Tag Archives: Family time

Who Obeys Who In Marriage? Part 3 of 3 Understanding the Wife’s Role

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.  Ephesians 5:22-33

Mariage19_300-F_ws52793512For many folks, the great stumbling block of the Ephesians household code is the first 3 verses. For this reason, I have saved it for last in the discussion. Not because I am avoiding controversy. Rather, because it is so often understood in terms of our own desires and demands rather than in the context of scripture. This results in all sorts of bad behavior in relation to the text, including willful ignoring of the passage, wielding it like a bat, interpretive gymnastics to make it more palatable, attempts to turn the passage into a prooftext for all sorts of marital arm-twisting, etc. This legacy of Bible believers behaving badly prompted my careful handling and intentional approach to the text. If you haven’t read the preceding posts, I suggest checking them out in advance of reading this one.

The major idea to bear in mind in terms of the larger thrust of the passage is that Paul is speaking of marriage in two senses. First and foremost, Paul is talking about the relationship between Jesus and the church. He emphasizes Christ’s unconditional, sacrificial love that cleanses the church and prepares her as a bride for himself, spotless and pure. This is the model for the man’s job in marriage. He is to love unconditionally, serve, give of himself, and aid his wife in her spiritual growth and maturing, in preparation for facing God on the day of judgement. This is the second sense in which Paul is focusing on the marital relationship: What is expected of men as they stand in the place of Christ in relationship to their wives, the church. Husbands are to pastor their families and lead as Christ leads the church. This concept is central to understanding the wife’s role.

The other bit of contextual information that is important to take into account in reference to the passage is the preceding verses. Paul did not write the household code in a vacuum, as a standalone text. It stands as a piece of a larger letter. The preceding passages deal with moral behavior. The closing clause of the last sentence tees up the discussion in the following verses: “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This is not an unusual concept in scripture. The idea that believers are to submit to each other, love each other, give grace to each other, and behave with deference to the needs and wants of other believers is no small matter. It is the guiding principle for much of a Christian’s behaviors. We are to put on our towel and wash each other’s feet with our lives. The least in the church will be the greatest.

part 1Paul writes a line about mutual submission, then launches into an instructions about how the marital relationship is a mirror of Christ and the church. Specifically, beginning with wives submitting to husbands as unto Christ. There is a degree to which the direction to wives is a restatement of the preceding. Mutual submission needs to be a part of our understanding of this text based on the context. The problem is that the text is a little more complex than that. Simply calling it a pure mutual submission would be to ignore the rest of the passage, in the same manner as those who call for wives to live as slaves to their husbands, though perhaps less egregiously.

part 2As Paul continues, he includes a modifier to the “as unto the Lord” direction. In the previous article, we looked at the Lordship of Christ as a model for husbands that involves unconditional love and a servant’s attitude. There is a different dimension to this relationship presented in the direction for women. Christ is described as the head of His body, the church. This analogy could potentially carry two meanings. The first is that Jesus is the leader, while the church follows. In the modern context, this is the meaning we would tend to gravitate toward. The second meaning involves the head being the source for the body, which was not an unusual analogy for the ancient world. This understanding fits well based on the mention that Christ is the Savior of the church, which would mean that He is the source of life and salvation. Further, this understanding of the analogy suggests that the church is intended to emulate Him. Since the husband is charged with leading his wife spiritually and preparing her for eternity through his example and spiritual guidance, the direction for wives to learn from their husband’s spiritual direction works well with the head/source understanding. Simply put, Paul’s direction is for wives to come under their husband’s spiritual direction, learning from him in the same way that the church would in relation to Christ. In a larger sense, Paul’s major concern for believers, time and again, is that they grow in knowledge and relationship with Jesus. Paul’s marriage analogy proves no different. Though he acknowledges a hierarchy in the familial relationship, it is seen as purely a component of growing in Christlikeness. Though husbands are given a degree of authority, it is only understood properly in the relation to the   enormous responsibility of serving and preparing the family to be presented to God in eternity. This will always coincide with the mutual submission and service that should characterize the relationship between all believers.

