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reflections of mine others might find useful

Thoughts about Relational Temperature, Part 1

To varying degrees, relationships can feel warm and intimate or they can feel chilly and estranged.   I’ve created this graphic to illustrate the wide range of relational temperatures that we might experience.

God created us for warm connections with others, represented by the six “yellow zones” of my illustration.  It is likely we’ll engage intimately in the center zone with just a few people, and there will be more people–with less intimacy– in each subsequent circle.    Regardless of the amount of intimacy and warmth, all of these yellow-zone relationships are healthy.

Yet, we are sinful people who don’t always get relationships right.  Our brokenness affects all areas of life, including how we interact with others.

Great hurt occurs when our relationships exist in the “blue zones.”   When friends or family members resort to cold-shouldering, hostility, or shunning it can be crushing.   The biblical story of Jacob and Esau and the account of Joseph and his brothers illustrate the pain that comes from living in these circles–pain that can sometimes last for generations!

The pain caused by blue-zone relationships keeps us counselors in business.

My guess is that almost everyone would prefer to relate with others in the yellow zones.  Only the seriously dysfunctional would want their relationships devoid of warmth.

As with the weather, temperatures can change in relationships.  So let’s look at some things that might cause relational temperatures to change.

List 1.  What may help relationships Warm Up?

  • Listening for understanding
  • Pursuing clarity
  • Seeking reconciliation
  • Assuming goodwill
  • Heartfelt apologies
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • An “others orientation”
  • Expressions of love and care
  • Engaging
  • Mutual respect
  • Making others feel safe
  • Acts of kindness
  • Choosing to be unoffendable

List 2.  What may cause relationships to Cool Off?

  • Poor communication
  • Withholding the benefit of the doubt
  • Assuming ill-will
  • Making assumptions
  • Judging motives or capacities
  • Victim mentalities
  • Resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness
  • Seeking revenge or retribution
  • Prejudice, condescension, and any of the “isms”
  • Egocentrism, selfishness, greed, and pride
  • Withdrawing or stonewalling
  • Inattentiveness
  • Anger, out-of-control emotions
  • Fear, intimidation

Doing more of the things on list 1 above and doing less of the things on list 2 ought to warm up any relationship.   It’s worth noting that all of the “one another” passages in Scripture would fall under list 1.  The church is to be a place of warmth!

But even so, there are no guarantees things will always be warm with our family and friends.  Some things remain out of our control.   In Part 2 on this topic, I will talk about how to handle it when coldness remains in a relationship even after doing your part.

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Philosophizing about experimental vaccines.

 

In my last post, I made the point that those of us who are confident in having an eternal future in heaven ought not be overly concerned with self-preservation.  We, of all people, can afford to be risk-takers.

I have two friends who have made me think about this same concept as it relates to experimental vaccines.

My one friend, I’ll call him Jacque, said there is no way he would ever take a vaccine until it was proven safe, evidenced by long-term studies of side effects.  Over pizza, I asked how long those long-term studies would need to run before he would be comfortable taking a vaccine?  Thinking about it for a bit, he decided a large sample size would need to take the treatment over a lifetime to give him confidence that there would be no latent side effects.  Only then would he be willing to take a vaccine.  He was not willing to take any risk.

My other friend, let’s call him Pierre, had a completely opposite view.  Riding with him in a car almost a year ago, he mentioned his eagerness to participate in an experimental trial of a new vaccine, effectively signing himself up to be a human guinea pig.  His view was, “I’m a Christian and I know I’m heading for heaven, so who better than me to help scientists find a cure?  Why should those who only live for this world be putting their lives in jeopardy when I can do it with everything to gain and nothing to lose?”  This was a view I had not contemplated before, and I was inspired by his courage, faith, and selfless attitude.

These two friends represent polar opposites on the scale of risk vs. safety.  Who is right?  Was one prudent and one reckless?  Was one walking in faith and one walking in fear?  Was one putting God to the test and the other living wisely?   Where is the line at which reasonable risk is acceptable?  Sorry, I only have questions today, not answers.  You’ll have to decide on your own.

And just to be clear, this post is not at all about the Covid vaccine.  I have treasured friends on every side of that controversy and this post has nothing to do with whether or not a person should get a Covid shot.  (In fact, I’ll delete any comments about Covid because that’s not the discussion I want this post to generate–there are plenty of other places to debate that.)

And another clarification is important:  I’m isolating the risk vs. safety aspect of experimental medicine.  I’m not addressing any ethical, moral, or spiritual dilemmas or information gaps that may affect medical decision-making.  That is a separate topic that I’m not addressing here.  A Holy Spirit-guided conscience should guide one through such quandaries.

Here, I’m only speaking philosophically about whether Christians ought to consider taking medical risks.

If a vaccine or inoculation or new treatment is to be developed to eradicate a human disease, it makes sense that at some point, human guinea pigs would be needed.  Clinical trials would likely involve experimentation on humans to see if it works as expected and to discover unintended side effects.  It would likely involve a bit of trial and error and the treatment would be modified and improved with each round of testing.  I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine this is the way scientists developed vaccines and inoculations for eradicating smallpox, polio, and other diseases that we thankfully no longer have to be concerned with.

Speaking of smallpox, I will end this post by telling the story of the demise of one of my heroes of the faith, Jonathan Edwards, who died when he took an experimental smallpox inoculation in 1758.  He was 54, three years younger than me.   He took a medical risk, guessed wrong, and died, but there are a couple of interesting takeaways from his story.

