Monday, December 30, 2013

Relationships to Avoid in 2014

by Tom Brown

The thought occurred to me that there are two kinds of players in a relationship. Either one is a life-giver or a life-taker. Nature uses the terms symbiotic and parasitic to picture these two players.  

The effect of a parasite is well known. A parasite selfishly feeds on its host and gives nothing in return. Some parasites have such an insatiable appetite that it sucks life until only a dead carcass remains. Kind of a morbid thought, isn’t it?

Parasites are common in relationships. Some are not fatally dangerous. They merely nag at a relationship stealing its dynamic vitality. Relataional parasites come in many selfish forms—little manipulations that move things my way, being overtly sullen when things don’t go my way, being overbearing so it all goes my way, being passive in the exercise of my responsibilities, or taking responsibility that belongs to another. The list is huge. We all mimic this kind of drain, from time to time but the healthy person is willing to face himself or herself and grow out of those nagging expressions of selfishness. That is a mark of maturity. Those who are willing to listen to others, face themselves, and grow from his or her weaknesses, bear the mark of relational competence.

But then there are the terminal parasites. They are not relationally competent. They insidiously hide under the guise of love, subversively confusing their host, all the while working decay unto death. They are stealthy deceivers, even to themselves. Who are they? They are the overly needy and obsessive controllers.

Have you ever tried to ‘make work’ a relationship with a controlling person? Have you ever tried to love someone consumed with his or her own needs? If you have, then you know what I mean. If you have not, then you only need to pick up a news paper and read about the latest case of domestic violence or turn on the television and watch an episode of “CSI” or “Law and Order” to get an idea of the overbearing controller or the self-absorbed needy at their worse.

For several years my wife and I have had contact with high school and college students. Relational matters are the most common challenges among students. A familiar scenario often goes something like this:

     I’m having trouble with a relationship.
     What kind of trouble?

     It’s my boyfriend … He tells me that he needs me and can’t live without me. I want to be there for him but I can’t seem to please him, no matter what I do. He gets really upset if I am not available to him. Sometimes he gets so mad that he hits me.
     Why do you stay with him?

     I don’t know. I just do. He says he cares for me. I know I am the problem. I provoke him to anger.
     You are the problem? Why is that?

     I don’t give him the attention he needs. He doesn’t like any of my friends. He says they are a bad influence on me. He gets upset if I don’t dress the way he likes. He calls me constantly. He tells me that he does these things because he loves me.
     "He loves you,” you say? I don’t think so. He loves himself. He is not capable of loving anyone. He is self-absorbed.     What should I do? I am afraid to leave him. He told me that he would harm himself if I left him.

The dialogue is a bit embellished, but not unusual. This is where my advice becomes direct. I call it my “dump” policy. It goes like this. If you are in a relationship with a needy person, get out. If you are in a relationship with a controlling person, get out. Don’t try to fix the person, just get out. And then stay away. Better yet, don’t get involved in the first place. Now, so you don’t think I am totally insensitive, let me explain.

When need or control consumes an individual, that individual can’t love for love looks out for the interest of the other first. Such an individual can only see his or her own desires. Others become the means to meeting those desires. You may have experienced one of these two players. Both are takers and both are consumed for their own self-gratification. At the root is morbid insecurity and an insatiable appetite for self-gratification. The most loving thing one can do is let the relationship go. I am assuming that the relationship is not a marriage for that would require a different response than the one I am giving. But prior to marriage, letting the other go is the right move. Why? Because his or her need can’t be met by you or any person; the first principle to learn for a healthy relationship is that others are not the solution to our problems.

There is a solution, but it is not others—only if I were married, that would solve all my problem; only if we had children, that would solve all my problem, only if, only if, only if… No, something else is your solution. But that something else begins with the awareness that we will choke the life out of a relationship if we impose upon another the responsibility of being the solution to our problems. I will expand on the principle.  

Notice in stating the principle that I changed pronouns from the ‘third person’ to the ‘first person’. Rather than thinking, first, about ‘those’ needy and controlling people, we first need to embrace the principle personally. Thus the principle needs to  be personally embraced: Others are not the solution to my problems. To personally embrace this principle will grant freedom in two ways. First, it will mentally release you from the bondage of dependency upon another. Second, it releases the other from the bondage of having to measure up to your expectations. In other words, it puts you in charge, rather than another. Two scenarios may help illustrate the helpfulness of this principle.

Imagine being in a relationship with someone who looks to you as the solution to their problem; the other believing that marriage will solve all their insecurities and bring the happiness they have longed for. When you meet their need, the other is happy, but when you don’t, the other falls into a state of depressed disappointment. How would that relationship make you feel? Pressured? You might not measure up. Controlled? You might slip up. And add to that, periods of pouting, silent withdrawal, outbursts of anger, manipulative behavior, and the like. What would be the atmosphere surrounding that relationship?  

Or, imagine being in a relationship with a person who lives with possessive insecurity and clingy neediness. The person smothers you, clings to you and lives in constant need of your affirmation. He or she dotes on you and gravels to your every whim. At first all the attention seems flattering. But what happens to such a relationship in time?

