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Tough Times Don’t Last…

Pin by Mike Villagracia on inspire me | Tough quote, Powerful ...

It makes a great plaque for the desk or office, doesn’t it? And it’s true. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

So why don’t I feel more bold and empowered when I read it or say it? I think it’s supposed to be empowering.

Anybody else out there feel that?

For most of us, these last 5-plus months have been a tough time. The perfect storm. Perfect? I guess I’d say it’s been an imperfect storm. And it’s not over yet. There are lots of theories about when life will get back to normal, including “soon”, “we’re living in a ‘new normal’, so get used to it,” “never,” and about a dozen other permutations of these. Nobody is setting hard dates for the tough times coming to an end. And if there’s somebody out there who says they’ve got that figured out, I’d be cautious to believe them. Nobody’s got a reliable crystal ball on this thing.

And, by the way, we’re not the first generation to deal with tough times. The truth is that tough times have been part and parcel with human experience ever since Adam and Eve took a bite out of the forbidden fruit. At that point, the world was broken. Virtually every system shifted away from its flawless design and toward entropy. Tough times entered because of that, and they’ll continue until the end of time.

Well, that’s a cheery way to look at life. Thanks for the optimism…

Some tough times come because we make stupid decisions. The world is a cause and effect place. The Apostle Paul wrote, “A man (person) reaps what he/she sows.” (Galatians 6:7) Sow stupid choices, reap tough times. I think it was the great philosopher Forest Gump who said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Some tough times come because of the stupid choices of other people. We get the backwash of their stupidity. Or we’re in the direct downward flow of their authority and it comes rushing down on us like the current of the mighty Mississippi.

Or we’re victimized by the wrong (sometimes evil) choices of others. These consequences are very difficult to bear up under.

In all cases, when the consequence of tough times come, we’ve got to figure out how we’ll cope with them.

Here’s how this usually goes for me. First, there’s panic. Then anger. Then blaming. Often, after that comes some form of denial. When I’m at my best, I eventually enter a problem solving mode. It almost never starts with a response, though. It generally starts with a reaction. On my good days, it moves from reacting to responding.

What I’m trying to learn how to do in my life is to get off the reaction train and get more quickly to responding. I think this is one of the primary marks of maturity. Immature people spend their lives reacting and then having to clean up the damage their reactions cause. Mature people spend a lot less of their lives cleaning up that kind of damage because they do a lot less reacting.

You see this is marriages all the time. Anyway, I do. Most of my counseling is with couples, and most of them are conflicted. Most of their conflict is the result of reacting, not responding. Much of the labor of helping them reconnect and begin to like each other is in helping them learn how to respond instead of reacting.

I see it in ineffective parenting, too. Most parenting mistakes are the result of reacting instead of responding.

Most broken relationships are broken as a result of reacting instead of responding.

OK. So reacting to tough times doesn’t work. How are we supposed to respond to tough times? Great question.

James, Jesus’ half-brother, writes about this in the opening of his letter in the book of the Bible that bears his name. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2) Consider it pure joy?! Are you high?

Here’s how J. B. Phillips paraphrased it: When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!

I’m so not there. I’m usually just trying to figure out how to survive when tough times come knocking at my door. Sweeping off the welcome mat is way not on my mind.

But James doesn’t stop with this opening statement. He goes on, “…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

God is after an outcome we don’t usually see when the tough times roll in. He’s going for perseverance.

That’s a word that doesn’t get much air time these days. When was the last time you used it or heard someone else use it, not in a sermon at church? I think this is a commentary on our culture. But that’s a hobby horse I won’t climb on. There’s not time for it. You’re welcome.

Still, perseverance isn’t a term most of us use very much. Here’s the Webster definition of it: continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. There’s two pieces to it. Continued effort, and opposition (tough times).

James says the ultimate outcome of perseverance is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Does that sound good to anybody? Me, too. But I’m not seeing a 4 or 5 Step formula for getting there. That’s because there isn’t one.

But there is a power that makes it possible to persevere, to continue effort when tough times come. The weeping prophet, Jeremiah, writes about it.

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him…” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Lovely, is it not?

But when you set it in its historical context, this poem has direct and powerful impact on the whole subject of tough times.

Israel was at the front end of one of the most humiliating and difficult chapters of its history. Because of their disregard for God and His commands, God has turned them over to the Babylonians. Jerusalem and the temple are about to be sacked, ravaged and burned. Thousands are about to be killed and thousands more will be taken as captives to Babylon. For 70 years.

Jeremiah has been compelled by God to speak out against the tide and current of this culture. And he does. But his message hasn’t been received kindly. He’s had his life threatened, been imprisoned, been dropped into an empty well, up to his armpits in mud, been banished from the community and labeled a traitor. He writes Lamentations during this time. It’s a book of sadness (a lament is a cry of deep sadness) and grief, from Jeremiah’s personal experience.

When I read his story every year, I wonder how he made it. I’d have been clinically depressed. Probably suicidal. I’m not being cute. I actually believe this.

The answer to how he made it is there in this beautiful poem he wrote. And it’s the front door of the answer for how we can persevere in hard times.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”

I like how the New King James Version words it: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.

The fuel for our perseverance are God’s mercy and His compassion. Not our effort. Not our intentions. Not our blood, sweat and tears. His mercy and compassion.

And here’s the best news I can give you on this: they’re new every morning. Whatever I use up today will be restored by morning. God hasn’t put a cap on my use of his mercy and compassion. He’s not stingy with it. He’s not waiting for me to deserve it. He just pours it out. As much as I need, when I need it, and then sets me up with a brand new, full tank of it in the morning for the day ahead.

Here’s the thing, though. I usually act as if I’d used up all there was. I soldier on as if it all depends on my effort. I push and agonize without accessing God’s mercy and compassion. It never works out well.

But what if we make a deal with ourselves and with God that we’ll start every day from here in this tough time by reminding ourselves that God’s mercy and compassion is new and for us? What if we consciously embrace the fact that we don’t have to face this stuff with nothing more than whatever energy we got from the night of sleep? And what if we acted like we believed this, even if our belief is pretty slim?

I’m making no guarantees, but I have a strong sense that this could be a game changer for us. I believe it will make us resilient and agile and able to adapt to the challenges. It just might make it possible for us to welcome them as friends.

Manna?

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A little exercise of the imagination. Take 650,000 men and their families, their belongings, and the things their neighbors loaded them up with, and set them out on a journey across a wilderness (which is mostly desert) that no one except their leader, Moses, has any experience with, in about 1440 BC. Not much technology was available for a trip of this nature. The mode of transportation was walking. If you had a cart to put your possessions in, it would likely have been dragged by people power. Maybe you had a cow or an ox and they could pull the cart. Maybe.

Add in the fact that marriage was an expectation for an adult male, and was generally arranged by the parents of the men and women in this ethnic group, often before they graduated from preschool. And then add in the fact there really was no such thing as birth control, meaning the group of 650,000 men would have easily grown to three times that size when wives and children were factored in. That would be the most conservative estimate. The size of the group would have been ginormous.

Of course, I’ve just described the Children of Israel in the Exodus.

There’s one more important thing. These are people who had been slaves for many generations. It had started fairly benignly, but now, 400 years after they had settled in this land far from their ancestral home, their generation had been brutalized by Egyptian slave drivers, at the command of the Pharaoh. Things weren’t benign anymore. They had been beaten for not meeting their daily quota of mud-dried bricks – a quota which was un-doable, no matter how early in the morning they started or how late into the night they worked. They had been forced to throw their male babies into the Nile to be eaten by crocks or drown in the water. This was Pharaoh’s population control program. It wasn’t a great time to be a Hebrew.

So why am I talking about the Exodus? And why is it such a big deal that there could have been three times more people on the journey than the number of men counted? That they were newly-freed slaves? And that they were probably carrying their stuff on their backs? What’s that got to do with anything?

Well, throw all this into the blender and what I think you get is TROUBLE. That starts with T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Pool. (Sorry for the Music Man reference… You’d have to be old to get it. As I was typing it, I was singing it in my head.)

I’m talking about an easy 2.5 MILLION men, women and children in this exiting population of Israelites. For perspective, that’s about the population of Houston, proper.

Here’s why I included the fact that they were walking, probably not riding on carts, and why it matters: how much food do you think you could pack and carry, along with all your other possessions, for a trip who’s duration you did not know? A few day’s worth? Maybe a week’s worth?

Once this massive movement of people got across a miraculously parted Red Sea (which swallowed up Pharaoh’s army behind them), they were in a wilderness without GPS. Just a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide they. Their comfort zones were just a speck in the rear view mirror. It was way back there, far out of sight. Their new-found freedom from the bondage of slavery under the whips of Pharaoh’s task masters had to be awesome. But the path before them was incredibly uncertain.

And one of the things that made it uncertain was eminently practical: their food supplies would run out soon after the Red Sea closed up behind them.

You know the story, though. God provided for them. He sent a substance that settled on the ground like dew every morning for the entire Israelite camp, except for Saturday morning (the Sabbath). That first morning, when the Israelites came out of their tents and saw it, they said, “Manna?” Meaning, “What is it?” They’d never seen it before, and it’s never been seen since. Since they didn’t have a better name for it, they called it Manna for the next 40 years, until it stopped being dropped from heaven the first day they occupied the Promised Land.

God’s instructions were that an omer of manna would be gathered for each person in each household (or tent-hold). An omer is the equivalent of six pints.

Author Steve Farrar, calculating on the conservative estimate of 2,000,000 people, writes, “For two million people, God had to send twelve million pints, or nine million pounds, or four thousand five hundred tons of manna each morning. It is hard to fathom that amount.” (Farrar, Steve. Manna p. 5. Thomas Nelson.)

He goes on to give a sense of the magnitude of this, “Today that amount of manna would require ten trains, each having thirty cars, and each car carrying fifteen tons—for a single day’s supply.” (ibid)

It boggles the mind, does it not?

Here’s where I’m going with this.

We’re not quite in a Middle-East desert wilderness, but things aren’t just peachy for most of us. If you’re not among those of us who are wondering how we’ll make it all work in the future, you’re in a pretty small minority. The rest of us are trying to figure out what we’ll do with the uncertain future that lies before us. Lots of us don’t know if our job will outlast the Covid thing. Lots of jobs already haven’t. Lots of us are wondering if our 401 K will ever recover from the pounding the Stock Market is taking. What happens now that we’ve burned through the stimulus check we got a while back? And our unemployment benefits won’t last forever. What happens when that income stream dries up? And then what about the election? We’re wondering if life will ever swing back around to any kind of “normal.”

For a whole lot of us, these are anxious days. The future’s starting to look a lot less bright than it was on January 1, 2020. The unknowns can be overwhelming. Denying it or just keeping a stiff upper lip won’t work. Eventually you won’t be able to keep your lip stuff, and eventually reality will invade your fortress of denial.

I know it sounds a little like a Sunday School answer, but the best way to deal with the ugly realities of our life right now is to look at it square on and remember the Manna God has provided in the past.

You’ll be tempted to just look the other way until it feels like the storm has past, but that’s not going to work, I’m afraid. This storm has settled in and there’s not much of a way to accurately predict when it’s going to move on. It could be a long time before things settle back down. So don’t look away. See it for what it is.

But don’t freak out because of how awful it looks.

Now get out your journal or a piece of paper and a pen, or create a document on your computer or tablet or phone and start writing down the times God has come through for you. Don’t worry about the form. Just write down as many as you can remember. Start this effort with praying for God to bring to your mind the times He provided Manna. A random list is fine. The point is, get a list down so you can look at it. I’m pretty sure there will be more on your list than you thought there would be when you started.

When you’ve made your list, mentally walk through it. Revisit the stories of God’s provision. Set aside a bit of time so you won’t have to run through the list. It takes time and effort to reflect. So give yourself the time to make the effort.

Last thing in this exercise, offer a prayer something like this: “Lord, thank You for reminding me of the Manna You’ve provided. I put my trust in You for providing what we need through this really hard season. My faith is small, but thank You for not waiting for it to get large before You provide. Give me faith and courage to keep putting my trust in You.”

There’s nothing magical about that prayer. Use your words, not mine. But know that the promise is that God hears your prayer, and in His perfect wisdom and on His time table, He promises to answer.

To paraphrase Oswald Chambers, trust God and do what’s next.

U B U

Who, me?" The What, Who and How of Accountability | USCJ

The best and the worst advice I ever got were in the same phrase: You be you.

It’s the best advice because trying to be someone other than yourself is a hopeless project. I should know. I’ve tried to be someone other than myself. One of the times this was huge was when I was in Jr. High. This was back in the day when there was no Middle School. Just Jr. High. I’m old.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who did this – trying to be someone other than who I was. More than anything else, when I was in Jr. High, I wanted to be in the “In Crowd.” I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to be in an inner crowd of cool kids. Actually, what I wanted was to be in inner crowd of the way cool, groovy kids crowd.

This meant a couple of things regarding accepted style. It meant wearing penny loafers (with the penny in them) and Levi 501 jeans. I had neither. My mom bought all our clothes at J.C. Penny. And if they sold Levi 501’s, I never knew it, because she always fitted me off the Penny’s brand tables. They were serviceable jeans, as far as I can remember. But very not cool. Way not cool enough to get you in the In Crowd.

The penny loafers were less of a stretch, since J.C. Penny also sold shoes, among which were penny loafers. Nobody knew what brand of shoes you wore. Unless you took them off and showed them the insole, which, even in Jr. High, wasn’t accepted protocol. Thank God.

Clothes and style weren’t the only thing required for getting into the cool kid group. You needed a girlfriend. A cheerleader, if possible. But there was a limited supply of these, and all of them were very far out of my league.

You also needed to be witty. Or sarcastic. Jr. High people have no way of knowing the difference between the two. I could pull this off. But the only way you’d ever get to show out on this is if you were already in the In Crowd.

In Crowd kids had a kind of swagger. The boy’s did, anyway. They had an uncharacteristic confidence. How many confident Jr. High kids are there in the world? Who knows. I’m pretty sure they’re all confined to the In Crowd, wherever they can be found.

Finally, as a 9th Grader (my Jr. High was 7th through 9th grade), I was asked to join the In Crowd at a High School football game. By this time, I had a paper route and was buying my own clothes – Levi 501 jeans and penny loafers. I did my best to curb my enthusiasm and just be cool. I didn’t want to get kicked out of the In Crowd the first night I got into it. Being cool was a prerequisite to the whole thing, whether you felt cool or not.

It was awesome. For the first few minutes. I was In! I was cool. I was valuable. And that all felt fantastic.

But after the first 10 or 15 minutes, I realized that I was still me. Under the cover of my cool jeans and shoes, I was still the Preacher’s Kid who lived in a tiny little house in a not-cool neighborhood. I was still the possessor of countless insecurities. I was still me. And that set up a fear that I’d be discovered as the fraud I knew I was.

I have, unfortunately, not fully grown out of this. I still like to be at the cool kids’ table, wherever that table might be found. We’re not kids anymore, so it’s more the high-value people’s table. And it may not be an actual table. But the compelling desire to be included among the influencers and important people is still there. Thankfully, there are no more penny loafers in the mix, but the magnetic draw of this desire to be “in” hasn’t gone away.

I’m still trying to learn how to be me, and let that be enough. I haven’t yet mastered the U B U thing. I’m not interested in trying to be somebody I’m not. It’s still my goal, but I’m not in sight of the finish line yet.

There’s a down side to this advice, though. I’m familiar with this, too. It’s that if I misunderstand the essence of U B U, I may think it’s permission to not bother with being more than I am right now. That I’ll be better off to just be the way I am and let people deal with it if it doesn’t suit them.

Well, yes. And no.

For me to be me, I’ll have to let go of the obsession with trying to be who they think I should be and meet other people’s standards. When I don’t meet them, they’ll have to deal with it. I may have to deal with it, too.

But no, this isn’t a free pass to coast and just let myself be my bad self.

I got 30 pounds overweight under this paradigm. And way out of shape. And ended up with Type 2 Diabetes. It didn’t work out very well in these physical areas. Age and gravity always win. That’s just the way it is.

Spiritually, none of us can afford to coast and be our bad selves. That will not work out well.

There’s an important dynamic in this U B U thing that we have to deal with. It makes it a little messy and sometimes complicated. Still, it’s got to be addressed and somehow factored in. Here’s what I think it is: The ultimate power in the entire U B U thing is God’s Grace. Without it, we’ll never get there. Ultimately it’s God’s Grace that empowers you to be you and me to be me. His goal for extending us that grace is enormous – it’s our only hope that we will grow into the us He had in mind when He first thought of us, back before He spoke the cosmos into being and spun the planets into orbit.

The thing about grace that makes this U B U thing complex is that you can’t effort your way into it. You can’t earn or deserve it. You can’t try harder to access God’s Grace. You have to humbly accept it and embrace it.

But once you have accepted it and embraced it, it empowers your effort toward the development and growth that God has in mind for you.

Never get effort ahead of grace. You just can’t get where you want to go if you do. Grace first, then effort.

From this perspective, my path to me being me looks like this: humility – embrace grace – make effort by grace. It’s easy for me to type. Why is it so durn hard to do in life?!

The idea of making effort isn’t rare in the New Testament. I did a quick search of the phrase, “Make every effort,” on Biblegateway.com and found more than I thought I would. You should do that search for yourself. The Apostle Peter used these 3 words most often. Here’s what he wrote in 2 Peter 1:5-9:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

To form the kind of character that will emerge in a person who is adding these good things one to another takes effort. None of it will happen consistently by accident. It takes intention, focus, effort to pull this off. Even if your temperament sets you up for some of them to be easier for you than they are for “normal” people.

I want you to be you. I want me to be me. I don’t want to be held hostage by what I think other people think of me or expect of me. And I want my character – my spirit – to grow and deepen. So here’s what I’m trying to do, and what I recommend to you. I’m trying to make every effort toward becoming who God has in mind for me to be, humbly depending on His grace for the power to do this. For me, this means that I have to visit and revisit His grace in my life over and over again. Remembering it. Bathing in it. Basking in it. Drinking deeply of it.

And then I move ahead with sincere, though often faltering, effort.

If you’re a mom or a dad, imagine what it could mean to your kids to see you modeling this kind of life. Imagine what this approach might do to your marriage. To your job. To your whole life.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

Image result for ornate mirror

And, of course, you know the rest of the phrase. “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

In the Disney movie, the mirror normally lies appropriately and assures the evil queen that she is. He (Disney made the voice male) was a mirror, but he wasn’t stupid. When the evil queen asks you who’s the most beautiful in the land, you tell her she is. And you try to sound like you believe it to be true. Except for the time he had to break the bad news to her that there was one even fairer than her. You know the rest of the story.

In real life, though, when a mirror gets asked this question there’s no answer from the mirror. But there is almost always an answer from the psyche of the one asking. A profoundly convincing answer. Unfortunately, it’s often an answer that breaks the heart of the asker.

You might think only girls ask this question. I think most any honest male will tell you they ask it, too. They might use different words. “Who’s the biggest stud at school?” or something like that. Most guys aren’t too much into “fair.” Well, not in the looks category, anyway.

I’ll even go so far as to conjecture that it’s not just adolescent girls and boys who ask this question. Even grown people sometimes still ask it. Sometimes, even people who know better ask it. I think this is why the phrase we heard in Disney’s Snow White connected instantly.

It’s not a great question, really. The older you get, the more you should know this. Even the ultra-rich and ultra-vain have to some day realize that they’re no longer the fair one they once were, and that it’s not going to get any better. The shelf life of physical beauty is short. Even when you factor cosmetic surgery into the equation. Just ask Goldie Hawn.

It’s the answer that most people hear that’s the worst, though. Because what most people hear back from the mirror is, “Well, it ain’t you. Not by a long shot!” It couldn’t have been more powerful if it had actually come from a voice in the mirror.

Many a young woman and young man has stepped away from the mirror believing that they’re damaged goods, imperfect and ugly. Not wondering if this might be so, but fully convinced that this is the truth about them. Anybody else remember that? I’m thinking if you had a mirror in your house when you grew up, you probably played this little drama out. You’re quite an exception if you didn’t.

One of the most unfortunate things about this is that until and unless we learned to hear another message – the truth about who we are – this broken message wrote a very powerful scrip for our lives. A very powerful and very broken script.

We behave out of our beliefs. If we believe we’re sub-standard, we’ll act in sub-standard ways. Or else we’ll spend our resources proving to everybody around us that we’re NOT sub-standard. I’m not sure which is worse. Neither of these has much of an upside.

OK, in a world where appearance and image trumps everything, what’s a parent supposed to do to help their kid(s) not be sucked in and devoured by a brutal, beauty-obsessed culture? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I’ll offer a few tips that I hope God will use to spark your own creativity and thought.

First, talk about character every chance you get. At the end of the day, only character will count. In God’s economy, character trumps pretty much everything else. So look for it and talk about it. When you see an admirable character quality being displayed, point it out. When you see honesty, talk about it. When you see integrity, talk about it. When you see positive character, say so.

You need to be able to identify character qualities that matter to you. So take a couple of minutes and make a grocery list of 10 or 12 character qualities you want your kids to have firmly in their lives and expressed in their behaviors. It may take more than a couple of minutes. Here are a few Bible references that could give you some help:
– Galatians 5:22-23
– 2 Peter 1:5-8
– Philippians 4:8

Then when you see anything on your list being acted out by your kid(s), TELL THEM! You don’t have to throw a party for them. But if you don’t tell them when they do something good, they’re not likely to sustain motivation to keep up the good work.

Second, help them figure out how to make the most of what they’ve got. This is tricky. You’ve got to figure out how to do this without making their physical appearance the most significant thing about them. This is delicate work. Add to the delicate balance the fact that kids are all different from each other, and you have a really big challenge on your hands. How you do this with each of your kids may (probably will) need to be custom tailored to how they’re individually wired. Your approach has to account for these differences. Unfortunately, this isn’t one-size-fits-all.

I’ll give you a simple example. If you’ve ever had a pubescent boy, you know that one of these physical things that can be addressed is body odor. Could we, please! How is it that they went to bed a little boy one night and came to breakfast the next morning smelling like a locker room? Ah, the wonders of physiology. And, by the way, how can he not smell himself?! You’ll need to help him do something about it.

Acne and skin issues are another common thing. They can’t always be instantly fixed, but they can cause such grief for young ladies and young men. Spend some money that you might not think you can afford and see a dermatologist to get advice and help. Buy over-the-counter products to help them keep their skin clear and clean. Help them take care of themselves.

In case you haven’t been there yet, they’ll probably fight you on this. Be consistent with your urging. Adolescents have amazingly short memories, and they often just don’t want to do things they know they should do. Imagine that? How’d that thing get transferred to them from their other parent? Factor this in. This is another time lots of wisdom and fineness is needed. Nagging them is counter-productive. But if you don’t sort of stay on their case, they may just not do the 3.5 minutes of work it takes to tend to their skin every night. So.

Styles change quickly, and as an adult, you understand the shallow nature of style. But be sensitive to your kids and their sense of style. I feel strongly that the number one rule for style is about modesty. You get to decide what is appropriately modest. You’re the parent. You can invite the input of your kid(s), but you’re the one who bears the responsibility for deciding, and then enforcing you decision.

The second rule for style involves money. When our three girls were growing up, we had the fantastic blessing of mature friends who taught us how to give our kids a budget for clothing at the end of summer, to be used for school clothes, and then let them decide how they would spend it. When it was gone, it was gone. If they overspent for style, well, that’s gonna be a bad deal soon. We didn’t bail them out when we knew it wasn’t going work out well. They learned better when they figured this out for themselves. If the style they want fits in their budget, and it meets the appropriate modesty test, I say let them buy it and wear it. But you’ve got to make it clear to them, and then let them learn for themselves that they can only spend money once.

If you try to control all these variables in your kids’ lives, you’ll end up alienating them, and you’ll hate yourself before it’s all said and done. James Dobson, the Godfather of Christian family psychologists, used to say, “Choose your battles wisely.” I doubt that it applies anywhere as much as it does here.

The last bit of advice is what I give at the end of almost every post I write: ask God to make you wise. You’ll never be able to manage this whole delicate thing with only your wisdom and background. Count on James 1:5. Ask God for wisdom. And ask Him to guide you to others who are wise so you can benefit from their wisdom and experience. Most of these people are the ones who’ve already been down all these roads. Harvesting wisdom from them is smart. It probably goes without saying, but you’re not looking for people who have lots to say about raising kids. You’re looking for people with great kids. Sometimes they’re not the same people.

The waters of self-image are choppy and deep. That’s why I’ll be writing a lot about them. But no more this time. I’ve exceeded my word limit.

Illness and Fatigue

Fatigue: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & More

There’s an old story about a college football coach who held a press conference to announce his resignation. A reporter asked him why he was stepping down. His response was, “Illness and fatigue.” The crowd of reporters were a little taken aback by this. The coach continued, “The fans are sick and tired of us losing.”

How you doin’ on the Illness and Fatigue front these days? Me? I’m just plane sick and tired of all the stuff it feels like life’s throwing at me. I mean, before the whole Covid-19 thing, there were plenty of things that populated my world to make me sick and tired. But now that we’re more than four months into the “new normal,” it’s feeling like a dog pile of complications and frustrations.

I’m not a scientist, so although I have an opinion on our current situation, I’m not the guy to post up my opinion on it. I’m not a political scientist (and basically a political pessimist), so, again, although I have opinions on our current political situation, I’ll keep it to myself unless you ask me. You probably don’t want to ask me, anyway.

But in spite of these caveats, I’m getting more sick and more tired all the time with how things are going.

Here’s one of the things that most vexes me about it: it feels like there’s nothing I can do to change any of it. This is a strong indicator of my will to control, which, by the way, never works out well. Especially when the things I want to control really are out of my control. I have no control over a pandemic. I have such a small amount control over the political thing for it to be nonexistent. I can’t make our society just and equal for everyone. I can’t make up for the abuses that have happened in the past. And the harder I try to make any of this happen or control any of it, the more counter-control I encounter.

I thought I’d feel better after getting that off my chest, but I don’t really. I find I’m faced with a central reality of life, once again. My circle of control is limited to basically one thing: what I do about what happens to me.

Yes, there is a measure within that circle that represents choices that I can make for myself that are about what I want to somehow cause to happen to me. There are a limited number of things this applies to. This is in the world of consequences, of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7). Good decisions usually bring positive consequences. Poor choices generally bring bad ones. So I want to sow more good choices than bad ones, if I can. And I can.

But that won’t set the world back right side up for me. I guess this is what bothers me the most. Fixing it to suit me is out of the realm of possibility, and far from that of probability.

No matter what, I’m faced with the choice of what I will do about what happens to me. You are, too.

One application of this reality is to say to yourself (and others), “Snap out of it, snowflake! Get over it and move on! You’re as happy as you choose to be, so stop choosing to be unhappy! Now!”

To borrow from Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?”

I already know the answer to that one. Not great. It doesn’t work great with others, and it really doesn’t even work that great with yourself. Cracking the whip has an early and sure point of diminishing returns. When I say these kind of things to others, it rarely gets me the results I hoped for. And when I say them to myself, well, it doesn’t do much better.

Sometimes I need to say them to myself, though. It’s not like they’re never right to use. There are times when somebody needs to get my attention. It’s usually best if that someone is me. But once I get my attention, this self-talk has done its job. A negative and punitive tone and message only works at the front end of this process. It’s not useful for long-term motivation. It’s really only good for getting my attention. Pursuing this tone constantly will only keep me from getting what I want from myself, and it will REALLY keep me from getting what I want from others.

What this comes down to is that once I get my attention, then it’s about me responding to what has happened to me. But it takes tremendous maturity to respond to what happens to us instead of reacting to it.

Reacting to it usually comes pretty easily for most of us. I think it goes back to one of our primary instincts: the instinct to survive. The survival instinct is a gift from God. Without it, the human race would never have made it past Adam and Eve. But as valuable as it is for what God designed it for, it can be unhelpful, sometimes even downright destructive, when it gets out of that boundary.

Our survival instinct makes us alert to threat. Ideally, it’s an early warning system to keep us from putting ourselves in unnecessary danger. This is life-saving.

But sometimes we get so good at detecting threat, and so much in the habit of it, that we let it overtake the rest of our processes. When this happens, we tend to inflate the intensity and danger of the threat. This results in overreacting to threats. Usually when this happens, our instinctive overreaction doesn’t help the situation. Often it only makes it worse.

The vast majority of the threats we face are not physical, but emotional. This doesn’t make them any less powerful, though.

When I react instead of responding to threat in my relationships, I make them weaker and more difficult.

So what do you do to get on the response side of things? Great question.

There’s one big difference between reacting and responding. Thinking. Reacting has no thought. Responding is totally dependent on thinking. You can’t respond without thinking.

OK. Thinking about what?

I’ll suggest a few things. First of all, think about what you feel. Identify it. Good feeling, bad feeling, a feeling in between. Identify it. Admit it, identify it and own it. Don’t judge yourself because of it, but don’t minimize it, either. Did I mention that this takes lots of maturity?

Second, think about the source. Where did this thing come from? A person? A group? An institution? From a thing?

It’s tempting at this point to judge the person, group, institution or thing for what you think their motive is/was. You’ll rarely be able to know this. That won’t stop you from judging them, though. You have your own opinion and perspective, but you might be wrong. And besides that, your judgement of their motive may not be very helpful to the process of you responding instead of reacting.

Now we’re ready for the most difficult part of the process. Ask yourself the question, “What is the actual level of threat here?”

And then the next question, “What is wisest for me to do about this?”

Sometimes the answer to that question is, “Move away from the threat.” But sometimes you can’t move away from it. This is the case with the Corona Virus. We’re not going to be able to move away from it.

In cases like this, the question becomes, “What wise measures can I take to minimize the risk?” You seek input from sources you trust and decide this.

That’s a complicated process. You won’t be able to do this in the moment you have to respond. There’s no way most of us are going to be able to think through this kind of stuff and choose a response in that moment.

So here’s my last suggestion. Think about a recent time you reacted instead of responding. Rewrite the script for it. Walk yourself through this process. Think your way to a response. What could you have done differently? Then think of another recent time you reacted instead of responding and do the same thing with it. What you’re doing is giving your brain a chance to train itself with some alternatives to reacting. There’s no switch to flip. This is about training yourself.

I left the most important first step out. Invite Jesus to give you His mind as you do all this. Otherwise, none of us is smart enough to pull it off… Not even you.

Disappointment

2019 – A YEAR IN REVIEW(S): THE DISAPPOINTING - NO CLEAN SINGING

That’s it?! That’s all you’ve got?! That’s the best you can do?

Ever gone to a movie that got rave reviews, that your friends said was fabulous, the best movie they’ve seen this year, and when you finish watching it, you kind of think what I opened with? Yep. If it wasn’t a movie, it was something else that you anticipated being great that missed the mark.

Well, my friends, that’s life. Thankfully, life’s not just an endless string of disappointments, but disappointment is a part of life. You have very little power to stop disappointment. What we do have is the choice of what we will do when we’re disappointed.

I believe almost nothing offers a clearer indicator of our maturity (or lack of it) than how we respond to disappointment. Mature people respond in one way and immature people respond in a whole bunch of other ways.

Although I can’t recommend him for his faith, because he was an avowed agnostic, I think of Thomas Edison as someone who knew a lot about dealing with disappointment. He burned through thousands of filaments, seeking the one that could sustain under the electrical charge to light up the light bulb. The story’s famous about a reporter asking him about these thousands of failures. His response was that he knew thousands of things that weren’t the right one, and that put him ever closer to the one that was.

Edison was not easily discouraged. Some of his most significant inventions resulted from hundreds, even thousands, of failures and disappointments. And many of his inventions required dozens of improvements before they met his standards.

There’s only been one Thomas Edison. The rest of us aren’t quite as resilient toward disappointment and failure. I freely admit I’m way not Edisonian in my responses to disappointment.

What’s your “standard operating procedure” for dealing with disappointment?

For me, some of it depends on the depth of disappointment. If something doesn’t matter much to me, like a movie, I move on pretty quickly from the disappointment. But if its something deeper, more important to me, moving on is harder.

Becoming irrelevant and/or no longer useful are things that I don’t quickly bounce back from. It’s happened in my career and it’s happened in my relationships. When it happens, I have to recontextualize myself, re-invent myself, to move past it. I think people in my demographic will get this.

The Covid-19 thing has been a string of disappointments for me. I’m guessing it has been for you, too. Things that you had planned for. Things you had hoped for. Things that just aren’t going to happen now. Some won’t happen at all. Others won’t happen when and how you had planned or hoped they would.

It looked like life was going to get back to normal, with sports events, church, normal shopping and dining, travel. Nope. Now it looks like that’s not going to happen. Anyway not as soon as I want it to, More disappointment.

For lots of us, this is a season of disappointment. Try as hard as you can or want to, but you’re not changing this.

So let me offer a couple of things to try (because they actually work pretty well) for dealing with the inevadible disappointments in life. You might want to teach them to your family, through your example and through your direct teaching.

First, ASK GOD TO HELP YOU BY GIVING YOU MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL PLASTICITY AND AGILITY. In other words, ask God to give you grace to adjust to the things that happen to you. If you can train yourself, with God’s help, to spend less time stewing and fuming about the things that disappoint you, you may even be able to leverage the disappointment. This is essentially what Thomas Edison did.

For some people, this is easier than for others of us. I say “us,” because I’m in the group that finds it difficult to do this. Due to temperament, some people can just roll with it lots better than others can. If you’re one of these, stop right now and thank God for this gift of temperament. If you not one of these, then the prayer for mental and emotional plasticity and agility is essential for us. Use whatever words you want, but call out for God’s help with this.

Then monitor your self-talk. I’d call this “Step 1-B.” You now, the silent monologue you carry on in your mind. What are you telling yourself about the events that are disappointing you or have disappointed you? Are you just rehashing and reliving them? Do you get caught in a spinning cataract of frustration and irritation? It’s easy to do. And the more important the disappointment or the thing you’re disappointed about is to you, the more likely you’ll be to revisit and rehash it in this negative way.

When you notice your self-talk taking you into the whirlpool, acknowledge it. Denying it won’t help you. Admit your disappointment and frustration to yourself. You might find it helpful to tell someone else about it. Be careful, though. If you’re pretty bent out of shape when you talk about it, they may feel like you’re accusing them of causing the problem. And if you do this over and over with the same person, unless they’re your paid therapist, they may get fatigued and avoid you.

You don’t need a script for this, but here’s how I’d suggest you talk to yourself: OK, that’s disappointing. I’m kind of mad about it. Actually, I’m really mad about it. I can’t fix it right now. I may never be able to fix it. God, give me grace to move through this, instead of getting stuck in it.

The second thing is really closely related to the first. ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

I don’t think there is a context in life in which realistic expectations are not helpful. Most of the conflicted marriages I get to help with are conflicted, at least in part, because of unrealistic expectations. Often, one of the things that makes them unrealistic is that they’re unstated. In marriage, a disappointed unstated expectation can be devastating. Here’s a little marriage tip: eliminate mind-reading by eliminating as many unstated expectations as you can. You can’t stop having expectations. That’s not what I’m saying. Son’t even try. But you can, and must, eliminate unstated expectations by converting them into stated expectations. I’ll some day write a whole blog about this. But for how, this is enough. Get rid of unstated expectations. They’re grenades with the pin pulled.

Adjusting your expectations is very smart as you are in the process of setting them. In other words, be mindful and thoughtful about how realistic your expectations are as you’re setting them. is it realistic to hope that this event or thing or person will put you over the moon? Sometimes it’s just not.

I’m not suggesting that you take enthusiasm or excitement out of the process. Be enthusiastic. Be excited. But try to be realistic about what you hope to feel about your realized expectation.

Once you’ve been disappointed, though, you have a choice to either adjust your expectation and alter your plan, or to get high-centered emotionally by your disappointment, and stay stuck until God and the universe decide to throw you a bone.

Some disappointments can actually be leveraged for forward movement. This is what Edison did. But no disappointment will be leveraged by people who are stuck in them. Much easier to say and write about than to actually do. Believe me, I know.

And then one last thing about disappointment. Phil Keaggy (one of the finest guitarists in the world) wrote a song many years ago with a line that has stuck in my mind: disappointment, His appointment; change one letter…

When I let Him and His grace shape my response to things that disappoint me, there really are times when in retrospect I realize that this disappointment really was His appointment to bring His best my way.

What if you and your family learned how to respond to disappointment by and according to God’s grace? I’m pretty sure it would pave a path to a great life in a world that will never not be full of disappointment.

Your Most Precious Possession

Image result for my precious

If you read Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, or saw the movies made from them, you’ll recognize Gollum. He was obsessed with The Ring. It was his “Precious.” A good bit of the plot of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings revolves around him. He’s both comic and tragic at the same time. And he’s dangerous to Bilbo Baggins. He has plans to eliminate anyone and anything that stood in the way of his possessing his precious.

What’s your precious? Everybody’s got one. What is the thing you are most likely to obsess over? What is your most precious possession?

Since the pretext for this blog is marriage and family, you’d assume I’m aiming at a tie between your marriage and your family being your most precious possession. And since I’m a Christian, endeavoring to live and teach from a firmly Christian world-view, you might think I’m aiming at your personal relationship with Jesus. Now we’ve got a three-way tie. I wouldn’t want to give in on any of these three things They’re each precious to me. My relationship with Jesus is the very most precious thing in my life. I hope it is for you, too. So I guess it’s not a three-way tie. My walk with Christ is in first place.

But after that, what? After this most self-evident of most precious things, what’s your Precious?

My answer to this might not be what you think it is. My answer: T I M E.

Like every other thing in my life, time isn’t something I possess. It’s not mine. I am only a steward of it. I won’t go on a long sermonic diatribe about this, but I believe the idea of being a steward is one of the biggest and most powerful ideas in the New Testament. Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2. “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”

I am only a steward. And I want to be found faithful. Ownership is a myth. Everything you or I may think we own can go away in a blink. An L.A.D. Widowmaker heart attack proved this to me. Hurricanes, wild fires, tornadoes, stock market crashes (now called “corrections”) that wipe out half your retirement savings, divorces, death and a few hundred other things make my point. So does the Apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 3:10. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will pass away with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be burned up.” 

In the end – and I mean the REAL end – it’s all going to burn. It’s all temporary, even if it seems permanent. I think one of the reasons the Holy Spirit gave this to Peter is because we need the reminder. Our default isn’t to treat things as temporary.

OK. So it’s all gonna burn. And because of that, we get to be stewards of what God puts in our care for temporary use. This is a VIT (Very Inportant Thought). It should change our point of view on “our stuff.”

Time is in this “our stuff” bucket. It’s not ours, any more than the rest of the stuff in the bucket. It’s entrusted to us temporarily to steward. Good stewardship requires thought. Often, deep thought. A wise steward is always thinking about what’s the best way to use what has been put in their care.

I want to focus on two places where your time-stewardship is critical. Your marriage and your family.

The question is pretty simple. How are you doing with stewarding (managing) your time in your marriage and family?

How do you even know how you’re doing? You have a sense of how you’re doing. Just the feelings side of it. These feelings are sometimes accurate, but not always. A better way to discern this is pretty mechanical. Take your calendar and carefully go through it for the last two weeks, and track how much time you’ve spent investing in your marriage. Then go back through those same two weeks and track how much time you’ve invested in your family life. You’re not looking for dramatic events. Some of the things you’ll see may have happened almost accidentally because you showed up. It’s pretty amazing what happens when you just show up. Notice those things. But also notice when you were intentional – when you showed up because you intended to.

If you see that you’re doing great, pat yourself on the back and start writing a book about how you got there. If you’re like most normal people, quit spanking yourself and decide today that you’re going to take measures and baby steps to get better at it. This is how you become a faithful steward.

I’ll give you one little thing that has helped me get a little better at it. Make appointments on your calendar for investing in your marriage and family. Write in blocks of time for this. I’ve noticed that most of what gets on my calendar gets done. At least it has a better chance of getting done than if it doesn’t get on my calendar. If I make an appointment with myself to go to the Y and work out, and put it on my calendar, I’m more likely to get to the Y and work out. When I think, “I’ll get around to that,” I often don’t get around to it.

Of course, appointments on your calendar can be ignored. And things come up that get in the way of doing what’s on your calendar. Life’s that way. But if you don’t get it on your calendar, it stands far less of a chance of you getting to it. So schedule it. I told you it would be simple and mechanical.

OK, so you block time on your calendar. What should you plan to do with that time? Just show up and see what happens? Sometimes that’s a great plan. Especially if you’re a highly structured, Type A person. You showing up without an agenda and without expectations might be a life-giving breath of fresh air for your spouse and/or kids. Just showing up and asking, “What would you like to do?” might be a very good start to wise time stewarding.

There are a couple of things on this, though. First of all, you may have had the experience of asking that question and getting, “I don’t care…” as the response. It kind demotivates asking again to get an answer. One thing that might help with this is offering 2 or 3 options. With your kids, it might be, “Would you like to play a board game, or play cards, or play a computer game?” These are just three random things. You know your kids, so you’ll know the right 2 or 3 options to offer.

If you don’t know them because you’ve not been engaging with them, your best first move is to say something like, “I figured out something important. I don’t know what you like to do. This is very bad of me, and I’m sorry. Will you help me learn some of the things you like?” Use your own words, but say it. This isn’t a silver bullet or an instant cure, but if you’re sincere, and you pay attention (turn your phone off…), you might be surprised by what can come out of this.

With your spouse, the same idea might work for you. It depends on how well you know them, just as with your kids. They may not want to play a board game or cards or a computer game (but they might). Offer them a couple of options for things you could do together. Sounds easy, right? It is if you and your spouse like to do the same things. But if your interests are different, it’s more tricky. Because the best options for your spouse aren’t going to be 2 or 3 things you like to do, but 2 or 3 things they like to do. This makes it tricky.

You might need to make the same admission to your spouse I suggested you make to your kids. Humbly and sincerely ask them to be your teacher, and then be a good student. Then take the risk and push through your pride and engage with things they like to do.

Here’s a second thing. It’s more spiritual. At first it will probably feel mechanical. Start your day with a simple prayer asking God to help you to make your spouse and your kids a priority today so you can steward your marriage and family time faithfully and well. Even though it seems like a little thing, it’s not. For most people, it’s such a little thing that it’s incredibly forgettable. You’ll have to build a habit for this. And you’ll need reminders to do that. Write yourself notes. Set a reminder on your phone. Email yourself a reminder. Whatever it takes. But if you start the day with this prayer, you’ll set yourself up to make stewarding your marriage and family time more wisely and faithfully.

Here’s one of the greatest things about this prayer. Nobody wants you to be a faithful steward of your marriage and family time more than He does. It’s a prayer you can know God wants to answer. Those are the best prayers to pray, really.

So this isn’t brain surgery. It’s not like you need to go to a class on it. It’s pretty simple. But it won’t just happen. Get intentional and set yourself on a course to be a wise and faithful and effective steward of your time with your spouse and kids, and see what God will do with this.

56 Signatures

Facebook removed the US Declaration of Independence for violating ...

On July 4, 1776, 56 brave men signed a document that would change history as nearly no other document has. All thirteen colonies unanimously confirmed the Declaration of Independence.

From our vantage point, 244 years later, it seems like a very logical thing. Sign a document that states the intent to be a nation independent of England and the King. Become independent. No brainer. Right? Well. Not so simple.

The Declaration itself is a rather lengthy and complex document. It eloquently lays down the philosophical and even theological reasoning behind the Declaration, and states the grievances the thirteen colonies and their representatives had against King George III, all of which had been earlier stated in what the Founders said had been, “Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms.”

As you know, King George was not amused by this Declaration of Independence, and was not in the least open to dialogue about it. The Declaration effectively lit the fuse on the American Revolution, which officially started on April 19, 1775, most of a year later.

We celebrate this Declaration on July 4th with fireworks, family gatherings, long weekends, delicious food and a wide variety of other activities. This is a very good thing! (I wonder what it will look like here in 2020, with the Covid-19 constraints and anxiety? Depending on what part of the country you’re in, it could be a small, family gathering, or the same traditional big celebrations we’ve been doing for more than 200 years.)

Lots of people are familiar with the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Even in the turbulent times we’re experiencing today, with political, philosophical, racial lines being drawn not without violence, the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are still precious to us.

But as familiar as the first line of the Declaration is, almost no one one is familiar with the final lines of the Declaration of Independence: …for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This pledge was costly.

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.

Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year, he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. (copied from https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/the-price-they-paid/)

It may seem trite, but freedom is never free. There’s always a cost. According to PBS.ORG, nearly 500,000 lives have been lost to purchase and secure our freedom. Freedom is expensive.

On this excellent day of celebration with family and friends, do yourself and your family and friends a favor and pause to contemplate the cost. Then pause a little longer and thank God for the men and women who have paid for the freedom you and I enjoy.

America isn’t perfect. We’ve got some big problems. But we enjoy the most profound freedom of any nation on the planet. It’s worth celebrating, in spite of the problems that have come front and center over the last few months. And it’s so worthy of giving thanks to God for His providential hand that has secured and sustained this freedom.

I can’t close without reflecting on the most important freedom that is possible, and the ultimate price paid to purchase it. Jesus purchased our eternal freedom with His life. No matter the national situation we live in, no matter how politically free or not we are, there is a freedom of our soul that trumps every other freedom. Jesus died to buy us back from the penalty of sin and our bondage to it, and rose back to life to prove the transaction had been made. That changes everything.

It seems disrespectful to blow past that on our way to the fireworks display.

You’re Not Superman

Five Fascinating Facts From The New Muhammad Ali Biography

The story’s told that once Mohammad Ali was flying to an appearance and the air got turbulent. The pilot came on the PA system and asked the passengers to fasten their seat belts. Then, of course, according to protocol, the flight attendants (who were called “Stewardesses” back then) came through the plane making sure everyone had complied. Ali didn’t fastened his seat belt. The Stewardess stopped and asked him to please fasten his seat belt. He looked at her and said, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.”

Without missing a beat, the Stewardess said, “Superman don’t need no plane.”

At Ali’s level of fame and success, it would have been hard to not see himself as bulletproof. He could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. The world was at his feet. In his day, he was one of the most famous and recognizable personalities in the world. Maybe THE most famous and recognizable. He was The Greatest. Undefeated and defiant of all comers.

Until 1984 when he met an opponent he could not and would not beat. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. At first, it only slowed him down. But eventually it took him out.

The few public appearances we saw of him in his last few years made it undeniable. Ali was not Superman. He wasn’t bulletproof.

Of the many things the last 4 months have taught us, one of the big lessons would surely be that we’re not bulletproof, either. Not as a nation. Not as communities. Not as families. Not as individuals.

That’s an ugly reality. Especially for Americans. We’ve been born into and bred in defiant independence and individualism. Independent individuals don’t like being reminded that we’re not bulletproof. We especially don’t like it thrown in our face and then rubbed in.

Well, Covid-19 and the mandated lock-down(s) and inconveniences threw it in our faces and then rubbed it in.

There are probably some outliers who didn’t alter their lifestyle in March of 2020, but the rest of us made some dramatic changes. Some of us saw our income slashed. Some even lost their jobs. Others lost their business. We all had to get used to our house and property being the extent of our travel and outings. We had to get used to seeing our family and friends online and not in person. We got used to – or tried to get used to – church being online and not happening in the building we were used to, with the people we were used to. Socially distanced high-fives replaced handshakes and hugs. It got old fast.

As a culture, we took a pretty sharp turn from our normal practice of boldly going where no one had gone before, to huddling in fear and anxiety because of what our media outlets were proclaiming as a falling sky. Social media got even nastier than it already was. We became hyper-vigilant against an invisible enemy.

I can (and do) push back against what I think is an irrational fear reaction to the threat of a virus that kills 1% of those who contract it, though I’m sensitive to the fact that there are many other perspectives than my own. I can rail against the forces and institutions that I think are protracting the crisis (though this isn’t the point of what I’m writing today). What I can’t do is make it go away by the force of my will. Superman don’t need no plane, but I’m not Superman. I need a plane. I’m not bulletproof.

I think there are lots of applications for this truth that apply into marriages and families. You don’t have time to read about all of them, and I’m not smart enough to know all of them. But here’s one.

I cannot control my family and/or marriage into a secure place. One of the unmovable truths of life is that I don’t get to control much of anything other than what I do about what happens to me. The most I can do is influence outcomes. Trying to control outcomes always eventually results in push-back and counter control, which ends in frustration, anger and bad behavior. Unfortunately, for lots of us, this doesn’t keep us from trying to control people and things.

There are some wholesome motives for desiring to control. Sometimes we want to keep people we love safe from things we know about, but they don’t. That seems legitimate. Sometimes we just want what’s best for all of us, and this desire urges us to try and control things so that what we think is best will happen. That also seems legitimate. One of the things I’ve learned, though, is that good motives don’t erase the probability that bad things almost always come from control attempts.

My personal theory on control is that the root cause of it is fear. So many broken behaviors come from fear. When the God-given gift of the instinct for self-preservation gets jacked up beyond it’s useful limits, fear gets behind the steering wheel of our life, and we end up in the ditch. Unfortunately, we often drag others there with us.

To have no fear seems appealing to me. How great would it be to face every day with not a drop of fear? How many bold and courageous steps would I take?! How much would the world be changed?! It sounds great.

Except that’s not how it works. Fear has a legitimate function. If we had no fear, we would have very short lives. Appropriate fear cues us to think about consequences and the costs for our actions. It prompts us to evaluate the risk – usually against the reward. There are some risks that just aren’t worth taking. Fear helps us set ourselves up to sort this stuff out and live within reasoned and reasonable boundaries.

But when fear is the master instead of the servant, it will push us to attempt many things that are not good. Among them are control attempts.

Here’s another thing connected to all this. When we attempt to control things, people, outcomes, we’re making an assumption that we know best how to get the best outcome. This may occasionally be valid, but most often it’s not. You’re a smart person, so there’s no doubt that you would have some good ideas. But your ideas, like mine, are no more bulletproof than you, like me, are. Some of us are smarter than others, but none of us is really that smart…

The Apostle Paul wrote a thought that applies here, in Romans 12:3. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

I like the J.B. Phillips paraphrase of this: As your spiritual teacher I give this piece of advice to each one of you. Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all. 

So what might this sane estimate of your capabilities look like in your marriage and family? I’ve got a couple of ideas about it. Here’s the first one: having a sane estimate of your capabilities requires HUMILITY.

One of the best definitions for humility I’ve ever heard is that it is knowing what you’re capable of, and being glad to do it when and how it’s appropriate.

Don’t mistake humility for false humility, though. False humility is just a ploy (sometimes a subconscious one) to be begged to do something. We “aw shucks” and look down because we really want someone to marvel at how humble we are, and tell us a few more times how they’d just love it if we’d come to the rescue and do whatever they think we could do.

C.S. Lewis said that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. I think he was on to something.

One of the greatest things humility does is usher in grace. I believe only the humble will experience grace and then dispense it. A family and/or marriage that’s marked by grace will thrive. And that can only happen when humility makes room for it.

Another thing with this is connected to CAPABILITIES. In a marriage and/or family where grace is alive and well, there is enough emotional oxygen for people to develop, build and refine capabilities.

Part of this is OPPORTUNITY. Which requires PERMISSION. Permission and opportunity encourage growth and development, the seedbed of robust capability.

An interesting thing about developing capability is that it will virtually always involve failure. Very few people ever entered the water on a dive with no splash the first time they tried it. Or put a tiny power fade on a 330 yard drive on their first attempt. Nobody shredded a guitar solo the first time they picked up a guitar. Failure is a necessary part of learning. But if a marriage or a family doesn’t have enough grace to permit failure, a couple of things are likely to happen.

First of all, nobody will willingly attempt anything that carries the possibility of failure. The negative consequences of failure are too much.

The second thing is that because of this fear of failure, some will continue to do the activity or behavior at a tentative beginner level, but will never get any better at it. They’ll settle for whatever level they’re at. Which is usually mediocre.

In a marriage and/or family where grace is alive and well, people are encouraged to attempt, even if there’s a possibility of failure. And that builds capability. Capability, not bulletproof-ness.

We’re not bulletproof. That’s why we need grace. First of all, from God. And then from and to one another. In a world that resists being controlled, humility that invites grace makes fantastic marriages and families where sane estimates of growing capabilities are the hallmark.

Coexist?

Amazon.com: Peacemonger Coexist Interfaith Peace Symbol Sign Yin ...

There’s a vehicle in my neighborhood on the edge of the University of Central Oklahoma campus (where most of the houses are rent houses and occupied by students from there) with this bumper sticker on the back window. I drive by it many times every week, sometimes several times a day. And each time I drive by it, I think the same thing: Not going to happen.

It’s a wonderful wish, though naive. It would be great if we could all just get along. Several of the religious and philosophical perspectives depicted on this bumper sticker are open to coexistence. But several of them are not.

In my experience, the “Peace Movement” was not interested in coexisting. I was around for its entrance into culture with the peace sign, marches for peace and peace demonstrations in the 1960s. It always got to me that many of these peace demonstrations disintegrated into open combat that was not always initiated by “the Establishment.” There really wasn’t any interest in coexisting. What started as an anti-war movement in the 60s is today now mainly nostalgia among people who weren’t there for its inception. It’s peace sign makes for a cool sticker.

The Gender Issues group has become much more organized in the last 10 years, and they are very much NOT interested in coexisting. You don’t need my commentary on this. Just look around and read the news. Or should I say, “Read the opinions that look like news…”? Sorry. My frustrated bias is showing.

Islam, believe it or not, stands a somewhat better chance of coexisting than the others I’ve mentioned. In Jordan, Christians and Muslims have coexisted from the first days of Islam. Christians , not Muslims, were there first, which isn’t surprising when you think about the proximity of Jordan to Jerusalem, the birthplace of Christianity. Even today, with the growing tension in other parts of the Middle East between fundamentalist Muslims and non-Muslims, the generally peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims is intact.

In other places, though, there is virtually not hope for peaceful coexistence between Muslims and any other religious group. If you ever get a chance to read the Muslim equivalent of the Bible, the Koran, you can’t miss passages that command the annihilation of anyone who refuses to convert from any other belief system to Islam. This is not just a fable circulated by conservative Christians in an effort to draw battle lines. Again, just pay attention to the news. Some Muslims here in parts of America are making sizable and substantial threats that are expressions of this teaching of the Koran.

Jews have been forced through nearly their entire history as a people group to coexist, from Abraham up to today. But in their history, they have also responded with force when pushed to their limit. In the record of the Pentateuch and Joshua, they initiated aggression against other people groups. Today, they are responding to the threats coming at them with force, by force.

I think I’ve sufficiently insulted most religious and philosophical groups by now.

Let me add another to the list. Christians.

I’m not talking about the moral problems with the Crusades. I’m not talking about the wars between Catholics and Protestants of the 1500s, where people (lots of people) died. I’m not looking far back in history. I’m talking about my own 67-year history with Christianity.

I’ve seen Christians in high conflict with other Christians. Physical pushing and shoving, cussing, physical threats, violent overtures. And that’s between people in the same congregation!

This inappropriate and emotion-driven behavior is only a symptom of what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the “US vs THEM” mentality that I’ve seen and experienced in nearly all my long experience with Christians. Granted, I grew up in a very conservative and legalistic branch of the Jesus tree, but I’ve seen it in other branches, too. The concept was/is, “If you’re not one of us, then you can’t really be a real Christian.”

Although it never came to marches and demonstrations or riots and physical battle lines, the non-coexistence was/is there. I wonder how many congregations have been torn apart by this mindset? Too many. And how many lives were pushed far away from the grace of God by the gracelessness of these tearnings? Way too many.

These days, in an election year, there’s another crowbar in the mix. Political preference is now one of the things that breaks up what should be unity and love among God’s family. Who you vote for, in some cases, is as important as whether or not you’ve been baptized.

Coexist? I’m not seeing it.

There’s only one way we’ll ever be able to coexist, and that’s when we express the belief by both words and actions that every person, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, regardless of their geography, regardless of their political views, regardless of how very different from ours their opinions and views are, are all created in God’s image. Every human being bears the image of our Creator, and because of this, all deserve to be treated with respect.

Please don’t understand me. I am not saying that every view is as valid as every other one. This is not my belief. It’s also not consistent with the teaching of Scripture. God’s design is the standard. Truth isn’t fluid. Neither is error. If God called it sin, it’s sin, regardless of who did it or in what cultural context it was committed.

What I’m saying is that the only way we’ll ever coexist is to respect one another. This is the only way we will ever be able to have any kind of rational dialogue about our beliefs and convictions. Without it, that kind of conversation cannot happen.

And, by the way, this same principle of respect applies to every marriage and home. It looks different in different cultures, but it has to be present for a marriage and family to thrive and be healthy.

When moms and dads respect each other and their kids, they will still have standards of behavior. There are still things that bring negative consequences. The standards don’t go away. But without respect, consequences will never do what they were designed by God to do, to create a doorway to discipline.

There’s so much more to this in marriages and families, and I’ve already gone far past my word limit. So I’ll stop. It’s worth coming back to, though. And I will. But not today.

One last idea. None of the respect that I’ve been talking about is possible without us seeking God and praying for Him to create it in us. No respectful dialogue is possible without our partnership and cooperation with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, initiating and sustaining it. So start there. With a prayer for God to use you as a vessel of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. You may not change the world, but there’s a pretty strong possibility you’ll change your world.