Who was Jonathan Edwards?   He was the third President of Princeton University at his death, but, prior to that, was highly regarded as one of America’s most brilliant philosophical theologians.  A prolific preacher and writer, he helped start the religious revival known as the “Great Awakening,” and inspired the Protestant missionary movement of the 19th century.

Smallpox was a highly contagious virus that killed hundreds of thousands of people each year.  According to one Edwards biographer,

“Smallpox was spreading through the colonies.  Inoculations against the disease had well-known risks and were controversial, but were also proven to improve chances of survival.  Edwards, who always kept abreast of the latest scientific developments, had the whole family inoculated in late February…he soon contracted a secondary infection that eventually made it impossible for him to eat.  He died on March 22, age 54.”

(A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George M. Marsden)

Edwards had certainly weighed the pros and cons of the experimental smallpox vaccine and decided the risk was worth it for himself and his family.  But then, too late, he discovered that he had guessed wrong; his choice had inadvertantly delivered to him a death sentence.   I wondered what he thought about his decision during those final three weeks.  Did he feel angry?  Misled?  Guilty?  Ashamed?  Was he wringing his hands with regret as he learned that his bad decision was about to kill him?   According to his doctor, he did none of those things.

“Edwards’s physician, William Shippen, described the pastor’s posture on his deathbed as “cheerful resignation and patient submission to the divine will through every stage of his disease”

(The Life of President Edwards by Dwight, Sereno Edwards).

Can you imagine that?  He welcomed his pending death cheerfully.  He obviously saw his death not as the end, but as his gateway to Heaven.  “To die is gain.”  He didn’t despair over the prospect of his pending death, right to the end.

Just as significantly, he also viewed his fateful inoculation decision not as a mistake to be mourned, but as God’s divine will–and he patiently submitted to that.  He had such a high view of God’s sovereignty that he even saw his apparent miscalculation as something God had orchestrated.

Do you know what Edwards’ final words were?  “Trust in God and ye need not fear.”    He summarized well the main points of these two posts:

  1. We Christians mustn’t concern ourselves too much with life extension.
  2. Christians can afford to take risks, even medical ones
  3. and even if we guess wrong we win.

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Someday, I’ll likely discover that… I killed myself.

 

My guess is that someday when I arrive in heaven, I’ll find out that I’m there because I killed myself.

 

  • Perhaps I will discover I died by my own poor judgment, not looking both ways before walking out into an intersection.
  • Or perhaps I’ll find that I should have paid attention to that noisy wheel bearing, which made my front wheel fall off, which made me lose control on the highway, which caused my fatal head-on collision with the semi.
  • Maybe I’ll learn my death was caused by the Roundup I sprayed upwind on that one blustery day, which entered my lungs and started the cancer that would kill me.
  • Perhaps I will have died from keeping my cell phone too close to my bed at night, slowly frying my brain cells.
  • Maybe my undoing will have been caused by the taurine (whatever that is) in my Rockstar energy drink.  Come to think of it, there are a lot of things I ingest without a clue about what they are–any one of them could have been my undoing.
  • Maybe it will have been due to the butter I used to eat, then the margarine I replaced it with, then the butter I went back to.
  • Perhaps the thing that will have killed me is some adventurous thing I ate overseas:  the silkworms, the cow udders, the goose intestines, the 1000-year-old egg.  None of those had nutrition labels, which I would have likely disregarded anyway.
  • Perhaps, in my obsession with fitness, I’ll learn that I ran a few too many miles per week, which actually weakened my heart instead of strengthening it.
  • Possibly I’ll learn my demise was caused by one of the many vaccines I took in my lifetime, not knowing much (or caring much, quite frankly) about any of their long-term effects.
  • Maybe I’ll find I died from a currently-unknown long-term side-effect of the Covid virus that I wasn’t careful to avoid contracting.
  • Perhaps it’ll be revealed that I died because I believed and followed the wrong medical advice from those who I thought seemed credible at the time.

Of course, it’s entirely possible I’ll end up in heaven due to no fault of my own: I was murdered by a robber, hit by a drunk driver, or killed by a tornado.  But if I had to bet, I’ll bet it’s more likely that I will have contributed to my own death.  And I’m actually ok with that.

Why am I reflecting on all of this?

Because many people today seem consumed with doing everything possible to not kill themselves.  They seem bent on eliminating all health risks, trying to live as long as humanly possible.  This would be an understandable and appropriate view for those who do not believe in the afterlife.  After all, if this life is all there is, then maximizing one’s number of days makes total sense.  Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.  Now there’s a consistent worldview!

But the Christian belief that we are currently living in The Shadowlands–as C.S. Lewis phrased it–and that paradise is our eternal destination means we mustn’t put an inordinate amount of focus on health, life preservation, and life extension.

Am I saying we should throw caution to the wind and live reckless lives?  Not necessarily.  But I am saying that those of us who hope in the afterlife should only take reasonable safety precautions–not absolute safety precautions.  We could spend our entire life fearfully consumed with avoiding every health risk, making safe choices, and joylessly striving to prolong our days, all the while potentially missing what we’re actually here for.  That would be an inconsistent worldview!

Christians like me who are convinced that heaven will be a far better place than earth should spend more energy dreaming of that life rather than holding-on-for-dear-life to this one.  The Apostle Paul said it well, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:22-23).  Paul wasn’t suicidal, but he kept a proper perspective on life and death.  For the believer, death is a promotion, not the end.

This eternal perspective allows us to worry little about life extension.  In fact, it goes the other way and even enables us to become risk-takers since the self-preservation of our mortal bodies is no longer our ultimate goal.   I have history on my side here;  we see the Christians’ disregard for health and safety throughout church history.  Look at the physical sufferings of the apostles. Look at generations of martyrs who chose to surrender their bodies to death rather than recant their faith.  Do we accuse them of self-harm or commend them for their strong faith?  Faith.

