Sunday, January 31, 2010

A round of the Hallelujah Chorus

Here's a quick post because I have other things I need to be doing and other things I want to be doing. I do want to blog, don't get me wrong, but I just have something I really do want to do that I can't do until I get some other things done. And I don't just mean the laundry and emptying out the dishwasher. I drive myself nuts, the to-do lister that I am.

Anyway, I will be singing a round of the Hallelujah Chorus come February 15 when our new Assistant Media Specialist starts. I was actually singing it when I got word that someone accepted the job. I can now tell the people coming into the office that the job is now filled. Hallelujah!

I have to share about Mr. Fascinating. One day last week, this guy came in. He looks very much like one of our local chiropractors. The man was dressed in a pair of pleated gray wool pants, a navy suit coat and a tie. He wore glasses and carried a satchel briefcase. Picture kind of nerdy.

From looking at him I knew he was either searching for a job or going to try to sell me something.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes, I would like to apply for a job."

"Well, you can leave a resume if you would like, but we aren't filling out applications. I do have to say that I think we are in the process of offering the job to someone though. We can hold onto your resume though in case something else comes up."

"Oh, well, I've been in the process the past 2-3 days working on one of those."

(I'm thinking that's a good thing to have if you are job searching, but I digress...)

"So, what do you do here?"

I explain.

"FASCINATING! That's just fascinating."

Then I tell a little about the position.

"I would love to publicize an author's book. That would be fascinating. I've read over 1000 books."

I just nod my head. What else is there to do?

"Well, I will go right now and in the next couple of hours work on my resume and bring back as quickly as I can. The job sounds fascinating."

And he was off to work on that resume.

I walked down the hall, stuck my head in Christi's office and glared at her. I had already accused her of hiding in her office as to not have to talk to any potential office mates.

"How old was that guy? He sounded like he was old."

"I don't know for sure, but I think his favorite word was fascinating."

"I think so too."

I'm not sure that I really used the word enough in my little story up above. This man was interesting.

He came back in the next day, but I'm the one that did the hiding.

Alright, that's my story of the day. I have to finish doing some tasks. Once I get those done, I want to arrange books on my new bookshelves. I love to arrange books. I've not kept count of the number I have read though. In my lifetime, probably 1000. But who's counting? Oh, I forgot. Mr. Fascinating was.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Married to the Ministry?

Encouraging advice on being a pastor’s wife -
from a woman who never thought she’d be one!

When most women think of a “pastor’s wife,” certain images come to mind: either a woman who is so holy she doesn’t seem human or someone sentenced to a life without fun, fashion, or friends. The sad truth is that pastor’s wives often walk a lonely road littered with impossible expectations and inconceivable identity crises. They’re the object of hallway conversations and sermon illustrations, but they rarely have the opportunity to be fully and freely transparent and unique.

Lisa McKay’s You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes is an utterly honest, charmingly witty, and biblically insightful guide for every minister’s wife who wants to serve the church and support her husband(without losing herself along the way. You will feel an instant sisterhood with Lisa, a senior pastor’s wife happily serving in the trenches. She understands the challenges of a life lived before a congregation, from finding friends and coping with criticism to saying goodbye and starting all over again.

Through Lisa’s engaging style and fresh perspective, you’ll be encouraged to fully embrace being “married to the ministry”! In this book you’ll find answers to questions like:

- How can I effectively support my husband?
- What are my responsibilities within the church?
- Will ministry destroy my family? Am I doomed to a life of solitude?

The questions haven’t changed much over the years but the answers certainly have. Twenty-first century technology has introduced avenues to connect ministry wives in ways never before possible. Among other things, You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes demonstrates how to use online connectivity as a lifeline when isolation threatens to take over.

You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes is a must-have guide for every woman who wants to do the ministry wife “thing” well. Dealing with relationships between ministry wives, ministry families, and church congregations can be rewarding, confusing, and painful. With that in mind, Lisa uncovers insights from pastor’s wives and lay people as to how we can serve one another and Christ with faithfulness and humility.


David C Cook and Lifeway are partnering for a contest to honor pastor’s wives. Readers are invited to nominate their favorite pastor’s wife and tell why she should win the “You Deserve to Pamper Yourself” grand prize. For details, visit, www.Lifeway.com/CuteShoes.

About the author: Lisa McKay and her husband, Luke, serve at a thriving church in Alabama. Together they are happily – if not always properly—raising three rowdy boys and one dramatic girl. In addition to being a wife and mom, Lisa is also a popular conference speaker. Visit Lisa online at http://www.apreacherswife.com/.

You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes by Lisa McKay
David C Cook February 1, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6726-4/208 pages/softcover/$12.99
http://www.davidccook.com/

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104 - ajennings(at)tbbmedia.com

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy

I'm pretty selective about books that I request for blog tours. When I saw the email come through on this book, I jumped on it pretty quick. I can't tell you the number of times I've thought, "Lord, I just want to be happy" or even said it out loud.

It's certainly an issue that I've been trying to work through for a while now. I think that Leslie Vernick's book is a very good tool to figure out why you aren't happy in life and how to work towards the only way you can achieve true happiness - through God alone.

Each chapter ends with self examination questions and to really do the book the way it needs to be done, you need to go through the exercises.

Admittedly though, I'm not through the whole book yet. I have any number of excuses as to why, not forcing myself down a to-do list being one of them. (I think it's chapter three that has a section that relates to that.) Another is that I've been in a better frame of mind lately, and honestly, when I was working through part of it last night, I got a little beat down.

I'll make my way through the rest of the book though. In the meantime, check out the first chapter below. You'll get a good taste of what the book is all about.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!




Today's Wild Card author is:






and the book:




Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy



Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to David P. Bartlett of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Leslie Vernick, a licensed clinical social worker with a private counseling practice, has authored numerous books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. She completed postgraduate work in biblical counseling and cognitive therapy. Leslie and her husband, Howard, have been married more than 30 years and have two grown children.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736919236
ISBN-13: 978-0736919234

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




Stories and Scripts


Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.

Epictetus 2

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.

Dennis Wholey


Janet came into my office upset, anxious to share her latest litany of what was wrong with her life. Her friend Dana hadn’t invited her over last Sunday like Janet had hoped she would, and Janet felt hurt and rejected. Over the course of our counseling, I had learned that most of Janet’s friends didn’t support or love her as faithfully as she wished they would. She hated that she wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, or popular enough to gain the attention from others that she craved. Her job didn’t satisfy her, nor did it pay enough, and the people there weren’t very friendly either.

Janet’s mother also irritated her. She described her mom as too busy living her own life to care that her daughter was a single mom and often needed help with her kids. That prompted me to ask Janet about her church family. She said she didn’t get anything out of the sermons and no one from the Bible study ever invited her out to lunch—so why bother?

Janet wasn’t clinically depressed, but she was miserable with herself, with others, and with life. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Nothing was ever the way she wanted it to be, or the way it should be. “I just want to be happy,” she moaned. “Why can’t God make it easier for me? I hate that life is so hard, so unfair.”

Perhaps your situation isn’t as extreme as Janet’s, but I think many of us can relate to her feelings. Life does disappoint us at times. Others don’t give us the love or attention we want or expect, and as a result we feel angry, hurt, gypped, and sad. We hate that we’re not perfect or popular or powerful or pretty enough to feel confident or attractive or worthy. Jesus’ promise of an abundant life seems hollow. We get stuck living in a mind-set of, If only I were more ___________________ or had more ___________________ , then I’d be happy. Or we tell ourselves, If only ___________________ would change, then I could be happier.

Take a minute and fill in the blanks for yourself. What might you put in? During one session, Janet said, “If only I were more popular and could lose ten pounds, then I’d be happy.” At another session, she said something different: “If only my mother would change and help me out more with my kids, then I’d be happier.”

What about you? Perhaps you tell yourself you’d be happy if only you were more beautiful, talented, or intelligent. Others say they’d be happy if only they had more money, more time, or more energy. You might believe you’d be happier if only you were married instead of single, or married to a different person instead of the one you’re married to. Or maybe you’d rather not be married at all. Still others think that if only they had a baby, or better-behaved children, or a more attentive spouse, or a more prestigious or powerful job, or a bigger house, then they’d finally be happy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for making changes when possible and appropriate. But I’ve discovered in my own life, as well as in the lives of people I’ve worked with, that much of our misery is caused by the stories we tell ourselves about how things should be…rather than what actually is.


Unrealistic Expectations

Janet told herself that her unhappiness resulted from not being good enough, thin enough, or pretty enough. She was unhappy because she didn’t make enough money, because people let her down, and because her life was unfair.

But those things weren’t the true source of her suffering. Janet’s misery was much more a result of her unrealistic expectations of herself, life, and others than of her actual life situations. Although she wasn’t aware of it, Janet lived her life out of a mind-set, or way of thinking, that was largely false. She created an internal story line of how things should go—and when they didn’t go the way she thought they should, she felt sorry for herself. For example, she believed life should be easy and fair. When life was hard, she found it impossible to handle her disappointment without falling into self-pity because, after all, life shouldn’t be so hard.

Janet also told herself that people should be nicer to her and that they should be more willing to give of their time and efforts to help her out. She wasn’t aware she did it, but she also scripted out what other people should say, how they should say it, and what they should do for her, especially if they claimed to be Christians. When they failed to follow her script, she felt hurt, disappointed, and angry with them. Not only that, but she also clung to those negative feelings for days, nursing more resentment and hurt.

But perhaps the biggest source of Janet’s unhappiness was her own unrealistic view of herself. She regularly dwelled on her flaws and weaknesses and imagined that others did too. She fantasized she’d be more desirable, lovable, and popular if only she were thinner and more attractive.

In order for Janet to change and experience true happiness, she needs to become aware of the story line and scripts she has made up about herself, life, and others. Then she needs to reevaluate them according to what God says is true, good, and right. In addition, she must learn to handle the painful emotions that come with losses and disappointments in a different way, without falling into her habits of self-pity, resentment, or self-hatred.

You see, whether by nature we tend to look at the glass as half empty or half full, our perceptions determine our inner reality. By nature I am a pessimist, and because of that leaning, I often make up internal stories about the worst things that can happen. When my daughter started to drive, I made up all kinds of stories of dreadful accidents, carjackings, or mechanical failures. (None of which happened, I might add.) When my mammogram results came back suspicious, you can imagine where my mind went. As a result of my thinking habits, I often feel anxious, and my peace and inner sense of well-being vanish.

