Those Things You Can’t Control

I read a story about a couple who wound up in their parish’s counseling office. The husband complained that his wife was forcing him to go to church. When the counselor asked the wife why she was doing that, she complained that her husband preferred to stay at home to watch cartoons. “But,” the counselor said, “you’re forcing him to go. It’s making him miserable.”

She said, “He has to come with me! What am I supposed to tell people when they ask me where he is?” And the counselor said, “You tell them he’s home watching cartoons.”

She protested. “How am I supposed to tell people that? What will people think of him?” And the counselor said, “They’ll think he’d rather watch cartoons than go to church. Big deal!”*

This floored her. She had been trying to control what other people thought of her and her husband and it hadn’t occurred to her that she didn’t need to. It was making them both miserable and the thing is, it was unnecessary. You can’t control the thoughts and opinions of other people. Trying to do so is an incredibly tough way to live. How many times do you walk into church, worrying in the back of your mind about what everyone thinks of you? It’s so draining, and in the end, you feel like a failure. You think, “Man, I’m failing as a Christian. I’m just not happy. The fruit of the Spirit is joy, and I’m miserable.”

The answer is grace, God’s wonderful gift that frees us! Grace frees us from fear-driven control and the shame of feeling like you failed. In grace, you don’t have to worry about other people’s opinions. You don’t have to be miserable. You don’t have to feel like a failure. You know you can’t control the thoughts and perceptions of others, and it doesn’t trouble you. You’re relying on Jesus! You can ask Jesus for wisdom and He’ll come through. That’s what He said He would do.

Legalism comes with long lists of things you can and can’t do, and even longer lists of things you should and shouldn’t do. It’s a constant struggle to try and meet all of those expectations. And it’s so unnecessary! You can’t control everything and everyone, and you shouldn’t try. There’s no need for it. You don’t have to worry about what people think of you. Not when you’re in the care of the One who loves you most of all.

Don’t live in shame. Don’t live in fear. Never mind about that person over there who is frowning on you. You don’t live for him. You live for Jesus! That’s all that matters. God is smiling on you, you know. He loves you so much. That’s where you will find your joy.

*Jeff VanVonderen, Families Where Grace Is in Place

When You Marry Your Wife

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her… Eph. 5: 22-25

Do I think that I’m the head of my family? Yes. That’s scripture. As Jesus is the head of the church, so the man is the head of his family and the home. But men have someone to answer to. God says, “You answer to me.”

When I stand before God, He will say, “I viewed you as the head of your family. Did you love them as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her?”

This is a powerful message for a Christian man. How you treat your wife and how your treat your kids is very, very important. How are you loving on them? How are you giving yourself for them? How your marriage is going is on you. When it comes to my marriage, when it comes to my wife, it’s on me.

If the husband is head of his wife just as Jesus is head of the church, then in order to understand this scripture we need to look at what Jesus did. Well, He died on a cross for us. Some people take this to mean that you have to be willing to die for your family.

Well, of course I’d die for my family! But I don’t think that’s what this scripture means. I don’t think that’s the correlation. When Jesus died on the cross, He took our shame. He took our shame, our embarrassment, our terrible decisions, all of our sin, and He said, “It’s on me.” And so He died.

That’s the correlation. That’s what husbands take on. When you marry your wife you say, “I will love you as Jesus loves us. I will take the embarrassment. I will try to provide a shameless environment.”

I don’t think we do that now. I don’t think that men look at marriage that way. I don’t think men fully understand what it means to be a husband, or what it means to be the head of a family, or what it means to be in a marriage.

So many men say, “My wife just doesn’t want to submit. She never listens to me. She never wants to submit to me.” They shame their wives. To those men, I say this: “If you want your wife to submit to your decisions, then make sure you take on the responsibility to create a shameless environment when the decision is wrong. We as husbands need to create a shameless environment where they feel loved and accepted even when they are wrong. To protect her heart is more important then being right and making her feel shame in her faults.”

