Tag Archives: fathers

Acting Like Men, Dreaming Like Boys

The following is my newspaper column from this week. I do not normally post material I have published in other media (at least not without significant rewriting!). This seems like it was worth sharing. Let me know what you think. It appeared in the Big Sandy Mountaineer 9/30/15.

IMG_8051My 2-year old boy has a cold and was very cranky this morning. My wife and I tried all sorts of things to soothe him with little success until I pulled out a box of Star Wars toys and settled on the kitchen floor to play with him.

He wasn’t content to play with me in any other setting or with any other toys, but the Star Wars toys captured his attention. Within a few minutes my fussy toddler was flying his space ship around the kitchen, making laser noises and and giggling. He sort of knows which toys are the “good guys” and which are the “bad guys.” I generally pick the villains to play with, because that’s what my dad did, and he always wants to play with the heroes. I won’t pretend to know why my boy decided that would cheer him up, but there is something worth paying attention to in the pattern, which I’d argue is largely true of males in general.

Boys usually crave adventure toys, action, excitement, and they idolize heroic figures. Some of this is likely cultural, but I’d argue that in the hearts of men there tends to be a desire for action, an inclination to aim toward greatness, and a tendency to be inspired by noble things. These tendencies certainly shift and change as they age and develop their own values and interests. However, regardless of what form these desires take in the long run, they begin with a desire to be the hero, to be the best at whatever it is that they are pursuing, and an inclination to dream big dreams. As they age, boys tend to put these inclinations away in favor of more practical and realistic goals. This is natural and normal phenomena. Few men go to work everyday dreaming of being a hero. However, whether or not it is natural and normal, there is a sense in which it isn’t ideal. It is far better when a man realizes that their inclinations ought to be adopted to fit the lives in which they live. As the father of small children, I get to play the part of the hero. This often wears off as time goes by and children grow up. However, there are men I have known who dedicate their lives to being great fathers. Those men often raise children who see them as heroes. The same can be said of a man who dedicates himself to being a great husband. It’s important to note that this is more than just being a friend or a good provider. It is being an example, defender, caretaker, leader, fixer, teacher, and all manner of other things. Further, men who pursue depth of character, integrity, and righteousness grow to a stature that causes folks to see them as heroes and great in their own right. I would argue that this is essentially what Christians refer to when they speak of following Christ’s example. Some of the most impressive men I know are those who try to live like Jesus. Their families, friends and neighbors recognize that they are different. Paul once wrote that when he became a man he put away childish things. The things that make men great are too easily deemed childish. Having a desire to pursue greatness in family and community life, then acting on that desire, is the beginning of achieving distinction.

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Real Men Treasure Their Mothers, Wives, Daughters, and All Women

IMG_7507-0This blog post started out as a brief comment on an article from Mental Floss that I was sharing on my Facebook page. It slowly evolved into a rant. I decided it was an important enough idea to share publicly. The link is a collection of advertisements from 70 plus years ago that use overt shaming of women in order to convince them to buy products. The gist of most of these ads is simple: you are not pretty or hygienic enough for a man to love you. The article points out how ridiculous and offensive this approach to advertising is. Click the link to read it in depth. It’s an interesting read and Mental Floss is a pretty awesome website.

selling-shame-40-outrageous-vintage-ads-any-woman-would-find-offensive

In particular, the novelty of the ads featured in the article is interesting, but the most fascinating part is the explanation about how advertising set out to make women feel inferior in order to sell them products. Advertising has changed a great deal in the sense that it has gotten more subtle and sophisticated, but it hasn’t changed that much in how it devalues women in order to convince them to consume products. It seems like most television and advertising has geared itself toward a select few messages, most of which can be boiled down to: “You’re not happy” or “you’re not adequate.” There are variations of these messages, including: “your family isn’t happy, but they could be if you use our product.” The vintage ads in the article are offensive, but they sell with the same message as most Cosmo covers and weight loss products. “You aren’t as good as our model, but you could be.” There’s a terrible trick built into the whole scheme as well. Which is that it’s a shell game. You chase the elusive prize, but even when you find it, you don’t. If you reach the “ideal” standard, the ads will keep telling you “you’re not happy” or “not good enough.” These advertisements and messages are everywhere, telling our wives and daughters to question themselves and telling young men that these are the standards of beauty that they should lust after.

