meet a woman, fall in love, get married, then work very hard to provide her with the best life he can give her. Those are great things. The tricky part is when the man becomes so engrossed in his work that he stops pursuing his wife. It’s easy to do because men are geared to work hard. It’s part of what gives life purpose. In fact, one of the first things God did when he created Adam was give him a job to do: naming animals and working in the garden. Work holds an important place in the male identity. The problem comes when he stops loving everything else. Work becomes his mistress and he leeches time from his wife and family in order to work more. Eventually he winds up struggling with restoring peace to his relationship when conflict inevitably arises as a result of the attention paid to work and not paid to his home life. This is a natural result of misaligned priorities.

In the story, the Tin Man believes he has no feelings, but in reality he does. He becomes emotional at different times, but avoids it because crying makes him rust. This is typically the case for men who fall in love with work. Feelings are hard to deal with and it’s easier to avoid them than to deal with them. When home life becomes difficult, he works harder and hides out at the office because the world there is easier and safer. I’ve known plenty of guys who are afraid of the emotional complexity of repairing their home situation and simply sit at their desks to solve the problem. They get the reward of achievement, financial benefits, and can point to their long hours “to provide for the family” when criticized for neglecting their wives. I’m not saying that working hard is wrong. However, I am arguing that marriage comes with its own set of responsibilities that do not evaporate at 9 AM on Monday. 

In reality, most men still love their wives and become easily frustrated when things don’t go smoothly at home. They want things to work right but can’t quite figure it out. Or, they work hard to provide for their families and don’t realize that they are forgetting the other things they are responsible for. Either way, work is a necessity and it’s easy to justify making it the number one priority in life. However, that is not the way God designed us to be. 

The solution to this issue in our lives is to acknowledge the importance of our family relationships and focus on them. Work is important, but it is not all-important. The cool thing about the book is that the wizard doesn’t actually do anything for the Tin Man. He just convinces him that he still loves his fiancé so that he will act like it again. The same is true of most men. They can fix their problems by simply acting like they love their wives: showing them attention, doing nice things for them, having conversations again, going on dates, and all the other stuff they did when they were dating. This is really just a matter of making our outward actions reflect our inward reality. It’s really not that hard to do. Most men did it well when they were younger. They just have to decide to do it again. I would suggest that this is encapsulated well in Paul’s direction to “love your wife like Christ loves the church.” Love her. Meet her needs. Put your own self second. Have a heart for loving and serving.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Faking Manliness: A Response to a Common Trope in Christian Manliness Literature

 

design-3062881_960_720 (1).jpg

This morning I overslept. I wasn’t late for an obligation or anything, rather I didn’t get up as early as I wanted to in order to achieve my morning goals. I went to the gym and felt tired. I don’t know whether it was because I was unmotivated, dehydrated, or something else. I finished my workout, but I didn’t go as hard as I wanted to. I got less done for work in the morning than I wanted, though I did get some things done. I just sorta fell short of my goal. While taking my son to swim lessons, I read an essay on pushing yourself to create the type of person you want to be and I felt convicted. Still, my physical state was dragging. My spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak. This often seems like the case when I set lofty goals: I eventually lack the time, energy, or will to achieve them. I am not great at being perfect.

My morning devotions dealt with Paul being the chief of sinners. It struck me that Paul worked harder than anyone else around him to achieve righteousness under his own steam. Yet he still failed. He later said that all his efforts were a pile of trash next to knowing Christ. In Romans 7 he acknowledged his daily struggles to overcome sin. Still he pushed hard and confessed that it was only Christ in him that made him good and righteous.

Now my morning focus turned to the manhood movement within evangelicalism and the larger point of my essay. Scrolling twitter, I came across a post from a pastor trying to shame guys into overcoming any softness in their lives. It was obvious he wants men to reach a lofty state of manliness that he has decided is the target of all believers. It was condescending, self-righteous, and unbiblical. He tried to coat it with a religious veneer, but it was a thin veil. He basically told men: Do not be soft, dependent on others, or effeminate in any way. To do so is to fail as a Christian man. It had the feel of a Christianized 300 speech. Part of what troubled me is that the type of manliness the pastor was describing is not unheard of in Christian circles. Lots of male focused Christian literature and influencers push this narrative that men should rule their homes with an iron fist, never feel emotions, shed weakness, and fight the world. The problem is that for anyone to try to live that way is purely playacting. 6846443501_7627be2b7c_b.jpgThere is no authenticity to it. If manliness is all about eschewing “softness” or any kind of personal weakness, it is a form of farce. It eliminates wide swaths of men from the contention of manliness and rewards virtues that don’t really make a man.King David wouldn’t even qualify, because although he was a fierce warrior he was also a poet. He danced before the Ark. He wept. He had close friends who he loved. He wore his dependance on God as a badge of honor. He was a man of steel and velvet. He was also sinful. 

