The circle, and bread, of life

by the Night Writer

Like a big fist pounding on my door,
I never felt such a love before…

— Bruce Cockburn

Sunday thoughts.

In church this morning we were exhorted, during the singing portion, to remember that with a shout the walls will come down. “The wall” in this case being whatever is standing between us and God’s will in our life. As I thought about it I remembered the wall, largely of my own making, that had stood between me and God. I had been pretty impressed with its craftsmanship, as I recall. And one day that wall didn’t fall, but suddenly had a large hole punched through it from the other side.

Twenty-two years and two months ago, my wife and I were in a small ultra-sound room while her ob-gyn — the same man who had performed her tubal ligation following a bout with endometriosis five or six years earlier — ran the hand-held device over and around her abdomen. Her home-pregnancy test had been positive that morning, and her report had caused some surprise and concern on her doctor’s part. Surprise because he had never had a ligation “fail”, and concern because the test raised a possibility that she was having an ectopic — or “tubal” — pregnancy, which is a serious problem. As he moved the scanner back and forth, up and down, we all watched the grainy, black and white images on the screen as the patterns shifted. I remember the doctor saying, “Hmmmm” and “Hmmmmm” and “Hmmmm” every so often — but nothing else! Finally I asked, “Is it a baby?”


“Is it where it’s supposed to be?”

“Yes, it is!”

I don’t know what the learned professional, who had carried out the procedure, was thinking then. I do know that I, the expert who had carried on a campaign of intellectual seeking, asking (and even demanding) evidence from people of what God had actually done in their lives, now had to wrap my mind around a startling new reality. Certainly the first impulse was to try to pick up the imploded bricks from that wall and try to fit them right back where they came from. I would, however, come to see these as just so much rubble to be cleared away.

It didn’t happen overnight, but the clearing definitely began. I was very new to the “things of God” at that time. Willing to “try” something new but probably not that firmly anchored. I had heard some wonderful and exciting teaching but it was still largely theoretical at the time. A new and dawning awareness of the reality and power of the Word of God was coming into my life as a preview of the teaching and discipleship I would be receiving in the years to come, and that first punch from the other side of the wall would be followed by a series of shakings and renovations (via revelations) that probably aren’t finished even now.

My daughter arrived a little more than eight months later and I was able to learn and grow in these things as she, herself, grew. The lessons and experiences my wife and received shaped our lives and our decisions and were reflected in the way we lived and raised our first daughter and the one who came after. Even though there were often voices who said, “That’s not how you should do it” or “you’re only making it tougher on her in the long-run”, we resisted much worldly wisdom and held fast to what we were seeing and experiencing and stayed committed to putting in the values and expectations we thought our girls would need to succeed. We raised them not as though we were their friends, but to help them become the kind of adults we’d be pleased to have as friends. I’d have to say we (and especially God) have been very successful in this mission.

Two days ago, we were once again in a small ultra-sound room. My wife, myself, my two daughters, as well as the husband of the eldest. Two generations gathered around the machine, hoping to catch a glimpse of a third as the technician ran the scanner back and forth, up and down, on my married daughter’s stomach. At last, there was the proof. He has given us a son…and so very much more.

Filings: Red Hot Secrets of Romance

by the Night Writer

Where is it written in the Bible that guys have to be romantic? I mean, really, give me a scripture. I checked, and my concordance must be the Strong’s Silent Type, because the word “romantic” doesn’t appear once. Yet our culture tells us that women want men to be “r
omantic”, which usually means tender, sensitive and – oh yeah – dead.

In so many romantic movie by the time the credits are rolling over the last rays of poignant lighting, the guy is dead. As they might say in the Romance languages: Finito. Morte. Cold as a mackerel (like the guy in Titanic).

