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Friday, November 29, 2013

After Divorce: A Black Friday Resurrection


In the United States, today is Black Friday.  It is the day after Thanksgiving (only now, too many stores start it ON Thanksgiving….I boycott those stores, myself), on which businesses try to lure customers by offering special one day only deals.  Or, as friend told me the other day, it is the day when, after having given thanks for all the stuff we have, we spend the next day going out to buy more stuff!!  However, from the business side, supposedly it is the day that consumer spending enables stores to shift from being “in the red” to being “in the black” by starting to turn a profit for the year. 

Similar terms are used to describe the day the stock market tanked, the several times that has happened.  Or, I know of an place where new administration came in and fired a lot of long term employees so that cronies and friends could be hired in their place.  Other long term employees saw what has happening, and chose to slip out the door by choice a bit later, and were also replaced by cronies.  Those employees referred to that day of firing as Black Friday, and you may know of similar usages yourself.  But in divorce, Black Friday may be applied to other experiences.

Instead of seeing Black Friday in the positive sales kind of way, some of us may apply the term to the day we were served divorce papers, filed for divorce, were thrown out of our homes by our spouses, or when the divorce became final and we grieved the end of a marriage.  That date may be indelibly marked in your mind when the calendar rolls around, or, if you are like me, you may not be so good at remembering dates, but can certainly recall the awful experience.  (And, maybe you also relate to a subsequent time period that some of us call, “The Great Depression.”)  But like Good Friday of the Easter Season, which some traditions refer to as “Black Friday,” out of these awful times, resurrection can come. 

Financially, the stores talk about the day they turn a profit.  Many divorced people experience great financial upheaval, even taking bankruptcy as they seek to pay off their attorney fees and manage the bills on their own after the court ordered financial alterations.  (By the way, I have yet to meet a person who feels like the financial court orders were “fair.”)  Some say that it takes as long as ten years to regain your financial footing.  And I know it can take even longer, especially if an ex has a special affinity for going to court.  In that case, you may be like the businesses, and rejoice when your Black Friday comes, and you are finally able to make ends meet, and feel a bit of the stress lift as your financial world finally gains some equilibrium.

But for me, Black Friday sales are a reminder of how far we have gotten from the core of what Christmas is all about, and the same can be applied to Hanukkah.  Hanukkah is a reminder of a time when God made special provision for his people, revealed that he was with them at a time of deliverance through the miraculous burning of the temple menorah.  But as with Christmas, shopping has almost taken over, and Santa is on every corner with reindeer, while those outside the church clamor for celebration of Winter Solstice instead of Christmas.  The Christ child in the manger is all but forgotten.  And yet, the greatest Christmas present ever given was when God gave his son, born in a manger, to come as our Redeemer, dying on the cross for our sins that we may live eternally if we choose to accept through faith the gift he purchased. 

If you are struggling in a time of divorce, the Black Friday deals may be very tempting, as you seek to manage Christmas on a very tight budget.  But I want to encourage you to allow the financial limits to help you restore a more meaningful focus to the holiday.  

Let go of the rush to buy the perfect and most expensive gifts, or even to compete with your ex in what kind of gifts you give.  Instead, find a new way to restore in your celebration reminders of the true meaning of Christmas, the most perfect and timely and beautiful and precious gift ever given.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”  

Friday, November 22, 2013

A New Way to Look at Giving Thanks... after Divorce....


We are quickly approaching the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a day originally set aside for the people of the United States to stop and give thanks to God for all the blessings we enjoy.  It is a day of good food, family and friends, and some families still know that God is the one we are to thank, though many have lost that understanding.  When one has experienced divorce, Thanksgiving, like every other holiday, is impacted in ways that can be very difficult for parents and for children. 

