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reflections of mine others might find useful

If Wedding Vows Were Honest

People love weddings.  I should know because I officiated over 50 of them!  Everything is arranged to make the perfect day.   Everyone cleans up, dresses up, covers up, and gets made up.   Friends and family converge from all over the world and sit expectantly through the prelude.  Then the elegant wedding party glides down the aisle until the real head-turner appears–the radiant bride.  Then we blush with the stunning groom who is grinning from ear to ear as he beholds her approach.   She arrives, the bride is given, he takes her arm, they come forward and, as the ceremony proceeds, they gaze into each other’s eyes transfixed.  Everything is picture perfect!   As Uncle Herman reads 1 Corinthians chapter 13, “the love chapter,” eyes are moist all around.

And then we get to the culmination of the whole event–the exchanging of vows.   A holy hush occurs as everyone strains to listen to what the lovers will pledge to one another.

In a Christian wedding, they’ll traditionally sound something like this.

“I, Ken, pledge my undying love to you, Barbie, as I invite you to share my life. I promise to be kind, unselfish, respectful, and trustworthy, serving you and putting your needs before my own.  I promise to love you with unconditional, agape love, like Christ loved the church.  Barbie, today, before God and these witnesses, I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, remaining faithful to you as long as we both shall live.”

Beautiful words of promise fit for such a beautiful day.  Everyone melts.  Tears flow.  Cameras capture it for posterity.

But is it honest?   Will Ken really love her unconditionally?  Will he really put all of her needs before his own?  Will his love be unwavering when things get worse, or poorer, or in sickness?   No.

The problem is, Barbie is not marrying Jesus, she’s marrying Ken.  And Ken is a fallen human being, just as she is.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, it is a guarantee that all of us will miserably fail at consistently delivering Christian agape love to those we care about.  1 Corinthians, chapter 13 vividly describes God’s perfect love, but only He demonstrates it without fail.   Though hopefully, we are growing in Christlikeness, we will demonstrate it intermittently at best.  This is because we are humans with some serious limitations, which means…

  • we get distracted
  • we forget things
  • we get overloaded
  • life depletes us and wears us down
  • we get tired, hungry, and uncomfortable
  • we run out of energy
  • we sometimes speak before thinking
  • we lack sensitivity
  • we see things from our limited perspective, etc.
  • we don’t know how others interpret things
  • we don’t know what it’s like to be our spouse
  • we are ignorant, not always understanding what is needed in certain situations
  • we lose momentum
  • we lose focus
  • we misprioritize
  • we get lazy
  • we get selfish
  • we think our way is better
  • we can only hold it together for so long
  • we have limits

We can’t keep it together for a single day, let alone ’till death do us part!

So if wedding vows were honest, I think they would sound more like this.

I, Ken, take you, Barbie, to be my wedded wife.  As your husband, God calls me to love you as Christ loved the church, with unconditional, agape love.  With God’s help, I will strive to love you that way, but I know that my love will often fall short of that ideal because I’m human, and because my pursuit of Christ is a work in progress.  I promise that it is my intention to treat you with the kindness, respect, and trust that you deserve, putting your needs before my own.  I also promise that when I fail, and treat you in ways that are not loving, I will admit my sin against you, repent of it, make things right with you, and then learn from my failure how to love you better in the future.  I also promise that when you fail at loving me, I will be quick to forgive you and will do everything I can to restore our relationship and grow from it as well.  Barbie, today, before God and these witnesses, I promise to work on loving you more and more, repairing things with you when I fail, and making our home one that models perpetual grace and forgiveness–through better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and in health. Whatever God brings our way, I promise to remain faithful to you for as long as we both shall live.

Now please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting every future bride and groom needs to change their traditional wedding vows to match my honest ones.  In fact, at our own wedding,  Cindy and I shared traditional vows that were very similar to the ones in the first sample above.  If there was ever a day to celebrate idealism, it would be on your wedding day!  I’m not wanting to kill the mood!

But what I am saying is that–regardless of promises made–we should live with the expectation that we will regularly fail to love our loved ones and they will regularly fail to love us.  That’s the real promise!   So let’s adjust our expectations and be prepared for that.  And then when we do hurt each other, let’s be quick to heal the hurts and grow from them so that we might learn to love more and hurt less.

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Why I think you should give your kids HEFTY allowances! (Part 2)

[This is an update from a post I did in 2018].

In Part 1, I made the case for why I believe every kid should be given an allowance.   Scroll down and read that post first if you haven’t already.