Why does it have to be like that? Well, I put down my Strong’s and picked up my Funk & Wagnall. It lists the definition of romance as “the character or nature of that which appears strange and fascinating, heroic, chivalrous…” and “a form of idealistic prose fiction distinguished from the novel or tale because it does not bind itself to reality…”

Well, there you have it: Romance is a fiction. The guy has to die at the end or otherwise ride off into the sunset or else reality will set in and the whole thing ultimately falls apart. You think women will pay to see a movie 17 times if turns out the knight leaves his shining armor laying around on the floor, or likes to spend his afternoons watching the jousts and scratching himself? ‘Tis a far, far better thing that he die nobly than live on and spoil the fantasy. That’s why most of what is considered “romantic” in our culture is really just a bunch of manipulative fluff that’s meant to sell something (or some philosophy).

There is an essential truth in all that, however: you really do have to die.

Earlier I challenged you to give me a scripture that mentions romance. I don’t think you’ll find one, but you will find an example of someone laying down his life for his bride. Ephesians 5:25 commands us to “love our wives as Christ loves the church.” He gave himself up, and we are to do the same.

Now I’d guess most of us, if it came right down to it, would be willing to take a bullet for our wives. The real question is, “But will you let her have the last doughnut?” It’s one thing to lay down your life in a blaze of glory like in the movies, but it’s a lot more difficult (and even more romantic) to do it day in, day out by putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own. Perhaps at some time or another you’ve heard the phrase, “C’mon, would it kill you to show a little consideration?” And the answer to that, honestly, is “yes.” It does kill us in so much as we lay aside our will, our pride, our way of doing things in order to reach out to her in a way that is meaningful to her.

We die a little when we put down the newspaper to ask her about her day; when we go out of our way to do something to make her day or her life easier; when we take her concerns and input into consideration in making a joint decision. Is it one-sided? Well, it can be, but it’s been my experience and observation that these activities are very much included in the laws of sowing and reaping, and the harvest usually comes pretty fast. Furthermore, if we are to take Christ as our model, we see that he laid down his life for us first without concern for what he would get back (in fact, even knowing that there would be many who would not accept his sacrifice).

He did it, the scripture says, to make us (the church) holy. One of the definitions of “holy” is “to be set apart.” We demonstrate that our wives are holy to us by treating them in a way that shows we value them more than any relationship in our lives other than God. Instead of taking them for granted because we’re around them so much, we put extra effort into their well-being precisely because we are around them so much. Yes, it will cost us everything – and it will pay back more than we can ever imagine.

Dying easy, II

A few days ago I put up a post referencing how safe our lives have become and suggesting that we had to go looking to find things to kill us, and usually found them embedded in the things we’ve used to make our lives easier.

Our desire for easy and convenient kills us with useless calories, toxic drink dispensers and mutated nutrients while we celebrate progress and our exceeding cleverness. Why, to do without these fruits would be regressive, even primitive.

Morally we also like things easier, and we don’t like to put the hard work in to examine ourselves and cut the slack out of our lives, thinking that as long as everything “looks good” then we must not be too bad. We certainly don’t want to be bothered with the work of taking a stand in the hopes of changing others (unless we’re one of those who can’t wait to change everyone but themselves), so we watch that video, play that game, revel in those lyrics. Why, to do without our rationalizations, to be willing to say something is actually evil, would be regressive, even primitive.

It’s far easier to act as if the “science” of our morality has all been settled, that evil has been driven from our land along with the wild, man-eating animals, leaving us this convenient, easy life where we assume everyone’s just naturally got it all figured out and evil is merely a quaint concept to be manipulated for power and ratings, or to describe how someone else votes. Or else a venial sin is blown up into a huge paper dragon so that certain warriors can similarly puff themselves up to do battle with it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And then someone shoots up a school, pours acid on a playground slide or opportunistically twists another person’s name and reputation for personal gain on a national stage and we gape in horror and wonder how anyone could do such a thing even though it happens in one form or another every day. Meanwhile, the TV networks that won’t show a fan running out onto an athletic field because it gives the yahoo the exposure he’s looking for and only encourages others, trip all over each other to broadcast the addled rantings of a self-absorbed maniac.

A friend who is a carpenter recently opined, after touring several million-dollar homes, how disappointing the workmanship was in these beautiful and expensive abodes. Things certainly looked nice, but to a practiced eye the mistakes and cover-ups for the mistakes were jarring. Something might look right, but if it’s not properly squared up it’s eventually going to sag and crumble, no matter how expensive and modern it is.