If my manliness is derived from my ability to get up early, bring it at the gym harder than anyone else, achieve more at work, or whatever, I will always be reaching for a ring that is unattainable. My flesh and the reality of my physical limitations are always going to get in the way. I am a cracked clay pot. I can push forever, but never be “good enough” because good enough is a shifting goal post. There’s always something more. My righteousness, toughness, and discipline will always be insufficient. Or worse, they will become a point of pride that will serve as a stumbling block to myself or those around me. Paul realized that. He worked to be like Jesus, acknowledged his struggles to hit the mark, and owned his shortfalls. I think that is what I want to be. I want to be a man, doing his best to be like Jesus. I want to love my wife like Christ loved the church. Teach my son to be like Jesus. Preach the Gospel and faithful explain the scriptures to the best of my ability. Still, I am going to be unfocused and soft sometimes. I’m going to act like a selfish child when my flesh overcomes me. If I fall short but I am a tool in the hands of my master I will consider it a win. If I’m not manly enough or disciplined enough or holy enough, then the good things I do are despite my weakness and point to the fact that Christ can still work through a broken tool. When I tried to be the best and to never deal with my weaknesses, it drove me to drink and wreck everyone around me. I will try hard and Christ will do the rest. If I am weak, he is strong. If I am boasting in anything, it won’t be my manliness or toughness or anything else. It’ll be in Christ alone.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Faking Spirituality

I wrote this piece for my weekly column. It was originally published in the Big Sandy Mountaineer in June of 2015.

One of the worst sins I’ve ever committed was actually committed over several years. During my early years working in ministry, I pretended to be perfect. When I left for work every day, I put on my “perfect Christian” mask. I hid any struggle with sin, temptation, and anger. I made excuses and ignored my own shortcomings. Eventually, I stopped talking openly with anyone about anything that might look un-Christian in my life. When I taught, the only sins I ever acknowledged were innocuous, like driving too fast, which is an imperfection of mine that’s well known to any reader of this paper’s traffic ticket listings. I believed that perfection was expected of minsters, and because I wasn’t perfect, I faked it. It may seem excessive to identify this as a terrible sin, but it is because it is a denial of the central message of Christianity: that all people sin and need forgiveness. Pretending to be perfect is self-deceiving and denies our need for God. Beyond distancing us from God, it also drives others away from Him, either because they see our hypocrisy or they see being “good enough” as unattainable.

The saddest misconception about Christianity that drives folks away from knowing God exists primarily amongst Christians: the myth of perfection. Whereas the previous columns in this series have largely addressed those who walk away from God in frustration/hurt, this week will primarily address folks in the church who believe this falsehood.

Believing we are, or ought to be, perfect is spiritual poison. When we look at the life of Jesus, there is no-one that he strikes out against more vehemently than religious folks, specifically the Pharisees, who couldn’t see or confess their own failings. Most were so convinced of their own perfection that they couldn’t ask for forgiveness because they didn’t believe they needed it. They lived for the praise of others, thrived on comparing themselves to “sinners”, and constantly bragged of their righteousness. This puffing up results in blindness to the seriousness of our own sins.

False perfection is also poisonous to relationships. Maintaining the illusion of perfection keeps us from confessing or seeking help. While living this way, I often wished I could talk about my struggles, but wouldn’t do so because I did’t want anyone to know how imperfect I am. Hiding secrets isolates us. Conversely, openness and accountability knits us together in community, because calling on each other in times of need teaches trust and interdependence.

The most profound lesson I learned from being open happened when I talked openly about struggling with sin while teaching one day. A young man approached me afterward, tearfully opening up about his own struggles. He thanked me for being honest, because he too had been hiding everything for fear of being condemned by others. Being vulnerable provides a safe environment for others to be vulnerable. The most common response I hear to openness about my own imperfection is appreciation for being real and human.

