Friday, November 30, 2012

Uprooting bitterness

Few pet sins will more quickly choke the marital garden than bitterness. The "Well, he.../Well, she..." interchanges, rather than bring some kind of resolution and restoration, dump Miracle-Gro all over those weeds. Emerson Eggerichs in his superb work on husband/wife interaction, "Love and Respect," aptly calls this "The Crazy Cycle."

How does one eradicate such a tentacled weed from their garden?

Let me back up a few days. One night earlier this week during the evening when I had been reading through the Bible with my daughters, we took a hiatus from Isaiah and flipped to the beginning. I had some lessons I wanted to impart upon my girls, but God had some lessons he wanted to impart to me. As I took them through the history of Cain and Abel, I hoped to share with them the importance of sin's destructiveness, and while this is a true premise, I was moved by God's conduct throughout the ordeal (Genesis 4:1-16).

Consider God's grace,

1. God doesn't accept an inappropriate sacrifice. Rather, in his goodness, justice, and grace, God provides instruction (read: discipline) in that rejection to move Cain to repent of that sacrifice and to then offer a proper sacrifice.

2. God provides a warning. When Cain became angry at God, God continued to lavish grace, love, and discipline upon Cain, his child, by pointing out his improper displeasure, by warning him about sin's close proximity, and by encouraging him to get himself right before things went far worse.

Understand this: God would have been completely justified in ending Cain's life when he offered the improper sacrifice and especially when his anger flared at God because the Lord did not accept Cain's improper sacrifice. Isn't that like us? We get angry when our sin isn't coddled or understood. It's your fault I sinned! Back to God's great grace.

3. God provides an opportunity to repent. Cain kills his brother. Does God then sentence him to a swift and agonizing death? Nope. More and more grace. God does for Cain just as he did for Cain's daddy, Adam. He offers an opportunity for repentance. As God called out to Adam, "Where are you?" in hopes that the man would step forth and confess, God calls out to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" God knew where Adam was. God knew where Abel was. In fact, Abel's blood cried out to God from the soil. How's that for haunting imagery? In his goodness, God gave both the opportunity to come to him before he confronted them.

4. God restrains his wrath. Cain sasses God. No, really. All out and from his toes, Cain gives God lip. "Am I my brother's keeper?" I imagine him doing so with a sullen intonation and a shrug while not having the masculine fortitude to look God in the eye. Such a response from my child would ignite a fury in my stove. Had I been God in that situation, you would not have found a particulate left of Cain in the cosmos. God, in his grand grace, restrains his just wrath.

5. God indicts, sentences, and provides hope. No more quibbling. God makes plain that he knows all things, that Cain has been measured in the scales and found wanting. Once again, rather than destruction, God separates Cain. Cain, with blood still beneath his nails, knows the jig is up, and he frets that the increasing multitude that has sprung from the offspring of Adam and Eve will seek to slay the murderer. God's inexhaustible grace lavishes forth again upon Cain. You are marked. None will harm you, you have my word. Because Cain is allowed to live, God grants him time to take stock, assess, and hopefully turn back to God in repentance for what he had done.

We never know what happens to Cain after that apart from his offspring, but it is possible that he repented before he died. Would we expect any other result from God's amazing grace?

All of these things overwhelmed me as I chatted with my daughters. It made me think of Peter's self-centered query to his Master about how often he should forgive. Rather than mock or ridicule Peter, Christ (yep, in his grace) instructs the buffoonerous disciple. "Seventy times seven." Translated: stop keeping count! God demands of his children what he already is and does. How many times has God forgiven you?

So where is all of this going in your relationship with your wife when it comes to the weed of bitterness and resentment? You know full well. Forgive her much. Pour out your grace upon your wife.The five things above that God did with Cain do not correspond with what you should do to your wife except that they exemplify God's extraordinary love and grace toward Cain. As God has done with us, so he expects us to do with others, especially those near and dear to us, and especially our brides.

Some practical apps:

1. Don't keep score. You'll never win. And you will never have a bigger tally than the one that God's NOT keeping against you.

2. Hear her. This comes up again and again. Typically, when a bride's bile rises against her man, the man's bile immediately counters. DON'T! Take a Tums. Then listen to her. Really hear what she has to say. You'll be amazed at how that will reduce the intensity from her perspective when she knows you are listening to her.

3. Don't divert. What do I mean by that? Stay on topic. Don't bring up something that she has done that has caused you to act like a burro. She's responsible for her conduct. You are responsible for yours. If your conduct has brought harm, own it. Confess your sin to God, and apologize to your bride.

4. Be a man. This is no longer junior high school. Your bride will offend you at some point future as you will offend her, BUT one does not permit the other. If she steps on your toes, man up and show her grace. Trust that she does love you and that the slight was not intended. I'm not saying to not call it to her attention, but when you do so, show her respect and that you trust in her love. Don't take a toe-crunch as an opportunity to drive your beloved into the dirt. Act like a man and not a prepubescent bully.

