Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Silly Man

Part 5 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 1Part 2 Part 3 Part 4


Ask a majority of women what is the number one quality they look for in a man, and the answer is "Sense of Humor." Couple that with the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for," and you may be faced with a situation that is quite frustrating. It is true that women love a man who can make them laugh. Men are all too aware of this and willing to serve women in this way. However, a man who is one step shy of being a circus clown can be a huge turn off (at least for me).

I've seen plenty of guys use humor in ways that at the very least will frustrate a woman, and at most will cause her to grow incredibly angry. As with all the "Men Behaving Badly" postings, my hope is to help men understand how and why their behavior is appropriate, and to help men better serve women in these situations. So without further ado, here are the three main types of "silly men" that I personally find challenging to deal with:

1) Inability to Be Serious. I recently had an email discussion with a brother who claimed he "seriously" wanted to know about a particular facet of my life which he found to be rather unusual. I explained that in some ways, my choices in this area were akin to a personal conviction. The man then replied with a dozen jokes about what I had just shared. It seemed every other sentence in his response was followed by "LOL!!!!!" or an emoticon of a smiley beating the ground with his fists in a fit of laughter. Needless to say, I not only did not find his response funny, I found it insulting. I strongly believe that in this case, this man was trying to establish a connection with me, but he ended up putting a bigger wedge between us. Guys, when you use the word "seriously," women want to feel that it is safe to be vulnerable, open up, and tell you - seriously - what makes us tick. If you then turn around and laugh at us, make jokes, or insult something that is very important to us, you make yourself seem very similar to the boy who cried wolf. If you say you want to know something "seriously", and then you don't behave in a serious manner, chances are, we're not going to believe you the next time you use that word. And if we don't believe you are capable of being serious, you will never win our trust.

"Inability to be Serious" is the number one type on my list because it has some very harsh consequences when it comes to how a woman will perceive your leadership ability. Think about it - who in their right mind would want to submit to someone who constantly laughs at everything? As a single woman, constantly laughing or joking in every situation would not be an attractive quality in a husband. But a man who cannot be serious, in my opinion, is even worse in a pastoral role. If your only counseling skill is your sense of humor, I'm not going to feel safe coming to you with a problem.

Tip for Women: As usual, we don't want to make this a man-bashing post, so for women, I'd like to offer some insight on why men do this. I've come up with two reasons. The first is illustrated by the recent example with my friend. In this case, I suspect he was trying to establish a connection with me and it backfired. But more often than not, when a man constantly jokes about something that is important to you, it could be that he is misunderstanding your passion as pain. Men absolutely hate to see people they care about in pain. Men also have an insatiable need to "fix" problems. Therefore, if they see you in pain, the quick fix for this solution is to reverse that by making you laugh. If a man cracks jokes when you are being serious, try not to judge him (like I am tempted to do) but let him know that the joke is inappropriate. Do this gently as it may hurt his feelings. Remember, in his mind, he is honestly trying to help. Getting angry might make the problem worse, because he might interpret this simply as a failure to achieve his goal of making you feel better, and thus try harder! I've known guys who will just turn up the juice in these situations and joke even more. Use that knowledge to your advantage. Instead of getting angry, say: "It would be helpful if you could not joke about this." When you tell him exactly how he can help (as this is his main goal), he should be able to shift gears.

2. Uses Humor as a Defense Mechanism. I feel I can speak from authority on this one because the only safe emotion for men to show in my family is humor. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and even today, it is very difficult for the men in my family to cry or show weakness. Perhaps this is why "Sense of Humor" is down much further on my personal list of admirable qualities in a man. I've seen one too many men use their sense of humor as a way to mask their true feelings, and it can be frustrating.

This one should be obvious. While an inability to be serious may simply be a man's attempt to help you, using humor as a defense mechanism is a sign that the man cannot accept help in return. A man who uses humor as a defense mechanism is desperately trying to hide anything that he perceives might make him appear weak. By laughing off very serious or painful situations, he is trying to demonstrate that he is strong and does not need anyone's help. Usually men who do this are terrified to show their true emotions in front of a woman. But if you look carefully, men will more often do this to protect their image in front of other men. They often feel that in order to prove their manliness, they need to reject any displays of emotion that are typically perceived as "feminine," even if that means denying that it is a problem at all. Oftentimes, this denial comes in the form of humor. (If I can laugh about it, then it has no power over me.)

Tip for Women: In many cases, the only people men feel they can open up to is their women. So if your husband is acting this way, don't blow it by getting angry. If you become angry when he displays a "positive" emotion (humor), he will not want to share with you any emotion that he perceives to be negative, such as sadness, grief, or despair. Women can be supportive by reminding men that tears are not a female emotion, but a human emotion. Even Jesus wept!

3. The Competitive Comedian. I don't have this last one completely figured out, but I feel it does deserve mention. Sometimes men will use their sense of humor as a way to "one-up" a woman. If you make a witty remark, these men will immediately follow it with something even funnier. If you can top that, these men do not look very happy. I am not entirely sure why this occurs. I have been in situations where certain men (especially the "defense mechanism" guys) will almost feel threatened, as if someone else is stealing their spotlight when it comes to humor. I suppose for these men it is the only thing that gives them an identity in a group. Perhaps they grew up in a family where everyone had a label: Jack is the athlete, Bill has the brains, and Mike is the funny one. Your guess is as good as mine.

In other cases, if the man is interested in a particular woman, he will use humor as a way of being horribly mean to her. He will make fun of her appearance, her mannerisms, the things she's into - whatever he can think of. I've read a few secular articles that explain this one: this is a cry for attention. In many cases it works - when a man is mean to us, he has definitely captured our attention. Unfortunately, we are not drawn to him as a potential life partner. Instead, we're drawn to him in the same manner we would be to a huge pileup on the interstate, or two people who are arguing very loudly in a restaurant. We shake our heads and just think, "That's terrible." It's the same way with obnoxious and rude men. It gets our attention, but it is not attractive.

Tip for Women: I don't have much insight on this one, however I will say that since it is common for men to bond with other men through competition, a man who "one-ups" you with the jokes, or a man who uses humor to insult you may be trying to bond with you on some level. If this is the case, you can use the same strategy as you do with the "inability to be serious" guys. Instead of getting angry or telling him that he's being a rude, obnoxious jerk, use encouragement to direct him away from that behavior. For example, if he is nice to you, use that as an opportunity to smile and say, "Wow, I really like it when you say nice things to me." Or you might say, "The other day at the women's luncheon I mentioned some of the nice things you said to me last week, and they were so jealous!"

Another thing for women to remember is that we do have a tendency to be a bit oversensitive at times. Granted, there are some men who are downright annoying when they tease, but since men do bond with other men through banter, cut him some slack when he jokes with you. Ask yourself, "Am I overreacting?" Unless the teasing is inappropriate, laugh with him and move on.

In closing, I don't want to give the impression that a sense of humor is a bad thing. Far from it! It still remains at the top of the list in qualities that women look for in a man. This is largely because we admire a man who is able to laugh at himself. This is a sign of humility. It demonstrates that a man can have joy of the Lord in the midst of his shortcomings (as well as ours). And although it may not be obvious at first, laughing at oneself is an indicator that you are confident in who you are in Christ. This is a quality that is attractive in both men and women alike!

The bottom line: I would encourage men to use their sense of humor as an asset instead of allowing it to become a hindrance to their character. Many years ago, I read a secular book called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. This was required reading for a management class, and the one thing I remember most from this book was to never show your nice side up front, because if people think you're nice, they won't respect you as a leader. They will walk all over you. Instead, show that you have a head for business and a strong spine. Then once you gain their respect, you can be nice to them. I would say that a similar principle can be applied to the use of humor. I tend to respect a man who can be serious up front. Then when he shows his silly side later on, it comes as a pleasant surprise. But if a man is goofy from the start, I personally have a very hard time taking him seriously when he tries to switch gears. I can only speak for myself, but I have trouble seeing overly funny men as serious leaders.

What about you? How do you perceive overly funny men? Do you respect them, or are you less likely to take them seriously?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

No Good Thing Will He Withhold


When I was in high school, I was not yet born again, but I was desperately looking for meaning. Much of my alone time was spent trying to find the one true God (and praying that He actually existed). In my junior and senior years, I sacrificed many, many things that were very precious to me, because I wanted to show God that I desired Him more than all those things combined. I thought that doing this would be a good way to get His attention, and that perhaps as a result, He would consider revealing Himself to me.

One of the things I gave up was the French Horn. I was an extremely talented horn player. I played the horn from fifth grade all the way through my senior year of high school. Not only that, I was the section leader for all those years. I was good - but I am convinced that the main reason I was able to excel was not because I worked hard at it, or because I wanted admiration from my peers. I was good at it because deep down, I truly, truly loved the horn.