I can’t imagine the architect is too pleased.

Filings: NSF

One of the songs we sang in church on Easter Sunday had these words:

I’ll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross.

We’ve sung that song a few times before and each time I usually think to myself that I do know how much it cost to redeem my sin — it “cost” Jesus having to come to earth in human form, being beaten, crucified, dying and rising again. Yesterday, however, it really sunk in for me that there is a difference between “knowing” and “experiencing”. Or, to put it in the words that occurred to me, it’s the difference between receiving a check for $1 million and writing a check for $1 million.

That’s not to say that most of us haven’t tried to write out our own check for our salvation, either out of our man-made doctrines or new age spirituality, or based on our “good works”. Inherent in all of those thoughts is that deep down we assume we’re not “that bad” (even “good”), so how big a check are we really talking about? The thing is, there is no check that we can write ourselves that would pay that debt, even on an installment plan. That’s because we all fell for the marketing incentives and opened our accounts at the First Bank of Hell (hey, I got a free toaster!), and those checks are always going to bounce. They’ll come back stamped NSF — Insufficient Faith. And man, those penalty charges eat you up.

Nor do I get any closer by taking that revelation and thinking that I’m a worm, a worthless sinner (especially if done with an all-too-human sense of pride at my humility). True, on my own that is what I’d be, but Jesus looked at the value and decided I was worth it. I don’t know which revelation makes me weep more.

It is a gift that I can’t explain, rationalize or justify; all I can do is either accept it or waste it. There were many over the weekend who tipped their hats to the “message of Jesus” without realizing the sacrifice he made. There were the ones, even in Christian leadership, willing to call him “Teacher” but not “Lord”. I know; I’ve been there, done that myself. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity (and KingDavid reminded me):

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that [alternative] open to us

Filings is an ongoing section of this blog where the posts focus specifically on issues of Christian life. The name comes about because “filings” are the natural by-product of Proverbs 27:17: “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Filings: Rich kids

You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“Godly people give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will never be forgotten.”

— 2 Corinthians 9: 7-9 (New Living Translation)

When Tiger Lilly was six years old she saw the advertisement in the newspaper for the Union Gospel Mission’s annual Thanksgiving banquet for the homeless. She studied the photo of the elderly man with the long beard and old clothes. She read the headline that said just $1.79 would provide a full Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings to a hungry person. She looked at me.

I have $1.79,” she said, with some amazement. “I can buy someone’s dinner!” I sent her upstairs to get her bank to be sure. There were a few bills in there and a lot of coins, and she methodically counted out the full amount. I kept my face non-commital as I asked her if she was sure she wanted to give that money, since it represented a lot of what she had in her bank. She was positive. I had her get an envelope to put the money into and that afternoon we drove over to the Mission. I could have simply written a check covering her contribution along with a larger one from my wife and I and mailed it in, but the Mission isn’t far from our house and I wanted her to see where the money was going and have the personal connection of seeing the real people she was helping. We went inside and the chaplain there was an acquaintance of mine. He wasn’t used to receiving direct contributions, but he took us into his small office, collected Tiger Lilly’s envelope, earnestly wrote her a receipt and thanked her for her for giving, saying how much it would mean to someone.

I remembered that episode last week when I read the article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) by Arthur C. Brooks analyzing the results of the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey. According to these results, 85 million U.S. households give money each year to non-profit organizations, while 30 million households do not. The differences between these two groups is not based on income, but on political and religious outlook, with conservatives and people of faith being the ones most likely to give and to volunteer. Besides giving to non-profits, this charity extends to giving to friends and neighbors and even to propensity to donate blood.

The article observed that some might be surprised by the discrepancy in the giving habits between conservatives and liberals given the stereotype of the heartlessness of the right. And of course it is common knowledge that religious people are all hypocrites. I wasn’t surprised, however. Many of the people I know are always open and willing to help meet a need; they draw the line at institutionalizing one, however.

