Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I have a theory about piñatas:


I have a theory about piñatas:

It was a man who invented the first piñata,
but it was his wife who filled it with candy.

What’s a piñata?  Here’s a quick definition:
Hispanic -  a decorated papier-mâché container of candy or small gifts that is hung and is hit and broken open by a blindfolded person.

If you’ve ever watched America’s Funniest Videos, then you are familiar with piñatas.  What makes them exciting for the children is candy (flavored sugar)!  What makes them exciting for the adults is the same sense of danger in skydiving or bungee jumping.  When the children unleash their blindfolded fury on the unsuspecting piñata, this sense of dread is replaced by either the explosion of candy raining from above, or the explosion of pain in some adult who was not paying close enough attention.

Sometimes, life is like that.  Some days you’re on the giving end of the stick and some days you’re on the receiving end.  Sometimes life comes at us in a fury of blows.

My favorite instructor once stated, “Life is neither neat, nor fair.  But, life is good and worth the living.”  This is true.

The question then, is this:  when life is messy and unfair, or even scary and painful - when life hits you unexpectedly, and then hits you again – what comes out of you?  Is it sweet? Uplifting? Honoring?  Or, does it tend to be harsh? Abrasive? Insulting?  When you are overly stressed (and that is almost everyone at some point), do your words and actions and attitudes build people up or tear them down?

I am convinced that our actions reveal our beliefs.  In other words, our beliefs are revealed in our actions.  What will our actions and attitudes teach our children about handling the pressures of life?  How will our children learn to handle relational friction by watching our example?  What will we model as the correct way to handle the problems in life? 

Do we talk about forgiveness?  That’s good.  Then, do we walk the talk - putting our advice into action?  That is very good!  When our children see us live the example of what we teach them, they see our words put into action.  We teach by saying do as I say, and here is how you do it.

They will see that when life is messy and unfair, or even scary and painful - when life hits you unexpectedly, and then hits you again – what comes out of you can be sweet… uplifting… even honoring to God and others.  They will learn that words and actions and attitudes can build people up instead of tearing them down.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do you travel alone?


I believe that we walk through many valleys in life.  Some are pleasantly trying, and some are terrifyingly dark and painful.  Some are valleys of our own choosing; some, of our own making.  Sometimes we follow the crowd into valleys, and some valleys we stumble into blindly.  Sometimes, we travel alone.  However we get there, our lives are marked by these trials – these valleys.


 Ya know, there’s a funny thing about valleys.  Valleys are not a place you go to, valleys are a place you go through.  A valley is a tunnel with no roof.  You enter at one end, travel all the way through and out the other side.

Scripture is clear that if you choose to do so, God will let you go through these trials alone (Luke 15; Romans 1).  When we choose to do so, God gives us over to do whatever shameful things our hearts desire – He let’s us go.  We will travel alone…  alone and lonely.  Facing whatever harm awaits, we will face it alone.  Facing the evils which lurk in the shadows, we will face them alone.  Having told God, “I don’t want You.  I’ll do this by myself.” He will honor our choice and let us go… alone and lonely.

On the other hand, Scripture is equally clear that we can choose to walk with God, and we will never walk alone.
“Yes, even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid of anything, because You are with me.  You have a walking stick with which to guide and one with which to help.  These comfort me.”  Psalm 23.4 (NLV)

We can reach up and take God’s hand, and walk with Him – side by side.  He will guide us through the valley.  He will guard us from the evil in the shadows and protect us from that which would harm us.

Make no mistake.  You come to God on His terms, or you do not come to God.  He does not negotiate.  He does not make deals.  He makes an offer.  He offers a free gift, and He offers it, “as is”… take it or leave it.

And when, finally, you come to the final valley – that dark valley of the shadow of death – God will allow you to take Him by the hand.  He will take you into that valley… all the way through… out the other side and on to home…

 …and you will have nothing to fear, for He is with you.





Tuesday, September 27, 2011


IMPULSE BUY:  something a shopper buys on impulse, having had no previous intention of doing so.

There’s a reason the stores put so many items near the register.  Having seen them, we will want them.  Often, that is all the motivation we will need to purchase something.  The stores’ hope is that this will become a habit.

Your children also notice these items.  And, if it becomes a pattern on your part to purchase something to pacify your child, then this behavior will be reinforced for both of you.  Your child got what he wanted.  And you got a reprieve from a potential tantrum.

What your child has learned is this:  if I make a threat of undesirable behavior, Dad or Mom will give me what I want!

Let’s face reality, we are all selfish, lazy critters.  Wouldn’t we all prefer to have whatever we want, whenever we want it?  Wouldn’t we all like to call the shots in our life without having to submit to anyone or anything else?  Of course we would.  The Bible calls this sin and it’s just as true for your wonderful child as it is for that wonderful person in your mirror.