There is a natural tendency of human nature. I remember it being described in the statement: “We crave what we can’t have; and disrespect what we can’t get out of.” You know how that works in the dating scene. Girls play hard to get and guys show indifference. Why? Because they know this natural tendency in humanity.

In a more mature response to this tendency, principled integrity, self-respect, courageous action, outward generosity, and selective accountability work to create and keep an attractive person. These qualities need to be guarded and cultivated in all relationship, through all of life.

Consider and embrace the commitment: Others are not the solution to my problem. Free others by giving them room to fail without fear of reprisal. Free yourself from the bondage of dependency on another for your happiness. That place is found in the virtues of principled integrity, self-respect, courageous action, outward generosity, and selective accountability. These are the inner character qualities that, by God’s design, give a sense of well-being and make for an attractive person.

Wisdom workouts:

Considering the principle: Others are not the solution to my problem, can you think of one way you have been given to the negative side of the statement? How did it affect the relationship? Consider the same questions from the positive side of the statement.

Considering the natural tendency that, “we crave what we can’t have; and disrespect what we can’t get out of,” can you think of at least two ways—one positive and one negative—on how that statement has evidenced itself in your past relationships?   

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What will you do with the time given to you?

In the classic work by JR Tolken, The Lord of the Rings, Tolken gives meaning and significance to a common ordinary hobbit of a special calling. In a dialogue between Fredo, the ordinary hobbit, and Gandalf, the wise, Tolken touches on a truth that has long been advanced since the ancient song of Moses: “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Frodo : I wish the ring never came to me.
Gandalf: So do all who have carried its burden, but that is not for us to decide. All there is to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you?
What will you do with the time given to you? Perhaps the following exercise will help you redeem the “time” held in the hands of God. Let’s ask some questions…
Where have I been in the year preceding me?

• What special friendships were made (Psalm 119:63)?
• What books did I and my family read (Proverbs 1:1-7, 8; 2:1-22)?
• What Scriptures did my family memorize (Psalm 1:2-3; 19:7-14; 119:1-11)?

How did I fair under the varied seasons of life?

• What loved ones passed on (Psalm 90:1-17; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11; 7:1-2)?
• What were the great personal, ministry, national tragedies and losses of the year? How does the true knowledge of God help me through these (Psalm 23:1-6; 46:1-11; 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11; Isaiah 40:12-31)?

• What were the great personal, ministry and national blessings of the year (Psalm 37:1-40; 103:1-22)? Did I give thanks?
• What were my most significant failures, even sins, for the year behind me (Psalm 36:1-12; 51:1-19)?
• What commitments have I made to overcome sin in 2012 (Psalm 1:1-6; Psalm 119:1-11)? Is there a slavery I need to be free from?
• What significant spiritual and practical victories did I experience (Psalm 42:1-11; 43:1-5)? And will I capture this moment and reproduce it?
• In what tangible ways did I communicate gratitude to those who have blessed me and invested in my life (Psalm 105:1-45; Isaiah 52:7)?

Am I honoring well the shoulders I ride; those mentors who walk before me?

Whatever happened to the man or woman who first opened to you the words of life from the Scripture? Where is the comrade, coach, or instructor who believed in you and helped you to accomplish a great goal? What about the Bible teacher whose careful handling of the Word opened up new vistas of understanding? Where is the friend who stood with you through thick and thin?

In review of the year past, make a list of two types of people: The first list is the names of people whose life, ministry or personal investment in you have deeply touched you and changed your life—go beyond the year if you like. The second list should include those people who played the most significant role in your life.

Write a brief, meaningful letter to each of them. Be specific in your gratitude. Explain what they did for you and why it was important to you. Show them how they were God’s instrument of blessing in your own life. And pray over each letter realizing that you are a debtor to them for their investment in your life.

Have I completely and fully forgiven those who harmed me?

Fresh starts should begin with forgiveness for others. Having a genuine spirit of forgiveness towards those who have wronged us is a mark of biblical Christianity: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Successful Christians are men and women who are free from bitterness. They have learned the principle modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ who, while suffering death at the hands of people he had never wronged, was able to say “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).

The first thing you will likely realize is just how many offenses are polluting your thought life and, probably, your spirit. This is a sign of latent bitterness. Bitterness will kill you. It renders you completely ineffective.

Have I considered Him?

As you look to a new day, adopt a new spirit of forgiveness towards your insensitive friends as well as your hateful enemies. Psalm 37:1-11 will help you. Forgive your imperfect father and mother for whatever it is you need to forgive them for, and pray to the Lord that your own children someday will forgive you for your failures. Quit devoting untold precious hours to commiseration, mental replay of the wrongs done, and thoughts about just how badly you were wronged. Stop blaming everybody but you for your problems—if others are our problem, we are slaves; if we are our problem, we are free; for freedom is the power to act to our best end, to our best interest, to our best glory of God and good of another (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Will I miss this moment?