To some extent this may be due to believing there’s something beyond yourself that you need to be accountable to. It can be highly motivational if you truly believe that one day you’re going to stand before God and give an account for yourself. (And, as I’ve written here before, if God asks me if I gave to the poor I don’t think he’ll be impressed if I say, “Well, I paid my taxes.”) But as 2 Corinthians says up above, it us up to each of us to choose what to give and that if we give cheerfully He will provide everything we need. It is the evidence of the latter in my life that leads me to give cheerfully, not out of a desire to receive more but out of the confidence that God will give me the means to give (providing seed to the sower as it says in verse 10). In contrast, what is the state of your heart and the measure of your actions if you believe there’s never enough of anything to go around unless it’s taken from another?

Giving is important because it’s what God wants us to do, but taxes are the government deciding who can afford to give, and the repercussions of that affect more than just the wealthy; even to the point of hurting the working poor by stifling the economy. “Free will” (or “free market”) giving, where the individual is responsible to decide how much he or she will give (or not give) is different. It also doesn’t set up stultifying and self-perpetuating bureaucracies that don’t have the incentive to ferret out fraud.

One of the greatest satisfactions of my life has been seeing my daughters grasp this important principle naturally from an early age. They’ve been tithers from the time they first received money and givers for as long as they can remember, and not just from obedience but out of joy. I remember how much they loved to put the money in the Salvation Army’s red buckets everytime we saw one when they were little, and the five-year-old Tiger Lilly spontaneously giving a dollar of her own money toward the 10-year-old Mall Diva’s first missions trip. I’ve observed the thoughtfulness and joy they’ve put into filling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child each year, and watched them get involved with organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and Soldier’s Angels, and Operation Starfish where the Mall Diva is helping a young mother develop the life skills she needs to provide for her family. The neatest thing, however, is that they don’t have to have a program or some official ministry to get involved in in order to give; whether it’s time, money, encouragement or, occasionally, blunt advice, they give easily out of their abundance of spirit to their friends and others.

So why do I feel like the one who’s rich?

Filings is an ongoing section of this blog where the posts focus specifically on issues of Christian life. The name comes about because “filings” are the natural by-product of Proverbs 27:17: “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Filings: The Awakening

A childhood memory: waking up in the pre-dawn winter hours to the muffled thrumming of my father’s car warming up in the driveway. In my mind I can picture the clouds of crystalline exhaust illuminated by the back porch light. I would lie snug in my bed and listen to the sounds of my father preparing to go to work: his step (the heaviest in the house) in the hallway, the jingle of the dozen or so keys on the big ring on his belt, the clink of a coffee cup being set down on the counter; finally the closing of the back door to mark his passing. It was familiar and unremarkable, and I would go back to sleep.

When I awoke again my mind was filled with my own thoughts and plans for the day. In this time my father owned his own business and was rarely home for supper. My brother and sister and I would eat with our mother, and go about our evening routine. I would often be in bed again when I heard him return. There would be the sounds of my mother frying him a steak, and of talking; their voices distinct, but not the words. Sometimes the tone was obviously my mother reciting the sins of the day, and if they were heinous enough, we would be summoned from our beds for the promised retribution of When Our Father Gets Home.

As a father now myself, I understand how this had to have been as unpleasant for him as it was for us.

During this time our father was a seldom seen force in our lives, operating outside our understanding, toward ends unknown. We would see him mostly on Sundays, and there was a feeling of awkwardness as if none of us were quite certain about how we should act. And yet there was always food on the table, a comfortable house, and clothes for every season, even though we gave little thought, or saw little connection, to how these things came to be.

It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 and old enough to go to work with my father that I really started to get to know him, and learn what a just and wonderful man he was. I admit he never seemed to be at a loss for things for me to do: pick up rocks and litter, sweep the drive, clean the restrooms for the rest of the workers and the guests. As I learned more about how to please him, my responsibilities and privileges grew. I came to know the special feeling of joining him in the early morning while everyone else was asleep as we got ready to go to “our” work.

I realize that not everyone has had that kind of relationship with their father. There are men I’ve come to know well who I have ministered with who have horrific tales of growing up with their fathers – if the father was even around at all. But let me tell you something I have learned: the way I got to know my father is very similar to the way that I came to know God the Father.

