Tag Archives: Parenting

Your Bad Habits and Your Brain

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

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

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

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

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Frog, Toad, Cookies, and Temptation

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

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

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I came across this quote from Arthur Pink today and thought it was worth sharing, particularly in light of the alarmist things I encounter in my social media feeds on a daily basis lately. It’s easy to find folks to blame for the problems in our nation. Folks post their outrage on social media, flock to politicians peddling easy answers, demand laws that will straighten up the world we live in, and pine for God to set things right. The problem with these solutions is that they are top-down fixes to a bottom-up problem. Decline and decay start in our own homes and churches. We must address our own messes before looking to those of others. In the 2 millennia since its birth, Christianity has changed the world, not through legislation and power, but through discipleship and devotion to the cause of Jesus. Fathers, follow Jesus and grow spiritually. Then, spend time with your families, loving and teaching them who Jesus is and how to follow Him. Devote yourself to your God, your marriage, your family, and your church (in that order). If you want this country to change, start with yourselves. Through prayer and discipleship, Jesus’ following grew to fill the world. It will only happen again through the same efforts.

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Does the Bible Give Husbands Authority in the Home?

doodle_pro_2016-05-31t14_52_18z“As the man of the house, God put me in charge, so my wife has to obey my direction… or else she is sinning against God.” This silly line has been used time and again to justify all manner of sinful behavior, mistreatment of women, tyrannical rule in the home, and in itself has the potential to be a blasphemous statement. In fact, much of the anger that is raised the idea of men leading in the home or church is rooted in the wicked mistreatment of families using this idea as an excuse. I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to figure out how to be a Godly husband. (This is not a humble brag because I’ve actually been married for almost 18 years. Better late than never.) The biggest struggle I’ve encountered in the process has been related to the matter of headship in the home. I suspect that the struggle I am experiencing is a good thing. Not struggling with it could rise from an overly simple or self-serving understanding of the concept. It is far better to wrestle with this idea and approach the matter with fear and trembling. The understanding I have reached thus far is far from the “Woman! Get me a sandwich!” mentality that’s often the default perspective.

The most important part of understanding authority in the Scriptures is that it is exemplified in Jesus’ example and His relationship with the Father. Jesus is our Lord. Lord is a bit of a culturally foreign idea for us. The ancient world “lord” meant “boss” or “master”. Paul takes this idea a step further and refers to himself as a slave to Christ. As such, we do well to observe Jesus’ example of how authority is properly exercised if we desire to exercise it as well. This is particularly important because Jesus explains the source of his authority over us. He does so in John 5. To paraphrase, he says that he has authority because God gives it to him. That authority is linked to the requirement that it be exercised in harmony with the Father’s will. So, the Father has authority and will. Jesus wields the Father’s authority, but he must do it in harmony with the Father’s will. Otherwise, he ceases to have authority. This arrangement of submission and bestowing is made possible by the fact that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. The Son submits to the Father because he loves Him. The Father gives the Son authority because he loves him.

Now, if a man has authority in his home, it is either Jesus’ authority or it is in rebellion against God. To use authority for his own interests and agenda would be sin. So it is with men. If we are given headship in our home, it is only the case that we have authority as long as we are operating in harmony with Jesus’ will and teachings. If we fail to do so, our authority dissolves. Jesus said that he can do nothing on his own. The same is true of husbands and, incidentally, the same is also true with pastors. They have authority to preach, teach, and lead as long as they are doing so in harmony with Jesus’ teachings. Pastors cannot preach their own opinions, mistreat their flock, or live the high life while their people are hungry. To do so is rebellion against God. If a pastor fails to lead folks to Jesus, God’s people are to follow Christ instead of the pastor. They only follow the pastor when he looks like Jesus, wielding his authority by operating in his teachings and will. For husbands, breaking from God’s teaching and will leaves them standing on their own. Further, because such a man’s wife is called to follow Jesus, following Jesus takes precedent over all. She is only called to follow her husband when he is acting like Jesus. Period. The husband, like the pastor, carries the responsibility to follow, obey, and point to Jesus.

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How you demonstrate a husbands’ role to your kids will teach what to expect from their families. 