The opportunity to remember and to say “thank you” may never come again. Trust the Lord. He is in charge: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all y our ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Lifestyle Prepared for People

We tend to order our world in a way that fits our comforts—a couple buys a boat, joins a country club, and remodels a room as an entertainment center. Such choices tell something about the way a couple desires to live life. Another couple chooses to redesign the outdoor patio with a larger table capacity, buy a larger freezer to keep prepared meals on hand, and remodel and furnish a guestroom with a private bath. Such choices also tell something about the way a couple desires to live life. This later couple is arranging their life for people. Here are some prosperous thoughts for all, but especially for the couple starting out.

Make your home an inviting place with more than a rubber mat at the front door that says, Welcome. Ask yourself, is my home a place of refuge where the broken can find a warm embrace and a glad reception? Share your family. The benefits will come back tenfold in the sense of the proverb that reads, The generous soul will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered (Proverbs 11:25). Your immediate family will remember the laughter and intimate times with friends. These are investments that will surely yield their profits.

The home is a natural place to show true Christianity to the world in your reach. But there is a home to prepare before the house we live in. That is, my heart, Christ’s home. Paul tells of the furnishings of such a home of heart:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:9-21).

A prepared heart and a prepared home are the good environments that will surely make for a glad life.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Widen Your Tent

As I look back on more than a quarter century of being married with family, I often think about profitable investments that could have been. I am not thinking of Google or Yahoo, but something greater—good relationships that stretch wide and far bringing stability and joy to those we love most. The Greek philosopher Euripides wrote long ago, “It is a good thing to be rich, it is a good thing to be strong, but it is a better thing to be beloved of many friends.”A good quality of life is not found in the measure of ones net-worth, but in the measure of ones love-worth. I pray that your home would be peppered with people, rather than your investments popping with profit. Here is the better investment for the young and ambitious: Enlarge the place of your tent.I borrowed that phrase from Isaiah who spoke to Israel during the time of her youthful smallness. Isaiah instructed Israel to prepare her present home for a future grace; to expand her foundations for a future fullness. Thus Isaiah wrote, “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities” (Isaiah 54:2-3). Isaiah was a wise forecaster, preparing Israel in the delight of future profit. You too must take Isaiah’s words to heart. I have something to say about that.I am thinking about a series of posts. I started to complete this post by giving you five indispensable ‘widening’ strategies you can’t afford to neglect. But, as I started to develop each, I realized that I was writing on not one, but five individual posts. So, lest I labor you with more material than you want in one sitting, I will give them to you a bite at a time. This is the sum of them all:

Prepare your lifestyle for people
Prepare your heart for giving
Prepare your mind for loyalty
Prepare your environment with discretion
Prepare your home for hospitality

So, this is where we will go in the weeks to come. You will just need to remember the theme and developing support in these five.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Joy of the Journey

Couples are surprised when I introduce a common approach to Bible study as a foundational part of their premarital instruction. Some have initially thought, “We need to learn how to communicate meaningfully together, not have a course on Bible study methods.” I understand that. But two won’t communicate meaningfully for long if they don’t have a common standard by which to communicate. We all need some sort of law to govern our thoughts and inform our conscience. That is basic to any community. The better thought here, however, is not about ‘law’ or ‘no law’, but what law will satisfy the longing of the human heart? The Christian has come to the settled conclusion, having tasted the goodness of God, that God alone holds the Christian's best interest at His heart. And God meets the Christian in His goodness at the place of His law.

The psalmist exalts the goodness of God’s law—Psalm 19 declares its glory from the heart of one who experiences its delight; Psalm 37 carves out its victorious pathway for the believer living in a world filled with evildoers and wrongdoers; and Psalm 1 tells of the happiness that belongs to the man whose mind is given to keeping God's law as the Prophet wrote, “Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusts in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

Psalm 1 is the place to begin. Before praise, and before preservation, there must be presence. Psalm 1 is the presence of mind that results in both praise and preservation—knowledge always goes before experience. It is from knowledge that good experience flows in its fullness.

The theme of Psalm 1 can be stated as, The Mind of the Happy Man. That theme is expressed in the first line, “Happy is the man who…” The author is exuberant about his theme. The Hebrew expresses it by the use of a plural intensity, “Happiness is the man who…” We can approximate the sense of the author's message in this way: “O how happy is the man … for in the law of the Lord he takes his delight!” The way of the happy man is fully described in verses 1-3. Verses 4 and 5 take the contrasting side in an antithetical parallel thought, “O how miserable will be the man who…” And verse 6 sums up the entire psalm in one contrasting parallel thought. H.C. Leopold translated the psalm from the original Hebrew in this way:

The Way of the Happy Man 1-3
O happy is the person who has not shaped his conduct
after the principles of the ungodly,
Nor taken his stand in the way of the sinners,
Nor taken his seat in the assembly of scoffers!
But it is in the law of the Lord that he takes his delight;
And on His law he keeps pondering day and night.
And he will be like a tree planted by the side of streams of water,
That yields its fruit in its season;
Its leaves also do not wither;
And whatsoever he undertakes, succeeds.

The End of the Miserable Man 4-5
Such is not the case with the ungodly,
But they are like the chaff which the wind scatters.
On this account the ungodly shall not be able
to maintain themselves when the judgment comes.
Nor sinners, in the congregation of the righteous.

The Sum of it All 6
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous;
But the way of the ungodly is headed toward destruction.