1992

The French horn has the reputation of being the most difficult orchestral instrument to master. I don't know if that is true or not, but the instrument's reputation certainly helped to boost my own reputation. It's one thing to be good at an instrument. It's quite another to be good at an instrument that is rumored to be the hardest known to man. By the time I reached tenth grade, my "legend" had already begun. Still among the underclassmen, my band director made it clear to everyone that I was a force to be reckoned with, a person whom all should strive to emulate. By senior year, the attention I was getting upset me a great deal. I had to make some decisions as far as what I wanted to do with my life. Truly, I didn't know what that was. I did know that I loved the horn, but I did not want to live the rest of my life high on a pedestal. It made me feel guilty to take credit for that glory. I never asked to be talented. I knew that my talent came from somewhere outside myself, and due to the extreme measures I was taking not to anger this God that I was searching for, I knew I could not earn a living as a professional musician. To me, that was prostitution, and I wouldn't do it. (I went to college to study Theatre instead, which I also quit later on for similar reasons.)
2009

In August, I put aside this blog for a while to concentrate more on what God wanted to say to me, rather than what I wanted to say to my readers. During this time, God revealed to me many latent sins which reside in my heart, but He also gave me a bizarre command: "You need to play again." I am always obedient to the voice of the Lord, but I do an awful lot of complaining about it. My immediate response was, "Father, you have got to be kidding me. I can't! Think of all the painful memories of what I used to be! Think of all the ugly, horrible, self-glorification that is involved with that! I can't do it. I just can't!" But He simply said, "Trust me."

So I rented a horn from a not-so-local music shop (I had to drive an hour and a half just to get one) and I started the work of getting back into shape. I felt like an idiot. Where the heck was I supposed to play? I didn't know anyone in the music community in Central Florida. Even if I was still in New York, it had been seventeen years since I was involved with the music community there. I was lost, and so I emailed my worship pastor for advice. All he wrote back was, "That is VERY interesting."

As it turns out, my church was planning on staging our first ever musical production for Christmas. The worship pastor was in search of musicians for the orchestra. With only 90 days to prepare, I was assigned the 2nd horn part. We had two rehearsals. TWO. I thought certainly this was going to be a nightmare, but miraculously on our first rehearsal, it all came back to me as if I never stopped playing. Last night was our closing performance, and all I can say is that it was glorious! One person after another approached me and said, "Wow, Jen! I didn't know you could play!" They were amazed. Years ago, this sort of attention would have made me uncomfortable, but this time, I was easily able to redirect the attention back where it belongs: "Yes, I haven't played in 17 years, but praise God, now I am going to play for Him!" I whispered a quick prayer of contrition, asking God to forgive me for thinking this was an idiotic thing for me to do, when my senior pastor approached me and said, "I absolutely love the French Horn. Maybe you can play on the worship team." I couldn't believe this was happening! Of course I want to play on the worship team. This is the whole reason I've been given this gift! It seems too good to be true, but I have once again fallen in love with this beautiful, beautiful instrument, and I don't feel one shred of guilt about it whatsoever.

What I Learned From All This

So what is the moral of the story? I believe there are two. The first is never, never look back. I have been tempted during these past three months to dwell on what could have been if I had never stopped playing. Let me tell you, it is good that I stopped. I played for eight years with a few bad habits and my new teacher is helping me to correct them. Had I been playing for 25 years straight, I wouldn't be able to correct those habits as easily. As a result, I believe I am eventually going to be better at the French Horn than I ever was before!

Sometimes, we withhold good things from ourselves.The second moral, I believe, is found in Psalm 84:11: "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." I've often been told that if something is being withheld from you, it is for one of two possible reasons: either it isn't a good thing, or you're not walking uprightly. I have learned that there is a third possibility. Sometimes, we withhold good things from ourselves. God tells us that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). As born again believers, we do not have to give up any good thing in order to get God's attention. We already have it!

I can tell you that it feels so good than to be playing my horn again. Is there something in your life, a good thing, that you have given up when God has not asked you to? What good thing are you withholding from yourself? Seek the Lord and ask if perhaps your "sacrifice" is unnecessary. As long as you are obedient and walking uprightly, He will not withhold any good thing from you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anatomy of a Mid-Life Crisis

December. It seems every December I become a bit retrospective. I think I did a pretty good job last December of dissecting why I get this way every year. So it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that it's happening to me again. In fact, things have been going so good for me this year, that I almost didn't recognize what I have been feeling. I actually thought to myself, "Am I having a mid-life crisis?" Then I remembered that go through this every December. 

The first time I truly began to feel the pain of meaninglessness was December, 1989. As a precocious tenth grader, I was obsessed with the book, The Catcher in the Rye, and I began to write a narrative of my own thoughts in similar fashion. On the very first page of that journal I lamented the fact that I was fifteen, because I was "halfway to thirty." Even at that time, I understood that time is running out for everyone, including myself. Naturally, this was not a mid-life crisis at all. (If it were, I'd be dead by now, as I once mused at 18: "I can consider this year a mid-life crisis if I die at 36.") Rather, this is what I would call an existential crisis. In fact, a mid-life crisis is nothing more than an existential crisis in mid-life, but you can have one at any age!

In preparing for this post, I came across an interesting article which inspired me, and also inspired me to inspire you. Lawrence Yong gives us "Five Things To Keep in Mind Always". On the subject of time, he writes:

Why do we always picture ourselves living at the top half of the hourglass, where time is always slipping away?

Instead, why don’t we imagine ourselves in the bottom half of the hourglass?

There, every minute is followed by another minute that comes pouring in. Every hour’s followed by another hour and everyday is just the first of many days to come.
These sentiments uncover the exact science behind the so-called "mid-life crisis." A mid-life crisis, or any existential crisis, for that matter, is nothing more than discontentment over what God has given us. Instead of focusing on what we have, we are too busy focusing on what we do not have: we do not have our youth, we do not have our vibrant health and strength as we once did, and thus, we think we do not have our "whole life" ahead of us.

Yet if we look closely, we will see something odd about that last one. In fact, I think it is the very reason why Lawrence's post gripped me. Technically, it's true: we don't have our whole life ahead of us. Some of it is, in fact, behind us. But we still have so much of life ahead of us! As Lawrence indicated, we need to place ourselves in the bottom half of that hourglass, looking up. Did you get that last part? Looking up.

"We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18).Some folks imagine when those grains of sand finally run out that there is nothing left. However those sands are simply the number of days that He has given to us to prepare for what's next. A mid-life crisis occurs when we focus on the sand, rather than what comes after the sand. In a sense, if we pictured ourselves on the bottom half, looking up, the sand is actually obstructing our view of God. As Christians, we should be trying to look beyond the sand so that we can see God at work through it all. We are told that one day, we will be able to see clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The antidote to worrying that you may be wasting your life is simple: Don't. If you stop focusing on the life you could have had, you will have the clear vision to look ahead to see the life that you actually do have: the life God intended for you. So look up, my friends! We have all eternity ahead of us.

Related Articles:
Striking the Set
Romanticizing the Past
Age and Idolatry

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Root of My Hatred

This has been a very revealing season for me. It has been quite a shock for me to discover that I struggle with hatred, but even more so, I am really surprised to uncover the reasons why I hate some people. For most of my life, I have misunderstood hatred. I thought hatred was something you held for someone who made you angry. Or perhaps, you were jealous of that person. I assumed that my problem was anger and jealousy, but these sins are only by-products of my hatred. As it turns out, the root of my hatred is self-righteousness.

Over the past few weeks I have thought about the people that I hate and tried to come up with what they all have in common. Only two of them sinned against me, and in one case it was twelve years ago. I have completely canceled the debts in both cases and I am not angry with either of these people. Most of the others, however, never sinned against me. But in every single case, I look upon the person with disdain because, for whatever reason, I feel she cannot get her act together. (The group of individuals includes both men and women, however, for anonymity's sake I will only use the female pronoun).

In some cases, she appears to have experienced no spiritual growth, or very little spiritual growth, over the past few years. I feel she is intellectually inferior to me as well as spiritually immature. She doesn't do things the way I think they should be done. As I've already revealed in a prior post, I may think she's a complete phony. In other cases, she perpetually complains about the many blessings God has given her, or she complains about the things that God has not given her. Whenever I see her making her way towards me, I think "Oh God, no!" and I look for the nearest exit. In all cases, I am not jealous of her in the least. I think, "Thank God I'm not like her!" I think she is so pathetic that mustering up compassion for her is impossible for me to do. I think life would be so much sweeter if she'd just move to another hemisphere so the chances I'd ever have to come face to face with her again are extremely slim.