Living life- honestly acknowledging our imperfection- is risky. It’s possible that others will judge or ostracize you for being a sinner. I discussed with a friend how tempting it is to want other Christians to be human, but not too human. It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to believe that God should forgive our brand of sin, but not the sin of others. This is the power of acknowledging our imperfection/dependance on God’s forgiveness. It emphasizes God’s mercy, rather than our self-righteousness. This makes judging others harder to justify. Awareness of our dependance helps us empathize with others in the same predicament.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Better Man Project: 7 Things I’ve Learned From Reading More


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. 

  • Reading more has impacted everything. The reading I am doing has worked its way into almost every area of life. My preaching and teaching is the most obvious. Material from books, whether it is directly related or not, has found application as illustrations, examples, and anecdotes. It has given me more to converse about as well. Filling my head with new information day after day has given me new things to discuss with my wife and friends. Reading more has also helped me analyze more effectively. I suspect this is because the brain is a little like a muscle. The more you work it, the better it works. Oddly enough, reading before bed, in lieu of watching television, has even helped me sleep better. 
  • Reading daily has taught me about time and effort. I sort of understood the concepts behind time and effort already, but the illustration was more vivid. I am a slow reader. For whatever reason, I read slower than most other adults I know. I was unsure if I could read 1 book a week because it would likely take me way too long. Oddly enough, slow reading for an hour or so every day adds up. The trick is putting the time in to do it.  
  • Interest is vital. There are about half a dozen books I have started and given up on because I couldn’t make myself interested in the topic. I gave up on a great church management book because it was too dry to consume. I resisted this urge at first because having invested enough time to read half a book makes me want to keep going so I can add it to my total. The problem is that consuming boring material makes it so the completion of the book takes even longer. I can read an entire book that I enjoy in the time it takes to read a fourth of a dull book. 
  • The more I read, the easier it got. I have 2 Master’s Degrees. Reading is something I have done more than a little of in my lifetime. However, I never noticed how much easier it was to sit down and actually do it when I was doing it regularly. Not reading made it harder to read. Reading a few hours every morning made it easier to sit down and read in the evening instead of watching television. I have found it easier to read as a leisure activity. In addition to the non-fiction books I read as a part of hitting my goal, I have read half a dozen novels. I don’t count these toward my total. I just enjoyed reading them. It was easier to do after spending so much time reading toward my goal.  
  • There are all sorts of options for reading. I have an Audible subscription that nets me one audiobook a month. I also have an app called Overdrive that lets me check out e-books and audiobooks from the county library. I have found that working through audiobooks while driving, cleaning, mowing, walking the dog, or while at the gym works as well for me as music. Further, there is some material that I do better with when it is in audiobook format. As a rule, Kindle books and e-books are cheaper and easier to carry around. Also, I glance at my iPhone to check Facebook and Twitter regularly. Reading a couple of pages on a lighter topic is just as easy to do and less of a waste of time. 
  • Making time for reading is vital. There are so many things to get done in the average day. Work, family, and chores alone consume an enormous amount of time. I have to decide to spend time reading and schedule it in. Often, this means getting up early and reading before anyone else is awake. I am not a morning person. I had to work up to this by setting my alarm 30 minutes early, then an hour early, etc. It’s also easy to fit a half hour of reading in at bedtime or a few pages during lunch. 
  • Setting a daily goal helps. It’s easier to hit a target when you have a target to aim for. I found that I did better at reading consistently when I set a goal of 25 or 50 pages a day. I also do well with time goals, like reading 30 minutes before bed. In addition, daily goals make the task seem less daunting. It sounds easier to read 25 pages a day than 1 book a week. 

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.   

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Rules for Being a Gentleman and Christ’s Ambassador Online

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.