Consider the physically reckless way the early church cared for those with communicable diseases.  This morning I was reading how the early Christians in Carthage responded to the great plague of 251 AD.  “Cyprian urged them to nurse sick people and touch them.  He reminded them that they could act in this mortally dangerous way because their faith in Christ, which gave them hope for everlasting life, had healed their fear of death.”  [The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, 2016, by Andrew Kreieder, p. 111].

Someday I may learn that I killed myself.  It will likely have been due to ignorance, inattentiveness, or personal failure.  Oops.  Nevertheless, what I really hope to discover on that day is that my brief earthly life was characterized more by “fruitful labor” than life extension.

For part 2 on this topic, click HERE

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Honesty is not the best policy

 

I don’t want you being honest with me — and I promise not to be honest with you either.    I want us to withhold the truth, avoid transparency, and be pretenders.  In fact, I don’t want anyone in the world being honest with each other.  Honesty is not the best policy.

My friends may be surprised at me saying such an outlandish thing.  As a God-fearing person who often speaks about truthfulness, integrity, and accountability, this doesn’t sound congruent.

Here’s what I mean.

We don’t need to disclose everything we’re thinking.  Just because it’s in my head doesn’t mean it needs to be spoken.   Before talking, I need to consider whether speaking my thoughts would be beneficial.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Here, Paul tells the Ephesians not to let everything in your head come out of your mouth.  In other words, “Put a filter on it!”   Prior to opening up your mouth, make sure your words suit the occasion, build up, and give grace to the hearer.  Less is more.

James, in 1:19, agrees, telling us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Our culture today completely fails in this area.  People are slow to listen, quick to speak, and filterless — particularly in our online communications!

Less is more.  We don’t need to share all of our opinions or always get in the last word.  Why do we feel it so necessary to tell others all the things that displease us about them?  How about putting a stop to our constant critiques and obeying Philippians 2:3 instead, which tells us to treat others better than ourselves!

We’ve drifted a long way from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous Sonnet 43.  “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.”  If written today it would read, “How have you offended me?  Let me count the ways.”  People are quick to point out their dissatisfactions, grievances, and disappointments in brutally honest, hate-filled attacks.  Let’s be different;  let’s never insult others by our honesty.

But what if the honesty of others insults us?  What then?

I recently read a book about apologizing, where the author contends that we must honestly tell people whenever they hurt us.  I completely disagree.  As I’ve blogged elsewhere, we can forgive someone who has hurt us without needing to inform them of the hurt they caused.  Let me take my hurts to Jesus, who understands mistreatment better than anyone, and then let me treat the offender with undeserved, unconditional mercy, grace, and love.  Only if it would benefit the other person do I suggest telling them what they did to me.

Is honesty ever a good policy?  Certainly.  Here are occasions where I think honesty is vitally important:

  1.  We need to be honest with God, ourselves, and others about our own weaknesses.  To hide our fatal flaws is foolish.  That’s why one of my personal Life Resolutions is to “keep no personal secrets of any kind, but rather disclose any areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable…”
  2. If I become aware that I’ve hurt someone, I should confess my sin honestly, request forgiveness, and seek to restore harmony.  Matthew 5:23-24 says, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
  3. When a person has hurt me AND it would also benefit him or her to understand the effects of that hurt, my honesty would actually be a kindness.  But make sure our motive involves his benefit, not our vindication or comeuppance.  The goal of such honesty must be to help him learn the ways others may be adversely affected by his actions.  The focus should be on educating more than confronting.
  4. When someone’s performance is sub-standard, a supervisor’s honest feedback and possible discipline are necessary.
  5. When someone exhibits behavior that is unethical, self-destructive, or harmful to you or others, honest, constructive criticism is essential.  Such honest communication may help reveal the person’s blind spots and prevent further harm or abuse.  But be sure the motive behind such honest feedback is protection and reformation and not judgment or condescension. Galatians 6 admonishes us to restore a straying person gently, something that takes great sensitivity, courage, and honesty.

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These Life Skills might save your child’s life someday

Today, I got a frantic message from my daughter, Lexi, who now lives in China.  “Dad, is putting out a grease fire on your Life Skils list?  I must not have learned that one yet!”   Well, there’s an important life skill to add!   This incident reminded me that it would be good to update this post from four years ago.  It’s an important topic for parents.

doctor

I believe effective parenting involves giving our kids high levels of responsibility!

We want to prepare them to become adults who take care of themselves and pitch in to help others in their community.  Responsibility certainly involves them doing their share of chores, which I believe should be assigned from toddlerhood on.

And it certainly involves us teaching them life skills so that they will be fully prepared for life on their own.

The link at the end of this post contains a comprehensive list of life skills that other parents and I have collected over the years in my parenting classes.  I doubt you’ll find many we missed!

How to use the Life Skills List:

  • Use it as a checklist with each of your kids to see what skills may need to be taught year by year until they’re ready for college.
  • Use it as a list of fun things to do on a daddy date or during time with mom.
  • When they master a skill reward them for learning it and celebrate together this new step towards their independence!

Three quick stories before you click the link:

First. When our kids were in elementary school and we would go on airplane trips, we would put them in charge of finding the gate, baggage claim, ground transportation, etc. It was like a scavenger hunt for them, and it taught them to recognize signage, read an airport map, pay attention, navigate confidently in the world of adults, notice when they took a wrong turn (yes, we let them!), redirect themselves, be a leader, etc.   (I met a grown woman this week who never flies because she dreads getting lost in airports.  In contrast, my girls could fly anywhere in the English-speaking world with confidence!)

