Posts in category Resisting sin

In death as in life



This post was originally published in my personal blog eight years ago. I’m posting it again in honor of a truly good man, husband, father, and friend who lived out his heart of ministry and service in death as in life.

in death as in lifeFifteen years ago this week, my brother was killed.

A drunken driver cut short his life as he pulled a late-night shift for a fellow police officer in Hawaii. Jay took every opportunity he could to earn enough money to move his wife and two young children from their apartment into a real home. He died as he lived, serving and sacrificing for others.

God had prepared Jay and his family for his departure in a way that, to this day, defies explanation. Months before his death, Jay met with a life insurance agent and with his pastor (who was also the department chaplain) to plan for his funeral. There was no reason for him to suspect that his life might be in danger. In fact, he and I used to joke on the phone about some of the “hazardous” assignments he had as a policeman on Maui, like when he answered the call about a bowl of soup that was allegedly stolen off a kitchen table.

For whatever reason, Jay felt impressed to increase his insurance to an amount probably several times higher than any honest insurance agent would recommend. And the solidly evangelistic funeral service that he planned would end up ministering powerfully to his fellow officers, who knew him to be a man of integrity who lived out his faith and loved his family more than anything else.

The card

But probably the most enigmatic act my brother would make in preparation for his death was a sympathy card he had penned years earlier. Jay shared a birthday with our aunt Harriet, who had lost her own beloved husband, Phil, years earlier to a massive heart attack.

Jay wasn’t able to attend Phil’s funeral like I was, and had to settle for sending a card. But his sensitive thoughts and words of hope ministered to Harriet in a way far deeper than my own presence at Phil’s funeral ever could. Jay spoke into the heart of this grieving wife about how her husband lived his life in the grace and love of Christ and how he reflected that godly care to everyone he came in contact with. His words reminded her that her husband was spending eternity with the Savior, free of the pain that is so much a part of this world we know, and that one day, they would be reunited in heaven.

Now, years later, Jay’s own wife, Dee, was experiencing the same inexpressible grief. It was weeks after the funeral. All the family was gone, and she was left to take care of their two young children – who reminded her so much of him – and left to grieve on her own.

Until the card came.

As Harriet heard of Jay’s death, she was reminiscing about the nephew who had comforted her years earlier. After some effort, she managed to locate the sympathy card, which was tucked away in a book. She read his words again, this time thinking about Dee’s grief at losing her husband.

Harriet wasn’t able to attend his funeral, but she sent Dee a card to minister to her in her grief.

The same card

As Dee opened that card, she could hardly believe what she was seeing. The handwriting she knew like she knew her own heart. The tender words of consolation wrapped themselves around her soul as they had in the days when she and Jay were dating. But now, instead of words of his undying devotion, Dee was reading his words of deepest consolation in his own death. And the wife who didn’t get to tell her husband goodbye would end up reading his own words of comfort to her in her time of greatest grief. It was his final gift to her, words of promise and hope that they would be reunited forever in God’s timing.

Jay was inexplicable in life, and inexplicable in death. But his heart lives on, because the One who held his heart lives eternally. And the love of Christ that ruled Jay’s life is the same Life that has conquered death for all.

So on the anniversary of Jay’s death, I wanted to remember one man who, like me, experienced the second birth. One who shared that hope, in word and deed, with those around him.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Scott Williams, “In death as in life,” on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistJay Williams was prepared for his death.  If you were to die suddenly, where you would spend eternity? 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHave you spent time considering “If Something Happens to Me, would we be prepared financially?”

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare Jay’s story of hope and the other links here with your friends via Facebook, Twitter or email.

10-point checklist for spiritual health



It seems to happen every year. A seasoned marathoner puts in a pretty impressive time, only to suffer a heart attack and die. From the outside, the runners look to be the picture of health, but often after an autopsy, it’s revealed that they have a fatal condition that’s been hiding on the inside.

Every one of us needs an occasional visit to the doctor for a checkup to make sure everything is working alright and that we don’t have an unknown serious internal condition.

The same is true with our spiritual lives. As creatures of habit, we tend to go through life on autopilot. We often miss clues that indicate that our spirit is not enjoying the good health that God created it for.

10-point checklist

Photo by Tina Vanderlaan

In the same way that the doctor puts us through a battery of tests to diagnose potential physical problems, God has given us a process of evaluating spiritual problems in our lives:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Each of these is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s active presence in our daily activities. Let’s look at a 10-point checklist and ask some diagnostic questions to make sure we’re healthy.

1. Love

This word for love doesn’t refer to warm feelings but to a deliberate attitude of good will and devotion to others. Love gives freely without looking at whether the other person deserves it, and it gives without expecting anything back.

Question: Am I motivated to do for others as Christ has done for me, or am I giving in order to receive something in return?

2. Joy

Unlike happiness, joy is gladness that is completely independent of the good or bad things that happen in the course of the day. In fact, joy denotes a supernatural gladness given by God’s Spirit that actually seems to show up best during hard times. This is a product of fixing your focus on God’s purposes for the events in your life rather than on the circumstances.

Question: Am I experiencing a joy of life on a regular basis, or is my happiness dependent on things going smoothly in my day?

