The Hell Of Hope (Part 2 of 2) . . .

I recall as a child, absolutely hating the “review sheets” our teachers would hand out to us a day or two before tests. They were an annoyance. Busy work. A fly in my ointment. There were better things to do with my time, and often the only reason I would complete them was because the teacher required it, and those review sheets were graded.

Fast-forward a few years into the glory days of college (or “gory” days for some of us). I prayed for review documents. There was so much to study. If the professor would hand out a review, it could narrow the study search to what was on that piece of paper, and leave me with more time to participate in personal recreation.

So let’s review, for those of you that cleared out Wednesday’s blog from your inbox.

Why? Because there will . . . be . . . a . . . test. You can count on it. Actually, we can all count on living it.

Simply put, the concept of hope is both misunderstood and inappropriately used by many of us. We hang our dreams and visions on hope, and then wait for hope to “do its thing.” But that is a never-ending wait. Because hope, although an integral part of accomplishing practically anything, does absolutely nothing on its own. That’s why so many people have lost hope. They once had it, carried it with them in their pockets every day alongside their spare change, and waited for the magic to begin.

But the magic never came. Their hopes failed them, they think. A client once told me during a counseling session, “There is no point in having hope. Hope is quite possibly the most disappointing concept I have ever heard of.”

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Let’s peruse hope through the lens of relationships and marriage. In marriage, we face a lot of challenges. General stress, the loss of passion, disappointment, anger, philosophical differences, and a veritable laundry list of “relational garbage” seem to litter the landscape at times.

Perhaps one of the saddest dynamics however, is that of one person hoping that the other one will catch the fire and mend whatever seems to be broken at the time. Or even worse, both are inspired by newly discovered hope to repair the broken parts, and both sit back and wait for the movie to start. But with that being said, it’s a show that never even hits the screen.

Why? Because we either lack the knowledge, or do not have the willingness that a good dose of hope requires. The knowledge or understanding we lack speaks to the action plan that must accompany hope for it to be of any benefit whatsoever. The willingness speaks to our propensity to roll up our sleeves and work hard to repair the cracks that normally appear in the foundations of our marriages.

Have you ever discovered a crack in the foundation of your house? Knowing that the foundation has somehow shifted due to drought, storms, and the general battering a house undertakes, typically moves us to action! None of us want our homes to be damaged any further than they already are, so we make the call, have the work done, and shell out the cash.

But for whatever reason, we see and feel the cracks in our relationships, and chalk them up to happenstance, circumstances, or a weakness in the other spouse. We catch a small dose of hope here and there, maybe through a sermon at church, an inspirational speaker, or watching our friends renovate hurting relationships. But whether it is simple ignorance, or just being relationally lazy, we somehow hang out and wait for hope to do its thing.

Why aren’t we as quick to mend the cracks in our marriage foundations?

David, in Psalm 39:7 said:

“And now Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You!”

That, my friends, is a giant-killing morsel of scripture. For what do we wait? The National Guard will not show up to save your marriage. God is not a Vaudeville act or a standup comedian. He is not a performer in the sense of rescuing us from our own responsibilities, duties, or poor choices. His performances are seen on a much, much grander stage. He generally shows off when His children have been diligent, faithful, and obedient.

In other words, when they have put their noses to the grindstone and done the work, depending on Him for the strength and resourcefulness to stick with it.

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Make no mistake friends, hope is a wonderful thing and is worthy of being celebrated. It is similar to a baseball team winning its division and celebrating. But isn’t the World Series the ultimate goal? They don’t just stop playing in the hope of winning the biggest prize. They keep on pressing! They do their very best to overcome any weaknesses they may have as a team, and are proactive in knowing all about the other team so they can be a worthy opponent.

Hope is a worthy team member. But it needs additional support from other players like knowledge, understanding, planning, and setting out with a well-researched strategy. But in a marriage or serious relationship, don’t discount the need for commitment and the covenants you likely shared when you tied the knot.

Most of us know many people who have once felt hopeless, but buckled down, found real hope, and did the work needed to more than adequately achieve their goals. I’m one of them, and you may be too. Ultimate hope comes in the person of Christ. If you are wondering why hope has escaped you, that might be a great place to start.

We would all love to hear your stories of hope found, and victories attained.

Care to share?

And as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

 

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The Hell Of Hope (Part 1) . . .