  • Engage the other person’s ideas. One of the worst things about internet debate is the tendency to avoid actually engaging in substantive discussion. Most folks jump over intelligently engaging and go right to taking cheap shots at the other guy. I am a big fan of asking questions. Inquiry can be the most powerful tool in debate, largely because most people don’t bother to thoroughly consider their worldview, so challenging questions can encourage them to assess their position more thoroughly. Simply encouraging folks to explain themselves can effectively create an opening for real debate. Plus, encouraging cols to explain themselves can be very disarming. Most folks are geared to fight. Refusing to play along with that plan can be powerful. I strongly suggest checking out Paul’s experience on Mars Hill. He didn’t blast the philosophers. He found common ground and engaged. 
  • Refrain from Ad Hominem. The king of internet discussion tactics is calling names or attacking the individual who is presenting the opposing perspective (ad hominem). It’s easier than dismantling an argument and can be satisfying for folks who are mainly looking to unleash some of their rage on an anonymous stranger. In addition to being a terrible way to win a debate, it is also pretty contrary to what Christians are supposed to act like. We are not enemies with non-believers. In fact, we share the gospel in an effort to help folks, not to win against them. We are called to glorify God, not us.
  • Don’t assume that the other guy is stupid just because you disagree. Some of the most astonishingly brilliant men in history have been wrong about all sorts of things. Being incorrect is a factual problem, not a matter of intelligence. This is especially important because when we consider someone to be intellectually inferior we tend to become condescending or approach them with contempt. These attitudes are out of line when dealing with folks as representatives of Jesus. 
  • Be respectful, polite, and grace-filled. Most folks are looking for excuses to look down on you, talk down to you, stereotype you, or just plain be nasty. Don’t allow folks an excuse to pigeonhole your position. It’s far better to present a version of yourself that will defy their perspective. In addition, your politeness (particularly when the other person is being nasty with you) will make any observers of the argument more likely to be sympathetic to your viewpoint. It is of particular importance that you are aware of the limitations of the medium. The folks who are interacting with you have no way to know if you are being jovial, angry, condescending, sarcastic, etc. They will generally read inflection and tone into your words (and not charitably). This makes it necessary to be a bit exaggerated in your politeness, particularly when the other person attacks you. Jesus directed us to do good for those who attack us and the book of Proverbs informs us that soft words break hard bones.
  • Know how to present your case. Engaging properly will mean nothing if you don’t know how to effectively argue your point of view. This means being well read and putting a little thought as to how to effectively argue. There is all sorts of great material out there to learn how to defend the faith. Arguments range from defenses built on philosophical, moral, scientific, and all sorts of other grounds. However, you have to actually learn to do it. I highly recommend the Poached Egg Apologist as a resource for learning more about apologetics. 
  • Be honest. It’s easy to make stuff up, particularly when folks are not in any way capable of checking up on your words. Be honest and maintain integrity. Don’t become a monster in response to the attacks of a monster.  
  • Don’t take it personally. Any stranger who is attacking you because of your faith isn’t attacking you. They are attacking Jesus. Take joy in the opportunity to stand with Christ, don’t get angry, and remember that Jesus prayed for the folks who crucified Him. I think the best advice I could offer on this matter was spoken by Peter, as he watched his wife being crucified by Roman soldiers, the day before he himself was crucified. He told her to remember how the Lord loved those who crucified Him. Love defined Jesus, and Peter, and it should define us. No one is crucifying you. Love folks, even if they are unlovable at the moment.
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Your Bad Habits and Your Brain

head-607480_960_720.jpgI am a magnet for bad habits and addictions. I know I am not alone in this. I have spoken to scores of men who have developed unwanted patterns in their work, relationships, stress management, and leisure. Part of what puzzled me about my habits over the years is that many of them are things I don’t really want to do, but it seemed like my mind would shift into automatic pilot time and again, allowing me to live out some impulse that I’d just as soon avoid. The following is a newspaper column I wrote looking at brain functions and why they make habitual behaviors so difficult to break.

This article was originally published in the Big Sandy Mountaineer 9/9/15.

There was a large wooded park with a lake behind the house my family lived in while I was attending high school. During the four years we lived in that home, my siblings and I frequently spent hours wandering through the woods around that lake. When we did, we usually walked along the trails and paths, because it was easier. Occasionally, I remember straying from the well-worn paths and crashing through the brush. This usually took longer and resulted in scratches, scrapes, and swearing to yourself that you’d stick to the path next time. The reason is obvious: well-worn pathways are easier to travel. There is a similar phenomena that takes place within the human brain. We all have a portion of our brain that controls motor functions and handles our actions/reactions during times of stress, often referred to as fight-or-flight moments. In moments when thinking isn’t possible and the body needs to act quickly, our actions will tend to follow the “well-worn paths” that exist within our brains. This is why athletes and soldiers practice the same movements over and over in training, to prepare them to act without thinking. It sometimes leads to strange behaviors under pressure. I recently read about soldiers collecting spent cartridges in combat, mimicking their repeated behavior on the shooting range. It’s a terrible decision to collect brass while being shot at, but the point is that it isn’t a decision. It’s rehearsed behavior. This is an extraordinary example, but there are far more common ones, like when a person reaches for a cigarette or drink without thinking – especially during times of stress. There’s a part of the brain that knows that a drink or a smoke helps manage stress, which makes this an easy pathway to develop in our brains.