In my early days, God, like my father, was an unseen presence operating just at the edge of my senses. I knew He was out there, but I didn’t know the connection between Him and the blessings in my life. My family would take me to church on Sunday, but just like with my own father, this was strange and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to act.

I’d hear the sermons and see God as some Great Hairy Thunderer, appearing suddenly to mete out some punishment and then disappearing until the next time, just like my father did when we had to get out of bed those times. Looking at it now, I see how much like a priest or minister my mother was. She was the contact between us kids and my dad, giving us a picture of him as she communicated his rules and assignments, waiting on him in the hours when we were asleep and oblivious. I knew of him, but I didn’t have a personal relationship with him until I began to align myself with the things that were important to him – in the same way my personal relationship with God developed.

And just like starting out with my father, I started out with God by doing the little things. Picking up, helping out, cleaning toilets. As I learned – and continue to learn – how to please Him, my responsibilties have also grown (though there are still opportunities to pick up, help out and clean toilets).

When I was a child, it never occurred to me that my father ever thought of me during the day or into those long night hours. Now I understand that what he did he did for me and my brother and sister, so that we could have security and an education and the things he thought we needed to be successful in our lives, whether we noticed or understood his sacrifice or not. I have peace knowing that the decisions he made were, if not always the best, were always his best.

Likewise it never occurred to me that God ever thought of me, or had a plan for me. How he must have waited in anticipation for me to recognize the sacrifice He made for me, the gifts he gave me, the security He gave me, the future He gave me. Ultimately, the job He gave me.

And while He has shown me how my relationship with Him and with my father have been similar, I know that His plan for me was unchanged, regardless of what my father did or didn’t do. Perhaps my childhood experiences were better than some people’s and worse than some others. I could ask, “Where would I be today if I had grown up with a father like one of the men I mentioned earlier had? Where would he be today if he had had my father? Somehow or another I think we’d be exactly where we both are today, side by side, doing what we’re doing, not in spite of our fathers but because of Our Father Who Art in Heaven.

Don’t let bitterness, anger or frustration at what you had or didn’t have growing up hold you back from what God has – even if (especially if) your natural father is long dead. Don’t say, “Well, he made me this way,” when He has made you to be the light of the world. God the Father has a plan for each of us, something to impart to us, and something for us to impart to those coming after us. Listen for His footsteps, watch for His blessings, get up early in the morning and meet Him. There is much work to be done.

Filings: The empty tomb?

Buffy Holt of Plain Simple English is in London and posted this exquisite photo from inside Westminster Cathedral at 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday. The image is peaceful and meditative but what I found most interesting is that the church is all but empty during the scheduled Celebration of the Lord’s Passion.

What made this so interesting to me was that I had been thinking a lot last week about our all-too-human instinct to take something transcendent and turn it into tradition, and the photo reminded me of something a friend of mine had said several years ago along the lines of how we start with a movement, turn it into a monument and before you know it it becomes a mausoleum. Such is the affect of the traditions of man on the things of God.

Though the picture was of Westminster Cathedral, I don’t single out any religion or doctrine for this fault because it is common to all men and women (though, biblically, you might be able to make a case that women are less susceptible). You could see it happening even before Jesus was crucified, such as the dinner in Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13) when the woman anointed him with expensive oil and was berated by some disciples who took Jesus’ teaching to care for the poor and fashioned it into an on-the-spot doctrine that missed what the Spirit was doing (though the woman didn’t). Later, at the last supper (John 13:1) Jesus went to wash the feet of his disciples and Peter at first refused because such behavior didn’t line up with his thinking of what was proper (though you’d think if the Lord wanted to do something a certain way these guys by now would have learned to let him). When Jesus tells Peter that he must allow it or have no part in Jesus’ plan Peter careened over to the other ditch, telling Jesus to not just wash his feet but his hands and head as well. Again Jesus had to pull Peter back from taking a simple idea and going off in his own direction with it.