It is an age old theme of the law: the way of life or death, the way of blessing or cursing, the way of joy or sadness. Moses spoke of it often to Israel in the law, the Book of Deuteronomy. And Paul summed up the entire psalm in the New Testament verse, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). So, happiness has to do with the location of the mind—a tidy mind. “…in the law of the Lord he takes delight.”

At this point we need to ask the question, do I believe the message of the psalmist? There is a simple test that answers that question. If I say that I do, than my experience of mind should show a diminishing attraction to the lure of sin’s deceitful promise of happiness, in exchange for the all satisfying promise of happiness in obedience to God’s will. Pastor John Piper, in his book "Future Grace," wrote it this way:

Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. No one sins out of duty. We sin because it holds out some promise of happiness. That promise enslaves us until we believe that God is more to be desired than life itself (Psalm 63:3). Which means that the power of sin’s promise is broken by the power of God’s. All that God promises to be for us in Jesus stands over against what sin promises to be for us without him.

Someone may be thinking, what does the psalmist mean by law? Surely the psalmist is not thinking of merely the 10 Commandments that imposes moral obligation that exposes sin. No, it is the broader law of the entire Word of God; the same law that David sung about in Psalm 19:7-14 and Paul wrote about in Romans 13:8-10. We can properly think of the entire revelation of God, in its teaching, in both Old and New Testament, as the sum of God’s law.

How can this all satisfying law serve communication? By learning and telling? That's right. But there is yet a more powerful way. By showing in our lives that the law is sweet and satisfying; by showing that the joy of the Lord is strength within our experience; by showing that knowing Christ is the delight that surpasses all the sufferings of this present world.

How can this Psalm serve the family? Or, said in another way, how can one influence another in the keeping of this Psalm? The answer is not about a mere understanding and teaching, but rather, as said above, the living of it. By living, I am not thinking about dogged obedience or stoic observance. I am thinking of living the law in such a way that we show its sweetness, joy and satisfaction to life; that in living the law there is a satisfaction to life that far exceeds the passing pleasures of sin. Tedd Tripp, author of a very helpful book, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” offers a simple but revolutionary insight to our question. Tedd spoke of the fact that we can’t make our children Christians, for that is a work of God’s grace—we present the gospel, God gives life in the gospel. Tedd, however, went on to say further that there is something excellent that we can do. We can show that the gospel is wholesome and satisfying to the embrace; that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just the way of salvation from sin, but the way of life for delight—the joy of the journey.

Wisdom Workouts:

  • My challenge to you is to buy a book, but not just any book; one that is time-tested, well received and proven in the lives of many. Take the challenge to read, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by author, Tedd Tripp (Spanish version at this link; click on link above for English version). Although the book relates to parenting, the principles are broad and applicable to all relationships. It will give you wisdom and insight into the beauty of God’s law, and practicality of approach to communicating the delight in God’s law. It is a book worthy of a thoughtful read in 2008. You won’t be disappointed.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Disciplines of a Tidy Mind

It has been a while since I posted a blog—September 17th to be exact. The ‘urgent’ possessed me and pressed me away. Well, I would like to resume my regular posts, but with one modification. My commitment to a weekly post may be a bit more than what this season of my life will allow. So, I will alter that commitment to a monthly post. I will aim for the first day of every month.

I taught the book of Psalms in the 2007 fall semester for the Cleveland extension of Moody Bible Institute—I was personally instructed and pointedly convicted, more than my students I’m sure. I was made aware of the ‘lost ground’ of sensible thinking that slipped away in my life over time. As the proverbial frog who would naturally leap from a pot of boiling water, yet would calmly boil himself to death in the same pot if the temperature were increased a mere degree at a time, so seems to be the way of sensible thinking. That "urgent" is not good when it overtakes balance.

I was struck anew with the immediate and regular discipline of a tidy mind. The Bible teaches us that the mind is the gateway to the soul and the battle ground in the fight for joy. You may want to look at such passages as: 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Ephesians 4:17-24 and Philippians 4:4-9. The psalmist sings often of this wisdom. The first psalm sets forward a broad pattern of that wisdom, and so many psalms of the entire, one hundred and fifty, sing of its practicality. Hear his wisdom:

How blessed is the man who does not walk
in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

I remember my professor, long ago, in the Theology of the Holy Spirit class, releasing us with a last word. He said, “The only guarantee that you will walk with Christ tomorrow, is if you are walking with Christ today; no amount of knowledge, time in maturity or position of leadership will keep you—keeping is a moment by moment, step by step walk in the Spirit.” I don’t remember much else he taught, but his last word was worth the class. He is right.

So, my theme, “Marriage in the Making,” is the same, but with the wisdom of the Psalms as my material for a while. And Psalm 1 will set the pattern on January 1.

Have a wonderful Christmas season!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Marriage the goal? Love the goal? What?

It's not unusual for a couple to find a bit of hesitancy in their hearts as they approach their wedding day. After all, marriage is just the most important decision a couple will ever make in life! But when that hesitancy becomes overwhelming, it may be wise to step back and consider the readiness of the relationship for marriage.