3. Peace

It’s not the absence of turmoil, but the presence of tranquility even while in a place of chaos. It is a sense of wholeness and completeness that is content knowing that God controls the events of the day.

Question: Do I find myself frazzled by the crashing waves of turmoil in my life, or am I experiencing “the peace that passes all comprehension” (Philippians 4:6-7)?

4. Patience

Other words that describe this fruit are lenience, long-suffering, forbearance, perseverance, and steadfastness. It is the ability to endure ill treatment from life or at the hands of others without lashing out or paying back.

Question: Am I easily set off when things go wrong or people irritate me, or am I able to keep a godly perspective in the face of life’s irritations? 

5. Kindness

When kindness is at work in a man’s life, he looks for ways to adapt to meet the needs of others. It is moral goodness that overflows. It’s also the absence of malice.

Question: Is it my goal to serve others with kindness, or am I too focused on my own needs, desires, or problems to let the goodness of God overflow to others?

6. Goodness

While kindness is the soft side of good, goodness reflects the character of God. Goodness in you desires to see goodness in others and is not beyond confronting or even rebuking (as Jesus did with the money changers in the temple) for that to happen.

Question: Does my life reflect the holiness of God, and do I desire to see others experience God at a deep level in their own lives?

7. Faithfulness

A faithful man is one with real integrity. He’s someone others can look to as an example, and someone who is truly devoted to others and to Christ. Our natural self always wants to be in charge, but Spirit-controlled faithfulness is evident in the life of a man who seeks good for others and glory for God.

Question: Are there areas of hypocrisy and indifference toward others in my life, or is my life characterized by faith in Christ and faithfulness to those around me? 

8. Gentleness

Meekness is not weakness. Gentleness is not without power, it just chooses to defer to others. It forgives others, corrects with kindness, and lives in tranquility.

Question: Do I come across to others as brash and headstrong, or am I allowing the grace of God to flow through me to others?

9. Self-control

Our fleshly desires, Scripture tells us, are continually at odds with God’s Spirit and always want to be in charge. Self-control is literally releasing our grip on the fleshly desires, choosing instead to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is power focused in the right place.

Question: Are my fleshly desires controlling my life, or am I allowing the Spirit to direct me to the things that please God and serve others?

10. Walk by the Spirit

While not a fruit of the Spirit, the final item on the checkup produces all nine qualities listed above. When we follow the Spirit’s lead instead of being led by our self-focused desires, He produces the fruit.

But even when we don’t walk by the Spirit, He is the very one who convicts us that things are not in proper order in our lives.

God promises that if we are willing to admit that we have been walking our own way and ask for His forgiveness and cleansing, He will empower us through His Spirit to live above ourselves and live the abundant life for which He has created us. (I John 1:5-10)

Question: Am I actively depending on the Holy Spirit to guide me in God’s ways so I don’t get wrapped up in myself? If not, am I willing to confess to God that His ways are better than mine, and that I need the Spirit’s guidance to live above the fray?

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou’ve just finished reading the post 10-point checklist for spiritual health on the Stepping Up men’s blog

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhich of the nine evidences of the Spirit most reflect you? Which one(s) need to be more present in your life?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistAre you experiencing the life-changing power of Christ? Read Two Ways to Live to see where you stand.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistReflect the nature of God and his love to others. Read The Greatest Power Ever Known to get started.

7 keys to redeem your marriage



Michele Weiner-Davis, nicknamed “The Divorce Buster,” is a marriage enthusiast, a passionate optimist, and an author who understands hope for marriage.  At sixteen, she was shocked and shattered to see her parents’ divorce.  She decided that no matter what, she would work to make her own marriage work, avoid divorce at all costs, and give her children the gift of growing up with both their parents. A while back, I spoke with Michele for an hour on the phone.  Afterward, I read her book, The Divorce Remedy, in one sitting. I was excited about what I learned for my marriage, and am passionate about bringing her brand of solution-oriented wisdom and action-based advice to hungry, hurting, and desperately broken couples. The following are some nuggets of truth I gleaned from our conversation as well as The Divorce Remedy on how to redeem your marriage.

1. Realize that divorce is a trap

Fifty percent of divorces happen in the first seven years of marriage because people don’t know what to expect. Young couples must be taught that conflict, angry emotions, and frustrating differences exist in all relationships. This doesn’t mean their marriage is broken, their spouse is flawed, or they made a mistake. Entertaining the option of divorce steals your ability to best relate and improve in your marriage.

2. Look out for the walk-away wife syndrome

Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women.  Early in marriage, women are the usual caretakers of the relationship, frequently checking to see if the relationship is close, connected, and warm.  When it is lacking, they press for more closeness. Instead, men hear it as nagging, which causes them to withdraw.

Next, women try to get their husband’s attention by complaining about all areas of life, which are impacted by loneliness, lack of understanding, or connection. Instead of having a positive effect, men feel disrespected and recoil. Negative patterns continue until a woman gives up and thinks she’ll be happier without him or with another person. The husband notes less friction and assumes things are better, or just fine. Eventually, she drops the bomb.  “I want out.” He is devastated and shocked and says, “I had no idea you were this unhappy.” This seals the coffin as she concludes he has always been clueless and uncaring. The tragic thing is that this is the point when the husband is now desperate and motivated to work on and rebuild their marriage. But the walkaway wife has closed the door on the way out.