Second.  Mastering these life skills could actually save their lives. When our oldest was working at a summer camp in upstate New York she posted this on my wall:

“Dad, remember that list of life skills you gave us?…um…prolly should have practiced ‘changing a flat tire’”. 

  • My heart sank!  She got a flat on a deserted road and she had absolutely no clue what to do.  My lack of teaching her this essential life skill might have put her life in jeopardy!  She was vulnerable and therefore at the mercy of whomever might drive along that road.  Fortunately, a nice elderly man came by and installed her spare tire, but this was a wake up call to me about the importance of properly preparing our kids before sending them off into the world!

Third.  I was glad to receive this text from our youngest, when she attended college in another city.

“Dad, Isn’t “driving on ice” on your life skils list?  Because that skill just saved me from driving into a creek!  It was kind of fun LOL”

Here’s the Life Skills List!   http://tinyurl.com/LifeSkillsForKids

If you see any we missed, be sure to let me know!

Finally, here’s a great Youtube channel I just heard about called, Dad, how do I? produced by a dad who didn’t have a dad to teach him such skills.

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I’m Confronting You About Confronting

In my counseling practice, I often deal with relational conflicts, where one or both people have a grievance against the other.   They’ve been confronting each other about what the other person needs to change, but unfortunately, that usually doesn’t end well–which is why they’re in my office!

So I’d like to share some thoughts about confronting and then propose an alternative.

When I confront someone who ticks me off, I’m pointing out what they are doing wrong;  I’m spotlighting the ways I’ve been mistreated or how disappointed I am.   I’m taking someone to the proverbial woodshed.  For example, I might say…

You never listen to me and you don’t care about my feelings.

You’re never home to help with the kids.

Stop trying to fix things all the time!

You always leave the house a mess and expect me to clean up after you.

You drink too much.  You need to stop.

Notice all of the “you” statements I’m using as well as the exaggerated terms “always” and “never”.   And the use of direct commands.   In confronting this way, my focus is clearly on the other person’s deficiencies.  If that person was to put on one of those adhesive nametags that says “Hello my name is…:, I’d be taking a Sharpie and writing the words “MY PROBLEM” on it.  That’s what my opponent is to me…a problem.

The response from such a confrontation is predictable.  It will likely be denial (I’m not that way), defensiveness and deflection (yea, but you treat me this other way), distancing (I can’t stand being around your constant criticism–I’m outta here), or despair (I give up: I will never be able to please you.)

Rarely, does someone who has been confronted this way respond with, “Oh, that was so insightful.  I’m a changed person because of your confrontation!”

Can you see why some people avoid confrontation at all costs?  It’s precarious for both people and it usually doesn’t end well.  For them, it seems best to stuff their feelings and live at a distance–relationally and emotionally.

I’m suggesting an alternative to that kind of interaction.  Let’s stop Confronting and start Educating.

What if I look at the person who is displeasing me, not as my antagonist, but as my friend who simply needs to learn how to care for me better.  What if the nametag I stick on that person is “Unaware Learner” rather than “My Problem.”  Do you see the difference this would make?  What if we took the person to the classroom instead of the woodshed.   That’s far less risky!

To educate simply means helping my friend learn how to care for me better by letting that person understand me more.  It includes positive reinforcement just as much as disclosing the things that bother me.  Here are some examples:

It meant a lot to me when you asked how my day went.

Thanks for letting me vent just now.  That made me feel not alone.  It makes me feel closer to you.

I sometimes find myself feeling like I’m getting your leftovers when you work so late so often.  I don’t want to feel this way.  I love you and I appreciate it so much whenever you make me feel more important than work.

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed in caring for the kids and I find myself feeling angry sometimes when I see you on your phone so much.  I’m not saying this to beat you up, but to let you know how this affects me.  I don’t want to feel that way about you. Whenever you remember to set down your phone and help with the kids please know that I will be so grateful to you.

We both know that a tidy house is obviously more imporant to me than it is to you!  I know you don’t share this value, but this is something that is very imortant to me. I suppose I feel like the condition of my house is a reflection of my success as a woman.  I realize that it doesn’t come natural for you, but I want you to know how much it means to me when  you do remember to pick things up for me.

I get nervous when I see you drinking so much.  Sometimes I can’t even sleep because of it.  I worry about ways that alcohol might harm our family like I’ve seen it do to others.  If you were able to cut down on your drinking that would be such a blessing to me.

I find myself getting defensive when I feel criticized and I don’t like that about myself.  I want to share something with you that I think will help:  it would help me to grow and change if you could educate me rather than confront me.  I think this might draw us closer and I’d appreciate it so much if you could give it a try.

Each of these statements will likely lead to increased heart connection, understanding, and improved behaviors.

Notice the prevalence of “I” statements, the avoidance of commands, and a complete lack of blame and shame.   Educating like this is not soft-peddling or minimizing issues; it simply involves discussing the same issues with a different tone and a different goal.  The focus is on strengthening the relationship, not on controlling another person.  It involves kindness, honesty, straightforwardness, polite requests, patience, and hope.

So whenever we remember to, let’s replace Confronting with Educating!   In fact, let’s change the title of this blog post as well!

 

[Disclaimer, in this post I’m speaking of confronting as it pertains to personal conflicts in the everyday frictions of life.  Certainly, there are times when outright confronting is necessary, such as with addiction treatment interventions, poor performance reviews, or to stop harm from being done to others.]

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Resolved…

(A re-post, with this year’s revisions.)

