Tuesday, June 30, 2015
WHAT IS THE GOAL?
I was at a meeting with a few hundred folks last weekend, where I met a friend of my wife’s from a distant state. I don’t know if she knew I was going to be there, or if she just happened to see me across the room. She came up to me, introduced herself and told me that she didn’t want to visit long, but that she wanted to tell me how much Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce had been helping her deal with a tough divorce. I was humbled and touched by the fact that a person I didn’t even know made a point to find me to tell me thanks for writing something that made a difference in her life.
A friend of mine gave the books to her friend, who thought, “Great, another book to read…ugh!” But when she saw that my friend had me personalize them to her, she figured she had to at least look at them. Later she called my friend and told her the story, then said that she had been drawn in and was reading them and that “This guy knows exactly what I’m thinking,” then thanked my friend for caring enough to provide her the book which had been such a help.
A lady whom I do not know posted a note that the book was helping her keep her focus on God during a tremendously difficult time of life, and recommended them to anybody going through a divorce.
A man I know got the first book and finished it in a month. When I pointed out it was supposed to be daily readings for six months, he simply replied, “It’s hard to put it down.”
I have individuals I have never met with whom I have offered email support as they struggle their way through their divorce. I have read reviews posted in a variety of places by people who have been touched and encouraged by what they have read in the books.
I have had others who have expressed to me their appreciation at having something they could offer a divorcing friend when they did not even know what to say. I met a lady in tears once, who did not have the funds to buy the book, and we were able to help her get one. I have had individuals who purchased books to give away because they said, “we believe in your ministry.”
After I met that woman the other day, my heart was so touched I decided I had to just say thanks to those of you who have read and benefited by what you have read, then taken the time to let me or others know that it had made a difference. I had wanted to offer people something that I didn’t have when I was going through my divorce, but sure would have liked to have had, and it is encouraging to hear these books do just that. I don’t want to just to say thanks, but thanks because you are part of my dream. Let me tell you why.
After a number of years of writing, reflecting, rewriting (not to mention my own personal healing) and doing all the tedious preparation required to get my devotional books for divorcing folks ready to go, it was finally at the publishers in the final steps before press. A woman at the publisher’s asked me some simple questions: “What is your goal for this book? Is it for a few friends? Is it for a wider audience out there?” After some reflection, I responded that while it would be great to sell lots of books and make some money out of all the hard work, ultimately the goal was that one day I would have a stack of emails or letters of individuals thanking me because the book had helped them get through their divorce.
The first time I heard from somebody that it had helped them, and especially the first time I heard it from somebody I never met, I realized that something I believed had come to pass. I believed that if it made a difference in one person’s life, then it was worth everything it took to get them out there. Better than that, I have started to grow the stack of emails, notes and quotes that remind me of what it is all about. Not that they are perfect, but I am thrilled to know they have become a tool God is using in the lives of my friends and friends I have yet to meet, like the lady I saw last weekend. God bless you all, dear readers.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
Churches all around the world of a variety of sorts have made clear in their teaching that marriage is for life, as the vows say “till death do you part,” and often end marriage services with the old phrase, “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Jesus words about marriage from Matthew 19 are some of the most loved about marriage, as Jesus responds to a question from the Pharisees about divorce: "from the beginning it was not so, the two become one flesh.” When they question him further about why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus responded that it is because of their hardness of heart.
Correction, OUR hardness of heart.
What is the secret? The secret is that, even though Christians teach and stand for the sanctity of marriage for life, as we should, and even though we believe that a marriage with a spiritual connection in God makes for a stronger marriage, even among the best of Christians there are times divorce comes into our lives.
The “dirty” part of the secret is that from the time of Moses forward, God in his wisdom, recognizing the fallen state of man, made provision in the scripture for the possibility of divorce. We may not like that it is there, or think it speaks of failure and falls short of the ideal, the provision is still there.
In other words, though we hold a wonderful ideal and seek to maintain the highest standard for marriage, divorce still occurs because hardness of heart still exists in our world. Even the best of us, with the best effort, fall far short of God’s perfection.
While I would never advocate divorce as a quick solution or the first choice for marital tensions, neither would I pretend like there is no need for it in our world. God can accomplish great things, but my observation has been that often marriages can come to a point in which one partner is willing to submit to God while another has grown tired of trying and is ready to quit. When one partner or the other reaches that point of no return, until or unless they soften their heart, divorce continues to be the end result.