The truth is that physical attractiveness is far from the most important quality for a woman to possess. Proverbs tells us: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Beauty is important in some ways and men tend to be very visual by nature looking for beauty and attractiveness as a part of who they are. These are a part of reality, that we shouldn’t shame or decry, but to worship a standard of physical attractiveness that is unattainable and manufactured is wrong. It is even more wrong to shame women for not perfectly emulating it. God designed us for better than this. Men, in particular, need to lead the way in telling their wives, sisters, and daughters the truth about their value and worth as God’s creatures. Sometimes, my 4-year old daughter gushes about how she will be prettier and everyone will like her if she wears the right dress or has the right hairstyle. I do my best to correct this every time, telling her that I love her because she is herself and because God made her wonderful. The women in our lives are not to be cherished because of their beauty, though my wife and daughter are beautiful. They are worth cherishing because God blessed me with funny, clever, caring, awesome women that make my life better. I learn to love God more and be more like Jesus because of my wife and daughter. It’s hard to love my wife like Christ loved the church. It’s easy to forget that Eve was created as a perfect counterpart to Adam, to be cherished and valued as a gift. We need to do the same. It drives me crazy to think that my wife and/or daughter would ever think they are anything less than a treasure. I am amazed at how my wife becomes more beautiful every day and my daughter looks more like her all the time. I am even more amazed that them being so pretty is the least of their great attributes. Loving, respecting, honoring, and cherishing women is a blessing and a responsibility that all Godly men ought to embrace.

***Edited after posting to clarify a few ideas and fix a few awkwardly phrased sentences.***

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What Does It Mean to Be A Real Man?

IMG_7389“Next week, if you guys would like, we will start a teaching series on ‘what does it mean to be a man?’” I was pretty surprised by the response this statement garnered amongst the young men in the room. I was teaching Bible to a group of clients at a drug treatment program. The boys were largely placed by the local jail, most were from bad neighborhoods and broken homes. There were lots of kids with gang affiliations and long criminal histories. The biggest challenge in teaching them anything was finding things they would engage with at all. In this case, the young men who were present responded enthusiastically. Many of them approached me later, individually, to express their excitement about learning how to be a real man. I was initially perplexed by the response, largely because the young men routinely and loudly proclaimed their manliness. It was common to hear them yell and carry on about how tough they were. I often joked that it was like watching an episode of wild kingdom, with the young male lions strutting and posing in an effort to intimidate each other. The crazy secret behind the whole display was that most of the young men had no idea at all about what it meant to be a real man. They just figured that if they faked it loudly enough everyone would buy their act. Boys learn how to be men by watching their dads. This is the way God designed the world. If fathers are flawed, their children learn to be flawed men. This is one of the reasons why alcoholic men tend to raise alcoholic men and why the Bible says that sons are punished for their father’s sins for generations to follow. In the case of the boys in the program, because none of them had a dad to watch and emulate, they were left with what they could piece together from pop culture and their peers. The challenge with that is that boys compete with each other naturally. This meant that the fatherless boys tried to be men by being tougher than the other guy. The end result was emptiness. If a man tries to find his manhood in violence, sex, work, wealth, or anything else in the world that is temporary and fleeting, they will simply end up emptier. Solomon said that wealth, sex, work, and everything else is just a vapor. It passes and disappears as though it was never there in the first place.

atlasThe topic of manhood is complicated and will take more than one post to properly explore. In the short term, it’s important to establish a basic concept of manhood from which to work. I’d suggest that the place to start is with the source of manhood identity that is built into our world: Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers. This is because parents stand in God’s place in the lives of their children for the first several years of their lives. They provide life, food, shelter, moral guidance, correction, etc. Children’s conception of God is often shaped by their perception of their dads. Genesis tells us that when God created man, He created them in His own image. Fathers (and all men for that matter) are supposed to be copies of God in many respects. We are to share His heart, passions, loves, understanding of family, and work. When dads fail to model this lifestyle and teach their boys to do the same, they create problems. Fortunately, God provides us a more clarified example of manhood in the person of Jesus, who is God made flesh. A boy without a good fatherly model to follow can see ideal manhood in Jesus. When we choose to follow Jesus, our job is to learn to be like him through a lifetime of training, which is discipleship. This is why Christ’s self-sacrificing love and attitude of humble service is the example for husbands. He demonstrates the ideal manner of intimate relationship through his relationship with the church.

