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Christian Community: It Ain’t Suposed to Be Shallow.

We live in an increasingly fragmented and shallow society. I believe people are really desiring a new way of life that is more connected with others.

universe-1044107_1920Genesis has a vivid picture of God creating. There is great chaos in the Cosmos as God is creating merely from the power of His words. Matter is neither created or destroyed, is simply changes form. God is the only one who creates something out of nothing. And every time he creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.”

Everything is good – except for one thing in all of creation that is not good.

Genesis 2:18 tells us that it is NOT good for man to be alone.

God has given humanity all of this incredible stuff in creation, but the one thing that cannot be fulfilled by the created world is human companionship. God designed us to thrive in community. God establishes the very first human community – the family – so that we can survive.

Science shows that our health improves when we are actively plugged in to community life. Sure, there are other variables at play, but all things being equal, the person who is connected in community lives a longer and happier life. But this requires we are intentional about building that community. It means doing more than merely filling a pew with the same person week after week.

It is not enough simply to show up and think that we are building a community. Community is not built here in the service. Community is built on the outside so that we come together AS a community and worship God together. Let’s look at 3 elements of building community:

1. We must connect with Jesus.

There’s a great story about Jesus’s ministry when he encounters a small guy named Zacchaeus.

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been a pariah in the Jewish community. Not only did he extort people, but he represented the Roman occupying state. He was an enemy of God’s people, a traitor to Yahweh. Yet Jesus intentionally goes to this outsider, this incredibly flawed individual, and invited him in to community!

2. Authentic community begins when we realize that we are imperfect people invited into community with a perfect Jesus Christ.

In our imperfection we’re still invited to come an sit beside Jesus. Can you imagine that? God doesn’t require us to be perfect BEFORE we’re invited in. If we had to be perfect first we’d NEVER receive an invitation. But he loves us and invites us to be part of his community in spite of our flaws and failures.

Paul writes in Romans 5:

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

You didn’t have to be good enough for Jesus to take your place on the cross. You never could have made it. And authentic community begins when we realize that I am flawed yet still invited to be part of God’s community.

kitten-1154693_1920Radio personality Paul Harvey once said: “We’ve strayed from being fishers of men, to being keepers of the aquarium.” Some people act as though the church is supposed to be an aquarium. It’s pretty. You clean it. You watch the pretty fish swim around. It’s perfect, down to the exact pH balance and the diver with the bubbles coming out of his helmet.

People want the church to be perfect and serene. But if you read the Bible the way I do, the church isn’t meant to be an aquarium – it’s a hospital – where broken and wounded people come to find healing. As God works on our lives he cleans us up, sure, but we’re never supposed to forget that our authentic community begins with a recognition that we’re all wounded in need of a hospital.

You don’t have to be perfect – you’re invited as you are.

3. Authentic community continues as we grow and connect with each other

Acts 2 describes the intentionality early Christians had in building community:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.

Community doesn’t happen by accident. Community is built as we live life together, as we experience the ups and downs and the joys and the pains together. We don’t want to be a church of strangers simply getting together to do our spiritual thang and then disappear to our individual lives. Showing up once a week will not build community or establish relationships. Authentic community happens before and after church, through the week, after duty hours.

Think about group dynamics and cliques. People often get frustrated about an inability to break into new groups because of cliques within an organization. This is true in the church but it’s also true in the workplace and in neighborhoods. It’s not that cliques are necessarily bad or evil. Cliques develop because people form bonds with others outside of the large group environment. The clique is a fundamental element of community. People bond on the outside and bring those bonds into the larger group. You can’t say, “I’m going to show up at church once a week and then try to insert myself into a clique that meets together 3 times a week.”

What?!? While we want to be open and welcoming to all, we do need to recognize that there are in-group and out-group dynamics at play that allow us to build relationships with others, and building relationships is always a good thing. Just make sure that your relationships don’t cause you to mistreat or alienate others and you’re good to go.

The original Christians met together daily. They ate, they hung out, they celebrated. Their worship services weren’t about strangers getting together – they were about the extended family coming together to worship Jesus. Our social group ruts tend to be the people we can regular contact with on a daily or weekly basis. Connecting with God’s community means being intentional to develop those relationships and bonds.

Connect with Jesus. Recognize we’re all imperfect but called together to be part of the community of faith. Be intentional in developing the connection with others. It’s about deep relationships and forgetting the shallowness that comes with a lot of our modern culture.

You’re welcome in.

 

 

 

 

Hello – The Gospel of Adele

hand-977641_1280It’s difficult to go anywhere and not hear Adele. She’s everywhere. The other night my wife and I saw a Target commercial that was simply 60 seconds of the newest Adele music video. Her new hit that’s taking the world by storm is “Hello.”