3. Seek solutions before explanations

Most therapy is premised on a long process of introspective journey into the “causes” of your problems stemming from your background.  Wiener-Davis practices Solution-Oriented Brief Therapy.  This immediately sets goals and helps couples determine concrete steps to heal and grow and redeem their marriages.  The emphasis is on changed behavior that each spouse can implement immediately. (The intense exceptions are physical abuse, dangerous addictions, and constant infidelity. However, these represent less than 10-15 percent of marital problems.)

4. Don’t assume the worst of your spouse

Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. In assuming the negative, we behave in self-defeating, relationship-damaging ways. We turn inward, get selfish, react, accuse, refuse, and withhold respect or love.  Does this work for us? Give your spouse permission to be flawed. After all, we are flawed as well.  Isn’t that how God works with us?

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? –Romans 2:3-4

Grace works. We need to receive it and to give it. It softens consciences—theirs and ours.

5. Change your marriage by changing yourself

Even if the other spouse has a foot out the door, there is opportunity to turn it around. Don’t insist that two must be working on the relationship at the same time. One person can make big changes in behavior to change the relationship and redeem the marriage.

6. Stop doing things that don’t work or that make the situation worse

You’ve heard the definition of insanity: “doing the same thing, but expecting different results.” Stop doing what is not working. A committed spouse may actually be driving the other person away. If you know how to push your spouse’s buttons to get a negative response, you have proof that you can learn to push their positive-response buttons and impact the relationship. Ending the unfruitful cycle of “more-of-the-same behavior” is the next key to success in healing and improving your marriage.

7. Recognize that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself

Forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling.  Letting go of resentment helps your spouse, but it also frees you to be your best self, not a depressed, bitter victim. It does not depend on forgetting, just refusing to keep reminding. Decide right now. Stop blaming. Forgive. Make peace. You will be a better person and good effects will ripple toward others. No matter the condition of your marriage, desperate or strong, you will gain from her wisdom on divorce busting and marriage strengthening. Weiner-Davis’ message and resources will be a practical injection of hope into situations that seem hopeless. Finally, the wisdom of counseling is only part of the equation when you want to improve your life and redeem your marriage. Getting the focus off your spouse is a start. More central to the matter is seeking depth in our relationship with God and His power to enable us to behave in the best manner.  And that starts by humbly learning from the Creator of our marriage and recognizing the true enemy of it.

…“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. –James 4:6-8

When two people—or even one—humbly recognize their need for God’s strength to successfully navigate the tricky world of personal intimacy, that relationship becomes different. We are made to depend upon and draw from the infinite power of the One who created us for intimacy with Himself and continues to redeem us from ourselves and for relationships.

NextStepsRedeemingYourMarriage

 

The cost paid by the signers of the Declaration of Independence



Our last post detailed the convictions and courage of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This post shows the price many of them paid for the courage of their convictions.

signers of the declaration independence hallTheir courage and sacrifice

Strong convictions often bring about strong consequences, especially when they oppose someone addicted to power. The British military had already been acting as though it was above the law; now it would be all out war. Citizens who didn’t support the king would see suffering. They could expect to be imprisoned and have their property confiscated.

And those who led the effort to step up and break away from King George would especially face serious consequences: not just the vengeance of the British throne, but the high personal price of their unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom. Consider the fate of a number of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

George Walton of Georgia was wounded and captured in 1778 leading his state’s militia in the defense of his hometown of Savannah.

30-year old Thomas Heyward, Jr. of South Carolina signed the declaration at the great displeasure of his father, who was sympathetic to the king and told Thomas he would likely hang for the act. The two men resolved their differences before the elder Heyward died the next year. Two years later, Thomas, along with fellow South Carolina signers Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton, were taken prisoner in the siege of Charleston and held nearly a year to the war’s end.

Richard Stockton of New Jersey had his home overrun by the British invasion. He managed to get his family to safety, but he was captured, specifically because he signed the Declaration of Independence. He remained imprisoned for years, the last half year of which he nearly starved and froze to death. In battered health, he was released and returned to his home to find that all his furniture, crops and livestock were taken or destroyed, and his library—one of the colony’s best—was burned.

John Witherspoon of New Jersey, an active clergyman and president of the College of New Jersey (later to become Princeton), shut down and evacuated the school when British troops invaded the area. He spent most of the rest of his life rebuilding the college. Witherspoon also lost his son James in the battle of Germantown.

Thomas McKean of Delaware led an army the day after signing the Declaration to help George Washington in the defense of New York City and narrowly escaped with his life from cannon fire. In the next year he was on the run from the British, having to move his family five times.

John Hart of New Jersey was also pursued by the British. His property was invaded and looted. Two of his young children fled to relatives’ homes nearby, and Hart himself took refuge where he could in the surrounding woods and in nearby caves. He returned to his home a few months later, and a few years later he offered the fields surrounding his property as an encampment of Washington and 12,000 troops.