Later, after Passover and the sabbath, Mary gathered embalming oils and spices and set off for the tomb to honor and preserve the body according to their tradition. Even though Jesus had told her and the disciples what was going to happen, she thought of him as dead. As much as she loved Jesus and grieved for him she forgot what he said and set out to do what she thought was right and necessary until the angel spoke to her and reminded her (Luke 24:5-8). To her credit, she quickly embraced the new reality and hurried to tell the disciples who, because they couldn’t wrap their minds around it, dismissed her words as idle tales (24:11).

The disciples at Bethany, Peter seated before the basin, and Mary with her spices were all trying to do what they thought was right and proper, and that is how most religious traditions begin. It is all too easy for us to become like the Pharisees, observing the law to the letter and missing the spirit of the law entirely. It does have a way of sneaking up on you, though. Even as individuals we quickly develop our own habits and customs in how we relate to God and try so hard to reason out the things we don’t understand that we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, don’t recognize Jesus when he is sitting right in front of us (Luke 24:30). I can say this with complete boldness because I know it applies to my life. I’ve found that if there’s anything more draining to my faith than the traditions of man it is probably the traditions of me.

Tradition can be good, of course. The Passover, for example, was of God because it reminded the Israelites of his mercy and provision, and the spilling of the blood of a perfect lamb on the door mantle to save the first-born foreshadowed the blood of the perfect lamb and the sacrifice of God’s first-born to save us. Nor is this to say that everything old is suspect and we need to go running willy-nilly after every new thing; one path may lead to stagnation but the other can lead to outright heresy. The fault in both is losing sight of Christ and his word and being too quick to add our own refinements based on our own reasoning or even our experience (“well, it’s always worked fine when I’ve done it like this before”). This eventually leads to our faith being in our habits and not in the source of our being, hence the movement becomes a monument and the monument eventually becomes a mausoleum. And there ain’t nothing but dead people in there.

Filings: If I may have a word

A friend is going through a challenging time and asked me to pray for him. It wasn’t a toss-off request like I hear sometimes where someone casually asks, “say a prayer” without much expectation that I or someone will pray or that it will have any affect, and not a blanket request such as those that sometimes go out as if in the hopes that if enough prayers go up God will be moved (as if He has a magic number in mind unknown to us and is sitting up there going “999,997, …998, …999, 1,000,000! Ok, guess it’s time to help out on that tax audit. No, wait a minute, that was a prayer for healing; they’re still 200,000 prayers short.”)

My friend’s request was sincere in the hope and expectation that change was not only possible but that help would indeed be on the way. I share that expectation and agreed to pray. In my life and that of my family I’ve seen prayers big and small answered regularly, sometimes dramatically and sometimes in surprising ways. It’s not because I’m especially righteous or, given my advertising background, really good at coming up with juicy phrases that really “sell” God on the idea. Instead my experience is that the best prayers are the ones the line up with scripture, aka the word of God.

In Isiah 55:11, God says His word does not return to Him void, but accomplishes what He desires. Another scripture says there is no word of God that is not able to be. Once I understood the power that was in His word I stopped praying in terms of my “wish” list and tried to line up with His “will” list; how did my needs or the needs I was praying for fit with what His word said? I realized that God does not look after our needs to fulfill them. If that was the case, who would still have needs? No, I believe God looks after His word to perform it. This could easily get into a long, minimally useful discussion of doctrine and works and that’s not what I’m trying to stir up. My point is that I’ve seen the most change in my life and in others when my prayers are pulled from scripture and not from my imagination.

In my friend’s case, while I know his request is aimed at a specific need right now, I believe the answer he’s looking for is included in a much larger package. It is a major challenge in his life, however, and too big to trust to my smooth words or big thoughts. Instead I’m praying for him using the words of a guy who knew a thing or two about getting God’s attention: the apostle Paul. My family and I have used the following prayers for ourselves and others often and seen great things happen as a result. Understand, however, that my faith isn’t in the writer of the words or the words themselves, but in the Author. I include these prayers here for your reference as well; pray them for yourself, your family, your friends, your church, and especially for your enemies! “Imagine” what these words would look like if they came to pass in their lives!

* Insert your name, or the name of the person you’re praying for.