Optimists can make up some pretty unrealistic stories too. I once watched a man playing blackjack lose $20,000 thinking positively. He told himself (out loud) that this was his lucky day, he was the man, and tonight he’d strike it rich. He allowed his unrealistic story and script of how he wanted things to end to capture his heart, overrule his rational mind, and control his decision-making. (And in chapter 4, we’ll see how a woman named Cheryl continued to believe her fantasy story line of a perfect fiancĂ©—despite evidence to the contrary—only to wake up to an abusive husband.)

In order to learn how to be happier, we need to recognize 1) our internal stories and scripts and then 2) how they create expectations that, when unmet, often lead to foolish decisions as well as feeling anxious, miserable, sad, angry, discouraged, and even depressed.


Core Lies We Believe

There are many story lines and scripts that lead to misery and unhappiness, but the first clue in discovering your particular one is to look for the words should, shouldn’t, ought, supposed to, and deserve and then listen to what comes next. Let’s examine three of the most powerful ones.

“I should be better than I am”

Many people suffer because they fail to live up to their own expectations of themselves. Keith worked three part-time jobs just to put himself through college. He was proud of his accomplishments, but he started getting anxious and discouraged when some of his grades slipped from A’s to B’s and he fell behind in his rent payment. He studied long into the night, often forsaking sleep. He was cranky, exhausted, and definitely not happy.

But when I challenged his schedule, he insisted, “I should be able to handle this.” He refused to accept reality. His self-concept was based on an idealized image of himself, not the truth. Keith is not a god—he is a mere mortal. He has limits. He can’t function at his best with only four hours of sleep. He isn’t able to work three jobs, study all night, sleep adequately, go to college full-time, and get straight A’s in all of his subjects. Yet his expectations that he ought to be able to do it all, and his self-hatred for failing to live up to his idealized image of himself, was great.

People who are perfectionists may have a hard time admitting they actually expect they should be perfect all of the time, but deep down that’s what they want to be. And they grieve deeply when they fail. They can never be happy, because although they might achieve a moment of perfection, it’s unsustainable. Eventually they mess up, can’t do something, aren’t all-knowing, fail, or make a mistake. The internal shame, self-hatred, and self-reproach can be lethal.

Some individuals may not recognize they have unrealistic expectations of themselves, because they don’t expect perfection in every area of their life. For example, Elle wasn’t compulsive about her home, but she obsessed over her physical appearance. Every inch of her body and clothing had to look perfect, or she would beat herself up. “I shouldn’t have eaten dinner last night” or, “I should exercise more, I’m so fat,” she’d moan. She even slept with her makeup on so she would look good in the morning. No one was allowed to see her until she was ready, including her best friend.


Terminally Unique

Cindy failed to live up to her idealized version of the perfect Christian wife and mother. In a moment of sin and passion, she committed adultery with a co-worker. Her sorrow was great, but her repentance shallow. Her grief was not because of her sin against her husband or against God, but because she became small in her own eyes for failing to live up to who she thought she was. “I can’t believe I did that,” Cindy lamented.

“Why is it so hard for you to accept you’re a sinner, just like everyone else?” I asked.

“I don’t want to be like everyone else,” she replied.

“That’s part of your problem,” I gently told her. Much of Cindy’s suffering was because she expected herself to be better than everyone else.


People who believe they should be better than they are can’t be happy, because they are morbidly preoccupied with themselves. They become prideful over their perfection or filled with self-hatred at their flaws.

As with Janet, one particular variation on the I should be better than I am story line is feeling disappointed with one’s self over never being good enough, pretty enough, worthy enough, thin enough, spiritual enough, rich enough, or smart enough. You get the picture. The goal becomes I want to be enough. The question we must ask ourselves is, By whose yardstick will you measure yourself as “good enough”? Inevitably it is one’s own standard, not God’s. Even nonperfectionists like Janet become self-conscious about their limitations, weaknesses, and flaws when they tell themselves that they shouldn’t be that way, or if only they weren’t that way, then they would be happy.

When we live by these scripts, we will never feel happy. We (or someone else) will always find some flaw. Let’s be honest here. Who could ever say that he or she feels good enough in every area of his or her life? Feeling “good enough” is never the answer to lasting happiness. As soon as we feel good enough in one area, there are ten others where we feel insufficient or inadequate.

When we believe we should be better than we are, we become self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed. This leads to anxiety and compulsion, not joy and peace. In later chapters, we’ll learn how to accept our not being good enough so we can learn to be happier without having to be perfect.

“I deserve more than I have, and more ______________ means more happiness”

All of us have desires, longings, and wants. Much of the time these longings are legitimate, and there is nothing inherently sinful about them. In the introduction I shared about Francine who wanted a loving husband. She desired a better than average marriage. She wasn’t asking for too much.

Rhonda had different longings. She wanted more power, more impact, and more purpose in her life. These also are good desires. The problem is when they switch from desires to demands, from longings to expectations. Then whatever we get will never be enough because we deserve more. The story line becomes, It’s all about me and all for me. When our legitimate hopes, dreams, or desires move into the category of expectations, they escalate into demands—things we feel entitled to or deserving of. And when the demands aren’t met, we can feel quite miserable.

Janet had many expectations and demands of others that were unhealthy and unrealistic. Again, most of them included the words should or ought. For example, Janet believed that her mother should be a better grandmother. Her friends ought to care more about her needs and feelings than they did. Since she continued to live her internal story as if she were both the main character and the most important one, she felt entitled to other people’s attention and believed they should put her at the top of their priority list. Her needs, her rights, her wants, and her feelings should come first. Janet often told herself, If they really loved me, they would care more about my needs and my feelings. Therefore, when others failed to meet her expectations, she not only felt hurt and angry, she felt unloved.

Janet didn’t just desire her mother to be more attentive and interested in her children, she expected her to be that way. You might argue, What’s wrong with expecting your mother to be a good grandmother and to show interest and love for her grandchildren? Nothing’s wrong with it—except it didn’t line up with the way things really were. Janet’s mother was not that kind of grandmother, and as long as Janet kept expecting she should be, Janet would continue to get hurt and disappointed.

The truth is, no one ever gets everything in life that he or she wants or desires. When we live as if we deserve people’s love and attention all of the time, then we’re not living in reality. Instead of learning how to handle in a mature way the inevitable disappointment of not getting all that we want, we stay miserable.

In addition to our own internal unrealistic expectations, we also live in a culture that encourages people to demand their rights and to feel entitled. After all, we’re worth it! Because of this mind-set, people sometimes make terrible choices. They tell themselves they have the right to be happy and to pursue whatever it takes to be happy, even at the expense of others. I recall a woman I counseled telling me this very thing. She had fallen in love with her boss at work. She was a Christian, yet she believed God wanted her to be happy, and therefore he wouldn’t want her to stay married if she found her true love elsewhere. Despite my fervent warnings to think more carefully, she chose to end her marriage in order to get what she wanted.

When we are the main character of our story line and it is all about us, then we justify pursuing what we think makes us happy, even if it makes those around us (like this woman’s husband and three children) very unhappy. But we will never find true happiness at the expense of others. That will lead only to more heartache.

Whether our expectations are unrealistic, unhealthy, or just unmet, we become unhappy when we believe we’re entitled to have more than we have. Instead of feeling thankful for what we do have, we grumble and complain about what we don’t. The apostle Paul told us that he had discovered the secret of being content, whether he had a lot or a little (Philippians 4:11-12). The secret is surrendering to God’s plan—not getting all your needs, wants, desires, or expectations fulfilled.

“Life should be easy and fair”

When we pine for an easy life, we forfeit a fulfilling life. We become bored and apathetic, not happy. Author Gary Haugen tells a story of going on a trip but missing the adventure. During a camping and hiking vacation to Mount Rainier with his father and brothers, his dad wanted them all to climb the rock formation heading to the summit. Gary felt afraid and asked his father to allow him to stay behind at the visitor’s center where he could watch the videos and read about the wildlife and history of the mountain. After much pleading, his father finally relented. Here’s the rest of Gary’s story:


The visitor’s center was warm and comfortable, with lots of interesting things to watch and read. I devoured the information and explored every corner, and judging by the crowd, it was clearly the place to be. As the afternoon stretched on, however, the massive visitor’s center started to feel awfully small. The warm air felt stuffy, and the stuffed wild animals started to seem just—dead. The inspiring loop videos about extraordinary people who climbed the mountain weren’t as interesting the sixth and seventh times, and they made me wish I could be one of those actually climbing the mountain instead of reading about it. I felt bored, sleepy and small—and I missed my dad. I was totally stuck. Totally safe—but totally stuck.

After the longest afternoon of my ten-year-old life, Dad and my brothers returned flushed with their triumph. Their faces were wet from the snow; they were famished, dehydrated and nursing scrapes from the rocks and ice, but on the long drive home they had something else. They had stories and an unforgettable day with their dad on a great mountain. I, of course, revealed nothing, insisting that it was my favorite day of the whole vacation.

Truth be told—I went on the trip and missed the adventure.


When Jesus tells us that he has come to give us an abundant life, he doesn’t mean a safe and comfortable life, but a meaningful one. He calls us to a purpose beyond pleasing ourselves.

As we’ve already seen, Janet expected life to be easy and fair. She seemed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unprepared for life’s ordinary bumps and hurdles. Yet Jesus clearly tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus warns us that life isn’t easy or fair, and he tells us this so that we can experience peace and find courage in the midst of life’s hardships.

How? You’ll find some specific tools in later chapters, but it starts by seeing things as they really are. Jesus tells us that if our eye is healthy, our whole body will be full of light (Matthew 6:22). Happiness, joy, peace, and an internal sense of well-being are never found in having an easy life or in a life full of possessions, power, or popularity. We only have to look at some of the Hollywood celebrities gracing the news these days to see individuals living an easy life. On the fairness quotient, they have the deck stacked in their favor. They have most of the things we tell ourselves we need to be happy. They are thin, beautiful, rich, popular, powerful, and have lots of possessions. Yet many of them appear purposeless and empty and actually look quite unhappy. These men and women may have pleasure, power, prosperity, and popularity, but they do not have happiness. Never confuse those things with a genuine inner sense of joy, peace, and well-being.