This basically begs the question, How are wives to submit to their husbands? In the ideal world, husbands lead their families spiritually. Wives are to recognize, encourage, and participate in that process of spiritual preparation and growth.
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Who Obeys Who in Marriage? Part 2 of 3: Ephesians 5 and the Husband’s Position in Marriage.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nouris hes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33
husband wife fightIn the garden, at the time of the temptation and the fall, the text depicts Eve talking with the snake, who makes all sorts of promises. They talk back and forth regarding God’s rule and whether or not it was wise to follow it. When Eve succumbs to temptation, the text reveals something interesting:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 

Adam was right there. He listened to the conversation and he didn’t say a thing. He was a passive spectator as his wife listened to lies and fell. He did not lead. He didn’t speak out. Nothing. Adam’s sin was that he was passive and neglected his responsibility to his wife. This passivity extended beyond simply watching silently as his wife was tempted, when Adam faced God his first response was to blame everyone else: The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Adam blamed the woman and God, but took no responsibility himself. He was passive in the face of accusation. Adam’s failure was passivity. Unfortunately, this is a sin that can be traced throughout the history of mankind. It is Adam’s sad legacy.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul compares Adam and Jesus. Jesus shows up and is the opposite reflection of Adam. Where Adam brought death into the world, Jesus gives life to those who believe. It’s a terrific chapter and worth a read. The reason I bring it up is because it presents that idea that Jesus is sort of the anti-Adam. Jesus is active in response to temptation and sin. He redeems the world through his atoning sacrifice. He loves selflessly. This is important to understand because, as I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, this passage is more about Jesus than it is husbands. What we can learn about the husband’s role is based on our understanding of Jesus.

divorce_testEphesians 5 to 6 is what is called a “household code.” In ancient Greece household codes were pretty common, generally memorized by members of the household, and were used for outlining everybody’s job in the home. This genre of writing would have been very recognizable to the readers. When Paul digs into roles in marriage, he starts with the wife, but spends more time on the husband, which is why we will consider the husband first. Beyond spending more time on the husband, Paul outlines a great deal more responsibility and an active role for the husband. He begins by directing husbands to love their wives. The word he uses for love is agape, which is the word used to describe selfless, unconditional, divine love. Paul’s direction for husbands to love their wives is unique to Greek household codes in the ancient world. There was no expectation amongst ancient cultures that husbands love their wives. Christian men are given a MUCH higher standard than the world: selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love for their wives. This is reinforced by Paul telling husbands that they are to use Christ’s example as their guide. They are to act toward their wives as Christ acted toward the church, sacrificing himself for her sake.

Paul goes on to explain: …that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Literally, Christ’s selfless sacrifice is for the purpose of preparing her for eternity. For husbands, the job is the same: help your wife be holy and grow spiritually. Rather than taking the passive role of Adam, watching their wives fend for themselves spiritually, husbands are to take the active role of working to prepare their wives spiritually for eternity. This is why Paul tells Timothy that an elder’s family must be in order. Before an elder can shepherd a church, he must shepherd his family. Spiritual leadership begins at home by fulfilling this directive.

The next job husbands are given is loving their wives as their own bodies, basically loving their wives as themselves. Imitating Christ in this manner involves recognizing that your wife is a part of you in roughly the same way the church is the body of Christ. After the wedding, you are part of each other. You don’t get to be separate or fight over dominance. In fact, if we are to follow Jesus’ example, we have to take the job of servant and foot washer. Jesus directs his followers to be servants to the world, emulating His example. If this is true of the world, certainly it is also true of his wife.

It’s important to recognize that the text is pointing to Christ’s example, which is one of grace. Jesus does everything for our salvation. His work is sufficient for our salvation. We don’t earn it. We cannot add to it and we do not deserve it. He loves us unconditionally and forgives us when we are still his enemies. If Christ is the standard and agape love is the rule, then husbands have a tall order to fill. It’s actually downright impossible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to do so.
Perhaps the best guide for determining whether or not a husband is acting in harmony with Paul’s direction in this passage is the simple question: “Would Jesus speak or act this way in relation to His body, the church?”
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Who Obeys Who In Marriage? Ephesians 5 and the Role of Husbands and Wives Part 1 of 3

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. 

Ephesians 5:22-33

During my preaching and teaching career I’ve covered the Apostle Paul’s household codes several times. There are few topics that produce quite as much arguing, anger, and accusation.marriage ball and chain I have heard men denounce women for not submitting, women denouncing men for the suggestion of submission, I’ve encountered authors and speakers who have twisted this passage every which way imaginable to assert that the verse is advocating anything from total equality, to a slave master relationship, to a 49/51 voting split, to discussions of whether or not getting your man sandwiches during football games is a spiritual discipline. This excess of commentary on the topic can tempt me to throw up my hands and pass altogether. The problem with this is that Paul included this bit of instruction on purpose and marriage is important. If the scriptures have something to teach us on the matter, we need to learn it.