Jeff was in his 90th day of residential drug treatment. It was his day. The day he would go back home to his wife, children, and job. It had been perhaps the most impactful three months of his life, because during that time the story of his life had been unfolded in front of him. He had missed much of it, becoming an emotional recluse due to abusive parents, and later sought refuge in heroin, becoming an addict in his middle teens. He had dried out a couple of times and stayed away from drugs for a few months, but the pain in his heart kept returning, and heroin kept calling his name.

While going through his aftercare plan one more time with his counselor, he was asked, “Can you sum it all up Jeff? Can you describe what is different about you now, compared to 90 days ago? And what is the most important thing you have learned about yourself and your addiction during treatment?”

Jeff quickly rattled off a half dozen “points of learning” he had gathered during his treatment, and then summarized his optimism by saying, “I just really hope it sticks this time. I hope what I have learned here will keep me sober, and in recovery.”

“But what are you doing to do differently this time Jeff?”

“Well,” he answered, “like I said before, I’ve learned a lot about myself and I hope I can make better choices in my life from this point forward.”

The counselor looked Jeff in the eye and said, “Jeff, as much as I hate to say this, I don’t think you are ready to leave treatment. Because you see, you are relying on hope to get you through. And without an intentional plan that you can follow with incredible discipline, that hope, by itself, will only let you down.”

“Hope is not a plan, Jeff. It’s not a strategy. It’s a good thing to have, but without intentional effort on your part, it just isn’t enough.”

The story of Jeff is frighteningly similar to the manuscripts of many of our lives. We know what is good and what is not. We pray that things will get better. We even have the faith that God will walk with us through our trial-laden journeys. But all too often, we rely much too heavily on hope alone. In the rehab world, we warily warn, “Don’t get hooked on hopium!”

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I for one, have had just about enough of reading books and articles that focus on hope, and just leave it at that. “If you can just find hope, you can do anything,” they say. “Where has your hope gone?” they ask. “Hope will see you through!” they proclaim.

And sadly, so many of us buy into the theology of hope. But the belief that hope will get you through anything by itself . . .

. . . just

. . . isn’t

. . . true.

Hope and time are BFF’s. Hope, as we are reading, is a necessary component in the foundation of achieving and overcoming. But hope won’t see you through by itself. Time, say people every day, “heals all things.” And again, nothing could be further from the truth. Healing requires time, but time alone has never healed anything or anyone, and never will.

These are half-baked, discount doctrines that many of us are buying up at an unprecedented pace. But each time we buy a few shares of hope expecting some type of miraculous cure for the wrecks we have made of our lives . . . our marriages . . . our families, these onion skin investments in something that has no power on its own, bite the dust. It’s a shell game we are playing with our lives. It’s akin to a get-rich-quick scheme – a ground-floor opportunity – a deal you won’t find anywhere but here, but you have to buy in today.

Undoubtedly some of you might at this point be saying to yourselves, “Wow, he is really riled up about something today. Wonder if he tested negative in his personality inventory?

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No, none of those would be true. But this topic is one that has been weighing heavily on me for the past couple of months. And as I have pondered it over and over, I am reminded of how many people I have counseled over the last 20 years that have been bullet-ridden by time and hope guns – weapons they have turned and fired on themselves.

And it’s not pretty. It’s not fun. Knowing that so many of us live in the throes of anger, disappointment, frustration, and hopelessness because we drank the Kool-Aid once again is maddening. Those characteristics, I call “The colors of bitterness.”

Jesus said, “I have come to give you life, and to give it abundantly.” But our drive-thru, what have you done for me lately, convenience store, super-sized, “I want it now,” lives really have turned on us in many situations. And the bitterness that is left in its wake threatens us all. Everything we stand for, believe in, and expect to bring us happiness can be torn to shreds by the use of hopium.

No, I’m not Sad Sam, Negative Nigel, or Pessimistic Pete. And Friday’s blog will . . . well, how else can I say it? It will hopefully infuse some confidence, competence, and life into us, affirming and encouraging us to work hard in our marriages and families.

Oh, and working hard? It’s the pre-requisite to the ultimate benefit of hope. 🙂

Are you with me? Can you grasp what I’m trying to say?

Please chime in with a comment, a related experience, or just a “hello!”

Your participation is valued, worthwhile, and needed. NONE of us can do life alone. That’s why I love living it with you so much.