What if a man goes to his wife and says, “I will bend over backwards for you. I will take your shame and I will take your embarrassment. Any situation that you have, I will step in and I will take it for you.” What happens then? Something beautiful. You will see a woman who is very satisfied in the marriage. The wife reflects the marriage, right? She will tell you how the marriage is going. All you have to do is look at her.

An Easter Message of Grace

We want control. We’re only human!

We want control over what we do and what happens to us. We want control over the future. In our flesh, we experience hunger, so we have to provide for ourselves and our families. We have to eat, so it’s natural to want control.

But we also want control over other people. We try to control how they react to us. Some of us try to control how they behave in our presence! This isn’t about the hunger our bodies experience or the food we need to stay alive. This is about something else. It’s about avoiding shame.

The thought process is something like this: “I want people to act a certain way when I’m around because that will make me feel better.”

For some of us, our greatest need for control involves the people closest to us, like our families. How many of us have said, “If my spouse and my kids look or act in a certain way, then people will think that our family is good.” Does that sound familiar?

There’s no shame in wanting control. It’s just being human.

As a baseball player, I was very control-oriented. When I went out on that field, I didn’t control where a hitter hit the ball. I didn’t control when a hitter took a swing. So I had to control everything before that. I controlled my environment at the field. I controlled my workouts and the development of my technique. I controlled the delivery of the pitch. All of this helped me succeed.

But when it comes to family and relationships, control won’t work. You cannot control other people.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “grace”? How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’ll give them grace this time.” It’s like saying, “I’ll just let it slide.” In some ways, grace has acquired a casual quality.

Maybe we hear grace and think mercy. We say, “Grace? That is the crucifixion. That is Jesus dying for us. Grace is salvation through faith. Grace is allowing us into His kingdom. It’s allowing us into His family.” Grace is mercy and all these things, yet there’s even more to grace than this.

I finally started to truly understand grace when I heard the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines grace as “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Think about that. How do we get God’s grace? We don’t! Grace is free. It is unmerited. We can’t earn it. God just gives it to us.

In some ways that is such a foreign concept! God just gives us His grace, even though we don’t deserve it! We don’t usually expect to receive good things that we don’t deserve, especially something as awesome as an unbreakable relationship with God. But truly, that’s what God does. He simply gives us His favor, no strings attached, and when God gives us grace He allows us to live in it.

When we are ready, God takes us on a journey into grace. This is a big part of the Christian life. Going on this journey, and understanding what grace means, has been a very big deal for me. It has allowed me to see scripture in a new way. God has led me to work with Biblical principles in new ways and gain fresh insight.

I’ve been learning what the Bible really means when it says, “Don’t live by the law,” and this is leading me to freedom. I can see now that surrendering control and living by grace frees us. It frees the people around us. Giving and receiving grace is the purest and most satisfying thing. It is living free in Christ.

Happy Easter!

 

 

Kindness and Deceit

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (NKJV 1 John 1:8-10)

The consequences of denying sin are not good. When we fear that we don’t look the part of the good Christian, we begin to judge. We try to make ourselves look better by judging the motives of others.

When we start judging, we start worrying about the people we hang out with. We get anxious about our friends and coworkers. We even judge the people we go to church with. We judge them and on that judgment conclude that we have to be careful “lest we become like them.” (Prov. 26:4)

We might even try to control the people in our lives. That’s also part of our denial. We want to control other people so that we can control how we react to them. We’re afraid of our reactions. We’re afraid to appear sinful.

Some Christians are afraid to let their kids hang out with non-Christians kids, because those kids may not see things the same way. Non-Christian kids might teach Christian kids the wrong stuff.

Well, what if the opposite happens? Maybe your kids will teach them things. Maybe your kid’s non-Christian friends will go home and their parents will see them love and act in new and different ways!

Fearing people who are outside the faith looking in leads us to become judgmental. We come at them in fear and judgment, and it’s no fun. It’s no fun to be around anyone like that, Christian or not.