New Year’s Day is a good time to think about where we’ve been and what lies ahead in the coming year.  Today, many will be setting New Year’s Resolutions in hopes for better days ahead, but it’s well-known that most of these short-term goals will be short-lived. But what if we had a longer-term look at the things we need to change?

A few years ago,  I was challenged by reading The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, by Steven J Lawson. It highlights the determination/focus of Jonathan Edwards, one of my heroes of the faith. This man from the 1700s was a spiritual giant, a great evangelist, and an intellectual genius (he was a President of Princeton) who has also been called the greatest theologian America ever produced. This is someone to learn from! While still a teenager, Jonathan carefully crafted seventy Resolutions that he would live out during his entire life. They are amazing to read, in fact, click here to read them now! They make most of our New Year’s Resolutions seem shallow by comparison!

Reading Edwards’ resolutions made me resolve to come up with my own Lifelong Resolution list, which I’ve been working on over the past few years and revising annually. Jan 1st is a good time to re-post them in their latest form.

Here then, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards, is my updated list of my Forty Life Resolutions.

 

MY FORTY LIFE RESOLUTIONS

Note:  I do not claim to yet be living out all of these resolutions consistently in my life.  They are more statements of intent — the things I want to be realities in my life.  

Revised Jan 1, 2022

PREAMBLE: (adapted from Edwards)  Aware that “apart from Him I can do nothing” I humbly entreat God by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, as much as they align with His will.

RESOLUTIONS OF THE HEART

  1. Resolved that my primary delight be in God alone, irrespective of my circumstances, regarding Him as my only true need.
  2. Resolved to view His Word as a chest full of treasures providing spiritual riches, and to partake of that Treasure consistently–daily when reasonable to do so.
  3. Resolved to attentively listen to the voice of God by whatever means God would speak—general or special revelation—and not to limit God’s channels by my narrow thinking, prejudices, and assumptions.
  4. Resolved to make personal prayer a spiritual lifeline and top priority–pursuing relational intimacy with Him and surrendering myself to His service.
  5. I aspire to seek to love God with my emotions, fighting against my natural tendency toward stoicism and intellectualism.
  6. Resolved to regularly pray “Thy Kingdom Come,” interceding for God to bring His justice and abundant provision and the proclamation of the Gospel to all His creation.
  7. Resolved to increasingly develop and portray a longing for heaven and to maintain an eternal perspective.
  8. I intend to allow any discomfort, suffering, or mistreatment I experience to deepen my appreciation of the suffering Jesus embraced for me and the plight of the persecuted church (Philippians 3:10).
  9. I intend to be willing to sacrifice my life if God so directs.
  10. Resolved to be a faithful husband to Cindy until death.  I will seek ways to love her sacrificially as Christ does and dedicate my eyes, my body, and my affections to her alone.
  11. Resolved to have absolutely no secrets of any kind in my personal life. I will fully disclose all my areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable — that I may always be a man of complete authenticity and integrity.
  12. Resolved to be at peace with all men as far as it depends on me, (Rom 12:18) which to me means that there should be no one on the planet with whom I would not gladly share a meal.
  13. Resolved always to treat every person with a heart of respect regardless of how much I may like or dislike that person’s personality, values, or behavior.  I will take special care to show extra love and respect to those whom evangelical Christians and others have historically mistreated such as gays, atheists, the disabled, people of other religions, & that society would call “ugly”.

RESOLUTIONS OF THE HEAD

  1. Resolved to be continuously attentive to my weaknesses, that I may surrender them to Christ’s mercy and transforming power, but not so obsessed with them that they distract my attention from God thus becoming an idol.
  2. Resolved to hold my loved ones loosely: never presuming upon God’s propensity to bless, but rather viewing them always as a temporary blessing and never as an entitlement (Job 1:21).
  3. Resolved, like Paul in Philippians 4, to be content with and thankful for whatever God gives me: whether prosperity or adversity, comfort or suffering, joy or sorrow, health or sickness, abundance or scarcity.
  4. I intend to gladly submit to any injustice done to me without claiming my so-called “rights” just as Jesus modeled. (1 Peter 2:21-25). I will, however, actively oppose injustice toward others.
  5. Resolved to protect and preserve my life only as much as is prudent and a matter of reasonable stewarding of the brief earthly life God has granted me.  I want to welcome death when it comes.
  6. Resolved never to hold a grudge against, seek revenge toward, rejoice at or wish for the misfortune of anyone who may have wronged me or surpassed me in achievement.
  7. Resolved to never take personal offense at anyone, knowing that given the same circumstances and apart from the grace of God I would have treated me likewise.
  8. Resolved to recognize that we live in a spiritual as well as physical world and that our true battle is not against flesh and blood but is fought through prayer in the unseen spiritual realm.  (Eph 6:12)
  9. Resolved to be a lifelong thinker, learner and reader so that I may continuously challenge my own perspective and worldview. I want my faith to be an intelligent one and one that recognizes truth, wherever it may be found.
  10. Resolved to never put my hope in political parties, governments, ideologies, personalities, science, myself, or in anything other than God Himself and His church insofar as it submits to His headship.  (Psalm 46:3)
  11. Resolved to care very little about fashion, fads, trends, pop culture, amusements, or technologies except as they serve to advance what I perceive to be the purposes of God in my life, i.e. being in the world, but not of the world.  (John 17:15-16)
  12. Resolved never to judge anyone inwardly or outwardly to whom God might hold to different standards in these matters of asceticism, spiritual disciplines, fitness, finances, and lifestyle.  (1 Cor 7:17)