Lewis Morris of New York lost almost all of his property and wealth in the war, much of it within just two months of signing the Declaration of Independence. He served as a brigadier general during the war and spent nearly all his post-war days working to rebuild his property and farmlands. His frail wife was imprisoned by the British and never recovered her health.

Philip Livingston of New York was forced from residence to residence by the British armies. His first two homes became a British barracks and hospital, and the other two homes were burned to the ground. As well as the properties he lost to the enemy, he sold several others to support the colonial war effort, and died suddenly in 1778 before he could rebuild.

Lyman Hall, on the advice of General Washington, took his wife and son and fled his Georgia home for Connecticut, where he remained for two years until the war’s end. He returned to his property in Georgia, but he had lost most of what he had.

Carter Braxton of Virginia invested a large amount of his wealth in the revolutionary effort, as well as the shipping and privateering industry, which furnished the war effort with supplies. The debt that he incurred forced him to leave his estate and move to a smaller home.

Robert Morris of Pennsylvania surpassed all when it came to putting up his personal fortunes to support the war effort. Before any country or major bank was willing to extend credit to the fledgling United States, Morris was there. The $10,000 that he loaned the new government supplied Washington’s desperate troops, who went on to defeat the British at Trenton. Like Braxton, he also supported the shipping industry that delivered provisions to the soldiers and citizens. Morris never recovered his pre-war wealth, but his investment helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Americans and helped establish the United States as a nation.

signers of the declaration documentThe legacy of their actions

These were just a fourth of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. While others may not have sacrificed as much as these, each risked his personal safety, integrity, and possessions to stand for freedom from tyranny and oppose the unlawful British rule.

Despite their admirable actions, these men were not without their character flaws. Several were slaveowners. Massachusetts’ Elbridge Gerry has his name forever linked to the unethical process of gerrymandering. Benjamin Rush, the father of American medicine, was a gossip and was even caught forging an anonymous letter seeking to undermine George Washington’s leadership of the continental army. Benjamin Franklin was a playboy and given to deception.

But at a crucial moment in history, these men were willing to step up and sacrifice their personal comforts for the good of their countrymen. Like John Adams, each had doubts about the wisdom of breaking free from England and the prospects of their success. But they were committed to the ideals of equality and responsible government. It’s doubtful any of them could have imagined that the nation they birthed would still celebrate 238 years later, with fireworks and feasts.

But like Adams, they would almost certainly approve.

Next Steps

1.  Read Dennis Rainey’s article, “5 Ways Men Need to Step Up”

2. In Rainey’s book on manhood, he combines stories about courage with a strong challenge for men to step in their families.  Order Stepping Up.

3. FamilyLife’s Stepping Up website features a blog and helpful information about our exciting Stepping Up video series.

The courage of the signers of the Declaration of Independence



When you think of the Fourth of July, what words come to mind?

signers of the declaration flagHoliday? Grilling? Fireworks?

But 238 years ago, it was three different words.

Conviction. Courage. Sacrifice.

On July 4, 1776, 56 men met in Philadelphia to pass a resolution declaring their independence from England. It was anything but a picnic. What they did that day at Independence Hall would cost them greatly in the years to come. But it paved the way for a radical new way of thinking about government that would change the course of human history.

It’s not that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were against celebration. In fact, two days earlier, when 12 of the colonies had ratified the document, one of its architects penned a letter to his wife, predicting that the Second of July would be celebrated every year thereafter.

The second day of July, 1776, will be memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.

You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.

Four days later, the Liberty Bell rang out to summon the people to the first public reading of the document. As the words were read, there were great shouts of affirmation, and great celebration following. A year later, Congress would authorize the use of fireworks as an appropriate means of celebrating the birth of a new nation.

But amidst his feelings of enthusiasm, John Adams’ words above also reflected a somber tone that was common to all who signed the Declaration of Independence. In doing so, they knew they were inviting a declaration of war by England. They knew that, as traitors, they were essentially forfeiting all their possessions to the crown. Essentially, in signing the document, they were putting bounties on their own heads.

signers of the declaration document

The Declaration of Independence (click to read)

Their convictions

But in spite of the obvious cost, they considered the impact their actions would have for the people of America. They understood from Scripture that government is a sacred trust given by God to protect the inherent rights of people created in His image. Their new document stood toe-to-toe against the prevailing governmental idea of the day — the divine right of kings, which held that, when the one on the throne spoke, it was the voice of God speaking.

The Declaration of Independence contended that King George was abusing his God-given power as leader of England and the American colonies. It was their responsibility as decent men, they stated in their document, to challenge him on this for the sake of his subjects. Benjamin Franklin himself recommended a national motto in defense of their actions.

“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

They listed King George’s offenses against the people and against his office— 27 of them. The signers of the Declaration maintained that their continued efforts to bring their grievances before the king and his appointed  leaders had been met with indifference, if not oppression. They had no other recourse, they stated in the document, but to declare their independence from the tyrant who represented neither them nor the God who entrusted him with his position of leadership. They rejected his authority because King George had rejected His authority.

The concluding post details the personal costs paid by 13 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Freedom isn’t cheap, and it certainly wasn’t for these men.

10 ideas for keeping strong family relationships



“Familiarity breeds contempt.”

“You always hurt the ones you love.”