overly-manly-man-ansd-steakIt’s easy to picture Jesus as a pollyanna-type figure or as the feathered haired guy in a bathrobe that we all encountered on flannel graphs in Sunday School as kids. Fortunately, the tame version of the Son of God is far from accurate. C.S. Lewis captured Jesus’ identity best when he wrote: “He’s not safe! But, he’s good.” Jesus’ integrity, passion, penchant for action, grace, wisdom, willingness to speak openly (even offensively if necessary), self-sacrificing service, and lifetime focus on making the world better are just a few of the qualities that make Jesus is the ideal standard of manhood. He is the ideal mold from which men were meant to be cast. It is from Him that we learn how God desires us to be. Once we know, our job is to enter training to become like him.

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Where in the World is the Proverbs 31 Woman: Part 2 Picking the Right Approach

Recipre-for-a-perfect-wife-v3This is my second blog post on the Proverbs 31 woman and I haven’t started to really dig into the passage. I usually try to write shorter essays because most folks won’t read thousands of words just to get an answer. Easy answers are nice, but they are often incomplete. There’s always a temptation for pastors to shortcut and assign meaning to scripture rather than digging for the author’s intent. Understanding what the author meant to tell the reader means looking at it from their cultural perspective/historic perspective.

Interpretive Decisions: Allegory, Literal, or Something Else
There is a final matter that needs to be considered when deciding how to interpret the text properly, that is selecting the right interpretive approach. This basically means that we need to decide if the author intended the reader to see the passage as referring to something other than is being presented, if the reader is supposed to understand it in a word-for-word sense, or if it’s a combination of the two.

Proponents of taking an allegorical approach argue that the wife in the passage is symbolic of wisdom. Thus, the advice being offered is that young men keep wisdom as though it is their wife. This position has the benefit of being consistent with some of the rest of the book. Wisdom is repeatedly referred to as a woman. The advantage of this approach is that it can easily end the argument with folks who misuse this passage by making it about something else entirely. There are several problems with selecting the allegorical approach. For starters, the book of Proverbs does speak of women without doing so allegorically. Chapter 5 is a great example of this. The adulterous woman discussed in the passage isn’t indicated as a symbol for sexual behavior. Rather, the advice seems to be to avoid loose women, which is in harmony with the direction in 2:16-19, which advises the young man to avoid getting trapped in sexual sin, with no indication that is is an allegory. Later in chapter 5, advice is given about “drinking water from your own cistern” and the value of not spreading your streams of water into the street. These warnings about not being sexually loose are paired with an instruction to “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.” The wife in the passage is clearly a reference to an actual wife, who young men ought to confine their sexual behaviors to. There is no indication that she is anything but a wife. Further, it would be extremely weird to approach this passage allegorically, trying to make the talk of sex fit somehow with wisdom personified as a woman. It makes far more sense that the instruction is to enjoy sex with your wife, and only your wife. Beyond just being awkward, the text offers no hints that the passage ought to be read that way. Contrast this with passages like 7:4: “Say to wisdom, ‘You are my sister,’ and call insight your intimate friend…” The author tips his hand that he is speaking allegorically. The same practice is repeated in 8:1: “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?” The author tells you that he has shifted into allegory. The same can be said of 1:20 and 9:1. The text tends to telegraph these ideas. The author tells the young man when he is instructing through allegory. The problem with ignoring this tendency is that it results in a book of advice for young men that in no way addresses their interaction with women in any capacity. It cripples the text by applying a template automatically without regard for contextual prompts.

Regarding the allegorical approach and Proverbs 31, there is no indicator that the wife mentioned is wisdom personified. Nowhere does the author telegraph his intent to shift into allegory. Further, if we are going to read it as an allegory then we have to ignore a rather awkward idea presented in 26, that she (Wisdom) opens her mouth with wisdom.  It’s a bit of a circular concept.