5. Remember your paid debt. Yes, the one forgiven much should forgive much--unless you've forgotten how much you've been forgiven. How do you keep a sober mind in that regard? Think often about the cross of Christ. If you've not read through the Gospels recently, do so. Twice per year would be the bare minimum for a believer. When we consider much what God has done for us, it is far easier for us to then lavish the grace bestowed upon us onto others.

So brothers, if you catch sight of the bitterness weed getting hold of your heart, give it no place. Go to the cross and let God pull it up so you can in turn love him and your wife as he intended.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"I wanna be that man"

Often times artists--be they painters, cartoonists, film-makers, or novelists--capture in a few moments what theologians can't communicate in tomes.

Here's a song. Let it move you to purpose in your heart to be that man for your woman. For your children.

For Christ.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Coming storms...

You're hated. Get used to it.

Do you believe marriage is for one man and one woman? You're a bigoted homophobe.

Do you think that a baby in the womb is a human being and therefore deserving of the protection of any human being? Your an anti-choice and have no thought for a woman's fundamental freedoms.

Do you really believe in a six-day creation and a young earth, Noah and the ark, Jonah and a great fish? Do you believe in the tooth fairy, too?

Do you really believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven? You are a fundamentalist extremist, the kind that runs planes into buildings.

Yes, folks will care for you and your convictions. Peter said as much.  "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings" (1 Peter 4:12-13a). Jesus said as much to his disciples. Twice! "You will be hated for my name's sake" (Matthew 10:22, 24:9)

With such prescient training, I don't get flummoxed when I hear the Bill Mahre's of the world lampoon the religiously convicted. I don't get too stressed (okay, maybe a bit) when the followers of Christ are lumped in with the followers of Muhammad and Allah. It's to be expected.

Consider this Facebook post. All is in the original to include the parentheticals and the subject-verb disagreement; I just bold printed a few statements:

Apparently the social conservative faction of the Republican Party (read anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-gay) are declaring war on Karl Rove - the most devious political operative since Halderman. They claim that Rove virtually controlled the nomination process (probably true) and that Romney, Rove’s choice, lost because he wasn’t conservative enough (ARE THEY ON CRACK??). So who do you root for, evil genius or superstitious dunderheads?
More and more, those who follow Christ in all corners of their life will suffer such scorn. I have a friend who, like many others, decided to post every day in November something for which they were thankful. As a new believer in God and the Bible, much of it was directed to him. It only took a week before she took blow-torch heat for her convictions. She posted,
" ::Day 7:: Today I am thankful for my rights as a US citizen. I am thankful that for the time being I have the right to voice my beliefs and concerns about this nation and its leaders without being stoned, I have the right to worship my God and carry my Bible without being beheaded, and I have the right to bear arms and protect my family if needed."
Pretty benign. A pretty patriotic post. In response to a comment from a friend, she added,
"I explained to my son why I voted for the person I did and explained as believers that we need to vote for the candidate that holds to biblical truths. Then having to tell him who won this morning, and he asked, 'why does America hate God?' Good grief.............."
And then the whip cracked.
"Good grief... I'm removing you as a friend. I do wholeheartedly support your right to believe in your religion, but hearing that you've brainwashed your child to believe that America hates God because we elected a Christian man, who happens to be a democrat is sickening, ignorant and utterly ridiculous. People like you are the basis of religious fanaticism, and if anyone remembers September 11, 2001 we all remember what religious fanaticism causes.

I pray that your child gets an excellent education that will help him move beyond such narrow minded and ignorant thoughts in the future. I hope that his education allows him to balance his faith and his knowledge in a constructive way that is realistic for today's world.
I'd like to say such responses and attitudes are a rarity. They are not. A couple of thoughts for you as you love and lead your wife and family:
1. Prepare them for darkness. I'd love to paint a rosy picture of the world around us, but truth is, it is a dark place. Yes, there is much good and beauty, but my wife and I do not have Concealed Handgun Licenses because of bunnies and butterflies. The truth of God's word speaks of a fallen world and the sinfulness of mankind. These things will intrude into every life. Ignoring such and failing to lead our families in the full counsel of God's world will not prepare them for the storms ahead.

2. Bolster them in hope. It's not all doom and gloom. Even in the fallen world, bunnies and butterflies do exist. I saw a sunset last night that stole my breath for fifteen minutes. Extraordinary. But it's not simply for these brief blessings that we hope. Jesus Christ died and rose that one day we would be with him in eternity. Despite and through the difficulties in this life, we will know glories in the coming age. Teach your family these things.

3. Protect and defend them when you can. There are bullies out there. Do not let them touch your family. Not all bullies are physical. Some come in through the television. Some try to bludgeon through the internet. Some will deceive and destroy through enticing melodies and noxious lyrics. You, man, have a responsibility to protect your bride and children.

4. Protect and defend mine when I'm not around. Few spend 24/7 with their families. It's not possible. As such, if I am not around, you have my permission to intervene for my family. I will do so for yours. When bullies are bullying, stand in the gap.
The numbers of those who loathe and despise us will not likely wane in the coming days. As the apostles did, rejoice that you are counted worthy to bear reproach for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41; it's him they are persecuting after all [Acts 9:4]). Be ready for the coming storms.