Our Relationships are Part of a WAR

Our Relationships are Part of a WAR

relationship warsIf your relationships were a screenplay, would the resulting movie look more like “Apocalypse Now” or “Sense and Sensibility”?

Providentially, we here in America have lived in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Life has been predictable and secure. Our part in various Middle East wars over the past 26 years has not impacted our daily routines or our way of life too much. “War” has been relatively far from our consciousness.

We Are At War

Yet, Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens…” (Holman).

Spiritually speaking, we are in a battle; a war; a struggle. Do we remember that when we wake up each morning in our comfortable beds with the aroma of fresh coffee wafting through the air? The analogies equating war with our faith are easy to understand. A mindset for battle is quite different from the carefree attitudes of peace. A soldier who wakes up in a war zone thinking he is on vacation in Tahiti will not survive. As Christians we need to remember that we  are in a war until the moment we die or when Christ returns.

My Spouse is Not My Enemy

Who then is the enemy? Paul says that the war we are in is not against flesh and blood. While our relationships at church, at home and at work are very much part of the theater of war these people with whom we share life are not the enemy. The enemy is the authorities, world powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil. We are up against an extremely powerful foe who demonstrates unprecedented acuity in the schemes he uses in attempt to destroy us.

How often do we succumb to one of Satan’s most diabolical schemes: that of turning us against each other?

Before we were married, I remember going to a marriage conference with Leslee. One of the speakers asked each couple to look at each other and repeat, “My spouse is not my enemy.” At the time, I had no appreciation for what that was all about. I was deeply in love with Leslee. How could we be enemies?! It didn’t take long for Leslee and me to understand what that meant.

Anyone in a relationship of any value is going to experience struggles that when responded to wrongly, can easily divide two people who love each other making them enemies–at least for a moment. We may not say, “You’re my enemy!” But the anger, frustration, and hopelessness in our hearts that spills out in our biting words exposing our hearts.

Relationship Breakdown

Left un-corrected, it is very easy to dwell on these emotions which spiral down into a root of bitterness against that person. Then comes some form of breakdown or outright dissolution of the relationship. In marriage, it is sometimes divorce. In parenting, it may be the countdown to college or “the day I can get out of here”. In church, it is a serial pattern of moving from one church to the next. Worse, these relationship are no longer a means through which we can give and receive the grace we all desperately need in order to live for God’s glory.

Christ, Our Armor

In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul tells us “be strong in the Lord”. In Christ, we have spiritual armor that through the Holy Spirit, is completely capable of defending us against Satan’s sometimes subtle, sometimes vicious, but always scheming attacks. Our armor is made up of the provisions found in our inheritance in Christ: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. Prayer is the spiritual means by which we put on and use this spiritual armor. Praying the word, together, is powerful.

Do we miss the context of Ephesians 6? Ephesians 3-5 talks about our relationships with each other as spiritual brothers and sisters, as friends, as spouses, as parents and children, as bosses and employees. These relationships should serve as an important means through which we support one another through the warfare. We need to speak the truths of the gospel (our armor) to one another bolstering our confidence in Christ to stand firm. Don’t let your relationships be a casualty of war!

Was this an encouragement to you? Please pass it on to a friend!

Have You Considered Saying This to Someone Who is Suffering?

Have You Considered Saying This to Someone Who is Suffering?

family problemsWhat are you suffering through right now? No doubt there is something you are suffering with yourself or suffering through with someone you care about. Two weeks ago a family we know just learned that the father has a very aggressive form of brain cancer. I can also name several families who are struggling with finding a job that pays a living wage. Other families I know are suffering through the pain of seeing their relationships strained or torn apart.

In these situations we pray for healing, provision, and restoration; encouragement and hope. But if you are like me, you feel a bit like Gomer Pile or Barney Fife in finding the words to say that match what you feel in your heart. The words, “That’s hard. I am praying for you” are said with conviction are usually comforting but perhaps also expected and therefore feel insignificant. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. When we have not suffered exactly the same way someone else has, we know they’re hurting but we can’t identify well enough with what they’re going through to know what to say.