Hello from the other side
I must’ve called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry, for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry, for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

The lyrics are rather sad. woman-1006102_1920They are about loss. They are about heartache. They are about a broken relationship. They are about missed opportunities. Those themes resonate with all of us, for we’ve all experienced them in our own way.

In fact, they are actually themes that Jesus speaks to. Throughout the Bible, God demonstrates that his primary passion when it comes to humanity is restoration. From the Garden of Eden to the Book of Revelation, God is in the process of restoring humanity to himself.

But God ALSO cares about restoration when it comes to human relationships! Jesus says:

If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Later on Jesus says:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother… (Matthew 18:15)

While the second passage is about a Christian model for handling disputes and conflict, these passages show us the basic principle that restoration of broken human relationships matters to Jesus. Instead of letting brokenness win the day, Jesus calls us to be proactive in fixing broken relationships. Integral in the process of restoration is forgiveness, which the Apostle Paul talks about:

Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)

How we treat each other is important to God. Human relationships are important to God. And that means that we cannot be passive when things are broken. Sorry, Adele, but it’s not enough to wait and call from the other side – to apologize long after the fact.

Be active in reconciling and repairing relationships before it’s too late and the damage is too great.

 

DVD Review: Whiplash – A Conversation With My Father

My wife and I recently watched the award winning Whiplash.Whiplash It is a phenomenal movie and stirred something in me. I found at times that I was holding my breath and my heart was racing. I watched a few scenes over again and had the same effect (you can watch one of my favorite scenes at the end of this review). If you’re going to watch it, though, know that the language is raw and graphic – clearly a reason the movie is rated-R. After making a comment about the movie on social media, my dad, Paul Linzey, mentioned that he and my mom had also recently watched it. Then I had a great idea: Why don’t I co-write a review with my dad, looking at some of the themes of the movie from a biblical perspective? So today’s review is actually from an ongoing email conversation he and I have been having over the past couple days. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and hope you find some value in it. 🙂

Chris: I’d like to kick off with the theme of relationships since I’m doing this with my you. There are three primary relationships I can identify in the movie:

– Andrew and his dad
– Andrew and his girlfriend
– Andrew and Fletcher

I think it’s pretty clear that Andrew’s relationship with Fletcher overrides the others. Here’s what I find interesting, though. While the girlfriend moves on and finds someone else, the dad is constant throughout Andrew’s ups and downs. They go to movies together. Dad stocks Andrew’s apartment with snacks. When the lawyer is trying to convince Andrew to testify against Fletcher, Andrew asks his dad, “Why are you here?” Dad’s response? “Don’t you know there’s nothing in the world I love more than you?” Even when Andrew returns to play with Fletcher for JVC after both had been kicked out of the conservatory, his dad was at the performance and ran backstage to hug the son in his most embarrassing moment. I’m very much reminded of the father in the Prodigal Son story. No matter what the son did, the dad is still there to throw his arms around his son and proclaim his love.

Paul: Yeah, the relationships are a powerful part of the story. And at times they’re pretty painful. Like in the scene at the family dinner table. It’s obvious the whole family is so proud of the football star and totally unimpressed with Andrew’s musical ambitions. You can feel his pain and anger when he points out that the football player is merely at a Division III college. In other words, it’s not worth bragging about. But nobody gets it, and Andrew is still considered the oddball whose goals and values are meaningless. But you’re right about the dad’s loyalty. Even though he didn’t understand his son, he was always there, like you pointed out. There’s a verse in the Bible that says

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he grows up he will not stray from it.”

Some commentators point out that the terminology in the text is farm language, agricultural terms, specifically having to do with shaping and growing trees. If this is so, they believe the point of the verse is that good parents will find out their child’s interests, callings, and personality and adjust their parenting methods to bring out the best in the child – to help the child discover his or her direction in life. It’s not telling parents to make sure they raise the child the way they want the child to turn out. There’s more to parenting than that. It’s an art. It requires diligence, attention, getting to know the child intimately. It calls for relationship patterns that allow the child to explore and experiment. And the wise parent guides the child in the process of becoming. I didn’t see Andrew’s family fostering this kind of emotional-psychological freedom to be. We typically use that verse to tell parents how to raise their kids, and to tell our kids what we want them to do. Very controlling, very heavy-handed, very condescending. But maybe it was actually designed to liberate parents and liberate children, freeing all of us to discern what the Lord might want us to do, and to become. And then support each other in that process.

Chris: Let’s talk for a second about Andrew’s intense desire to be the best. In one scene, he tells his girlfriend, “I want to be great.” She responds, “You’re not great?” He comes back, “I want to be one of THE greats.”

Paul: Why are people who excel in almost any field edgy, quirky, OK — weird? Do we have to be so intensely focused and driven in order to be the best? Is it even possible to be “normal” and still be the best in the world at something? It’s true that in order to succeed, we have to make sacrifices. We have to prioritize. But is there a limit to how far we should go?