In fact, it is often when life is easy and good, plentiful and prosperous, that God warns us we are in the most danger of losing sight of what brings our soul true delight. When the Israelites were entering the Promised Land, God warned them,


When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).


The Adaptation Principle

If we want to increase our capacity for genuine inner happiness, we must begin to debunk our belief that having more _______________, or changes in our life circumstances, will make us significantly happier than we already are. The problem with this thinking is that it feels true. Losing weight, or getting a new job, home, or husband does make us feel happier for a time, but it’s only a temporary fix. After we get what we want, our mind naturally moves on to the next thing that is wrong, or what we want, or what we believe will make us happy.

When Janet finally found a new job that she liked and that paid well, she felt much better. But her newfound happiness lasted about two weeks. Then she was right back where she had been—unhappy with her life, even though she liked her new job. Psychologists have called this the adaptation principle. Over time, we become accustomed to or get used to our new life situation, whether it is better or worse, and eventually return to our normal happiness range.




I’ll Be Happy Forever, Mom!

I remember my son, Ryan, endlessly nagging me for a special toy. He was convinced that if only he had this one gadget, life would be good. He was so persuasive, I believed him. Eager to make him happy, I bought him the toy. He was thrilled. But three days later, I saw it lying under his bed. Now he was pleading for a new plaything he needed to be happy. As adults, often we’re not any different.

The writer of Ecclesiastes discovered this truth much earlier than the psychologists did. This book is written by a king who had an easy life. Most believe it was written by King Solomon, King David’s son with Bathsheba. Solomon had everything he wanted and enjoyed the things our culture promotes as giving us a satisfying life. He had enormous power, whatever pleasure his heart desired, plenty of possessions, a productive life, popularity, and over 700 wives and 300 concubines. Yet in the end, when he looked over everything in his life, it felt empty. Power, possessions, popularity, and prosperity weren’t enough to bring him true happiness.

The king discovered, as we all must if we want to find authentic happiness, that he had wrongly depended on something other than God to give him what only God could give.


Dismantling Our Story Line

To begin the process of learning how to be a happier person, we must see the deception of our internal story line and replace it with the truth. Most of us feel powerless to do this without some outside help. God already knows our weaknesses, and so what he often does to free us of our illusions and delusions is allow disappointment, pain, and suffering into our lives. This gives us the chance to wake up and see what matters most.

Recently, I was talking with Beth, who, like Francine, has been chronically disappointed and unhappy in her marriage. Her expectations for a loving and intimate relationship with her husband have never been met, and her years of heartache over such disappointment were laced with resentment and anger. But through some unexpected health problems, she has begun to wake up to her life and to a deeper walk with God. As a result, she’s appreciating the smaller things and noticing what’s good in her marriage instead of what’s wrong. She has learned to let go of her expectations without deadening her desires for a better relationship. And that’s an important distinction. It’s not that we don’t desire certain things, but we don’t demand them anymore!

“It hasn’t been easy finding this path of joy and contentment,” Beth said. “I can easily slip back into my old resentment and depression. This new road feels as thin as a thread’s width. But I want to learn to stay on it.”

Jesus tells us that the road that leads to life is narrow (Matthew 7:14). I don’t think he is referring merely to eternal life; he’s speaking about the abundant life. The king in Ecclesiastes pursued what he thought was the abundant life in all of his accomplishments, power, possessions, and pleasures. But through the disappointment of success, he realized that even those wonderful things didn’t offer him all he thought they would. He left these final words for us so we might glean understanding into what brings the heart true joy:


Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.

When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.

Young people, it is wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky…

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 11:7-10; 12:1,2,6,7 nlt)


The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us a powerful lesson. We will always be disappointed with life (or others) when we ask it to do something it wasn’t designed to do. If we can learn to appreciate our life, our marriage, our job, or our family for what they are, then we can experience joy, wonder, and gratitude more readily.

Through Janet’s disappointment with herself, other people, and life, she began to ask some important questions as well as gain some new insights that led her to see Christ, herself, and her life through a new lens. She finally began to grasp that it was her expectations that were causing much of her pain. She realized that when she expected so much from others, life, or even herself, then even the good things she did have or receive, were never good enough. As she surrendered her internal story line, Janet was surprised to discover some peace and happiness even in the midst of painful situations.

The psalmist also felt sad and perplexed over life’s disappointments. But he came to understand through his suffering, that he needed to put his hope in God, not in other things (Psalm 42). Jesus loves us too much to leave us thinking or believing that a rich and meaningful life is found in anything other than loving and serving him. He tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). Another way of saying this is, where our pleasure is, our treasure is also.



Jesus has come to set the captives free. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are captive to the lie that something other than God will bring us happiness and fulfill our longings. When we put our hope in or expect something or someone other than him to fill us and make us happy, he will surely frustrate us. But he doesn’t do it to punish us. He does it to rescue us from our disordered attachments and delusions, and from ourselves. God promises to meet our needs—but what we feel we need, and what we truly need, may be very different.

Our disappointments and sorrows in life are gifts given to help us see things correctly. C.S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  Disappointment can lead us out of illusion and into truth and reality. Sorrow teaches us to let go of our attachments to false or lesser things and to seek after God. True prosperity is never acquired through worldly accomplishments or possessions, but rather through the awareness and ability to live in God’s loving presence.

Peter tells us that suffering teaches us to be done with sin and to live for God’s purposes rather than our own pleasures and evil desires (1 Peter 4:1-5). Why? Because suffering helps us surrender our illusions, desires, and expectations of what life should be so we’re freed to live as God designed us to be (1 Peter 1:6).

Can you begin to let go by surrendering these lies to God, trusting him that he knows what you need to be happy? If you can’t just yet, don’t despair. He will help you. He wants to give you a new script to help you live a new story—a story that will bring more peace, more joy, more love, and more hope to your life.




Questions for

Thought and Discussion

1. How did you relate to Janet? Have you considered that some of your unhappiness may come from unmet expectations of God, others, or life?
2. If you haven’t already, fill in the blanks: “If only I had more __________________ or a better _________________, I’d be happy.” Recall a time when you got what you wanted. How long did your happiness last?
3. What do you think of this observation: “Expectations are longings and desires that have become demands”? What are your demands of God, others, or yourself?
4. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated,

All striving springs from want or deficiency, from dissatisfaction with one’s condition, and is therefore suffering so long as it is not satisfied. No satisfaction, however, is lasting; on the contrary, it is always merely the starting point of fresh striving.


How have you experienced this in your own life?

5. Which core lie do you struggle with? How has it affected your happiness levels?

I ought to be more than I am
I deserve to have more than God gave me
Life should be fair

6. Reflect on the author’s statement, “When we believe we should be better than we are, we become self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed. This leads to anxiety and compulsion, not joy and peace.” How have you found this to be true in your own life?
7. Read Psalm 73:12-14. Listen to Asaph’s unspoken expectations of God as he surveyed his life and what was going on around him. Why did he feel he deserved better?
8. Discuss the difference between acknowledging the truth and emotionally accepting it. (For example, I know I’m in a difficult marriage, but I’m not okay with it.) Next, review each core lie:

I ought to be more than I am
I deserve to have more than God gave me
Life should be fair

In what ways do you acknowledge the truth throughout this chapter, but still resist emotionally accepting it? How does your refusal to emotionally embrace God’s truth contribute to your unhappiness?

9. Read Acts 14:15. How has disappointment and suffering helped you turn from vain things and turn toward God?
10. Read Psalm 63. What steps can you take to be more satisfied with God and less hungry for other things?
11. Jesus came to set the captives free. How have you been trapped in your stories and scripts? What do you need to surrender in order to experience greater happiness in your life?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Black-White Achievement Gap


A Call to Overcome Today’s
Major Barrier to Racial Equality
and Social Justice

More than half a century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, inequality still reigns supreme in America’s classrooms. Based on results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other studies, African American students score below 75 percent of white students on most standardized tests. Not coincidentally, young white adults are approximately twice as likely as their black peers to earn a college degree, and nearly three times less likely to land in prison. In critical academic matters, why do black American children overwhelmingly lag behind white American children? And what are the long-term economic, social, and racial ramifications for our country if we continue to overlook this deeply distressing reality?

“It’s an undeniable truth that we have a serious educational problem in America,” states distinguished former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. In THE BLACK-WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time (AMACOM; February 16, 2010; $22.00 Hardcover), he joins forces with educational practitioner and advocate Elaine Witty to identify the causes of this racial divide and propose realistic, productive solutions. “Now is the time to see the gap as what it really is: a major barrier to racial equality and social justice in America,” Paige stresses. He calls on African American leaders at all levels—national, state, city, town, and church—to take ownership of this challenge and work with policy makers, educators, community groups, and parents to overcome it.

Establishing the facts of this racial problem, with hard-hitting data on test scores, high school dropout rates, and more, Paige and Witty then explain why it should be an urgent issue of debate for presidents of historically black colleges, organizations such as the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, and national think tanks, among others. The persistence of the black-white achievement gap slows down the accumulation of African American wealth; leads to more African Americans without health insurance, in prison, and dying early; and, worst of all, strengthens the stereotype and stigma of blacks as intellectually inferior. Because of its destructive consequences, Paige and Witty argue, the achievement-gap crisis now ranks ahead of racism and discrimination as the most formidable obstacle to African American advancement.

Why do African Americans continue to suffer an educational disadvantage? What are the solutions?

THE BLACK-WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP not only confronts these difficult, sensitive, and important questions, but also provides concrete, timely, and bipartisan answers. To achieve the goal of closing the gap, the authors advocate:

*Rally all leaders with an authentic commitment to racial equality and social justice for African Americans—liberal and conservative, black and white—to enlist in the cause of eliminating the achievement gap and stop engaging in activities that perpetuate it, including focusing on the legacy of slavery and associating the endeavor to do well in school with “acting white.”

*Embrace the view that home and family, community environment, and school quality all play a vital role in determining children’s educational possibilities. Work together to design and implement gap-closing intervention strategies beyond the school—such as tutoring and reading workshops for parents—as well as within them.

*Create a consistently high standard of school quality nationwide—and hold school board officials, school superintendents and principals, and classroom teachers accountable for meeting it—backed by the belief that all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ZIP code, can learn and excel in school.

