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A Diagnosis for Every Human Being

I’ve been looking over your files and I think I’ve narrowed down the diagnosis for your condition. You are uniquely you and that’s why you’ve been acting the way you have. I don’t think this condition will change. You’ll probably be you the rest of your life. You’ll continue struggling with this condition. Some days will be great. Others will not be good. Some days, in fact, will be agony. You’ll be especially susceptible to life. Your condition will continue to cause you pain. I know you’ve tried to shake this condition. You’ve tried in the past to be somebody else and that didn’t work. Discontinue this. It will never work.

The best thing you can do is to face up to your condition and stop trying to stop other people from being them. Especially the people you live with.

Besides that, since God has already decided to heal “you,” “you” must not be “someone else.” Otherwise “you” will be hopelessly unredeemable. You must come just as “you” are.

The bad news is that life (with “you”) will continue to be dangerous, painful, and filled with risk and failure.

The good news is that by accepting this diagnosis, life will be real and God will be the Powerful Redeemer you dreamed He would be.

Settle the Instrument

I love this phrase. It is a three word equalizer. Whisper it when you become scattered and life is chaotic.

Perhaps it was all that fiery fundamentalist preaching I heard growing up or maybe because I had coaches that only spoke in loud, louder, and ear-ringing, facemask-grabbing vibrato. But I imagined God’s voice as a booming voice. However, I’ve learned that if you want to hear His voice, you’ve got to lean in a little. He speaks softly. He whispers. And so often listening involves shutting everything else off.

 Elijah learned this lesson at a low-point in his life when he was running scared from a controlling, powerful woman.  That must have been quite a day!  He wakes up to the aroma of fresh bread baked by an angel. Sometimes when we are exhausted and emotionally drained, the best thing we can do is to have a bite to eat.  There’s something wonderfully sacred about that. Notice, God didn’t strike him dead for his lack of heroism and abundance of fear. He fed him. That’s grace. Elijah went into solitude for forty days. He heard the wind. God wasn’t there. He heard the fire.  Nope. Not there either. Then he heard God in a whisper. Are you taking the time to listen to the voice of God? His voice is grace and nourishment for the hungry soul, like freshly baked bread over an open fire. His ready to speak, but Jesus is a gentleman. He’ll never interrupt.

Recipe for Settling the Instrument

  • Eliminate Distrations
  • Lean into the Silence
  • Turn Something Off
  • Create Space
  • Give Things Away
  • Reject Numbing Influences
  • Acknowledge the Pain (a.k.a. teaching tool)

Three Marriage Rules to Break

I recently ran into someone I knew in college at the mall in my home town. He was THE DUDE on campus. He married the campus beauty and received an assistantship at a prestigious law school in the northeast which allowed him to return home and begin a successful law office.

Amazingly, he remembered me. (I wasn’t THE dude. I was a lower case “dude.”) We decided to grab some coffee and catch up for a minute or two. He told me about his practice, his amazing house and two kids.

And I couldn’t help but notice the gaping hole in his story. What about his wife– that amazing wife he married shortly after we graduated?

I didn’t remember her name. Seems like it started with a “J.” Do I ask or do I leave town with this question bothering me for days? I thought, “What will it hurt to ask this guy about his wife?” So with as much ease and casual grace as I could muster I asked, “So how’s um … Jane doing?”

“Jill?”

“Right! Jill.”

John took a deep breath. “It ended after our second child was a toddler. She wanted way too much from me. I felt smothered and my personality just wasn’t connecting with hers. Jill was impossible. She got upset when she didn’t know where all my money was going. She constantly questioned my schedule. If I was a few hours late or had to stay at the office overnight without telling her, she’d freak. And she became very paranoid when I struck up friendships with the opposite sex. I felt like she assumed she married an Amish guy who signed an agreement not to have a life.

This was an uncomfortable situation for me. I hate people who judge others as much as anybody but I had huge alarms going off in my head.

How could someone so smart, be so far adrift in the oceans of relationships and marriage?

The three objections that he mentioned in his terse explanation created the perfect storm which led to a bankruptcy, joint custody, and many complicated, awkward conversations – like the one we were having.

You see, John had some rules about his life and his marriage. These marriage rules must be broken if your marriage is going to be everything you, your spouse and God desires it to be.

By all means, let your freak flag fly and break these idiotic rules our culture values.

