Monday, November 9, 2009


I was talking with a very good friend this morning and we were sharing some stories about our girls. He said his family recently visited a church and on the way home his seven-year old daughter commented, "it seems like they just put a lot of pressure on you to do the right thing and really don't teach you how to do it. They have a lot of overbelievers in that church." She loves the term 'overbelievers' in part because it makes her parents laugh but mostly because she intuits grace as a gift. I too now love the term 'overbeliever' and thought you might find it enjoyable. And I pray sweet my friends daughter spends her life helping overbelievers embrace the beauty of grace.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trusting What You Can't See and Feel To Inform What You Do

I am continually struck at how much God loves faith-the mystery and paradox he asks us to keep walking in. I am regularly helping others see where they are in their journey because it feels to them like they are going in the wrong direction. So often I hear others say I seem like I am getting worse. This confusion comes because as we grow we see our sin more clearly.
For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands for the more we know God's law the clearer it becomes we aren't obeying it (Romans 3:20). A simple example would be that 20 years ago I seemed like a good husband and that is becuase I had no clue what a good husband really looked like. 20 years later because I know what a good husband looks like its more clear I am often not one. In addition to refined sight, our hearts soften as we mature. If the gospel is growing inside of us the pain of life hits us harder. That doesn't mean it has to own us as much but it can often mean it might feel worse (or richer and more beautiful too - our senses are just refined). In any case, as we grow it may seem to us like we are acting worse and life hurts more. It can confuse us that things are getting worse. That is where we have to lean into faith - to trust what we can't see. If God is the author and finisher of our faith and we look back and can see growth, however miniscule that may be we have to trust we are still on the right path. So if it seems like your behaving badly and life is more painful you may have just walked further down the better path.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Redemptive Path for a Husband: Personal Humility

As with several other posts this is an excerpt from the book I am working on. The last part of the book I describe paths a husband and wife can follow to unselfishly help the other to resist evil. Because of a husband's advantages in marraige (that I define earlier in the book) they have an easier time being indifferent to their wives. Because of their vulnerability wives often see kingdom values (especially in the area of relationships) more clearly. As a husband grows the humility to listen to a wife - it is an encouragement to her - she is using her giftedness to help her husband - and this gives her buoyancy which helps her resist the evil one (on the other hand when the husband doesn't have the humility to listen and learn from his wife she is more susceptible to the evil one's lies). So here is one part of one path a husband can follow to help his wife fight evil (in his heart and hers).

A husband listens to his wife’s disappointment, affirms it and helps her to articulate it for two reasons. First, he is offering compassion and using his advantages to treat her with understanding so she can find rest. As a husband helps his wife with marital discontent the deception evil has been hitting her with will begin to fall away. In addition to helping his wife find rest as a husband listens to her distress, he can learn important things about himself. Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get a smart retort. Anyone who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. So don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you. But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding (Proverbs 9:7-10).
I remember the first time my wife told me I rolled my eyes at her. I probably rolled my eyes at her as she said it. I had no idea I did it. If truth be told, I had no idea I was condescending until the 1,000th time she told me so. When I finally heard her say I was condescending in the weeks and months ahead I began to see that she was right. I learned more about myself and my lack of relational holiness from my wife than anyone else I have known. God loves interdependency. Husbands need wives to grow into who God calls them to be. Because of a wife’s longing she pays more attention to relationship and has insight that will help her husband.
Relational sin and relational holiness have more to do with faithfulness to the Gospel than staying within the lines and keeping the law. Because of a misuse of advantages Christian men, as leaders in church and as husbands in marriage, have missed glorious opportunities to discover a richer and more faith-filled obedience to the living God. The way men have shepherded in the church and marriage has often meant that women are silenced. It seems to me that men are often afraid of failure or afraid of rocking the boat. This often grows out of an ungodly frustration with the complexity they must wrestle with in this fallen world. Instead of passionately being willing to make mistakes and color outside the lines men tend to play it safe or disengage especially from relationship because it is so messy. This is where we need the voice and passion of women.
In observing how those outside the religious establishment can often embolden an obedience that goes beyond a checklist and into more, Carolyn Custiss James (The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules) notes that obedience is not a matter of exactness but is actually infinite. She says, “The sermon on the Mount knocked down the walls that religious living had constructed around God’s law and pointed to a way of living that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit. Formal religion only takes us so far – for it is both safe and doable. Love however, knows no limits, takes costly risks, and looks for ways to give more.” If they are welcomed into the conversation I believe women can uniquely advance a fervent and courageous conformity to Christ where like him our righteousness exceeds what is safe.
Carolyn Custiss James uses the example of Ruth and Boaz to illustrate this point. Ruth was a gleaner in Boaz’s field. Gleaners were allowed in the field only after both teams of hired workers finished. Ruth asked Boaz to shelve this system for her. A modern day equivalent would be like a homeless ‘dumpster diver’ asking an owner of a restaurant if he could sit in the dining room and enjoy a meal for free. James says, “Boaz’s response is as astonishing as Ruth’s request is outrageous, and this is where our strong admiration for Boaz begins. Instead of becoming defensive the lights go on and he fully embraces her suggestion. Instead of being displeased or offended, he is moved to act on her behalf. Boaz’s godliness is real, and he willingly follows’ Ruth’s lead. He actually appears driven – you might even say obsessed – to come up with ways of making her mission possible. In an astonishing outpouring of grace, Boaz exceeds the young Moabitess’ request.”
James suggests that Ruth’s asking and Boaz’s supporting grow out of their cooperation with God’s leadership. They worked together to advance God’s purposes. Ruth was moved to more because of relationship. She was zealous in her pursuit to provide because she cared about her mother-in-law. Boaz responds to this and God advanced his kingdom through them.
I stress this point because marriage is the foundation for men and women working together in the church. It is where we practice, demonstrate and learn about relationship between the sexes. As husbands grow the humility to listen to their wives we will all learn and grow a deeper holiness. If husbands begin to honor the voices of their wives I believe the church will come alive with a godliness that is much more faithful, life-giving and passionate than we experience today. Again, listen to the words of Carolyn Custiss James, “Walking with God takes us into a sea of possibilities that stretch our capacity for sacrifice and our imagination for obedience, reminding us there’s always more to following God than we think.” I can’t imagine a better way to go after that than encouraging husbands to learn from their wives so the church exemplifies better the way men and women can work together to advance the Gospel.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Silencing Martial Guilt

Because I have been on a little bit or a roll lately with the blog I thought I would post another entry. This is an excerpt from the book I am working on. It comes from the chapter called The Redemptive Pathway for a Husband: Interpsonal Humility. I define Interpersonal Humility as the ability to let someone help you with your inadequacies. In this chapter I talk about the 3 most common internal problems a husband deals with: guilt, contempt and frustration. As he lets the Lord help him with these he becomes a better husband. A husband often doesn't learn how to relate better to his wife by focusing on her but instead grows in his ability to relate with his wife as he grows in his relationship with the Lord.