Today I want to make the case for giving responsible kids HEFTY allowances.

Someone will say, “But we don’t have any extra money in our budget to start paying our kids hefty allowances.”  I’m not suggesting you add even $1 to your overall family budget.  I’m merely suggesting you transfer some of the money you’re already spending on raising your kids–to them!

Think about it–right now, you’re already spending a certain amount of money to buy them treats, gifts, clothes, fashion accessories, cosmetics, games, entertainment, etc.  How about handing them some of that same money and letting them pay for some of their own expenses!  This will lighten your load and teach them a lot about managing themselves.

Realizing that every family’s amounts will be different, let me share how it worked in our house.  We paid our girls $1 a week for each year of their age.   That means when they were three, we gave them $156 a year and by the time they were 18, that had increased to an annual amount of $936. That may sound like a lot, but it’s really not, compared to the total cost of raising a child.

Six considerations

  1. We made them put 10% of it in their savings bank and 10% in their “Jesus bank” to take to church periodically to put in the offering.  From the earliest age, we wanted our kids to learn the importance of generous living and wise saving.  (Savings money could only be used for investments that we parents agreed were worthy ones:  e.g., musical instruments, computers, major school trips, cars, etc.)
  2. Their remaining *80% of “discretionary” money, was theirs to spend as they chose–for the most part.
  3. Parents will need to restrict what purchases are–or are not–allowed based on their own values.  Examples of “outlawed” purchases might be explicit music or violent video games.  Be sure to major on the majors though, and don’t be afraid of letting them waste their money!  (For years our 8-year-old daughter Lexi would spend all of her weekly allowances on frivolous purchases, living from “paycheck to paycheck.”  Then one day she decided she wanted an American Girl doll.  She started saving almost all of her allowance for the next 6 months and when that doll arrived, it was a hard-earned treasure.  She learned an important lesson on how “the best things come to those who wait”–a lesson she’s never forgotten!)
  4. Each year on their birthday, they would get an increase in allowance, and often be informed of new things they would need to start purchasing for themselves.  Parents would do well to envision how much much financial responsibility they would want their kids to have on their first day of college and work towards that.
  5. Depending on the age and situation, parents might physically dole out cash or transfer amounts into an account–perhaps even a debit card.  Admittedly this takes some time and effort, but the benefits from creating financially responsible and independent kids make it worth the effort.
  6. As I’ve blogged about elsewhere, allowance money can easily be deducted from the child’s next “paycheck” to pay for fines, consequences, unfinished **chores, etc.  No arguments are required!

What kids might pay.

  • Here is a list of expenses kids might be expected to pay for, starting from age three and progressing through high school:
    • Small Toys, snacks, candy–anything the 3-year-old might beg for at Walmart!
    • Hobbies and crafts (slime comes to mind!)
    • Pet expenses (100%–food, cages, shots, etc.)
    • Bikes, scooters, etc. (parents might choose to pay for safety equipment, helmets, etc.)
    • Electronic games (including batteries, accessories, etc.)
    • Entertainment (movies, bowling, books, magazines, etc.)
    • Hot school lunches (if they don’t want to pack their own)
    • Netflix or other streaming services (e.g., parents could charge a fee per movie or show watched to help defray the entertainments bills)
    • Room decorations (paint, themes, accessories, etc.)
    • Clothes/shoes (anything beyond the basics–they pay for unneeded clothes or expensive name brands)
    • Cosmetics/accessories/toiletries (anything beyond the basics of deodorant, essential hygiene items, etc.)
    • Haircuts/hairstyling
    • School/church trips, proms, club sports (a percentage–see below)
    • Cell phone/data (beyond the basics–see below), apps.
    • Car (purchase, gas, insurance, repairs–see below)
    • Saving for College (see below)