Your money is your money.

Many couples I counsel fail to recognize that marriage as a financial partnership. God wants you and your spouse to work together and He’s quite interested in the way you handle money in your marriage.

It’s a tool God uses to teach us about sacrifice, unconditional love, communication, cooperation, trust and stewardship.

We learn these virtues in the classroom of finances.

The idea of separating the money that comes into the home is a dubious proposal. Leave a legacy of growth and sacrifice by working together as a family to achieve financial decisions and goals.

Your time is your time.

Every person needs time to be alone. It’s essential for prayer, reflection and restoration of mind and body. But to assume that your time is your time is to miss the entire message of a covenant marriage.

I know. You’re busy. But you’re married, too! Your time is no longer just your time. We have to learn balance. If you don’t have balance in your schedule, find it!

If you are making decisions alone regarding your time, your marriage can become toxic fast.

The issue of time and money can present the greatest threats to your marriage. Remember: the greatest barometers of your love for your spouse and your love of God are money and time.

In fact, Jesus felt so strongly about these two life values that He spent more time on them than He did on anything else.

Your friends are your friends.

(In other words, there should be no problem at all with husbands having a close female friend or two and the same for wives about a male friend.)

This is a rule that often leads to sticky, complicated messes. John held on to this rule with white knuckles until his marriage imploded.

He fell for a client with whom He spent lots of time. What began as an innocent working relationship grew into emotional cheating.

One may begin a relationship as functional allies. It may begin with an innocent compliment, then giving way to subtle flirtations, discussing marriage trouble, gift giving, sharing meals and traveling in the same cars.

And once that train leaves the station it’s difficult to stop.

Don’t trust your heart enough to do these things. Run away from these opportunities! Nothing good happens when you go there.

And the story continues…

So that’s the story of a friend of mine who didn’t break these insidious rules and broke his marriage in the process. In fact, he married the client.

Happily married today? No.

Believe it or not, she had the same issues with John’s rules as wife #1. They split in less than a year after their marriage began.

It’s the story of so many divorces: couples who were madly in love but refused to break some rules to save their marriage.

And if you want some rules that are truly liberating and provide the greatest chance to have a marriage that sizzles, try these:

  • Love relentlessly.
  • Never let anything stand between you and the love of your life.
  • Celebrate the little things.
  • Say important, loving words to your spouse today because you are never promised tomorrow.
  • Control your work; spend the night with your spouse (not the other way around).
  • Constantly invest in your relationship. The payoff is huge.
  • Learn to forgive, forgive and forgive. It truly is divine!
  • Admit your hurts and faults.
  • Listen with your ears, your eyes and your touch.
  • Open up. Speak the last 2% that you’ve kept to yourself.
  • And last but not least – never, ever give up on your spouse.

What is Honor?

I told my son to live with honor and He looked at me as if I was quoting Shakespeare. My grandfather taught me the definition of what honor is. I believe if he were alive today, he’d put it this way:

Honor is patience with those you love, not speaking harshly, respecting people who do for you when you cannot do those things by yourself, Honor is defending and praying for family members. Honor is defending the fort and having each other’s back. Honor is defending your wingman and understanding the chain of command. Honor is manhood in that when you become a man you provide for other people. Honor is when you realize this life is not about you. It’s about others. Honor is serving without the promise of return. Honor is realizing when you have been given food that you didn’t plant, slaughter or earn and you feel a sense of grace and gratefulness to God and others. Honor is looking at your future and the future of others rather than allowing the past trap you in bitterness. Honor is turning the other cheek when you have been falsely accused knowing the Lord will have the last word and it is not our to judge another righteousness. Honor is self-evaluation and being able to filter our actions through truth. Honor is saying, “Wow, I blew it. Will you forgive me?” Honor is replying, “Yes I forgive you. Let’s work on doing things differently starting today”

This is what honor looked like to me as a towheaded grandson because this is the way my grandfather lived his life. Man, do I ever miss him! I miss having such a powerful, flesh-and-blood example of what it means to be a husband, father and man of honor.

 

A Different Kind of Resolution

I hereby resolve:

to not take myself so seriously.

to not win arguments

to love the people nobody seems to be loving

to connect on a deeper level with my friends

to be honest in my conversations

to treat myself like Jesus treats me

to leave people alone when they want to be left alone

to not fix my family

to laugh more

to dream more

to give more

to treasure sleep

to weep without shame

to rest when I’m tired

to celebrate the accomplishments of others

to live wholeheartedly

to never judge

to always love

to be present

to be available

to put people above agendas

to live in a perpetual state of gratitude

In other words, this year, I’ll try to go to Heaven.