There is more than a little material to cover in Paul’s 11 verses on husbands and wives. I don’t intend to cover every interpretation, but rather in the three articles I will post on this topic, I will cover:

  1. Offer a perspective as to why this can be such a controversial passage.
  2. Look at how the text is instructing husbands to operate.
  3. Consider the instruction for women.

Approaching the Text While Wearing the Wrong Glasses

Matthew records an incident in which the mother of his disciples, James and John, approached Jesus and asked that her sons be his right and left hand men in eternity. Later, the other disciples are angered when they hear about the request, which prompts Jesus to call the 12 together and tell them that they are looking at the world all wrong. through-rose-colored-glasses“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Simply put, the disciples jockeying for authority was a result of them looking at the world from the same perspective as the pagans around them. They are seeing the world as pagans see it. Greatness means being served. Followers of Jesus assume the status of servant. Jesus demonstrates this very graphically when he washed his disciples feet at the last supper, taking on the job of the lowest servant in the household. The message seems pretty clear: followers of Jesus are called to serve. We aren’t called to be served or to lord position over others. Believers are nowhere instructed to fight with each other over rights to subjugate each other. Our primary concern in life ought to be our focus on Jesus and commitment to grow in our faith and obedience.

Perhaps the biggest problem with how many folks approach the roles in marriage as they are discussed in Ephesians 5, is that they are approaching the text in terms of who owes who what degree of service and submission. They are wearing their pagan perspective glasses. When believers find themselves enmeshed in discussions about why “you have to” or “I don’t have to” instead of discussing what makes us more like Jesus, it’s a sign that there is something wrong. Believers ought to find themselves in a place of working to out-serve each other long before they even consider arguing about subjecting each other to our own wills.

Perhaps one of the cultural components that gets in the way of a proper perspective on the matter is the sense of entitlement that our culture has developed. We are consumers who should get proper service, not servants of the world following our master’s example. We no longer see ourselves as servants to all. The attitude has even pervaded the church, where all sorts of preachers who talk as though God himself ought to be at our beck and call, making our lives as comfortable as possible and fulfilling our wildest dreams. Churches are too often seen as existing to cater to our desires, rather than equipping us to serve Jesus.

Interestingly, discussion of whose desires get served in the marital relationship so often dominates the discussion of this passage that the vast majority of what Paul says winds up totally ignored. The passage itself spends more time discussing the relationship between Christ and the church than it does husbands and wives. Really, the key to the whole passage is verse 32, when Paul tells us that the institution of marriage, in which a husband leaves his parents to be joined to his wife as one, points to the union between Jesus and the church. As such, the passage is primarily about Jesus. The bit that we can garner regarding marital relationships is primarily in relation to the larger eternal truth of Jesus as His bride, the church. Really, if there is a unifying direction to take in relation to this passage it’s that we are to imitate Christ in EVERY aspect of our lives, including marriage.

The next post on this passage will deal with what Paul says regarding husbands.

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7 Steps to Deal With Anger Toward Your Spouse

yellingI love my wife dearly. I believe that she is a gift from God, who has made me a better man during the 17 years we have been married. I will confess that those 17 years have not always been a fairy tale where the young lovers live happily ever after. There have been more than a few frustrating days and fights. It’s strange how easy it is to be angry with someone who you care for so deeply. I often hear people say that they are far meaner and find it easier to be angry toward their loved ones than they would be toward strangers or acquaintances. Anger is powerful and can be dangerous to relationships. It is important to deal with it appropriately and effectively, lest it take root and grow into bitterness that poisons the whole relationship. The following are simple, Biblical steps to take in dealing with anger.