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

Please Stand By . . .

How many of you recall that message coming from your “television set” when there were technical difficulties that had to be owned by the local station or one of the three networks most of us were able to watch?

My recollection is of a deep, booming voice stating, “Please Stand By . . . The fault does not lie with your set.”

You can all see my photo when you read these blogs, so you know that I am getting old. But for those of you whose photos do not show up when you read Realtime, your secret is safe with me. If you remember those words coming from your one-eyed buzz box, then you are surely showing (at least a little bit) your age. 🙂

Many of you have mailed and texted wondering if all is alright in the world of Realtime, and the answer is, “yes.” As with all of us, sometimes other things or people in our lives end up taking a priority over our “regularly scheduled programming.” That has been the case during the month of April thus far for me.

With that in mind, I am pondering, praying, and determining what God would have me share with you in the coming weeks, and I’m looking forward to being back in the saddle in a very short time.

I would ask you however, to pray for this blog, the writer, his family, his pets, and all of the readers that absorb what God downloads into my heart and mind in the coming weeks and months. The thoughts and ideas for blogs are coming, and at least for me, that is the easy part. He is always showing me something, and those “somethings” are often in everyday people, situations, in what I consume as a reader, and what I am working through in His word.

Currently I’m very intentionally (and kind of slowly) combing through the book of James, verse by verse, and He is showing me things I never noticed there. Does that happen to you too? I don’t yet know if or how those things will show up in future blogs, but I do have a feeling that they will.

For those of you that have studied the book of James, what has He revealed to you that is relevant as spouses, parents, or in relationships in general?

Most of it, I think, is designed for all of us to digest and put into application. But as usual, I’m trying to keep my spiritual ears and eyes open for new ideas to share with you in this format.

Please let me know your answer to the highlighted question above.

And above all, please keep the above list lifted up in prayer.

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

PEOPLE Are High Maintenance . . . Not Just Your Wife . . .

We support, along with a few other folks, a couple of mission projects – one in The Amazon region of Colombia, and one in Uganda. Although there have been many life lessons learned over the past 10 years of traveling to, and working with the villages and orphanages there, quite possibly the biggest one came on my initial opportunity to go to Africa, to the village in Uganda.

We went with the grandest of plans. In our “toolkit,” we had plans to build, build, and build some more. The village had not one single permanent structure, other than the mud and straw huts the villagers called “home.” We had endeavored, and were committed to lay out the plans for a new church, clinic, school, and orphanage in the village. We would then return home and raise the funds to ensure that all these “needs” got met ASAP.

The population of the village had been depleted in the past five years, due to water-borne illness and AIDS. It was almost surreal. The people in the mid-range of ages in the village had almost vanished. All that were left, it seemed, were children and the elderly. Most of the parents of these children were dead. There was nowhere for them to stay; nowhere for them to go.

We had actually been working in the village for two days before God “did His thing,” not to the villagers, but to the Americans who had come to save the day in the name of Jesus. We had been organizing the leaders of the village in order to agree upon sites for the buildings, and were doing our unprofessional best to come up with a rugged survey of the entire place.

But when God “showed off” right there in front of us, we all felt just a tad foolish, and learned a critical relational lesson from the life of Jesus at the same time.

Based on some “perfectly timed” moments that I am certain He had prepared just for us, we realized that our plans, although noteworthy, did not meet the immediate needs of the village. Water, on the other hand, certainly did. 🙂

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Remember that we aren’t privy to the entire adult life of Jesus, but primarily to the three or so years He took on His “ministry.” So in that small sliver of His adult life that we are aware of, He showed us how to compassionately care for one another. Read the stories yourself. Not that you haven’t read them already, but read them again. Time and time again, when Jesus presented Himself to a group of people, families, or even individuals, He did the most amazing thing before He shared His Father’s plan for their lives.

First, He met their needs.

If they were hungry, He fed them. If they were thirsty, He provided them with water. When they were sick, he healed them. And sometimes, even brought people back from death. I’m sure that if they were cold, or even unclothed, it is not hard to believe that He took care of those needs too. Only then, after showing them kindness and generosity, did He meet them at their spiritual place of need.

Don’t you think there is a pretty vital lesson in this for us as husbands, regarding the way we “put up” with our wives?