If I do all this I won’t have to wait until I die to get there.

Sing While Bleeding

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) wrote the hymn quoted above. Ornate, yes, but not lacking in both grit and glory. This verse wasn’t written in a vacuum. Martin had plenty of reasons to be perplexed, if not completely horrified. During the Thirty Years’ War, Martin watched as refugees flooded his town. The Swedish army surrounded and choked the city, which created a putrid cocktail of famine and disease. People died by the hundreds. And at the end, Rinkart was the only minister left—doing 50 funerals a day.

That’s the backdrop of this famous hymn that’s been sung for over 400 years. One can’t help being astounded by the tenacious faith of Rinkart and the song that came from it. But isn’t that just like life? The songs that really stand the test of time are songs that we sing when we are bleeding. It is certain. We will all bleed in the future- some from the scars of addiction, divorce, rebellion, illness, or betrayal. No one gets out alive, at least metaphorically. And when you’re bleeding you’d better have a song. The song is what stops the bleeding. It’s also what you’ll be remembered for.

It’s true! The best letters were all written from prison. Paul’s make up a third of the New Testament. The best songs are sung in jail. Paul proved that too. Stuff happens when hurting people sing. Paul also learned the secret and he shared it with us in his letter to the Philippians. Learn to be content in all circumstances. (And sing a little too.)

6 Steps to Simplify Christmas

Holidays can get complicated. If we don’t pay attention our debt grows, our peace shrinks and our stress expands. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 6 ways you can make Christmas a simpler, more beautiful season.

1. Heighten your gratitude.
Paul reminds us that anxiety and gratitude don’t mix:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7.

Once you enter the festival of generosity, an amazing sense of peace flows into your soul.

2. Lower your expectations.
Christmas is hard for people because they set their expectations too high when they reunite with extended family members. Very few people have perfectly healthy memories with their family. Family is hard work and so lower your expectations that everyone will behave over the few days. You’ll be glad you did. We can’t judge our extended family relationships using the scale of a Hallmark Movie where everything is resolved in two hours. We must remember that we are all works in progress.

3. Check your wallet.
You can’t spend your way into reconciliation. I know this will come as a blow to the credit card companies but it’s true. Physical, tangible presents will not change a life, but your forgiveness and unconditional love will.

Jesus knew this about mankind: How you spend your money reveals the priorities of your heart.

4. Slow your pace.
 Find the Power Button.
Every remote has one. Enjoy real people- not just the ones on TV. “No” is a complete sentence.
You’ve heard it before but it’s worth remembering. You don’t have to attend every party or do everything you did last year. Slow down. Breathe. Rest.
 Be aware of what you consume.
Have a brownie. But not the whole pan.

5. Slim down the STUFF.

Most people spend an outrageous amount of time adding to the stuff they already own. Take time to spend less on material goods, give away what you don’t need, and add breathing room in your home.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul.
Psalm 131:1-2

This is a promise to God’s people that less of the unnecessary will quiet your soul.

6. Don’t Miss Jesus.

The arrival of Jesus will change everything if we prepare. He will come to give us something money could never buy.

May we not seek satisfaction in the things we touch. He will come to teach us how to live in dangerous surrender.
May we not seek safety in this life. The good stuff always involves risk.
May we live our lives by the measuring stick of how well we love each other.
May we be the Body of Christ.
May we live with each other in the land of grace.

Don’t miss Jesus as we celebrate His advent with simplicity and love.

We Get What We’ve Got: A Lament

When the church has disolved into fear and unrest,
When mercy and love are no longer the test.
When debaters use words from a seamy bordello
When justice is gone and our backbone is jello.
When the enemy wins without firing a shot
And we lose all our scruples, then we get what we’ve got.

When we pick circus sideshows and tag them as leaders
When we cheer the unmerciful, crass bottom-feeders
When we worship the altars of gossip and fame
It’s clear that we’ve only ourselves we can blame.
When tweets are the apex of critical thought-
It’s a supreme indication that we get what we’ve got.