It is not easy to keep missing the mark as a husband. It is genuinely exasperating for any husband to care about his wife when he is confronting daily impediments. This often creates a determination in a husband to get it right or a resolve to stop trying. Either way the path to meaningful freedom for a husband lies on the other side of condemning guilt.
Guilt evolves from any fracture in relationship we experience where there is personal culpability. Because a husband will often be personally liable for the break in relationship with his wife he will have an ongoing sense of guilt. The only way a husband cannot experience guilt in marriage is to harden to its existence. Prior to marriage most men have not stuck to a relationship of choice where the transgressions between the parties began to pile up. Friendships are the only relationship of choice that men experience prior to marriage and they are not as close or as meaningful as marriage and when they become tough men usually distance themselves or find new friends. Men have little experience prior to marriage in dealing with guilt in an ongoing relationship.
Add into the mix that the evil one will be quick to beat the husband up with reminders that his lack of regular success is sealing a fate of unrelenting disappointment from his wife. Evil regularly pelted me with an arrogant accusation such as, “Laughter is the most important aspect of martial happiness,” because that was where I was weakest. I was good at talking about meaningful things but had a much harder time laughing as things got difficult. Every couple under the sun who laughed well became a reminder I was a failure as a husband. This fueled a desire to run from my guilt not look for help with it.
In addition, it was so easy to fall into my fleshly groove. I remember talking about the book on sex my wife and I both read before we were married. As I discussed what I learned my wife said something like, “I don’t think sex is supposed to happen according to a manual.” She was exposing my tendency to fall right into my fleshly groove. Often something opposite of my fleshly groove like a spontaneous outing would be the thing that would encourage my wife but that rarely appeared as an option in my mind. My continued acquiescence to my fleshly groove and to arrogant accusations seemed to mock my longing for liberty from my guilt.
All along I knew that Christ’s forgiveness mattered but I had a hard time receiving it personally. I might hear Christ saying, “I forgive you and I am with you,” but my wife continued hurting, being irritated or afraid by my behavior in such a way that Christ’s forgiveness didn’t seem to mean that much. I was often repenting over my sins or admitting my weaknesses but what was changing were thoughts and attitudes on the inside that were not directly demonstrated or noticed in the relationship. In addition, my change was progressive so I was still hurting Dawn at the same time that I was growing into more. Since Dawn did not necessarily see or taste the fruit of my repentance she did not believe it was really happening.
This is where the husband’s advantages come into play. He is designed to be able to lift his countenance towards God before his wife. The extra ‘energy’ of his advantages is to help him hear God say, “Well done. You are changing and growing. Do not despise the day of small beginnings,” (Zech 4:10) before his wife can hear it. I had to start believing that I heard something my wife couldn’t hear. I kind of heard it like this, “I know you care about Dawn. She does not have to affirm the genuineness of your repentance for it to be true. Trust me. As you learn to really hear and believe I am saying ‘well done’ and learn to rest in it you will gain the strength to communicate grace to your wife and wait with her so she too can see your change more clearly.”
I had to start accepting and believing what the Holy Spirit was saying in my heart instead of being so owned by what my wife was often focusing on. When Paul said to, “Put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness,” I had no idea how much my heart would be attacked through my wife’s disappointment and how much courage it would take to believe that Jesus death was bigger than her discontentment.
In the flesh evil wants a man to get his significance and validation of his masculinity from his wife. Many men see the path to masculinity supported by a wife who cheers louder and louder instead of really playing the game and learning to listen to the coach. A man wants a woman to create a shortcut for him on the path of Godly masculinity. I have done enough marital counseling to watch this theme play out again and again. I often help the husband get moving into repentance and he starts changing. As he does he wants the wife to affirm it. It is very rare that a wife has the depth of mercy to affirm this change early in the process to her husband. She may feel and see some of the change but to say it out loud to him involves a level of spiritual maturity few wives posses. In the midst of actually doing better and changing the husband must learn to look beyond his wife.
If a husband begins to step into interpersonal humility and accept Christ’s ministry to him he begins to feel accepted and is less owned by his limitations. The purpose of a husband’s insufficiency is to bring him into deeper fellowship with Jesus. It is to get him to rely on God’s grace and not his performance. As he begins to hear Jesus say, “Husband you will never get it right. I did that so you could see me. As you see me, as you start trusting my grace in such a way that your wife’s discontent is not so debilitating, than you are on the way to freedom.” The husband now begins to hear, “Well done!” more regularly in a way that surprises him.
Most husbands and wives believe that if a husband would pay more attention to his wife and work at relating to her that the marriage will get better. That seems right but is actually very foolish. That will only increase the distance between the husband and wife. Instead, a husband must endure through difficulty long enough for his self-reliant dependence on performance to be dislodged and be transformed into a dependence on God’s care for him. God’s acceptance of him, his love for him is a much surer anchor than his performance or his wife’s validation. Learning to hear well done from the Lord more regularly is what will help a husband to pay better attention to his wife and relate to her with more kindness.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Self Discipline vs. Self Control

“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Colossians 2:21-23

Self-discipline seems like such a good idea. I wish we were all able to genuinely produce whatever type of change we wanted to see in ourselves. I was recently asked what the difference between self-discipline and self-control was. I said self-discipline is pushing ourselves or putting pressure on ourselves to change. This pressure is often maintained through goals or rules. The emphasis is generally on working and doing as the means to change. If we change as a result of self-discipline we feel proud of what we have accomplished. This type of pride is busy and noisy and the opposite of the gratefulness and awe the Lord wants to grow in us. Self-control, on the other hand is a fruit of the spirit. It is something God does in and for us. The way we grow self-control is to admit we lack it, long for it to change and wait for God to work in us. Self-control grows by admitting, longing and waiting. The 'work' we do in this way of changing is being honest about our failures and limitations, allowing ourselves to feel pain as we long for more and standing up to the condemnation from evil that says God will never show up for us. I believe that 'work' is actually harder than doing something. We are often fooled that activity and self-inflicted pressure leads to change more than truth, desire and relationship. In fact, in Christian circles we often think desire is bad or gets us in to trouble. However, it says "Blessed are those who hunger or thirst for righteousness for they will be filled" (Matt 5:6).
In a more 'Gospel centered' process of change we may use a 'means of grace'. There are many examples of a means of grace. We might not have dessert in the home to help with self-indulgence or use Covenant Eyes to help with lust, or have a friend we talk to about our tendency to gossip. We then pray and wait for the change to happen because the absence of dessert or the exposure of what we are doing through Covenant Eyes or the honesty of a God relationship might help us to say no to indulgence, lust or gossip but that doesn't mean we have actually changed. The freedom to genuinely say no comes not from removing the obstacle but is something God does in us. Perhaps you have heard the term 'a dry drunk.' This is someone who has stopped drinking but underlying problems that contributed to the drinking have not changed. Removing the alcohol and being part of a group that helps you to say no is a means to grace. It helps you do what you want to do but it doesn't mean you have changed. Alcohol might be the particular idol and it’s good for the idol to be removed but it doesn't mean the false worship has been replaced with genuine worship. That takes time. So in any case I think we are quieter when we aim for inner change through truth, desire and relationship with the living God and employ a means of grace as necessary. Devotion, pious self-denial and severe bodily discipline are not ways to genuinely experience life giving and God-breathed change. So as a reminder...
Self-discpline we work, push and fret
Self-control we admit, long and wait

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I have spent the last two months using most of my spare time to focus on the book I am trying to write. Monday I emailed a book proposal to a friend who is forwarding it on to a friend who has some connections in the Christian publishing world. Nothing may come or something may come of that. We will see. In any case, I had a little time to put some words together for the blog...

“Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” It seems to me that this question by the serpent put Eve on the defensive. There was a sinister accusation in the question and one Eve plays into when she changes what God said in her response to the evil one. How often are you being asked questions that put you on the defensive in regards to something God has said to you? Did God really say your job was a gift? Did God really say that children were a blessing? Did God really say your husband was a good man and he was worth fighting for? Did God really say he had good planned for you and not evil? Did God really say???? Did God really say??? Did God really say??? Did Jesus really rise from the dead and does it really make a difference? Have death and sin been vanquished and will there really be a new heaven and a new earth? You are not going to stop hearing those questions the rest of your life. Is God really good?
This morning as I drove to work I was listening to the song, I Believe in a Promised Land. These words from the song spoke to what I often experience in this world.
“There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
Well the dogs on Main Street howl 'cause they understand.
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land
And I believe in a promised land
And I believe in a promised land.”

Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man. Why is it maturity to proclaim belief? Why does it take so much to stand up into the things we say are true? What is it about saying you believe in something that takes strength? I have been struck in the past several weeks how often we have to keep standing to protect that actual good and beauty that is in our life. Fighting simply to keep saying yes to the things we really believe are yes.

The devil is a bully that wants to cast doubt on our love for God and make us believe we actually want to follow and worship evil. He is a personal force behind wickedness that pushes people away from God. For instance, year nine in our marriage was a very vulnerable period in my life. There were several major stressors in my life that came together at once and tipped my faith towards unbelief and fear. We had three young children (a newborn, a two year old and a four year old), had recently purchased our first house that needed work (we had neither the money to pay for the work to get done and I didn’t have the ability or time to do the work), I worked part time at a young struggling church and part time as a counselor at a non-profit organization I started and was trying to get off the ground, and at the same time had just started work on my doctoral degree. We were doing this in a very materialistic culture on a ministry salary. I was overloaded with stress and was very vulnerable.
The evil one kept pointing out to me how ‘unfair’ God was. He regularly brought to mind the couples younger than us who had nicer homes and could easily afford to pay for home projects. He also waltzed families before me that had relatives in town who could provide childcare. In general, if Dawn was getting a rest it was because I was with the children. Although Dawn was regularly working to exhaustion her frailties and failures were like billboards in my mind. It was often all I could see. I so often felt foolish for being in ministry and caring about others when I couldn’t adequately provide the time or financial resources my family needed. The evil one saw the frailty of my faith and regularly suggested that God didn’t care about me and that Dawn wasn’t doing her part. I was regularly tempted with the thought of an affair or divorce. Although I didn’t want to do either of those things I kept finding the desire pulsating within me. Evil was inflaming my flesh and trying to make me believe it was what I wanted. The evil one tried to wear me down so that I would choose those options. In fact, the arousal of my fleshly nature which is naturally hostile towards God contributed to me considering that hurting God through such a decision was a good option. My life was like a desert boiling with heat and there seemed to be no water anywhere so I was susceptible to hallucinations that came in the form of temptations towards a divorce or affair.
The adulterous woman described in Proverbs 9 is a metaphor for evil. The wise man says the adulterous woman is brash and that she seeks men who are minding their own business (9:13-15). I was simply trying to love my wife and girls and find a place in ministry and evil kept waltzing temptation by me to try and get me to bite. We often explain the sin in our life by focusing on our choices and believing that whatever sin emerges grows out of choices we have sought after and fought for to make happen. Quite often this is not true. There are many times evil keeps irritating us tempting us and the guilt over temptation and the weariness from battling wears us down to the point where we sin because we are so battered it seems like what we want. As Proverbs indicates Evil works like a prostitute. She stands out on the corner seeking and calling to men minding their own business. A prostitute puts her wares out for the taking specifically attempting to subjugate weak men. This is a picture of how evil works. He tries to bully us away from the truth by pushing on our vulnerabilities. A bully pursues someone vulnerable and uses harassment and commotion that further weakens his victims and gets them to cower before they even consider standing up. We forget that evil is the antithesis of God. He has no grace or mercy and pursues us with a vengeance especially when we are vulnerable. Until you stand up to a bully and call him on his bullying you live with a fear that makes his power seem much larger than it actually is. “He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour,” (1 Peter 5:8). The evil one is a personal being who deceptively tries to bully the children of God away from what God calls them to so that he can desecrate God’s glory in the process.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. James 1:2-6 The Message

I want to stand up and keep standing up. I want my yes to be yes and my no to be no. Today I just want to say Jesus died and rose from the dead. It matters. Sin and death have been vanquished. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. I believe it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Feminine Fearlessness

Having had some vacation time recently I have been writing early in the morning before the family gets up. Thus I thought I would put an excerpt on the blog. The first part of the book is called, "God Loves Common Ground." Within that section I describe the "callings" of God to husbands and wives as presented in the New Testament. I have tried to come up with larger themes that I present broadly in the first part of the book and then narrow them down in the third part of the book where I talk about "Fighting for Common Ground." The two postures I talk about that I see evolving from the NT for wives are "awe-inspired cooperation" and "restful fearlessness." The section below is in the second part (restful fearlessness) where I talk about the need for wives to aim for fearlessness.
Marriage calls a wife to engage vulnerability. She is called to grow the faith to ask more or less of her husband depending on what will be best for the marriage. Restfulness helps her to ask less of her husband because she knows God is her ultimate defender. This invites her husband to look beyond her and see God. In addition to seeing God a husband must need God to go deeper with Him. Therefore, a wife needs to be free to point her husband towards more. Like all of us a husband will often only choose God’s ways when everything else he has tried fails. However, no one is quick to genuinely admit failures especially in the heightened atmosphere of marriage. In fact, we often distance ourselves from those who make our inadequacy clear. As such, a wife will detest the distance that comes from being a light in her husband’s life. She will naturally trip over the moments where she can illumine the darkness in her husband’s heart because she dislikes the distance it will create between them. To ask more of her husband calls a wife to faith and courage.
This is why Peter urges women act like Sarah’s (Abraham’s wife) daughter. He says, “You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do,” (1 Peter 3:6). If you are at all familiar with Abraham’s lack of character displayed in the Genesis narrative you will appreciate what Peter is saying to wives. In the long Genesis narrative Abraham responds to God well only two times. Initially, when he leaves Haran and many years later when walks up the mountain with Isaac. In between that span for over 20 years Abraham wrestles to believe and trust in God. Sarah lives in the wake of Abraham’s growing and stumbling faith. In his fear and cowardice he concocts a lie to tell foreign leaders that Sarah is his sister because he worries that the leaders will kill him because Sarah is so beautiful. First, Pharaoh takes Sarah as his wife until the Lord supernaturally intervenes. This is not enough to help Abraham change because later Abraham does the same thing with Abimelech. He too takes Sarah as his wife until the Lord intercedes. God says to Abimelich, “Yes, I know you are innocent. That’s why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her. Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.” Sarah is fortunate to have God as her protector.
The Old Testament does not detail the relationship between Abraham and Sarah other than to show that Abraham lies to protect himself and seems willing to sacrifice Sarah. The narrative does not help us ascertain how Sarah related to Abraham in response we only know that from Peter’s comment she must have continued to endure with Abraham and somehow displayed courage and faith in the process. Yet, if we consider what Peter went onto say in the rest of his epistle it provides an indication of Sarah’s behavior. Right after he counsels wives to act like Sarah he sums up his overall advice on submission and says, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:8-17)
For Sarah to be affirmed several verses before his conclusion on submission I have to believe she embodied what Peter is espousing. Thus, when a wife grows in living righteously as a response to God and not an attempt to change, manipulate, or nudge her husband she becomes a megaphone that God is more necessary to the husband than he often wants Him to be. Sarah must have helped Abraham grow in his faith with God because when an offended party continues to walk in faith and not make their primary response discontentment over the wrongdoing they actually provide a deeper exposure of the sin. I want to suggest that the times where Sarah endured with character she helped facilitate moments that exposed Abraham’s unbelief.
It would be nice for wives if Godly responding meant a smoother relationship right away with their husbands. However, when a wife responds in faith, husbands will often become angrier in an attempt to shelter their sin. This is why Peter says, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” This is why femininity involves fearlessness.
When a wife doesn’t change her behavior to collude with her husband’s sin and instead exposes it by pursuing holiness she ups the ante and risks her husband’s anger or disapproval. The rest of scripture would affirm that humans don’t respond well to exposure of sin. Consider this Proverb, “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue,” (28:23). Initially, the rebuke brings displeasure not acquiescence. Exposure of sin is painful and the person being exposed will often hide from the exposure or blame the person who did the exposing. It takes time for the exposed party to accept the reality of their sinfulness. It is waiting through the period of acceptance that calls a wife to fearlessness. Like the first husband God confronted, husbands all through history have been echoing the blame Adam put on Eve, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate,” (Genesis 3:12) .
Thus, when Peter wrote, “You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husband’s might do.” I hear Peter’s saying, “Do not let your husband’s misuse of his advantages and the time it takes him to really hear and trust what God promises to cause you to shrink down into fear and anxiety where you answer his sin with sin. When you respond well or grow in holiness it may make your husband angrier and he may even make you pay for the attention your life brings to his sin. It will take deep faith to respond well but it is the best way to help him cry out for God. At times you will help awaken your husband to things he needs to see and hear. Do not be afraid.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases the above mentioned verse as, “Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as ‘my dear husband.’ You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unaxious and unintimidated.” It is all such a paradox. God gives selfish husbands an advantage and tells them to use it for their wives. He designs wives with a disadvantage and tells them to not be afraid of their husbands. It is as if he loves faith. Like without faith and dependence on him we could never experience Common Ground as a couple.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vacation Reading