For example, your child will learn that when he can wear Mom or Dad down enough, then they will give in.  Or, if he gives them the choice between what he wants to do and some worse behavior, Dad and Mom will usually give him what he wants – “choosing the lesser of two evils”.

Why do parents give in?  Well, there’s a variety of reasons.  We love our children and we want to “make them happy”.  But, I think if we truly examined why we give in so easily, I think we’d say because it pays off in the short-term – no more whining which means relief for my headache.

The “impulse buy” approach to parenting functions for the short-term.  So, what’s the problem?  When this is our default pattern, then we are not parenting.  Contrariwise, our children are in charge.  When children are permitted to be in charge, then the family is not functioning properly.  This is called a dysfunctional family.  

Let me illustrate why.  A truck can pull a trailer down the highway at 70 mph quite easily, because it is designed to work that way.  The truck leads the trailer and determines every aspect of speed and direction.  That truck can even push that trailer in reverse at low speeds, but this is more difficult.  Now, if that truck attempts to push that trailer in reverse at 70 mph, then there will be severe damage to the trailer and truck both, because it was never intended to work that way.  The trailer is not capable of leading the truck.  

In the same way, families which permit the children to be in charge were never intended to work that way, and there will be severe damage to the family as a whole, as well as to each individual.

This is part of why Scripture commands us:
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22.6).

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Exodus 20.12).

“Fathers, bring up [your children] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6.4).

 The word we translate as discipline in Ephesians 6.4 is an active verb, and is defined as follows:

1) the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and
punishment
) It also includes the training and care of the body
2) whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, esp. by correcting mistakes and curbing passions
2a) instruction which aims at increasing virtue
2b) chastisement, chastening, (of the evils with which God visits men for their amendment)

Therefore, if we, as parents, will be obedient to these verses, then we will cultivate our child(ren)s' hearts and minds through commands, rebukes, reprimands and punishments, to correct mistakes and curb their passions for the purpose of training and education to increase virtue.  In other words, we will actively discourage their own sinful desires by clear instruction and boundaries.  When they defy those instructions and cross those boundaries, then that is when the rebukes, reprimands and punishments come into play.  

The other half of this training and education involves encouraging virtuous behaviors and attitudes.  Accept and reward what you want to see again.  Refuse to accept what you do not want to see again.  Then, put a price tag on that unacceptable behavior and make it higher than the child is willing to pay.

Here's the bottom line.  The parent is to maintain control at all times, never relinquishing control to the child(ren).  However, the parent must balance this control with love for the child.  I call this style of parenting, "The Benevolent Dictator."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

my 2 cents worth...


It’s often been said that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  It bothers me that there is some truth to this saying.  But, if truth be told more fully, there’s a reason for that green grass.  The grass is greener on your neighbor’s side of the fence because that is where the septic tank is buried… and you don’t want any part of that!

Here’s the full reality.  The grass will be greenest where you choose to water it.  Please allow me to translate this statement.  For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up His life for her to make her holy and clean… He did this to present her… as a glorious church… holy and without fault.

This means that, as husbands, we are to use our strengths to meet her needs.  Men, we are to pour out who we are to build her up.  We are to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others, considering others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2.3-4).  In short, you are to treat her like she is the queen of your life.  That’s watering the grass in your own yard.  Men, you do this and no man will be able to compare with you.

For wives, yield to your husbands, as you do to the Lord… As the church yields to Christ, so you wives should yield to your husbands.  If the word yield or submit is abrasive to you, then fasten your seatbelt.  But, know this.  This is one of my wife’s favorite verses, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

The Greek word translated as “yield” in this verse is more fully defined below:

New Testament Greek Definition:
1) to arrange under, to subordinate
2) to subject, put in subjection
3) to subject one's self, obey
4) to submit to one's control
5) to yield to one's admonition or advice
6) to obey, be subject

It is a Greek military term meaning, "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader".  In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".

It is in the middle voice which indicates:  the subject performing an action upon himself (reflexive action) or for his own benefit.

It is in the imperative mood, which corresponds to the English imperative, and expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding.  Thus, Scripture’s phrase, "wives, yield to your husbands" (Ephesians 5.22) is not at all an "invitation," but an absolute command requiring full obedience on the part of all hearers.

Yes, I know that some of you have already chosen to be offended.  Well, dig down deep and grasp for some courage to finish reading.  It won’t hurt, and might even be helpful.

As I’ve already stated, this is one of my wife’s favorite verses.  Here’s why:  yielding, subjection, obeying, all means that while I love her in the same ways that Christ loved the Church, she gets to complete the picture.  She gets to honor me like the Church is to honor our Lord.  This does not mean that she worships me.  But, it does mean that through her love and devotion, she builds me up.  She also takes her strengths to meet my needs.  In short, you are to treat him like he is the king of your life.

That’s watering the grass in your own yard.  Ladies, you do this and no woman will be able to compare with you.  If they do manage to catch his eye, he will quickly realize that is where the septic tank is buried… and he won’t want any part of that!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

911 or Marriage Tune-up?