The timeliness of these old adages speaks volumes. It seems we reserve our least kind words, our most thoughtless deeds, and our meanest actions for those who mean the most to us. And because those close to us care  more about what we say and think, those words and actions hurt more deeply. It’s a double whammy.

Because the stakes are so high in the family, we must ensure that our communications not only stay away from the negative, but that they lead everyone to the positive. Here are ten passages of Scripture that can be very helpful in building and maintaining strong family relationships.

1. Mining for Good – Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

During the Gold Rush of the mid 19th century, prospectors would scoop up pan after pan of rocks and carefully wash away the useless lumps in hopes of finding just one gold nugget. We need to be prospectors of the good in other family members.

2. Rot Not – Ephesians 4:29

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Unwholesome, in the original Greek, can just as legitimately be translated “rotten.” The contrast in this verse makes it clear that our words fall into two categories:  “Edifying” and “Rotten.” If our words are not lifting our family members up, we don’t need to be wasting our breath.

3. Takes One to Know One – John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

When we’re considering how we ought to respond to an unkind word from a spouse or other family member, we need think no further than what Christ has done for us. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

4. The “I Insist” Principle – Philippians 2:3-4

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

I come from “The Hospitality State” (Mississippi), where it’s not unusual to have two drivers stopped at an intersection, sometimes for 10 seconds, each politely signaling to the other to go first. Sure, that may be a bit of overkill, but in this age of selfish individualism, maybe a pendulum swing in the opposite direction would be helpful … and closer to Scripture.

5. Go Deep Into Debt – Romans 13:8

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Scripture warns against being in financial debt to anyone. But here, Paul makes the point that there is an acceptable – even desirable – kind of debt. And because God, who is the author of love, offers an endless reserve of the commodity, the more debt we carry, the better it is for everyone.

6. It’s the Law – John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

All the laws of the Old Testament, Jesus proclaimed, hinged on loving God and others. The burdensome, unattainable “to do lists” created by the Pharisees are preempted by one single command, which Jesus deemed important enough to repeat twice. And rather than being burdensome, it is incredibly freeing to both the giver and receiver.

7. The Checklist of Love – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Few passages of Scripture are as widely accepted and as lightly applied as this one. I’ve found it to be one of the most helpful tools for revealing my own unloving attitudes in times of turmoil. People generally don’t appreciate having it pointed out when they’re wrong, but because this passage is so well loved, it tends to disarm even the most stubborn combatant.

8. Egg ‘Em On – Hebrews 10:24

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”

How many quibbles turn into full-blown disputes because one person has “stirred up” (the word is “provoked” in some translations) the other to anger? Instead of being students of one another’s hot buttons, we need to consider what can nudge each other back into the right direction.

9. Share the Load – Galatians 6:2

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

In this age of radical individualism, a person’s responsibility goes no farther than the tip of his nose. But the Apostle Paul reminds us that when we notice someone limping down the highway of life with an oversized load, it is our responsibility as Christians to claim some of that load as our own.

10. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me – Ephesians 4:26-27

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

Few marriages are destroyed as the result of a single action. The vast majority collapse under the combined weight of unconfessed sin and bitterness held in reserve. God’s way of preventing that kind of stockpiling is with a self-imposed sunset clause. Knowing that you have to deal with an issue before bed not only defuses the dissension, but it improves communication, which makes the marriage (or other family relationship) stronger.

 

Standing up to domestic violence: Remembering Yeardley Love



“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill’s admonishment to humanity is frequently quoted. Yet, how often do we heed the warning?  How often do we seek to step up and make the change?

YeardleyLove

The late Virginia lacrosse athlete Yeardley Love

Four years ago this month, a beautiful and talented 22 year-old University of Virginia lacrosse player, Yeardley Love, was murdered just before her college graduation. Her 22-year-old ex-boyfriend was eventually convicted of the crime. His previous death threats revealed warped and untrained emotions. Now he will be spending much of his life in prison.

How will we treat this? Will it continue to fade away as headline news  — a sensational trial to follow? Or will this be a wake up call? Will we learn from this tragedy or face the risk of repeating it?

After Yeardley’s funeral, former NFL standout and high school football coach Joe Ehrmann wrote an open letter calling us to get to the root of this alarmingly common tragedy: America’s epidemic of bullying, dating and sexual abuse, and gender violence.

In the letter, his cross-hairs are aimed pretty near the bulls-eye as he signals out one of the main causes  — the failure of society and parents to model and teach authentic manhood to boys and young men. False definitions of manhood lead to poor relationship building, and an inability to empathize with others.

Counterfeit Manhood

In Jeffrey Marx’s book, Season of Life, Joe fingers three counterfeit definitions of manhood: physical prowess, financial prowess, and sexual prowess. This is a fool’s scoreboard  — tracking sports, money, and sex as measures of masculinity. Joe teaches his football players and the kids he works with that being a man, first and foremost, means the ability to enter into and maintain meaningful relationships. A man lives for a cause greater than himself and his needs. Authentic manhood means accepting responsibility, leading courageously, and enacting justice on behalf of others.

