Till Death Do Us Part (Part 2: His Responsibility)

So yeah, I blogged yesterday about the concept God has really been leading me with in mentorship, namely the idea of “teaching and admonishing” from Colossians 1:28.  I said there that God had really blessed the discussions I had in the past week or so in this vein.  He honored me speaking boldly and honestly with some men in my life, not only teaching but being strong in warning them about the consequences of their actions.

Tonight?  Not so much on the blessing, at least on the surface.  I had a very, very difficult conversation with a man whose marriage I am “bought into.”  He certainly wasn’t buying what I was selling!  I knew he was going to call me tonight, so I had been praying for wisdom and for grace to speak to him in a way that honored God and helped him live for Christ.  I know I needed to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and prayed for the courage to do so.  I believe that God answered my prayer and that I said what I was supposed to, even if he didn’t want to accept it. 

The upside I suppose is that the conversation reminded me that I needed to post the next entry in this series on marriage.  Part 1 can be found here.  There’s an adage that says that every healthy marriage is healthy in the same way, while every unhealthy marriage is unhealthy in unique ways.  While there are limits to that saying, it does bear a lot of truth.  A healthy, loving, God-honoring marriage comes when we each embrace the truths of Scripture and the responsibility that we bear to honor God with our life and with our marriage.

The place to begin the discussion on responsibility in marriage is with husbands.  Ladies, thanks for reading ABF and I will get back to you real soon I promise.  This post isn’t for you, and frankly you might not enjoy it or think well of me in places if you read it.  So you might want to end your reading of this post here. 

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Guys, let’s not beat around the bush.   Let me say it in plain language: the quality of your marriage is dependent on you far more than it is dependent upon your wife.  Did you catch that?  The quality of your marriage is dependent on you far more than it is dependent upon your wife.  Don’t believe me?  Read what Paul says about marriage in Ephesians 5:25-30:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;
29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
30 because we are members of His body.

The relationship between a man and wife is compared by Paul here to the relationship between Christ and the church.  The marriage relationship is perhaps the closest human analogy we have to the relationship that we have with our Lord.  Think about this aspect of that analogy for a bit.  Who is more responsible for the relationship between Christ and the church: Jesus or us?  Who is faithful no matter what?  Who provides for whom no matter the cost (His death) or the heartache (our unfaithfulness)?  Who makes sure that the relationship is secure and God-honoring?  The answers are all quite clear.  Jesus is the One who does all those things, whether His bride responds appropriately or not.

This isn’t the only place in Scripture that we see marriage used as an analogy for our walk with God.  God also uses the analogy of marriage to describe His people’s relationship with Him in the book of Hosea.  In Hosea 1:2 God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute as a picture of His relationship with Israel.  Ahem…a prostitute.  In Hosea 3 God tells Hosea to take this woman back despite her continued unfaithfulness as a picture of His faithfulness to His people even with their sin.  He asked Hosea to forgive infidelity, even the prostitution of his wife, as a picture of God’s love for us.

Men, are you getting the picture?  You are called to be to your wife like Christ is to the church.  Like I said, the quality of your marriage depends more on you than it does on her.  Yes, I know that He is perfect and you are not.  I know that you have legitimate needs and that it hurts terribly when your wife disrespects you.  I know that she can make it incredibly difficult at times.  I know that it is an awfully heavy burden to carry, but frankly that’s why God gave it to you and not to her.  Your shoulders are wide enough to carry it!  You’re a man, so act like it.  Love your wife like Christ loves His church.  Love her like He loves you and patiently puts up with all of your garbage, even when you’re being unreasonable and childish.

Is the man in the mirror someone who you can honestly say is making every effort to love his wife like Christ loves the church?  Are you going out of your way to show her that you love her, and in ways that she can accept?  If not, why not?  Follow the example of your Lord and love when it’s inconvenient and painful.  Obey Him in your marriage (Luke 6:46 comes to mind) and see what happens.  I have yet to meet a man who is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who strives to live for Him in all areas including marriage, whose wife hasn’t eventually warmed to him.  Try it and see what happens; prove me wrong, I dare you. 🙂

So what does that look like in real life?  That’s the hard part, obviously.  It’s all well to say that you love your wife, but it’s harder to actually do it.  Here are some tips:

  • Put her needs above your wants.  She needs financial security more than you need new stuff, so quit being a boy and grow up financially.  Save some money, live below your means, and do what it takes to make it.  Sure, real godly men struggle with money at times.  Over long periods, though, a man needs to rein in his spending so that he can live within his income for the sake of his wife and kids, whether he makes $30,000 a year or $300,000.
  • Likewise, she needs your engagement with and commitment to your kids.  All the statistics say that kids with dads engaged in their lives have a much better chance of doing well in life, so get after it dad.  I know the baseball game just started; get a TiVo and go play some catch while you can.  Ask about homework and really care.  Listen and dialog; they’ll only be this age once, and you don’t want to be old and filled with regrets about how you raised them.
  • More than all of that, she needs to know deep down that you’re committed to Christ.  Man up and pray with her at least three times a week, and not over dinner.  Take her aside before you leave for work or before lights out and ask God to bless her abundantly.  Put your nose in the Word, too, and do it with her!  (as an aside, our online Bible study is teaming up for April with the ladies’ study to read the same passage…so join us!)  Work on your walk with Christ and see what that does.  Let Him change you from the inside out and your marriage will follow, I promise.
  • Quit using your headship for your advantage.  God did not put you where you are to be the chief tie-breaker.  Headship is a place of service, so look at it as a position of servanthood.  Use it to steer your family in the direction of Christ, not for your own benefit.  Always ask the question, “How would Jesus respond if He were the head of my household?”

Again, being a husband isn’t easy.  That’s why He gave that responsibility to you, because it isn’t easy!  Through thick and thin, though, as men we must always remember that God has put us in a position to serve our wives and children in a way that is very similar to the way in which Christ serves us.

If all of this sounds like it’s too much, frankly it’s because it IS too much for us to handle on our own. There is no way that a man in his own strength has what it takes to live as a truly God-honoring husband.  That, my friends, is why we need the grace of God and His work on us from the inside out.  When we come to God with our weaknesses and ask Him to take over, then we can agree with the Apostle Paul when he says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

For resources, there are few books for men better than these to help a man be a biblical husband and man:

  • Every Man’s Marriage:  As biblical a book on what headship really is as exists.  Not for the faint of heart, but a great read about biblical leadership in the home.
  • Every Man’s Battle: If you’re a man you receive sexual gratification through your eyes.  That’s just a fact.  This book will help you do so and still keep your heart right with your wife and God.
  • The Five Love Languages:  This will show you how she receives love in the most significant ways and help you find ways to express your commitment to her.
  • Love and Respect: This is the cornerstone of my pre-marital and marital mentorship.  The heart of this book is about how to stop cutting each other to ribbons and start building one another up.
  • Wild At Heart: All about being a godly, yet manly man.  Every man has a damsel to rescue, an adventure to have, and a battle to fight! 

Being a husband ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure.  But guys, let’s remember that we chose to be in this position, and chose to honor God.  So let’s stuff the whining and complaining and get after being obedient.  Let’s turn to God with our marriages and ask Him to change us from the inside out and make us into the men that He wants us to be.

Rant…over.

Doing Friendship God’s Way

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

I have been studying Colossians with some men I know, and God has been using it to work me over the past couple of weeks!  Reading it through every day has been a real blessing; there is a treasure trove of truth in that short book that has really been changing me and making me reassess my commitment to being the man that God wants me to be.  He has led me as a husband and father, and shown me recently about my need to be grateful.  Lesson #1: reading a single book of Scripture many times in a month pays significant dividends in my heart and in my understanding of Scripture.

Case in point is the quote above of Colossians 1:28.  Paul tells us that his ministry is focused not just on teaching, but on “admonishing” every man.  This term (in Greek it’s the word noutheteo for you Bible scholars out there) refers “to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.” (BDAG)  Paul doesn’t just show people the truth found in God’s Word; he is perfectly willing and ready to warn them when their course of action is headed toward disaster!  He is willing to tell guys where they are headed and also to tell them to knock it off.

I think of this like having a friend who is about to walk off a cliff.  If you saw a friend blithely heading toward a cliff, would you launch into a lesson on physics and the surety of their fall?  I sure hope not!  Hopefully you’d warn them strongly and even grab them if need be to stop them from heading to their doom.  That is, in my mind, the heart of the word “admonish.”  We do everything in our power to help our friend keep from going off the deep end.