One of my favorite tools to recommend to couples, either married or engaged, is a marriage conference.  It is like a mini-vacation or a mini-honeymoon.  Or, it can also be a hospital or Emergency Room.  Or it can be an intervention.

We went to our 1st marriage conference when we were still newlyweds.  It was like a mini-honeymoon and strong emotions abounded.  We had no problems, no difficulties.  Everything was wonderful and we soaked up some amazing advice from couples who were decades ahead of us.  They learned it all the hard way and were giving it to us so we could learn it the easy way.  Certainly, we would be a shining example to inspire other couples over the years with the beauty of what marriage was intended to be.  And, we even prayed that this would be the case.

We went to our 2nd marriage conference when we were married about 15 years.  It was like a mini-intervention and strong emotions abounded.  We did have some problems, some difficulties.  Everything was not as wonderful as we wanted it to be, and we soaked up some amazing advice from couples who were decades ahead of us.  They learned it all the hard way and we were, too.  We were still wanting to be a shining example to inspire other couples over the years with the beauty of what marriage was intended to be.  But, now we were having to overcome our own immaturity, our own selfishness, our own pride.

God grabbed hold of me as I walked through the door, stood me in front of a mirror, and showed me parts of myself that I did not want to see.  In fact, I had been deliberately avoiding those ugly parts of my life for some time.  I was so immature, self-centered and bull-headed.  I repented and sought forgiveness from God.  Then, I sought forgiveness from my wife.  When we returned home, I also sought forgiveness from our children.

After God ‘took me to the woodshed’, the rest of the marriage conference was like a mini-honeymoon and strong emotions abounded.  We had learned to drag our problems into the light so we could change them together.  Life was wonderful because we had learned how to weather storms together.  We soaked up some amazing advice from couples who were decades ahead of us.  They learned it all the hard way and were teaching us how to do the same.  If we relied on God, the inventor of marriage, we could be a shining example to inspire other couples over the years with the beauty of what marriage was intended to be.  And, we continue to pray that this would be the case.

The 2 marriage conferences I recommend in particular are:

·        Love and Respect Conference:  http://loveandrespect.com/conference-preview/

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vote? or Opinion?

With this warning in mind, if you choose to be offended by the opinions I express, I am sorry that I just stepped on your toes, but I think the Lord was aiming for your heart.

Wow, where to begin!  The problem is that too many people are confused about what they have and what they do not have.  The reason is that most do not have what they think they have.  In other words, what they have is not what they think it is.

Whew, now that I’ve cleared that up so well, let me explain what I’m talking about by illustrating.  One particularly frazzled parent came to me with her child following leisurely behind her.  It was clear that the child had no intention of doing what Mom wanted, or at least, not how Mom wanted it done.  Translation:  the child is in charge.  This is too much responsibility for a preschooler.  (Let me be clear:  it is too much responsibility for any minor.)

Once Mom poured out her frustration and exasperation through her tears, I asked for permission to speak with her child.  Then, I addressed the child under the table and coaxed him to come out and talk with me.  I leaned over, eye to eye and said, “I need to ask you to forgive me, because we have confused you.  We have allowed you to believe that you have something called a vote.  What you have is called an opinion, but you do not have a vote.  Here’s what that means:  you get to listen to your teachers, and you get to obey your teachers.  The adults will make all of the decisions for you, so you won’t have to make any more decisions about what you want to do here.  You get to participate in the class activities, and you get to enjoy yourself.  How does that sound to you?”

The metamorphosis was dramatic.  This little boy gradually stood up straight and permitted a smile to spread across his whole face.  It was sort of like a flower turning and expanding to meet the sunrise.  Then, he said, “Really?!”  And, when I assured him that it was true, the boy began to jump around with joy-filled excitement and ask his Mom if he could go back to his classroom right now.
Parents must never surrender control to any child!  The children are not the parent.  The parent is the parent.  {Let me know if I get to be too confusing.}  No child should have a vote unless the parent(s) decide that the child will have a vote.  And, the parents can always out-vote the child(ren), but the child(ren) are not permitted the power to out-vote the parent(s). 

If this sounds dishonoring to the child(ren), then here is the balance.  As the children grow older, I say something like this:  “Your Mom and I have a decision to make concerning you, and we want your opinion.”  Then, when the youngster communicates his desires or preferences, I say again, “Alright, thanks for letting us know how you feel about it.  We will keep it in mind as we make our decision.”

Imagine a bridge with no side rails.  Would you still travel over that bridge at 70 mph nearest the side?  No, you would travel much slower and as close to the middle of the bridge as possible.  Clearly, the rails do restrict our travel, by preventing us from plummeting off of the bridge.  But, they do not inhibit us.  Contrariwise, they provide a safe boundary which permits is to thrive and excel!