Throughout, Paige and Witty offer inspiring examples of outstanding schools, proven educational initiatives and community programs, and specific suggestions for how national organizations, local civic and religious groups, and dedicated parents can make a decisive difference in the education and future of today’s African American children.

A clarion call to civil rights leadership, THE BLACK WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP is also a wake-up call for leaders, citizens, and parents of all races. “By closing the black-white achievement gap, we will be eliminating many disparities between blacks and whites,” Paige and Witty observe, “thereby creating a better America.”



ROD PAIGE was U.S. Secretary of Education from 2001 through 2005 under President George W. Bush. He served as Superintendent of Houston Schools for eight years and was Dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University for 10 years. He currently serves as a board member to numerous foundations, corporations, and non-profit organizations working to advance education in the United States and around the world. He lives in Houston, Texas.

ELAINE WITTY, Ed.D, served 18 years as Dean of Education at Norfolk State University and is a noted educator. Prior to working in higher education, she taught in elementary, middle, and high schools. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Brother and sister, the coauthors bring a combined ninety years of experience spanning the educational spectrum, from teaching to school administration to policy circles, to the opinions expressed and actions proposed in THE BLACK-WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Touchdowns and Slam Dunks for Jesus?


Controversial new book reveals the truth about faith and sports

Like most Americans, Christians love sports. They love team rivalries, the sports analogy/sermon illustration, the thrill of playing, Christian celebrity athletes and even the church-hosted Super Bowl party complete with a five-minute half-time devotional. These are sacred institutions in Christian life; their prominence is seldom questioned. Yet, since 77 percent of evangelicals believe that the mass media is “hostile to their moral and spiritual values,” one wonders why evangelicals haven’t also sensed that hostility in media-bloated competitive sport contests. Christians frequently voice criticism about violence in video games, but violence in sports such as football and hockey, which involves their children more intimately and dangerously, is rarely examined.

Author Shirl Hoffman, Ed. D, believes it’s time for Christians to ask the hard questions. “The institution of sport has been so intricately woven into the fabric of our culture, and thus into the Christian culture, that criticism of sport or suggestions that sports be given a closer look often are viewed as cranky complaints by prigs who don’t know good fun when they see it,” Hoffman says. “The person who dares to ask whether the competitive ethic as celebrated in modern sports might conflict in important ways with the Christian worldview risks being labeled a ‘sport hater’.” In his new book, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports, Hoffman draws attention to both the pitfalls and the spiritual opportunities missed by the carte blanche acceptance of current sports culture by Christians, particularly evangelicals.

The main factor driving the church’s unwillingness to cast a critical eye on the culture of sports is the rise of what sports writer Frank Deford called “sportianity,” a concoction of triumphal evangelism blended with worldly Darwinian competition and crafted to appeal to those for whom a love of athletics frames their lives. This folk theology combines locker room slogans, Old Testament allusions to religious wars, athletically slanted doctrines of assertiveness and sacrifice and a cult of masculinity, backed up by cherry-picked Bible verses pre-screened to ensure they don’t conflict with sport’s reigning orthodoxies. The fundamentals of “sportianity” have been rationalized, systematized and vigorously promoted by sport-evangelism organizations, coaches at every level, ministers, laypeople and the religious press. In fact, there are few alternative systems of thinking about sports and faith in the evangelical community—until now.

Hoffman is an internationally recognized authority in the fields of kinesiology, physical education and the relationship between faith and sports. He has taught at every level of education, coached college basketball and was a gifted high school and college athlete. As he penned Good Game, Hoffman knew his slaying of several sacred cows would likely draw the animosity of some readers. He challenges Christians to thoughtfully consider topics like:

· The Killer Instinct—what is the true cost of competition?

· Building and Sacking the Temple—why Christians should avoid violent sports…including football!

· Sport and the Sub-Christian Values—do competitive sports really develop character?

· Touchdowns and Slam Dunks for Jesus—how sports evangelism alters the gospel

· Prayers Out of Bounds—why the athletic field is not the place for prayer

Hoffman contends that in popular sports, Christians have created a kind of sanctuary for themselves in which they are not expected to think or act like Christians, as if both athletes and spectators enjoy a special exemption from the fundamental teaching of Jesus (i.e. love your enemies, the first shall be last, etc.). As a body of believers, the church has failed to think about sports analytically. Good Game presents a compelling case to that end, incorporating research many would like to ignore and example after convincing example lifted straight from the sports page. Unless Christians in the athletic and academic communities develop a healthy curiosity about the relationship of sports to faith, they are likely to continue bouncing between two different worlds framed by two different worldviews: the sincere, daily effort to become like Christ and the cut-throat competition of game day.

Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports
by Shirl J. Hoffman
Baylor University Press Feb 1, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-932792-10-2/paperback original/341 pages/$24.95
http://www.baylorpress.com/

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - ajennings(at)tbbmedia.com - 800-927-0517 x104

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Just a little friendly advice

At work, Tracy had the opportunity to join her husband in her parents' family business that they asked her and Craig to take over. That has left us a person short, and we have been looking for a new Assistant Media Specialist.

As one of two people downstairs at the office, I've met a number of people who have brought their resumes in. And to help out, I've also been assisting in screening some of the resumes.

With so many people looking for a job, and so many opportunities out there, I feel like I really need to do provide a public service, and share some "what not to do" advice. This is not a shot towards any of the individuals - I'm just suggesting that you have your head on straight.

#1 Do not print your resume on the back of paper that has already been printed on. I think that says enough.

#2 If you include a cover letter, make sure it's the right one, meaning addressed to the correct company. Especially if you are aiming for a job that requires attention to detail.

#3 Don't cop an attitude when you come in to ask about a job. In response to information I gave about the position, one person asked, "how about education? College education? High school education?"

"At this point, we are looking for college."

"Well, I don't have the education. I have the know how. I DO have the know how."

I honestly thought, "the know how for what?" She didn't bring her info back by.

#4 You probably don't want to make the biggest selling point of resume and letter to highlight your skills learned during extracurricular activities in high school (and college). Personally, my four years in debate haven't really gotten me very far in life. I also took score for the baseball team. I do admit that helps me when I am at the Ranger game and try to play Wingo.

#5 One person that came in really came in for something else. But, he did ask about the job. He says, "I'm really just bored right now and looking for something to do until I get this other thing started." This guy wasn't, but if you are seriously inquiring about a job, don't admit you are doing so out of boredom.

OK, so the weekend is swiftly coming to a close. I have a few things I still need to do before turning in for the night. I have an idea for fun!

Submit me questions, and I will offer advice like "Dear Abby" or something. It can be made up questions. That would be fun!!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Warren Wiersbe's Be Authentic

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Be Authentic

David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings – The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


A man who has given his life to a deep examination of the Word of God, Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe is an internationally known Bible teacher, former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago and the author of more than 150 books. For over thirty years, millions have come to rely on the timeless wisdom of Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s “Be” Commentary series. Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary and insights on Scripture have helped readers understand and apply God’s Word with the goal of life transformation. Dubbed by many as the “pastor’s pastor,” Dr. Wiersbe skillfully weaves Scripture with historical explanations and thought-provoking questions, communicating the Word in such a way that the masses grasp its relevance for today.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766306
ISBN-13: 978-1434766304

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Like Father , Like Son—Almost

(Genesis 25—26)


Isaac was the son of a famous father (Abraham) and the father of a famous son (Jacob), and for those reasons he is sometimes considered a lightweight among the patriarchs. Compared to the exploits of Abraham and Jacob, Isaac’s life does seem conventional and commonplace. Although he lived longer than either Abraham or Jacob, only six chapters are devoted to Isaac’s life in the Genesis record, and only one verse in Hebrews 11 (v. 9).


Isaac was a quiet, meditative man (Gen. 24:63), who would rather pack up and leave than confront his enemies. During his long life, he didn’t travel far from home. Abraham had made the long journey from Haran to Canaan, and had even visited Egypt, and Jacob went to Haran to get a wife, but Isaac spent his entire adult life moving around in the land of Canaan. If there had been an ancient Middle East equivalent to our contemporary “jet set,” Isaac wouldn’t have joined it.


However, there are more Isaacs in this world than there are Abrahams or Jacobs, and these people make important contributions to society and to the church, even if they don’t see their names in lights or even in the church bulletin. Furthermore, Isaac was a living part of the divine plan that eventually produced the Jewish nation, gave us the Bible, and brought Jesus Christ into the world, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.


Isaac wasn’t a failure; he was just different. After all, the people in each generation have to find themselves and be themselves and not spend their lives slavishly trying to imitate their ancestors. “Men are born equal,” wrote psychiatrist Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom, “but they are also born different.” Discovering our uniqueness and using it to the glory of God is the challenge that makes life what it is. Why be a cheap imitation when you can be a valuable original?


No generation stands alone, because each new generation is bound to previous generations whether we like it or not. Isaac was bound to Abraham and Sarah by ties that couldn’t be ignored or easily broken. Let’s look at some of those ties and discover what they teach us about our own life of faith today.


HE RECEIVED HIS FATHE R’S INHERITANCE (25:1–18)


Abraham recognized his other children by giving them gifts and sending them away, thereby making sure they couldn’t supplant Isaac as the rightful heir. Along with his father’s immense wealth (13:2; 23:6), Isaac also inherited the covenant blessings that God had given Abraham and Sarah (12:1–3; 13:14–18; 15:1–6). Isaac had parents who believed God and, in spite of occasional mistakes, tried to please Him.


Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael (chap. 16), wasn’t chosen to be the child of promise and the heir of the covenant blessings. God promised to bless Ishmael and make him a great nation, and He kept His promise (17:20–21; 25:12–16); “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac” (17:21;

Rom. 9:6–13). Ishmael was on hand for his father’s funeral (Gen. 25:9), but he wasn’t included in the reading of his father’s will.


Ishmael pictures the “natural” or unsaved person (1 Cor. 2:14), who is outside the faith and hostile to the things of God. But Isaac pictures those who have trusted Jesus Christ and experienced the miraculous new birth by the power of God (1 Peter 1:22–23). “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). Ishmael was born a slave, but Isaac was born free (4:21–31; 5:1–2); and Ishmael was born poor, but Isaac was born rich. Every believer in Jesus Christ shares all the blessings of the Spirit in Christ (Eph. 1:3) and is part of Christ’s glorious inheritance (vv. 11, 18).


