Monday, February 24, 2014

My way ... or the highway

Yesterday we continued our series on expectations in marriage.  The topic that we focused on yesterday was a "my way...or the highway" approach to marriage that is based on the expectation that our spouse must change to meet all of our needs and bring us fulfillment.  In this Great Expectations series we have identified that God has wired us to look to him for the provision of our needs and to serve our spouse in marriage, submitting to them and pursuing what is good for them, encouraging them to also find that their fulfillment can be in God alone.

This my way...or the highway approach can become most evident and explicit when our spouse does not change to meet a desire that we experience.  This happens when our spouse doesn't see, or maybe doesn't value our desires like we expect them to, and we try to change them so that they do see, value, and meet our expectations.  In this approach to relationship, when our spouse does not not change we reject them, maybe for just a brief time; or for a deeply held expectations, maybe permanently.

I have found this attitude to be evident in my life when I am striving to serve my spouse Heidi with the hope that she will then meet an expectation of mine.  When I have done this, I have served her, not expecting God to meet my needs, and provide me the strength to serve Heidi.  No, I have put my expectations and needs on hold, until a future moment when I expect that Heidi will fulfill them.  In times when this takes place and then she doesn't reciprocate as I expect her to I can become embittered, and even for a brief time reject her because of her choice or inability to meet my expectations of her.  I treat her as if she has to meet all of my expectations, or I will give her the cold shoulder.

Maybe you have experienced something like this in your own marriage.  As we try to do good for our spouse, maybe we go out of our way to try to show them that they are valuable and loved.  And after we do this we find that we expect them to see our needs and value them as we just tried to do for them.  As this gap is exposed in our spouse' actions and our expectations, we have the opportunity to run to God and depend on him for our unmet needs, and for the strength to humbly serve our spouse knowing that God will provide for our needs.  In this we can remind ourselves that God is able to give us strength in our weakness. 

May God soften your heart and make you willing to turn to Him for what you need as you serve your spouse this week.


What’s my next step?

We encourage you to consider engaging in the following as a way of handing off faith in your family.

Talk about a humble life:  Philippians 2 encourages us to put on the humble attitude that Jesus has.  This week, talk with your family about moments when God has given you strength to serve another person.  This week consider reading Philippians 2:1-11 at a daily family experience (meal, bedtime, etc.).  Talk about small ways that you could humbly serve each other or another family in your neighborhood.  As a family, acknowledge how God has been present and providing for you this week.  Conclude your discussions with times of family prayer, asking for the mind of Christ and the grace to live his humble life.

We encourage you to consider engaging in the following as a way of deepening your own faith.

Memorize and meditate upon Philippians 5-11:  This week consider spending some time memorizing and meditating upon Philippians 2:5-11. Spend some time thinking about how you can humbly serve those around you. Chat with God about what, if anything, keeps you from serving others. Ask him for the grace to hide in him for the provision of your needs, as well as eyes to see how you can serve others around you.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Looking for love in all the wrong places

I experienced great loneliness the year before I met my wife Heidi.  Many of my friends seemed to be leaving me behind as they married and began to have children.  At the time, I had great success with being friendly with women, not so much success with engaging in meaningful relationships with men, and little to no success with romantic pursuits.  I was lonely! 

Many of my dreams and pursuits for love and fulfillment centered around romance.  I often thought, “If I could only meet ‘The One’, my life would be better.”  I had no idea how my expectations far surpassed what another could provide for me.  I also had no idea how much God was willing to provide. 

I met Heidi on a summer assignment, when I was on staff with Campus Crusade.  It was a summer of love.  I had met my TPF (The Perfect Fit), and I was expected that my deep and lasting experience of loneliness and need was getting ready to get booted out of my life.  Yes, I expected this spunky and fun-loving woman to so intently care for me that most if not all of my needs would be met.  I had internalized an expectation that she not only wanted to, but could meet my needs for love.

Thankfully, along the way, I have begun to more fully understand that though my wife is a kind, considerate, and selfless woman, she was not created with the resources needed to fulfill all of my needs for relationship and love.  In our relationships we need to confront that we cannot experience lasting fulfillment from the care of another.  We all have limitations, and are surrounded by others with needs and limitations.  So, we are invited by God to trust him with our needs and to serve each other and care for each other as we are able.