I don't hate these people because I'm angry at them. I'm angry at them because I hate them. Does this make sense? I don't hate these people because I'm angry at them. I'm angry at them because I hate them. Does this make sense? I have contempt in my heart for them, therefore, their very essence makes me angry. The very fact that they exist irritates me - unless they are allowed to exist ten thousand miles away where I don't have to deal with them.

Perhaps you are reading through this and thinking, "Oh, Jennifer, that's not hatred! You just dislike that person." If that's the case, then let me ask you to try something for me. Ask yourself if there is anyone you really dislike. Then go look up the definition of hatred in the dictionary. Now tell me if you can find any distinction between those two terms. I don't know about you, but I can't do it!

I'm guilty, and I'm wondering if I'm not alone. I think maybe there are others out there who have misunderstood hatred, as I did. Our society seems to lull us into a coma when it comes to this issue. I know I have been brainwashed to think, "I don't like the person, but it's not like I hate her!" But if you look in the Bible, not once is there ever an example of someone who "disliked someone a great deal." In the Bible, it is never referred to as "disliking someone a great deal," it is called hatred, period.

I am finding that upon understanding what hatred really is, that there are many, many reasons why I would be tempted to hate people. Sometimes I am angry at them. Sometimes I am jealous. But in most cases, it appears that the root of my hatred is self-righteousness. Come to think of it, it would seem that this is always where hatred starts. Can I be unjustly angry with someone without being self-righteous? How about irritated -- can I be irritated with someone without being self-righteous? Can I covet, or judge that God has unfairly given something to someone, without being self-righteous? I don't think so. I think this is where it all stems from.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Battle With Hatred

Isn't it funny the way we will use all sorts of euphemisms for hatred, but not actually admit to hatred itself? We will say things like, "I admit I can't get along with John, but it's not like I hate him or anything." In this statement, I think it is clear that the act of hatred is set apart as something especially heinous, which is why we always seem to just stop short of it. In the past six months, I have noticed that I have made similar statements about a particular individual, always just stopping short of hatred. First, it was, "I don't like ______, but it's not like I hate them or anything." Then it progressed to "I can't stand to be in the same room with ______, but it's not like I hate them or anything." I would think thoughts such as, "I really would love it if ______ moved to a different time zone. But at least I don't hate this person," and "Hypothetically speaking, if ______ died, I would not be very sad. But it's not like I would dance on their grave or anything."

I finally ran out of things that just fell short of hatred, because I had to face the fact that I am indeed harboring hatred in my heart for this person.I finally ran out of things that just fell short of hatred, because I had to face the fact that I am indeed harboring hatred in my heart for this person. The realization that I hate someone is horrifying. After all, I spent so much time and energy illustrating my extreme dislike for this individual while maintaining all the while that I had not crossed the line into hatred. To acknowledge that I had indeed crossed that line is so shameful and embarrassing. God knew this whole time I was in sin, but when I first figured it out, I simply couldn't face Him. I did not pray for a few weeks because I was so ashamed of my sin. The best I could do was eek out a feeble, "God help me; I don't know what to say to You, so I'm going to ask that You speak to me instead." I tried to read Scripture, but it was easier to distract myself from my guilt by keeping busy with my daily responsibilities.

The hardest part for me to get past is the idea that I simply hate this person for no apparent reason. Usually, we tend to hate people who have done something terrible to us, especially if that involves making us angry in some way. But this person never did anything to sin against me. I just hate this person, and the more I hate, the angrier I become. Without giving away too much detail, I found myself in a position where I felt this person was, for lack of a better term, a "phony." I hate phonies. (Funny how I can confess that one with great ease - you see, they deserve to be hated for their insincerity, and for this reason, my hatred of them almost seems noble in my eyes.) But to make matters worse, I am the only person who apparently recognizes that this person is a total phony. Everyone around me seems to be saying, "Isn't so-and-so great? Oh praise God for so-and-so!" If I may be completely transparent with my readers, when I hear talk like this, I want to vomit.

From this point on, I began to view every little thing this person said or did through a self-righteous lens. And because I was viewing them this way, I became angrier and angrier over the situation. Finally, I had to remove myself from the environment in which I came into contact with this person. The Bible tells us to flee temptation, and just being exposed to this individual was tempting me to hate. Once I removed myself from that temptation, I was able to begin the process of dealing with my heart.

God has been gracious to show me other people whom "I strongly dislike, but it's not like I hate them or anything."It has not been easy so far. I still think, "Wouldn't it be great if they just dropped dead? Then I wouldn't have to worry about being friendly to them, even though I think they're a big fat phony!" But at least now I can clearly see how sinful my heart is. I have not repented, but God has been gracious to show me other people whom "I strongly dislike, but it's not like I hate them or anything." All in all, I would say I'm now up to six people or so for whom I feel that "If we never spoke again, it would be no great loss for me, but it's not like I hate them or anything."

It stinks being in this season. I have come out and confessed everything to a few trusted people in my church, and although this is important, I still don't have the godly sorrow I know I need for real repentance. I like not talking to certain people. I like having self-righteous reasons not to talk to them. This is why I cannot help myself out of this situation. I need to rely on God and God alone to restore me.

Yesterday, I prayed aloud these scriptures:
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-12)

A faithful brother offered me this response:
I will bear the indignation of the LORD,
Because I have sinned against Him,
Until He pleads my case
And executes justice for me.
He will bring me forth to the light;
I will see His righteousness. (Micah 7:9)

I will bear God's indignation for my sin. He will leave me in this pit until He pleads my case, has mercy upon me, and grants me the gift of repentance that will bring forth the light that will pull me out of the darkness of hatred. Praise God for His faithfulness! I wait expectantly for His saving grace.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Sin Revealed

It has been almost three months since I last wrote for this blog. I sensed that God wanted me to take some time off, and I knew He wanted to show me something. That something turned out to be my sin.

This last week has been especially difficult. Not only did the Holy Spirit show me that I had been previously blind to my predicament, but once my eyes were opened, I confessed it aloud to several people. I took action to avoid the triggers that tempt me. I have made a lot of progress in the last week. But acknowledging my sin and avoiding temptation is not the end of the battle. Removal of temptation does not change the heart. That battle is just beginning.

I know I'm in sin. My mind fully grasps that concept. But my heart could not care less. My heart likes my sin. It has lied to me and told me that my sin makes me powerful. It tells me that I should not repent, because it's really not that bad, and it makes me feel so good! Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have not repented. Not yet anyway. God is faithful, and repentance is coming. Just yesterday morning, I had a funny thought. I felt that I was supposed to blog my way through this. Immediately, a voice rose up inside me and said, "That's crazy! Why on earth would I want to reveal my sin on my blog?" Immediately, the answer came: "But isn't that how this site got started in the first place?"

It's true. Reformed SHEology all began because I was in sin. Once I had repented, I felt I had to write about my experience and share with others the lessons I learned. I always felt that I wrote my very best "stuff" in the early days of Reformed SHEology, when my heart was on fire after being granted the gift of repentance. Sadly, that feeling began to dry up. The last several months in particular seemed dull, like I was only going through the motions of writing. My prayer was that God would light that fire in me again, so that I could really write from the bottom of my heart, the way I used to. Creating this site and sharing my experiences in cyberspace has been one of the most personally rewarding things I've ever done, and I am convinced that this is an opportunity to experience that all over again.

Only this time, I believe God wants to take things to a deeper level. This time, I am not going to wait until I've fully repented before I start reflecting upon how this sin has affected my life. This time, I am going to start blogging while I am still in the midst of the battle. My goal is to record what I am going through now, in the hopes that working through this process publicly will bless someone.

So without further ado, let me confess my sin: it just so happens to be the very same sin that gripped me two years ago, and eventually inspired me to start this blog in the first place.

Yes, my friends. I am angry.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spiritual Micromanagers

Part 4 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Imagine you have just graduated with your MBA and earned yourself a fantastic job on Wall Street. You show up for work on your first day, eager to bring your talents and skills to the company. You are excited at the challenges that lie ahead, and you can't wait to do your part to make this company the best it can be. Things are going great for a few weeks. But then you start to notice there is little freedom in this company. You learn very quickly that you cannot make any intelligent judgment calls on your own; you must first obtain permission. When you are given a project, it comes with a million emails instructing you exactly what to do. One day, you approach your boss with a problem and you need his help. Instead of trying to work with you, your boss proceeds to give you a lecture on what the problem is and how you should solve it. The next morning, you open your calendar and discover that every moment of your day has been prescheduled for you, including your breaks. Frustrated, you think to yourself, "Is this what I went to school for?"