If boundaries are absent from the child’s life, including parental authority, then the child is forced to adjust in unhealthy ways.  In essence, the child becomes responsible for his own well-being.  That's what being in charge means here!  But, when the child is confident that his parent(s) will make the necessary decisions to provide safe boundaries, then that child will have the freedom to thrive and excel!

The rest of the story is that, in simple things such as:  ice cream flavors, which movie to see, which game we play for family nights, etc., we let the children decide.  However, they never get to decide things like:  relational boundaries, physical boundaries, curfews, etc.  God gave them parents to make those decisions for them.  It is part of keeping them safe, even from themselves.  

Let me summarize all of this:  
  • Children do not have something called a vote.  What they have is called an opinion.  They have a voice, but no vote.  Here's the catch:  their voice doesn't count until they give their obedience.  No obedience = no voice.
  • Parents have a vote.  Their voice is their vote.  The parent is the ultimate authority in the home.  They are in charge = responsible for the family's well-being.  Think:  Benevolent Dictator.
Parents, do not forget that as the children grow older, say something like this:  “Your Mom and I have a decision to make concerning you, and we want your opinion.”  Then, when the youngster communicates his desires or preferences, say again, “Alright, thanks for letting us know how you feel about it.  We will keep it in mind as we make our decision.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Do you need a do-over?

Sometimes I need a do-over.  Life is neither neat, nor fair, and sometimes it simply gets heavier than I can carry.  I need to wipe the slate clean, start over, reset… I need a do-over.

The Bible tells us, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59.1-2).

Being a guy, my first reaction is, “Hey, I can fix this!  If it’s bad that has caused this problem, then I’ll do good to fix it.”

But, the Bible also tells us, “We are all infected and impure with sin.  When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.  Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64.6).  And, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9.22).

Guess what.  I cannot fix this.  My sins have separated me from God, and I am helpless to change that.  So, I do my “sin list”.  It is the thing I hate to do more than anything else, but it must be done.  I start by sitting down with a pad of paper and a pen – no phones, no people, no distractions, no interruptions.  Then, I begin, “Father, I have sinned against you.  What have I allowed to come between us?  What have I put in Your place in my life?  What have I pursued instead of You?”

Varied things, specific things will flood my mind – faster than I’m able to put on paper.  But, I do put them on paper.  I record my sins on paper as God lists them in my mind as a Judge would list charges against the accused... and I know that I am guilty.  Each charge hits me like a tidal wave, crushing me with a shuddering crash.

Then, “Ok, Lord, what else?”  And, the process begins again...  and, again… and again… as many times as it takes until there is nothing left undone.  When my list, my sin list, is complete, I begin to confess it – one item at a time – to God.  Agreeing with Him about the putrid nature of my own sin, and begging Him to please forgive me, I pour my soul out before Him.  I collapse at His feet like a small child who knows that he has disappointed Dad and broken His heart.

And then, I am ashamed

…of all that I allowed to come between my Lord and I…

…of all that I wrongly put into His rightful place in my life…

…of all that I wholeheartedly chased after…

…of all that I did to neglect and reject the God who loves me so much that
He would rather die than live without me…


I place my list of confessed sins in the BBQ pit and pray, “Lord, I am ashamed of all that this list represents.  I want to hide it from You, but I know that You desire every bit of me – including the bad and the ugly.  So, here it is.  I present this most unworthy gift as an act of obedience to You.”

And then, I light the 4 corners of the paper.  In my mind’s eye, what I observe next is that God scoops up that list and crumbles it up in flames… and it is gone.  It will never return.  It’s vanished.

It’s gone and I’m forgiven (1 John 1.9).  And, it feels as if I dropped a telephone pole from across my shoulders to the ground.  And then, I drop, too.  I am little more than a puddle of jelly.  I’ve got nothing left.  I am spent.

And then God…                     (Matthew 11.28)

… scoops me up in His gentle hands and wraps His strong arms around me…

… loves me up close and whispers to me:
“Thank you”…
“Of course I forgive you”…
“I’ve missed you, too”…
“I wondered how long you would carry that load”
“Welcome home”


I need to leave nothing undone.  So now, I have a 2nd list.  It's a list of people I’ve sinned against.  I need to confess my sins and seek their forgiveness, too.



Do you need a do-over?

Sometimes I need a do-over.  Life is neither neat, nor fair, and sometimes it simply gets heavier than I can carry.  I need to wipe the slate clean, start over, reset… I need a do-over.

I guess it’s time to repent and seek forgiveness again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

“We can’t find the heartbeat.”

It was November 2005, and it was the 2nd time we’d heard this news.  The 1st time was 6 years earlier while we were still living in Fort Worth for seminary.  Now, we were facing the possibility of another miscarriage.  The 1st miscarriage was on my birthday.  And, now, we were just a couple weeks from my son’s birthday.  December 17 2005, Gabriel’s 8th birthday… our 2nd miscarriage… a most bittersweet day. 