Ephesians 5:20 tells us to be thankful in everything, which would have to include divorce.  That can be a hard thing to do.  Apart from difficult memories that may resurface of holidays gone by, there can also be the nightmare of trying to shuffle schedules to accommodate children, family, in-laws and ex-family members.  You may or may not see your children on this holiday, though you once could count on that.  Sometimes the mere process of children growing up into adults with their own families and lives impacts the celebration, other times it can be impacted by juggling schedules or by an interfering ex.  However, I do think that there are things to be thankful for, even after a divorce, and thought I’d make a little top ten list for your consideration.

           10)      In this time when all too often news reports tell about households in which one divorcing spouse kills the other, and maybe the children, and then themselves, you can be thankful that you came through your divorce alive and well.  It doesn't always happen.  Give thanks!

9)      If you have children from your previous marriage, be thankful for that.  Though it adds to the complications of divorce, children are a special blessing, even in the most difficult times.  There are many couples who would give anything to have a child of their own.   Give thanks!

8)      You may have experienced great upheaval, having to move, finding ways to make ends meet, managing a household on your own.  If you have a place to live and food to eat, Give thanks!

7)      While divorce radically alters the course of your life, and takes away many things you once held precious, it also gives you the opportunity to start fresh, to make some new and better choices.  Give thanks!

6)      Though you may have been crushed, bruised, devastated and broken, you are still a person of worth, and may, in fact, be rediscovering parts of yourself that have long been forgotten.  Give thanks!

5)      In many cases, your marriage may have been a miserable place to be, unhappy, criticized or put down, sometimes filled with anger and disappointment, often leaving you feel lonely and unloved.  You no longer have to endure that on a daily basis.  Give thanks!

4)      This Thanksgiving, you have the opportunity to create new traditions that are meaningful to you, and to make the meal any way YOU want it to be!  Give thanks!

3)      Odds are, though your divorce has been difficult, you have found that you have some family and friends who have stood by you through it, and let you know you are loved.  Give thanks!

2)      Perhaps you have remarried, and found in that marriage the kind of spouse you always dreamed of and a kind of love you have never experienced before.  Give thanks!

And, most important of all…

1)      Though you have experienced the loss of the companion you expected to be with your entire life, there is one Companion who will never abandon you, no matter what life may bring your way.  Give thanks for the God who promises to never fail you nor forsake you!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Your Church.... Dying or Thriving?


So my wife ran across something surfing the net the other day that struck me as interesting when she showed it to me.  It was a list somebody had put together about things you can do that cause churches to close.  It reminded me of a sermon I gave in my church nine years ago, so I dug it out, and so, though it’s kind of random, I thought I’d add my tips to the mix out there in the blogosphere.  I would also suggest that many of these same issues will also strangle a marriage!  So, here are the tips, some of which are about individuals, others are about churches.  Follow these tips only if you want your church to close it’s doors.

Areas 1-12 refer to individual attitudes and behaviors

These first three have always been key issues for church life/growth:
1)  Use your Bible as a dust collector.
2)  Assume outreach and witnessing is somebody else's job.
3)  Pray only for your own needs, and certainly never for church leadership or the lost souls in our communities and the world.

These areas, though timeless, seem prevalent in many churches today.
4)  Participate in backbiting, gossip, criticism, nitpicking, and strife by speaking or listening to it…and so claim grumbling and murmuring as your spiritual gifts instead of focusing on the positive things in life and in your church.

5)  Value only the ministries and gifts that YOU like or benefit from, rather than the ones God chooses to bring for the betterment of the entire church.

6)  Develop a self centered focus, where you always ask what did I get out of it, instead of asking how it serves the greater kingdom of Christ.

7) Become suspicious and decide everybody else is working against you, rather than seeing fellow church members as varied parts of a single body of Christ working toward the common good of the kingdom.

8) Practice a pseudo Christianity where you have an appearance of godliness, but don't allow any real power to change your life or to work through you to change the lives of others.

9) Resist and quench any movement by the Spirit of God that causes people to become excited or emotional at God's touch upon them, or that causes them to step out in faith into new arenas of ministry.

10) Do everything you possibly can in your church….even if you only get the job half done….so that other people won't have to do anything.

11) Decide your church attendance based on convenience rather than commitment.