A far more common example of this is seen in bad habits, particularly communication and coping habits that folks develop in their relationships. We learn to fight certain ways, and breaking those habits is difficult because it’s what we’ve memorized through repeated practice. We know our arguing strategies or our escape plans and go to them almost instinctively. Married couples often find themselves having arguments that follow the same course as every previous argument they’ve had over the last several years. Husbands sometimes respond to arguing by shutting down and running for the safety of the tv, late work days, or just hanging out in the garage. Wives learn to argue as effectively as possible or to hide out by focusing on the kids or some other part of life other than their spouse. The pattern repeats and repeats, even when it doesn’t make sense anymore or when both parties realize and acknowledge that it’s making them miserable. This is largely because they have found a pathway in their brains that works, even if it doesn’t. This easy path becomes the “go to” rut that they get stuck in, largely because it is practiced and repeated so often. Changing these trained behaviors can be terribly difficult, as anyone who has ever tried to break a bad habit knows. Success can frequently be short-circuited by new stress or frustration, which sends the individual running back to the old behavior. The last few installments of this column have looked at poor communication habits that develop in marriage. Part of what makes these habits so very difficult to break is that developed pathway. We learn them and they stay learned until we unlearn them. Unlearning involves an intentional effort to change our attitude and that couples work as a team in changing the relationship patterns. Only by intentional working together, sometimes with the assistance of a counselor, (or by an act of God) are most of well-worn pathways replaced with new healthier ones. The first step is always to acknowledge the problem and choose to work toward overcoming the habit.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Books That Made Me a Better Husband


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.

  • You and Me Forever– This book is one of the best marriage books I’ve read. Francis Chan sets his discussion of marriage in the context of the larger gospel message. He addresses the major areas of the marital relationship in light of eternity. This book is fairly unique among the other marriage books I’ve read because of the broad overview focus. It is powerful because it puts the various elements of marriage in context. The struggles, responsibilities, and worries of marriage lose much of their weight and take on new meaning in light of the fact that your family will spend eternity with God. Marriage is part of the preparation God gives us for that experience. For me, this book set a whole different context for marriage and prompted me to strive to be a better husband as a central responsibility of my life and as as a follower of Jesus. In many ways, this book prompted me to be a better man.
  • Sacred Marriage– Gary Thomas’ book is not entirely dissimilar from Chan’s You and Me Forever. It looks at marriage in terms of its role as preparation for eternity. Thomas’ treatment of the topic is more in depth and considers both the positive components as well as the difficulties faced in marriage. Thomas’ assumption that marriage is a means of developing a more intimate relationship with Jesus is profound and serves as a great foundation for spiritual growth. In relation to my marriage, this book fleshed out my understanding of how my marriage deepens my relationship with Christ. It gave me a whole other reason to strive to be a better husband as well as some context for understanding different aspects of my relationship with my wife.
  • Love and Respect– Love and Respect is a break from the previous titles on this list. It is far more practical in focus, dealing with the idea that many of the challenges that crop up between husbands and wives are rooted in very different personality types and ways of interacting with the world. The premise is that men need to feel respected by their wives and wives need to feel loved by their husbands. This is not to say that husbands don’t want to be loved and wives don’t want to be respected. Rather, the author argues that they are less important than the alternative. The implications of these needs are expounded on for practical concerns. This book helped me understand my wife’s point of view and offered a great deal of understanding as to why some of my actions/words upset her, which had previously perplexed me. Eggerichs is also a gifted speaker. His seminars are worth watching and very entertaining. He also does a podcast that is excellent. 
  • His Needs Her Needs– Harley’s two books on this list are very practical, which I love. He looks at the affection/love feelings couples have in the beginning of marriage and examines why they tend to dissipate as time goes on. He argues that the feelings are a product of having emotional needs met by your spouse. The book explores the various important emotional needs of husbands and wives. This volume was powerful for me because it gave me areas of focus for my energies in serving and loving my wife. In addition, the illustration Harley uses to explain the importance of meeting needs, the love bank, has served to well in my own motivation and in counseling/teaching others. 
  • Love Busters– I actually think that this book was more influential for me than Harley’s other book (His Needs Her Needs), but it is more focused on the negative behaviors that damage the relationship. I was shocked at how many of the behaviors I engaged in and how they affected my relationship with my wife. In conjunction with the various love busters behaviors, Harley offers a list of policies to implement in the relationship that help avoid the love busters and that ultimately feed into the more effective implementation of the lessons from His Needs Her Needs. My wife and I agreed on one element of these two books that we did not like. Harley uses scaling questions, which are common in counseling, but we found terribly difficult to deal with. Otherwise, these two volumes are exceptional.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday’s Sermon Audio- Judges 1:1-7: Starting Strong