From the moment of birth, we’re all dependent on the older generation to care for us until we can care for ourselves. We’re also indebted to previous generations for guarding and handing down to us the knowledge, skills, traditions, and culture that are extremely important to daily life. Imagine what life would be like if each new generation had to devise the alphabet, invent printing, discover electricity, or design the wheel!


The most important part of Isaac’s legacy wasn’t the great material wealth his father had left him. Isaac’s most important legacy was the spiritual wealth from his father and mother: knowing and trusting the true and living God and being a part of the covenant blessings that God had graciously bestowed upon Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. How tragic it is when the children of devout Christian believers turn their backs on their priceless spiritual heritage and, like Ishmael and Esau, live for the world and the flesh instead of for the Lord!



HE PRAYED TO HIS FATHER’S GOD (25:19–34)


Genesis is a record of ten successive “generations.” Generations come and go, but the Lord remains and never changes. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1 NKJV).


A devoted home (vv. 19–20). When Isaac was forty years old, God selected Rebekah to be his wife (chap. 24; 25:20), and we have every reason to believe that they were both devoted to the Lord and to each other. The record indicates that Rebekah was the more aggressive of the two when it came to family matters, but perhaps that’s just the kind of wife Isaac needed. Whatever mistakes Isaac may have made as a husband and father, this much is true: As a young man, he willingly put himself on the altar to obey his father and to please the Lord (chap. 22; Rom. 12:1–2).


A disappointed home (v. 21). Isaac and Rebekah waited twenty years for a family, but no children came. The entire book of Genesis emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the wisdom of His “delays.” Abraham and Sarah had to wait twenty-five years for Isaac to be born; Jacob had to labor fourteen years to obtain his two wives; and Joseph had to wait over twenty years before he was reconciled to his brothers. Our times are in His hands (Ps. 31:15), and His timing is never wrong.


Like Abraham, Isaac was a man of prayer, so he interceded with the Lord on behalf of his barren wife. Isaac had every right to ask God for children because of the covenant promises the Lord had made to his father and mother, promises Isaac had heard repeated in the family circle and that he believed. If Rebekah remained barren, how could Abraham’s seed multiply as the dust of the earth and the stars of the heavens? How could Abraham’s seed become a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1–3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:6)?


It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. Even though every Jewish couple wanted children, Isaac wasn’t praying selfishly. He was concerned about God’s plan for fulfilling His covenant and blessing the whole world through the promised Messiah (3:15; 12:1–3). True prayer means being concerned about God’s will, not our own wants, and claiming God’s promises in the Word. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer and enabled Rebekah to conceive.


A distressed home (vv. 22–23). One problem soon led to another, because Rebekah’s pregnancy was a difficult one: The babies in her womb were struggling with each other. The Hebrew word means “to crush or oppress,” suggesting that the fetal movements were not normal. Since Rebekah wondered if the Lord was trying to say something to her, she went to inquire. Isaac was fortunate to have a wife who not only knew how to pray, but who also wanted to understand God’s will for herself and her children.


In salvation history, the conception and birth of children is a divinely ordained event that has significant consequences. This was true of the birth of Isaac (chaps. 18, 21), the twelve sons of Jacob (29:30—30:24), Moses (Ex. 1—2), Samuel (1 Sam. 1—2), David (Ruth 4:17–22), and our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4–5). Conception, birth, and death are divine appointments, not human accidents, a part of God’s wise and loving plan for His own people (Ps. 116:15; 139:13–16).


Imagine Rebekah’s surprise when she learned that the two children would struggle with each other all their lives! Each child would produce a nation, and these two nations (Edom and Israel) would compete, but the younger would master the older. Just as God had chosen Isaac, the second-born, and not Ishmael, the firstborn, so He chose Jacob, the second-born, and not Esau, the firstborn. That the younger son should rule the elder was contrary to human tradition and logic, but the sovereign God made the choice (Rom. 9:10–12), and God never makes a mistake.


A divided home (vv. 24–28). Esau probably means “hairy.” He also had the nickname “Edom,” which means “red,” referring to his red hair and the red lentil soup Jacob sold him (vv. 25, 30). The twin boys not only looked different but they also were different in personality. Esau

was a robust outdoorsman, who was a successful hunter, while Jacob was a “home boy.” You would think that Isaac would have favored Jacob, since both of them enjoyed domestic pursuits, but Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. Rebekah was a hands-on mother who knew what was going on in the home and could contrive ways to get what she thought was best.


It’s unfortunate when homes are divided because parents and children put their own personal desires ahead of the will of God. Isaac enjoyed eating the tasty game that Esau brought home, a fact that would be important in later family history (chap. 27). Isaac, the quiet man, fulfilled his dreams in Esau, the courageous man, and apparently ignored the fact that his elder son was also a worldly man. Did Isaac know that Esau had forfeited his birthright? The record doesn’t tell us. But he did know that God had chosen the younger son over the elder son.


A friend of mine kept a card under the glass on his office desk that read: “Faith is living without scheming.” Jacob could have used that card. Before his birth, he had been divinely chosen to receive the birthright and the blessing; thus there was no need for him to scheme and take advantage of his brother. It’s likely that Jacob had already seen plenty of evidence that Esau didn’t care about spiritual things, an attitude that made Esau unfit to receive the blessing and accomplish God’s will. Perhaps Jacob and his mother had even discussed the matter.


The name “Jacob” comes from a Hebrew word (yaaqob) that means “may God protect,” but because it sounds like the words aqeb (“heel”) and aqab (“watch from behind” or “overtake”), his name became a nickname: “he grasps the heel” or “he deceives.” Before birth, Jacob and Esau had contended, and at birth, Jacob grasped his brother’s heel. This latter action was interpreted to mean that Jacob would trip up his brother and take advantage of him. The prediction proved true.


The fact that God had already determined to give the covenant blessings to Jacob didn’t absolve anybody in the family from their obligations to the Lord. They were all responsible for their actions, because divine sovereignty doesn’t destroy human responsibility. In fact, knowing that we’re the chosen of God means we have a greater responsibility to do His will.



HE FACED HIS FATHER’S TEMPTATIONS (26:1–11)


True faith is always tested, either by temptations within us or trials around us (James 1:1–18), because a faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. God tests us to bring out the best in us, but Satan tempts us to bring out the worst in us. In one form or another, each new generation must experience the same tests as previous generations, if only to discover that the enemy doesn’t change and that human nature doesn’t improve. Abraham is mentioned eight times in this chapter, and you find the word “father” six times. Isaac was very much his father’s son. Abraham Lincoln was right: “We can not escape history.”


The temptation to run (vv. 1–6). When Abraham arrived in Canaan, he found a famine in the land and faced his first serious test of faith (12:10—13:4). His solution was to abandon the place God had chosen for him, the place of obedience, and to run to Egypt, thus establishing a bad example for his descendants who were prone to imitate him.5 The safest place in the world is in the will of God, for the will of God will never lead us where His grace can’t provide for us. Unbelief asks, “How can I get out of this,” while faith asks, “What can I get out of this?”


When Isaac faced the problem of a famine, he decided to go to Gerar, the capital city of the Philistines, and get help from Abimelech.6 Isaac and Rebekah were probably living at Beer Lahai Roi at that time (25:11), which means they traveled about seventy-five miles northeast to get to Gerar. Even after arriving in Gerar, Isaac and Rebekah may have been tempted to go south to Egypt, though God had warned them not to consider that possibility.


God permitted Isaac to remain in Philistia and promised to bless him. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be greatly multiplied and one day would possess all those lands. Thus Isaac had a right to be there as long as God approved (12:2–3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:3–8; 22:15–18). God blessed Isaac for Abraham’s sake (25:5, 24), just as He has blessed believers today for the sake of Jesus Christ.


We can never successfully run away from trials, because God sees to it that His children learn the lessons of faith regardless of where they go. We can never grow in faith by running from difficulty, because “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character” (Rom.

5:3–4 NKJV). Like David, we may wish we had “wings like a dove” so we could “fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6 NKJV), but if we did, we’d always be doves when God wants us to “mount up with wings as eagles” (Isa. 40:31).


The temptation to lie (vv. 7–11). Isaac could flee from famine, but when he put himself into a situation that offered no escape, he had to turn to deception to protect himself. Abraham committed this same sin twice, once in Egypt (Gen. 12:14–20) and once in Philistia (chap. 20). Remember, faith is living without scheming, and telling lies seems to be one of humanity’s favorite ways to escape responsibility.


Isaac was asked about the woman who was with him and, like his father Abraham before him, he said she was his sister. But when Abimelech saw Isaac caressing Rebekah, he knew she was his wife. Why did Isaac lie? Because he was afraid his pagan host would kill him in order to obtain his beautiful wife. His lie was evidence of his unbelief, for if he had claimed the covenant promise when he prayed for children (25:21), why couldn’t he claim that same covenant promise to protect himself and his wife?


The English poet John Dryden wrote, “Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement of all societies.” When people don’t keep their word, the foundations of society begin to shake and things start to fall apart. Happy homes, lasting friendships, thriving businesses, stable governments, and effective churches all depend on truth for their success. The American preacher Phillips Brooks said, “Truth is always strong, no matter how weak it looks; and falsehood is always weak, no matter how strong it looks.” Truth is cement; falsehood is whitewash.


When he found himself in difficulty, Isaac was tempted to run and to lie, and we face these same temptations today. Isaac succumbed to temptation and was found out. It’s a sad day when unconverted people like Abimelech publicly expose God’s servants for telling lies. What an embarrassment to the cause of truth!


HE DUG AGAIN HIS FATHER’S WELLS (26:12–35)

Isaac inherited flocks and herds from his father, who had lived a nomadic life, but now the wealthy heir settled down and became a farmer, remaining in Gerar “a long time” (v. 8).


The blessing (vv. 12–14). Isaac and his neighbors had access to the same soil, and they depended on the same sunshine and rain, but Isaac’s harvests were greater than theirs, and his flocks and herds multiplied more abundantly. The secret? God kept His promise and blessed Isaac in all that he did (vv. 3–5). God would give a similar blessing to Jacob years later (chap. 31).


But Isaac was a deceiver! How could the Lord bless somebody who claimed to be a believer and yet deliberately lied to his unbelieving neighbors? Because God is always faithful to His covenant and keeps His promises (2 Tim. 2:11–13), and the only condition God attached to His promise of blessing was that Isaac remain in the land and not go to Egypt.