Once again, we faced not only our own grief, but also the intimidating task of explaining to our children that the baby in Mom’s belly was gone.  It’s difficult enough to mourn the loss of someone you’ve never known, never seen, have no memories of, don’t know what they look like or who they are, and yet you love them so deeply.  But, now I’ve got the additional responsibility of helping my children to process this, as well.

We began to see the friction in how our children were acting out.  They became very short with each other - yelling and anger increased while laughter decreased.

So, here’s what we ended up doing. 

Picnic Dinner
            We picked up a couple of Pizzas & went to the State Park, where we knew we wouldn’t be disturbed.  I set up a couple of lanterns on either end of the picnic table and we had a fun picnic dinner with laughter as one of the main courses.

Write a letter
            After dinner, I pulled out a sketch pad and some colored pencils.  We explained to our children that we didn’t know if the baby was a boy or a girl, so Dad and Mom picked the name Jesse. 
“Now, since we can’t tell Jesse anything directly, let’s write a family letter to Jesse.  I’ll start:  ‘Dear Jesse, even though I’ve never met you or even seen you, I love you & I will miss you very much.  I am grateful that God gave you to us for this little while.’”
Now, Mom, what would you like to add… Christian… Josiah…” from the oldest child to the youngest.  “Does anyone want to add anything else?”

When all were satisfied with the letter, I passed it around the table for every member of the family to sign.  Then, I said, “Now, let’s decorate it & make it really nice & special for Jesse.”  And every member decorated it however they liked with the colored pencils.  When all of us were satisfied that the letter was complete, it came time for the teachable moment to come to focus.  “We can’t give this letter to Jesse can we?  But, God can.  So, let’s offer this letter to God and ask Him to deliver it to Jesse for us.” 
We moved to the BBQ pit near the table and I had the kids build a small fire in it.  When it was ready, we read about how God collects the prayers of His people in bowls made of gold, & these prayers are incense for Him (Revelation 5.8).  I wanted our prayers and this letter to have a sweet aroma for God, so I sprinkled some cinnamon over the top of it. 

“Oh, yeah.  That does smell good, Dad.”             

So, we all prayed, thanking God again for Jesse and entrusting Jesse to God’s care.  Then we asked God to deliver our letter to Jesse. 
I told my children that what they were going to see was God rolling our letter up into a ball and taking it away.  Then, we allowed the kids to each light a portion of the fire.  It was exciting to watch the paper roll up into a ball as the flame caught at the edges of our letter.

Emotionally, it was an extremely draining exercise.  However, the acting out and the friction were almost completely eliminated and things got back to ‘normal’ after a good night’s rest.  It gave us all a way to “do something” in response to a situation we could do nothing about.  It reassured the children in their helplessness.  It brought our fears, confusion, wounded hearts and tears to the great Comforter.

...and, He comforted us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dibs on the bow-line!

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the time that Jesus fell asleep in the back of the boat while His disciples sailed for the far shore after a long day.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped, and they were in great danger.

To describe commercial fishermen as bikers with different machines and different wardrobes is not far off the mark.  You’ll not find a tougher breed.

Some of these disciples had grown up on this lake and new it well.  They were commercial fishermen.  These men knew the danger of a sudden storm on the water.  These men had braved them before.  But tonight, these men were afraid for their lives.  Like men driven by fear, they did the only thing they could do.  They panicked and woke up the sleeping guy to save them!

Now, if you’ve never been offshore in rough weather, I will tell you that it drives into you a feeling of terrified helplessness.  It makes you feel small, powerless, feeble, very vulnerable… and frightened.  So, when Jesus wakes up and sees what’s going on, I expect Him to show compassion, sympathy, and to express comforting words to calm their fears.  After all, the storm is real; the danger, looming.

But, this gentle encourager reprimands his frightened friends.  He spanks them.  “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”

At this point, I want to rewrite the end of the story.  I want Jesus to stand up confidently and command the storm to cease.  Then, I want to see Him turn to the men and reassuringly say to them, “Don’t you realize that I’m going to take care of you?  Now do you realize it?  Good, then I’m going to finish my nap and you finish the storm.  Let me know when we get there.  Storm, back on!”

Everything would be just as it was; everything, except those men.  They would be transformed.  I can imagine being one of them.  I can imagine yelling, “Dibs on the bow-line!” and fighting for the rope tied to the front of the boat so that I could catch the spray of water in my face when we crashed through each wave.  Then, like a rollercoaster cresting the highest point in the track, we would plummet down the back of the wave with a triumphant, “Yeeeeee-haw!”

But, we cannot rewrite the story.  We must take the spanking in this storm and remember it.  We must keep it fresh, because, there is another storm coming.  There will always be another storm coming.  Some of the storms will be furious squalls that come up quite unexpectedly.  The waves will break over the bow of your boat, so that it is nearly swamped.  And, you may be in great danger.