Chris: I was really pondering this one. I had a friend some years back who thought that all competition was contrary to Christ-like behavior. I’m not inclined to go that far, but I see his point. When you hear Jesus using expressions like “servant of all,” “the last shall be first,” and “the least of these,” it’s easy to see that Jesus has a heart for the underdog. The question is, “How far do Jesus’s teachings call us to care for the underdog vs. how far do Jesus’s teachings call us to BE the underdog?” I’m don’t think Jesus is calling us to eschew success, but there needs to be a healthy balance between success and humility, and my personal opinion is that such humility prevents us from ever achieving the status as “best in the world.”

Paul: It seems clear biblically that the Church will be the underdog societally, especially as we move towards the Eschaton. It’s also true, if I understand James 1:27 correctly, that we are called to care for the underdog. And it is true that we are called to be servants of all. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are called to be underdogs, impoverished, or less than the best in our chosen vocation. To follow that logic, each of us would need to be orphaned and widowed to truly be Christian. But that is clearly not the case. Jesus told at least one person that he would need to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, but there were quite a few other rich people he did not tell that to. In fact, there were some wealthy folks who supported him and his disciples so they could do the work of the Kingdom. Same with Paul and his ministry team. I don’t think humility per se is contrary to being the best. Many would agree that Moses would be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. Yet Numbers 12:3 specifically says he was the most humble man in all the earth. I think you and I would agree that Jesus was the greatest person of all time. Yet, he was humble, according to Philippians chapter 2. And St. Paul was a pretty impressive apostle. Perhaps the best? Yet he displayed some impressive humility. Perhaps understanding of the word “meek” can be helpful here: “Power or greatness under control.” So I don’t believe that humility ought to prevent a Christian from being the best at what he or she hopes to achieve in life, whether as a musician, an athlete, a teacher, a pastor, a plumber, or anything else. In fact, the Bible says,

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

Don’t we usually understand that to mean “do your best”?

Chris: I don’t think humility NECESSARILY prevents us from greatness, only when pursuing greatness requires trampling on others.

Paul: Absolutely. I agree. And this is what we see happening in Whiplash. People trampling all over each other. Dog eat dog. Get mine. do what it takes to self-promote. I guess you could say Osteen’s teaching applied to the music industry. It’s all about you.

Chris: BWAHAHAHA! Joel Osteen applied to the music industry – now that.is.funny. Making sure that “I get mine” regardless of how it affects others flies right in the face of biblical principles:

Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them (The Golden Rule) Matthew 7:12

and

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Switching gears again, how did you guys respond to the language? It was incredibly harsh.

Paul: The profanity was indeed overwhelming. But we knew going in that the main reason for it’s R rating was raw language. More importantly, however, being in the world means we rub elbows with real people, real heathens, real scoundrels. We’re called to be in the world, though not “of” the world. Jesus didn’t avoid sinners. That included prostitutes, tax collectors, and cussers. Besides, there’s not a single word or phrase in the movie that I haven’t heard in the Army . . . . . . . or in the church! An aspect of human existence that I thought the movie showed pretty well was that every one of us has our own pain, our own problems, and our disillusionments. This was true of just about every character in the show. Would you comment on that?

Chris: You hit the nail on the head. The director has even said he approaches life from a dark place and I think the characters reflected that. But each gets so caught up in his own trouble he fails to find the relief that can be found in community. It’s the attitude that greatness only comes through suffering and, while there may be some truth to that, authentic relationships can help heal wounds.

Paul: And that’s where art and the gospel begin to intersect.

Chris: Thanks, Dad.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
As always I welcome your thoughts and opinions. did you see the movie? What did you think?

Paul Linzey is a pastor, writer, and mentor. A retired Army chaplain, he and his wife live in Lakeland, Florida.
Paul Linzey is a pastor, writer, and mentor. A retired Army chaplain, he and his wife live in Lakeland, Florida.
Chris Linzey is a husband, dad, pastor, and writer. Currently an Army Reserve Chaplain, he and his family Illinois.
Chris Linzey is a husband, dad, pastor, and writer. Currently an Army Reserve Chaplain, he and his family live in Illinois.

Calling It Quits: What Jesus Says About Divorce

Unhappy CoupleSomeone once asked me if I could describe the Gospel in just two minutes.

Yes. You see it all comes down brokenness. We are broken people and we live in a broken world. But brokenness isn’t God’s design or intention. It’s the same when it comes to marriage. N.T. Wright notes that anyone who even reads the words of Jesus out loud will most likely be called mean, unforgiving, Pharisaical, or worse. Jesus said:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Many people swing into two camps that are polar opposites: on the one side you have people who say, “I can be a good Christian and pursue divorce and get remarried.” On the other side you have people who stick to a very literal and rigid reading of Jesus’ words.