When our unmet needs for love are exposed, we experience loneliness.  During these moments we can choose to open ourselves vulnerably to God and surrender to his love, or not.  There might be times when you can speak for hours with God, and some times when you might sit unable to eek out a single syllable.  However, in either moment, sit before God and expose yourself to him, making yourself vulnerable to his loving care, attention, and provision.  There will be moments when he will give you amazing experiences of comfort.  There will also be times when he will remain seemingly silent.  Yet, in all of this know God is always present with you, working to bring about good for you, cultivating his life and love within you.  Remember, God's provision of love corresponds with your need for love.

What’s my next step?

We encourage you to consider engaging in the following as a way of handing off faith in your family.

Talk about a submissive life:  Loneliness is an experience that we all have.  This week, talk with your family about moments when you have felt lonely, or moments when you have tried to get others to meet your needs.  This week consider reading Psalm 16 at a daily family experience (meal, bedtime, etc.).  Talk about what it might look like to take refuge in God.  As a family, consider what God has provided you this week and thank God for these.  Conclude your discussions with times of family prayer, asking for the mind of Christ and the grace to live his submissive life.

We encourage you to consider engaging in the following as a way of deepening your own faith.

Memorize and meditate upon Psalm 16:  Many of our marriage difficulties come from the expectation that our spouse is able, and should, meet all of our needs. This week consider spending some time memorizing and meditating upon Psalm 16. Spend some time thinking about your own personal needs and how you are attempting to meet them. Chat with God about what, if anything, keeps you from approaching him rather than others for the meeting of your needs. Ask him for the grace to hide in him for the provision of your needs.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Remembering Jesus

Yesterday offered me a few different opportunities to remember Jesus. 
1) Blake Shipp continued the series "A Million Tiny Pieces," and encouraged us to situate our present moments around Jesus, trusting Him for our future. 
2) I helped out with a class on adversity, which is training people with tools and perspectives to help them acknowledge the presence and work of Jesus in the midst of their difficult times. 
3) I had a great time getting to baptize 8 people, as they celebrated the new life they have begun to find in Jesus. 

I am so thankful for these encouragements to remember Jesus.  Often, I find myself absorbed and even lost in the responsibilities and tasks that weigh on my heart and mind.  It seems as if I go through those moments feeling like I am alone.  I have this routine in which I go about much of my life on my own, without the acknowledgment that Jesus is present and wanting to help me experience life.  Not surprisingly, I experience anxiety during these moments.  My heart is not able to experience peace as I go about my life ignoring the presence, help, and life that Jesus is offering me during these times.

Yet, I get glimpses of what it might be like to live my life constantly remembering Jesus is present with me.  In moments, I acknowledge Jesus is present.  I remember and continue to trust that I am valued, loved, and considered His friend. I might even listen or interact with Him.  I find that I'm far from the constant realization of this, but, I am taking baby steps to remember Jesus.  As I am taking steps I am going to celebrate those more consistent moments that I have with Him.

How might your life look different like if you consistently remembered Jesus was present and loving you at all times?  How might Jesus be inviting you to take a baby step with Him?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Opening to God in weakness

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing..." Psalm 23:1

Last week, our staff team at Union Center was considering the entire Psalm 23 during our midday retreats with God.  On different days, as I conversed with Jesus about this Psalm, He engaged me in different ways.  During a couple days He used this passage to bring great comfort, and to remind me of his presence and love with me.  However, on another day He seemed to use the phrase "I lack nothing", in verse 1, to point out parts of my heart that resisted accepting this phrase as truth.  It almost seemed like my heart was tasting something bitter as I heard the words.  (This was very connected with the areas of my heart being exposed by the bumps along the way that day.)

Maybe you have experienced something similar.  The meaning of a passage doesn't change, but the Holy Spirit used it to expose different parts of our heart on different days.  In these moments, we have the opportunity to partner with God in the reality of our heart that is exposed.  I can present my response and say "Here I am."  I can respond like this whether my reaction is hope or despair, faith or doubt, joy or sadness.  I can converse with Jesus about this and allow His love and presence to be given to me in my weakness.  In this way I can truly find God present with me in my pain, sin, and limitations.