The implications of Jesus’ authority go further still. Jesus told his disciples that they were to lead, but not as the Gentile rulers do. Their leadership was to be marked by selfless service and self-sacrifice. They could not demand that the church wait on them hand and foot. Rather, they were responsible to serve their people. The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven will be the servant to all. Jesus offered the best example of this when he washed his disciples feet at the last supper. In ancient cultures, foot washing was a task reserved for the lowest man in the house. Foot washers were often ridiculed in popular literature of the era and Jews debated in court over whether or not a person could willingly wash their loved one’s feet as a show of devotion, with most Jews considering to to be too humiliating an act to be legal. Jesus demonstrated leadership by humiliating himself and washing his disciples’ feet, even Judas’! Greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God is exercised through humble, loving service. This example of leadership is to be emulated by a man if he wishes to operate in the headship that Paul mentions in Ephesians. Loving, humble, selfless service are what is demanded. It is a mark of the pollution of the world in the church’s understanding of authority that we default to the idea that husbands being head in their marriage means that the family serves and submits to him. The family follows Jesus. The husband is to point to Jesus and imitate Him. NOT doing so is a sin of being passive after being commanded to be active in leadership of the home, which was Adam’s first sin: Standing by passively and allowing the serpent to deceive Eve. Sadly, this is the archetype for many mens’ sins today.

There is a final component to the service and headship of Jesus. Jesus’ ultimate act of service was to die for his people. So it is for men in headship of the home. They are to die for their family. This may not mean a physical death. It may entail giving up on their desires, free time, rest, comfort, and interests in the name of loving their family the best way possible. That’s the heart of the matter: loving your family the best way possible. Love your wife the way Jesus loved the church. Show her Jesus in your actions and attitudes. You point to Him every day as the object of our worship. Do all of this whether your family deserves it or not.

Some folks might read my words and ask: then what is the point of having authority, if it doesn’t do you any good? This is a question that demonstrates thinking outside of the mindset of the Christian faith. We do not serve for our own benefit in this life. We serve because we are motivated to do so by our love for God and our family. Further, we do so because serving our family makes us more like Jesus. Becoming like and growing close to Jesus is the ultimate aim of the Christian faith. It is the purpose for which we’re saved. A man’s headship in the home should not be to his worldly advantage or for his own comfort. We serve in this way because it is our duty as servants of Jesus.

In the end, I do not have a lot to say about a wife’s part in the whole equation, apart from the fact that she is not obligated to put up with evil, abuse, or foolishness. I have mainly focused on my job. I figure that if I do my job right, everything else will naturally fall into place. Beyond that, I’m far too busy trying to understand the requirements of my role and live up to being like Jesus to worry about my wife’s job. The mistake husbands often make in relation to their wives in this area is that they become so focused on what she should do that they ignore their own responsibilities and role. In a way, it reminds me of my kids. They get so overly focused on their siblings failure to do their chores that they neglect their own chores. They accuse each other without doing their job. Men, worry about the log in your own eye before pointing to the sawdust speck in your wife’s.

A final thought, Peter warns men to be careful to treat their wives right so that their prayers won’t be hindered. Years ago a friend told me that this can be boiled down to the hard truth that if you’re not right with your wife, God doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. That’s something to take very seriously. It’s enough to demand humility, fear, and trembling in our handling of our role as husband.

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The 10 Most Important Things to Do When Taking Your Kids Camping

img_1457Last year, I read Theodore Rex, a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Amongst the many things that stood out to me in the life of that great man was that he took his children camping almost every night while staying at his vacation home. This was a man who was the leader of the free world, a world class intellectual, and a war hero. He was not too busy or too important to sleep under the stars with his children. I am willing to wager that for all the great things that Teddy was, his kids valued that time spent with him more than anything else. As dads, we often get distracted by our work, our hobbies, and our comforts; all to the detriment of the time we spend with our kids. Putting forth the effort to create special times with them is important. It is when the real impact of our parenting will blossom. Camping is a unique way to do this, because it takes us out of our comfort zone and away from our distraction, forcing us to pay attention to each other. For a child, camping with dad is a great adventure and a privilege. Here are a few of the things I have learned from camping with my kids.