These words were ringing in my ears the past week or two, as I had to have a couple of significant conversations with friends.  I have a good friend who was having a really hard time in his marriage, and as I was riding to see him for a get-together the Lord kept bringing Colossians 1:28 to mind.  I HATE confrontation and conflict, so much so that I get physically ill before I have to have a conflict.  But these words kept ringing in my ears, so I knew what I needed to do.  I couldn’t get away from them, so to be an obedient disciple I needed to listen and trust that God’s way was best.

Then I thought some more about this verse and the intent of the teaching and admonishing.  Paul wants to “present every man complete in Christ.”  The idea here is that Paul wants the people in his life to be mature; he wants them not only to know Christ, but to be mature in Him and committed to Him.  That really struck me because of my mission statement.  I have said for the past 4 or 5 years that my purpose in life is “to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same.”  Well, that means helping them be the people that God wants them to be!  It means more than teaching; it means admonishing when I have to and being willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of my friend and for what Christ wants with my life and theirs.

I am a teacher and a preacher by calling and skill, so I have no problem there.  If living as a Christ follower for me was just teaching I would be all for it!  I am not, though.  I pastor a smaller church, which means that I can’t be the “preaching pastor” or whatever who buries himself in his study and comes out of hiding for 30 minutes on Sunday morning.  No, shepherding involves getting involved in people’s lives and being willing to get in the mix with them.

So I had that difficult conversation, and God blessed it.  I have had two since as well, one with a man I am mentoring and another with a lady who needed to be warned as much as taught about where her actions were taking her.  And even though I hate confrontation, God kept bringing this verse to mind over and over.  Teach and admonish, teach and admonish.  Don’t settle for the surface relationships, whether with God or with people.  It seems like He brought that verse into my life for this season to remind me to be willing to go the extra mile with people, helping them be who they should be in Christ.

Want to grow in Christ?  Surround yourself with people who are willing to admonish you when you need it.  I am so grateful for the couple of men I know who, when I am being an idiot, are perfectly willing to tell me I am being an idiot and that I need to stop being an idiot.  They help me see the truth of God by teaching me (usually by example) what godliness is and admonishing me when I ignore Him.  So get some friends like that; they are worth their weight in gold.  And be a friend like that too, who is willing to help others see the biblical issues in their life and love them enough to nudge them to choose to serve God.

That’s the way to be “complete in Christ.”  And from my perspective, that’s everything.

It’s TEOTWAWKI

…aka “The End Of The World As We Know It.” 

Or so it might seem to some, as the senate passed the president’s healthcare reform package last night.

WARNING: POLITICAL STUFF AHEAD.  PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

If you know me, you know how conservative I am politically.  I put the “fun” in fundamentalism!  I’m over here on the far right, bitterly clinging to my guns and my religion and frustrated that a bunch of rich guys who have a pretty sweet compensation package have spent a trillion dollars of my kids’ and grandkids’ money.  I am awfully worried that my already crappy healthcare will get worse, not better under this system.  I am all for reforming a broken system, but TRUST ME this is not the way that I would have done it.

That said, I am reminded of my reading in Colossians this month.  Our online men’s Bible study is reading Colossians every day in March, and I was really struck this morning by Colossians 1:16:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

The “thrones and dominions and rules and authorities” were both created by the Lord…and for Him.  This is His deal, not mine.  And whether I like it or not, this is where we are.  He created human government and ordained it as an authority in the life of His people (as Paul taught in Romans 13:1-7).  Sure I can make the counterargument that in the time in which Paul wrote the people had no say over who their leaders were, but that is strictly not true in the Roman senatorial system.  It was a representative government not completely dissimilar to ours.  So I can complain all I want (and I will!) that the leaders we have in place miscarried the authority we vested in them, I must temper that frustration with the knowledge that it is the Lord who ordains authority, and it is to Him that they answer.

Then I kept reading this morning, and came to Colossians 3:1-4:

1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

I have been raised up with Christ, so my first responsibility is to set my mind on the things above.  I know that politics is a hot button to me, and that I must try my best to get involved and make the world a better place for my kids.  However, I can’t make this earth into the kingdom of God because that’s a losing battle.  God’s kingdom will be inaugurated not when the right elected representatives take office or the right legislation is enacted, but when Christ is revealed from heaven.  And until that happens I need to remember to keep my eyes on the prize and not obsess over what happens here on earth so much that I forget to focus on the kingdom of God.