During vacation last week I read the book The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. The book is a memoir of his life and the place a neighborhood bar played in 'raising' him into a man. He grew up fatherless and had three primary living situations: alone with his mother, with his mother, aunt, uncle and cousins at his grandparents’ home or at his grandparents’ home without his mother. His grandfather was not a good man so he ended up identifying with his uncle who worked at the bar. J.R. becomes attached to the men at the bar and the acceptance he found from them. He writes, “Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel close to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship. For better or worse my holy place was Steve’s bar. And because I found it in my youth, the bar was that much more sacred, its image clouded by that special reverence children accord those places where they feel safe.” He is a skillful story teller and writes about his past with honesty, kindness and sorrow. As you might imagine alcohol, and the damaging impact it can have when it is the focus of a person’s life, is a large part of the story.
One of the things that struck me as I read was that he did not hurry to get to the redemptive part of his life. He actually leaves that, for the most part, unaddressed. As the narrative of his life unfolded I was struck with the sadness that surrounded him. He did not pretend about this and he describes the way he tried to cope with it. He didn’t hide or cover up the painful parts of his life or the way he falteringly tried to deal with the pain. He was also candid about the ‘salvation’ alcohol and the bar brought to him. Reading it made me realize how we do ourselves a disservice when we marginalize painful, even largely sinful, parts of our lives. Not that I think sin should be glorified but we don’t have to be afraid of it. We should be sober about it and certainly aim to avoid it, but when recounting episodes where it is or has been alive in our life (it is always alive to some degree), it can be helpful to slow down and unpack what was really going on. As we are not afraid of sin and can discuss it meaningfully it can aid in a growing freedom from sin. It can become clearer why we gravitate to it, how we use it to hide or blame, and how our life is not all black or white. In addition, we are being sanctified in the midst of sin. If he was to write off or marginalize his connection to the bar it would be impossible for him to see some of the grace that pursued and upheld him through the years his life revolved around the bar. The miracle of what he realizes and becomes seems more glorious as it emerges out of the background of the bar. We so often have to find the good, or prove that God is working or make our life a justification that God is real that we overstate or over appreciate the good and naively believe that things are better than they are. When we can be more honest and more courageous and talk about the good and the bad together the good often emerges as a surprise, as a gift, as something to be nourished and cherished and held onto for the nugget it is.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Year

Proverbs 10:7
A good and honest life is a blessed memorial. The Message
The memory of the righteous will be a blessing. New Living Translation

For Daymark and many people connected to Daymark today is a large day. Today marks the one year anniversary of Dewayne's death. In many ways it is a hard day - to realize we have moved through one whole year without Dewayne. Although my memories during the year have alternated between painful (I miss Dewayne and I miss who he was to his wife, parents, sister, friends and those he counseled) and warm (I remember his laughter, his kindness, his thoughtfulness) I am certaintly not at the point where I can declare only that which Proverbs 10:7 says. The memory of the righteous will be a blessing. Although that is the truth and who Dewayne was in righteousness was a glory to behold, it still hurts at times. At the wake as someone very close to Dewayne saw his body they began to sob and cry out about all the things Dewayne had left to say and do. It expressed the depth of my cries exactly. As I first got to know Dewayne years ago I was struck by his passion and heart and giftedness. Through the years as I watched him grow and then got to see him offer his gifts through Daymark it caused me to look toward the future with such hope about all he would do and say. At times the absence of his saying and doing and being has been sad. Some of that sadness has been a grace because it draws me to God and reminds me we are not home. Some is still just sad especially as I have talked and walked with those who Dewayne touched so deeply. I am genuinely more owned by the largeness and beauty of his soul and often as I remember him I smile. In his article on grief Dewayne wrote... The backwardness of the gospel finds itself at work in your sorrow and memory; it is through your grief healing is encountered. I think that has been true this past year and yet I know their is more healing to happen. Dewayne's greatest gift to me was that he helped me to trust and wait for that healing to unfold and appreciate it as it did. So I will keep aiming to rest in that as I journey on.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rejoicing in What is True

Given that I have not written anything in almost a month this is not turning out to be much of a blog. Perhaps this next month it will read a little more like a blog!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Co 13:4-7

I've thougth a lot about the lack of love I see in myself, the church and the world the past month. Genuine love is so beautiful and so refreshing that it is a sad thing for it to often be in short supply. An ascpect of this that has hit me lately is that loves does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth... I've seen all over again that when I refrain from accepting what is true about me how unloving I can be. A couple of weeks ago a situation arose between Dawn and I that really frustrated me. I was hurt and wanted to let her know it. I went to talk to her with the intent of helping her recognize her failure of me. Several sentences into the conversation I found myself doing the opposite (I think Jesus did it for me because it certaintly wasn't my plan) and I began to name some meaningful ways I had hurt Dawn. I also began to describe what I thought the impact of my relating had been on Dawn. She wept. And said she felt less crazy. Do you know I can't count the amount of times I have genuinely apologized to Dawn in 19 years. Oh somewhere around 10 years ago I got I hunch I was going to have to keep aplogizing but I didn't actually know that meant forever. When the Holy Spirit has enabled me to do it well it usually brings some quite beauty into my life. The last couple of weeks with Dawn have been tender, and quiet and beautiful. I like that.
Sin blinds us and makes us noisy. Judging the log in our own eye helps us to see more clearly. When we stop celebrating the way evil is getting us to raise our own banner by being impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, proad, rude, self-serving, angry, keeping a record of wrongs and we actually agree with and rejoice in - name with vigor, passion and courage - the truth about how we unlovingly sin against those we love, it seems life is quieter, more tender and airy. I think perhaps my absence from the blogging world (in addition to being too busy) was due to paying attention to the log in my own eye. It takes a lot of attention and energy. I am glad I was able to do that becasue the subsequent quieteness has been glorious.
I think the church would look more beautiful if we started letting judgement begin with the household of God (1 peter 4:17). I also thing we would be more powerful as well.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Doing Justice and Loving Mercy

The following excerpt is part of a book I am trying to write. There is a section where I describe why evil hates marriage. I describe five different reasons why evil specifically makes marriage a target. One reason is that evil hates gender and marriage is a place where a man and a woman are invited to take on the 'inside shapes' of their gender that I am calling justice (masculine) and mercy (feminine).