  • You are the most important part of the equation! Last weekend, I had hoped to take the kids camping in the backyard. I’ve been anxiously awaiting my first chance at camping with the kids since January. However, 3 days of heavy rain changed that plan. So, I set up the tent in the living room and we camped indoors. They loved it and I learned something important.
    I am the most important part of the camping experience. I don’t say that to be arrogant. Rather, I realized that the kids, more than anything else, wanted to spend time with me. The prospect of sleeping on the floor with me was pretty exciting. Going to exotic locations, doing crazy things, and planning perfect outdoor experiences are all important, especially as the kids get older, but the single most important component is spending time with dad. That will be the part they remember for the long haul. You don’t have to be an expert outdoorsman to make the experience memorable. You just have to be there.
  • Don’t let the weather stop you. Over the past weekend, rain forced us indoors. I’ve been camping with teenagers
    from work in the past, when it rained for 4 of the 6 days we were in the woods. Instead of enjoying the great outdoors, we played cards in the tent, talked, listened to thunder and wind, learned to build fires in a downpour, read, and had a different brand of fun. The perfect experience isn’t found only when the conditions are perfect. Perfect experiences are had when you enjoy time together, without the everyday noise and distractions of our modern life. This doesn’t mean you should risk your life. Rather, be willing to adapt to the situation. Camping indoors or in a rental cabin is better than doing nothing.
  • IMG_1178Plan time together. The first big camping trip I took my daughter on in the mountains included fishing. She had seen fishing in cartoons and assumed it would be a very different experience. I am confident that she did not love it. She is too impatient. However, she loved sitting in my lap, eating snacks, talking, and reeling in the only fish we managed to catch, which she was terrified of when we finally got it to shore. The time we spent together was the big part. Eventually, I will teach my kids how to pick a campsite, build a fire, cook outdoors, etc. Those activities will be great because it will involve time together. For children, the time you spend focused on them is more valuable than anything else.
  • Step it up in increments. This weekend wasn’t our first experience with living room camping. My children are still young and I recognized that it was necessary to take small steps in the camping experience. Living room camping made it easy to put the kids to bed in their own room if sleeping in the tent proved to be too much for them. Cuddling in the cold of the morning was safer for the first time, knowing that I could take them in from the back yard if it freaked them out too much. Camping at a ranch, within walking distance of a ranch house, is a safe bet if the noises of camping outside of town became too much for them. Increments warmed the kids up to camping in a way that made it easier to experience. This summer I hope to get my daughter out to sleep under the stars.
  • Stay up late to see the stars. One of the biggest blessings of living in Montana is the abundance of beautiful scenery. Perhaps none better than standing under the night sky and seeing the grandeur of God’s creation sprawling before you. My preschool daughter was almost speechless at the sight. On our first camping trip in the mountains, we sat up late (admittedly, watching cartoons) and got out of the tent at 2 AM. The view was breathtaking. Living in a town or city often makes this sort of experience non-existent. If you are going to be out there, take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Eat junk food. There are purists who would disagree with me on this one. However, I am of the opinion that camping should be a special experience. It should be a big treat that they look forward to. Part of how I make this happen is by hitting the junk food aisles at the grocery store and letting the kids pick whatever they want. S’mores are a must, but cookies, chips, candy, etc. are not to be overlooked. Sitting up late, waiting for the sun to set and the stars to come out, and talking is greatly enhanced by the presence of processed junk food. Sharing a bag of Oreos with dad on a camping trip is pure gold. Disclaimer: In bear country, you have to be pretty careful. Have fun, but don’t be stupid.
  • Cook over the fire. Campfire food is amazing. Even if it’s not good by normal standards, a kid cooking their own meal over a real fire is an experience on its own. Teaching a kid to cook their own dinner and marshmallows over an open flame is integral to the camping experience. Plus, it feels like a grown up privilege for them. It’ll make the trip extra special.
  • Talk with your kids. Time spent camping should be special. Sometimes I let the kids watch cartoons, particularly when living room camping. We read comic books, play games, run around, and do all sorts of other things. But, I’d argue that the most important part is talking. You teach your kids how to be adults. Wisdom imparted while camping takes on an extra weight of importance. Don’t waste the opportunity to deepen your relationship through connecting and relating to your children. While you’re camping, the kids will have fewer distractions. Their tv, toys, phones, and every other shining thing that draws their (and your) attention away will be nowhere in sight. Take advantage of it. Talk to each other. This is particularly important when they are young. If you want your kids to talk with you when they are older, teach them to do it early.
  • Don’t forget to have fun. There are so many things to do and worry about that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you are there to have fun. This is particularly the case because men often have trouble shutting off the part of our personality that focuses on work and worry. Your kids want to have fun with you. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and them. They will only be young once. Don’t miss it.
  • Do it often! Camping is one of those things that they will remember, especially if you do it often. It’s not always easy to get away to the mountains to camp, but the backyard and living room are always there. Being a dad isn’t something you do once every summer. The biggest impact is made by investing a lot of time. Sleeping in a tent isn’t comfortable, but your kids will remember it for the rest of their lives.
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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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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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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 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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Book Review- You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity

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

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

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