I doubt there are many of us, as husbands, that don’t every now and again wonder, “Am I the only person around here that is normal? I’m sure nobody else has as much expected of them as I do.” And it’s not that thinking that is abnormal or a bad thing, it’s just that as passionate followers of Christ, it ought to be our goal to be working on developing His character. And with that in mind, when we start having those feelings, we ought to be reminded that Christ “puts up” with our crap too, and never treats us with anything but compassion and kindness.

And He always meets you and I at the point of our need.

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So if Christ loves His bride in this way, does it not stand to reason that we should, in turn love ours in the same manner?

For most of us that is really a rhetorical question. We know the answer. We just don’t always feel like doing marriage with our wives that way.

The hard truth for you and me is that where loving our wives is concerned, our feelings are really irrelevant. Not that we can’t be hurt, disappointed, or angry, but how we approach such issues simply has to be couched in an adult, transparent, compassionate, and loving manner. After all, if you or I were floundering in some way that might frustrate or irritate our spouse, how would we like for them to respond to us?

Boys and girls, we all got issues. Sure, some of us are more high-maintenance than others, but the commitment to love our spouses whether things are good or bad is way higher on the totem pole than putting a spouse in his or her place.

For all of us, this requires Christ’s character, not our own.

What are some ways you have been able to meet your spouse’s needs, even if you didn’t feel like it?

Do you have tips or ideas that could help the rest of us either identify or meet those needs?

I always love hearing from you.

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

UNrandom Kindness . . .

Today is more of a “set-up” for the rest of the week. But there is a stark question at the end. Can you answer it? Don’t forget to comment!

He saw it coming from a long way off. It started with the first stroke his wife suffered, years before she eventually died. Although there was a remarkable recovery from the initial stroke, there were several more to come. And with each one, he lost just a little bit more of the wife that he loved. It cost him in ways that could easily be excused as unbearable. But in spite of the strain – financial, professional, emotional, physical, – he never considered giving up.

His wife received the best care available, from medical specialists to physical therapists. Then those became home specialists and therapists. Eventually, his wife had to be placed in a residential setting due to the amount of daily care she required. And nearer the end, the man made the most difficult decision, to move his wife to a residential environment where with the most compassionate care available, she would quietly pass.

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Throughout the ordeal, which lasted more than five years, the husband never wavered in lovingly caring for his wife. For most of that time his wife was unable to function independently, and her affect was reduced to that of a small child. But the last year was the toughest. She was not responsive and unable to communicate. The man was tired. Not the kind of tired you feel at the end of a 12-hour day or a really long week. The kind of tired that leaves you with nothing in any  of your tanks. Physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally dry. Done. The kind of done that leaves you with nothing – for you, or anyone else.

But the emptiness the man was experiencing was not the kind that can’t be refilled. He left everything he had on the field, so to speak. He gave it freely, willingly, and treated his dying wife with sacrificial love and compassion, even when he wanted to give up.

Who of us could say with certainty that we would be able to do the same? Likely few, if any of us unless we possess that same compassion – the compassion that mirrors the character of Christ.

A friend asked me, “Isn’t that asking a little much? To expect a guy like me to do the things Jesus did?” Well of course, if you’re referring to miracles and things like ascending into the sky without a reverse bungee  buggy! But remember, Christ’s purpose was to serve and do for us in ways we could not do for ourselves. All He asks of us is to love and do what we are capable of, and to do it well, we need to develop His character.

Let’s put it into a likely, realtime scenario.

One statement a wife should never hear from her husband:

“That’s YOUR problem, not mine.”

After a solid half hour or thinking of an exception to that statement, nothing came to mind. And still, I can think of no problem a wife might be dealing with that does not either make a difference to, or have an effect on a compassionate husband in a loving marriage.

There are times when we are not so willing to be compassionate. A man once said to me, “She didn’t deserve my compassion after the mess she had made.” I said, “No, it doesn’t sound like she did. But does she deserve forgiveness? Is it your role to judge and punish her actions? Or to love and respect her, even when she is not at her best?”

Marriage is tough. The framework of the union, on paper, seems easy enough. But when our emotions and our punitive selves get into the mix, it isn’t all that difficult to become either passive, or combative. Our directive (Ephesians 5) is to love her, as Christ loved His bride (the church). That isn’t a suggestion, and doesn’t come with caveats such as, if she deserves it; if you think you ought to; if you feel like it; etc. For most of us, honestly, we do put conditions on our unconditional love.