According to an article at Mindtools.com, "Micromanagers risk disempowering their colleagues. They ruin their colleagues' confidence, hurt their performance, and frustrate them to the point where they quit." Nobody likes to be micromanaged at work, so imagine what it feels like to be micromanaged at home. Many men do not realize that in their sincere attempts to exhibit spiritual leadership, they instead micromanage the women in their lives. So what's the difference?

Pointing women to Christ does not mean dictating to them how you feel submission should be done.I am going to go out on a limb and say that leadership has more to do with you than it does her. Leadership is about you being accountable to God. It is not about you making sure the women in your life are accountable to God. Granted, as a man you want to point them to Christ, but this does not mean dictating to women how you feel submission should be done. That is their job, not yours. On Judgment Day, God is not going to ask you if the women in your life submitted to your leadership. He is going to ask you about you.

Ephesians 5:22 instructs women to submit to their husbands. The text then turns to men and instructs them to love their wives. Nowhere in the text are men instructed to ensure that women submit. Men who are overly preoccupied with whether or not women are submitting are not focused on their own duty to lead. As a result, their leadership suffers and they become micromanagers. Here are some examples of what this might look like:

Leadership: Trusting a woman to manage the home as she sees fit while you're at work.
Micromanagement: Leaving a woman a list of chores to do as though she were a child instead of an adult.

Leadership: Empowering your wife to perform sexually by telling her how much you want her.
Micromanagement: Disempowering your wife by telling her how much you want sex. Reminding her that her body is not her own and by refusing, she is being selfish and disobedient to God's word.

Leadership: "Honey, that neckline is a bit low and distracting. Do you think you can choose another blouse?"
Micromanagement: "I've taken the liberty of having your clothes altered so that all your necklines are a minimum of four finger widths above the point where your cleavage begins."

Leadership: Trusting a woman to make a decision without you because she knows you well enough to know what you would and would not approve of.
Micromanagement: Focusing on the fact that she did not ask your permission first, even though the decision was admittedly an excellent one, and requiring her to check in with you from now on for every little thing.

That last example can be very difficult for many men who assume leadership means that decisions are left to them alone. Yet Proverbs 31:16 tells us a different story: "She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard." A Proverbs 31 woman is like that MBA grad on Wall Street: both were "hired" for the job because of their excellent qualifications. A woman is often excited at the prospect of serving her husband. But after a few months of micromanagement, she may question his decision to "hire" her for the job of being his helper, and can even grow to despise the position altogether.

Good leadership has the power to transform many companies into healthy organizations. The same can be said for the home. Are you a spiritual micromanager? Check out this article from Mindtools.com on micromanagement in the workplace. See if you can draw any parallels between the office and your home. If you think you've been micromanaging, ask your wife's forgiveness and ask God to give you the power to resist the temptation to micromanage. God will be more than delighted to complete the work He began in you (Philippians 1:6) and turn you into the great leader He has called you to be.

To be continued . . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Debating the Subjective

Part 3 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 1 Part 2 Part 4

Someone once said that if you remove Christ from the equation, you have no Christianity. This is because Christianity is not about a bunch of rules. The essence of Christianity is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. You can remove Buddha from Buddhism and still have the basic tenets of Buddhism. You can extract Confucius from Confucianism and still have Confucianism. But remove Christ and Christianity ceases to exist.

Women use personal stories as a way of connecting with others, including men.The same can be said for feminine empiricism. If I may use a broad generalization, men tend to value logic and reason over feelings and personal experience. Women, on the other hand, place a high importance on the subjective. This is not to say we value empiricism over reason, but in some cases, we give the two equal billing. You can talk facts with anybody. Remove a particular person from a factual conversation, and you can still have that conversation. But the only person who can talk subjective experience with you is the person who's had that subjective experience. Women use personal stories as a way of connecting with others, including men. Downplay her personal experience, dismiss it as unimportant, and you've basically erased that woman's reason for existing - whether it be in an isolated conversation, or in the relationship as a whole.

As stated in previous posts, I am writing this series because I believe men truly do not know how certain things they do can crush a woman's spirit. I believe many men honestly have no idea how their dismissal of a woman's desire to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences can literally leave her feeling like she's been erased. To illustrate this, here is a recent example from my own life where I felt a bit trampled on:

DOCTRINE vs. MY DEAD CAT

On Tuesday night, I was talking with "Vinny," a man from my church. We were in a very lighthearted, relaxed conversation. We were exchanging funny stories, and I began to tell Vinny about the time I asked my Home Group leaders for a small favor: I needed a backyard to bury my dead cat and I was wondering if they'd be willing to volunteer theirs. (They said yes, by the way.) I began by telling Vinny that because I live in a condo-style townhouse, I had no yard in which to bury my cat. Even if I did, I didn't own a shovel to dig a grave. As a Christian, burial is symbolically important to me, so I was on a quest to find a way to bury her.

Vinny interrupted me by saying that I could have thrown the cat in the garbage and it would have been all right because animals don't have souls. I acknowledged that Vinny was correct: animals do not have souls. But that wasn't the point. My intention at that moment was to share a funny story, not to discuss the spirituality of animals. I tried to return to my story but Vinny continued to challenge me on the issue. Nevertheless, I never got past the first two sentences of my story and the lightheartedness had been completely drained out of the conversation. The opportunity to connect with Vinny had disappeared. I was now in a full-fledged doctrinal debate with this person, and I am confident that had a few more men dropped in on us, I could have slipped away unnoticed while they discussed the issue amongst themselves.

I finally got Vinny to abandon the debate and we started talking about exercise. Both of us agreed that running was preferable to swimming. We began to list all the reasons why we didn't enjoy swimming as much (water in the ears, you can't work up a good sweat, etc.). I mentioned another reason that was of particular importance to me: I didn't want to get chlorine in my hair. In honor of 1 Corinthians 11, I have chosen to take great care of my hair because it is a symbol that is important to me personally. Vinny immediately began to protest that my decision to take care of my hair is not supported by 1 Corinthians 11. Again, this was not the point. I am not clueless; I know taking care of one's hair is not a prescriptive outlined in 1 Corinthians 11. The point was that this was a glimpse of myself that I was offering this man. Vinny had dismissed another opportunity to connect with me, and opted instead to place the focus on doctrine. For a second time that night, I could have left the conversation, had someone else take my place, and the discussion would have been perfectly intact. I was no longer a necessary element in the equation.

FEMININE REACTIONS TO THIS SITUATION

Men, let me stop here and say that I understand it is never your intention to hurt us in situations like this. If anything, you are trying to serve a woman by correcting what you may perceive to be theological error. We are grateful for that. We are grateful you want to lead us in the right way. We were created to submit to that leadership, and we appreciate so much your desire to protect us from error. And because we respect you so much, we want for you to know us better. If you know what's in our hearts, you will know what our needs are. This, we assume, makes leadership easier for you.

Sadly, many men misunderstand a woman's desire to share her thoughts, feelings, and experiences to be trivial details that are unnecessary to the "big picture." This often results in the woman feeling as though the man thinks she is unnecessary.

Women, we need to be sensitive to the fact that while we may feel comfortable enough with a man to share with him, we do not need to blast him with a tsunami of personal anecdotes.In other cases, the woman is perceived as being self-absorbed if she shares too much. In fact, a man told me just today, "It seems like these past few months, all you've done is turn the conversation around and made it about you!" I was terribly discouraged by this statement. All these months, I felt comfortable enough in my friendship with this person to simply open up and talk about what was on my mind. To think that my attempts at sharing with this brother could be construed as annoying and narcissistic made me feel awful. It made me want to withdraw. It made me feel as though the decision to expose parts of myself to this man, and possibly others like him, is as unwelcome an intrusion as the one described in Proverbs 25:17:
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house,
Lest he become weary of you and hate you.

In my discouragement, I wondered today, "Is there any hope for men and women to understand one another?" Praise God, we have hope in Christ, who died to bridge the gap not only between us and the Father, but between us and our fellow man. Women, we need to be sensitive to the fact that while we may feel comfortable enough with a man to share with him, we do not need to blast him with a tsunami of personal anecdotes. Chances are if you are good enough friends and you respect one another, he already knows you better than you think.

That being said, I'd like to make a plea to the men out there to allow us to share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences with you, even if they appear at first to be doctrinally erroneous. When you find yourself in that situation, remember, we're not so much seeking a scriptural debate. We just want you to listen. When we share, we are (oftentimes) not being self-absorbed, either. On the contrary, we are being quite giving. It is our way of extending an invitation to you to discover what really makes us tick!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Immodest Man

Part 2 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 1 Part 3 Part 4


We often assume that modesty is solely a woman's issue. For most people, modesty is nothing more than a word to describe one's dress. This is a very, very limited view of modesty. True modesty is an attitude: one that is free from vanity. Simply put, modesty is humility in action. Most women who dress immodestly do so for vain reasons. Whether they are exceedingly narcissistic or painfully insecure, the goal is to place the focus on the self by attracting the attention of men.