Emotional Deficiency: Conquering an Empathy Deficit Disorder

Joe emphasizes that when we teach our boys to “stop crying,” “stop those emotions,” and “don’t be a sissy,” we incorrectly define what it means to “be a man!” As he notes, this leaves many men unable to relate to the feelings of others  — including women. He warns that when this happens, women become objects “… used to either validate masculine insecurity or satisfy physical needs. When the validation ends or is infused with anger, control, or alcohol, gender violence is often the result.

Too many boys have wounds from their fathers, the break in their family, or shame that they are damaged goods and don’t measure up. Boys and men must be taught that emotions are valid, but they need to learn how to control those emotions. They need respect, encouragement, and training in empathy, a missing characteristic in a culture focused on self. Allowing empathy to grow helps prevent anger or jealousy from being acted out in the violence depicted in most entertainment.

Authentic Manhood, Strengthening Relationships … How We Can Take a Stand

In addition to damaged emotions and false definitions of manhood, I submit that the breakdown of marriage and the treatment of sex as an a-la-carte item in America’s cafeteria of libertine choices are linked to the crisis of relationship violence. These are currents that must be curbed if we want hope for our next generation. Our nation’s freedom to disagree about what is right and wrong is fundamental, but to shirk from defining right and wrong is neither love nor compassion. It is sabotage of precious young lives.

So what can you do?

  • Love your spouse: Resume dating him or her. Ask them what their main needs are from you and work at meeting them.
  • Spend time playing and praying with your children.
  • Prioritize the relationship skills of communication, apology, and forgiveness.
  • Train your teens to build friendships, not exclusive, clingy, sexually-involved romances.  Stop treating sex and violence as entertainment and sport.
  • Ask questions and have dialogue with your sons and daughters.
  • Affirm their worth … show respect.
  • Get candid with your sons about treating women as if they were their little sister; it’s not a game.
  • Pass on a vision of love, relational maturity, and commitment that is anchored in humanity, identity, empathy and transparency.

Oh yes, we parents are imperfect. That does not disqualify us from stepping up to parent this generation. Anything less is neither courageous nor loving.

Don’t let the tragic death of Yeardley Love fade away as another headline sensation.  Imagine if she was your daughter? What if the ex-boyfriend was your son?  Honor her memory. Prevent his path to shame. If you know someone suffering from domestic violence or you yourself are caught in that battle, read this article on Domestic Violence Awareness for ways to get support.  Also, read Joe Ehrmann’s article “One Team-One Heart-One Love = One Movement” to help end this tragedy.

8 marriage mistakes I’ve made



This post originally appeared on MarkMerrill.com

MerrillMarkSusanI am so grateful for my 25 years of marriage to my wife, Susan.  My love for her has grown immensely over the years. I’ve been faithful to her. I’m very attracted to her. But I can tell you that it’s not because of me. It’s only because of God’s loving hand of undeserved favor. You see, I’m just one decision away from doing something very stupid that could really damage or, perhaps even destroy our relationship. And, I can tell you that I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my marriage. Here are 8 marriage mistakes I’ve made.

1.    Thinking that Susan was responsible for my happiness.

In my early years of marriage, I felt like an important part of Susan’s “duty” as my wife was to make me happy. I was a bit more focused on me than us. I didn’t think so at the time, but now looking back, I relied on Susan to lift me up when I was down, to help me upon command, and to meet my physical needs when called upon, just to name a few.

2.    Wishing Susan would be more like me.

 Unfortunately, in my younger years, I thought pretty highly of myself. So much so that I thought Susan should be more like me. Oh, I wouldn’t say that out loud, but I thought things like, “If Susan was more organized and disciplined like me, she would be able to keep the house cleaner.” Or, “I wish Susan just got things done that I want done when I want them done. I mean, when I commit to do something for her, I’m on it and check it off the list.”  Since I thought Susan should think and act more like me, I didn’t think about the incredible gifts of creativity and relational skills that Susan had. I didn’t celebrate her unique strengths that make Susan, Susan.

3.    Trying to control Susan.

 “Where are you going? Who are you going with? And what time will you be home?” Or, “Did you make sure the kids did their homework? Did they get that project done?” Those are the kind of questions I’d ask Susan as a father would ask his child. Rather than just encouraging her to go out and enjoy the night with friends, I made her feel like she had a curfew. Rather than me making sure our kids got certain things done, I asked Susan to take on that responsibility.

4.    Reflecting Susan’s emotions instead of regulating my own.

 Many times in our marriage, I’ve acted like a thermometer instead of a thermostat. I reflected the temperature in our relationship and home instead regulating it. When Susan got mad at me about something, I got mad because she was mad. If Susan was down and didn’t feel well, that frustrated me and I let her know it. I failed to show leadership in our home by regulating my emotions and attitude. As a result, instead of cooling down our emotions, I heated them up causing some very uncomfortable disagreements.

5.    Being obsessive about things that don’t matter.

 It took over a year to restore our home that had been flooded in a big storm. We just moved back in a couple of months ago. As I inspected the work of our painters, I noticed some areas that the painters should touch up. I also noticed some very tiny areas that were inside storage closets that nobody except me would ever see that could use a bit of paint. I made a big deal out of it with our painters, and with Susan, initially insisting that the places nobody would ever see be painted. Yes, I was obsessive about it and admittedly went overboard. That kind of intense behavior can really put Susan on edge.