Then I thought about it some more.  (I didn’t get a great night’s sleep and had a long run this morning, so I had time to think)  I thought about the passage I preached on Sunday, which included Luke 20:20-26.  In that time the people of God were faced with a government that was unpopular and in a lot of ways odious to the people; the Romans were not liked by the Israelites!  Though they tried to get Jesus into the midst of the political fray, Jesus wouldn’t be drawn into the world’s politics.  He was frankly ambivalent, preferring the people to give the government it’s due and then focus on what God wanted them to do.  That seems to be the consistent theme of the New Testament, to do what is right by the civil authorities God has ordained over you (that’s Romans 13:1-7), to pray for those in leadership (1 Tim 2:1-2), and to live for the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of man.

On a practical level, first of all that really changed my attitude.  Rather than having my day ruined (or week or month or whatever), I was able to release my frustration and give it to Christ.  I was able to focus on my oldest daughter’s 13th birthday today, which is more important in my life than any legislation could ever be.  And I was reminded again in Col 3 to set my mind on Christ and serving Him.

Does that mean I think that politically active Christians are wrong?  Not at all; in fact, I have written my representatives at every level of government.  I take an active interest in issues and candidates and vote in every election.  (well, almost…I think I missed one not too long ago that was local bond overrides only)  I ask my representatives to represent me well and do the best I can to honor God with my citizenship, in the same mold that Paul used his citizenship to try to spread the gospel whenever he could.  I admire Christians who run for public office and pray that they take their walk with Christ with them into office when they win. 

I am just reminded that when things aren’t going my way, that doesn’t mean that God is not at work.  Maybe, just maybe He is working within me and within His people to remember that the kingdom of God cannot be voted or legislated in.  It only comes when Jesus comes again, and until He does we need to remember that our focus needs to always and continually be on His kingdom and what He wants for our lives.

And let’s all, no matter our political affiliation, follow the commands of God in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 today.

An “Inside Out” Perspective

A big question I often have is perspective and motivation.  Should I do the right thing only when I feel like it, or should I work on my beliefs and understanding and not worry about the outside as much?  Obviously the goal is to be an authentic, transparent disciple of Christ whose motivation is right and whose actions are God-honoring.  If I have to err, though, which side should I err on?

Several guys at our church started an online men’s Bible study last week,  (the link to the group is in this post if you’re (a) male and (b) interested) and today’s reading in our group really got me thinking about this topic.  We are reading the book of Colossians every day for the month of March.  I am posting my entry from today because I think that the approach that God wants is for us to focus on the truths of Scripture and the hope of eternity with Him, allowing that hope to change us from the inside out.

Today I did my reading after men’s group. I got chapter 1 read, then had a meeting, and then read chapters 2-4.

What really struck me today is the theme of hope in chapter 1. I looked up the term “hope” in my handy dandy Bible software, and Paul uses the term three times in Colossians; all three of them come in chapter 1. (that’s why I checked; I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss any!) This seems to be an important concept that he wanted the Colossians to be reminded of right off the bat in this letter. The first use in verse 5 comes in the context of Colossians 1:3-5:

3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

The second is in 1:23 and comes in the context of Colossians 1:21-23:

21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,
22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—
23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

The final use in Colossians 1:27:

to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

It really struck me how important hope is in chapter 1.

  1. In the first instance, the faith of the Christians and the love they had for the saints came as a result of the hope they have laid up in heaven. Our godly actions came from the source of our hope!
  2. In the second usage, if we go backward from verse 23 it is “the hope of the gospel” that causes us to be firmly established in the faith, which then as we continue in it will present us to God holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
  3. Finally, in the third usage we see where the hope is anchored: Christ in us. Christ within us, and His righteousness living inside of us, is the source of the “hope of glory” that Paul talks about in chapter 1.

So what is hope? Well I looked it up in my “Student Bible Dictionary” (and confirmed it in my Greek lexicon for you Bible nerds), and it defines hope as “Belief that God will accomplish what He has promised.” The term means to look forward to something with confidence, expecting fulfillment. The gospel, or “good news” that is the anchor of our hope, is that all who trust in Christ alone for eternal life will spend forever with God, pardoned for their sin and in perfect fellowship with Him!