What parents might pay

  • Parents should make clear what expenses they will cover.  For us, in addition to the basics (food, essential clothing & toiletries, school supplies, transportation, housing, utilities, insurance, etc.) we told them we would pay for the following:
    • 75% of church activities/expenses.  (The high percentage shows how this was a priority for us.  Yet, we also wanted them to participate in deciding which church activities were most important.  However, if they had been reluctant to go to church at all we would have gladly paid 100%.)
    • 25% of extra school activities/expenses such as uniforms, trips, prom costs, band trips, club sports, etc.  (School costs were admittedly a lower priority to us than church ones.)  One time, this policy of ours forced our 15-year-old daughter Lexi to decide which was more important–paying 75% of a spring break band trip to Ireland (which would cost her several thousand dollars) or saving her money to purchase her own car.  She opted for the car.
    • Birthday presents for friends (However, this was a predetermined “flat rate.”  They would need to pay the extra if they wanted to purchase extravagant gifts.
    • Basic phone and data costs (If they wanted the latest, coolest iPhone or unlimited data, they would need to pay that difference)
    • One weekly music or sports lesson.  We wanted to encourage their skill development, but we didn’t want them burning out.  If they wanted a second type of lesson they would need to pay those costs.  (BTW, if kids are too lazy to practice between lessons, they should pay for those lessons!)
    • A percentage of car insurance or fuel costs once they own their own car (this is because they are saving us money by driving themselves.)
    • Half of college expenses (This helped one of our daughters determine where to attend since it would significantly affect her pocketbook.)

I hope this gives you some ideas of how you might incorporate allowances into your family structure.


*Others, like Jeff Anderson, have suggested making kids save a third, give a third and use 33% for discretionary spending.

**I’m not suggesting allowances are given in exchange for doing chores.  I explain the difference here.

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Why you should give your kids allowances! (Part 1)

[This is a revision of a post I did in 2018, but it’s just as relevant in today’s economy.]

Our goal as parents is not to raise children, but rather to raise responsible adults.  Sadly, too many parents end up with chronically-dependent high school graduates who can’t manage their lives — or their money.

So today I want to make the case for giving your kids allowances, which will make your kids better prepared for life.  And that means your life will be better too!

But first, I want to share with you an email I received from a missionary mom in Nicaragua, where I did a parenting seminar a number of years ago.   She followed my advice about giving kids allowances, and surprised me with this beautiful testimonial about doing it with her THREE YEAR OLD!    [I’ll insert my comments between hers.]

.Our 3-year-old son is learning the value of $ as he spends all his $1 per week on gum.

We might think of gum as a waste of good money, but to him, this is what he values most.  He’s had to do some self-reflecting in deciding what he cares about most.  Someday he’ll figure out that there are better uses for his money, but that’s something he’ll need to figure out on his own.   Most importantly he’s learning that his parents are trusting him with the responsibility of making his own decisions and that he’ll be living with his decisions.

He is quickly learning which gum pack gets him the most pieces.

Amazing!  Notice how he already is learning to stretch his dollar, to look for bargains, and to do comparison shopping to get the best value!  He’s being forced to use simple math to figure out what is in his best interest.  He’s already learning to advocate for himself.

He is learning not to eat the entire pack in 2 minutes because he doesn’t have $ to buy more.

See how he’s learning about delayed gratification, patience, pacing himself, relishing what he has, and living within his means!  How many teenagers never learn these lessons!  How many adults never do!

He even paid me a nickel the other day to carry the laundry into the house because he did not want to do it.  I explained to him that it is one of the small chores he is required to help with and therefore would have to pay me for his portion of the work.  Amazingly he looked at me square on and asked, “How much?”  I told him, “One nickel,” and he paused, thought awhile, and finally said “I want to pay you because I don’t want to do it.”

Wow!  This three-year-old is already learning to weigh pros and cons, to make decisions, to negotiate with others, and to wrestle with priorities regarding his time, money, work & leisure!  He’s learning that “time is money” and about simple economics.

I share this because if someone told me that this stuff would work on a 3-year-old I would never have believed it.  But, he is the youngest of 3 so we included him in the [allowance] process because he was feeling SO left out.  Now we know it is effective even at 3.

I love this story because it vividly demonstrates how giving some measure of financial control even to the youngest of kids can serve to build their character.

My next blog, Part 2, makes the case for HEFTY allowances, but let me close this post with some general thoughts about giving kids allowances.

  • It makes children feel valued and trusted and gives them a measure of control over their lives.
  • It gives them money to waste.  Failure is a great teacher.
  • They can experience the joys of giving and the rewards of saving.
  • It minimizes whining in stores about things they impulsively want (“Did you bring your money purse?  No?  Well I guess you’ll have to remember to bring it next time.”)
  • It gives you opportunities for reasonable, non-emotional disciplinary action (“If you forget to do your chores, no worries, it just means you’ve hired one of us to do them!”)
  • It doesn’t cost you anything.  You’re already spending money on your kids — this just transfers responsibility onto them for certain purchases.
  • If you don’t give allowances, because if you hold all the money, they’ll always be coming to you for withdrawals, which can cause conflict.  Better to transfer at least some of their money into their care and let them learn to manage it.
  • Parents can still set limits on what money is allowed to be spent for (but remember, don’t prevent them from wasting it.).
  • Instead of butting heads with them about their financial wants, it forces them to make decisions about what matters most, learning important life skills.
  • It gives them cash that can be used to reimburse you for any damage they may cause.
  • It gives us opportunities to consult with them about their financial choices.
  • It makes you the coolest parents on the block!
  • Cash might be best for younger children.  Reloading a debit card might work for older children.