RESOLUTIONS OF THE HABITS

  1. Resolved, like Jonathan Edwards in his 63rd Resolution, to seek to behave in the same way as if I were aspiring to be the godliest person in my generation.  (1 Cor 9:24; 1 Tim 4:8-9)
  2. Resolved to live an authentic, exemplary life worthy of imitation as I seek to imitate Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)
  3. As long as I’m physically able, resolved to keep my body in excellent physical condition as a matter of stewardship and enjoyment, but not of vanity or condescension.
  4. Resolved to surrender my natural inclinations toward laziness and comfort-seeking and instead rely on God to transform me into a diligent, proactive, risk-taker, prone to seek out hard things rather than easy ones.
  5. Resolved to surrender to christ my natural tendency toward introversion that I may better influence others by proactively investing my life in them.
  6. Resolved to keep under control my God-given appetite for food and to always remain thin as an outward display of my inward convictions to live an ascetic lifestyle of contentment, moderation, and restraint.
  7. Resolved to fight against my natural lack of proficiency at remembering names, faces, and details; i.e. to sharpen my mind and take extra effort to remember, allowing me to better honor and influence.
  8. Resolved to faithfully and regularly intercede for those individuals that God has put in my circles of influence and awareness, praying God-sized prayers, expecting the miraculous, as frequently as I perceive Him to direct.
  9. Resolved to be highly influential in the lives of those around me as I seek ways to encourage, inspire, and equip them to grow in goodness and godliness.
  10. I aspire to be honest, direct, and prompt to hold crucial conversations and educational opportunities rather than resorting to silence (as is my tendency).
  11. Resolved to continuously strive to improve in my effectiveness as a highly involved husband, father, grandfather, son, relative, friend, neighbor, and counselor.
  12. Resolved to be a reasonably and responsibly engaged citizen in whatever country, state, city, and neighborhood God may place me.
  13. Resolved to strive to remain debt-free (except in the matter of love, Romans 13:8) and to generously give away as much as I reasonably can, considering my obligations to love and provide for my family and those who would benefit from our hospitality.
  14. I aspire to bear as much fruit as I reasonably can, storing up treasures in heaven in order to reap a bountiful eternal harvest.  (Matt 6:19-21)
  15. Resolved to stay attentive to keeping these resolutions for the duration of my life that I may finish well to the very end and thus hear these words at the Bema seat of Christ, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  (Matt 25:20-21)

One final, but important section must be added to communicate the attitude of Jonathan Edwards towards the resolutions that he set.

Edwards recognized that sheer will power alone is useless in keeping any such resolutions. God has to do it—we are unable. The book mentioned above includes quotations from his journal, reflecting on how he viewed them and lived them out. Here are some excerpts.

“If God should withdraw His Spirit a little more, I should not hesitate to break my resolutions, and should soon arrive at my old state. There is no dependence on myself.”

“But alas, how soon do I decay! O how weak, how infirm, how unable to do anything of myself! What a poor inconsistent being! What a miserable wretch, without the assistance of the Spirit of God…How weak do I find myself! O let it teach me to depend less on myself, to be more humble.”

“Our resolutions may be at the highest one day, and yet, the next day we may be in a miserable dead condition, not at all like the same person who resolved. So that it is to no purpose to resolve, except that we depend on the grace of God. For if it were not for is mere grace, one might be a very good man one day, and a very wicked one the next.”

May this be the attitude of all who set resolutions of any kind, whether they be for the New Year or for the rest of life! Only then can we hope to accomplish them!

How I read 52 books in 2020

 

Don’t you love it when your kids tell you about something amazing!  Lexi, introduced me to a great resource that has quite literally changed my life.   I’m blogging about it because many of you may find this resource as helpful as I did.  What is it?  Hoopla!

Hoopla is a free service, provided by public libraries (including Cedar Rapids), offering audiobooks, e-books, and videos.  To log in, you just have to use your library card number.  I use it almost exclusively for audiobooks, of which there are tens of thousands to choose from.   You simply stream or download the books to the app on your phone and listen to them!  They return automatically in 21 days.  I started using Hoopla in January and I was shocked to see that I’ve listened to 52 books this year!

How did I have time to read a book a week while being a full-time grad student doing a counseling internship?  It has amazed me how much time can be reclaimed by making use of otherwise wasted time.  I read while at the gym, on the treadmill, in the car, running errands, traveling, mowing grass, shoveling snow, vacuuming, gardening, working on projects, etc.