12) Choose to be a taker in your church, rather than a giver.

Both Individuals and Church bodies adopt these attitudes/behaviors in dying churches:

1) Find a plateau in your spiritual growth where you can be satisfied to dwell…you can also get satisfied in plateaus in your church's growth, too.

2) Focus on what you can't do, rather than what you could do… as individuals and as a church.

3) Place limits on what you are willing for God to do in you or through you or your church.

4) Make your decisions and operate out of fear and uncertainty, rather than faith, risk taking and boldness.

5) Go into any future God has kicking and screaming, rather than with enthusiasm, excitement and hope.

6) Ignore or refuse to act on the opportunities and challenges God places before you or before your church.

These attitudes are often adopted by dying church bodies:

1) Help create division by adopting an “us/them” mentality to describe all sorts of church interactions.

2) Develop a system that is power oriented and territorial rather than servant and humility oriented.

3) Become program and property centered, rather than people centered.

4) Adopt a "pastor as messiah or scapegoat" attitude, rather than examining issues the church body needs to face and deal with.

5) Have no spiritual vision or dreams for the kingdom, focusing instead only on how things used to be, or how they are, but never the possibilities that could be.

6) Set up barriers and hurdles to impede ministries, instead of empowering people to follow God's calling in their lives.

7) Develop a church mentality of maintaining and surviving, doing things in ways that are good enough to get by, rather than staffing and planning for growth or seeking all things in excellence.

8)  Ignore that the love chapter is addressed to churches, not married couples.

9)  Let die your heart for missions and desire to reach the lost.

There are churches with these attitudes that continue to exist, but the glory of God has already departed from them.  They have become nothing more than religious social clubs that do nothing in terms of discipleship, and their doors will eventually close….and they should….because they no longer fulfill the purposes for which God established his church.

Praying that your approaching Thanksgiving is giving you time to reflect and ponder.  Giving Thanksgiving in all things, even leaves on the ground.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Faith That is Part of a Real World


My last blog was on divorce in relation to abusive relationships, and a Christian response to such situations.  I was actually rather surprised at the reception, because it was one of my most read blogs in several months.  The sad part is, because I think all of us know abusive relationships are more common than many in the churches would like to admit…except that while it isn’t addressed often, church folks know it SHOULD be addressed.  Because we know it happens, and it happens too often, and it even happens in homes of people who regularly attend church  It’s just that all too often the church does not know how to deal with it effectively, and instead it often gets ignored in the church and left to the social workers, courts and psychologists.   

It is one topic that the church is all too often sadly silent about when the church has clear scriptural teaching that contradicts any acceptance of abusive behavior.  Why is the church so silent in these things?

Some have pointed out how poorly the Catholic Church handled the molestation of young boys by some clergy members.  And they should be criticized for that.  But they are not alone.  Abusive relationships are far too common in many areas of society, including within too many churches.  I have been particularly bothered, myself, by those who turn to Ephesians 5 to claim the husband is head of the home and then use that as justification for controlling and abusive behaviors.  Headship and submission in that chapter, so often quoted and misused is only to be understood through the example of Jesus, as is clearly indicated in the passage.  Christ as head of the church lays down his life for the church, and chose to serve instead of being served, and that is a far cry from the kind of headship that would seek to control and abuse those of whom a husband would seek to be the head.  And the verse about a wife submitting is twisted into something that was never intended, because it is often quoted with no reference to the fact that earlier in the chapter the call is for husband and wife to submit to one another, and to Christ.  It is this mutuality of respect, service and support that Ephesians speaks of, not the domineering of a misguided husband or the browbeating of an angry wife. 

