reflections of mine others might find useful

Category: Christian Perspective (Page 1 of 14)

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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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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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.]

 

“Emotionless gratitude” is an oxymoron

Cindy and I visited a church this past Sunday that I just have to blog about.

Now that I’m no longer working on Sundays, we’ve been free to experience a variety of eastern Iowa churches over the past 8 months.  We have loved seeing the vast array of Christian expressions among these faith communities–different styles of worship styles, outreach passions, ministry strengths,  and various ways of connecting people to God.

Sunday brought us to a predominantly African American church–we were two of only five Caucasians present.  We had been hoping for a unique cultural experience and it did not disappoint!

During the 2 1/4 hour service we enjoyed the passionate, biblically-sound preaching, the friendliness of the congregation (hugs included), communion, and the exuberant music.  But the thing that struck me most was the overwhelming sense of elation that permeated the room during worship.  These people were deeply grateful for God’s blessings in their lives to the point of being literally overcome with joy.  At times, some danced, some shouted, and some praised God very LOUDLY, without any pretense or self-consciousness.  At one point an older lady even did what I would describe as “one person conga line” around the sanctuary!  She simply couldn’t help but be so animated at the goodness of the Lord!

My mind raced back to Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes commercials I had seen as a kid, where the TV “Prize Patrol” would arrive at the doorsteps of unsuspecting residents to announce that they had just won a million dollars.  It was always fun to watch the family go bananas over this totally unexpected news: jumping, screaming, speechlessness, dancing, laughing, falling to their knees, etc.  Just like the people in church on Sunday.  Outlandish.  Over-the-top.  Undignified even.

Observing all of this, it occurred to me that those of us who are more reserved in our worship are actually the ones who are deficient.  What if the “Prize Patrol” came to the door and the family responded with a yawn?  It could only mean that either (1) they didn’t understand the magnitude of the gift or (2) that they didn’t believe it was really a free gift intended for them.  Because if they had any understanding at all of how this million dollar gift would transform everything about their lives, their response would have been anything but emotionless!

Seeing these exuberant worshippers on Sunday reminded me of one of the best youth group lessons I ever gave — over eleven years ago.  On that day, I called up one of the kids and proceeded to give her thousands of dollars in front of the group.  The story is worth reading.  The point of my lesson was that the magnitude of God’s personal blessings to us makes us trillionaires.  And undeserving, newly-made trillionaires should respond with nothing less than outlandish gratefulness.

Something’s wrong with me when my gratitude to God is emotionless.  And I’m thankful for how those worshippers on Sunday modeled to me something I need to work on!

What I DON’T pray for my kids

I don’t pray for my kids every day, but when I do, there are a lot more things that I don’t pray for than I do.  

In fact, there are really only three things I do consistently pray for, succinctly summed up in nine keywords.  These are the things — in my view — that matter infinitely more than anything else.

I pray that my kids will:

Know God Accurately

Love God Wholeheartedly

Represent God Authentically

With regard to Knowing God Accurately, I’m asking that my kids will have a real encounter the Creator of the Universe and increasingly understand who He is.  I want their beliefs to correspond to the actual qualities of God, not an understanding skewed by human thinking.  I want them to more fully comprehend His omnipotence, omniscience, sovereignty, justice, holiness, mercy, love, compassion, and grace. 

By Loving God Wholeheartedly I’m asking that my kids would increasingly love God for who He is and continuously turn every part of their lives over to Him as Lord.  Loving God involves more than feelings, it’s a commitment to align their wills with His, surrender themselves to His service, and delightfully obey what He says — regardless of the cost.

In Representing God Authentically, I’m asking that my kids will increasingly become more like Jesus, humbly bear much fruit, and love others — being God’s ambassadors wherever He places them. 

These nine words sum up what matters most to me as a praying parent.  What more could I want but for these prayers to be answered?  That’s why I don’t spend much time praying for the typical things:  success, health, prosperity, finances, careers, or a spouse.  Besides, most of these things will fall into place anyway if these “top three” prayers are answered.

(I pray these same three things for myself, Cindy and others too!)

Btw, here’s what I pray for my kids’ dad — I always pray that I would shepherd, serve, and cherish them more and more…yet hold them looser and looser.

How ESPN has improved my prayer life.

Private prayer is something that I am determined to make a priority in my life.   I’ve blogged before about how I organize my prayer life but I’ve never blogged about finding the right environment for prayer.

We know from scripture that Jesus often withdrew to “lonely places” to pray and he also taught the concept of finding a “prayer closet” in which to get alone with God.  Over the years I’ve found various prayer closets that worked well, but I want to share about one that I’ve found especially helpful over the past year.

I love to run on treadmills at the iGym, but it with my busy schedule it’s hard to justify much time for that.  The thought occurred to me that if I could learn to pray while running I’d be doing two really good things at the same time.  Redeeming the time!

So, more days than not, after some time in the Word I’ve started driving to the gym for my prayer time.  It was a admittedly a bit distracting at first, but over time I’ve learned to block everything out around me and focus completely on my conversations with God.    As you would expect, I select the treadmill which is under the ESPN TV screen (which doesn’t tempt me to look up in the least!)  I also put on noise cancelling ear protectors to block out all the gym noise.  Then I put my phone on “airplane mode,” and set it up on the tray with my prayer app open (described previously), and then launch into a focused session of prayer.

My goal is to meditate through my prayer list while running as fast as I reasonably can — without losing concentration.  If I start to think about my running, I slow down.  Over time my treadmill has become my sacred space.   Here I’ve lifted up the needs of others while also receiving joy, guidance, conviction, inspiration and even brokenness. One day my spirit was so troubled by circumstances that it took me 10 miles to calm my restless heart!   As strange as it may seem, my treadmill has truly has transformed into a sanctuary.

And here’s an extra bonus:  I never get sleepy when I pray!

I share all this not to recruit anyone to pray in a gym but rather to encourage each of you to find your own private place — wherever that might be — to meet regularly with God in prayer.  Make time with Him a priority in your daily schedule!

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