46638940.cached.jpgThis week’s sermon is the first in  the summer series on the book of Judges. The audio did not pick up the first two minutes of the message… here is the basic introduction:

Rhinos can run 30 mph and can only see 30 feet in front of them. This is why a herd of rhinos is called a “crash.” So, if you are standing in a field and a rhino charges at you, it’ll likely crash into you. Here’s the question, is it your problem or the rhino’s problem? Of course, it’s your problem. In fact, whatever gets in a rhino’s way has a problem.

http://patchingcracks.sermon.net/main/main/20690891

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Frog, Toad, Cookies, and Temptation

Originally published in the Patching Cracks column in the Big Sandy Mountaineer 4/24/14. I have done some some editing and made some additions here. 
Frog-and-Toad-illustratio-007.jpgOne of my favorite stories to read my daughter at bedtime is from The Adventures of Frog and Toad. In the story, Toad bakes a batch of cookies. He and Frog discover that they cannot stop eating the cookies because they are too delicious. They begin to devise ways to prevent themselves from eating the cookies by making it more difficult to give in to temptation. Frog called it: “Building up willpower.” They quickly discovered that if they wanted to eat the cookies badly enough they would find a way around obstacles. Eventually, Frog throws away all the cookies and proclaims: “we have lots and lots of willpower.” To which Toad responds: “You may keep it all, Frog, I am going home now to bake a cake.” It’s a funny story with an interesting point. The problem wasn’t the cookies, the problem was that they wanted the cookies more than they wanted to not eat them. The book of James touches on this idea when it addresses the things that are in our lives that cause temptation. It’s easy to blame God for giving us such temptations. However, temptation starts in us and are a product of our fallenness. In Romans Paul describes how the sin living in us seizes upon the law of God as a standard to rebel against. Sin drives us to do things we hate. He describes sin and the ensuing temptation as powerful and ruling over our bodies. As a result of this powerful force within us, even if the things we want are not in front of us, if we want them badly enough, we will go looking for them. Mind you, it is not the case that desire itself is bad. Desire is natural. Desire for food, pleasure, leisure, security, relationships, being right, or anything else are simply a part of how people are designed. Desire becomes destructive when it loses all checks and begins to cause damage. It can be seen in decisions made simply based on a desire with no concern for inevitable consequences and what is right or wrong. A common example is carelessly spoken words that are regretted the moment they are spoken. Other examples include extramarital affairs, the seemingly iron grip that pornography seems to have over the lives of many men, addictions, eating disorders, spending problems, etc. These typically involve normally healthy desires that become distorted and get out of control. James describes this as being dragged away by our own lusts. Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that the source of the problem is within us.

The solution for dealing with these sorts of issues begins with recognizing that if our problem is rooted internally, the solution will need to be external to some degree. The Bible describes the solution as allowing God to intervene and aid us in overcoming that which controls us. If we aren’t strong enough to defeat a problem on our own, we need someone who can aid us in doing so. Apart from a higher power intervening, we will find ourselves stuck. Paul explains this in Romans 7 & 8. New life in Jesus through God’s Spirit is the pathway to overcoming temptation. This is achieved through intimate relationship with the savior and discipleship. The Spirit supernaturally intercedes and enables us to overcome temptation. Sometimes this means confessing our sins and seeking accountability with our brothers in Christ. It begins by acknowledging to God that you are helpless to overcome your own sins and that you need Jesus to give us new life. Shortly thereafter we need to actually come under his Lordship by obeying his teachings, joining a body of believers, reading his word, and talking to him regularly.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements