Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Learning to Fight Clean

Many marriages are plagued with arguing and fighting that quickly escalate into name calling and contempt which leaves both husband and wife hurting. I classify arguments and fights like this: first, there is the functional level of discussion where ideas are freely exchanged. Secondly, there is the dysfunctional level of arguments where both think like this, “I’m right, and you are wrong.” Lastly, this stage quickly escalates to fights where each is trying to deliberately hurt the other with name calling and dragging up past events for ammunition to throw at the other.

In my work with couples I try to help them establish a Basic Rules of Communication. First, each writes a list called a Never List. It is a list of words that they promise not to use in future arguments, such as divorce, I hate you and their favorite name calling. Next is a promise to remain responsible even though the couple is arguing. This means they will not argue in front of the kids or talk negatively to anyone else about their spouse. If they have to postpone the argument and meet an obligation, they do it responsibly, knowing they can discuss this later. Next is accountability. No one leaves without saying where you are going and when you are coming back. You may be angry with each other, but you are still accountable to each other. Lastly, there is a promise to listen to the other person because this is the only way to resolve conflict, by listening intently to each other.

Unless couples can curb the criticism and contempt, which is unrestrained speech, they will only continue to inflict new wounds. When couples realize that defensive behavior and stonewalling keep couples apart and make resolution impossible, they make changes. When couples realize that they can actually slow down or even stop the arguments and fights, it changes their relationship. They begin to enjoy each other more and spend more time together. When they need to discuss a conflict, they can learn to do it in a way that doesn’t cause a total train wreck.

The patterns of fighting that most couples have developed are very engrained and difficult to stop without some intervention from a third party. However, when couples really seek help and then apply what they learn, they can break these unhealthy and dysfunctional patterns that rob them of their emotional and spiritual intimacy with each other and with God.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Intimacy with God

We all want more intimacy with God. Like David who said “As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God” (Ps 42:1), we have a longing for Him. We would like to experience something of what Job described: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6). We long to experience what great men and women have experienced. One problem that occurs for many of us is that we try to imitate the experience of others while diminishing our own experience with God.

I have seen people read books on prayer and spiritual growth and try to emulate the experience in the book. The person in the book sometimes shares their personal journey with all the wonderful and glowing reports of intimacy with God. The person reading the book and trying to duplicate the experience isn’t able to and therefore experiences disappointment. I think intimacy with God is too personal to be duplicated or copied. We do ourselves a disservice to try to imitate others.

Our goal is to love God and worship him from our own heart and experience. We do well to learn from men like David and Job, but to remember that God loves each of us uniquely. The more we know about God and the more he is revealed to us through his Word and the Holy Spirit, the more we will want to worship him. Our experience is far too personal to be compared to anyone else, no matter who they are.

The closer we get to God, the more aware we are of our own spiritual need. Isaiah had a vision of God’s greatness. He saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. There were powerful angels with six wings. They called to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." The whole experience caused Isaiah to see his spiritual need and cry out to God. In the vision God sent an angel with a live coal and touched his lips and atoned for his sin (Isaiah 6:1-8). True intimacy with God makes us aware of our spiritual need and causes us to worship and glorify God. Often people do the opposite; they boast of their intimacy and glorify themselves. God does not share his glory with anyone (Isaiah 42:8).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Other Lost Son

In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, the two sons are much more alike than it really appears. The younger son had sought to find a way to get out from the under the control of his father, but is that not what the older son has also done? They both had been defiant, rebellious and self-serving in their own ways. They both had a blurred view of their father and were trying to use him to their own ends.

Both were away from their father. Both had to be invited to the feast. One traveled far from the father, and the other stayed home but traveled in his heart. Augustine wrote: "For it is not by our feet, nor by change of place, that we either turn from Thee or to Thee ... in darkened affections, lies (the) distance from Thy face" (Confessions, 1.28).[i]

Timothy Keller in the The Prodigal God writes: “Why doesn’t the elder brother go in? He himself gives the reason: ‘Because I’ve never disobeyed you.’ The elder brother is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it. It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his moral record; it’s not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of this father.” [ii]

The older brother was angry because his brother was back and accepted as a brother. That wasn’t fair because he had already spent his share of the inheritance and now he was supposedly being made a rightful heir to another share. Where is the fairness in that? Resentment is a form of anger. Find your resentment, and you will find the source of your anger. The older son’s words are full of resentment at others and even at his father. He feels cheated and betrayed, and he is hurt.

For the older brother life had become a monotony. He was resentful of his brother for leaving with his inheritance which he never earned. Then the gall to come and ask for more. He was resentful of his father for allowing himself to be taken advantage of by his no-good brother. He resented his father for not rewarding him as he believed he deserved to be rewarded. 

Both sons really wanted the same thing; they just went about in different ways. The younger wanted his inheritance before he was due to receive it. The older also wanted the father’s goods instead of his father’s love.

Are you unhappy with God the way the older son was? Has God been unfair to you? The real point of the story is the Father’s love. Are we away from the Father? It really doesn’t matter if you did it the way the younger did or as the older son did it. The point is to come back to the Father.

This is really what this story is about. It is whether or not we will really see our own need and come to the Father because we love him for who he is. Love the Giver of miracles not the miracle. Love the Provider not the bread on your table. Love the Giver of gifts not the gift. This is the question worth considering, will you pursue God for who he is not for what he has to give you?

[i] R. Kent Hughes, Luke, Volume Two, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 1998, P. 144.
[ii] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, Dutton, England 2008, P. 35.