When, in the terrified helplessness of that storm, you are tempted to panic once again, you must look to see Him.  Fix your eyes on the creator of the storm.  He has the authority to command it to stop, but He has chosen to let it rage against you.  He can be trusted; can you be trusted?  Can you be trusted to cast all of your cares on Him, knowing that He cares for you?

“Don’t you realize that I’m going to take care of you?”  Trust Him.  Put your faith into action.  Exercise your faith.  Put your faith to the test.  You will find that as you trust God in ways you have never had to before, that you will come to know Him in ways you have never known Him before, too.  You will discover an intimacy with God that is only found in storms.  You will discover, too, that as you learn to persevere through the storms, that you become mature and complete.  You will become more and more like Jesus as you draw closer and closer to Jesus.

And, don’t be surprised if storms begin to excite you and you find yourself shouting into the wind and rain, “Dibs on the bow-line!”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

As I endure, I mature.

We plant a seed.  We plant a kernel of wheat to get more wheat.  But, we don't get wheat.  Instead, we get a plant - a plant that doesn't even look like wheat.

Our plant needs attention:  resources, and protection, and nurture... and time.  Our initial sacrifice of a kernel of wheat was the small part of the cost, and we still don't have a return on our sacrifice - our investment.  Contrariwise, the cost keeps going up.  Our plant keeps demanding more and more.

This may not seem fair, but it is reality.  It is necessary.  It is required.  We can choose to quit and receive nothing.  We can choose to endure and receive the natural results of the process - 30, 60, or even 100 times as much as we planted.


We plant a kernel of wheat.                           God grows a plant.
We care for the plant.                                     God grows wheat.

 So, what's the point?



I routinely pray, "Lord, I want to know You more, and please make me more like Jesus."  I get trials and temptations of various kinds.  It doesn't look like I got what I was after.  But, then I read in James 1.2-4,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

I want to know Him more.  He gives me opportunity to exercise my faith in Him.
I want to be more like Jesus.  He grows my character through trials and temptations.

As I endure, I mature.

As I endure the trials, I encounter God as He sustains me, encourages me, strengthens me, comforts me.  I come to know Him more intimately.

Perseverance is not the goal.  It is simply the mark of those who love the Lord.  But, perseverance will grow me up.  It will make me more mature and complete... more like Jesus.

I want to know Him more and to be more like Him.

I get trials, and temptations of various kinds.

I seize these opportunities to exercise my faith in Him.

I get to know Him more and become more like Him...

30, 60, or even 100 times as much as before.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

my Bucket lists... 1 John 1.9

Suddenly, I realized that I was exhausted.  I was exhausted and could not take another step.  My shoulders, arms, back and even my hands ached.  So, in a heap, I collapsed between the two buckets I had been carrying.  I could not go on.  This was as far as I was going to make it.  Furthermore, though my physical exhaustion was much easier to recognize and identify, I was emotionally spent, as well.

So, at last I began to look around me.  As if for the first time, I noticed that the buckets had something in them.  Oh, I knew they were full, but I had not given any thought as to what they held.  So, from the bucket on my right, I removed a piece of rubble – broken concrete which had no value.  It was about the size of a good cantaloupe and weighed a few pounds.

“Why am I carrying this thing around?  It’s not even mine; it belongs to someone else.  How did it get into my bucket?”  Well, it had been placed in my bucket, so without thinking about it, I carried it.  I had been carrying it faithfully… No.  No, I had been carrying it blindly for at least 6 months now.  But, it did not belong to me, so I threw it away. 

That felt good.

So, I reached back into the bucket and came up with another piece of rubble.  This one didn’t belong to me either, but I had stolen this one.  I felt responsible for this one, so I put it into my own bucket and had carried it ever since.  But, it did not belong to me, so I threw it away. 

That felt good, too.

Over and again I reached into that bucket that was filled with rubble which did not belong to me.  And, one piece at a time, I threw it all away.  I was bewildered that anyone could be dumb enough to carry a bucket like that.  But I had.  When I reached the bottom of the bucket, I didn’t need it anymore, because I had nothing to carry in it.  So, I threw it away, too.  Good?  It felt great!  It was downright liberating.

So, enthusiastically, I turned to the other bucket and removed yet another piece of rubble.  Uh oh, oh no, this one did belong to me.  I did this one and it was my responsibility.  I turned to God, with eyes downcast, “Lord, I did this.  It was nothing but my own selfish pride and I was wrong.  Will You please forgive me?”

You know what?  He did forgive me.  Then, He said, “What else is there in that bucket you’ve been carrying?”

So, I reached back into the bucket and came up with another piece of rubble.  Ouch!  This one not only belonged to me, but it had been worn smooth from frequent use.  I turned to God, with eyes downcast, “Lord, I did this, too.  It was nothing but my own selfish pride and I was wrong.  Will You please forgive me?”

You know what?  He did forgive me.  Then, once again, He said, “What else is there in that bucket?”