Or, we can have other responses.  An unhealthy response I have often used is to push an experience of my weakness from the view of my mind's eye.  I have often done this because I didn't think that I "ought" to have had an experience of doubt, resistance, or anger to a passage in the Bible...and as such, must hide that experience from God.  However, this response causes me to avoid Jesus, and to miss an experience of His presence in my neediest places.

Well, how about you?  How do you respond to yourself and God when you have a less than favorable reaction to a passage of Scripture? 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What do we attach our value to?

The other night before I went to bed, I snuck in and checked on my son, Gabe.  He was nestled in his bed, peacefully sleeping the night away.  Like other moments when I have seen my kids sleeping, a great sense of delight bubbled up from within me.  I stood there watching Gabe, soaking in the value of this little person in my life, and in those moments it was as if God silently conveyed the message that my eyes to see Gabe's value is like the view that God has of my own value.  Gabe, and me, are valuable, loved, and not alone.  This is not something we earn, it is given to us.

This struck me.  God used this moment to cut below the surface of ideas I mentally agree with about His love and presence given to me.  My thoughts followed a sequence like..."I am valuable when I am asleep.  God does not get bored with me and leave when I go to sleep.  My value does not change when I sleep and stop 'doing.'  Wow!"

From this experience and others, I am finding that I deeply hold to an idea that my value is connected to what I produce, if I succeed, or what others think of me.  These are the gods that I look to for indications of my value, or my worthiness of love.  Yet, God has already declared me valuable, and is already faithful and committed to actions for my good.  May God continue to strengthen me, and you, so that we can learn to receive and rest in the love, value, and presence that He gives to us!

What roles, responsibilities, or people do you look to for an indication of your value?  When might you talk to God or another about this?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Eyes to See

My mind feels full of topics and tasks this Monday.  In this, I’m experiencing that God is inviting me to be with Him in my dizzying drive to accomplish, achieve, and finish.  This weekend God was inviting me to experience Him, and rest, while playing various kinds of games with Gabe and Olivia.  Initially, God gave me the grace to notice my resistance to taking a break from the home projects my heart and mind was drawn to.  Then, I noticed impatience and frustration rising in my heart, while trying to teach or play these games with Olivia and Gabe.  My desire to accomplish, my impatience, and my frustration became walls that separated me from moments of enjoyment with my kids.  They separated me from intimate and enjoyable interactions with these dear ones.  They were barriers holding me back from actually experiencing the present moment with my kids.

As God gave me eyes to see this, I attempted to open to my kids…but, this was not an easy task!  It was painful. God had given me eyes to see my own limitations, but then I experienced how difficult it was to change my pattern of behavior.  I felt some anxiety, and I felt a little lost, not fully knowing how to change, or how to act differently.  Yet, as I quietly conversed with God in those moments, it seemed like God gave me eyes to see small, appropriate steps that I might make at the time.  And, there were small changes…though they felt microscopic.  However, me, Gabe, and Olivia experienced those moments differently.  Those moments were more intimate, more gracious, and more fun than if I had not had eyes to see how I was avoiding a life lived with my kids, in the recognition of their needs, limitations, and maturity.
This experience has challenged me in my relationship with my kids.  It has also encouraged me, as I experienced God getting into the nitty-gritty of my life.  God was/is at work so that I can experience a greater quality of life, giving me eyes to see relational dynamics, and even eyes to see the next baby-step to take in my relationship with my kids. 
What painful awareness might God be giving you eyes to see?  
How are you talking to Him about those new things that you see?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing -- sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death -- can take that love away." Henry Nouwen

I am loved by God.  You are loved by God.  Yet, I have found that deeply believing and living out of this truth takes time and attention with God.  It is a relational and experiential process.  It is not limited to a knowing of facts and phrases from the Bible, but includes personal experience of the God described in the Bible.

My history, where most of my actions were motivated out of a desire to earn love, has developed powerful habits of behavior.  I am finding that I must enter into an experience of relationship with God that trains me otherwise.  Yet, I find that this process is a slow nurturing of trust and faith.  I have experienced that I need God to slowly help me trust His love.  Only then can I courageously consider more and more of my heart and life with Him and others.  Without this, I am naturally prone to ignore, suppress, and even deceive myself about the truth of my attitudes, motivations, and behaviors.  As I ignore and suppress bits of me I reject the truth that I am loved, and my life is given to the joy-stealers of fear, anxiety, and worry.

Where might God be at work to remind you of His love for you?