One statement I never want to hear from my wife:

“He came through with a random act of kindness.”

If compassion and kindness for our wives ebbs and flows, comes and goes, we truly have a problem.

True compassion is not always easy, and not always pretty. It is not indulgence, and unfortunately there are times when our wives want or expect to be indulged when in fact, the truly compassionate thing may not match her expectation. If a husband is compassionately supporting his wife’s efforts to lead a healthier lifestyle, it might not be the best thing, after she has had a horrible day, to whip up cheeseburgers, fries, topped off with a quart of ice cream. True and consistent compassion often requires holding one accountable.

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As I’ve thought about and studied compassion over the years, it has become pretty clear that being compassionate has to be a desire of my heart. If I wait for God to make me that way, and do not desire to love like Him, there are going to be holes in my consistency as a husband, a lover, and a friend to my wife. That equates to hurts that don’t get mended, because of ears that don’t listen, hands that don’t get held, gentle touches that are withheld, all due to selfish motives.

There is no place for selfishness in a marriage.

John Eldridge in his book Wild at Heart spoke of a season in his marriage when he failed to be what he needed to be to his wife. It almost, he explained, ended the marriage. “I wanted to look like the knight,” he said. “But I didn’t want to bleed like one.”

How does that statement resonate with you?

Try the comment box!

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

So You Don’t Have The Game . . .

It happens all the time on The Golf Channel.

The professional instructor giving the “tip of the day” or working with the regular hosts of the shows (who happen to be professionals, if not close), mentions, after demonstrating a 320-yard drive, says, “Now for those of you that can’t hit it quite so far, you will have to make adaptations to how you approach your next shot.”

Or something like that.

Guys like us are often left, hands in the air, complaining, “REALLY? You show all this perfection and then leave me with ‘Of course you’re not as good as we are, so you will have to do something different.?'” It’s maddening! I need to learn how to improve my game based on the fact that I am not a professional golfer – a professional athlete. I want to be better than I am, but haven’t had the privilege of spending my life honing my game so I can perform at the highest level on earth! Just once would you puhleeze dedicate one day to the guy who is passionate about the game, but will never play it like the best in the world? Show me some tips, some strategies, give me some hope, for cryin’ out loud?

I want to play this game better than I have in the past! Somebody throw me a bone!

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I desire, simply put, to acquire some hope. The hope that I can get better at this than I am right now.

And the understanding that it is up to me to add practical understanding and application to that hope.

I know you don’t even have to guess where this is going. I remember hearing the golf coach in high school, when I asked for a try-out for the team. I hit a few balls, and within five minutes Coach Ferrell put up his hand, said, “That’s enough,” and called me over. He then put his arm around my shoulder and uttered those never-to-be-forgotten words. “Son, the boys playing on this team have been playing golf for years. It is pretty clear that you have not. I would suggest that if you would like to play at a competitive level, that you get some instruction, and practice. Practice a lot. And if you improve, come back to me next year and let’s see if we can find a spot for you on the junior varsity.”

Next year. I remember his words like they were spoken yesterday. He wasn’t anything but kind and honest. And correct.

But the affirmation I was seeking from him was not forthcoming. What was however, devastated me as a 15-year old. I had no illusions that I was all that good, but thought I had promise. I never even told my parents about the tryout. For that matter, I didn’t tell anyone. Ever. Until now.

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There are those of us (actually most) of us, I am thinking, who have felt the same way about the way we do marriage – the way we handle our role as husbands – the way we treat our wives.

It’s not hard to imagine God, with his arm around me, saying, “My son, I would suggest that you get some instruction, and practice. Practice a lot.” But then there is a following scene that did not occur in the above-mentioned golf tryout. God says to me, “You have promise. You have what it takes. I have both written it out for you, and have provided some folks in your life that can help you become – quite possibly – the best YOU ever.”

Sometimes it’s hard for me to think of Jesus as a husband. I mean, He didn’t marry a woman. But He was indeed a husband. Had to be one. Because we, His children (the church), are called “The Bride of Christ.” Doesn’t it make all the sense in the world that we look into how He treated His bride? See if there isn’t something there for us?