And we cannot deny the words of Jesus. He clearly says in Mark 10:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

At this point everyone who is divorced or who has been affected by divorce in some way shuts down, turns off their ears, and stops listening to the message.
That’s what often happens.

But that’s because preachers who read the words of Jesus in this case never go all the way with the Gospel. Hear me out.

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

These guys have no real concern about understanding God’s truth about marriage and divorce. Jesus is now in the area that John the Baptist had been when John condemned the behavior of Herod marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. John told Herod, “This is not right!” But that’s just John. He tended to get emotional.

In fact, you could say he lost his head.

When the Pharisees approach Jesus they’re trying to put in in a tough spot on Herod’s turf – wanting him to make a declaration about marriage and divorce that will get him killed. But Jesus doesn’t fall for it.

He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

In the ancient world the certificate of divorce was a way of saying that the husband gives up his right and claim on the woman. Another man can have her without fear of the husband coming after him. There’s only one passage in the Torah that explicitly addresses divorce. Deuteronomy 24:1 says,

“If a man marries a woman, but she has become displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her on her way from his house.”

And Jews fought about what this passage meant. A hundred years before Jesus was born there were two major schools of thought. Those who followed Rabbi Shammai said that “something improper” meant infidelity. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel said it could be anything that displeases the husband – even burning the soup.

They missed the bigger picture.

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

The law passed down from Moses doesn’t declare divorce right or wrong – it simply assumes that divorce is a fact of life and seeks to protect the wife. The certificate of divorce meant when she remarried she would not be accused of adultery. But Jesus tells them that this was not God’s original design and intent.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The problem is not with God’s ideal or the Law – the problem is with people and their hardened hearts. We are broken people who live in a broken world. That means we will do broken things to each other. This is not the way God designed it to be – it’s a sad fact of brokenness.

And Jesus does an amazing thing here. Instead of simply ruling out divorce he elevates the idea of marriage. It’s not about how and when you can split. Jesus says that the way God designed human marriage to work is for two to lose their individual identities and understand that they are now part of the same person. Jesus puts marriage on a whole new level.

If this is God’s design and intention, who is man that we should split it up?

And that’s where most preachers stop. And people listening who have suffered through a divorce shrink lower and lower into their seats. But that’s not the end of the Gospel.

You see, the Gospel is about restoration and reconciliation. The Gospel says, “You matter enough to God that He paid the price to fix your brokenness – a price you could never afford.”

The Gospel says, “The only thing that is unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

That means that divorce, though not God’s design and desire,
is not an unforgivable sin.

That means that, as a divorcee, you can rest assured that God still loves you and that you are not separated from Him because of your marital status.

That means that, as Christians, we can treat friends and family with love and respect even when they have gone through divorce and remarriage.

The Gospel is bigger than all of us, and God’s grace reaches farther than we could ever imagine. We are called to be people of reconciliation and restoration. When we deal with people who are divorced or going through a divorce. When we live the life of a divorcee. God’s grace reaches to us all and calls us to act towards each other with that same grace.

‘Cause it’s only when we’re acting with this kind of grace
that we’ll see true reconciliation and restoration happen.

Related Posts:
Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak and Separation
I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

You Are Not an Island: Created for Community

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are a lot of creative people in this world, coming up with some amazing creations. But everything that people create has a purpose – a function. Nobody designs something for no purpose. We might laugh at the design and function (like many of the “as seen on tv” gadgets) but there is still a function. When an item doesn’t work according to its design we call it dysfunctional, maybe even broken. Some easily recognizable creations and designs: the light bulb, the Hoover Dam, the Colosseum. They were all created with something specific in mind and they have lasted. But there is one enduring creation that has been around before any of these: humanity. How do we function according to our design?

Most Christians know the story of God’s work in creating. In Genesis 1, every time God creates something He looks at it and sees…THAT IT IS GOOD. But there is a problem – in all of God’s creation there is one “not good” that sets the stage for all of humanity. The only “not good” is that man is alone, and the only solution is for God to create a community for man, from man, to which he is connected and may continue to grow the community. The family is the central core to our understanding of community. We are designed to be in relationship with other people!

Quite simply, family is everything. The individual exists and continues to exist only within the context of the community. When you remove the individual from family that person becomes invisible. As such, removal from the family is no small deal. Equally, while the individual remains within the community, he or she participates in the covering of the whole family; covering that could include physical protection, shelter, food, and the like.