6.    Being critical.

When I look at a new design for a website at work, my eye often first goes to what’s wrong with it.  When I look at that dresser that Susan just personally refurbished into a beautiful new piece of furniture for our home, I find that spot she missed and let her know about it. While my critical eye can be a benefit, it can also be a curse. My tongue has been a wild animal in our marriage. It’s gotten loose and pounced upon Susan on a number of occasions with critical words and condescending tones.

7.    Acting like we are not on the same team.

Susan has said to me on more than one occasion, “I just don’t feel like we’re on the same team.” And she’s right. There have been times when she was dealing with one of our kids’ behavior and I didn’t back her up. Instead, I questioned how she was handling it in front of them. That’s just one example. There have been many other times when I’ve treated her like my opponent, not my teammate,  in our relationship.

8.    Having an “if, then” mentality.

“If you would just meet my physical desires, then I wouldn’t be so critical of you.” My “If you would _______, then I would _________” mentality is an example of me not unconditionally loving my wife well.

Those are just a sampling of mistakes I’ve made in marriage. Although I still struggle in some of these areas, I’ve made some good progress in others. You can find out more about Susan’s take on life, specifically parenting and marriage here.

Have you made any of these same mistakes? If so, what have you done to address them? Maybe you’d also be so bold as to share other failures that you’ve had in your relationship and what you’ve done about them.

I still do … every day



I still do ... every dayToday, I begin my 30th year of marriage to Ellie. Am I surprised we made it this far?

Not at all.

If I had it to do all over again, would I still say “I do?”

Without a doubt. I still do.

Did I comprehend all I was agreeing to when I said those words so many years ago?

Not even close.

After five years of dating, Ellie and I were still deeply in love on that perfect May morning when we made our vows before dozens of witnesses in a beautiful church overlooking the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Even though we both meant what we said, neither of us really knew what we meant when we made those promises to love and stay committed to each other …

– through health and sickness,

– wealth and poverty,

– good and bad,

– until death separated us.

Little did we know that God would add to our family within the week. No, we had no plans for Ellie to get pregnant on our honeymoon, but nine months and five days after our wedding, our first son was born. And less than four months after his birth, Ellie was a nursing, stay-at-home mom with a suddenly unemployed husband. That wasn’t in our plans, but it was in our vows.

As a bride-to-be, Ellie had wanted to have four children, but when we said our vows, we weren’t thinking that God would add that fourth child just one week after our sixth anniversary. By then, we realized that having children was not going to be a problem for us.

Or so we thought.

Three of Ellie’s next four pregnancies ended in miscarriage. The one that did go full term came with lots of complications, including Ellie permanently losing all hearing in her left ear. Those were heart-wrenching times. But as God promises, weeping lasts for a nighttime, but joy comes in the morning.

Four years later, Ellie was pregnant with our seventh and final child when our family was devastated by the line-of-duty death of my Maui Police Officer brother. She and I never dreamed we’d ever go to Hawaii, much less to bury my brother there.

Romantic vacations haven’t really been part of our marriage history. In fact, most of my paychecks have only been enough to cover the basic necessities of a large family. There have even been some times where the fridge and pantry were almost bare. But God has always provided. Even though there have only been a few weeks of the past 29 years where I haven’t been employed, most of those jobs have been in journalism or ministry, neither of which is known for high salaries. When it comes to “for richer or poorer,” we’ve seen a lot of one, but not much of the other.

It wasn’t in our plans, but it was in our vows.

When a couple stands at the altar before their closest friends and most committed family members, everything seems perfect; the lifetime covenant they’re making to each other seems like a blank check drawn on the bank of happiness. They don’t foresee a time when the account is in danger of overdraft. They can hardly imagine the day when all those friends and family standing with them in the beginning aren’t there to help them through those emotional zero-balance days.

But the God who created them as individuals and brought them together in the covenant of marriage is there every minute of every day of their married life.

Ellie and I weren’t practicing believers when we married back in 1985. But God in His grace drew us to Himself. Each of us – independent of the other – made a personal commitment to Christ within 15 months of our vows. In the early years of marriage and parenting, we were able to grow in oneness with each other and with God.

We learned the significance of our marriage covenant as we learned how God covenanted with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and most importantly, through the New Covenant in Christ. Because God would not break His covenants, Ellie and I determined never to entertain the notion of divorce.

When I think back to the day we proclaimed our vows, in many ways I feel like I’m so much less impressive of a man than the one who boldly promised to love and cherish Ellie every day of his life. I haven’t been the best provider. I’m not a strong leader. I’m moody and easily frustrated and way too self-absorbed. And I know Ellie has her own list of ways she falls short of the woman with all those lofty vows nearly three decades ago.

“I do” is not just something you say to your spouse on your wedding day. “I do” is every word you say and every deed you do for the rest of your marriage. That’s what “I do” really means.

Ellie and I have had 10,592 days worth of opportunities to experience how much harder it is to say your vows on any given marriage day than on your wedding day. No matter how much we love each other, we let our guards down; selfishness is always ready to make an exception to a vow.