I’m going to be writing next week about what kind of game we have as husbands – not specifically to reveal all our flaws, but to give us all a realistic starting point for where we can both learn, practice, and get better; as well as recognize who and what we are, so our expectations are realistic.

We’re told by Paul,

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

I am neither the husband that I want to be, nor am I the husband I can become. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad husband or person. I’m going to guess you find yourself in the same place.

The goal is to realistically paint the picture of the Godly husband, and encourage each of us to determine what part of our game needs improvement, and how to do it. Note that I didn’t say perfect husband. That just ain’t happenin’

During this weekend, (or right now!) would you consider thinking through the ways you know husbands struggle when it comes to being Godly spouses?

We can’t do this alone. We all need help, and need to help each other. Are you willing to be transparent enough to be a part? 

I look forward to hearing from you – need to hear from you – for all of us.

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

My Apologies . . .

I want to extend my apologies to readers of the “Realtime” blog.

One of the most important dynamics of blogging is consistency. Whey your readers are expecting your regularly-scheduled blogs and do not receive them, they often lost interest, or wonder, “Why?”

I have been experiencing some significant and unforeseen health issues in the past few weeks following back surgery. Unfortunately they are the kinds of issues that make it difficult to even put coherent thoughts together, much less write something worth reading. Between the actual issues and the medications necessary for correcting them, it has been a frustrating and time-consuming struggle to get anything worthwhile written.

What I do commit to you however, is that during this time, I am collecting thoughts and ideas at a record pace that will result in future blogs that God will, I am convinced, use to bless us all!

Until then (hopefully later this week), I will rest, listen to His voice, and work really hard to remember it all when things calm down.

Whether you miss reading the blog or not, I truly miss sharing with you. Don’t hesitate to read through the archives. As my parents taught me when I was younger, “If it was worthwhile reading one time over, its Truth remains the next time through.”

Blessings and Health to ALL OF YOU!!!

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

I Choose Fresh . . .

I like cereal.

With cold milk.

That is all.

Well, not maybe all-all, but if I had or made the time every morning to sit at the breakfast table, scour the news, enjoy a hot cup of coffee with just my cereal and cold milk, I would not complain much at all about that.

There are those days that I look to the cereal and say to myself, “Self, today just isn’t a cereal day. Another option sounds exciting – adventurous. I love my cereal, but sometimes it’s great to get something that wakes up a different part of my breakfast experience.”

Self and I rarely argue about food, unless it’s one of us wanting to eat the rich, creamy, home made cheesecake with mixed berries on the top for breakfast, while the other one is remembering that we already did that twice this week, and should probably stick to something with a few less calories.

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With this culinary dilemma before us, I want to invite you to experience a different kind of breakfast with me.

Be honest now. Have you ever wondered if the love you have for your wife has somehow gone stale? Kind of like when you go for the bread or chips out of the pantry. Do you HAVE bread and chips? Yes. Are the EDIBLE? Yes. But they’re not soft (bread) or crisp (chips). (If anything, in this case, it’s the other way around. 🙂 It’s not that you don’t possess the food you’re looking for, it’s just not the best you’ve had.

Looking through the lens of marriage relationships, we don’t have to look far to find the same staleness. What was once fresh and wonderful, over time, has lost its crispness – it’s softness. It’s not that the love is not there, it’s just that it doesn’t possess the “fresh-from-the-store,” amazing effect that it had when it was new.

Asked if I am shocked that the divorce rate in America (Christians or otherwise) is at or above 50%, I replied, “No. What shocks me is that 50% or so of the marriages in America stay together.” Although that sentiment may sound negative and sour, it’s really not. It is simply a testament of the state of marriages in our country. And that testament contains information that the condition of most marriages with any sort of history, are either stale, moldy, or flat out unusable.

I don’t want my marriage to be like most marriages. I want it to be alive, fresh, and new – as often as possible! But the reality is that if I want this “fantasy” to come true, it takes work. Real work. A lot of people subscribe to the theory that the longer you’re married, the easier marriage gets.

I disagree.

I do agree that the longer two people are married, the more comfortable they become with one another, routines, etc., but truly in the areas that matter the most, marriages with longevity require more and more work in order to keep them fresh and worthwhile. They require two people, aware of the danger of stale bread and chips, who truly understand the meaning of  “lifelong commitment.” They require two people, willing to continue to make the necessary sacrifices and efforts to keep marriage exciting and worth looking forward to.