Ephesians 1:15-19
For this reason, ever since I heard about *’s faith in the Lord Jesus and *’s love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for *, remembering * in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give * the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that * may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of *’s heart may be enlightened in order that * may know the hope to which He has called *, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for those who believe.

Phillipians 1:9-11
This is my prayer: that *’s love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that * may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

Colossians 1:9
For this reason, since the day we heard about *, we have not stopped praying for * and asking God to fill * with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that * may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that * may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified * to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Ephesians 3:14
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen * with power through His Spirit in *’s inner being, so that Christ may dwell in *’s heart through faith. And I pray that *, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that * may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Remember, “Amen” means “so be it!”

Filings: With love and respect

My wife and I attended our church’s Sweetheart Weekend this past weekend — in romantic, exotic Shoreview! The location, actually, was fine. Sure, a “warm and sunny” getaway is a plus but the expense and logistics for a group like ours makes “close and convenient” more of a draw. We were only two nights and 12 miles away from home, but the two of us enjoy getting away from the routine and devoting some time to one another beyond the usual daily newsflashes that pass for communication in a typical week.

(Speaking of getting out of the routine, Saturday night’s dinner was a formal affair and my wife wore a lethally stunning, coffee-colored gown confirming that, yes, it is good to be me. The dress and matching shoes were picked out by her personal shopper, the Mall Diva, who found and acquired the garment without her mother being present — and it fit perfectly even though sneezing might have been perilous. The Mall Diva may have been hoping that if I could accept my wife going out in public so attired that my restrictions on her own clothing might soften as well. Dream on, MD, but thanks for the dress.)

We’ve been to several of these couples events over the years and have always enjoyed them and gotten useful things from the teachings we’ve heard. In retrospect, however, from my perspective a lot of the teaching has been about how men can show our wives we love them. The assumption has been that women are naturally wired to be love transmitters and receivers. This presumes that women “know” love and understand how important it is to show love to their husbands, but that guys have to work to get on the right frequency. It also assumes that love is equally important to both husband and wife. It’s not a bad theory and you can do a lot of good in your marriage as a guy just by knowing that and trying to tune in. There is a missing part of the equation, however, and this last weekend our group was able to put a finger on it.

Every couple at the weekend received a copy of the book, Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. My wife and I were one of the couples our pastors asked to review the book in advance and we found it amazing: not necessarily because it’s well written (though it’s not bad), but because the key truth Dr. Eggerichs and his wife had found in scripture has pretty much been hiding in plain sight all along (well, in plain sight if you read your Bible much). Ephesians 5:33 (New Living Translation) says (Paul writing),

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ok, that’s probably a familiar passage to anyone who’s been to a Christian marriage seminar, but again the focus has been on men learning to show unconditional love to their wives, while the women assume they’re doing their part by showing unconditional love to their husbands. That sounds like a good formula for success, but what the scripture says and what Dr. Eggerichs recognized is that wives are to show unconditional respect to their husbands. Now, this isn’t some “Woman, submit” power trip, but a realization that it there’s something different that floats the boat for each sex.

Respect is the currency for men; we grow up with it culturally in sports, in business, in military models. Guys usually are pretty efficient at sorting out which way the respect flows in any situation. True, guys can sound horrific in their good-natured trash talk to each other — in words that would crush a woman’s esteem if they were directed at her — but it typically occurs among guys who have sorted things out and know they’re all at the same level. Trash talk doesn’t go uphill and usually doesn’t flow downhill except to make a point. Respect can almost be ritualized as in the mafia expression and practice of “men of respect”, and it can be seen in extremis in the gangbanger culture of young men who haven’t learned the rules and applications of respect but will kill each other for being “disrespected” (but that’s for another post). If you asked a man, would you rather your wife showed you love or showed you respect (and the guy took a few minutes to think about it) most would say that respect is more important. Men are respect-oriented and its important to them to know that they measure up in the eyes of their wives.