I think we’ve got the wrong idea about influence. I think you have to keep an even keel. Whether you have believing friends or non-believing friends, you have people in your life that you must witness to. You have lots of people in your life, believing and non-believing, who need you to be around them.

You’ve got to be okay with this. You need to be kind to everybody. You need to be kind to yourself! Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, so you can trust that wherever you find kindness, you find Jesus.

We aren’t perfect. Our salvation did not perfect us. It made us saints who sin, and saints who sin have a call to lovingly bring the kingdom everywhere.

The consequences of denying sin are very serious, because they lead to fear. That’s the work of the enemy. Let’s follow Jesus to freedom! Fearlessly, and without judgment!

Discipline, Not Punishment

(Note: get your tickets for the September 14 screening of Heart of Man here. Get the powerful 7-day devotional here.)

I want a safe environment for dialogue with my kids. I want my kids to be able to talk to me without fear.

I want them to feel safe to bring their mistakes to me, especially the serious ones. I want to help them!

Here’s the dialogue I want:

“Hey dad, I messed up.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, I was speeding. I got a ticket.”

“So let’s talk about it. What are we going to do? ”

I’m not going to snap. I’m not going to hammer on my kids. You won’t hear me say, “How could you do that?” Or, “Why are you such an idiot?”

Hammering, hammering, hammering them – that’s not going to help. There are many different ways to handle any situation. You can find one that keeps your children safe in their relationship with you. The judging, and the holier-than-thou stuff, has never worked. It will never work.

It didn’t work with Jesus. The Pharisees were always hammering, and He blew up at them. The Pharisees were the holier-than-thou people. They were the people that said, “I’m the best.” They were the people that said, “You have to follow us and do what we do, because we’re better than you. We’re going to police you. If we catch you breaking our rules, we’re going to take you to the Sanhedrin. If we catch anybody, we’re going to haul you up before the high priests.”

Jesus did not like that and criticized them constantly for it. He knew it never works. It does not work. Thinking you’re better than everybody else will not draw people to you.

What my sons need is a dad who can say, “I messed up.” When they see that, then they will feel safe to come to me and say, “I messed up too.” They will know that they can come to me for help. They will trust me because they’ll know what I will say. I’ll say, “You know what? You’re right. You messed up. I know what that’s like, because I’ve messed up too. So let’s talk about it. How can I help you? I want to love on you, man. I don’t want to judge and condemn you. I want to love on you.”

God never messes up, and this is how He parents us! We should do the best we can to be like Him. I can guarantee you that God loves my sons without judgment or condemnation. I want to do the same.

There has to be discipline, but it doesn’t have to be given in an angry way. If my son comes to me to say that he got a speeding ticket, I will say, “Listen, I got a speeding ticket too. And you know what, when I was sixteen I got in two wrecks in a row and I had my license taken away. So if you get another speeding ticket, I’m going to take away your license for a little bit. It will help you understand that it’s not good to speed.”

When your kids mess up, help them understand that you’re not bringing discipline to the situation out of anger. Don’t overreact. Don’t make them think that they’ve done something you’ve never seen before. You have to train them up, but you don’t have to punish them.

When you actively reach out to your kids with encouragement and understanding, the whole idea of not judging makes so much more sense.

See you Saturday.

The Dialogue of Intimacy

(Note: get your tickets for the September 14 screening of Heart of Man here. Get the powerful 7-day devotional here.)

Intimate relationships are different from other relationships. We want to replace judgment with grace and love in all scenarios, but when it comes to intimate relationships, there also has to be dialogue.

Our loved ones might do things that bug us, and when they do, we want them to change. The problem is, they’re never going to change!

Right now you might be saying, “There’s this thing that bugs me about my husband. And he needs to know that it bugs me.” Well, talk to him about it! Tell him, “This is what you’re doing that’s bugging me.”

Jesus built intimate relationships with His disciples. He talked to them, asked their opinions, and made them His confidants. And if one of them did something that bugged Him, He said something. The Bible tells us:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:31-33)

That’s amazing. Jesus looked at Peter, His dear friend, and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan.” He was in essence saying, “I know who is controlling your thoughts right now, and I know which way you’re acting, so you need to get away from me. You are not who you think you are.”