 

 

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Relational Temperature, Part 3: Temperature Definitions

In my past two posts, I framed relationships as having temperatures.  Part 1 talked about what factors cause relationships to either warm up or cool down, and Part 2 told what to do if others choose to remain cold despite your attempts at warmth.

In this post, I will define each of the twelve temperature increments on my graphic.  I’ll explain the warmer ones first, followed by the colder ones.  I’ll begin each grouping with the absence of temperature–what I call Complacent.

Here’s how I describe the increasing levels of warmth in relationships.

COMPLACENT   This level is neither warm nor cool.  Indifference or ambivalence characterizes such relationships.  No positive or negative interactions or feelings exist.  This category can describe people with whom we have little or no interaction, such as neighbors we haven’t met.  To move to the next level of warmness often begins with introducing ourselves and learning names.

CORDIAL   This is the level where people are polite and respectful toward each other, but there is still a formality to the interactions.  Cordiality is seen in the pleasant conversations between people who just met–involving an ever-so-slight amount of relational warmth.  Moving to the next level requires viewing the other person as someone to bless.

COURTEOUS  Here, the people show gracious consideration toward one another involving small acts of kindness that have minimal cost.  Shoveling a neighbor’s driveway is an example of being courteous.  Moving to the next level of warmth requires becoming aware of the particular needs of others.

CARING  In this level, people demonstrate a greater level of kindness through costlier actions, empathy, and personalized compliments.   Examples would be bringing over a meal for someone in crisis, helping someone move, offering a listening ear to a neighbor who needs to vent, or building up someone who feels like a failure.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if people were better at caring!   And think of the influence we would have if we were better at this; people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.  With many of the people in our lives, this level is as warm as we need to get.  But for others, we will have even warmer relationships.

CONNECTED  People in this category find community with others, often through group involvement, shared experiences, geographical proximity, ethnic backgrounds, and shared interests such as sports, hobbies, politics, beliefs, or church involvement.  Such connections offer an antidote for loneliness and provide a sense of belonging.  In connected relationships, it is safe to share opinions, values, and passions.  Here, we enjoy camaraderie and a sense of we, not just me.  People can feel connected with dozens and even hundreds of people; however, the final two levels necessarily involve much smaller numbers of people.

CLOSE  This level describes relationships where there is a much higher level of vulnerability, safety, and trust.  The people within this level find it safe to share difficult experiences, controversial views, emotions, hurts, fears, and dreams in the context of unconditional support and encouragement.   Bible studies, accountability or support groups, support groups, and close teams often provide such close connections.  We usually have only a handful or two of family and friends within this category.

CORE  The most intimate relationships belong in this final category which is characterized by complete vulnerability, transparency, and support.  These are the closest of friends and they enjoy safe, secure, attachment bonds.  A person may have one or two core people in their lives and spouses in the healthiest of marriages relate at this level.  For Christians, our relationship with God should also be at this level of intimacy.

And here’s how I describe the levels of increasing coldness, again.

COMPLACENT   This level is neither warm nor cool.  Indifference or ambivalence characterizes such relationships.  No positive or negative feelings or interactions exist.  This category can describe people with whom we have little or no interaction, such as neighbors we haven’t met.

COLD  This is the first level where the interactions are chilly.  People here are stand-offish or resort to brief answers to questions without elaboration.  Sarcasm, eye-rolling, and sighs of exasperation may also occur in cold relationships.  When people are cold toward us, it is difficult–but important–not to reciprocate; returning coldness for coldness serves only to propel us toward the next level.

CRITICAL  Relationships at this level contain a lot of criticism, focusing on the other person’s failures.  Harsh words are spoken, flaws are highlighted, complaints are levied, and disparaging words are shared.  It is the opposite of encouragement and there is no granting  any “benefit of the doubt.”   When people are critical of us, it is nearly impossible not to strike back with criticism, but we are wise when we listen to the criticism, looking for kernels of truth that we might learn from.   But, instead, if we deflect their criticisms and turn the attention back to their flaws, we only lead the relationship closer toward the next level of coldness.

CONTEMPTUOUS   Criticism eventually grows into an internal attitude of contempt, which dwells under the surface with feelings of disdain and resentment.  Contempt is sometimes expressed through external cutting remarks and negative generalizations.  According to acclaimed marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, contempt between spouses is the number one predictor of divorce.  When we harbor contempt toward another, all compassion is gone.  We would be wise to check our attitudes and look for the image of God in others.  But, instead, if we keep viewing them with contempt, we are heading toward the added coldness of the next level.

CONFLICT-RIDDEN  By this point, the gloves have completely come off–wounding the other is the primary goal.  Relationships in this level are characterized by constant bickering, arguments, shutting down the other, deflection, blame-shifting, avoidance of responsibility, and unforgiveness.   The goal is to defeat them at all costs, opposing every statement, getting the last word in, proving them wrong, and cutting them down.  If we are wise, we will become convicted about the damage we’re causing and will see the importance of standing down.  If we don’t, the only option will be the final level.

CUT OFF COMPLETELY  These relationships are so icy cold that one or both parties have cut the other off completely.  The hurts are so deep that the parties refuse to interact at all.   [Note: in abusive relationships, this level may be the only safe option.  But in all other situations, see my previous post on how to warm things up.]

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Relational Temperature, Part 2: When Others Choose Coldness

In my first post, I introduced the concept of relational temperatures and listed things that will cause relationships to either warm up or cool off.

It’s wonderful when families and friendships are close, but it’s painful when we feel kept at a distance by those we long to be close to.  This post explores ways to respond when others continue to treat us coldly, despite our efforts at warmth.

Grieve.  God created us for warm connections, so when those we care about treat us with coldness, grief is inevitable.  This grief involves not only the distancing of the person, but also the diminished relationship itself.  Additional losses may include accessibility, trust, enjoyment, support, peace, safety, security, harmony, respect, love, and delight.  Such great losses inevitably bring along the various stages of grief:  denial, anger, bartering, and depression.  Working through these is important.

Accept.  The final stage of grief is acceptance.  This does not mean throwing in the towel and giving up on the relationship, but it does mean accepting that the other person has chosen to remain cold toward us.  Acceptance recognizes that we can’t control the choices of others.  We can only take responsibility for ourselves.

Move from Madness to Sadness.  When others choose to relate to us with coldness, criticism, contempt, etc., it is deeply hurtful.  And the more we care about the relationship, the more their coldness hurts.  They have likely treated us in ways that seem unfair, unreasonable, unappreciative, demeaning, and insulting.  Anger is understandable and probably unavoidable.  Yet we can’t stay there.  Harboring bitterness only hurts ourselves, the other person, and whatever remains of the relationship.  In our hearts, we must work toward letting go of our anger and forgiving people for the hurt they caused.  Our goal is to move from Madness to Sadness.  We mustn’t remain mad, but it’s ok to remain sad–in fact, our sadness will be a beautiful testimonial to how much the relationship means to us.

Get Support.  It will be impossible to do any of this on our own—we need support!  We must take it first to Jesus, who understands more than anyone what it feels like to receive iciness in response to His warm love.  He is the one who can bring us comfort in our grief, who can help us accept what we can’t control, who can give us the willingness and ability to forgive, and who can give us the power to change our Madness to Sadness.  We’ll also need peer support.  Let’s lean on others during our time of hurt to receive needed prayer, encouragement, perspective, wisdom, and guidance.  God instructed His Church to practice the “one anothers” for needs such as ours in times such as this.  The warmth offered by Jesus and His Church is sure to offset much of the cold treatment we’ve been receiving.

Keep Our Wants and Needs Straight.  We cause ourselves needless additional pain when we confuse our needs and our wants.  Think of the weight that would be lifted if we viewed getting warmth from others as a want, but not a need.  Consider these scenarios…

  • The mom who needs her daughter to call on Mother’s Day will be shattered when she doesn’t, whereas the mom who merely wants that won’t let her daughter’s negligence define her worth or ruin her day.
  • The son who needs his parents to visit him as often as they visit the other siblings will be infuriated when they don’t, whereas the son who merely wants equal time will have a gentler response to the unfairness.
  • The wife who needs her husband to compliment her will be crushed, whereas the one who only wants his compliments will be hurt, but not let it define her well-being.
  • The sister who needs her brother to enthusiastically help plan their parents’ 50th anniversary will be incensed when he shows disinterest. The one who merely wants that will have a more tempered response to him as she honors her parents without him.
  • The friend who needs her former boyfriend to respond to communications will be absolutely wrecked by his ghosting, but the one who only wants a response will be able to recover.