When I put those two together it really hit me how important my outlook and focus are. Christ in me is the reason for my confidence that God will rescue me from hell and welcome me into His presence forever. By remembering that hope, having confidence in God’s fulfillment of His promise and not being moved from it, by focusing on it and keeping it in the front of my mind I know that when I meet God on the day of my death I will be presented to Him “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (v. 22). The meeting day will be a good one, filled with celebration at His gift given to me and His faithfulness to His promise. Finally I know that the path of hope expresses itself in the love I have for God’s people and the trust I have in Christ in my daily life.

So today’s theme and focus for me is hope. Am I confidently expecting God to fulfill His promise, focused on the eternal life that awaits and eagerly anticipating it? That is then the source of my actions, my trust in Christ for my daily needs and love for His people. Truth drives action today.  I will focus today on living “from the inside out.”

May your day be a day of hope today as well!

A Goal, a Plan, and Some Help

It’s a big day for me today.  Today begins my first day of a 12-week training schedule leading up to my second half marathon!  I ran a 2:08:39 in my first half, and this time my audacious goal is to break the 2-hour barrier.  I need to shave 40 seconds a mile off of my pace from January, so I need to get training!  Those 40 seconds are not magically going to run away and hide; I know that it is going to take a lot of hard work (and hopefully 5 less pounds to lug around) to make it.

The first step to making a goal happen is writing it down.  Done, and you’re my witness.

It takes more than a goal to be successful, though.  The world is filled with people who set goals that they never achieve.  Whether they are New Year’s Resolutions or financial goals or what have you, the world is littered with discarded goals and the frustration that comes with them.  It takes a plan to get from where you are to where you are going, and some help along the way.  Plan your work and work your plan.  Get help in planning from those who know the ropes, and bring others alongside to help you work your plan when it gets tough.  This is true not only in running, but in life.

For my training, that means a running schedule and some mentorship.  I got a running schedule from Runner’s World (the “Smart Coach Training Program” box is great…just plug a few details in and viola!) and then tweaked it to my particular schedule needs and past results.  I know where I stand today in my running, so I wrote a plan to hopefully get me from where I am to a 9:10 half marathon pace.  Now I have a written plan for the next twelve weeks.  That two hour Personal Record (PR in runner’s lingo) will only come if I hit the road consistently and with purpose.  I also sent the plan to my two amazing running coaches (my beautiful, marathon-veteran wife and my sister-in-law, who not only is a marathon veteran but also broke 2 hours in a half while 8 months pregnant with my nephew!).  I know that I need some feedback to make sure that my plan is workable and will get me to my goal.

The second step to making a goal happen is planning the work.  Done.  Now all that is left to do is to work my plan.  That’s simple, which is not at all the same thing as being easy!

For life, many goals are not so concrete as “I want to run a two-hour half marathon.”  I think that every one of us should have as a goal to be completely committed to Christ, as Paul shows us in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

That’s a great goal, but it’ll never happen without a plan!  How can we live a life that is completely devoted to Christ like this?  Well there are plenty of steps along the path; if you’ve walked this path in the past you can certainly sketch the basics like I did in my running plan.  If not, consider adding some “parts” to the plan:

  • Get into the Word of God daily.  Having a daily plan of Bible reading is crucial for spiritual growth.  Men, if you’ve got no ideas you can join our online men’s Bible study Yahoo group.
  • Make prayer a daily part of life.  And not just over meals, but asking Him to make you new every day.
  • Get into community.  Get to church, and don’t just attend.  Serve, learn, grow, and get to know people.  Make friends with others in your church who are growing in their walk and invite them into your life!

Once you have a plan, check it with some godly mentors.  Don’t have a mentor?  Get one!  Seek out godly people who have walked the walk for awhile, and tuck in under their wing.  As the author of Proverbs says at Proverbs 15:22:

Without consultation, plans are frustrated,
But with many counselors they succeed.

Get some counsel on your goals, plan your work, and work your plan.  Want to be a better Christian?  How about a better husband or father?  A better wife?  Maybe money is tight and you want to be a better money manager.  Then set a goal, plan your work, check your plan, and work your plan.  Perhaps you need to build some physical health as a spiritual discipline.  (I was a bowl of goo coming out of seminary…)  Set a goal, plan, check, and get after it!  Whatever the situation, the only wrong answer is to sit there and do nothing.  So get after it!  And just so we are clear, make sure that you’re bringing God into every step of the process, lest James smack you upside the head:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Give the Lord His place as Master, set goals that honor Him, plan your work, check your plan, and work your plan.

See you at the finish line on June 6th in San Diego. 🙂