God Uses Suffering
One morning we were all sitting around the breakfast table having a “light” theological discussion about suffering. One of my children suffers with seizures. Prescription medication (in our case) has not helped. I don’t remember how we arrived at this point, but we went around the table and each sibling mentioned something about how they had grown in the Lord as a result of their sister’s seizures. Comments included: “I am more compassionate toward other people’s suffering.” “The way she handles the situation shows that faith is real.” “I have grown in my struggle with anxiety.” “I have learned to trust God more as I’ve seen how in each episode he has protected her and worked in the situation.” I think someone mentioned seeing their own struggles as being smaller in light of what she has to go through. Other kids said things that I wish I had written down because I forgot them. It was a very precious time; a tremendous encouragement to my daughter and an eye-opener to me about one way to encourage people who are suffering: help them see how God is using their suffering to work in other’s lives.

To do this, we have to first accept suffering that while bad, God can use for good. One of the reasons suffering is so hard is that it can seem capricious (why is this happening to me?) and at the same time, completely without purpose. Enduring suffering is hard physical, emotional, and spiritual work that can just seem without purpose. When my daughter saw how God was using her suffering to work in the lives of her siblings that encouraged her and gave her hope as she awaits the healing that one day will absolutely occur if not in this life, certainly in the next.

Jesus’ Purpose in Suffering
Hebrews 12:2 tells us that “for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” Could there be a more excruciating case of emotional and physical suffering than what Jesus went through? What was that “joy”? It was the joy of obeying his Father’s will. It was knowing how his Father was going to use the results of his suffering to redeem His people.

So, while we pray for God to relieve the suffering, we can be confident that God uses suffering to do his transforming work not only in the life of the sufferer but in others’ lives as well. In each case, it might not be until we are in heaven that we learn the extensive ways that God has used our various sufferings. This provides a tremendous measure of hope and encouragement to those suffering that their endurance has purpose not only in them, but perhaps in many lives, such as in the case of my daughter and her siblings.

Comforting Words for Sufferers
How do we comfort people who are suffering? We certainly do all we can to alleviate it. We pray fervently for God to bring resolution. But perhaps we also pray for God to show how he’s using the suffering to work in others’ lives. Maybe it brings someone to conviction over some sin in their life. Maybe it causes someone else to reflect on how important faith is. Maybe another person finds real hope that carries them through a struggle they might have years hence.

Whatever the case, we can rest assured and remind the one suffering that God has great plans to use their suffering for His glory in their life and the lives of those around him. At an appropriate time, we might actually ask the people who are close to the situation. “How is God using this in your life?” Then suggest that they share what God is doing in them with the person who is suffering.

We should expect to continue to face various kinds of suffering in this life. Dealing with suffering in a redemptive and therefore positive way is also one way to strengthen our witness to suffering people who are without Jesus Christ. The world has no answer for the problem of suffering. Only through a sovereign, supernatural, loving, and merciful God can we find beauty in the ashes of suffering.

Were you blessed? Forward this article to a friend.

Heart Work is HARD Work!

Heart Work is HARD Work!

heart workIt was an unusually crazy week at my house. Our routine was completely non-existent. Think bumper cars and you get the idea. All week long, one of my sons had a particularly bad attitude about basically everything. It was Saturday night and I was giving our two youngest kids baths when he marched like Patton into the bathroom wanting to talk about how unfair life was.

I knew it was an important opportunity. But if I am anything, I am a simple man with one brain and one mouth—for good reason. Sensing this to be at least a one hour conversation, I told him it was not the right time. “Later”, I said. “Later” came and went without the conversation.

“Let’s Take a Walk”
The next day, the situation had not improved. Leslee and I felt like a cross between air traffic controllers and Disney’s Tinker Bell especially with some of the kids seeking to arrange all sorts of wonderful outings with their friends. On top of all that, I was preparing to leave for a week. Nerves were frayed and conflicts abounded. It was way too much. But in the midst of it all, Leslee asked this one son to go on a walk with her to have the conversation that I should have had the night before.

This ended up being about a two-hour walk around the block. When they returned, I was shocked at how my son’s countenance, demeanor, and tone had changed. He confessed his bad attitude among other things.