To give you a taste of what is available, here is the list of books that I listened to in 2020 (in no particular order), along with a short description of each.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. A riveting memoir about a Korean adoptee who searched for her biological family.
Understanding People by Larry Crabb.  He talks about what it means to be human and how each component needs to be mended.
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.  I have been meaning to read this culture critique for years.  Written in 1985 but just as relevant today as ever.
Blessed are the Misfits by Brant Hanson.  The author shares his reflections on life with Asperger’s Syndrome.
St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton.  An interesting biography of a person I wanted to learn more about by an author I’ve wanted to read more from.
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer.  A classic that I hadn’t read since college days.
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper.  Encouraging reflections for Christians suffering from depression.
The Search for God by C.S. Lewis.  A collection of short essays about faith and culture. 
You and Me Forever by Francis Chan.  My daughter Brenda considers this her favorite marriage book and I now see why she says that.
The Hidden Smile of God by John Piper.  Three interesting biographies of suffering saints: David Brainard, William Cowper, and John Bunyan.
Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John M. Gottman.  Scientific evidence about what builds or erodes marriages.
Knowing God by J.I. Packer.  Another classic that I hadn’t read since college days.  Are we balconeers (watchers) or travelers on the journey?
Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel.  He unpacks the folly of talking the talk without walking the walk.
Paradise Lost by John Milton.  A literary classic.  I was amazed at the theological depths of human depravity expressed through this extended poem.
Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper.  A short book about the importance of delighting in God.
Contentment by Chip Ingram.  A good book on the subject.
Atomic Habits by James Clear – Book Summary by Dean Bokhari.  A client recommended this book on self-management, so I wanted to check it out. Good tips.
George McDonald by C.S. Lewis. This is Lewis’s compilation of many of McDonald’s profound reflections.
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.  I re-read my favorite marriage book. What if marriage is about becoming holy, more than happy?
The Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb.  I really enjoyed this book.  Are you manipulating your spouse or ministering to your spouse?
Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage by Greg Smalley.  Humorous personal stories and principles for a healthy marriage.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan.  A historically researched fictional account of Joy Davidman’s life and marriage to C.S. Lewis.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.  Lewis’s personal reflections on losing his wife to cancer. 
Soul Keeping by John Ortberg.  This book was mentioned twice in other books, so I decided to read it.  A good one about caring for your soul.
The Truth About Us: How We Fool Ourselves and How God Loves Us Anyway by Brant Hansen. I really enjoy this author, his style is humorous, poignant, and convicting.
Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud.  My biggest take-away:   my spouse should not complete me, but rather complement me.
Crucial Conversations book summary (Flashbooks)  Good, quick 30 min overview of an excellent book on communication.
Summary of Crucial Conversations by (Abey Beathan) More comprehensive than the previous, but sounds like a robot is reading it
Costly Obedience by Mark Yarhouse.  Thoughts about Christians experiencing same sex attraction.
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.  Part 3 of the space trilogy.
Prelandria by C.S. Lewis.  Part 2 of the space trilogy.
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.  Part 1 of the space trilogy, which allegorizes creation, the fall, and redemption.
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.  Thoughts on the education system and how human emotion is overlooked.
Becoming Whole by Brian Fikkert. Excellent follow-up to When Helping Hurts by the same author.  Compassionate agencies must address the whole person.
The Disciplines of the Christian Life by Eric Liddell.  I believe this is the only book written by Eric Liddell, published after his death.
Eric Liddell by John Keddie.  A wonderful biography of the Olympic runner.
Eric Liddell by Janet and Geoff Benge.  Another great biography of Eric.
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson.  Part 4 of the fictional young adult series.
The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson. Part 3 of the fictional young adult series.
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson. Part 2 of the fictional young adult series.
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson. Part 1 of the fictional young adult series by this famous Christian singer. It’s a fantasy, which allegorizes the Christian message.
Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud.  How change is sometimes necessary, though painful.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba.  A fascinating memoir of an African boy genius who brought wind-generated electricity to his people from scraps he found in a junkyard.
Amazing Grace by John Piper.  A biography of  William Wilberforce, who brought slavery to an end in England without war.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield.  A call to be neighborly, by opening up our lives and homes to our literal neighbors.
Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray.  A short, but good book, dealing with depression from a Christian point of view.
Dispatches From The Front by Tim Keesee.  Amazing stories from around the world of how God is working in hostile places.
What Your Body Knows About God by Rob Moll.  Scientific evidence of how our bodies are designed to connect to the spiritual.
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk. This was required reading for my degree, but it was amazing to learn about how trauma is connected to physical responses and the various ways to recover.

.

Aside from Hoopla audiobooks, the Bible, and school textbooks, I also read four paper books
Silent Night by Susan Thomas.  The autobiography of the subject of the tv show Sue Thomas: FB(eye).  She was blind and did lip-reading for the FBI.
Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.  Ancient wisdom from one of the church fathers.
Out of Your Comfort Zone by George Verwer.  A call to live a life of sacrifice and service by one of our modern-day heroes.
Marriage Matters by Cheri Swalwell.  A collection of stories about how to have a healthy marriage, edited by a former youth group student of mine!

Logging Out

Those who know me best know that, though I’m generally a content, positive, optimistic person, there is one thing that makes me absolutely incredulous:  observing others being made to feel insignificant, voiceless, devalued, and invisible.

I’ve seen the damaging effects such treatment causes.  People I know and love have been devastated by having what they love torn from them with no recourse, no negotiating, no alternate ideas, no compromising, and no say in the matter.

And I’m well acquainted with the fallout of such treatment:  the sleepless nights, the bewilderment, the anger, the disillusionment, the grief, the insecurity, and the despair.   I’ve spent far too many hours consoling such needlessly-wounded friends.

My incredulity usually compels me to draw attention to the unjust treatment of others;  I sense a duty to come to the defense of the marginalized.  I feel obliged to point out those being overlooked, to speak up for the voiceless, to enlighten the unaware, and to write passionate letters or emails.   Sometimes it helps.

Sometimes it doesn’t.  In those cases, I have found it useful to focus on two things:

  1. healing the wounded (my interest in becoming a counselor was augmented by the desire to better help such hurting people) and
  2. viewing the hurtful ones as blind, not evil.

About Blindness

My choice to view the perpetrators as blind rather than evil has been very helpful in allowing me to forgive rather than get stuck in bitterness.  But it didn’t stop me from judging them.  How could people be so blind to the obvious?  How could they not see the devastation they were causing?  How could they sit by and not be affected by suffering saints?  It was right for me to judge them.  Blindness is stupid.

And then last month happened.

At the beginning of the month, I found myself in a leadership position where I was in charge of carrying out the directives of a national office.   Being a responsible rule-follower, I was determined to carry out my duties to the best of my ability.  I studied the procedure manual and made a detailed list of all the tasks to be done.  I memorized the organizational flow chart and told everyone where they fit.