But that is asking a lot. It takes an unusually mature couple to do that. Most couples would see such a consideration as a step toward relational break-up. So, rather than face the issues, they suppress them and plow through the wedding day. But what often follows is a very rough go at their early years of marriage; a rough go that may have been avoided had they thought bigger than the wedding day.

Courtship is like baking a cake. There is a proper amount of time in which the cake must bake. And, there is a proper time to take the cake out of the oven. If you hurry the process, what do you have? You have a flat cake! But if you go with the process, you get a plump and sweet cake ready for a wedding. Love must be the goal, not marriage. What’s the difference?

Love is a life-long pursuit. Marriage is merely something to collect along the way in that pursuit. When love is the pursuit, a couple is more concerned for the growing health of a relationship over a lifetime. But when marriage is the pursuit, only the wedding day is the concern. Somehow, the couple thinks that that day will secure love for a life-time. It won't.

The wedding date is one event in the life-long pursuit of love. It is a very significant event, but still only one piece of the greater picture. To take the time to let a relationship mature, like a cake in the oven, is a great act of love. In the bigger picture, love will know a greater joy with far less detours and rough roads when the actual wedding date is put in its proper place.

Wisdom Workouts:

There are endless examples to illustrate the dynamic nature of the pursuit of love as the goal in marriage. But what about you? The following chart may serve as a kind of thermometer to test weather love, or marriage, is your goal. It is important to keep in mind that your self-evaluation is not dependent on having one, three, or even five of the following tendencies in either chart. It is about the general picture. Are you dominant in one or the other? It is the big picture that may tell the story.


You try to meet up to expectations
You are a fault finder
You put up a front
You manipulate
You tend toward hurrying action
You make marriage plans without wise counsel
You see only your need
You feel unsure in the relationship
You fear of losing the relationship
You are partner-centered only
You withdraw from others
You are jealous and possessive
You need to rush to marry
You feel marriage is a solution
You want what is expedient
You are emotionally driven
You are self-absorbed
You are selfishly sensual
You tend to seek to be alone
You have a shallow romance


You feel free to be yourself
You accept faults
You are transparent
You communicate without fear
You are content to prove the relationship in time
You seek wise counsel before making marriage plans
You see the other’s need first
You are secure in the relationship
You have no fear but feel free
You are other-centered with your partner
You engage with others
You feel safe and secure
You have all the time do grow
You take personal responsibility for growth
You want what is best
Your relationship is based on commitment
You consider others
Your emotions are under control
You share your time with others

When marriage is the goal, all that remains is to walk that aisle. Once accomplished, the goal is attained. But when love is the goal, a couple enters into a life-long adventure that is never fully realized. What a joy to think our love will be stronger at eighty than at the wedding day.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What happened to men?

Paul W. Tibbits was the commander and pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Retiring in 1976 at the rank of brigadier general, Tibbits was slated to become one of the celebrated figures of history.

Years following his retirement, in a biographer’s interview, Tibbits was asked a seemingly odd question: “What did you do with your uniform?” The biographer had in mind to magnify the importance of the man who wore the uniform. Tibbits was simple in his response.

“I turned it in.”
“And what did you get in return?”
“I got a ‘chit’ from the supply sergeant telling me that I turned it in.”
“Do you have any idea what your uniform would be worth today?”
Tibbits was unmoved by the question and took command of the biographer's quest:

My military career was merely one of a man among men. As men, we embraced what was before us with a sense of responsibility. When we left that responsibility, we hung up our uniforms, and went on to embrace the next. It was not common for our men to glory in the past. The past was gone. There would be new responsibilities. We looked forward to becoming husbands, and fathers, and grandfathers. And with each new phase of life we once again would be merely a man among men.

Such a spirit is reminiscent of a day gone by. If there is anything the feminist movement has accomplished, it is the feminization of men. I have noticed a changing trend since the 70s. It once was common to discuss significant issues with husbands and fathers. But as time passed, the men have receded into the shadows of silence while women have emerged to take their place. What happened to the men? You will find them among their hobbies and toys while the women blaze the trail of leadership. I am not suggesting a problem with women but a void among men. Jesus shows something of that void by his example. As he looked to the cross, the hour of responsibility commanded his action. The Gospel of John tells the story:

Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, "Father, save me from this hour?" But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name (John 12:27-28).

It is a courageous passage. In full awareness of the cross before him, Jesus held his troubled heart in one hand, and his greater purpose in the other. With both before him, his troubled heart gave way to his greater purpose.

Men are wired to take initiative and assume responsibility. When we do we find our worth. And when we don’t, we wither away. Martin Luther was a sixteenth century reformer. But more than that he was a pastor at heart. When asked about how to deal with male depression he gave the good solution: “Go harness the horses and spread manure on the fields” – get up, stop thinking about yourself, do the next thing, work hard, and create something good for someone else. That seems like helpful advice to me. He met men at their nature. The Bible agrees.

Genesis is the Bible book of foundational beginnings. In it we read how God created man and then placed him in a garden to cultivate it, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Verse 18 follows, “Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.'" Among the many questions this passage may provoke, one seems clear: Before God gave Adam a wife, he gave him a job. Man was made to work and find satisfaction in it. The nature of that work is meaningfully shaped in the spirit of creation, provision, oversight, guidance and care. This is the spirit in which a husband is to love his wife and family. God places the ball of leadership in the court of the man, not the woman.