Leslee isn’t a professional counselor. She didn’t have a five point outline she planned to cover.  In fact, as she told me later, she really didn’t have any idea what she was going to say.  They just started walking and she asked what was going on in his heart.  It took some time, but things started to unpack.  By the time they had finished “the circle” and would have normally headed home, he asked, “Do you want to go around again? I have more to talk about.” This happened a second time.  A day that was looking like a fast moving train wreck, ended on a very sweet note.

My wife saw how important that conversation was at that point in time. She saw how it represented an opportunity to work in the life of our son and she was willing to turn away from a long list of important things that needed to be done that I’m sure that she could have rationalized doing instead of taking a long walk with my son. She chose rightly. Would that I was more consistent in making these opportunities. It is a constant challenge for me. Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful.

Come to Terms With Inconvenience
As Leslee and I debriefed later, we were reminded of a very important fact.  Relationships are messy and inconvenient!  It would have been much easier to just get through that chaotic day, proceed through the week hiding behind frenetic activities hoping things blow over.  The problem is, we do this too often.  We schedule sports and practices, errands and meetings, even exercise instead of taking the time to deal with the mess.  That mess doesn’t go away, it morphs and festers leading to bigger problems down the road—that in God’s providence, we still might not avoid.

We are all busy with life. Everything seems urgent. Urgent often wins out over important. The important things—the things that often make the biggest difference in our lives—require that we make better choices. We all agree that applying the gospel in each other’s lives is important. But it takes time. It requires sacrifice of other good things. It involves setting and maintaining priorities. Let us be vigilant to take these important opportunities that God builds in to our busy lives!

Were you blessed? Forward this article to a friend.

Seven Ways to Pray with Your Wife

Seven Ways to Pray with Your Wife

adirondackchairsWhy don’t we pray more often as husband and wife?

“Good question! I haven’t really thought about that.”

“Ah, we’re too busy.”

“It feels a bit strange suggesting and then leading my wife in prayer when we’re not at the dinner table or having devotions.”

Prayer is one very important ways we demonstrate—as a couple—our dependence upon God…for help in specific situations…and for the joy that each of us needs every day.

Here are 7.5 quick thoughts to encourage you in praying with your wife.

1. “Just do it!”

When you feel the urge, don’t put it off. Just do it. If the struggle is great simply confess this attitude to God at the beginning of your prayer. You’ll probably notice that God does some of his greatest work through these impromptu, weak, and sometimes, awkward prayer times.

2. Pray as part of your date night.

(You DO have one, right?) Leslee and I have a special place where we park the car and pray together on our way home from dates.

3. Pray before you discuss plans for the week.

We pray on Sunday nights before we plan the week simply asking God to help us make wise planning decisions.

4. Pray before you go to sleep.

Praying in bed may seem awkward, but it is a relaxing and usually uninterrupted place—unless you have 8 kids.

5. Pray specifically, “God, we are joyfully dependent upon you!”

This brings Him great glory. If this is not true, ask God to make it so. This also brings him glory!

6. Pray in thanksgiving

Specifically mentioning the glorious riches of our inheritance in Christ which includes: our adoption, forgiveness, blamelessness, holiness, redemption, and sealing in the Holy Spirit.

7. Don’t try to pray about everything at one prayer time.

Sometimes the prayer can be just a few sentences.

7.5 Pray with the assurance that God will bring you and your wife into greater unity as you pray together.

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. -Psalm 127:1

Dead to Sin: an Easter Message for Everyday

Dead to Sin: an Easter Message for Everyday

One part (among many parts) of the glorious inheritance that we have received in Christ is found in Romans 6.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

We ARE Dead to Sin

What a glorious passage! Commenting on this truth, A.W. Pink says that in Christ, we are indeed dead to the “pleasure, penalty, and power” of sin.

Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we died with Christ. When Jesus died, we died as well. Therefore, we are truly dead to sin’s pleasure and its power to make us obey it. This is not wishful thinking. It is in fact the truth about who we are now because of what Jesus has already done, fully, completely and sufficiently for us (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10). The problem, our problem, is that when we examine how we live, the choices we make, we really don’t believe this.

Living as Dead to Sin is an Exercise of Faith

Sure, we experience the pull of temptation. We will until the day we die. However, here’s the key. Paul reminds us in Romans 6:11 that we are to “recon” or “consider” ourselves dead to sin. By faith, we are to live each moment of each day in light of this [and the many other gospel truths that we find in the Bible].