He said that right to Peter’s face!

Jesus was very comfortable with His intimate friends. I guarantee you He was not going to go to some random person and say, “Get behind Me, Satan.” He could have devastated people, and He understood that.

Obviously I don’t think your dialogue needs to consist of telling the people closest to you, “Get behind me, Satan.” You can’t see into people the way that Jesus can. Still, you have to talk to your loved ones.

Just remember, they cannot change without God. Unless they choose to accept God’s help, change will never happen.

You can’t fix a relationship. You, in your own power, cannot fix another person. But you can always ask God for help. You can ask God to show you what you need to do. You can ask God to show you who you need to be.

Why not ask God to show you how to change? Maybe your husband or wife bugs you because of something you’re doing. If you’re being a jerk, they’re going to respond to that. So quit being a jerk! Then maybe they’ll start loving you as if you’re the person God means for you to be.

Try saying this: “God, you know what? I need to quit telling my husband about all the things he does wrong. Instead, help me focus on doing my things right.”

Or try saying this: “Hey God, I need your help. I need to stop criticizing my wife. I need to encourage her instead.”

Do this, and then watch. You watch how that relationship changes, as God transforms you together in love.

See you Wednesday.

Urged to Change

All God’s children are more or less the same. In our flesh, we all sin. We might deal with different sins, and we might deal with our sins in different ways, but we are all sinning. No one is better than anybody else.

We will never change, either. Not on our own. But Jesus can change us. By running through us like hot water, He heats us up with the wisdom of the Spirit. We can’t change ourselves, but in Him, we can be changed.

And do you know what? Much as we might want to, we can’t change anybody else!

The urge to change other people can be very strong. It’s part of being human. Sometimes we get into the habit of thinking, “You need to change. I will change you.”

Let me tell you, you have no shot at changing somebody else.

That’s why you have to communicate. Suppose I notice that someone always reacts the same way to me, and it’s not a good reaction. In that scenario, two things have to happen. First, I need to get to the heart of why he reacts that way to me. There needs to be dialogue. If I have an issue with somebody, then I go to him about it. That’s Biblical. I tell him, “I’ve got this issue. I want to know why every time I do this, you react like that. Why?”

Maybe he’ll tell me! Perfect!

Second, I need to look at what he tells me. Is it necessarily the case that he needs to change? Or is it me? Am I the one that needs to make the change?

Think about that scenario! What if you were wishing that a person would change, when all along you were the cause of their frustration or anger?

If that’s true, then God will help you use wisdom to stop provoking him. Then maybe when you change, he’ll change too. He will quit getting angry with you!

Don’t be afraid to speak openly and have that dialogue with the people closest to you. In your most intimate or important relationships, you’ve got to be able to say, “Look, I understand you’re upset, but you have to help me understand why. Why are you upset with me?”

In your closest relationships, you can’t get along without that kind of communication. You’ve got a lot of people in your life. Obviously you’re more engaged with some than others. But with some, you are intimately engaged. You have to communicate.

Of course, you don’t always get to ask them why they are upset. Sometimes your loved ones hide it when they are upset with you, even when you’re depending on them to open up to you.

If my wife was frustrated with me and never told me, then how would I know to be changed by God’s wisdom? If she didn’t point out the places where she was feeling bothered, concerned, hurt, or angry, I might not realize that I need to turn to God for help. I depend on her to tell me when I’m upsetting her.

Of course some things are obvious! I’m sure your husband or wife is not thrilled about it when you yell at them. You don’t get to yell and someone and then say, “I didn’t know I was doing something wrong.” You know you did something wrong!

It’s the same with criticizing someone in a negative or non-constructive way. You know that’s hurtful. You have to take ownership of that.

But if you’re not aware of how you’re troubling someone, you depend on them to tell you.

Jesus sets the best example for how to be in a relationship. More on that next time. See you Saturday.