However,  the passions and priorities of some in our group differed from those outlined in my rulebook.  This problem was easily solved by viewing them as out-of-step and a hindrance to progress.   So I discounted their viewpoints — after all,  proper procedures must be followed,

Ironically, I was now the blind one — blind to how my actions were making others feel unimportant, unnecessary, and unwanted.  I was now the one causing people disillusionment, grief, and sleepless nights.

At the end of the month, through a series of hard conversations, God mercifully opened my blind eyes.  Here I was, doing the exact same thing that has bothered me so much in others over the years.  I was completely blind and didn’t know it.  I found that I am as capable as anyone of viewing people as problems, rather than as precious.

I quickly apologized and made things right with those I had wronged and my victims showed me grace in their forgiveness.  Happily, we are now moving forward at great speed — together — in reaching our goals.  This experience was humbling for me.

But an even greater humility came from realizing these things about myself:

  • I have been such a hypocrite in being prone to judge others for the very thing I am prone to do.  I can be just as blind as those I’ve criticized.
  • All of us have blind spots, but we are completely unaware that we are blind.
  • Blindness cannot be avoided.  When we think we are mature and incapable of blindness we are just fooling ourselves.  We can’t see what we can’t see.
  • Only God can give sight to the blind.  It takes a miracle to open a blind person’s eyes.
  • This awareness makes me less prone to condemn others.  Except by the grace of God there go I.

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:5 (ESV).

  • Logging out starts with asking God to reveal my own faults before I start fixating on the faults of others.

Why I resolved NOT to read through the Bible in 2020

I’ve always admired those people who can read through the Bible each year.  I once met an elderly saint, who shared with me — shortly before his death — that he had read through the Bible something like 50 times over his lifetime.  Wow!  He has been a spiritual mentor to me, teaching me more about intimacy with God than anyone else.  In many ways, I want to be just like him.

But unlike my mentor, when I’m on my deathbed, I will not be able to report having read through the Bible 50 times–or anything close to that number.  Sure, I’ve tried it on occasion over the years, but most of the time unsuccessfully;  it was one of those New Year’s Resolutions that I couldn’t sustain.   Most of the time I would fall behind, then quit, and then feel guilty.

I admire those who can read through it in a year, and encourage people to do it, but here are five reasons why I am unlikely to make reading through the Bible in a year my annual goal.

  1.  My comprehension level is insufficient to skim-read effectively.  Compared to most people, I’m the kind who needs to read slowly in order to grasp what is being said.  Reading the entire Bible at my speed would take an unreasonable amount of time each day.
  2.  I am committed to the belief that every word (and jot and tittle) of the Bible is God-breathed and purposefully written and so I seek to fully understand all that God is communicating.  If I did try to skim-read the Bible I would feel like I’m just getting the headlines — an overview — and not the details of God’s message.  (This is also why in my Bible study I prefer a more literal translation rather than a more contemporary paraphrase; I’m more interested in the details of what God actually said than man’s interpretations about what God might have been saying.)
  3.  Someone once said, “What matters is not me getting through the Bible, but whether or not the Bible is getting through me. ” Unless I slow down and meditate on what I’m reading I know that God’s Word will not get through me–I will miss the vast majority of personal applications.   Someone else said, “We should read God’s Word for inspiration, not information.”  I want to read it with the mindset that it’s about God’s heart reaching my heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  For me, that takes time and a lot of focus.
  4.  I don’t ever again want my Bible reading to be associated with guilt;  instead, I want it always to be a joy and delight.  To me, having to stick to a prescribed daily reading schedule for 365 days in a row makes reading God’s Word often feel like a chore on a checklist.
  5.  My lifestyle is too sporadic and inconsistent to do anything for 365 days in a row!   I know that there will be days when it is just not reasonable for me to spend a chunk of time reading the Bible.  Driving straight through to New Jersey, being sick with the flu, experiencing days of extreme exhaustion, or dealing with an unexpected crisis — these things are realities in my life where grace is needed.  If I were tethered to a strict Bible reading schedule, any missed readings would begin to pile up, necessitating more skimming, frustration, and guilt.  Or just quitting altogether–as I have done many times!

Many years ago, I changed the way I read the Bible.

Now, I prayerfully determine a specific number of minutes that I want to spend in God’s Word each day, knowing that some days it will not be reasonable to do so.   When the appointed time comes, I go to a quiet place with my Bible and a highlighter and I set a timer for my predetermined amount of time.  Then I dive in, absorbing myself into God’s Word, reading as slowly as I can, comparing relevant passages, and underlining the things that are particularly meaningful or insightful.  I get so absorbed that I often lose track of time completely.  When my timer goes off, I simply draw a line in the margin at that point and pick it up there the following day.  No quota to meet, no rush, and no pressure:  just the enjoyment of meditating on what God is saying.  Sometimes I get through two chapters, sometimes no more than a single paragraph.  It doesn’t matter in the least!   Sometimes, God gives me opportunities to share what He showed me that day.

Whatever your plan and pace, I hope that 2020 finds you growing in your reading of God’s Word!

[Update:  in 2021, I tried something new.  Using the Youversion app, I read through the Bible Chronologically, reading through the text and also listening at the same time.  I didn’t stick to the daily calendar schedule, my life is too sporadic for that level of consistency.  But I was able to set aside irregular blocks of time, completing the whole Bible in 7 months, something I’ve never come close to doing before. There was value in chronologically “speed-reading” the entire Bible this way, but it’s not something I will do very often for all the reasons in this blog post.]

 

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