It takes a supernatural empowering of God’s Spirit for me to realize that marriage is more about what I can do for Ellie, than what she should be doing do for me. God promises – when I ask Him – to empower me with His Spirit, freeing me from the slavery to myself in order to love my wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. Only through the limitless grace and unconditional love of His Spirit working in me can I fulfill my vows to Ellie like I promised to do back on May 18, 1985.

And it’s only by His Spirit that I can continue to be true to my promise for the next 30 years, or however many the Lord sees fit to give us together.

Ellie, I still do.

NEXT STEPS

1. To learn more about the value of keeping your vows, read Dennis Rainey’s article, “Five Ways to Keep Your Marriage Covenant.”

2. Listen to Doug and Patty Dailey talk about the crisis in their marriage on FamilyLife Today®.

3. Plan a weekend getaway with your spouse to spend time together and build your marriage – attend a Weekend to Remember® or one of the upcoming I Still Do® events in Chicago, Portland, or Washington, D.C.

 

 

Enduring a difficult marriage: 4 lessons from Lincoln



This post originally appeared on MarkMerrill.com

“Can’t you do anything right?”

“You’re worthless.”

“I don’t know why I married you.”

Have you ever heard those scathing words before in your marriage? If so, how did it make you feel? Maybe you felt devalued or disrespected. Perhaps you got angry. Maybe fear struck your heart. Maybe you were overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness.

If you’ve felt any of those things in your marriage, you’re not alone. Many others have traveled the same rocky road. In fact, one of the greatest men in American history experienced some of the same things. His name was Abraham Lincoln.

difficult marriageMost of us know Lincoln as the incredible President and leader of our country during the Civil War. But what many of us don’t know is that at the same time Lincoln was working to promote peace in America, he was struggling to keep peace within his own marriage. We see how clearly he identified with hardships in marriage when he said, “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.”

Of course, Abraham Lincoln was human and probably contributed to some of the unrest in his marriage. But history tells us that his wife, Mary Todd, made married life extremely difficult for Lincoln. Here are some of the costs that Abraham Lincoln experienced by sticking it out with his wife, Mary Todd:

Costs:
  • It’s been reported that Mary threw things like firewood and potatoes at her husband on different occasions.
  • It’s been said that she chased him around their backyard with a knife at one point after a dispute.
  • She didn’t care about spending more than her budget allowed and was quoted as saying, “To keep up appearances, I must have money—more than Mr. Lincoln can spare for me. He is too honest to make a penny outside of his salary; consequently I had, and still have, no alternative but to run in debt.”
  • She was constantly jealous and rude to the women Lincoln interacted with.
  • Someone who would often visit the White House recalled that Mary Todd “was vain, passionately fond of dress, and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded. She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the President greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.”
  • Lincoln was rewarded in several ways from his marriage with Mary.
Rewards:
  • Lincoln learned to be a man of peace. Not only did he seek peace for our country, but also learned to hold onto peace in his marriage when the waves of unrest were crashing around him.
  • Lincoln developed the virtue of perseverance in his marriage and in life. He gained a deeper understanding of focusing on the long run, rather than the current moment.
  • Lincoln developed a forgiving heart towards his wife — a value all of America would need to embrace following the Civil War.

Fortunately for us, Lincoln was perhaps more greatly prepared for the awful state of the nation after his experiences in marriage. As author John Piper puts it, “A whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.”

So how did Lincoln do it, and how can you stick it out as well?

1. He recognized his own flaws.

Lincoln was a man of great faith, but also a man of great flaws. Often being away on business trips and occupied with political ventures, we can assume that his time with family was more limited than most. So the first step to sticking it out in marriage is to avoid putting all the blame on your spouse. Recognize your flaws, take responsibility, and find ways to improve your side of the relationship with your spouse. And take Lincoln’s own advice: “I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”

2. He stayed positive.

Despite the constant nagging, complaining, and insults from his wife, Lincoln maintained a strong positive attitude that he shared with the country he led. He came to discover with time that, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

3. He had an eternal understanding.

Lincoln once shared, “Surely God would not have created such a being as man to exist only for a day! Man was made for immortality!” He understood this life was not the only thing we have; we also get to look forward to an eternal life with God. Keeping your mindset on the big picture can help small struggles within your marriage lose some of their significance and lead you to forgive more quickly. Giving forgiveness is so important. Corrie ten Boom: The Ultimate Forgiveness Story is an amazing story of forgiveness.

4. He understood marriage is a covenant.

As a man of faith, Lincoln was able to look at God’s relationship with us as an example for his relationship with his wife. God will never leave us and Lincoln chose to never leave his wife. To understand more about how marriage is a covenant and not a contract, you may want to consider 3 Things to Remember Before You Call It Quits in Marriage.

What are some other words of encouragement you could share with people in a difficult marriage? I’d appreciate it if you’d share in a comment below.

MarkMerrillMark Merrill is the president of the national non-profit organization, Family First , and the voice of a daily radio program called The Family Minute. He recently authored the book, All Pro Dad: 7 Essentials to Be a Hero to Your Kids. “I’m so grateful for my wife, Susan, and our five children. I’ve learned how to be a better husband and dad because of them.”

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