As we research, observe, and study the institution of marriage, we find that lifelong relationships that look to God for their strength are far more likely to endure periods of stuffiness or the doldrums. Following and serving Christ as a couple gives life to a relationship.

We typically only hear this scripture at weddings. But I like it as an everyday reminder that I, in my own strength, cannot guarantee the success of my marriage. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes:

There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless — a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who fallen and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. 

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But that scripture doesn’t mean that we as married people don’t have to be open to seeking out new ways of loving the person we committed to years ago. It becomes our responsibility to be in tune with where our relationship – the love for our spouse is found right now! The world can quickly break our strands. Standing alone is practically a guarantee of struggle, heartbreak, and broken marriages. 

What are the areas in your relationship that seem to be pitfalls for you and your spouse?

And what have you found that is worthy of sharing with others, that has added a new zest, freshness, or excitement to your marriage?

I look forward to hearing from you!

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

Face Time . . .

(Due to technical difficulties, several of my shared social media outlets were not included in recent posts. Please forgive me for duplicating, but did not want to leave anyone out. Thank you.)

How many times do we hear people – including ourselves – say things like these?

That knocked me flat on my back.

I was flat on my back for a week.

I was so far down the only way to look was up.

I was so confused I didn’t know up from down.

I feel like my back is against the wall.

I have never felt so helpless (or substitute hopeless) in all my life.

Unpleasant as it may seem, when I hear or say statements like these I am reminded of a turtle or a cockroach that has been displaced and ends up on his back, with legs waving in the air. When this happens, regardless of the reason, the animal is helpless – defenseless – and without assistance, will die because of his position.

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We sometimes find ourselves in that turtle/roach position – and don’t like it one bit! Any time we lose the ability to control at least basic functions of life, the emotional and physical impact is tremendous. Most if not all of us have been “run over by life” a time or two (did I hear you say ten?). When we’re literally or figuratively on our backs, we become frustrated, scared, angry. It is common to lose focus, the ability to reason, or even the desire to be cooperative. We’re tired, angry, and embarrassed. How did I get here again? Why can’t I prevent this from happening? We often learn and then play the role of the victim, even when we’re not being victimized. I am convinced that for some, victimitis” is an addiction. As backward as it may sound, some people are unable to function unless they have a soapbox to stand on – an enemy to fight – a bully who is once again pushing them around.

But instead of cursing God, shaking our fist at Him, or crying out “Why me?” God would have us to ask ourselves some serious and genuine questions when we find ourselves in this “backward” position. Why is it that I have been knocked down? Is it truly the result of a bizarre, random attack? Is it a consequence of my own sin? Am I in the line of fire where someone else’s misdeeds are concerned? Think about how often you have asked God for answers while figuratively on your back. Now think about how many answers you have received while you are in that position. Probably not many. Why is this so?

II Corinthians 12:9-10

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Two things come to mind. 

First, most of us like to be in control of our own lives – probably too much so. We find false comfort in our own false power. God, however, provides us with more than abundant strength when we become weak! When we die to ourselves and our own selfish desires, He then fills us with the strength and grace we need to conquer whatever battles we are fighting.

I think God allows us to find ourselves in that position for a reason. It does feel helpless, and that’s exactly how He wants us to feel. The less we rely on ourselves, the more dependent we must become on Him.

Secondly, it’s all about  position. I hear from God not when I’m flat on my back, but when I am firmly and intentionally on my face. The difference is phenomenal. You cannot take someone else’s word for this. It requires a personal experience to understand the power that God provides when we stop trying to fight off enemies ourselves, from a very defensive position, and fall prostrate before Him, submissive, ready to receive His wisdom.

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If  I’m on my back, I can still see you. I know where you are and can see you coming if you choose to attack me. My flesh needs to see what is happening! I can fend you off for a time, but I cannot defeat you. Left in this position, I will eventually die of paranoia and frustration.

When I am on my face, I cannot see you. I don’t know where you are or from where you will attack. This is frightens me because I know I am in a weakened position. I am defenseless. I am as submissive as I can be, in spite of my natural desire to know what is going on, and personally defend myself.

In this position, I must be completely and totally dependent on someone stronger and wiser than myself. What an unnatural act for a man! Since God created us, he knows how strong-willed we can be. He knows that we will default to our own strength and abilities in a pinch. So at times, I think He allows us to find ourselves in positions that show us just how unpowerful we truly are. Until it’s about humility, and until it’s all about Him, our back is where we will often stay.