God also blessed Isaac because of Abraham’s life and faith (Gen. 26:5), just as He blesses us for the sake of Jesus Christ. We’ll never know until we get to heaven how many of our blessings have been “dividends” from the spiritual investments made by godly friends and family who have gone before.


The conflict (vv. 14–17). In spite of his material blessings, Isaac still suffered because of his lie, because the blessings he received brought burdens and battles to his life. Seeing his great wealth, the Philistines envied him and decided he was a threat to their safety. (A similar

situation would occur when the Jews multiplied in Egypt. See Ex. 1:8ff.)


“The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22 NKJV). Had Isaac not lied about his wife, God would not have disciplined him but would have given him peace with his neighbors (Prov. 16:7). Because of his sin, however, Isaac’s material blessings

caused him trouble.


The Philistines tried to get Isaac to leave their land and settle elsewhere, and to encourage this they stopped up Abraham’s wells and deprived Isaac’s flocks and herds of the water they desperately needed. Water was a precious commodity in the Near East, and adequate wells were necessary if you were to succeed in the land. The crisis came when the king commanded Isaac to move away, and Isaac obeyed.


The search (vv. 18–22). No matter where Isaac journeyed, the enemy followed him and confiscated his father’s wells and also the new wells that Isaac’s servants dug. To find a well of “springing water” (v. 19) was a special blessing, for it guaranteed fresh water at all times, but the Philistines took that well, too. The names of the new wells that Isaac’s men dug reveal the

problems that he had with his neighbors, for Esek means “contention,” and Sitnah means “hatred.” But Rehoboth means “enlargement” because Isaac finally found a place where he was left alone and had room enough for his camp and his flocks and herds.


Whenever Abraham had a problem with people, he boldly confronted them and got the matter settled, whether it was his nephew Lot (13:5–18), the invading kings (chap. 14), Hagar and Ishmael (21:9ff.), or the Philistines (vv. 22ff.). But Isaac was a retiring man who wanted to avoid confrontation. Since he was a pilgrim, he could move his camp and be a peacemaker.


In every difficult situation of life, we must use discernment to know whether God wants us to be confronters like Abraham or peacemakers like Isaac, for God can bless and use both approaches. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NKJV). Sometimes it isn’t possible, but at least we should try, and we must depend on the wisdom from above that is “pure” and “peaceable” (James 3:17).


Looking at Isaac’s experience from a spiritual point of view, we can learn an important lesson. In the Bible, wells sometimes symbolize blessings from the hand of the Lord (Gen. 16:14; 21:19; 49:22; Ex. 15:27; Num. 21:16–18; Prov. 5:15; 16:22; 18:4; Song 4:15; Isa. 12:3; John 4:14).9 The church keeps looking for something new, when all we need is to dig again the old wells of spiritual life that God’s people have depended on from the beginning—the Word of God, prayer, worship, faith, the power of the Spirit, sacrifice, and service—wells that we’ve allowed the enemy to fill up. Whenever there’s been a revival of spiritual power in the history of the church, it’s been because somebody has dug again the old wells so that God’s life-giving Spirit can be free to work.


The assurance (vv. 23–25). Beersheba was a very special place for Isaac, because there his father had entered into a covenant with the Philistine leaders (21:22ff.). Beersheba means “the well of the oath.” The Lord comes to us with His assuring Word just when we need encouragement (Acts 18:9–11; 23:11; 27:23–24; 2 Tim. 2:19). No matter who is against us, God is with us and for us (Gen. 28:15; 31:3; Rom. 8:31–39), and there’s no need for us to be afraid. In response to God’s gracious word of promise, Isaac built an altar and worshipped the Lord. He was ready to meet his adversaries.


Like his father Abraham, Isaac was identified by his tent and altar (Gen. 26:25; see also 12:7–8; 13:3–4, 18). Isaac was wealthy enough to be able to build himself a fine house, but his tent identified him as a pilgrim and stranger in the land (Heb. 11:8–10, 13–16). A fugitive is fleeing from home; a vagabond has no home; a stranger is away from home; but a pilgrim is heading home. The tent identified Isaac as a pilgrim, and the altar announced that he worshipped Jehovah and was heading to the heavenly kingdom.


Like Isaac, all who have trusted Jesus Christ are strangers in this world and pilgrims heading for a better world (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). The body we live in is our tent; one day it will be taken down and we’ll go to the heavenly city (2 Cor. 5:1–8). Life here is brief and temporary, because this tent is fragile, but our glorified body will be ours for eternity (Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:1–3). While we’re here on earth, let’s be sure we build the altar and give our witness that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.


The agreement (vv. 26–33). Isaac’s strategy paid off, because the Philistine leaders came to him to settle the matter of the property rights (21:22ff.). Fortified by God’s promises, Isaac was much bolder in his approach, and he confronted the Philistines with their misdeeds. It’s worth noting that Isaac’s conduct during this conflict made a great impression on them, and they could tell that the Lord was richly blessing him. More important than possessing his wells was the privilege Isaac had of sharing his witness with his pagan neighbors. (For a contrasting situation, see 1 Cor. 6:1–8.)


Isaac and the leaders were able to reach an agreement. To seal the treaty, Isaac hosted a feast, for in that culture, to eat with others was to forge strong links of friendship and mutual support. That same day, Isaac’s servants found one of Abraham’s wells (Gen. 21:25–31) and opened it, and Isaac gave it the original name, Beersheba. “The well of the oath” now referred to Isaac’s treaty as well as Abraham’s.


More conflict (vv. 34–35). Isaac was at peace with his neighbors, but he had war at home. His worldly son Esau had married two heathen wives who caused grief to Isaac and Rebekah. (Later, just to provoke his parents, he married a third heathen wife. See 28:8–9.) In view of Esau’s sinful lifestyle, we wonder that Isaac wanted to give him the patriarchal blessing (chap. 27).


All of us would like to find our Rehoboth (enlargement) where we have plenty of room and no contention, but Isaac’s Rehoboth was found only after he endured conflict. It’s through difficulties that God enlarges us for the larger places He prepares for us. “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Ps. 4:1). When the troubles of our hearts are enlarged and we trust God, then the Lord can enlarge us (25:17) and bring us “into a large place” (18:19). If we want room, we have to suffer, because that’s the only way we can grow and feel at home in the larger place God gives us when we’re ready for it.



©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Be Authentic by Warren Wiersbe. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Daniel Tocchini's Us

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Us

David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jenningsn of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Daniel L. Tocchini has worked with more than 5,000 couples through personal marriage coaching and the unique and life-changing marriage seminars offered through his organization, the Association for Christian Character Development. An ordained minister, chaplain, author, and highly successful speaker/coach, he lives with his family in California.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764737
ISBN-13: 978-1434764737

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Consumer vs. the Kingdom

“The level of thinking that created the problem is not sufficient to solve it.”

Albert Einstein


This book is about challenging the marriage assumptions that have prevented you from seeing new possibilities in the unchartered waters of Us. The first assumption that simply must go is that you or your spouse needs to change in order for your marriage to improve.


As difficult as it may seem, I want you to consider the possibility that nothing about you or your spouse needs to change.


Nothing at all.


Beyond this, I ask you to consider the reason that you began thinking that one of you needed to change. Could it be that you have unwittingly embraced the consumerism of our culture and applied it to your precious wife? Your precious husband? Such that you began to think of that person as a commodity? That's exactly where Mark and Rene were at when they came to see me. (I should mention that there are times couples are counseled by me and my wife, Aileen. We do this on an as-needed basis.)


Mark and Rene, a forty-something couple with fifteen years of marriage under their belts, spewed venom back and forth at each other during our marriage coaching session. The verbal onslaught was tough to listen to, even though I’ve worked with hundreds of couples and heard it all.


Mark furrowed his brows, glared at his wife, and then looked at me. “You know Dan, I can’t stand being married to Rene any longer! If I had known this marriage was going to be like this I never would have gotten married. Now we have four children and I feel like I’m trapped!” Mark’s rage bubbled over. It was obvious he was purposely trying to hurt his wife with his words.


Rene looked disgusted. “Married? Really? You really believe we’re married? If that’s true, you don’t act like it at all!” She spoke with contempt in her voice. “For starters, you have a girlfriend in New Mexico. If you think you can continue to carry on with that woman, I want a divorce.”


Mark escalated the attack. “Well, you drove me to her. She pays attention to me when I’m around and actually cares about what I do. All you do is gripe at me for not being enough. Besides, you kicked me out so what am I supposed to do? Just wait around until you feel like inviting me back home?”


I was silent and let them duke it out with their words for a bit. I knew exactly where this conversation was going.


In a soft voice, as tears dripped down her cheeks, Rene turned to me. “Dan, I just got tired of waiting for him to do the things he said he would do.” Then she whipped her head around and faced her husband. “When you were home with us, you would get up early in the morning and go to the office, where you worked all day with women. Then, while I was stuck at home with the kids, you would go out to dinner with them. I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That’s why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again. That never happened. You seemed glad to have left. Anyway, even while you were here, there wasn’t an ounce of romance left in our marriage! How do you think that makes me feel? I want a man who will put me first in his life. Honestly Mark, when we first met twenty years ago, I believed you were that man, but now I don’t even know you.”


Mark bristled and took a deep breath, doing his best to maintain some semblance of composure. “Dan, I’m in the fashion business. Most of the people I work with are either gay men or women. I can’t help that! Why can’t Rene support me? After all, I’m the one who provides a great home and pays for the kids’ private school, the medical care, food, clothing—geez, nobody has had to go without anything. I wasn’t seeing anybody until I realized that I just couldn’t go on like that any longer. I was beginning to feel like a hermit. All Rene was doing was getting back at me for what she felt I owed her. When she kicked me out I got an apartment and, sure, a girlfriend on the side. But I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn’t take the nagging and complaining anymore!”


Rene turned away so that Mark couldn’t see her cry. Then she said something I’m sure many of you either say yourself or hear from your spouse.


“But what about me, Mark? What about my needs?”


It was the classic “I-need-I-need-I-need” complaint. Yet each one was only listening to their own needs.


The frustrating part for me was that Mark and Rene had the tools they needed to turn their marriage around. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what they needed to do. Though I had worked with them for about two years, they were not getting anywhere. If there was any chance of this marriage not ending in divorce, one thing needed to happen.