Suppose you’re tempted to lash out at your spouse or child. Is your first thought that you are dead to the desires that are stirring the angry response? Even more important, is your own identity, how you think about yourself (even when you are not under the pressure of temptation) being changed (“renewed” – Rom. 12:2) increasingly through a focus on these gospel truths?

“I’ve Never Really Considered That I am Dead to Sin”

When I shared that we are “dead to sin” with a fellow Christian who had been a Christian for a very long time, he said that he had never really considered it before. It had no real impact on his battle with the flesh each day. But is he really that different from most Christians? Tragically, I believe not, at least if my own experience is any indication.

(Our churches are filled with many faithful attendees; people who are well-meaning and busy with ministry. But for some (perhaps many) of them, they never really learn the fundamentals of how to live in Christ. These “simple” truths never take root and thus are not nurtured into maturity. It’s like a child spending one week learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and then moving on to something else. It just doesn’t work that way…and we see books such as Michael Horton’s, “Christless Christianity” explaining why: we’ve departed from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Faith is not a Formula

Living by faith is hard in large part because our flesh instinctively seeks its own salvation on our own provision for ourselves apart from faith. In fact it is much harder to act in faith than it is to work at defeating the flesh through will-power, rule-keeping, or formulas (that often have some biblical aspect to them). But it is only by faith that we access and apply Christ’s once for all victory to our daily struggles with the flesh!

Are We Reminding Others of This?

Do those in your church—and those in your home—know they are dead to sin? Are you reminding them of this and other gospel truths, regularly? Do they know these well-enough that it makes a positive difference in how they live each day?

Our Minds Are Renewed by The Gospel

As we dig deeper into Christ, identify and remind ourselves of these gospel truths, we gain a supernatural weapon in our battle against the flesh. We battle from the standpoint of victory: the victory already accomplished by Christ. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” as he breathed his last on the cross, He meant it. There is nothing incomplete about what he accomplished. Our job is first and foremost to exercise our faith in what he has already done by virtue of our being “in Him”.

By faith, the Holy Spirit applies the gospel to our hearts thus giving us victory resulting in obedience that brings us into greater conformity with Christ and more glory to God.

Is this the message we speak, not only on Easter, but every day to ourselves and to each other?

To Understand the Heart: Understand the Treasure

To Understand the Heart: Understand the Treasure

Breaking Through the Maze to Freedom“Getting to the heart” is something we know we should do but honestly, wouldn’t you rather just clean the bathroom? I remember someone giving me a list of 14 questions to ask that “get to the heart”. Why even try? Scripture, though, tells us a simpler way.

Luke 6:45 tells us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

If you want to get to the heart, simply define the treasure driving the person’s actions. What is it they want? The more you get to know a person, the more easily it is to discern what the various treasures are that steer their hearts toward good or evil.

One of my boys clearly treasures building and racing cars. He is actually quite skilled at it. That is his treasure with a capital “T”. This is so obvious that his siblings even sometimes joke when he is racing on Xbox… “He’s worshipping at the shrine again!” When work is not getting done, the reason usually is that his heart is being overtaken by this other, competing treasure. Getting to the heart of the matter has become a bit easier when we simply ask him, “Which treasure are you/were you seeking when you spent 2 hours playing Xbox when you should have been cleaning the kitchen?”

The interest in cars is not inherently sinful, in fact it is part of what makes him unique. God has gifted him with unusual knowledge and ability for someone his age. How God uses that will be very exciting to see. But when he seeks that treasure to such a degree that he is not doing what he is supposed to, then he knows that he has made that treasure an idol which has produced, various forms of “evil” in his actions…not doing the good he’s supposed to do.

One of the benefits of looking at the heart this way is that it helps us (especially as parents) avoid making an otherwise good thing, bad, which can be quite damaging. Sometimes, the treasure is inherently evil and it has to be declared as such. But the nature of idolatry is that it usually starts out as something good that we end up making bad when we depend on it (treasure it) to provide for us what we can only find in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thinking about the heart in terms of treasure brings clarity to what is going on in a person’s life so that corrective action can be taken.