When the blood of the unborn cries out from the ground
And the band plays along without hearing a sound.
When the kids of Aleppo are battered and killed
Our cowardly hearts are plainly revealed.
When the simple can see each nefarious plot
It’s a sure indication–We get what we’ve got.

When racism severs our nation in two
And guns are the gods, and they’re pointed at you.
When nothing is sacred, praiseworthy and pure
When we trash godly wisdom, our destiny’s sure.
In days of decision this choice says a lot.
It’s just our comeuppance: We get what we’ve got.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer of a Messy Follower

Thank You Jesus…
You’ve been so faithful to this messed-up follower.
You restore my sanity on a weekly basis.
You reach into the nothingness and give me everything I need.
You’ve been far greater and more powerful than everything I’ve faced.
If I did anything good, it was because of You.
You have never given up on me even though I’ve given you plenty of opportunities.
I can’t begin to know the number of times you have overlooked my weaknesses.
I can’t think of a time when You haven’t been there for me.
I wish I had the words to express how You bring me such peace.
I can only say, You have been so good to me.
I love you, Jesus.
If I didn’t take another breath, every step I’ve walked with You has been worth it.
I love the promise of Heaven, but if this life was all there was, I wouldn’t change a thing.
You deserve so much more of me, Jesus.
So tomorrow I’m going to try to hand more of my life over to You.
I just know I’ve got more to give and I can learn how to love You better than I did today.
So I’ll see You in the morning.

Five Survival Sayings (Read, Believe, Repeat… Constantly)

Theological elitists, keep moving along. There’s nothing that will interest you here.

Jacked-up sinners, like me, pay careful attention.

We all need a few easy-to-remember axioms that get us through the day. As a man of habit who has struggled with self- condemnation through the years, I’ve white-knuckled these truths in the middle of my own messiness. You may have heard them before but they are worth reviewing:

The depth of God’s love for me has nothing to do with my performance.

It has never been about earning His love. There’s nothing I could do that will make God love me more than He already does. (nothing) God is love, love, love all the time, regardless of my behavior.

 

Jesus came for messy people (like me).

He walked into my personal hurt locker. The last few days of Jesus earthly ministry are a statement: “I can be hurt just like you.” He didn’t run away from the pain. He walked into it with purpose. He didn’t create the struggle bus. He doesn’t drive the struggle bus. He’s on the struggle bus and He’s sitting right there with you. If you grieve because you don’t have it all together, remember this: Everybody– even (insert name of the holiest person you know) struggles.

The Gospel means Good News.

Jesus came to save, not to condemn. If you are feeling the weight of overwhelming condemnation, know that this is not from Jesus. Jesus was never into condemnation, except when it came to name-calling, angry, judgmental professional religionists.

I can never out-grace God.

He doesn’t create torture. That is not in His nature. The stubborn nature of humanity is to figure out how to justify one’s self in two ways: revealing our righteousness or someone else’s unrighteousness. This is not what Christianity is all about.

We pay good money and attention to radio hosts, bloggers, TV pundits, and investigative reporters to root out the scandals around us. Something inside us draws us in to listen and to analyze it with friends. Perhaps we do this so that we can hear that whispering voice within us saying, “I’m better that that guy. Right God?” While the truth is this: Uh… no. Jesus loves the ones caught in the act of adultery, idolatry, and addiction. It is the beautiful scandalous truth of Jesus’ nature.

Love is the theme.

Ultimately, it all deconstructs into one simple gigantic word: love. It’s not about how much money I give, how many good deeds I perform, how many verses I know, how many awards I garner. Love is the ultimate tester. It is about love and it always will be about love.

Important:

If the church you go to doesn’t sound like this, you might want to reconsider what keeps you there. Because the message of Christianity is so often hijacked by legalism,
perfectionism,
authoritarianism,
politics,
elitism,
showmanship,
personality worship,
serial guilt-mongering,
racism,
behavior-modification idolatry,
brow-beating,
shame-casting,
theological hairsplitting,
apoplectic apologetics,
righteous sarcasm,
appearance management,
and a thousand other slings and arrows disguising themselves as orthodoxy.

Orthodox Christianity says, “Come, weary one. Find rest.” If you’ve been wounded by the church and find yourself disconnected, I want to challenge you to find a community of grace. Reengage with the truth of Jesus. You need it like I need it. Because when it comes right down to it, without that kind of love, grace and connection the world is a dark and lonely place.