Over and again I reached into that bucket that was filled with my own rubble.  And, one by one, I brought them to my heavenly Father.  I confessed each and every one to Him, and I asked Him if there was any way that He could forgive me for yet another item on my list of sins that seemed to grow by the moment.  This was excruciating.  It was humiliating.  But, He did forgive me – one item at a time.  Then, in turn, I threw them all away.  I was bewildered that anyone could be dumb enough to carry a bucket like that for so long.  But I had.

When I reached the bottom of the bucket, I didn’t need it anymore either, because I had nothing left to carry in it.  So, I threw it away, too.  Good?  No, not good.  It felt glorious!

And, there I sat empty-handed, exhausted but refreshed and unhindered by the sins that had so easily entangled me for so long.  God had permitted me to dump them out and He took them away.  I was free - free to take Him by the hand, and He helped me to my feet.  My legs were still a bit wobbly, but I could lean on Him for stability.

When, I finally looked to see where I was, I turned around to discover what should have been no surprise.  That long, arduous journey which took me in so many circles, had, at long last, taken me right back to the cross.  

And, at that moment, it did not enter my mind that
He had taken away the sins of the world.  

All that I could think was that He had taken away mine.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Confidentiality: exceptions

exceptions
Confidentiality:  exceptions

If you want to know specifics of the legal parameters of confidentiality, then you will want to do some research for your particular field and state, but here are the exceptions to confidentiality:



Confidentiality still requires counseling professionals to report three circumstances to authorities (police, state abuse agency, state health board, spouse - to whomever the case concerns):
  1. suspecting child abuse or endangering
  2. elderly abuse
  3. an IMMEDIATE threat to your life or someone else’s life (including the individual)
Counselors, even pastoral counselors should always tell their clients when such information will be released, and to whom.  It may be a useful idea to have some sort of sheet to explain boundaries and expectations for anything resembling formal counseling.  If you have such an instrument, then you will want to explain the exceptions listed above.

I have had to report suspected abuse, and the reporting was a painless process.  After explaining to the client why I was going to report what they told me, I made the phone call while they sat with me.  This permitted them to hear everything I was saying, and permitted me to ask clarifying questions for accuracy.

I was given a reference #, and the name of the individual who took my information, along with her ID #.  I copied this info down along with the date and filed it for future reference.  It’s a good idea, during this interview, to ask what the client can expect from this point forward.  This will allow you to educate them so they can begin to prepare themselves, and minimize their fears.

NOTE:  Staying calm throughout this process and speaking softly and evenly will help the individual to stay calm. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Deal-Breakers


When someone asks me to do their wedding ceremony, I insist on meeting with them before I commit to do their ceremony.  One area I pry into is deal-breakers.  This usually goes something like this:
“Is there anything in him/her that you cannot live with for the rest of your life?  
Is there anything about him/her that you won’t let your child(ren) live with?”

For example:
-          Abuse:  physical, sexual, verbal, emotional
-          Addictions:  substances, pornography, behaviors, relationships
-          Infidelity:  let’s talk intimacy – physical, emotional, spiritual



For all of these things, repentance is required so that the relationship can be reconciled.  Repentance does not insure reconciliation, but, reconciliation is not possible without repentance.  Note that repentance does not mean that everything is alright.  If everything was alright, then there would be no need for repentance.

I can only recommend courses of action.  I cannot force anyone to do anything.  Also, these are very general, because the details will vary dramatically from one relationship to another. 

For pre-marital counseling, if there are any of the issues of abuse listed above, especially the physical or sexual, then I recommend the relationship be ended now and boundaries be put into place to protect the other individual(s).  If any of the addictions listed above are involved, then I recommend the relationship be ended now and boundaries be put into place to protect the victim(s).  If there is infidelity (physical), then I recommend the relationship be ended now and boundaries be put into place to protect the victim(s).  Notice that I refer to them as, “Deal-Breakers.”

For marriage counseling, if there are any of the issues of abuse listed above, especially the physical or sexual, then I recommend separation now and boundaries be put into place to protect the victim(s).  This may include calling the Police, an attorney, and a counselor(s) who is able to provide long-term counseling.  The boundaries will include separation, a restraining order, financial support of the family, and accountability to a handful of hand-picked men in the church.  There will also be specific, measurable goals to be met prior to ending the separation, as well as goals to work at after ending the separation.
If any of the addictions listed above are involved, then I recommend help now and boundaries be put into place to protect the victim(s).  These may include separation, detox clinic, AA (or equivalent), counseling (individual and together), accountability to a handful of hand-picked men (including financial accountability to account for every dollar).  Accountability software is a great idea if the computer is used to feed any addiction(s).  There will also be specific, measurable goals to be met prior to ending the separation, as well as goals to work at after ending the separation.