I recently was listening to a radio talk show. The topic was on the positive images daughters have toward their fathers. The radio host asked women call in and tell their story. One was particularly insightful to me. The woman, now older with a family of her own, spoke how her father was always the tower of strength and stability to the family. She told that her father always appeared to be confidently in control, cheerfully positive and relentlessly reassuring. The woman then went on to say something like this:
It was only in later life that I learned that my father carried heavy burdens. He pounded the pavement for jobs in a time where jobs were hard to come by; we felt like the richest family on the block. He anguished over the thought of not being able to meet the needs of his family; we knew only abundance in our every want. He never showed his tortured heart; to us he was the happiest man on earth. And when his health began to fail, he stood tall on the inside and presented himself as the husband and father who would never fail us. He was so alone but we were never alone.
I have a feeling that the above testimony of the daughter may strike a cord of satisfaction in the soul of many men. I have a feeling that her testimony may even sound a kind of trumpet call to something deep within the soul of a man. Perhaps it may even compel a man to courageously say: that’s the man I must be!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thinking Again about Unity and Equality

Billy Graham’s wife passed away on June 14th of this year, 2007. Billy is plodding along but with a limp—he is missing his complement.

I get a kick out of the reports of Billy’s response when asked, “How did you become the greatest evangelist in history?” The reports tell how Billy would look his eyes heavenward and say, "It was God who did this." How heavenly is that? I believe it. God did it. After all, God gave him Ruth Bell as his wife.

Ruth Bell Graham was the witty one of the two—the quick one too. On one occasion she was asked if she had ever contemplated divorce—divorce is the big cardinal sin in Christian circles! Ruth responded, “Divorce? No. But murder, often!” Billy will miss his witty and colorful complement. She kept his feet on the ground.

Being the prominent woman that Ruth Bell was, she was often approached from the feminist movement on her position regarding the equality of the sexes—the idea of 'sameness' was a big issue in the 70’s and remains so today. On one occasion, Ruth was quoted to have said: “When two are exactly alike, one is not needed!”

When it comes to marriage, the cry for ‘equality’ is a hollow voice. It claims to offer personal dignity but results in cold contractual independence. It may preserve equity but it won't cultivate intimacy.

The Bible says very little, if anything, about equality. It speaks of something more beautiful than equality. It speaks of unity. Equality seeks just due. Unity complements. When two differing roles join together to serve the other, there is unity.

That was Paul’s point in Ephesians 5:21-31. The union of the man and woman in marriage finds its design in the statement: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31).

I get a kick out of the modern Internet dating service that seeks to match couples on compatibility. I am not apposed to that. But Ruth Bell has a point too. Think about it.
Hi dear.
Hi dear.
What would you like for breakfast?
That’s exactly what I was thinking!
What would you like to do today?
Why, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Would you like to have some people over for dinner?
No, I don’t feel comfortable in the presence of others.
Neither do I. Let’s just be alone; always isolated and calcified in our sameness, forever and ever.
That sounds so wonderful to me dear!
I like Ruth’s response, “When two people are exactly alike, one of them is not needed!” Appreciating difference is a challenge. Seeing and assimilating difference is energetic growth. Compatibility is important. Difference is too. Learning to let difference press us out of our comfort zone may be uncomfortable but it makes for an exciting adventure.

Wisdom Workouts:

Given the design of complement in marriage, how would you answer the following questions: How do you know this person is the right one for you? Be careful! Are you looking at similarity? Or are you looking at complement?
  • What do you find is the growing attraction in your intended mate? Again consider the idea of likeness and complement—there is a BIG difference.
  • Do you ever have problems communicating as a couple? If you do, why do you think you do? If you don’t, perhaps you need to consider a different relationship. If you are not sparking in conflict, you are not helpful to each other. Remember, compatibility is something to grow into.
  • In what ways do you complement each other? Are you thinking sameness?
  • Big question: Can you love, learn and grow by the radical difference that your mate is from you? If you can’t, you should look to someone else. This relationship is not for you!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy Are the Givers

There is a way of life that promises satisfaction. It is the way of life expressed in the Bible proverb: “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.”

There is a wealth of wisdom in that proverb. It tells of the individual who is given to meeting the needs of others. And as a result, the needs of the individual is met.

Don’t get the wrong picture. You may be tempted to say: Of course others will be inclined to you! If I throw a bag of twenty-dollar bills out of a window, certainly others will run to pick them up, and they will love me for throwing them out; as long as I have another bag! It is not that picture. It is about being genuinely, responsibly and principally given to the best interest of another.

You know what that looks like. Most everyone, at some time in their lives, had a teacher who was passionately committed to his or her best interest. Perhaps you felt a certain teacher’s tireless commitment and genuine confidence toward you. If you did, I would be willing to bet that somewhere in that relationship, you became unconditionally endeared to that teacher. What would you do for that teacher now? This is what I am talking about. But that may not be so easy to embrace.