  1. Pray for your spouse. It seems like Christian advice all too often begins with: “Have you prayed about it?” Which, I’ll confess, simply produced eye rolls in me for many years. For many years my attitude was: “I don’t want to pray, I want to do something productive.” Though I would never have vocalized it, because Christians are supposed to be serious about prayer. It’s easy to give prayer lip service, but to not take it all that seriously. My attitude toward prayer has since changed. Interestingly, I began to value prayer primarily in response to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:44, directing believers to pray for enemies. During a time of frustration with coworkers, I found myself praying for them. I carried a great deal of anger toward these individuals, but as I prayed for them over the course of weeks, it became easier to simply let go of offenses and forgive. Prayer changed my heart and my attitude. If praying for my enemies and those who offend me alters my attitude toward them, the same principle should apply to my family. If I find myself frustrated with my spouse, praying for her ought to be the first response. Further, the more I pray for her the harder it will be to get angry. Prayer alters our hearts to reflect Jesus’, creating a different attitude to direct our response.
  2. Deal with it quickly before your anger becomes resentment. A while back I cut my hand, not badly. Just a small cut. Because I am a guy, I simply ignored it. However, instead of getting better it got infected. The little cut grew red, swollen, and painful. The only solution was to lance it and drain the infection, which was unpleasant. The same thing happens with anger. Anger that we ignore and just swallow can grow into resentment. Resentment is old anger that shades our perspective on people and situations. Resentment can slowly grow into a constant state of low grade hostility. The surest way to tell if you have a resentment is if you frequently revisit old offenses and stew in them.
  3. Serve your spouse. You could probably make the case that you ought to be serving your spouse anyway, but when you are angry it is particularly important to do this. I recently heard someone say that prayer is good, but prayer accompanied by changes in our actions is really powerful. If you are praying for your spouse during a time of anger, serving them should follow close behind. In Romans, Paul directs us to serve our enemies: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;…” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. It may be an overstatement to call your spouse evil, though I am sure the word could have been applied to me more than once during my marriage. The general principle applies well. Serving others when they don’t deserve it is the ultimate in imitating Christ. It is a discipline that can provide opportunity for our hearts to change. In the past when I have served those I disliked and was praying for, everything changed.
  4. Evaluate your expectations. Often, anger toward a husband or wife begins with unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to develop unrealistic expectations for those around you. Your spouse doesn’t read minds, no matter how loud you think things at them. They won’t have the energy they did when you were in your 20s. Your husband won’t wake up tomorrow speaking poetry and looking like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel. Your wife won’t suddenly become hyper-sexual. The house won’t be always be perfectly clean. The honey-do list won’t be done before you even make it. They aren’t necessarily going to be excited about the same things you are excited about. Nobody is going to want to volunteer to get up at 2 AM and feed the baby. Expecting your spouse to suddenly be someone they aren’t, particularly if they don’t know you expect it, is unrealistic and will only lead to frustration and anger.
  5. Talk it through. I didn’t start with this one for a very good reason. It’s one of the most important things to do when dealing with anger, but it only works when you come into the conversation with your heart in the right place. It’s entirely too easy to devolve into a fight when you discuss things you are angry over. It is especially the case when you are still a little hot under the collar. Anger makes communication impossible. The previous steps are helpful because they tend to shape our attitude going into the conversation. It is important to eventually reach a point where conversation can take place. Some marriages have issues that prevent any discussion or dealing with the problems at hand without them devolving into shouting matches. In these cases, it’s best to back up and work toward an environment where communication can take place. It may require counseling or intentionally working to improve communication skills. Communicating needs to be a major objective in every area of marriage, particularly conflict. Without it, the relationship will whither and die.
  6. Recognize your role in relation to Jesus. The description of duties for husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 is often subject to confusion. Paul spends half the chapter comparing the relationship between a husband and wife to that which exists between Christ and the Church. Instead of focusing on this dynamic, discussions on the passage focus on “who is in charge”, “what are MY rights in this relationship”, or “what am I owed by my spouse.” The problem with these discussions is that they shift away from the truth that marriage is to reflect Jesus and the church. Husbands are to love their wives sacrificially and selflessly. Wives are to respect their husbands as with someone who has given up everything for them. Fighting over rights and what they owe me is foreign to this model. When we grow angry, it’s vital to remember our role. Husbands represent Jesus. That’s no small thing. Wives are to love their spouse like the church loves Jesus. What if he/she doesn’t deserve that? You and I don’t deserve the grace that Jesus offers us on the cross. Remember, these our our roles, not what we demand of them.
  7. Forgive. At the foundation of it all is forgiveness. The solution to anger is forgiveness, which is hard. It requires the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts to the point that we can let go of resentment and anger. It is modeled in Christ and the church and ought to be what we strive for in our marriages.
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6 Things You Can Do To Support Your Pastor

6 thingsI haven’t posted to this blog in 3 months. The reason for this leave of absence is simple: I am a small church pastor in a rural community of 700. I love my job and the people I serve. Between early October and December 26th, the busy season for church work, I didn’t have a single day when I didn’t field a work-related phone call, head over to the office to take care of a few tasks, visit with someone from the church, run into town for a hospital visit, spend time working on a sermon, sat down for counseling, attended a meeting, or spend time working. I often joke that I work every day, which is true. As the excess or work ramps up, the productivity of writing goes down. That having been said, I’m not bragging or complaining about this. I don’t consider burnout to be a sign of spiritual health. I actually really like my job and most days I don’t think I work to excess. In the past, I’ve worked at similar levels of busyness and not felt as good about it. Most ministers have experienced days when they didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and when they felt like there was no escaping the crush of expectations.