That being said, I think it is fair to say that most of the efforts put into educating people about modesty focus solely on women. It is rare we hear teaching on proper, modest behavior for men. So rare, in fact, one man raised the question in an online forum: "I wonder what do men do that cause women to stumble?" I am so glad he asked!

Men are tempted by what they see. Women, on the other hand, are tempted by what they hear. The Immodest Man is one who uses flattery.The answer is quite simple. Men are tempted by what they see. Women, on the other hand, are tempted by what they hear. The Immodest Man is one who uses flattery. Like the Immodest Woman, The Immodest Man flaunts his compliments for vain reasons: whether exceedingly narcissistic or painfully insecure, the goal is to place the focus on the self by attracting the attention of women. You may not think flattery is such a bad thing, but at the risk of being graphic, I want to give the men out there an idea of what this is like for a woman:
You are minding your business when some woman who is not your wife begins to tempt you visually with her immodest dress. Over time, things progress to sinful levels, to the point where you are unable to stop yourself from giving in to temptation. One day, the woman gets you alone. She starts to take off her clothes. She practically throws herself at you. Then, the moment you begin to undress, she slaps you in the face and says, "Ugh! What are you thinking!" You tell the woman, "But you're taking off your clothes! I thought --" And the woman tells you, "I don't want to have sex with you. I'm sorry if you got that impression." And that's that.

Ok, men. Judging from the number of vulgar terms that exist to describe women who do this, as well as the condition she has left you in, my guess is you'd be pretty angry if someone did this to you. In the long run you'd realize that God spared you from going any deeper into sin with this woman, but initially, you'd feel cheated, betrayed, and deceived. You may even experience feelings of hatred for this woman. This is an unfortunate vignette of what a man might experience when things progress to this level physically. I want you to compare this to what a woman experiences when things progress to this level emotionally by sharing a true story of two people I'll call Steve and Gina.
Steve and Gina met on a missions trip. After four days, Steve managed to get Gina alone, away from the rest of the group. Quite unexpectedly, Steve blurted out, "I know I've only known you for four days, but I haven't been able to sleep all week because I can't stop thinking about you. I think you're amazing. I normally don't do this sort of thing, but I have to tell you, I really feel that God has put you on my heart." (Again, at the risk of sounding graphic, I want the guys to know that for many women, the phrase "God has put you on my heart" is the verbal equivalent to having cleavage shoved in your face.)

Although they lived in separate states, Gina and Steve kept in touch after the missions trip. Steve spent three hours on the phone with Gina every night and told her he wanted her to move to the state where he lived so she could be closer to him. Gina knew things were moving too fast, but she was unable to stop from thinking about Steve as a "sure thing." When Gina finally decided to apply for a job where Steve lived, he became standoffish. This left Gina confused. "But, you said you wanted me to move. I thought --" Steve told her, "I am not interested in you. I am sorry if you got that impression." And that was that.

The immodest woman in the first scenario led the man down a path of lust and eventually caused him to believe that sex was going to happen. The immodest man in the second scenario led the woman down a path of false hope and eventually caused her to believe that a relationship existed where it did not.

The Bible is clear that sexual immorality is sin. It is easy to see why the first scenario is wrong. But many men do not see the second scenario as being equally sinful. (In fact, when Gina tried to confront Steve about his immodesty, he refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing.) Yet the Bible does take a stance on flattery. Two verses from Proverbs tell us: A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:28). Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet. (Proverbs 29:5). Flattery is not pleasing to God, nor does it serve the one on the receiving end of it.

GOOD NEWS FOR MEN

It is very, very important that men watch their words with women. We need to teach men to be modest in their speech, just as we need to teach women to be modest in their dress. We especially do not want to neglect our own children. While we are instructing our daughters toward modesty with the opposite sex, we also need to instruct our sons toward modesty as well. But some men might be scratching their heads and saying, "Where do you draw the line between flattery and a sincere attempt to encourage a woman?"

Men, take heart! You do not have to stop complimenting women. You do not have to suppress the desire to encourage a woman for fear that she will take it the wrong way. How do I know? Because I'm a woman who's been there. Take it from me, there are those out there who will settle for nothing less than legalism on this issue. I've been told that my neckline should be four finger widths above the start of my cleavage, and that my skirts should be a certain number of inches beyond my knee, and that my sleeves should fall at a certain point beyond my shoulder, etc. etc. If I had to take out a tape measure every time I got dressed, my life would be a miserable exercise in the laws of prescription. Likewise, if you start to fret about every little thing you say to a woman, you are guaranteed to become discouraged.

Men, my advice to you is to do what you can to protect our ears. We will do what we can to protect your eyes. But let's agree not to let anyone steal our joy in serving one another. Modesty is something that should be guided not by a set of rules and regulations, but by an attitude of humility. To illustrate this concept, I recommend the following sermon by CJ Mahaney. Although it is geared toward women, I highly encourage men to listen to it as well:



When we understand that the God who dwells within us is guiding our actions, we will know exactly when we've crossed the line.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Men Behaving Badly

Part 1 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 2 Part 3 Part 4


Curiosity may have attracted you to this post for the title alone. I acknowledge that it is a title which, on the surface, may appear to disagree with our mission statement. However, in the interest of returning to our original intent for this blog, as outlined in that mission statement, I feel this is an important topic to address. Specifically, I am going to begin a series of posts to address some of the things that men do to upset women and cause them to stumble.

I first discussed this idea with Geraldine well over a year ago. It has been on my heart to address some of these issues because this blog began when a man behaved badly toward me. Part of the repentance process for me was to create this blog in an effort to channel my anger into something positive. I wanted to prevent further conflict between men and women by promoting greater understanding between the sexes. However, when I first came up with the idea for this series, I wasn't confident that I could write from a pure heart. I was still harboring some unforgiveness toward the man whose actions inspired this blog, and I was afraid some of it would come through in my writing.

I decided to hold off until I could write from a pure heart. I know I can not address this subject with a snarky attitude, and let's face it, I have been known to suffer from Snarkolepsy. For me to approach this subject with a bad attitude would undermine the entire purpose of this blog's existence. On the other hand, to continue ignoring the subject would rob this blog of a series of powerful discussions that would propel it toward its very goal of encouraging women to encourage men.

This series is designed not to bash men, but to help men understand where they may be harboring some unholy tendencies which hurt the women around them.The time has come. I am confident that I can approach this topic this year with a clean and pure heart. God has changed me through this blog. He has given me the ability to denounce male-bashing and to embrace masculinity for what it truly is: a blessing to women everywhere. I am truly grateful for the beautiful, godly men that The Lord has placed in my life and there is nothing I desire more than to see men and women working together to bridge the gap between our differences so that we can grow together in Christian unity. Part of this process is to have an open, honest dialogue about sin. This series is designed not to bash men, but to edify them. It is designed to help men understand where they may be harboring some unholy tendencies which hurt the women around them. My desire is to do what I can to help men understand how they can better serve the women in their lives through self-examination and repentance.

For those of you who are new to this blog, I would like to stress that this is the first time ever we will be addressing male shortcomings. We do not make it our practice to focus on male flaws. Since this blog's inception, we have only focused on female shortcomings. This is because our primary goal is to encourage women to be better women. We have not addressed male shortcomings because the Bible tells us to take the log out of our own eyes so we can see clearly before attempting to remove a speck in someone else's. That being said, I want to make it clear that this blog is devoted to removing the logs from the eyes of women. In contrast, this series is devoted to removing the specks in the eyes of men.

This introductory post will be the only one that is filed under "Men/Masculinity." All subsequent posts in this series will be located under the "Conflict" label. Again, this is to keep this discussion in its proper context. "Men Behaving Badly" is not an appropriate discussion for the celebration of the beautiful mystery that is masculinity. We want to communicate that "Men Behaving Badly" is the exception rather than the rule. Male shortcomings do not define masculinity, rather, male shortcomings define conflict (as do female shortcomings).

It is my prayer that whether you are a man or a woman, that you will be blessed by some of the discussion to follow in the next few weeks or so. Men, I would ask that you read with an open heart to see if perhaps you see yourselves in any of the descriptions, and to ask The Lord to change you in those areas. Women, I ask that you pray for the men in your lives who may be weak in these areas, that you would be patient with their sanctification process, and that you will be forgiving toward them when they stumble. Let us not accuse one another any longer. Let us instead love one another, for the Bible tells us that the world will know we belong to Him if we love one another.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Face in the Crowd

We're a bit behind schedule, but we do have a film of the month! This month's film is A Face in the Crowd, the story of a nationally renowned television celebrity, loved by millions and revered as a pop culture hero. But behind closed doors, this TV Star is someone his loving fans would never recognize.