They needed to renew their thinking.


Specifically, Mark and Rene had to come to a transformation of how they viewed their marriage. It had nothing to do with changing their behavior or actions towards themselves and each other. Change in that sense is superficial and many times it is temporary. God has called us to rely on Him, not for changing even what we consider “wrong” with us or bad, but in how we relate to God, ourselves, and each other, as well as what we cannot not change. We don’t need to change, fix, or better the bad stuff about us, we need the kind of change we call transformation—changing how we view ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage. In other words, the way you view your spouse or a particular situation you are in—whether you are fighting again about the same thing you fought about yesterday, or your kids are rebelling in the worst way, or there has been betrayal—is what determines the quality of your life together.


This is what Mark and Renee needed to do. They had to look at their union in a completely new way. If this didn’t happen, all the tools and applications and skills they had learned to save their marriage would be useless. Why? Because they had begun to view one another as products—something they thought needed to be different or better. Therefore, they would use those tools, applications and skills to try and “fix” what they thought needed to change, like a defective product, radically distracting them from what could be new without having to fix anything. In fact, if you pay close attention to the language they use, it is not much different than the language we might use when researching a purchase. It was time for them to stop tallying their expenses and start counting the cost.


Luke writes how Jesus was once followed by a large crowd. Jesus tells these folks something very powerful about what it really means to follow Christ and His Kingdom.

“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn't finish.’” (Luke 14:25–30 MSG)


Jesus was saying that before we even consider getting into relationship with Him, we need to count the cost. He clarified His statement by specifying that the potential cost could be loss of familial affections and those close to us, as well as the death of the traditions and habits that are a part of these relationships. Jesus pulled no punches. The cost is great.


Marriage is one of God’s tools for building His kingdom, and if we are to pioneer the possibility of a kingdom life together we must prepare to make life-defining sacrifices. We must prepare to change the way we view life or change our purpose for living together.


This call doesn’t make any sense when it comes to our culture. Why? Because we live in a “consumer”-oriented culture. It is a part of who we are because it is what we were born into. Our relationships, in particular, are immersed in consumerism.


A consumer views marriage as if it exists for individual fulfillment. If a spouse isn’t being fulfilled, then that “consumer” looks for another relationship or even falls into an addiction to fulfill their particular needs—whether to look good, feel good, be right, or be in control. Mark and Rene’s marriage is a prime example of a consumer marriage. Remember some of their complaints?


Mark talked about his reason for dating a woman in New Mexico. He said, “I needed a companion, somebody who made me feel like I mattered. I just couldn’t take the nagging, whining, and complaining!” Mark wanted to feel good by being appreciated and not be asked to live up to what he had promised. He also wanted to be right and in control, so he used his interpretation of Rene’s asking him to move out as a way to justify his going out with the other woman.


Rene remarked, “I got tired of feeling abandoned and so I decided since you were never home and always out with other women, we might as well make it official. That’s why I kicked you out. I hoped that you would soon realize what you had lost and begin to court me again.” She also wanted to feel good and be in control. She longed to be romanced, and her way to control that outcome was to kick her husband out.


Notice the price Mark and Rene were willing to pay to manipulate the other to get what they wanted—the looming dissolve of their marriage. Many Christian couples approach marriage this same way, as a consumer, because they don’t know or understand what God intended marriage to be.


And Now for Something Completely Different


Mark and Rene had entered the death spiral of the consumer marriage. For all their talk about their “needs,” they were missing their real need: A new way of understanding what marriage is all about for them as citizens of the kingdom of Jesus.


Jesus steps on the scene and says, “Where's My kingdom in all of this? Your personal fulfillment and satisfaction are the means to the end. There's nothing temporary about your marriage, and it is not disposable. You stick with each other and work diligently to develop your oneness, even if it is deeply dissatisfying and unfulfilling for long periods of time. Abandon your consumer marriage mindset and come and follow me. I will train you in how to stick with something and not be stuck with it!”


I don't have a program to prescribe, or a list of marriage pointers to post on the fridge. I want you to enter something completely new, together. Set the past aside. Don't even look back there, not even as a frame of reference. What I'm offering is total transformation, something truly, completely new. Something unprecedented, unparalleled.


Surrendering Certitude


The question before us is, Will we take Jesus up on His offer or will we allow our precious marriages—our families for generations to come—to go down with the ship of the consumer mindset? Let's focus in and look at the difference between the two types of marriages in greater detail.


The consumer marriage says: “I will be who I ought to be as long as, and to the degree, that you are who you ought to be.” The kingdom marriage says, “I will be who I ought to be whether you are or not.”


If you are anything like me, you're probably asking, “Why would I be who I ought to be if the other person is taking (or may take) advantage of me?” or “Why should I change if my spouse doesn’t (or may not) want to change?” or “Why should I do all the work if my spouse doesn’t (or may not) want to work just as hard as I am?” These questions are all grounded in the fear of the unknown, which is a huge part of consumer thinking.


Here is what I mean: The one thing we as consumers want from products is predictability. We want to know exactly what we will get, how they will work, who will be delivering them, when they will arrive, and how much they will cost. In short we want to have as much control as we can possibly get, with the most efficiency and convenience possible. Anything outside of that is unknown, uncertain, and definitely uncomfortable. Therefore, we strive to maintain control at all costs and eliminate any risks of encountering or dealing with the unknown.


Surely it is no accident that because of our innate need for this type of certitude, God calls those of us who desire to be united with another to be married. This union, in His eyes, depends on submission instead of control. In marriage, when we submit to the unknown we become open to the rewarding depths of its mysteries. One of my favorite passages about this concept is found in Ephesians and is a pictorial example of a kingdom marriage that counters the consumer lifestyle.

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” (Eph. 5:21–31 MSG)


What strikes me most when I read this Scripture is the way Christ treats the church—through loving, honoring, respecting, and giving. This illustrates for us the manner that each husband is to treat his wife and how each wife is to honor her husband. Paul’s commission to us powerfully aligns with Jesus’ words in Luke about counting the cost. In both passages we are called to submission. If we want to be Jesus’ disciples, we must submit to Him and follow His example. If our marriage is to be a blessing to us and our community, we must submit to each other.


While our culture has taught us that the highest reward is to be served and be the master of our own destiny, we are told something contrary in the Bible. God reminds us that the greatest value in life is to submit and give ourselves over to God and one another. Becoming a servant will bring forth a greater blessing than this consumer world could ever give us. As it relates to marriage, submission is an opposing force to certitude, our need to be in control, and our beliefs that we know everything. The bottom line is that being a know-it-all is an obstacle to embracing mystery in marriage.


Think about this. Do we know everything about God? Of course not. Actually, the one thing we can be certain about is how inexhaustible the mystery of God is, as Job declared.

Do you think you can explain the mystery of God? Do you think you can diagram God Almighty? God is far higher than you can imagine, far deeper than you can comprehend, stretching farther than earth's horizons, far wider than the endless ocean. If he happens along, throws you in jail then hauls you into court, can you do anything about it? He sees through vain pretensions, spots evil a long way off—no one pulls the wool over his eyes! Hollow men, hollow women, will wise up about the same time mules learn to talk. (Job 11:7 MSG)


The foundation of life is God, and He has revealed Himself as mystery. This characteristic and the way He has invited us to discover and experience who He is reflects the very nature of mystery inherent in marriage. When we abandon our certitude and instead submit to God and then to one another, we open the door to the possibility of continual renewal. We stop pigeonholing ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage into what we think we know about them. And it is only by embracing mystery that we can begin to experience a transformational kingdom marriage.


Possibilities?


One night, Mark showed up at my house with steam pouring out of his ears. It was obvious he was desperate. “Dan, I need to talk to you. I can’t take Rene’s nagging any longer. All she wants to do is try and control me. She is so insecure that I can’t stand being with her! I can’t do this anymore. It’s over.”


Frankly, I was taken back by his certitude about where Rene was coming from, so I asked him how he knew she was insecure. For the next hour, Mark and I talked about that supposed surety. Mark also remarked that there was more bad than good in the marriage.


I reminded him about the “for better or for worse part” he uttered in their marriage vows and asked, “Isn’t that what you promised her? That you would stick around for better or for worse?”


Mark thought for a moment and said, “Sure, but she just won’t submit to me!” (Ah, spoken like a true consumer. I have heard this same thing from so many people of faith.)


After talking with him a bit, I learned that many of Mark’s Christian friends thought Rene was rebellious. I asked him to consider another point of view. I brought up the passage in Ephesians about submission and asked him what level of submission men are called to.


Mark replied confidently, “We are to be the head of the family!”


“Actually,” I pointed out, “it says we are to love our wives as Jesus loves the church and gave Himself as a sacrifice for her. My question to you is, if we are to love our wives as Jesus loves the church, who actually gave themselves first, Jesus or the church?”


“Jesus did.” Mark said in low tones.


“And who was crucified for the church to see her resurrected?”


“Jesus was.”


“The Bible says Jesus’ love was ‘marked by giving not getting,’ yet when we talk about your relationship with Rene,” I said. “You dwell on what you are not getting. I wonder how anybody would tend to feel if they were constantly reminded of their insufficiencies?”


“I get your point,” Mark retorted. “But the bottom line still is that all she does is gripe.”


I probed further, “Are you certain that is all she does?”


“Okay, not all the time. I know it isn’t healthy to use the words “always” and “never,” but she does it most of the time!”


I asked Mark if he was certain what Rene was doing was complaining. Could she, in fact, be doing something else that he was not able to see because he was so blinded by what he was so sure he knew?


Mark thought about what I said for a moment and then looked at me. “I am so tired of this relationship and how hard it is to just connect on anything. I think I just want to be done with it.”


I paused for a minute, weighing my response. “Mark, I do get you are being honest about how it feels for you, but do you think your certainty that the relationship is what you have described has anything to do with your despair? I mean, if Rene is who you are certain she is, and there is no possibility that she could be any other way, then I understand your despair. But what if things were NOT exactly the way you have them set in your head? Would it matter? If there was another possibility, would you like to know about it?”


“Yes, I would want to know if I am missing something.” Mark let out a frustrated sigh. “But it just doesn’t seem worth the time!”


“According to who? You? Rene? Your kids?” I asked with an edge in my voice.