Strangely, after nearly three years of this sort of schedule, I have yet to reach that point. I certainly have bad days and times when I grit my teeth when the phone won’t stop ringing. The difference between past times of ministry work and now seems to be the attitude of the community of believers I am serving, as well as a few things they do consistently. This is a huge deal considering how often pastors walk away from church work in a state of burnout. Here are a few of the big things I have observed that have made a big difference to me.
  1. Pray for your pastor. Praying for your pastor means more than simply telling them you will pray for them. Praying for your pastor involves asking them what they need prayer for. It’s offering prayer for them in church during community prayers. It involves praying with them before events. Pastoring is spiritual leadership. There is an inherently spiritual component to the endeavor. As such, it is important to pray for pastors and let them know you are praying for them.
  2. Let your pastor be human. I am not perfect. In fact, even on my best days, I am not anywhere close. I still sin. I get tired, frustrated, and angry. Sometimes I am thoughtless, careless, and insensitive. I’m not saying I don’t strive for holiness or that I’ve given up on trying to be a better man. What I’m saying is that Jesus is perfect and I am a work in progress. The congregation I am serving has been great about letting me be human. When I struggle, there are church members who listen and offer advice. I talk about struggling with sin when I preach and no one is lining up to fire me for it. Nothing is more tiring for a minister than putting on their “holy man” mask every morning for work. There is a great deal of peace and comfort that accompanies knowing that you can talk about your struggles. It’s crushing to constantly live in fear of minor slip-ups. It’s even worse to carry secret sin, knowing you cannot confess it to anyone lest you lose your livelihood.
  3. Offer to help. There are several people in my church who routinely offer to help with aspects of my workload. They typically do a great job of following through when I take them up on the offer. These are the same people who show up at church events, bring food to sick members of the community, and stay late to visit with other members and clean up after an event. One of the biggest frustrations that can set in as a pastor stays longer with a small congregation, is the sense that they are doing everything. To be honest, even the offer of help is heartening. The sense that others are willing to help out is huge. Very little is more frustrating than investing time, energy, and enthusiasm, only to be met with indifference. Offering to help demonstrates investment.
  4. Be concerned about your pastor’s marriage. My first pastor appreciation month in Montana, the members pitched in and got my wife and I a 3-day stay at a hot spring resort. With this gift, we were given free childcare at the ranch of one of the members. This has been the norm since. Every year, we are given our own marriage retreat. This really isn’t a once-a-year thing. There are several members who routinely take our kids so we can go on dates or just get some alone time. On top of that, I am regularly approached by members who ask about my marriage and ask for ways to support us. The single best mechanism for maintaining pastoral morale is their family. The demands of ministry work can be significant and can significantly strain a marriage. Supporting a pastor’s family and helping maintain familial health essentially protects the most important mechanism for pastoral contentedness.
  5. Offer your pastor honest accountability and meaningful praise. This doesn’t mean offering empty praise. I often joke that no one ever tells you that you preached a bad sermon. There are a handful of people in my regular contact who will tell me when a sermon wasn’t good or will hold me accountable when I am wrong. Mind you, I am not talking about nit-picking. Feedback is most effective when it deals with larger block matters. Several years ago, I encountered an individual who would make suggestions based on phrasing errors I made while preaching. I don’t preach from a manuscript. It’s nearly impossible to preach extemporaneously without phrasing a few sentences poorly. In addition to accountability, praise is important. Pastors appreciate hearing when they do well. Positive feedback lets them know that what they are doing is appreciated. This should not be empty, puffing up praise. Rather, they should be genuine positive observations. There are a few people in my church whose praise various efforts, but aren’t shy to let me know when I miss the mark. Their opinions are valuable to me. This is not an instant thing. It is a product of relationship.
  6. Develop a relationship with your pastor and his family. My family has eaten meals with most of the members of our church. When I encounter church members at the store, they converse with us. We love the folks we are serving, not just because we are supposed to. We love them because they have made it a point to be our friends. I once had a pastor tell me that it was best not to invite people from the church into your lives. He told me about folks who had personally hurt him and his family. In time, we encountered people who confirmed this as a decent suggestion. For many years, my wife and I were standoffish in church communities. During our time in Montana, we have discovered that this was not the right course. There has been little that has meant more to us than the close relationships our church has set out to form with us.
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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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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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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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