If there is infidelity (physical or emotional), then I recommend boundaries be put into place to protect the victim(s).  This may include separation, a restraining order, financial support of the family, scrutinizing the phone records, access to all areas of the computer (including passwords), counseling (individual and together), and accountability to a handful of hand-picked men in the church.  There will also be specific, measurable goals to be met prior to ending the separation, as well as goals to work at after ending the separation.

For all of these things, repentance is required
so that the relationship can be reconciled.

Repentance does not insure reconciliation, but,
reconciliation is not possible without repentance.  

Note that repentance does not mean that everything is alright.
If everything was alright, then there would be no need for repentance.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

#1 issue I deal with in Pastoral Counseling...

We have all sinned.  If people are willing to discuss this idea, I find that all are willing to admit that it’s true.  But, how often do you sin?
                Once a year?  Once a month?  Once a week?  Once a day?           Am I getting warm yet?
The truth is that we all sin every day, and probably multiple times.  So, the natural follow-up question is:
                How often do you repent and seek forgiveness?
This is the #1 issue I deal with in Pastoral Counseling with families and marriages, as well as with individuals.  I am stunned at the way the majority of people react to the idea as if it’s brand new – or at least new to them. 

The first difficulty I observe with forgiveness, is blaming.  For example, “Well, yes that was wrong, but I would’ve never done it if he/she hadn’t done this!”  Sounds a lot like Adam and Eve, doesn't it?  This is where I will spend some time to bring all of us to the truth:  You are responsible for your own actions.  God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’” (Romans 2.6).
When we all come together around this truth, I will ask something like, “Was what you did wrong?”  And, if they say, “Yes, but…” then I will cut them off and clarify, “This is a Yes or No question.  So, was what you did wrong, Yes or No?”  When they will acknowledge their fault, then the next thing you want to teach them to do is to follow through in obedience by seeking forgiveness.
One husband I spoke with acknowledged:  “Yes, I hurt my wife deeply.  Yes, that was wrong.  Yes, I need to seek her forgiveness.”  Then, without hesitation, he did nothing.  For the next 45 minutes, he danced around the statement, “Yes, I need to seek her forgiveness.  I should do that.”  Finally, I had him turn to face his crying wife and coached him through the 4 toughest words he had ever had to say to her:  “Will you forgive me?”
These steps are very simple, but not easy.  Contrariwise, it can be exhausting and can generate an abundance of strong emotions.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1.9).  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"  (1 John 1.9). We must love them closer to Christ, and never compromise truth. 

Truths like:         
>     sin requires repentance
>     forgiveness does not require repentance – you can still forgive the unrepentant
>     reconciliation requires both repentance and forgiveness

You may have difficulty with these statements.  That’s fine, because they are hard to live… at first.  But, let me ask you something:
                How often do you repent and seek forgiveness?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Please, Lord, change my bandages and clean my wounds.

As a 13 year old boy, I was feeling positively triumphant with the pile of gunpowder I’d collected from “dud” firecrackers.  I remember thinking, “This is going to be SO cool when I light this!”  My eager anticipation instantly turned to agony, fear and dread in an explosive flash.

It was my first experience with 2nd degree burns, and unfortunately, it was my face and both hands.  For the next few weeks, I wore my stupidity for all to see.  My face, at least the left half, had lost the outer layer of skin (as well as the eyebrow and eyelash), and my hands were both bandaged to the point that I had to enlist my Dad’s help to be able to accomplish a trip to the bathroom.  It was a most humiliating time for me.

Every afternoon, I would lie down on the couch and Dad would tell me, “This is going to be unpleasant.”

“I know, Dad.”

“You cannot move.”

“I know, Dad.”

Then, my Dad would take some medical scissors and gently, thoroughly cut away at the edge of the burned skin as it continued to die back; the palm of my left hand, the back of my right hand, and the left half of my face.  Next, my Dad would take a Q-tip and scrub the freshly exposed new skin with ointment.  How excruciating!

It was love put into action, but it did not feel like love.  It felt like torture.  But, I did not have to submit to this treatment.  I was a healthy teenager, and I could outrun my Dad with no difficulty.

However, because I chose to submit to my Dad’s care – cleaning and dressing my wounds – I have no visible marks of any kind to indicate that I have ever been burned.  Because I chose to submit to my Dad’s care, I am healed.

Life is neither neat, nor fair.  This is especially true in relationships.  We are all wounded, and will be from time to time.  And, from time to time, bitterness and resentment will begin to rise up in us.  When this happens, it means that it is time to forgive again, because this is the stench of infection beginning to set in.  This odor tells us that it is time to change the bandages and clean the wounds… again.

When we forgive those who have wounded us, it is love put into action.  When God changes our bandages and cleans our wounds, it is His love put into action, but it does not feel like love.  It feels like torture, and I do not have to submit to this treatment.  However, if I choose to submit to my Father’s care – cleaning and dressing my wounded heart – then, re-cleaning and re-dressing my wounded heart...

...then, I will be healed.