It’s hard for me to imagine what would be attractive about the struggling turtle or roach. But even knowing the futility of that position, I still find myself there anyhow. Today’s encouragement – both for you and for me – is to maintain the discipline to spend more “face time” than “back time.”

When do you most often struggle to “get off your back?”

We can be stronger by sharing with each other. I look forward to hearing from you!

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!

Simplifying The Game

I’ve been sitting a lot. And walking. Those were the two instructions my surgeon gave me prior to a major back surgery I underwent 12 days ago. Tomorrow, I go back to “the grind.” Back to work, back to teaching, back to visioneering, back to everything normal. At least as normal as possible.

If you know me, you now that in spite of my many insufficiencies as a participant, I am passionate about the game of golf. So what does one like me do while sitting around for 12 days recovering from a surgical procedure? Watch golf. Lots of golf. I know, most people – even golfers – will tell you how much they hate watching golf on television compared to how much they enjoy playing the game.

Hitting a golf ball properly, they say, is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges in any sporting endeavor. It doesn’t look all that difficult, but it is. Even if you can hit the ball purely a few times during a round, that means way more often than not, you’re hitting a shot that comes up short, and not just in terms of distance. While one of the most enjoyable sports I have ever tried or played regularly, most of what occurs on a golf course produces at least some level of frustration.

So as I have watched God only knows how many hours of golf and golf instruction these 12 days, I have come upon a conclusion about the golf swing that mirrors another important challenge in my life.

If I were to embrace every golf tip, swing thought, or game strategy that I have absorbed in the past two weeks alone, I am pretty sure it would take me a year or two to get through actually learning each one. And that would be if I spent 30-40 hours a week working on my typically wretched swing. Not ironically, one of the programs I had the pleasure of viewing during my recuperation focused on perhaps the best advice of all. The instructor has built his teaching platform from watching a golf testing machine, “Iron Byron.” It swings the same every time – with success.

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The instructor said, “Make your golf swing as simple as possible. The fewer moving parts, the better your swing will be. Learn the golf swing properly the first time, and repeat it.” This teacher also said that watching and listening to all the latest and greatest tips and swing changes “is what will keep you from becoming the golfer you want to be.”

This morning, while working through some quiet devotional time, I was asking God, “How can I avoid all the trappings that keep me from being the husband I need to be?” (And believe me, I am, like most toddlers, distracted by flashing lights and things that shine. Oh – and gadgets with buttons.) Why, I have been wondering, is it such a daily challenge to stay on task – to keep my focus – on the priority job God has given me, honoring, serving, and respecting my wife?

And here’s what He said: “Quit chasing that which is shiny, flashy, and new. Chase what I gave you, and ignore all the moving parts. What I have taught you has never changed – only you have.”

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I think of this as one of the most poignant  “Keep it Simple, Stupid, reminders of my life.

Let’s look at what I learned this week:

* What I am asking God about seems to be one of the most challenging of life’s endeavors

     I really want to do my part in making a vibrant marriage

* What I am asking God about seems to have as many frustrating moments as rewarding ones

     I’m not as good at being a husband as I think I am (or want to be)

* What I am asking God about is perhaps much simpler than I have allowed it to be

     I am too easily distracted by events, new circumstances, and perhaps my own feelings

* What I am asking God about, He has taught me in the past

     I have a lot of experience, knowledge, and wisdom – and a lot of room for improvement

I suppose the real truth about what God is showing me today is that there is nothing new in His economy. What He has laid out all along is still what He desires from a man in a Godly marriage.

Ephesians 5:28-31

“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church for we are members of his body.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

So this week is dedicated to compiling a list of the ideas, attitudes, and actions we can all use to improve not only our suggestion that we want to passionately pursue our wives, but the ability and willingness to do it.

All, by . . .

just . . . keeping . . . it . . . simple . . .

What are the simple things you do to prove to your wife that you are still pursuing her?

Conversely, what are the simple things that seem to distract you from that pursuit?

We all need your help. We all need each other. Please don’t miss the chance to take part in building one another up.

Oh . . . and wives? What are the simple things you’d like to see from your husbands?

And, as always . . .

FINISH WELL!