In His wisdom, God knew the realities of our lives here on earth, and he made provision for our weaknesses for the sake of those whose hearts have been broken by one - whose heart has grown hard.
One of the wisest statements I ever heard came from the mouth of a pastor’s wife I met only once or twice in my life. I was present as she was visiting with a mutual friend, and she shared the heartbreaking story of the chairman of the deacons in the church her husband served. She indicated that after 25 years of marriage,tha chairman was facing divorce. The wise statement that she uttered came after she described her sorrow over that divorce, and then said, “But for the grace of God, there go I”. Instead of judging those she knew who were divorced, or quoting scriptures to suggest they were wrong to pursue that course, she recognized the fallenness of our world and that it is only through God’s help that her marriage vows had been preserved.
Now that God has granted me a second chance, I pray that the same God will provide the same help and grace for my wife and I as we seek to live out our wedding vows for the rest of our lives. For those readers who are married, I pray that God will enable you to do the same.
Thursday, June 4, 2015
The other day a friend and I were having a conversation over a donut, talking a lot about this and that and even more about nothing. But in the middle of the conversation, he made a comment that I told him was a really important statement. I told him I thought I might even use it for a blog topic, and his response was, “feel free.” So, without embarrassing him about it and leaving him nameless instead, here are the thoughts he ignited as we conversed.
My friend’s comment was a simple one, and we were talking about how much of our lives have been the result of things we did not choose, such as what country we were born in. Reflecting on that, he added the comment, “You know, if there were nothing else to be thankful to them for, I at least should be appreciative of the fact that my parents raised me in such a way that they taught me the basic principles of being a Christian.” I agreed, and began turning the topic over in my mind.
Many of us attempt to do that very thing. Sometimes it works out great, and the children follow in our footsteps and become quality Christian leaders as adults. Our children can also be challenges to our faith, helping us see ways we still need to grow in our obedience to Christ. In some cases, the children abandon the principles they were taught as they grow up, wandering in “the far country” like the prodigal son, during which time we have to remain faithful, trusting God and praying for his hand upon our children. How our children respond to the Christian faith as they grow up is not something we parents get to choose; what we get to choose are the examples and opportunities we provide. Our children have to make their own decisions for or against Christ, just as we have ourselves.
This can get complicated by other things as well, such as church drama, youth ministers that impact our children for better or worse, parents whose faith experiences and commitments are radically different, and, of course, by divorce.
Divorce can cause children to struggle in their faith, questioning a God who did not keep their family together. Beyond that, however, is what happens after a divorce. Many times I have observed one or both parents abandon their church and even abandoning a Christian lifestyle after they get divorced. Some individuals never darken the door of the church again, leaving their children to question the sincerity and validity of what they have been taught over the years. Others who were once apparently devout in their faith, suddenly shift and live in ways clearly contrary to the faith.
All too often the children are faced with a set of divorced parents, one of whom continues in faith and church, while the other rejects and maybe even ridicules that very faith. This can all be very unsettling for the children. In those cases, it always makes me think of the times Jesus warned us not to put stumbling blocks in the way of children, that it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to ever do that.
However, once again, the only thing we can control is our own example and commitment. Much as you may want your partner (or your ex) to be more committed to Christ, or to be more obedient to the teaching of scripture, you only have the ability to work on your own growth. We have to pray and trust God to work on those in our lives we love.
The good news is, though, that we CAN work on the heritage we are leaving behind. We can each choose to do our best to be faithful. We can leave an example by how our Bibles are open and our attendance at Bible Study and Worship is regular. We can demonstrate by our lives that we believe the teachings of scripture are not mere information to be absorbed, but principles to be applied and lived in our daily lives. We can become “the sermon” our children see every day they are around us, and in so doing, do our part in giving our children the greatest gift any parent can ever give: knowledge of the salvation made available for us in Christ.
Let me add one final thought. Many of us, especially those divorced, struggle with whether we have provided an inadequate example and have failed in passing on the faith properly. The truth is, divorced or not, NONE of us live the faith perfectly. Always remember, we also set an example by how we handle our failures. When we accept responsibility for them, honestly confess them to God and appropriately to others, and seek to continue to grow we are providing an important example they need
I invite you to consider what the heritage is that YOU are offering to YOUR children.