STATS
Year: 1957 (Not Rated)
Directed by Elia Kazan, Written by Bud Schulberg.
Starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, and Walter Matthau.
Setting: America, 1950's.

Content warning: Some implied sexuality. Drunkenness, abusive personality traits in Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith's character).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Celebrity Worship. Celebrities can do no wrong. We love them for who they are on television, but if we truly knew the person behind the star, we may change our minds.

2. The interesting connection between celebrities and politicians. There is a great, great scene from this film that is available on You Tube which demonstrates this connection beautifully. If your political career is suffering, just enlist the endorsement of a beloved celebrity! (Note: We do not necessarily endorse the opinion implied by the title given to this clip.)

3. Television as an opiate of the masses. There is power in the media. Click here for a profound clip from the film which claims: "In TV we have the greatest instrument for mass persuasion in the entire history of the world!"

4. Portrait of a "player." Lonesome Rhodes is a smooth-talking ladies' man who ends up defrauding the only woman who was truly good to him. While we cannot control what others do to us, we certainly have control over the choices we make as far as getting involved with people like this. Ladies, if people have warned you to stay away from a particluar man, don't be so arrogant as to think that you can change him. Only the Holy Spirit can change a person!

TRIVIA
In 2008, A Face in the Crowd was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The film marked the debut of actress Lee Remick, who plays a teenage baton-twirling champion from Arkansas.

This is one of the most riveting performances you'll ever see by Andy Griffith!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Worst Worship Song Ever

Even though we have officially dropped our themes of the month, I seem to have gravitated toward the topic of "friendship" for the month of June. We generally don't get too silly on this blog, but when I came across this video, I could not resist. (I also could not stop laughing.) Enjoy!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When Blogs Get Too Big for their Britches

Early last month, I endorsed a particular blog in the comments section of one of my old posts. I read an excellent article by another blogger in reference to an issue that I am very passionate about. The author concluded the article with the question, "What do you, the readers think?" I replied via comment on the other blog, thanking the author for addressing the topic. I also provided a link back to my own article on the subject, in an effort to foster more discussion from his readers. Mind you, I was not giving a random link back to my own site just for the sake of promoting my own blog -- I was giving a specific link to one specific article I wrote, an article which is dear to my heart, and one which I thought would contribute further insight for people looking for answers.

My comment was rejected.

Before posting my comment, I was careful to make sure that external links are allowed (and they are). I had written nothing offensive. In fact, my intention was 1) Praise for the author; and 2) An offer to help stimulate discussion by linking back to my own article. Yet, my comment was never published. To add insult to injury, the author chose to publish some very offensive comments, including one man's suggestion that men should not get involved with women over a certain age if they plan on having a lot of children. Needless to say, the worldly nature of this discussion, coupled with its selfish, sexist attitude toward sisters in Christ made me angry!

This experience caused me to reconsider my own endorsement of this particular blog and revoke my previous comment issuing a "kudos" to the author in question. Perhaps that was childish of me. Perhaps I should still congratulate this blogger for his choice to address a subject I feel is important, even though he chose to reject my contribution to the discussion. But I can't.

This particular blog is sponsored by a very famous ministry. Dare I assign motive to this ministry? Could it be that they were threatened by my article? Am I conceited enough to think that? Or am I simply too familiar with the sin of pride that I recognize it right away when I see it in others? In any case, I was given no answers, so I am left with my assumptions that the only reason my comment was not published on the site is because I linked back to my own (even though external links are allowed). And if that's the case, I'm going to confess to everyone out there in blog land that I had fallen into the sin of anger over that. While my anger has ceased and my sin confessed, my concern about why I was originally angry has not.

There are times when I suspect that certain ministries become too big for their britches. Instead of wanting to truly foster fruitful discussions that might help others come to a decision about an issue they are struggling with, these blogs are more about keeping certain ideas local to themselves. In other words, "we don't want anyone else getting the credit for these insights, so let's not publish this link. That way, we continue being seen as the experts on this subject."

Are your articles intended to help others see what an awesome God we serve, or are they designed to help your readers see what an awesome writer you are?I have absolutely no reason to believe that this particular ministry falls into this category other than a strong, intuitive suspicion. And yes, I know that assigning motive to someone else's heart is a dangerous thing to do. I realize and acknowledge that my heart is just as deceitful and sinful as anyone else's. Yet I can't shake the suspicion that had I simply lavished praise on the author and left it at that, my comment would have been published. Regardless, this is a large and popular ministry -- one that will never write me back or explain why they chose to reject my comment, and I could go on forever speculating without any real proof. So I am not going to push my accusations further. But I do want to raise the following question to all you Christian bloggers out there (including myself):

Why are you blogging?

Honestly ask yourself that question. What are you blogging for? Is it for God's glory, or your own? Has everything you've published been led by the Holy Spirit, or your own flesh? Are your articles intended to help others see what an awesome God we serve, or are they designed to help your readers see what an awesome writer you are?

I'd like to think that I'm not above the "nobody bloggers" out there. Truly, in the two and a half years that Reformed SHEology has been in existence, I have chosen to reject only one comment. (It was written by a local friend who had a personal issue with me and chose to address it on my blog, which I felt was inappropriate.) I'd like to think that I'm not conceited in that I'd welcome anyone who was gracious enough to comment on what I've written here. Then again, there is another part of me is seriously questioning why I once heralded that other ministry in the first place. And in doing so, I realize that I am not above doing what was done to me. You see, there was a time when I wanted to write for the very same blog that recently rejected my comment. And there is only one reason why I wanted to write for them: because they are a big, famous blog. Shame on me!

Father, forgive me for wanting to write for a big, famous blog, when You have given me a voice right here. Not only have You given me a voice, but the freedom of creative control over this site, and the liberty to write as You direct, and not as some editor-in-chief directs me. May I never grow prideful of the following You have given me. May I never write for numbers, but for Your glory. May I always realize that there are millions of others out there with good things to say -- things You have placed on their hearts, and that I am not the only one with a voice to proclaim Your glory. May I never shut down the voices of those to whom You have given similar insights. You speak through all of us, not just me.

I would humbly like to thank our readers, our followers, our supporters, and our God for allowing us to have this blog at all. I thank you all for your kind words of encouragement over the past two and a half years. You inspire me to continue sharing for your edification, and not my own. My prayer is that I may continue to encourage you, the person I have never met, whether you have made yourself known to me or not, and that I may see myself as your servant whenever I push the publish button. That has not always been the case, but if you see new articles here less and less often than you used to, please know it is in an effort to place emphasis on glorifying God, rather than catering to our readers.

God be praised.

Monday, June 15, 2009

For Jason on His 34th Birthday

What is a friend? It is common for us to define our friends based on how nice they are to us, how much we have in common, the things we do together and how much time we spend doing those things, as well as how trustworthy they are with our most intimate secrets. But our definition of friendship is much different than the Bible’s definition. Joe O’Day, author of The Art of Friendship, writes, “Our preoccupation is usually with having friends. The Bible’s focus is on being a friend.” This simple but profound statement adequately describes my friendship with a dear man named Jason.

I first met Jason twenty-one years ago, in the Fall of 1988. At 13, Jay had an uncanny ability to put 100% of his effort into a friendship. At first, I wanted nothing to do with him. But I soon found I was no match for the irresistible pull of a boy who demonstrated unwavering patience, kindness, compassion, and sacrificial love on a continuous and persistent basis – especially when I did not deserve it. Looking back, I can’t point to a single time in our friendship when I was deserving of his loyalty and trust. But he offered it anyway – unconditionally – simply because he wanted to. I didn’t understand it then, but I now see that Jay was primarily concerned with being my friend.

I, on the other hand, was not as forthcoming with my contributions to the friendship. There were many times I would selfishly evaluate whether or not the relationship would truly benefit me. I spent most of that season of my life in a deep existential depression – a secret I worked hard to keep hidden from Jay – and as a result, I regularly bucked against his expressions of friendship toward me. Because he is not Almighty God, there came a point where Jay simply gave up. Of course, our decision to part ways was far more complex than I am making it sound. Although do I credit most of our problems to my existential crisis, Jay was not without his faults, either. Things disintegrated until we had a blowout argument and simply stopped speaking one day. We each spent the last 18 months of my high school career pretending that the other person did not exist, except for those special occasions when one of us was presented with an irresistible opportunity to hurt the other party. I will confess I hated Jay. I hated him with all my heart. I wished I had never met him. I wanted to forget every memory I had of him. But when I became a Christian, everything changed.