In addition to attacking the curse, evil hates gender. When it says, “He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them ‘human.’” (Genesis 5:2) and looked over everything he had made and declared that it was, “excellent in every way” (Gen 1:31) can you imagine how the enemy felt about that? A man and a woman, when living as freely and as holy as God called them to, are a unique picture of God’s glory and he revels in this. It is clear that the simplest fruits of the Gospel are justice and mercy. God wants us to love and pay attention to mercy and justice (Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23). In a unique way a husband can embody justice and a wife can embody mercy. A husband who uses his advantages to care for his wife is doing justice. He is refraining from evil. A wife who endures with forgiveness towards her husband is being a glorified picture of the Gospel. She is loving mercy. If God loves mercy and justice and a husband and wife can be unique expressions of mercy and justice than he attacks marriage to diminish this.
Evil therefore wants to destroy any redemptive expression of gender. Dan Allender and Tremper Longman articulate it well, “Let me remind you that we are made in the image of God as male and female. Somehow gender reflects something about God. A man reflects something about God’s character that is different from a woman and vice versa. And God’s enemy, Satan, wishes to destroy glory. The evil one cannot destroy God; therefore he tries to destroy the reflection of God: man and woman. His prime way of attempting to destroy glory is to make it too frightening to be truly a man or a woman and to offer counterfeit routes to live out gender.
Evil harasses us in hope that we will turn away from what a redemptive man or a woman looks like. Take for instance the caricatures of husbands and wives in popular culture. A recent popular sitcom was, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Both Ray and his father were passive. They were clearly afraid of their wives. Deborah and her mother-in-law were controlling. The sitcom portrayed the opposite of a husband who sacrificially and courageously cared for his wife. Ray’s lifelessness over the things that really mattered for his marriage and family was unjust. He never stood up to his mother on Deborah’s behalf. He did not ‘do justice.’ Deborah related to Ray with a subtle contempt that was nowhere near ‘awe-inspired open heartedness.’ Ray, Deborah and Ray’s parents portrayed exactly what evil wants us to aim for: weak, uncaring men and controlling, vacuous women. It was a successful sitcom because it reflected the common experience of couples and families.
I will often say, “I had no idea I wasn't a man until I moved in with a woman.” After my wedding I had all the freedom in the world to be naked with my wife. Physical nakedness in many ways was nothing compared to personal nakedness. To be naked as a husband – to be seen for all I wasn't – ended up being more difficult than I expected. I couldn't see I didn't really care about others until day after day I was confronted with my indifference to Dawn’s needs.
For years I was regularly ‘caring’ for Dawn in such a way that said, “My effort should quiet you. You shouldn't struggle with so much because it will make me look or feel bad. I don’t want to really learn how to care and be patient. I am used to quick fixes.” I was unjustly pressuring her to demonstrate that I was a good man by not having any more needs as a woman. In the flesh men love to ‘fix’ things quickly and move on. A redeemed man is growing into the masculine qualities we see in the Lord who is “tender and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love,” (Psalm 103:8,13). I didn't know how arrogant a man I was until I couldn't run from it any longer. I didn't realize the call to keep treating my wife with understanding was constructed with a continuing action verb. Marriage was designed to help me learn to do justice as a way of life. I wanted to get justice down and move on to wealth, riches and peace. Along the way I realized marriage was opening me up to care about and give myself to others as a way of life, not a causal offering to quiet my wife. Because I couldn't run away from it or get it down quickly I began to care enough in such a way that our relationship became more just. Marriage helped to restore me as a man.
In a corresponding way a wife is given a grand opportunity to ‘love mercy’ by living with a man. Only in the face of ongoing injustice can mercy really take shape. The Biblical meaning of “mercy” is to spare a person of the judgment or harm they deserve and instead return kindness for injury. Mercy is overcoming evil with good. As I have already noted a husband will use his advantages selfishly long before he sees it happening and will continue on doing so to some degree even after he has recognized the need to be different. This leaves a wife with a choice. She can count her husband’s sins against him or she can forgive him. Only as a wife keeps remembering the Lord has forgiven her of far more sin than she can count will she be willing to forgive her husband and stagger into mercy. Just like a husband the wife’s call is an ongoing call. She is to respect her husband or to keep supporting his efforts to bring them together. Real mercy that is both warm and true (not forced or fake), can only be fostered in the soil of endurance. A wife has to keep bumping up to injustice and thus any husband will provide her with regular opportunities to practice and get better. Marriage affords a woman the opportunity to be dressed in Biblical femininity. She can learn to jealously fight for holiness by embracing her husband with warmth in the midst of his failures; standing between him and the accusations of evil that will shame him for whatever ways he does not measure up to perfection.
Marriage is a space specifically designed to help a man and woman take on their inside shapes. I had little comprehension of the way a man can unjustly relate to a woman until I related to my wife over time. Evil wants husbands to unjustly turn away from their wives and not care while he wants women to harbor resentment and hold the law up to their husbands. Thus, through ongoing endurance and submission to God a husband can learn to care enough to do justice and a woman can learn how kindness is what really propels human beings into holiness. Marriage is a unique place to ‘do justice and love mercy’ and for a husband to become a restored man and a woman to become a restored woman.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I have been reading the book Not 'Just Friends' by Shirley Glass about infidelity in marriage. She says, This is what I call the Prevention Myth, which states that a loving partner and a good marriage will prevent affairs. This misconception is not supported by any good research, even though it is commonly cited as fact on television shows and in popular books about how to affair-proof your marriage. Any advice based on this bad assumption and simplification of a complex issue is misleading. The fact is, sometimes as affair can be understood by exploring deficiencies in the marriage, but often it cannot. How hard is that for you to believe? It is hard for me to believe. I don't want to accept that their are people who are in good marriages that begin to succumb to temptation and are carried away. It is even harder to comprehend that they are carried away to such hardness that they become blinded to what is good in their marriage and trample on it through an affair. In some ways, that makes us all vulnerable to sin in a way we want to deny. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:8-9). We are capable of being pulled away from good and even if we have not had an affair their are times we have chosen the foolishness of sin over a larger good - it is just so painful to see this theme played out in something as large as an affair. It is scary to believe that people can go against something as meaningful as a marital covenant and choose a different path with no good reason for their choice. It is frightening to not be able to explain sin. How do we explain Adam and Eve's sin? It wasn't their parent's fault. Powerless and helplessness are very Biblical postures but we don't accept them without a fight. Self-reliance causes us to incessantly and compulsively seek answers to pain and mystery we cannot solve. It is so much harder to anguish, hurt, sorrow, or lament and not explain it away by putting small answers on top of large questions that really don't fit together. There has been a lot of extra noise in my life just because I wanted to explain things I feared instead of letting things I feared work on me in such a way that I was driven to a trust and embrace larger than the mystery and the pain.
The other book I am reading is False Intimacy by Harry Schaumburg. He says, sex addicts create patterns of behavior that allow them to maintain pleasurable states of being rather than admitting that they can't cope with their problems and turning to God and others for help. In short, they arrogantly believe they can solve their problems on their own, that they can nurture themselves, and that fulfillment in life can be self-created. In their hearts, they don't believe that other people, or even God, are interested in responding to the real void within them. Full of self-contempt and rage at the prospect of never having their needs filled by others, sex addicts rely on behaviors that don't require another person's deep involvement. To some real degree he is explaining idolatry. Not only do we feed self-reliance by trying to explain mystery and sin or marginalize people who sin in ways we are afraid of, we also feed self-reliance by not waiting for God and not being open to help from him and others. I cannot even begin to count all the foolish things I have done because I am not willing to wait on God to meet my needs. As I think about it I also can't begin to count all the money I have spent to comfort myself in ways that actually added to the pain instead of diminishing it. My excess food bill alone would be a painful site if I could calculate it. That is one of the reasons I believe things like lamenting and sorrowing are important postures. They are ways to live that help us to wait for God to meet us. So, self-reliance is one of the postures that has made me noisy. Although I still retain much more self-reliance than I can see, I am grateful for changes. Confronting my self-reliance has been a treasure and I see the growth in my trust and rest in God most clearly in my parenting. I am grateful my fathering has not been so deafening. Too loud for sure but not nearly as loud as it could be. For that I am deeply grateful. So, as i think about 'piping down' I pray for more trust and rest in the God I often can't see and more blindness to the lesser gods that haunt me day and night.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Arrogant Accusations

Below you will find a short excerpt from the book I am trying to write on marraige. If it gets published it will be called Common Ground: Disarming Evil on the way to a Marraige of Kindness and Rest. In the book I try to articulate how God calls couples to 'common ground', how evil tries to sabotage common ground and how husband and wives can fight evil to grow common ground. The short (its actually long for a blog) excerpt is from the section where I describe one of the weapons evil throws at husbands and wives to attack common ground.

Arrogant Accusations
The world, the flesh and the devil work together to spawn and nurture deceptive strongholds that spread the work of evil. The two types of strongholds will we examine are arrogant accusations and fleshly grooves. An arrogant accusation is a deceptive notion that grows a wicked energy force full of shame and condemnation that bully people away from God and his truth. This type of stronghold is haughty and accusatory because it is specifically designed to lift evil’s falsehood above God’s wisdom while mocking God’s ways at the same time.
In regards to the way evil attacks marriage he uses arrogant accusations to push the believer away from a biblical view of marriage or the callings of the husband and wife I discussed earlier. For instance, one arrogant accusation might be, “Two people who love each other will not struggle that much.” Thus, if you have any type of regular or ongoing struggle in your marriage you feel a sense of shame and condemnation that you are doing something wrong. At times this can be true (there is a little bit of truth in every accusation the evil one makes) but often time’s ongoing struggle is part of a good marriage. Another arrogant accusation would be, “husbands are only kind to their wives when they want sex.” I have seen this accusation cause many wives to feel ashamed at responding to good kindness from their husband when he wasn’t doing it for sex. I have also worked with men who were genuinely striving to be kinder to their wives and were ashamed if they began to hope that the kindness might lead into sex. Evil was accusing them of being like other men, “Who are only nice to their wives to get sex,” when that wasn’t the case.
Evil plants lies in the world that cleverly twist God’s truth into deception and he entices humans to agree with his deception. As people agree with the misleading notion and act on it they participate in adding strength to the evil force. The force becomes like a hurricane that breeds destruction wherever it lands. These accusations will browbeat husbands and wives and mock their call to follow God and grow redemptive love.
Paul refers to these types of evil assertions when he says, “We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods. We use God’s mighty weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God.” (1 Corinthians 10: 3-5). In referring to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians Clinton Arnold says, “Some of the Corinthians had been duped into believing dangerous and erroneous ideas about Jesus and his gospel. It is against these arguments and ideas that have settled into the minds of some of the Corinthians as “strongholds” that Paul utilizes divine weapons to demolish. His objective is to purify their understanding of Christ. Satan not only struck at the identity of Jesus, but also at understandings of the efficacy of his work and the nature of his relationship with his people. In other words, the devil attempts to convince people that what Jesus did was not enough, nor is he present or powerful enough to help us.”
I want you to recognize with a little more depth how these arrogant accusations impact married couples. Consider the assertion that wives are ‘high maintenance and need to be catered to.’ Evil casts this lie so that men resist the call to use their advantages to sacrifice for their wife. If a wife is ‘high maintenance’ a husband can feel justified in being uninvolved until his wife becomes ‘low maintenance.’ Many wives acquiesce to the accusation of being high maintenance by going overboard in trying to please their husband even if he is being selfish.
This indictment is often easy to dissect in a group of husbands that talk about their wives. Such husbands will mention with subtle contempt how their wives impossibly require so much from them. They’ll talk about how their wives don’t stick to the budget, how they complain too much or how they don’t enjoy sex enough. In the same conversation these men won’t mention that they often buy large dollar items that totally blow the budget or they won’t spend time helping each other consider ways to make their marriages more sexually inviting and refreshing for their wives.
Let’s suggest a group of Christian men are entertaining this accusation and one man in the group is battling with alternating thoughts inside of him. The spirit keeps reminding him of the dignity in every wife and some of the ways his wife has cared and sacrificed for him. He wants to suggest to the group that wives are a mixture of selfishness and unselfishness and that it’s not helpful to spend all their energy focused on how much their wives require of them. Evil enjoys mocking these thoughts in this man’s mind and he uses the ‘life’ in the group to mock him. The group banters back and forth with many examples of how their wives can be self-absorbed. Many of the examples are true but it is the way they are talked about by the husbands that attaches them to evil. In the presence of a group that is celebrating an arrogant accusation the husband with alternating thoughts begins to feel foolish for wanting to fight for what is good in wives. Evil is shaming him back into submission.
In addition to pressure from the outside he feels shame inside. He remembers how often he has jokingly said to his wife, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Sometimes, he has felt like his wife is high maintenance and has even indicated that to her. He has participated with the accusation in his own marriage and he feels shame in the moment for having done that. This too pulls him away from confronting the accusation. The evil one says to him, “How dare you expose these men to what they are doing when you have done the very same thing. You are no better than these men. Shut up and go back to enjoying the little crumbs you feed on. You are not man enough to fight for more.” He actually was going to confront his own sin by bringing it up but the shaming denunciation from evil shuts him down.
The small inkling he feels inside to confront the arrogant accusation that all wives are high maintenance to be a problem to their husbands and to suggest that the mood of the conversation doesn’t seem honoring to wives pales in comparison to the history and life of the accusation he is confronting. He ignores the slight prick in his heart and adds to the ‘life’ in the conversation by throwing in an example about his wife.
Can you recognize how this accusation strikes at the work and ministry of Jesus or “at the efficacy of his work and the nature of his relationship with his people?” Jesus died to restore wives and women to the dignity they were created with. Much of the trouble wives live with can grow out of the injustice they experience in their marriage. Wives must wrestle with selfishness just like husbands and they need help doing it especially from men. Instead of walking hand in hand with evil these men could be talking honestly about the way their wives can be selfish and how Jesus can help them embody the Gospel in grace and truth to help free their wives from bondage. They could also talk about the ways in which they have sinned in words and deeds to diminish the dignity of their wives. If they moved away from celebrating the arrogant accusation and talked candidly about some hard truths, Jesus’ forgiveness and ministry of reconciliation would become more meaningful to them in that moment.
Because Satan is prince of this world and arrogant accusations have such life in them when husbands and wives get together and talk about marriage the topics of conversation will often flow along lines that affirm arrogant accusations and undermine the calling of God as husband and wife. In typically male dominated cultures (for example: sports, construction, the military) you will find women marginalized or degraded by the way they are talked about. Often, in these settings women will be talked about like sexual objects that have nothing meaningful to give to men other than their bodies (they are celebrating the accusation that men just want women for sex). In another way it is common for a group of men to talk about their pressures at work in such a way that they feel justified or compelled to over extend themselves in their job. Because Satan is prince of this world there are many arrogant accusations that mock the call for husbands to grow tenderness, compassion, strength or endurance to care for their wives as a way of life. In the majority of groups a husband is a part of the cultural atmosphere will push him away from what God calls him to as a husband.
In addition, you often won’t find a group of wives talking in such a way that they are honoring the call of God in their lives. Where do you find groups of women that talk honestly about how controlling or condescending they can be towards their husbands? On the other hand, how many groups of women are talking about the anquish they feel for not being able to recognize and support the good going inside their husbands? A good topic for a prayer group of wives would be, “Asking God to help us learn to endure ongoing relational pain while celebrating little changes in our husbands that are reflective of God’s work in their life.” I can’t image an explosion of these types of groups in our churches. Such a group of humble wives could help each other recognize good in their husbands and pray together that God would protect and nurture that growth.
On the other hand, how often do you hear women sharing tidbits on fashion, work out routines, or diets? I already mentioned the way they way evil uses this area and he casts arrogant accusations at wives that they must look a certain way for their husbands to really pursue them. A ‘beautiful woman’ in our culture is physically emaciated and personally empty. I can’t imagine how stressed and unhealthy the eating habits are of any wife who is trying to live up to the popular image of physical beauty held up in our culture. The physical beauty portrayed in popular culture is supported by huge amounts of energy and money. True beauty is inner and any woman who wants to grow it must direct her energy and resources to walk with God and wrestle with evil as she grows inside beauty and rest. When women try to make outward beauty the way to life they are side-stepping the faith and endurance needed to walk with God. As we celebrate and support the images of beauty paraded around in popular culture we are helping energize a system that wears women down and opposes the purposes of God. A wife who can name, celebrate and fight for the work of Jesus in her husband will be far more attractive than one who is owned by the way she looks. There are so many arrogant accusations that are celebrated and affirmed that undermine God’s purposes that every husband and wife is encountering a major conflict just to hear and respond to their callings from God.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Job 13:15
Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face. (English Standard Version)
God might kill me, but I have no other hope. I am going to argue my case with him. (New Living Translation)

Today as I was talking with a friend they pointed out how often the first part of the above verse is quoted as a rallying cry for accepting the difficulty God allows in our life with a stiff upper lip. When people have quoted the first part of the verse (Though he slay me, I will hope in him) without the second they seem to be saying, “My confidence in God is rock solid and no matter what He has or lets unfold in my life I will firmly keep hoping in him.” In such a way that verse is often used as a way to condemn questions, laments or struggling with God. The same friend who mentioned the verse expressed great anguish that the second part of the verse is left off by most people who quote it (Yet, I will argue my ways to his face). When you read the whole verse in the NLT is seems Job is saying, "Because I am going to argue my case with God I am afraid he might kill me but I have no were else to go so I am bringing my case to him." The rest of Job would affirm this reading.* It is amazing to think that by simply not quoting the whole verse people have used it to mean the exact opposite of what it means in context.

When you read Job narratively you will notice that the tension between Job and his friends exists because Job is telling them, "I have no where else to go so I am bringing my case to God and I will have no rest until he answers me." Job's focus is vertical (this is about God and me) while his friends focus is horizontal (this is about you and what you have done wrong). When God finally answers Job I don't take this as God shaming Job for his questions. What I hear God saying to Job is, "Job I affirm your integrity for making this about me because I am sovereign and you were going to the right place. And you where also right to say you would have no rest until I touched you so here I am. I have come with strength to touch you so stand up and prepare yourself for the ANSWER to your question. God then proceeds to give more of himself to Job. Phillip Yancey says, "We go to God looking for answers when he wants to give us more of himself." Job's 'answer' was more of God which to Job was a stronger more transcendent taste of the sovereignty and awesomeness of God. When someone goes through what Job did (unexplainable suffering) their world is more than rocked. The ground beneath them feels like shifting sand. When we answer their questions with platitudes we pour more sand under their feet. However, when we help them ask better and maybe even harder questions and wait with them for God to show up (however long that make take or however slowly that may unfold) then we are helping to facilitate a foundation under their feet that nobody can take away. God answered Job's integrity filled questions with an answer that was hard to forget. No shifting sand there. Although whatever I have suffered in this life is infinitely smaller than an ounce of what Job suffered, I understand the theme. Good questions, hard questions, passionate questions and a little bit of patience can often be a good part of helping us 'pipe down'. I have to imagine Job lived a little bit quieter the rest of his life.

Before I leave the story of Job I do have to say my favorite part of the narrative is when the Lord says to Job's friend Eliphaz, "I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” (vv 42:7-8) Those guys thought they were defending God and in the upside down world of the Gospel the Lord turns their words on them. I think Job was probably so quieted inside that he didn't find so much satisfaction in their humility but I have to think he was struck by the irony of it.

*(As a side note the New Living Translation is a context sensitive translation which means they interpreters are trying to convey the meaning of the words, whereas the English Standard Version is a word sensitive translation which means they are trying to accurately translate each word which at times means you might loose some of the meaning. Good Bible study involves using both types of translations)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gordon C. German

As I continue to think on the things that have helped me to become quieter in my life my maternal grandfather Gordon C. German, who I was named after, comes to mind. He lived two towns (about 3 miles) away from me the whole time I was growing up. Grandparents in general ought to be a picture of grace in our lives but my grandfather was much more than that. I think parents should raise children and grandparents ought to enjoy grandchildren. Parents raise, grandparents enjoy. I certainly felt enjoyed by grandparents. I can remember how they always had candy (Charms and Peppermints) in the bottom right corner drawer of their hutch or when I slept over their house they would have little cereals for breakfast that I could choose from. They provided little kindnesses that mattered. There were numerous things my grandfather did that impacted me but I think most of all it was his posture towards me and his other grand children that made such a difference. He was selflessly involved in our lives. He was very attentive to our needs and development. Not in an, “I am responsible for your well-being sort of way,” but instead it was more like, “if I can sacrifice some to help you then I will do it. I enjoy being a part of your life.” He communicated both the kindness of God and the attentiveness of God that said to me I mattered, and I mattered to him. I remember one time he took me out to get sneakers and he wanted me to get ‘PF Flyers’ and I wanted the more expensive Nike or Converse (I can’t remember which ones). He said to me, “You don’t have to have the best sneakers to be a good athlete.” In my my prideful adolescent mind I thought, “You don’t have any idea what you are talking about.” I didn’t think my grandfather knew anything about sports because he never talked about himself. At the time I didn’t know he was a good athlete and that he played football for Rutgers or that his nickname was ‘Zip German.’ I didn't find that out until after he died. Although I wish I had heard more about his past while he was alive, what strikes me now was how he little he felt he had to impress me or make our relationship about him. His posture said, “Your life matters and not mine so much. I want to sacrifice so you find your way.” My first job was cutting his lawn and a neighbor’s lawn across the street when I was 13. I inherited the job from my cousin. I eventually grew the little business into about six lawns. He had me open a savings account so I could put money away. He got me little receipts and I started writing monthly invoices to my ‘clients.’ He took an active interest in making the little job about more. I also remember him working with me on my ‘Pinewood Derby’ car. We spent weeks on that little car and he took time to teach me little things along the way. He was so disappointed we didn’t win the race. We did however get 2nd or 3rd place for design. There were other things he did that struck me but again it was his posture. He was a humble man. I remember one time in high school he called me to come help him move some boxes. From the way he asked it seemed like there was a bunch of boxes. When I got to his house there where two little boxes he might have been able to move himself. When I was done he asked me if I wanted to stay for lunch which of course I did but I remember being taken back at the time that he just wanted to spend time with me. In this fallen world grandparents can be a great kindness. My grandfather was a caring and thoughtful man who at times mirrored a love much bigger than himself. When I think of my formative years and the people, events or things that helped my soul to find rest I remember my grandfather.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The 'Jersey Shore'

Prior to my conversion in college the way I most clearly heard God speak to me was to listen to how he revealed himself through his creation. This is called 'general revelation.' They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God, (Romans 1:19-20). I grew up on the 'Jersey shore' and our house was less than a mile from the Atlantic ocean. In the denomination I was raised we weren't encouraged to read the Bible devotionally but its themes and words were made familiar to me. And we were encouraged to pray. Whenever, I was nervous or felt a need to pray I wanted to go down to the beach. Some of the most profound times in my youth were spent walking or running along the beach. It was clearly the way I experienced God most intimately. Through the beauty and vastness of the ocean I experienced both Gods immanence and his transcendence. He felt near and he felt big. It helped me soften to Him. I couldn't recount the amount of times I spent near the ocean being 'touched' by God. In fact, I have always said my one prayer about wherever I settled long range was that, "I just want it to be a port city." Oh well, despite the absence of a large body of water Birmingham has some other things to offer. I remember coming home for summer break after my first year of college. The first thing I did when I got home after visiting with my family was grab my 'Walkman' (it was even a Sony) and head to the beach for an evening stroll. Once I got there and began to walk I started to weep profusely. I couldn't stop. I didn't even know at the time why I was overcome with emotion. Sixteen years later as part of a doctoral class I had to write a paper on how nature how has enhanced my spirituality. It was then that I began to reflect on my connection to the Ocean. It was then that I realized my tears sixteen years earlier where gratefulness. I came to a full understanding of Christian conversion and developed a real relationship with Jesus my freshman year in college. I came to KNOW Him. Thus, my tears at the end of my freshman year as I walked along the Ocean where tears of gratefulness that God has used his creation to speak and comfort me all the years I didn't really know him personally. I awakened to how God had pursued me and cared for me till I knew him personally. They were tears of gratitude for God's kindness in planting me less than a mile from the Jersey Shore. When I think of the things that have helped me to grow quietness and faith and rest I immediately think of the Ocean. Manasquan Beach along the Jersey shore for me is Sacred space.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Being Nourished in Joy