It may be a hard piece of advice to take. If you are one who finds yourself lonely and void of friends, before you blame others and circumstances, you may want to look in the mirror. The problem may be closer than you think. I don’t mean that to be cruel but freeing. If the problem lies with you, you can do something about it. That's freedom. But if it belongs to your circumstances or other people, then you are a prisoner. You can’t change others. You can change yourself. That too is freedom.

One of the great ironies of the Christian message is that: it is in giving that we receive; it is in dying that we live. Isn't that so crazy to the world we live in? That principle, however, is attractive. The giver is a delight; the taker is work. You know how that goes. The one who is characteristically seeking to be a blessing, is a blessing. And the one who is always looking for a blessing, is a drain.

One of the most rewarding aspects of pastoral ministry is working with couples who are looking on to marriage. I truly enjoy that part of my ministry. Perhaps my reasons are not so altruistic. Marriage counseling often involves working with deep problems—unresolved conflict that has festered over time. These problems are difficult to reverse; not impossible but difficult. I like that part of my ministry too. But to work with couples who are eager to love and are uncomplicated by long-standing conflicts, that is pure joy for a teacher.

There are some questions I ask a couple to show what an attractive life feels like. I ask them to consider specific qualities they would desire in a friend or a mate. I usually hear such responses as: honesty, attentiveness, consistency, being non-judgmental, forgiving, loyal, and the like. I then ask the clinching question: “How many of these character qualities demand a giving person?” The test always delivers the desired answer—all of them. The conclusion naturally follows that attractiveness results from being a giver. So, what can you do to be attractive?

Set your affections toward living for the best interest of others. Certainly that doesn’t mean groveling to the whims and wishes of the world. It means being principally given to the real needs of others.

That way of life demands a lot of skill—it is a professional way of life. It demands the skillfulness of the athlete or the musician. That skill is an exciting pursuit once the way of life is set in motion. In that way of life, the need for growing skillfulness will challenge you every day. It is a way of life that opens doors of opportunity to the counselor, the teacher, the coach, the pastor, the husband, the wife, the father, the mother, and the like. There will be no lack for opportunity. Neither will there be the sense of loneliness or the lack of joy among people. This way of life will carry you effectually through all of life—in your marriage, your family life and in your occupation. And, you will be a very happy camper.

Wisdom Workouts:
  • It has been said that, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What makes for an attractive person that appeals to that eye?

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Big Picture of Purpose

My wife’s greater family are dairy farmers in Minnesota. One summer we spent a week with them. I spent a good part of the week working in the fields doing haying. It was satisfying. I also received quite an education on a farmer’s life. I learned that farmers are quite wealthy. The bad news is that their wealth is tied up in capital—land, farm equipment, silos, livestock and the like. A farmer’s actual income is meager. And not only that but farmers are bound to the task at hand—cows need milking twice a day, feed needs distributing, livestock needs tending. That’s life for a farmer. My wife’s uncle Del told me that on his wedding day he milked the cows in the morning, got married in the afternoon, milked the cows after the wedding, and then went to his reception in the evening. He told me that he took a vacation once in his life, and that only after his kids were grown and able to assume the daily responsibilities of the farm. It seemed like an undesirable kind of life to me. But that’s only because I don’t love farming. If I did, the daily tasks would be the joy that served my greater love.

I asked my wife’s uncle Del, “Would you do it again?”
He paused for a moment and said, “If I had it to do over, I would do exactly as I have done.”
That was hard for a city boy like me to understand. I then asked the ultimate question: “Why?”
The response came back quickly, “Farming isn’t just an occupation, it’s a way of life; it’s the life I know and it is the only life I want to know—it’s my life.”

My wife’s uncle was defined by purpose. His sense of purpose made the tasks of daily living his delight. There is a big difference between seeing a job as an end in itself, and loving a job because it serves a greater end. There is also a big difference between seeing marriage as an end in itself, and loving in marriage for a greater end. We call that "greater end" purpose.

Purpose gives life meaning. To have a sense of purpose, and share it with another, gives greater meaning to marriage. A couple needs a sense of purpose in order to sustain marriage for a lifetime. Feelings of love won’t do it. There must be something more. There must be a common purpose; something greater than oneself to live for. When a couple has that sense of purpose, they have a reason to love; a reason for their love.

I like hearing those stories about couples who are inseparably intertwined as one. Then, in the course of time, one passes before the other. But even though inseparably linked, the one left behind doesn’t recoil into a silent death, but continues in the purpose they shared together. It is as though the love of the one lives on in the other. That can only be because there is something bigger than life in our 70, 80 or 90 years of existence.

Following a couple’s request to be joined in marriage, I schedule an appointment with them. I have many questions I feel will help shape their destiny together. One of the first questions I ask is: “Why do you want to get married?” You would not believe some of the answers I have received over the years. “He is so adorable.” “She is the only woman who would put up with me.” “He is the kindest man I ever met.” “I could not live without him.” “She is everything to me.” I have also received more thoughtful answers too like: “We share a common faith.” “He is a responsible provider.” “We complement each other.” As good as these answers are, they still miss the better mark. A better answer is: Because we serve a purpose greater than ourselves and better together than we do apart. But what is that purpose? Is it of noble and true worth? Those are the questions that need to be defined by a couple. But defined they must be. What are yours together with your mate?