One night in December of 1994, I decided to break my silence. I attended a holiday music concert at my high school when I spotted Jay talking to some students. Craning my neck so that I wouldn't lose sight of him, I made my way over to him. He caught my gaze, and turned his back on me. Nevertheless, I walked up to him and said I had something very important to tell him. I announced that I had become a Christian, and no matter what he thought of me, it would not influence my opinion of him. As far as I was concerned, he was my friend. I made a commitment to him that day – that I would start being a friend to him – and that was not contingent upon whether or not he'd accept my offer.

Our preoccupation is usually with having friends. The Bible’s focus is on being a friend.By God’s grace, I have kept that commitment. Over the next several years I witnessed to him whenever possible, through greeting cards at Christmastime and on his birthday. My attempts to contact him never received any response. Although Jay held me in extreme contempt (and most likely still does), I never stopped praying for him. But at the Lord's prompting, I eventually stopped sending the cards. It was hard to let go of the feeling that I needed to "do" something in an effort to prove that I had kept my word to this person. But I know I don't need to continue demonstrating my word in order to keep it. My ultimate wish is to see my friend saved. And I can still remain faithful by praying for him.

I haven't seen or spoken to Jay in nearly a decade. Most people are surprised to find that I haven't given up by now. We are easily tempted to stop sowing when we don't see fruit. But the Lord reminds us to make our petitions to Him with persistence. Why is Jason my friend? Not because of anything he's done for me, but because I have chosen to be a friend to him. Sure, it's an uncommon choice to make, but I've got the best role model to emulate:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).

We love Him, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19).
While we were still His enemies, Christ demonstrated His love for us by initiating friendship toward us first.

Happy Birthday, friend. May you feel this prayer tonight, where ever you are . . .
_______________________________________

Heavenly Father, You alone are mighty to save. I lift up my dear friend Jason to You on this anniversary of his physical birth. For sixteen years I have brought this man before Your throne. My steadfast prayer all these years is that You have planned a spiritual birthday for him. I so look forward to that day, Lord. Will this be the year You are gracious and kind toward my dear friend, and grant him eternal life?

Father, I thank You for Jason. I thank You for giving him a heart of generosity. I thank You for blessing him with so many talents. I pray earnestly that those talents will no longer be wasted on the mere praises of men! Oh dear God may he worship You with his music one day. Lord, show him the glories of Calvary - give him the faith to understand the sacrifice You have made to reconcile him unto You. Father, You said in 1 John 5:14-15 that if we know You've heard our prayers, then we know we have the petitions we've asked of You. I thank You for the evidences of grace You have already demonstrated in Jay's life, as a sign that You have heard my prayers, that You are watching over my friend, and that someday I will have the petitions I've asked of You, and see my friend in glory.

Thank You for the honor of being this man's friend. Thank You for the privilege of having numerous opportunities to share with him directly. Please continue to reach out to him through other faithful Christians who are dedicated to preach the gospel. I thank You that his fate rests in Your hands. Please ensure that he is safe over the next year. Comfort him in times of trouble and grant him peace and strength to endure various trials that he may encounter this year. I pray this for him as well as his family. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is It Any of Our Business?

I am a very relational creature by nature. I love to talk. I want to know and be known. I do this primarily through sharing my business with other people, and wanting to know what's going on with them. Sometimes, I get into trouble when I attempt to know everybody's business. It is not appropriate for me to know everyone's business. When I try to get in the middle of business that isn't any of my business, I usually fall into sins like gossip. "Business" is a delicate thing, and can in many ways be so private and personal, it is only to be shared with select individuals. For this reason, I am very private about whom I share my business with. I don't share my business with just anybody. You have to be a close, trusted friend for me to share my business with you.

A few years ago, someone recommended I read a book called The Five Love Languages. For those of you unfamiliar with this title, the book basically describes five ways in which people give and receive love. They are 1) Gifts, 2) Words of Affirmation, 3) Acts of Service, 4) Quality Time, and 5)Physical Touch. I was intrigued as I read through this book. As it turns out, my primary love language is Quality Time. But for me, "QT" is not about just being in my presence. Going to a movie where we don't talk to one another is not my idea of quality time. No, quality time for me would actually involve some type of interaction, particularly it would require a willingness on my part to share my personal business with you. No wonder I am so particular about my privacy! It is the primary means by which I achieve intimacy and transparency with others.

I tried to think of all the ways in which I could show The Lord how much I love Him using all five love languages. For example, I could offer tithes and other offerings as gifts. I can offer up praises as words of affirmation. Serving others would obviously fulfill the acts of service. Offering a hug to someone who is hurting would be an expression of physical touch. And spending time in the Word and in prayer would be a good way to spend quality time with God.

I then did the reverse and tried to think of all the ways in which God demonstrates His love for us using all five love languages. For example, each of our blessings are gifts from The Lord. There are many examples in the Bible where He offers us words of affirmation, by assuring us that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that our sins are forgiven. We see His love for us through others who offer us acts of service or physical touch in the form of a hug. But I was stumped when it came to quality time. How does God offer us quality time?

This bothered me quite a bit, especially since quality time happens to be my primary love language. Naturally, God is always with us. But when I'm sleeping, and He's there, is that really an example of quality time?

I finished the book, my question still unanswered. Then about two days later, I needed to reference a verse in John over an unrelated issue. The only Bible version I had handy at the time was an NIV. Imagine my shock when I read the following passage, worded exactly as follows in the NIV:
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, emphasis mine)

Incredible -- The Lord Himself considers me to be an intimate friend, and has chosen to share His business with me!Incredible -- The Lord Himself considers me to be an intimate friend, and has chosen to share His business with me! Immediately I began to cry as the depth of this realization set in. He has called me friend, why? Because He has made His business known to me! Just as I am selective about whom I share my business with, He is the same way, choosing only to reveal the secrets of the universe to those He has called friends. We know His plans for the future, that He goes to prepare a place for us, and that He is coming back soon. We know His likes and dislikes. We know when He is pleased and when He is grieved. We know His will! The Almighty Maker of the entire universe has chosen to share His business with us! Isn't that amazing?

So many times we enter times of prayer and tell God everything in our hearts, but rarely do we ever stop to listen to Him share what's in His. We then walk away from our quiet times disappointed, wondering why we don't ever hear an answer from God. Could it be that we don't truly believe that what He has planned for us is any of our business? After all, He is God. Who are we, that we should ask Him to reveal Himself to us? Is it any of our business? Why yes, according to John 15:15, it is!

There is no Friend more powerful and influential than Jesus. Think about that the next time you are trying to impress someone of high status who has perhaps snubbed your offer to get close. When you are confused about which direction to take next, or when times are lonely, turn to Christ, be still, and listen. He is waiting to share His business with you!

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Dog Skip

Man's best friend. We all know who that is! There's nothing quite like the joy that comes from raising and bonding with a treasured pet. This month, we will examine the concept of friendship - starting with our film of the month, My Dog Skip. This is the story of a boy named Willie (Frankie Muniz) and his best friend in the whole world.

STATS
Year: 2000 (Rated PG)
Directed by Jay Russell, based on the novel by Willie Morris.
Starring Frankie Muniz, Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, and Luke Wilson.
Setting: Mississippi, World War II era.

Content warning: Mild profanity and a few uses of the Lord's name in vain by the "villains". There are also some uses of words I personally find offensive, as well as some mild violence. This may appear to be a children's story on the surface, but once you are into it, you will discover it is actually a very mature film that takes a profound look at the topics of friendship, war, death, change, and racism. It is a very emotional film - I was an eyewitness to a grown man, 6'2", 230 lbs., bursting into tears while watching this movie. Be forewarned!

WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The extraordinary and profound mystery that is friendship. Even if the friendship in this film is between a boy and a dog, the relationship between Skip and Willie demonstrates that unconditional love overlooks a multitude of shortcomings, real or perceived, and even those prescribed by society. Our friends provide the support we need when life is tough, but they are also there to partake in our joys. They give us the confidence we need to carry on through each day.

2. Poignant scenes surrounding death. One scene in particular involves a deer hunt, immediately followed by Willie's narrative about the changing seasons in Willie's life. We all should reflect upon the seasons of life as reminders of all the beauty that surrounds us.

3. Role models. Children look up to their older counterparts and aspire so much to be like them. Titus 2 describes the importance of these older/younger relationships. But even our childhood heroes are subject to fall into seasons of despair. We often feel confused when someone who once appeared so strong suddenly shows signs of weakness.