I will take a momentary break from my thoughts regarding the things that have helped me to listen better and hear the Lord to paraphrase some thoughts from the newsletter that will go out this week. To read the newsletter go to

I thought for those that read the newsletter the blog can be a chance to respond to its contents. If you don't want to read the whole newsletter the bigger points are summarized below:

Our Memories Must Be Redeemed so that We Hold Onto Joy
Our memories tell a story. They serve a purpose. In our flesh, our memories will tell stories that detach us from God and mock his caring involvement in our life. There are two commands we find repeated throughout the scriptures: remember and rejoice. Our fleshly tendency can be to forget and despair. The fathering memories I was holding on to told the story of an absent God and a mean father. I talked and obsessed more about my parenting mistakes and had a harder time celebrating the recollections that would bring me hope. When we are genuinely remembering our experiences in truth (the good and bad mixed together but orchestrated towards hope) they tell the story of God’s kindness and redemption. We must pray that our memory is redeemed.

It Helps to See Everyday Kindnesses as Gifts From God to Sustain Us
Forgetful joy is an experience of delight that comes from partaking in reminders of home (heaven). This helps us to disregard our present reality as aliens and foreigners living in a strange land ruled by the accuser. Forgetful joy evolves from the simple pleasures God provides to help push away the weight of this fallen world. Forgetful joy can happen to us each day. It can be a good night’s sleep, a cup of coffee in the morning, a relaxing lunch, a good book or a humorous exchange with a friend. Forgetful joy is attached to the sensual pleasures God gives us each day. “Naming” this type of joy means we accept that it comes from the Lord’s hand and we turn away from our tendency to make it an idol. Every good thing comes to us as a gift from God (James 1:17) and the more we grow in ‘God-consciousness’ the more we name every gift as a kindness from God that leads us into joy.

He also Gives Deeper Gifts to Remind Us He Has not Forgotten Us
In addition to forgetful joy, we can experience connected joy. Connected joy is deep contentment from experiencing an intimate touch from the Lord that reminds us He has not forgotten us and that we will one day see him face to face. “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever,” (Psalm 16:11). In connected joy we experience a fresh or new taste of God personally and it penetrates deeper than bodily gratification. For instance, a kind call from a friend will touch us differently than a warm bath. They both bring us pleasure and can help us be thankful for God but the phone call, because of its relational dynamic, can go deeper. In fact, as the person making the call knows us more intimately and incarnates the Gospel more freely, the joy will infiltrate deeper and bring us closer to the Lord.

'Celebrating' both types of Joy Helps them Penetrate Deeper
The scriptures clearly remind us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). One of the best ways to honor God’s kindness is to share it with friends. If we are to become people of strength and hope one of the avenues there is learning to celebrate well. You might simply tell your friend about the new brand of coffee you are enjoying in the morning or you might sit weeping at their side describing a profound moment of God’s kindness. Either way, by sharing together in these moments, we are saying and re-saying the Lord cares about us and has not forgotten us. As we recount these moments we are crystallizing their impact and working God’s kindness into deeper recesses in our heart.

My hope is that we all keep moving towards one of my favorite expressions of the Apostle Paul who said, "I am sorrowful yet always rejoicing," ( 2 Corinthians 6:10)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Scriptures

As I attempt to articulate the ways the Lord has helped me become quieter and pay attention to Him an obvious place to turn would be to the Scriptures. I was not raised in a tradition where you did a 'quiet time' or where reading the Bible on your own was reinforced. Church was kind of your main staple in the spiritual diet. However, on my own (well I think the Holy Spirit had something to do with it) I decided to read through the Bible when I was 14. I mostly remember being intrigued by the OT narratives and convicted by the NT epistles. All in all, my first foray into the Scriptures piqued my curiosity and opened me up to the largeness and reality of God but it did not seem to have much impact on my day to day life. About 4-5 years later when I became part of a college fellowship I began to read the Bible daily. It was there that I discovered the term 'quite time' and began a practice of daily Bible reading. The sadness for me as I look back on that time and the years that followed, is that I think too much of my Bible reading during those years exacerbated the noise in my heart. I went to the Bible then to feel better or to justify myself. It was as if I wanted to pilfer from the Scriptures what I needed instead of humbly asking the Bible to read me and letting the words expose to me what I needed while I searched deeper or to waited for the Lord to reveal more. At that point, my reading often affirmed what my flesh wanted the Bible to mean. Yet, I sensed in some meaningful ways that there was an Author behind the words calling me to rest. The time I spent in the Scriptures the first decade did help me to begin softening but it did not significantly alter my inner constitution. Slowly it did help me to realize there was more I needed to see and taste. The most helpful thing I did those ten years in terms of involvement with Scripture was to memorize some large portions of Scripture. Since the verses were lodged inside me they came to me at times when I was more open to listen and provided me with rest. It was as if, the Scriptures meant more to me when I was open and willing to listen, and less when I was trying to make them 'speak.'

In the summer of 1992 I took a hermeneutics class. What I heard that professor teach was,"In general we do with the Bible what we do with God. We try to use Him. We try to make Him work for us. He helped me see I treated the Bible the way I treated God. Through that course I saw the way men and women all through history have stood 'above' the Scriptures judging the words, and stealing from them what they needed to justify and comfort themselves. In most cases it wasn't Biblical justification or comfort. As my pride and control was exposed in the way I approached the Scriptures I began to recognize how I needed to approach the Scriptures from below and let the Bible read me. I needed to listen to its analysis of my condition and hear the words it was speaking, whether that was comfort or disruption. As the depth of my flesh was exposed in the way I approached the Bible I went from a daily Bible reader to reading less frequently. However, when I read it felt like I was encountering more than just words on a page. I felt as if I was being encountered. After that hermeneutics class and many experiences that followed the next year the Scriptures began to speak to me in a variety of ways. After reading the Bible I didn't have to leave 'feeling better' (or might I say pretending I felt better). Because I was more open to a variety of responses I left feeling comforted, exposed, confused, mad, touched, moved, etc., depending on the situation. Slowly my time reading the Scriptures looked more and more like my other relationships - bigger than something I could manage or control. As I look back on my first decade as a Christian I wish instead of just hearing I needed to be in the word and do a regular quiet time I wish there were those who exposed my need to really hear the word. I wish someone had incarnated The Word and said, "Gordon I don't trust all your Bible reading. As I have walked with you it seems to me that those words are not speaking to you the way they could." Instead of a propensity to offer comfort, I wish there had been those who more patiently, wisely and willingly discomforted me so that the Scriptures started meaning more to me sooner in my life. What I can't ignore at this point in my life is how meaningful those words seem to me now. I also can't separate the first decade of my Christian life from today. It is very possible (most likely probable) that no matter what I did those first ten years I wasn't going to really hear what those words meant as much as I would over time. So, I am grateful for some of the foundation I laid those first ten years that supported much of the undoing the next ten years. I look forward to growing in the rest and quietness those words speak to my heart.