That’s a challenging idea for women, who are love-oriented. Because love is more important to them they think love is what their husbands want (and we do, but it’s #2). A wife can grasp the unconditional love idea and take pride in unconditionally loving her husband, but still not respect him (“Of course I love the big lug, even if he’s an idiot, can’t hold a job, and can’t be trusted to dress himself without my help”). Asking her to unconditionally respect her husband, however, can be a big hurdle, especially if he’s been less than respectable (“I can love and forgive, but I can’t forget”).

Most men, meanwhile, have grown up knowing they’re supposed to respect women, especially their wives, and will confer that respect on them even if they’re not sure if they love them (“She’s great with the kids, I couldn’t function without her, I’d never deliberately hurt her, but I don’t know if I love her”). This can be especially true if she’s been less than loving and respectful in her actions toward him (“I can say ‘forget about it’, but I don’t forgive”).

Again, respecting your husband isn’t about being submissively obedient any more than a man loving his wife is about being mushy all the time. Differences in opinion and approach are fine when they can be discussed in ways that show he loves and cherishes his wife and wants the best for her and she shows she respects his ability and character. That can mean he is willing to give in on something in order to benefit her and that she doesn’t bring past failures or personal critiques into the discussion.

That’s just a sliver of what is in the book, and I encourage men and women to read it and evaluate themselves (not their spouses) according to what’s there. Some of what’s there gets a little too close to psycho-babble to my mind, but I think it’s fundamentally and scripturally sound and revelatory so that you sense the truth of it. A lot of what I’ve written here are things that my wife and I had already discovered in our marriage without realizing it was the love/respect principle in action. That’s probably why we’ve been happy … and another reason I can say, “It’s good to be me.”

Filings: Did Allah fall off the throne?

There are countless opportunities for us right-wing fundie evangelicals to take offense and grow wroth with the culture. Television, movies, magazines, the NEA, Clinton presidencies — it’s almost as if there are elements out there deliberately looking for sticks to poke us with. Each time X, Y or Z causes an uproar, my pastor has a common reminder for our congregation: “God didn’t fall off of the throne because of X, Y, Z.”

His point is that God is still in charge and undismayed and unthreatened by such goings on, and even laughs at the thoughts and plans of men. He’ll often go on to point out that we shouldn’t be shocked when sinners sin. The reason he does this is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about what goes on, but to help us change our perspective to see the big picture: how do we get the revelation of God’s grace and mercy to those who seem bound and determined to test it.

With the news this week detailing the reactions of Muslims – rioting, threats of violence, kidnapping and other intimidations – to their prophet being depicted in editorial cartoons it seems that there may be a fundamental difference in the way Christians and Muslims view the power of our God. I believe a Christian perspective is to hope that those who oppose us will live long enough to see the error of their ways and repent well before a final judgment; the Islamist approach appears to be to try and yank as many as you can to judgment right away.

It’s also interesting to note that our own culture and media are willing to celebrate, in the name of free speech, crucifixes soaking in jars of urine, religious icons smeared with dung or Kanye West portraying himself on a magazine cover as the crucified Christ, yet it cowers in the face of Muslims being outraged over a few cartoons. The mainstream press and television will pull the cartoons, or pixilate them, or fire editors and reporters for running the images and claim they do so out of a desire to be “sensitive” to their Muslim audience. No such sensitivity appears to be available to Christians who, despite the fears and portrayals of many, are not generally given to violence. Meanwhile, look cross-eyed at their faith and you’d think Muslims are a bunch of frenzied liberals reacting to Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell whenever she departs from the dogma that Democrats have nothing to do with the Abramoff scandal. (see photos of the banners Muslim protestors are carrying here).

Okay, deep breath. God is still on the throne.

I have done things in my life that were deeply disrespectful to Christianity and Christians. I did them at the time with little fear or awareness of possible repercussions though by the standards of the rioting Islamists God had every right to strike me dead. Actually, I agree with them – God had every right and more than enough power to do just that. Instead I lived long enough to meet Him and Jesus Christ in miraculous ways and to profoundly repent. Furthermore, the revelation that I have been spared helps me to see others, no matter how offensive, in a different light, even the same light that God sees them in: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Some Muslims (and Christians) may think that God wants us to take heathens, pagans and infidels out; I believe he wants us to bring them in.