4. Not-so-subtle messages about racism. The film is set in the segregated town of Yazoo, Mississippi in 1942. The racial hypocrisy is clear: Dink Jenkins goes off to fight World War II, but back on the home front, there is still so much animosity toward people for the color of their skin. But Willie reminds us that Skip is colorblind, as most dogs are. And he's so much smarter than people.

5. A Canine Christ Figure. Skip essentially makes a new creature out of Willie. He teaches him about life and death, forgiveness and repentance, joy and sorrow. Willie denies Skip and experiences true repentance when he thinks he's lost the dog for good. But Skip has a "resurrection" of sorts. And he forever lives in Willie's heart.

TRIVIA
This is based on the true story of American writer Willie Morris and his dog, Skip.

You can visit the official website by clicking here.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hacking Agag to Pieces

Before the month is over, I wanted to draw your attention to one of the most supercharged scenes from our film of the month, A Raisin in the Sun. In just over 90 seconds, some big issues are placed side by side in a battle of wills - God's vs. Man's. Beneatha (Sanaa Lathan) claims that there is no God. She believes that God is simply "a matter of ideas" and proudly asserts that she is sick and tired of God getting credit for all the glorious achievements of mankind. Her mother (Phylicia Rashad) puts an abrupt end to her line of thinking:



There were a lot of things that went through my mind when I first saw this scene in the movie. But one thing I am not accustomed to is seeing a grown woman being slapped in the face by her mother. At first, watching Mrs. Younger shake her daughter and insist that she repeat the words: "In my mother's house, there is still God!" may seem like a bit much. This is not a ten-year-old child. This is a grown woman who is applying to medical school. But there is biblical evidence to support the idea that Mrs. Younger's reaction was necessary and appropriate.

I am reminded of John MacArthur's book, The Vanishing Conscience, in which an entire chapter is titled, "Hacking Agag to Pieces." You may remember the story in 1 Samuel 15. Saul was commanded to kill the Amalekites and spare no one. But instead Saul spared Agag, King of the Amalekites, along with the best of the livestock. When Samuel discovered what Saul had done, he rebuked Saul and the Bible simply says he took out his sword and "hacked Agag to pieces."

A bit extreme, no? Samuel didn't have to get so gruesome, did he? Why not simply strike Agag with a sword? Was it really necessary to hack him to itty bitty pieces? The gory scene is indicative of what God wants us to do with our sin. MacArthur states in his sermon, "Hacking Agag to Pieces:"
There are some Amalekites running around loose in everybody's life. We all have our Agags. And the problem in our Christian lives is not that sin has not been defeated with a crushing defeat, it has but there is still remaining sin. There are some loose iniquitous Amalekites in all of us. And though there was a great and glorious and triumphant defeat at the time of our salvation, there is the necessity that the remaining sins be hacked to pieces or they will revive, they will plunder our hearts and sap our spiritual strength. We cannot be merciful with the Agags of our life. We cannot be merciful with the remaining sins in our life or they will turn and create an insurrection and a rebellion to attempt to destroy us.

Sometimes our sins are "just a matter of ideas." We are unhappy in a marriage, and we have an idea: "God doesn't want me to be unhappy!" Before we know it, we have an affair. Perhaps we are struggling with trials. We have an idea: "The Christian life doesn't work!" Before long, we have stopped reading our Bible and given up completely. In Beneatha's case, the idea is that there is no God, and since there is no God, she thinks she deserves the credit for everything she's ever achieved. This is a powerful example of idolatry. Beneatha has literally pushed God off the throne and has seated herself on it instead. Beneatha's idolatry is obvious. But when we choose to keep certain little sins as "pets," we are committing idolatry as well. Truly, Beneatha has a problem that goes far beyond "a matter of ideas". But what about the rest of us? What ideas have we chosen to spare, when God has ordered us to hack them to pieces?

When we consider Samuel's reaction to Saul's decision to spare Agag, we can see why Mrs. Younger reacted the way she did to these "ideas." And we should have the same attitude toward these types of ideas in our own lives. Racism, sexism, murder of the unborn, sexual perversions, and other types of rebellion are justified in our society today because they are simply viewed as "a matter of ideas." If we do not labor tirelessly to hack these ideas to death, we will see them make their way into the fabric of the church. Matthew Henry puts it nicely in his commentary on Colossians 3:
It is our duty to mortify our members which incline to the things of the world. Mortify them, kill them, suppress them, as weeds or vermin which spread and destroy all about them. Continual opposition must be made to all corrupt workings, and no provision made for carnal indulgences. Occasions of sin must be avoided: the lusts of the flesh, and the love of the world; and covetousness, which is idolatry; love of present good, and of outward enjoyments. It is necessary to mortify sins, because if we do not kill them, they will kill us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

They're Not Really People At All

One of the most important exchanges of dialogue in our April Film of the Month, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, occurs when Bruno's father tries to help Bruno understand why he needs to stay away from the Jews in the concentration camp, which Bruno, in his childhood innocence, thinks is a farm. In an attempt to help the boy understand why these people are shackled and living in a cage, Bruno's father explains, "The thing is Bruno, those people - well you see . . . they're not really people at all."

So many of us have looked at photos of the Holocaust and asked, "How could one human being do something like this to another?" The answer lies in Bruno's father's reasoning - they're not really people at all. Present within this statement is the admission that human life is sacred. In other words, if we were talking about humans, such acts would be unmistakably heinous, horrible, and downright evil atrocities. But if we are not talking about humans, then what is happening to them is not immoral. And since they are not really people, we can justify killing six million of these vile creatures and not feel the slightest guilt about it. In fact, we can feel good about ourselves for what we've done, i.e. "The Jews would have destroyed our country." This is not the most glamorous undertaking, however it must be done for the greater good of all mankind. Murder is wrong. But we're not committing murder. You see, they're not really people at all.

If we were talking about humans, such acts would be unmistakably heinous, horrible, and downright evil atrocities. But if we are not talking about humans, then what is happening to them is not immoral.The Holocaust was not the only time such rationalization was used to excuse human cruelty and genocide. For hundreds of years, American families owned, bred, and sold African slaves. Once again, looking back on history, we can shudder at the thought of these poor souls being packed together in slave ships, tight as sardines, with no food, water, or variation in movement for months on end. We don't understand how people could justify allowing these people to lie in a puddles of their own urine and feces as they made the trip from Africa to become their slaves, but they did. The white slave traders were full of the same rationalizations as the Nazis.

Some would argue that they didn't want to keep slaves, but it was a necessary evil. Their personal financial situation would not allow them the luxury of setting them free. "Who will work the crops?" They'd say. "My family could not survive without slaves! You don't understand my situation." Others would argue that slavery was more humane than freedom: "These people don't know how to read. They are incapable of problem solving. They would never make it on their own. As slaves, they are given food, clothing, and a roof over their heads. Making them slaves is the best thing we can do for them." Of course, the reason we got ourselves into this situation is simple: slavery is not immoral to begin with. These Africans are savage beasts, akin to apes and monkeys. To put them to work, beat them into submission, and discipline them harshly is not immoral. You see, they're not really people at all.
We can look at all these injustices throughout history and see the wisdom of the Bible. There is nothing new under the sun:
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
"See, this is new?"
It has already been in ancient times before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

A generation comes, and a generation goes. Each believes it is smarter than the last, yet because people are all depraved, none of it is new. It's just the same sin, recycled, repackaged, and put out into the world. We look back on the injustices that were committed during the American slave trade and thank God we are so much wiser now. We reflect upon the Holocaust and promise ourselves that we will never allow something like this to happen ever again. Oh, but there is nothing new under the sun.

Today, a young woman waits nervously for her appointment. As she fills out the paperwork detailing her medical history, she tries to drown out the voices calling out to her from outside. They are saying, "Come away from this place! Don't commit this wicked act!" She would much rather not go through with the procedure. But she doesn't have a choice. "I could never survive if I didn't go through with this. They don't understand my situation." She glances briefly out the window, and tries to read the poster signs they are holding. They are telling her she is about to commit murder, but she comforts herself in the fact that what she is doing is a necessary evil. "The child could grow up in an abusive family. This is the most humane thing I can do," she rationalizes. She knows she must go through with this now, before it grows any more. The people calling to her outside are telling her it is a human life. Judging from the pictures, it certainly looks human. But she sticks to her guns, and turns her back on those pleading with her to come out of the building and let them help her.

Really, those fanatics are just overreacting. After all, it is just a blob of tissue, is it not? Oh reader, atrocious as our past history has been, this time, it really is different. It is not immoral to kill these blobs of tissue we have labeled a "fetus." You see, they're not really people at all.


Click here to see signs from the Genocide Awareness Project, courtesy of www.abortionno.org. (Warning: graphic images.)