Americans pride ourselves on our individuality, our self-sufficiency. “You can’t tell me what to do! I am my own boss, master and commander of my own world, and my actions don’t concern you.” But that’s not how the Bible sees it. From the Bible’s perspective, the actions of one person affect the entire community. That’s why the Apostle Paul tells Christians that if a person blatantly sins and refuses to repent then the church needs to remove that person from the community. One person’s actions and behavior can influence the entire community. We have lost the biblical concept that we are designed for community and function at our best when we are engaged in community with like-minded people.

I enjoy many different games, one of them being bowling. I have my own bowling ball that is drilled for me (left-handers need the holes drilled differently than righties). About 12-13 years ago I was a sophomore in college, and I had finished all of my school work, didn’t have to work at the store that night, and wanted to go bowling. The problem was that I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. So I thought, “Hey, I don’t need anyone – I can go by myself.” So I did. But I quickly learned that it is not as much fun bowling by myself as it is when I’m bowling with friends.

God designed us to enjoy being in community with others! We were created not only to be together but to care for each other. The fall saw human weakness destroy God’s intention. In Genesis, Cain is jealous of his brother Abel and so kills him. When God asks Cain where Abel is Cain responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to this question is, “Yes!” That’s how God designed us! As community, we are our brother’s keepers. We are supposed to look out for and care for each other. This was God’s intention with community, and now the church picks up where we destroyed God’s original design. The church is the new family and community in which our lives play out. But our design, being created for community, should play out in practical ways.

First, our design should affect how we behave towards each other in the church. Too often we don’t treat each other well. There’s an old expression: familiarity breeds contempt. We become familiar with people and so we let our public niceness go away. It is more common to be polite to strangers than it is to people we are supposed to be in fellowship with. Have you ever entertained guests in your home? If a child of a guest bumps the coffee table and spills something on the carpet, the usual response is probably something like, “Don’t worry about it – it’s ok.” When everyone goes home, your spouse bumps into the coffee table and spills something and you lash out, “Why can’t you to watch where you’re going? You knew it was there! Why weren’t you more careful?” We bring that same mentality into the church. We are supposed to be a new community, a new family. We are supposed to care for each other and support each other, not tear each other down when we feel wronged or, worse yet, when someone falls short of perfection in some way that aggravates you!

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Several years ago when we were pastoring in California, my family was planning a Christmas family vacation in Colorado. My brothers and their wives, my parents, and my wife and I were all going to rendezvous in Colorado and spend the holidays together. The weather had different plans and we all got snowed out of Colorado and ended up having to spend Christmas in Southern California without my family. A family in the church invited us over to spend Christmas day with their family. Another family braved a hectic department store two days before Christmas in order to get us some small gifts so that we would have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. It was nothing fancy, but they wanted us to know that we were loved and cared for. That is how the church is supposed to function – loving and taking care of each other as though we are flesh-and-blood kin. It is this kind of love that Jesus says will identify us as his disciples. We are created for community, and that design should affect how we behave towards brothers and sisters in the church.

Second, our design should affect how we behave towards the world around us. As members of God’s family, this church community, we have a God-given task: to let other people know that they are welcomed into the community! The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:19:

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”

In other words, we have been blessed to be welcomed into this new family, and God has made it our responsibility to welcome others into this new family as well. We cannot afford to cloister ourselves within our beautiful buildings and pat ourselves on the back that we made it into the kingdom. We have an obligation to bring others into the family as well. And, honestly, if we are loving each other the way we are supposed to be loving each other, we will have a hard time keeping people out! Paul exhorts us in Galatians 6:10:

“As we have opportunity we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”

We are not built to be isolated loners but to live and thrive in community. Because we are created for community, God calls us to care for one another and to invite the world around us to experience what genuine, Christian community is all about. So take time to reflect and ask yourself two questions. First, how can I grow and improve in loving the people in my church? Second, how can I actively work for the good of all so that others welcomed into this loving Christian community?

God our Father, You have created us for community, to be involved in people’s lives and to bring blessings to people. Show us where we have fallen short. Show us where we have failed to demonstrate love. Forgive us, and lead us to the place where we can love every brother and sister with the love of Jesus. Amen.

Related Posts:
~ 6 Ways to Build or Demolish Unity
~ Robin Hood Lives: Taking Care of Others
~ 14 Grandmas

Top 5 Areas of Marriage Conflict and How to Manage

Conflict

I teach a 9-week course on developing and maintaining healthy relationships. In the class we regularly do breakout groups of men and women to discuss a certain question or issue. In one of our classes we asked the men and women to split up and, as gender groups, identify their top 5 areas of marriage conflict. Like a couple other issues, both groups came up with the exact same list of conflict areas.

Any guess as to what they came up with?