There is one other matter to consider when looking at whether or not the passage is allegorical: the context for the passage in terms of the surrounding verses and who is speaking. In this case, the mother of the king is speaking. She offers advice on how to rule wisely, specifically instructing her son: “Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.” She then goes on to direct him to avoid strong drink. It seems clear that the women described are actual women, because there is no indication of allegorical intent. Further,  the advice about women is paired with a direction about liquor. If one is figurative, then the next line would be as well. It makes very little sense for allegory to be inserted randomly in this manner. For this woman to advise her son to avoid women that are destructive and to follow it up a few lines later with advice on how to properly select a wife makes sense. It fits the context. She is giving whole life advice.

prov 31Part of the temptation to read the wife in Proverbs 31 as wisdom personified is rooted in the fact that she is living out many of the tenets of wisdom presented in the book. She is demonstrating wise behaviors. They are the same types of behaviors that the young men are instructed to try to live out. It seems reasonable that a man ought to seek out a wife who is strong, intelligent, hard-working, independent, and compassionate. Really, as far as ideal wives go, this seems to be a very positive message regarding what is important to seek out in a wife.

The other extreme position sometimes taken when interpreting the passage is to read it with a strict literal understanding. This would be unusual in wisdom literature and poetry, which tend to describe concepts. Lines in poems ofter reflect qualities or ideas. Further, reading the text in a strictly literal manner makes finding the ideal wife nearly impossible because meeting all of the behavioral requirements is nearly impossible, particularly since many of them require that the couple already be married. If the son is seeking a wife who takes care of their kids, they have to be married. Further, the list is lofty and towering to the point of being impossible to meet. For example, if we summarize only some of the qualities we find that the ideal wife makes clothing from scratch, buys property, plants vineyards, she is strong enough to work the fields, and sells some of the clothing she produces. As a checklist for wives, it’d be silly to expect that every woman ought to be making her own thread or even sewing. In addition, not every family has need of a vineyard. Not every family has the financial wherewithal to purchase land, nor is land available for every family to purchase. I don’t even need to comment on bartering. If we are to read these lines from literal perspective, we have to force every 21st century woman into a wealthy family from 900 BC and the middle east. I am taking this to an extreme, but the point is that the list of behaviors is not reasonable for anyone to take on in our context. Even in the day the text was written, only a small percentage of families would have the servants necessary to fulfill verse 15. It’s easy to talk of taking the text literally without engaging the reality of the position properly. The premise falls apart quickly when we look more closely.

One might suggest that we should back off of the literal reading a little. I’ve read several essays that argue that we ought to interpret the text as pointing to a super housewife, that is subjected to her husband’s beck and call. She sews, cooks, plants a garden, stays up all night doing housework, and then gets up before dawn to make breakfast. The problem with this perspective is that the wife in the chapter takes on a number of tasks that are overtly masculine according to ancient standards. Beyond masculine, they are downright liberated, particularly when considering the standard social expectations for women in the ancient world. She makes financial decisions, is physically strong and demonstrates it through her participation in what would otherwise be seen as “man’s work.” She also produces income through her own work. Many of these activities were off-limits to women in the ancient world, particularly women of social stature. The “super housewife” perspective fails when the passage is considered according to the historical context. Though she takes on domestic responsibilities, this woman works outside the home and clothes herself with strength.

Good-Wives-01How then are we to properly interpret the text? The answer is a mixture of the literal and the figurative. It is typical of Hebrew poetry to offer examples that represent virtues. This is most easily seen in verses like 20: “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.” Verse 20 can easily be read literally, but it represents more than a behavior. The wife described in verse 20 is compassionate to the needs of others. This is an attainable quality and is in harmony with the depiction of wise behavior discussed in the rest of the text. Apply the same approach to verse 16: “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” I’ve already dealt with the problem with handling this literally. If instead we see it as representing a particular type of behavior, we quickly recognize that the passage describes a common sense business decision that she willingly follows up with hard work. Boil it down further and we have: She makes wise decisions and works hard. Neither of these is as unattainable as purchasing real estate and hand-planting a vineyard.