I should probably not have been surprised at how many people were interested in that blog.  Because I think people are hungry for a faith that deals with the real world, rather than sweeping the tough issues under a rug, turning a blind eye to the real struggles of people in the congregation and in the world while making declarations of wrongdoing by those outside the church.  My recollection is that Jesus challenged us to deal with the logs in our own eyes before we even THINK about dealing with the specks in the eyes of others.  How much more refreshing it is, it seems to me, to be part of a fellowship where people acknowledge their struggles and imperfections, supporting one another as we seek to become more like Christ and disentangle from ourselves from the sins that stain our lives an leave us shattered and broken.  How can a doctor help heal a person who refuses to acknowledge they are sick and seek the doctor’s help?  How can we experience the healing of the Great Physician when we turn a blind eye to the life areas that need to change while pretending to be dependent upon God’s mercy and grace? 

The Christianity that most impresses me is the version I have been blessed to see in the lives of certain believers here and there through the course of my life.  Those people have represented to me and to others they meet the kind of faith that encounters individuals whose lives have been damaged by sin or hardship, and in the encounter chooses to walk alongside those people with humility and compassion, rather than sit in judgment with attitudes of rejection and “holier than thou.”  I especially see this distinction played out in the way various Christians and churches choose to deal with the reality that there are people in their congregations experience the brokenness of divorce.  I have been so blessed to have brothers and sisters who met me at my point of brokenness when I experienced divorce, and gave me the hope, acceptance and encouragement I needed for healing that pain.  

I hope your experience of the Christian faith includes those kind of people.  And I also hope that those who encounter you in life experience that kind of faith in you. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Abusive Spouse


 I have had some interesting conversations of late, in a variety of settings, but have had lots of things happening that kept me away from the computer to get a blog out.  One of the topics addressed was the issue of abuse in relation to grounds for divorce and the biblical teaching.  Included in it was an individual who had been told that the only biblical grounds for divorce were adultery or abandonment by an unbelieving spouse.  But the question was raised in regard to biblical teaching about abusive relationships, and whether God required a Christian to stay in a marriage that involves abuse.  Sadly, this is a big topic, and often a taboo topic in churches.  So what does God require? 

Let me begin by saying that in terms of what God requires, I think of verses like Micah 6:8 that talk about doing justice, love kindly and walk humbly.  And let me then add that I believe that when we start off on the track of God’s REQUIREMENTS, we sometimes relegate the issues of grace, mercy and forgiveness to far down the list, a choice I believe is a mistake. 

So does the scripture address the topic of abuse?  Well, somehow the Golden Rule---treating others the way you would like to be treated—and Christ’s new commandment to love one another just as Christ loved us both would automatically exclude being abusive.  In fact, a careful reading of the end of Ephesians 5, where the outline of marriage is provided as an illustration of Christ’s love for the church, would also exclude abuse as being a part of any truly Christian marriage.  So, it would seem to me that if one is going to ask what God requires of someone in an abusive marriage, the first answer would relate to the abuser, not the abused!

Before I go any further, perhaps I should open the door a bit wider for you in this arena.  I know of women whose husbands have beaten them severely.  I know of a pregnant woman who suffered beatings, and was literally hanging on the hood of a moving car, begging the father of her child to not leave as he drove away until she fell off.  And I also know of a man who would wake up in the middle of the night to discover his drunk wife standing over him with a broken beer bottle, threatening to slice his throat with it.  And I know that sometimes, homes that would appear all wonderful to others in a church can, in reality, be war zones behind closed doors.  Even to the point that church leadership will unwittingly support a supposedly godly spouse who, in fact, is the abuser in unscriptural marriage.  It is always wise to never assume you know the whole story, especially if you have not really heard both sides of the story.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention that abuse is not always physical, but can be verbal or emotional.  Perhaps you have known, as I have, of individuals who have been so browbeaten by a spouse that they consider themselves worthless.  Or an individual in a relationship in which their life is a daily rollercoaster of emotions, being controlled and insecure in any sense of love or commitment.  The physical abuse at least has the visible bruising to prove it is happening.  The internal bruises are much more subtle, much harder to define, and sometimes, leave the abused second-guessing as to whether they are even being abused!

So, would Jesus choose the side of the abuser in a bad relationship, or that of the abused?  It seems to me that scripture is pretty clear about all the times he stood with the outcast, rejected and abused, and I think he would do the same in judging a marriage.