In no particular order:

1.      In-laws. Not everyone is blessed with wonderful, supportive, and caring in-laws the way I am. Some people have real conflict with their in-laws – conflict that results in fights, hurtful words, and even hurtful actions. One of the problems in dealing with difficult in-laws is that there is only so much you can do when it comes to other people’s behavior. In fact, you can’t do anything about their behavior. But you and your spouse don’t have to do anything with their behavior. What you CAN do is work on your responses to their behavior.

The Bible tells us that the marriage relationship is the beginning of a new family unity. While there are still ties to the old family, we are told that the man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife and the two become one. Simply put, your spouse becomes an extension of you! Now extend the logic – if your parents have a problem with your spouse then you should see it as though they have a problem with you (and vice versa). We need to be supportive of our spouses and “have their backs” even if it means coming against our own parents. If we take the Bible seriously about the unity within the marriage bond, then taking our spouse’s side against family is imperative. Too many “support” until conflict with the family occurs, then we quickly throw our spouses under the bus. Don’t fall into that trap.

Get your partner’s back.

2.      Money Issues. Always a biggie, isn’t it? One word: BUDGET! It’s important for couples to sit down and work out a family budget together. Each one should have a voice and give input for what the budget should look like. This should happen every month. The more you do it together the easier it gets. Also, it is important that spouses do not keep financial secrets from each other. It’s not “my money” and “your money” but “our money.” Remember, the Bible prioritizes marriage as unity.

How we be united if we’re keeping parts of our lives from each other?

3.      The Ex. Yikes. It seems that many people have a lot of problems with an ex. I’ve seen exes do some pretty crummy things. I’ve seen exes intentionally goad the new partner, pushing buttons and being an all-around jerk. My advice? Treat exes like online trolls (people who search for ways to stir up trouble) – all you can do is ignore them. If you engage then you take the bait and get caught in the trap. There is no good way to deal with a troll. They can’t be reasoned with. You can’t convince them of logic or fact. So ignore and walk away.

On a relational level think of the ex in a similar way to the in-laws. The new marriage is what is important. You ought to be supporting your partner above your ex. That person is not part of the unity any more. There might be kids involved. There might be shared property involved. It doesn’t matter. Marital unity is what matters.

Get each other’s backs, and leave the ex out of it.

4.      Child Discipline. This one can bring up a lot of difficulties whether the kids are part of a two-parent household or if you’re in a blended family. The difficulty lies in the fact that we’re trying to get two adults to agree on the best course of action on how to raise and discipline other human beings. There’s no easy way to help to people come to agreement on the best way to raise kids. There are many different theories on the “best” ways. What I can say is that it’s possible for parents to find compromise. Each partner can up with a list of “non-negotiables” and a list of “preferables.” The preferable is where we strive to compromise (yes, that might mean giving in and letting your spouse win the day). This is not going to be a quick discussion, and there might be lots of give and take over the course of years of parenting. Don’t throw your hands up in the air and quit.  No matter what, even in disagreement, always show a united front before the kids.

Stick with it and work together.

5.      Score Keeping. This is sometimes called quid pro quo which means “this for that.” It really comes down to keeping a tally of who did what and using that tally to try to motivate our spouses to do something for us. Healthiest relationships don’t keep score (I did it this time – it’s your turn to do it now). In biblical marriages, each spouse seeks to serve the other no matter who did what or how many times he did it. If I really love my wife I should strive to meet her needs, whatever those needs may be. That means that sometimes I will be the one cleaning the bathroom several weeks in a row (even though I REALLY don’t like cleaning bathrooms). It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it. I will do my best to serve her. And she ought to have the same attitude towards meeting my needs and serving me. It’s mutual.

When this happens we can drop the score keeping and be confident in the fact that our spouses will do whatever they can to love and support us.

What do you think? Have you had personal experience in these areas of marital conflict? Would you add anything to the list?

Related Posts:
~ 8 Things Every Husband Needs to Do

8 Things Every Husband Needs to Do

Marriage

If you’ve read any of my blogs about marriage and relationships you will know that I believe the Bible calls us to live in mutually submissive and mutually controlling relationships. I am not my own, but I belong to my wife. She belongs to me. I need to submit to my wife’s needs, wants, and desires. She needs to submit to mine. I believe the God calls us to this kind of mutuality. Understanding that groundwork, some of my posts on marriage and relationships will cover biblical principles without expressly quoting the Bible chapter and verse. Like today’s post.