Much of the difficulty I have heard expressed in terms of this passage is connected directly with reading the passage overly literally, and ignoring the literary genre. This is often done in the name of forcing an interpretation on the text that is outside of the author’s intent. It is also done without viewing the additional meaning given to the text by the coming of Jesus and the new Covenant. If the poem is a to do list, it easily becomes law for a wife to obey. Paul tells us repeatedly that the law is impossible for us to attain. It is a crushing weight on us because of our imperfection through sin. In the next installment we will look at how understanding this passage is altered by the gospel.
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Where In the World is the Proverbs 31 Woman: Part 1 Understanding the Background

goodwifeguide-331x268Over the past few years, I’ve read several articles arguing varying perspectives on the ideal wife portrayed in Proverbs 31. Most of these articles have argued the matter in terms of whether or not this woman is a standard model for wives and women everywhere to aspire to be the best housewife possible in serving her 1950s family or an allegory for wisdom so as to remove the unattainable ideal that just serves to discourage women into standardized gender roles. I’ll admit that these characterizations are hyperbole, but I am exaggerating the extreme sides of this debate for a reason: because this text has become a bit of a tug-o-war passage for folks in the battle over the role of women in the church. Each side pulling for a gender political stance and taking pride in their position, sometimes without bothering to ask whether or not they are glorifying Christ in their stance. My intent in this post is not to engage either of these positions, but rather to offer an analysis of the text with an eye on shedding a little light as to what believers are actually supposed to do with these passages.

Preliminary Issues: Genre, Audience, and Context
In advance of the discussion, there are a few important concepts that need to be understood as a lens through which we must look in interpreting the passage. The first is the genre of literature being discussed. Wisdom literature, and more specifically the proverb, is a specific genre that needs to be understood on its own terms. Reading Proverbs isn’t like reading the instruction manual for your toaster. It’s a highly defined style of writing, featuring multiple sub-genres. In this case, it’s important to recognize that the text is presenting an idealized truth. It is the same throughout the book. This idealized truth must be understood as such. It’s easy to recognize this when comparing the book to other wisdom texts. For example, read Proverbs straight through, then read Ecclesiastes or Job. All three are wisdom literature, but the three texts offer very different perspectives on the world. In Job, the righteous man loses everything and suffers despite being blameless. In fact, Job’s friends seem to reflect a position that might be supported by the book of Proverbs: If bad things are happening to you, you must have acted wickedly. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon declares some hard realities that seem to stand at odds with the more idealized book of Proverbs. There seems to be a contradiction between the books. However, this contradiction is pressing only if we rigidly look at the proverbs as absolute statements of truth or rules for the universe, instead of recognizing that ideals are being presented. To this end, it is important to recognize that this is an idealized version of women, a target to aspire to. It is not a list of hard and fast rules for wives. Rather, it is an ideal.

Further, the passage itself is Hebrew poem, written with a structure that gives hints as to what the main point is. For starters, each line of the text begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which points to the completeness of the truth being presented. Acrostics could also be used to aid in memorization. This is important because the book is intended to be instructional material for young men. Easy memorization would be a desirable feature. In addition, the poem itself has a Chiastic structure. This is when the first and last line parallel each other, the second and second to last line parallel each other, and so forth. The middle line of the poem, which has no parallel, is the major point being made. In this case verse 23 is the center of the poem:Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. Essentially, the poem culminates in the instruction that a man with a good wife will be lauded publicly. A modern equivalent would be: “Behind every successful man stands a strong woman.” This may seem like a back-handed treatment of women, saying that their only purpose is to make their husbands successful, but this isn’t the case because wives aren’t the target audience of this text.

When interpreting scripture, understanding the target audience intended by the author is valuable for understanding the message being presented. In the case of the book of Proverbs, the target audience is young men. Throughout the book, young men are addressed in the instructions. In fact, chapter 31 is advice given to King Lemuel by his mother. In this context, the advice being given to sons in the chapter is essentially that picking a good wife will aid in you becoming the kind of man that folks esteem highly. This is hardly unique in the text. 25:24 warns: Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. What sort of wife should you seek? One that you don’t fight with constantly, or you’ll hit a point where you’d rather sleep on the roof than with her. Chapter 5 is loaded with advice for young men regarding loose sexual morals. Young men are instructed to avoid such behavior and keep their sexuality confined to the relationship with their wives. In this light, the passage fits the larger context of the book’s tendency to offer advice to young men about ideal truths. This is most evident in verse 30: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Young men tend to gravitate to a pretty face when selecting a wife, while ignoring more important qualities, like character. The advice being offered is heavily oriented toward young men’s inclinations. Again, the audience is important because it reveals a truth that is often ignored by those who attempt to interpret the text in terms of gender roles: chapter 31 is never intended to be used as an instruction manual for wives. It is not a checklist for being the ideal wife. Rather, it is advice for sons to look for certain qualities in their wives if they want to be successful and well thought of. That having been said, there are truths that can be gleaned and applied for wives, but more on that later.