So let’s be careful about what category we place things into.  Unmet needs seem catastrophic, make us feel desperate, and cause us to panic.  Unmet wants may be unpleasant, but can be overcome far more easily.  (Technically, I believe we don’t need anything from anyone, but that’s beyond today’s topic!)  

Don’t Give Up Hope.  Earlier we talked about accepting the other’s choice to treat us coldly, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hope for a warmer future.  Below are some suggestions for practical things we can do that may increase the chances of the other person warming up to us.

[Disclaimer, it’s important to acknowledge that some relationships are abusive and need boundaries rather than increased warmth.  In extreme cases, remaining cut off completely may be the only healthy response while abusive behavior persists.]   

Pray.  Most “coldness” issues are matters of the heart, so asking God to change the heart of the cold person is essential.  Let’s be sure to pray “for” the person and not “against” him or her.  If our loved ones have cut us off completely or are unsafe to be around, prayer for them may literally be our only option.   Where we do have contact, let’s pray also for ourselves, that we’ll avoid the temptation to return coldness for coldness.  Let’s pray that somehow, in some way, we’ll be able to build a relational bridge to the person’s heart.

Apologize.  When in doubt, let’s apologize!  Let’s take responsibility for anything we perceive we may have done to contribute to the coldness between us, and offer a heartfelt apology.  Let’s also ask them if there’s anything else we missed–other things we need to make right.  Let’s listen carefully and take full responsibility for every hurt we caused without resorting to defensiveness, blame-shifting, deflection, or excuse-making.

Hide Our Hurt.   Even though we have certainly been wounded by those who treat us coldly, let’s not share this with them unless they ask.  Let’s be especially careful not to complain, pout, sulk, act wounded, play the victim, or call them out.  Scolding willfully-cold people for treating us coldly will surely result in further coldness.  This is an occasion when honesty is not the best policy.  No, I am not suggesting we stuff our feelings.  The hurts do need to be expressed, but that’s why we have a support team in place!

Express Our Desire.  Sometimes, it can help just to state what we’d like.  We can describe to them what we liked when things were warmer between us, sharing cherished memories of former times.  We can express how we long to get back to that place of warmth again if possible.  Let’s paint a picture of an improved future and express our commitment to doing whatever we can to get there if possible.  But if we do so, let’s be careful to avoid shaming, pressuring, sermonizing, and manipulating.  Let’s allow them the freedom to disagree.

Continue to Act Warmly Even to Those Who Remain Cold.  Jesus loved us when we were still his enemies, so when we act warmly to those who continue to treat us coldly, we are being like Him.  We all give account for ourselves, not for anyone else.  They will answer for their actions and so will we.  When others are cold to us, let’s always choose to be the warmer person, the bigger person, the godlier person.  It’s the right thing to do.

In Part 3 on this topic, I will define my chart’s various temperature levels and suggest practical ways to make warm relationships even warmer.

 

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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.

Healthy relationships involve warm connections with others; these are represented by the six “yellow zones” of my illustration.  We engage intimately in the center zones with just a few people; there are more people–with less intimacy– in each subsequent circle.    Regardless of the amount of closeness, intimacy, and warmth, all of these yellow-zone relationships are healthy.

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

Unhealthiness exists when relationships operate in the blue zones.   A relationship that includes cold-shouldering, hostility, or shunning can be crushing, especially when it involves family and friends.   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.  Such pain can sometimes last for generations!

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

Almost all of us would prefer to relate with others in the yellow zones; only the seriously dysfunctional would want their relationships devoid of warmth.

All relationships have a temperature, but as with the weather, temperatures can either warm up or cool off.  So let’s look at some things that might cause variations in relational temperatures.

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
  • Being fully present, staying engaged
  • 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
  • Stereotyping
  • Victim mentalities
  • Resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness
  • Seeking revenge or retribution
  • Prejudice, condescension, judgmentalism, –any of the “isms”
  • Selfishness, greed, and pride
  • Withdrawing or stonewalling
  • Inattentiveness
  • Anger, out-of-control emotions
  • Exaggerations using “always” and “never”
  • 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 exceptional warmth!

But even so, there is no guarantee that things will always be warm with our families, friends, and churches.  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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