In the 9-week marriage class I teach we split the men and women into gender breakout groups to discuss questions and issues. In one session I asked the women to identify 8 things their husbands do that they greatly appreciate. Here is there list:

  1. He pitches in around the house and with the kids – it seems that women don’t want to be the only caregiver and maid in the house. Men, this is our chance to step up and take ownership of the household. Stop passing the buck and figure out how you can be an active participant in running the family. One good method is to list out every task common to households (there are probably about 30-40 regular tasks) and split them up. Volunteer and say, “These 15 that you are already doing I will take off your hands.”
  2. He takes good care of me when I am sick – it is a great feeling to be cared for when you are under the weather. And let’s face it: women tend to be better care-givers than men. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Next time your woman is sick don’t complain about how you have to pick up the slack. Force her to go lie down and volunteer to make dinner, bathe the kids, read bedtime stories, and whatever else she normally does ALL THE TIME anyway.
  3. He takes care of the kids without complaining – whether you fathered them or are a blended family, BE A FATHER to the kids in the house.
  4. He asks what I need to be content and happy – I’ve heard it jokingly said that “Happy wife = Happy life” but IT’S TRUE! Your life will never be happier as when your spouse is happy. Care for her. Nurture her. Find out what her happiness requires and then pursue it diligently. When she knows that you care about her happiness it frees her to think about yours (you both win!).
  5. He helps me with my job/career – your wife has dreams, ambitions, and goals in her life. Don’t think that she’s a bump on a log. Assist (as much as you are able) in helping her realize success in her career.
  6. He does things without me having to ask him to – seriously, take initiative. She doesn’t want to be your momma. She wants to be your partner.
  7. He helps get the kids off to school – SEE NUMBER 3
  8. He has a good sense of humor – Everyone loves to laugh. We bond with people over laughter. If you and your wife find ways to laugh together it will help cement your relationship.

Well, there you have it. It’s what our class came up with. You want a healthy and happy marriage? Put in the work to make it that way.

How about you? What else would you add to this list?

Related Posts:
~ Top 5 Areas of Marriage Conflict and How to Manage

I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

Unhappy CoupleI love to use responses from real people in my sermons and my posts. Not too long ago I preached a message called, “What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?” The week before I sent out some private messages to a handful of people I know who are divorced and I asked them each two questions: 1) What did you wish you had known before you divorced that you know now? and 2) What would you tell others in the early stages of the divorce process?

 

Wanna know what they said?

 

1. I wish it had known how much it affects the kids emotionally as well as my own self-esteem – even years later.

This is probably one of the biggies that people face when dealing with divorce – there is an unseen ripple effect that washes through people divorcing and any kids who are products of divorce. There are often identity issues with both adults and kids; people who had their identity wrapped up in notions of “family” or “child” or “spouse” suddenly find themselves cut loose and wandering.

2. You will struggle with resentment, hurt, and anger towards your ex.

While some couples can maintain a friendly interaction after a divorce it is rare. By the time a couple gets to divorce things are usually so fractured and fragmented that an amicable relationship is not possible. And a broken relationship most often causes people to feel hurt and resentment towards the other.

3. It’s not always easy “fun-n-games”; you can’t just get married and check out. You always have to put into it and you’ll only get out what you put in.

One of the biggest problems I face in marriage counseling and marriage classes is that people wait WAY TOO LATE to begin working on their relationships. If we take the time when things are good to set ourselves up for success we’ll have the tools to make it through the rough patches later on. Think about it like driving a car. If you hold the wheel in a fixed position the car will eventually go off the road as the road shifts. So we make constant adjustments in order to stay in our lane. Relationships stay on course when we work to make little adjustments here and there rather than try to jerk the wheel back as the car is careening off the road.

4. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side – you’re gonna take your baggage with you and sometimes that makes the next shot harder.

Ah, yes, the “Things have GOT to be better next time” mentality. Relationship guru John Gottman notes the divorce rate for 2nd marriages is 10% higher than in 1st marriages. So we don’t really learn from previous marriages and improve. We take the same junk from the past and move it into a new relationship. It’s like paying off one credit card by transferring the balance to another card. YOU’VE STILL GOT THE DEBT! And every relationship will have baggage. I once heard it said (for the life of me I can’t remember where I heard or read it) that, since any relationship will have baggage, marriage is simply deciding which set of baggage you want to live with. Things don’t improve if you don’t improve.

5. Divorce is not as easy as you may think.

Yup – that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Some people don’t realize that the Bible speaks a good deal about relationships and divorce. In one sentence: God takes marriage seriously and expects that we take it seriously as well. One time Jesus was asked about divorce. They asked: “Why did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He answered: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
Funny thing – expectation of longevity is an indicator of successful long-term relationships. When couples have an expectation that they’ll stick around as long as things are good and as long they are “in love” they tend not to go the distance. Couples who have an understanding that the relationship is a life-long commitment and plan to stick it out no matter what speed bumps come along fare much better in longevity. When we take marriage as seriously as God does we have better odds of successful long-term marriages.

So what can I tell you about making things better?