“You’re right. I guess there can’t be much possibility if I am so certain about who she is, how she will respond, what she says, and what she wants.”


(Bingo!)


“Mark, what if the loss of your romance for Rene had little to nothing to do with her?” I inquired.


A sense of surprise came over his face and he inquired, “What do you mean?”


“If you think you know who she is, what she will say and think, as well as how she will react, then there are no new possibilities available. There is no mystery in the relationship and therefore no sense of anticipation for what God may be doing between you. No mystery equals no romance!”


“Perhaps that has something to do with the despair I’m feeling,” Mark mused.


I wondered out loud and asked, “Do you think seeing Jennifer contributes to that sense of despair?”


“Why would you say that?”


“It seems obvious to me that the more you see her, the more you will need to be right about these judgments you have about Rene so you can justify seeing Jennifer. That way you don’t have to be open to who you and Rene can be together. But sooner or later, Mark, you will have to explain this to your children. The prices are huge for the few fleeting moments of self-satisfaction you are gaining with Jennifer. Now that is a real formula for despair.”


Mark sat still for a few moments and then came back strong. “All this wondering about my certitude about Rene seems like a waste of time. I have been with her for fifteen years. I really do feel like I know how she will react.”


“Mark, I am asking you to consider and explore what you are making up about her reaction. When she complains about things, do you investigate her complaint? Have you stopped and wondered what she is trying to communicate by her complaining?”


His answer was immediate. “Yes. She is trying to control me because she is insecure.”


“Are you certain she is insecure? Perhaps part of submitting to another is being open to who your spouse is outside of your prejudice of them. I know you have your historical evidence to validate your judgment of why Rene reacts the way she does, but how much time have you spent questioning that certainty?


Mark still wasn’t fazed. “Dan you don’t understand what it is like to live with her and her nagging. She doesn’t care and I don’t see any good what could come out of this. This is just too much suffering to have to go through.”


I made one last attempt. “Mark, you know the suffering Aileen and I have gone through in our marriage, right?”


He nodded his head in acknowledgment while I reminded him of my story. “My wife and I were discussing divorce and were separated in our own house for a year. We saw no possibility that we would ever care enough for each other to ever be intimate again. But we decided that our son deserved the chance of us trying. We needed to at least try and trust God. We needed to at least try to devote some time to exploring our own judgments of each other. We needed to at least try and understand where the other was coming from outside of the record of wrongs we had built up to bolster our judgments of each other.


“Our hope and prayer was that God would somehow draw us into some new possibilities for each other. We realized we had loved one another once before. We experienced great passion for one another, much like you and Rene have shared in the past. We kept believing that God would open possibility in the suffering if we were willing to love each other as we wanted the other to love us. We were determined to get out of the consumer mindset that had done nothing except ruin our marriage.”


Something hit home. Mark promised to think about it and we ended the conversation.


Mark needed to abandon the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality and discard his certitude about Rene’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. He needed to embrace the possibility that could emerge from exploring the mystery of who she is and who they could be together.


I know this because this is what saved my marriage. I gave mystery a chance. The second I was able to allow mystery to seep into my thought process about my wife … the second I was able to admit that perhaps I didn’t know what she was thinking or the reasons for how she would react to particular things … the second I was able to allow God to intervene and transform my heart to give without expecting … was the second that the possibility opened for transforming our relationship.


Letting Go of Yesterdays


Experiencing this renewal and other possibilities that emerge from embracing the unknown is impossible until we let the past die. We need to let go of yesterday. The record of the past is the foundation upon which we built up a structure of false assumptions. The more we attempt to recapture the past, the more we miss the “new” God is doing now.


In the Bible God tells us, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun” (Isa. 43:19 NLT). Part of counting the cost and picking up our cross is trusting God in letting the old die so He can begin a “new.” This is what it means to embrace the kind of mystery Jesus talked about of losing your life in order to gain it (see Matt. 16:25).


Embracing mystery and letting go of the old is never a comfortable process. It is ambiguous and uncertain. But this is what prompts us to cling to our faith in God. And this is what demands His intervention.


You may be thinking I don’t know if I can let go of feeling neglected or I’m not sure how to stop thinking about my wife’s infidelity or Can my husband and I really find peace in the middle of this tumultuous marriage with all we’ve been through?


The beauty of a kingdom marriage is that the designer is God Himself. He is the one who is able to renew our marriages by eclipsing the past with new possibilities. Even in the midst of the suffering, pain, and brokenness of a failing marriage, if we submit to God instead of submitting to our selfish, consumer-oriented desires—wanting to be in control, be right, look good, and feel good—He can renew our inner being and, ultimately, our marriage. This only happens, however, if we reinvent our relationship to the past, which will transform the power it has over us and give Him permission to bring about transformation.


When we allow God to get into the middle of our marriages and submit to His will, He not only transforms our character, but He transforms the value of the very things that caused us harm or were unhealthy in the past. God’s intervention in these things creates an opportunity for healing and renewal. Even our failures as spouses can be turned into learning lessons that can bless our marriage and even those around us.


Sure we have to designify our past—the hurts we’ve been caused, the hurts we’ve caused—but there is more to transformation than just that. God has the power to take the bad things, even what we consider our character flaws, our lapses in judgment, our bad decisions, and turn them into blessings in disguise. God transforms us by taking those things we judge as bad or evil that we have thought, said, or done and turning them into strengths or gifts, if we are willing to live in the light. This is what spiritual transformation is all about.


A year or so after counseling Mark and Rene, they shared with my wife and I how God transformed a particular aspect of their marriage that relates exactly to what I’m talking about.


Mark admitted that he finally realized how selfish his need for Renee’s attention had been, especially when it came to their sex life. He said they had a breakthrough in this regard because not only had their sex life increased in quality and quantity, but their intimacy in conversation had been dramatically heightened during this time.


Rene nodded her head in agreement. “When Mark turned that sensitivity from himself on me,” she explained, “I was completely overwhelmed by his love and appreciation. He recognized things about me I didn’t know anybody could see or appreciate. It transformed the way I view him and I began to experience respect where I formerly experienced contempt.”


Mark chimed in. “In the beginning, I couldn’t take Rene’s sharp edge and eye for detail. To me she seemed critical. But as I began to understand her perspective and she made room to investigate her own assumptions, her griping transformed! The ‘edge’ that I viewed as a threat was really a powerful commitment to integrity and congruity. Instead of hearing her as if her intentions were solely to criticize and knock me down, I started considering what she was seeing. This transformation opened up my eyes to other areas that we had been lacking in, like finances and our relationship with our kids. Though our willingness to be so open initially made us uncomfortable and even hurt in some ways, I realized how powerful it is to have a friend who cares for our future more than just living in the status quo. We are truly becoming a family because we can see specific situations we can pray into and discuss that make a real difference in our way of being together!”


Mark and Renee both agreed that this kind of transformation came through their willingness to suffer through being misunderstood, making mistakes, and feeling alone—all the emotions and feelings that are endured when we let go of past and allow God to step into our suffering and bring light to our darkness. Standing in the middle of challenges like these pays spiritual dividends far beyond what we know is possible.


What’s my point? Suffering in a hurting marriage can bring possibility. It can transform your union and yield the passion to bring you closer to your spouse. It can lead us to love as God has ordained it. Here, in the mere shadows of this world, faith hangs on to the possibility that what looks temporally harsh and horrible can be transformed into something that is eternally passionate and life-changing. Faith is the antithesis of the consumer mindset, which says that anything unpleasant should simply be discarded and replaced.


A New Beginning


Before Mark and Rene made the turnaround in their marriage, they had gotten to the point where I was mediating their divorce instead of trying to fix their marriage. Two years of hardcore counseling seemed to be worth nothing as I did my best to wisely help divvy up their assets. It was a gut-wrenching process to orchestrate.


When the subject of the custody of their children came up, the mood transformed from bitterness to sadness. Mark and Rene burst out, almost simultaneously, that they didn’t want to go through with the divorce. It was a surreal moment. It was as if all the things we discussed came alive in one moment for the two of them. They wanted to give their marriage another chance. They wanted to really listen to each other. They wanted to let go of what they thought they knew about the other person. They wanted to allow God to intervene with His love.


Mark and Rene have now been married for twenty-four years. They are very much in love and are enjoying their renewed, God-designed kingdom marriage. As a matter of fact, they recently shared with me that their romance continues to increase as they maintain their trust in God and embrace mystery while working with the other tools we originally practiced in our sessions. They say no to the temptation of being a consumer spouse. They resist asking, “What’s in this for me?” and continue to let go of their addiction to be right and in control. In doing all of these things, they are influencing the kingdom of God in a powerful way.


When will that surreal moment of surrender come for you in your marriage? What will it take for you to realize that God has called you to a mystery not a purchase agreement? That He has invited you into a conversation, not stump speech to promote your personal agenda? Be encouraged that no matter how bad you think your marriage is right now, there is hope. All is not lost.


If your marriage is not ailing in any way, use these lessons like a business person might use the Wall Street Journal or Forbes Magazine to build their foundation, keep an eye on the market or to better get a grasp on the trends that may be coming up. You can use this book to check, strengthen or expand the foundations of a kingdom marriage so you are better prepared when tough times do eventually come. Understanding how to live marriage in a way that expresses the kingdom will help weather future storms.


HIGHLIGHTS


A consumer-oriented marriage teaches us that we are the focal point of our marriage. It’s about our needs getting met. It’s about us.


God commissions us to live a kingdom marriage where the relationship is the highest good. We are called to be who we ought to be, even though our spouse may not be who they ought to be.


The first step to experiencing a renewed and transformational marriage is to look at it and start living it from a kingdom perspective. Otherwise whatever tools you apply will be used to accomplish the purposes of a consumer, not a servant in the kingdom of God.


Being in a kingdom marriage means submitting to God and your spouse. We are called to give of ourselves in a sacrificial way.


When we submit in this fashion, we embrace mystery. God is part mystery and so we, created in His image, are part mystery. When we understand that we don’t know everything about ourselves, our spouse, or our marriage, we open the possibility to experience our marriage and our spouse in new ways.


Letting the past go is critical to moving forward into a kingdom marriage, where God is the focal point. He is the one who can bring transformation, even out of our pains and suffering. He is the one who can turn what we thought were curses into blessings.


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Us by Daniel Tocchini. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.