Wisdom Workouts:
  • Following the thought, “Purpose gives life meaning,” how would you describe your sense of purpose (reason to be), first, as an individual and then as a couple? In other words, what gives your life meaning?
  • Evaluate your response to the above question. How will your sense of purpose carry you through the hard places of life and even beyond, in the ‘hopefully not untimely’ departure of your mate?
  • How is your sense of purpose shared with your mate? How does this sense of purpose unite you as a couple? Define you as a couple? Keep you as a couple?
  • Imagine some of those hard places of life—unfulfilled expectations, unseen illness, financial difficulty, momentary coldness in your relationship, even death—assuming that you are the principal object of these difficulties, what kind of life would you desire for your mate? In other words, thinking from the motive of love, what life would you desire for your mate?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Common Sense Loyalty

Loyal commitment goes before intimacy. That is not a statement from yesterday’s values, but a principle of high regard for the honor and love of your spouse. Intimacy is the most valuable gift an individual has to offer. It is the gift of oneself. And like any gift of value, when it is received with casual indifference or demeaning disregard, the giver is wounded. You won't need to think long to find that true.

This post is an appeal for loyal commitment from a different angle. Rather than an appeal from traditional standards, it is an appeal from the worth of your spouse's love and the good pleasure of marriage. Standards are sweet to the embrace when they are shown to serve the interest of the recipient. My aim is not to burden you with guilt, but appeal to your senses for a marriage that satisfies your deepest longings.

How satisfying do you want your marriage to be? How hard are you willing to fight for that satisfaction? Loyal commitment is a worthy fight. The fabric of that fight is described in the next set of virtues on our list: Add… self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, principled living…” (2 Peter 1:6). These are the virtues for a victorious fight. You will need them.

As I flipped through my radio dial I caught the lyrics to a popular song from the late 1960s. The song went like this, “Wouldn’t be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long … for we could be married!” I couldn’t help but ponder how the idea of waiting is such a yesterday notion. The Beach Boys were certainly no model of virtue, yet their lyrics did tell of the general mindset in a day gone by. The idea of marriage as the prior commitment to intimacy seems so old. Does it matter? It does. The teenage girl said to her mom, “Oh mom, times have changed.” Her mom replied, “Yes they have; but the consequences have not.”

Loyalty has consequences. So does disloyalty. That should not be a surprising idea, even in this day. I think adultery is still called “cheating” and not alternative moments of recreational choices. Try that one on your spouse! And by the way, what would ‘Hollywood’ do for violent plots if there were no such thing as “cheating” where loyalty is expected. No, the consequences have not changed. Broken families, broken lives, dashed dreams, painful divorce, bitter anger, and even violent crimes are all live and well on the stage of disloyalty.

What do we fight for? An attitude first. The Bible makes a claim to that attitude: “Marriage is to be held in honor among all.” That is found in the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter thirteen and verse four. The word honor means “to value with a price.” No one will fight for what is not valued. If we lose the sense of the value of marriage, we will lose the fight for loyalty. The very wedding day is all about a declaration of lifelong loyalty. But again, I don’t want to make my appeal on the alter of institutional preservation, as noble as that appeal may be. I want to make my appeal on the premise of your satisfying joy and intimacy in marriage.

Contrary to the misunderstanding of many, the Bible boldly exalts the physical relationship of a man and a woman as something beautiful. The Bible is so passionate about that relationship that it strongly warns against predators who threaten the union of marriage, as the verse before us tells: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

When the author of the book of Hebrews wrote those words, he was defending marriage against a false asceticism which considered the marriage union as degrading and unclean. Writing in opposition to such a view, the author instructed that marriage is to be kept honorable and its honor is never to be defiled by outside sexual violation. Thus, the nature of the warning, 'fornicators' and 'adulterers' God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). This is a warning for the honor of marriage.

Take special note of those two words: “fornication” and “adultery.” What’s the difference? Fornication dishonors marriage in advance, and adultery dishonors marriage after it has been entered into. Fornication or adultery is the defilement of a relationship that belongs to someone else. It makes sense why marriage is to be held in honor among all. Such a community will help serve and preserve the marriage interest of a couple. What a comfortable place to be knowing that others are looking out for a your best interest.

From a personal perspective, throughout your life there will be many people you will come to respect and love as valued friends. There will be only one, however, who will pledge himself or herself to you as a lifelong companion—for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death you part. That one person you will share your life with—in times of plenty and times of want, in times of joy and times of sorrow. With that one person you will perhaps raise your children, build a home, see your grandchildren and grow old together in love. In biblical words, “You will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). What gift will you give your mate? May I suggest the greatest gift—the gift of you in faithful loyalty! For that one person, and that person alone, it is a gift that can be shared again and again until death do you part. So, the words are wise, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Wisdom Workouts:
  • Ask your mate: How important do you believe faithfulness is to our marriage?
  • Tell your mate: How would I feel if unfaithfulness came into our marriage?
  • Discuss with your mate: What can we do to preserve and protect our loyalty?