First – God can heal all broken relationships. Don’t give up all hope – he works miracles.
Second – If you are married, never argue using the word “Divorce” as ammunition. Couples who keep that in their back pocket will always see it as a way out.
Third – Put in effort to make things better rather than throwing in the towel. Read books. Find a pastor or counselor to talk to. Do something.
Fourth – When you’ve exhausted all options sometimes your spouse gives up and walks away. Know that God still loves you, and that no relationship status is going to cause him to turn his back on you.

So…what about you? What do you wish you had known then that you know now? What would you say to those in the rough spot of a pre-divorce marriage?

What Men Wish Women Knew

So the marriage class I teach has breakout sessions where the men and women split to discuss a question or issue. One of the group tasks was to come up with a list of the top 5 things you wish the other gender knew about you. My last post was what the women wished their husbands knew about them. As promised, today is the other half of the coin: The Top 5 Things Men Wish Women Knew (and only fitting being that it’s Father’s Day).

 

What do you think they came up with? Men, come up with your own “top five” list. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute…

 

Here’s what the men in the class said:

 

  1. Sometimes we’re really thinking about nothing. Okay, I’ll grant that ever living, waking human being has something going through his head. There is never “un-thought.” But some thoughts are simply meant to be just that – a private thought. We don’t always have something that needs to be shared with the entire class. If I’m looking at my steak and look lost in thought it’s probably because I’m wondering if they cooked it medium or medium well. If I’m watching the ball game and look pensive it’s probably because I’m wondering how a professional sports team could have made such bone-headed draft and coaching choices when obviously I could be doing a much better job at a fraction of the cost. But just because we have those kinds of thoughts doesn’t mean that we consider them “share-worthy.”  It’s no big deal so, if asked what we’re thinking about, we answer, “Nothing.” It’s not about not sharing – it’s about the fact that it’s a fleeting thought about something insignificant. Don’t sweat us on the thinking and feeling question. Sometimes it’s like you turn on the spotlight and act like a detective in some cheesy film noir. If we agree to talk about the important stuff will you agree to ease up on the throttle when we say, “Nothing”?
  2. We don’t need to “engage” to be together. We are not women. We connect in different ways (yes, these are generalities, but they often hold true). I went to hang out with some friends for this year’s Superbowl. There were 12-15 couples there. It was interesting to see how the couples naturally divided during the evening. The women all gathered around the table to chat, share, eat – whatever they were doing. Engaging meant social interaction and dialogue. Not so much with the men. We were all sitting facing the same direction – the screen. There wasn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but there was camaraderie. We were together. While we men need to do a better job at connecting with you in ways that are meaningful to you, please recognize that we don’t need to be socially engaged to think that we’re being together with you. Sometimes it’s enough to be in the same room at the same time (even if we’re not doing the same thing).
  3. We love you but we don’t need to be joined at the hip. You don’t have to wait until our schedules coincide so that we can go to Wal-Mart together. Seriously. No…SERIOUSLY! Please go run the errands you need to run without us. It might make the marriage smoother if we had different tasks that we accomplished privately.  And, just like you need “girl-time” with your friends, please stop giving us grief about our buddies. Hear me now: marriage does not get strong without quality time, and you cannot get quality without QUANTITY time. We have to do our part to build into the relationship. That is why my family is very big on family meal time. It’s intentional time to build into family. But please let us surgically detach ourselves every once in a while for our sanity and yours.
  4. You never have to ask about sex – we’re in the mood. We’re men. Cliché? Yep. Truth? You betcha! There is actually a biblical principle in play here – the Apostle Paul tells married couples not to deprive each other sexually unless it is by mutual consent for spiritual purposes (even then, he tells couples to get back together). The Bible also says that marriage is not about individual ownership but about co-ownership. My do not belong to me, but I belong to my wife. Similarly, she belongs to me. God created the marriage relationship to be sexually fulfilling, and he seemed to create men with a stronger libido than women (not always, but we’re talking generalities, remember?). So you don’t have to ask. Yup – we’re ready.
  5. Just because you “need to talk” doesn’t mean “WE” need to talk. One of the most dreaded phrases to a man’s ears is the “we need to talk” phrase. It automatically puts us on the defensive and we ask ourselves, “What did I do this time?” But an issue you’re having isn’t necessarily one that needs to be discussed AT THAT MOMENT. Find a good time and a good place to talk. When you finally discern when that time and place is choose your words wisely to initiate conversation! Do not ever begin a conversation with words that put us on the defensive. Start with calming words, not inciting words. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman calls this the “soft start-up.” By beginning wisely you have a better chance of having a successful conversation with us.

 

Well, there you have it. I’m sure there are other things men could come up with, but this is what the men in the class thought of. What about it, women? Think you can help make our lives easier by learning these things and adjusting your behavior to fit? Can you be as sensitive to your husbands’ needs and desires as you are to your girlfriends’? Can you be the godly, biblically grounded wives  that we need you to be?

 

Men – what else would you add to the list?

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