Some would say that regardless, Jesus does not allow the suffering of abuse as a valid reason for divorce.  On the other hand, others (including myself) believe that Jesus’s point about the grounds for divorce was not so much a prescription of the only legitimate grounds as it was an exposé of the wrong being practiced at the time of trivializing divorce.  Burning supper is simply not good enough grounds for divorcing your wife!

So should the abused spouse seek a divorce?  Certainly not as the first solution, because sometimes there are other ways to bring about an end to the abuse, such as counseling, confrontation, legal complaints.  If there is a way for the abuser to be brought to humility, repentance and change, that is the ultimate goal.  But, in the case of many I have known, abusers often prefer to blame anyone but themselves, and deny that their actions are their own choices or responsibility.  In such cases, divorce may accomplish two things:  the safety of the abused and the possible accountability of the abuser which might even lead to repentance.

There remain those who deny that, even under these circumstances, divorce is acceptable.  I believe that, sad though it is, divorce is a symptom of our fallen world, and that God in his wisdom knew it and so provided guidelines even in the Mosaic law of old.  I also believe that though divorce clearly does not live up to the biblical ideal of one man and one woman become one flesh for life, neither does an abusive marriage live up that ideal either.  In fact, the divorce is probably more a reflection of reality than the sham of an abusive marriage. 

I tend to be most impressed with a story I once heard about a church who knew of a young woman whose marriage was abusive in a number of ways.  There came a time when the husband was away from the home for reasons beyond what I can explain here, and in that time, the believers chose to rescue that woman by putting her and her children on a plane with tickets the believers had purchased so that she would never have to suffer at his hands again.  Somehow, that strikes me more as how Christ would respond than those who like to pronounce that the abused must tough it out indefinitely, though I doubt they would do the same. 

I find time and again that God stands with those whose lives are nearly snuffed out, and barely surviving.  If you are in an abusive relationship, I am not telling you how you must handle things.  But I do believe that God cares about you in your suffering, and that the condemnation people might put on you is merely from people, and not from God.  I long for the day when God wipes away every tear from our eyes, for in that day, abuse will be exposed for what it is, and the tears of the abused will be vindicated and wounds healed forever.  If that is you, know that you have my prayers.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Help with getting through the holidays!


I promised to get some tips out for your holiday planning, especially for those who may be newly divorced.  (Those of you who read this and aren't divorce might consider printing it off or sharing the link for a friend recently divorced.)  

So, how about these:

10)  Abide by your court assigned responsibilities.  Honor the agreement, even if your ex chooses to do otherwise, because you choose to be a person of integrity.

 9)  Plan well ahead.  Notify children, your ex, grandparents of scheduled plans early enough that they will know how to make plans of their own.

8)  Include traditions that have been significant in your past, even though they may provoke bittersweet memories.

7)  Include new traditions that you create, traditions that emphasize meaningful things for you. 

6)  If you are grieving the loss of your spouse and time away from your children this holiday season, be careful that your grief does not prevent you from appreciating the family and friends you DO have around you at this time.

5)  Be realistic in your celebration expenses.  There is no shame in teaching your children responsible budgeting if you are suffering the effects of an expensive divorce.

4)  Don’t allow yourself to get caught in a gift competition with your ex…nobody wins when you do that.  Do what is appropriate in your situation.  It may even be helpful to suggest the children make separate gift lists for each side of the family to avoid duplication which may place them in an awkward situation.

3)  Make plans now for the time you won’t be around family.  If you are remarried, it means something for the two of you when the children are at the other homes.  Plan ahead and choose not to put yourself in situations that will emphasize loneliness, rather plan things that you can do because you have the opportunity on your own.

2)  Make God a central part of your planning and your celebration.  God will always attend every celebration to which you invite Him.

1) Focus most of all on what the holiday really means.  Remember that giving thanks, or celebrating Christ is what they holiday is actually all about.  We do those things as family, and family is important, but family is not the reason we have the holiday!  If you focus on the real meaning, you can appreciate the day regardless of family difficulties.