1f63a8228ad74caec641eaecef106871Understanding the historic context is also important for getting a solid grip on the meaning of the passage. The advice being offered isn’t being given in a culture where people typically married for love. Marriage was generally a very utilitarian institution. Wives were selected based on all sorts of considerations, most of them pragmatic. The poem is literally about choosing a wife according to high character standards. This choosing was more akin to shopping than our culture tends to immediately recognize.

In the next installment, we’ll look at the most important background issue: How to interpret what King Lemuel’s mom was saying. Is it symbolic of something else? Is it a guide for being a perfect housewife? Is it a call to return to the 50s? Or is it something better that all believers can take hold of with joy?
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5 Ways to Show Your Wife You Love Her the 364 Days that Aren’t Valentines Day

10411953_10152500999866835_664088007240282336_nIf you haven’t noticed the excess of advertising yet, Valentines Day will soon be on us. It’s the one day a year everyone expects you to act romantic. Flowers, cards, candy, stuffed bears, and all manner of other romantic stuff are practically a requirement if you don’t want to get into trouble. The crazy thing is that I know guys who go out of their way to show their wives they care on that one day of the year, but otherwise live like roommates with their spouse. The reality is that February 14th is just another day. If husbands are to take seriously their vows to love their wives and follow the direction Paul gives in Ephesians 5, they have to take loving their wives seriously the other 364 days as well. Here are 5 suggestions to kick off a year of showing your wife how special she is.
  1. Compliment her. Compliments and praise are so easy during the courtship phase of the relationship. However, because men tend to be less verbal, they tend to compliment less often. I have spoken to women who treasure compliments given to them by their husbands literally years ago. Women need to feel affirmed as a part of feeling loved. Compliments are key. Please note, I am not talking about empty flattery. Further, it’s important to offer compliments and praises without strings attached. Many a man has gotten to the point that saying “You look great today” prompts the automatic response: “What do you want?” Offering praise without hidden motive makes the offered praise more believable.
  2. Give her a day to herself. After kids show up, it’s not unusual for wives to feel like there is no time for themselves. With little people constantly demanding her attention and the other demands of life that come with being a spouse, helping to care for a family, and maybe working, it’s easy to feel like there is no “me” time. A simple way to show her how much you care is by taking the kids for the day and letting her enjoy herself. This is a good time to give her the gift of a day spa trip, manicure, or a massage appointment. These aren’t definitive. Figure out what your wife likes to do by herself and gift it to her. The last time my wife did this, she went with a friend and spent the day out relaxing and not dealing with kids. I had a ball with kids, having a tea party, watching a movie, and playing all day.
  3. Deep clean the house. Every now and then, when my wife takes a Saturday afternoon nap or goes out for a doctor’s appointment, I take the opportunity to clean the house thoroughly. Vacuuming, scrubbing, cleaning, laundry, dishes, etc. Mind you, it’s important to pitch in and help with the chores all the time, but once in a while it’s nice to take it way beyond what she expects.
  4. Knock out the Honey-Do list immediately. This isn’t so much a special occasion “I love you.” When a honey-do item pops up, it’s easy to put it off until you feel like it or have a little more time on your hands. But, there is a message that is sent when you put off her requests. You might not notice, but she probably does. Taking care of “guy” tasks immediately shows her that she is a high priority to you. Conversely, when you put her in the position of having to nag you to get things done indirectly tells her that she isn’t a priority.
  5. Plan a surprise date night. Get the babysitter. Figure out where you are going and what you will be doing. Get dressed up. Buy flowers. Pull out all the stops and don’t let her know until it’s time to go. Surprise her. Give her enough time to feel prepared and comfortable, but surprise her. In doing so, you show her that you are still pursuing her as a romantic interest. You are showing her that she is special. You are essentially telling her that you still think about her.
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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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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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