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Sunday, September 28, 2014



I don’t know if you happened to read the comment Mary Kay Anderson posted after my last blog, but it got me to thinking.  

If you haven’t read the last blog or the comment, a quick summary of the blog was that I picked up on a poorly chosen word in a devotion my wife and I were reading, and explained why it was incorrect theologically.  The wording was that God made choices based on what he “felt” was right.  And here is the comment that was posted in response, a supportive comment I really appreciated:

"That He feels is right"- We have to use discernment even with "Christian" writing, preaching, & music. I agree with this writer that the devotionals author got that wrong.”

I thought Ms. Anderson made a good point, and I decided I should also expand on her thought, but in a different direction.  I picked up on our writer’s poor word choice, and addressed the issue of why it was not appropriate.  Ms. Anderson expressed her agreement, affirming that it IS important that we maintain a thoughtful and critical eye with the various Christian teachings we receive.  (That, by the way, is nothing new.  The church in Thessalonica was praised in the book of Acts because they didn’t simply accept what Paul preached, but checked it against the scriptures before God themselves.)  

What I want to pursue today came to mind because Ms. Anderson used quotes around Christian in her comment, which made me realize something else we should take into account.  She put the quotes around the word Christian, I assume anyway, because there are a lot of things out there claiming to be Christian that are actually theologically deficient, maybe even not truly Christian but some watered down version or a mixed bag of Christian teaching and whatever else.  And she is right (assuming I understand her correctly), there is a great deal of very sloppy and very shallow pop-theology out there.  Some of it is very misleading and potentially harmful, some of it is not untrue, just very superficial.  It is important for each of us to become as literate as possible in scripture and in historical Christian doctrine by familiarizing ourselves with it so as to be able to test modern materials in light of that knowledge. 

But there is another point I want to make:   I was wrong.  I may not be able to tell you exactly where, but I know I was, because I know I am fallible and still learning.  It is a scary thing to put theological words in print, because they will be subject to the very kind of scrutiny that I gave the devotion, and a poorly chosen word can be taken as false teaching or easily misunderstood.  I doubt that the people (it was a couple) who wrote our little devotion are not Christian.  And I doubt that their wording was intentionally misleading…it was just an expression that is commonly used in speech these days.  But it could also be that they need more depth in their theology, or that they have not been taught well, or that they have a significantly different interpretation of scripture than historical Christianity.  Whatever created the issue, I can guarantee that somebody looking closely will find the same kind of thing somewhere in my writings.  

I have tried very hard to check and double check my books.  I have had others proof over them for content as well as grammatical issues.  But even so, even I have found typos and phrases I might have worded differently since publication!  Even in the second volume I added a scripture reference I had forgotten in the first.  There are other references that could have been included for certain topics and their exclusion, while purposeful on my part, could be seen as nefarious rather than simply a selective focus of usage.  

I have often said that if I fully agree with something I read, it would either have to be the scripture itself, or something I wrote myself…but it would have to be something I wrote very recently.  As time goes by and I grow, my understanding grows as well.  

There are a couple of interesting scriptures in this regard.

Proverbs 10:19  (NASB)
 “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.”

James 3:2  (NASB)
“ For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.”

Ah, well, so I am not the ONLY one to realize how risky it is to put things into writing, to try to put our words out there as best we can.  To do so perfectly is, therefore, an impossible challenge.  To do it well and to the best of the ability we have at the time, to do it responsibly, that IS possible.  But there isn’t a single Christian book out there that is perfect…all are written by humans just like you and me.

As a reader, it is important, though sometimes tricky, to use discernment well.  We need to be able to discern false doctrine, but not all mistakes are false doctrine, they are merely mistakes.  We need to be able to glean out what is true from those mistakes, perhaps seeking to draw the intent of the speaker or writer.  Many a time I have heard preachers, musicians and note Bible teachers say things that are not true, usually overstating their case or making assertions beyond what the scripture text allows.  Generally speaking, if it is just a mistake that is not the main point of the presentation, I usually just let it go as the chaff mixed in with the wheat.  There are times, though, that the teaching can be misleading at the core, and then we need to speak up.  But I would hope none of us would fret so much over the fallible parts of the materials we are offered that we deny ourselves of the blessings and truths that can come our way through gleaning the valuable nuggets included.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The One Who Defines Right and Wrong


Do you ever have times when one little word perturbs you?  The other day, I ran across such a word in a devotional book my wife and I read together.  But first let me raise the thoughts that made me notice it. 

In recent readings, I have run across something in a few writings by some Christian teachers of various sorts that got me thinking.  The core of their comments was that they were questioning and discussing whether divorce is right or wrong.  It really struck me that making that determination was so important for them to debate and decide.  Yet there was no discussion as to the rightness or wrongness of behaviors within the marriage that were the precipitating cause of the divorce.  I wonder, how can someone declare one wrong without addressing the other?  For some reason, they were all worried about divorce, and not worried enough about wrongful actions between mates.

So that was already on my mind, when we read the little devotional writing (and I’d rather not give the reference..sorry).  The writer was discussing God’s answers to our prayers, and how his timing and answers don’t always come in the way we expect them to come.  The next line made the comment that God answers in the way “that He feels is right.”  Does anything about that bother you? I think it should.

You see, it is ridiculous to relegate God’s determination of right and wrong to feelings:  that is a misunderstanding of God and the nature of right and wrong.  It isn’t about what God “feels” is right, God is the one who DEFINES right and wrong.  God by nature is the very essence of “right.”  And come judgment day, he is the only judge whose determination of right and wrong counts!  God doesn’t do what he “feels” is right;  God does what he KNOWS to be right, even if we don’t understand how right it is.

As I watch the bombing of ISIL strongholds, I see a good example of the conflict in defining right and wrong.  The ISIL terrorists believe that they are championing “right” when they slaughter innocents in the name of Islam and become murderous martrys with suicide bombs.  They truly believe that killing anyone who doesn’t agree with their way of thinking is right.

Many others around the world believe it is right to try to kill and remove these anti-feminist violent radicals.  They champion the cause of destroying their strongholds and their efforts.  But both definitions of right cannot be true.  At least one is false, and neither must necessarily be true. 

So who decides which is right, or if right is another point of view?  As often happens in Christianity, in Islam there are differing interpretations of the Qu’ran’s teachings of right and wrong.  I believe there are clear definitions of right and wrong provided by the only One who conquered death and demonstrated his right to make that determination.  And those definitions are unrelated to mere feelings.

Even the best of us will fall short in our understanding of absolute right and wrong.  We will only know it for sure when the One who created right establishes it forever at the time of judgment.  I hope the U.S. is doing right by attempting to rid the world of the apparent evils of terrorism.  Perhaps we are going about it the “right” way, perhaps there are better ways.   I hope God cares as much about the awfulness of a sham marriage as he does the wrongness of divorce.  One day we will know.  Until then, we must do our best to seek and grow in our understanding of God’s will and direction in our lives and our world.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pet Therapy


Well, I have posted blogs twice now about the dogs in my life in relation to my divorce (though not all the dogs).  Though I did not mention everything, such as the fact that Maggie described in the last blog is one of the dogs responsible for introducing my wife and I to one another.  But there is another side to these things:  there are cats.  And since I try to be fair to both in my books, it seems only proper that the blog should be, too.

Some believe you can divide all humanity into two groups:  dog persons and cat persons.  I don’t know what such people do with individuals like me, who regularly have both.  Cats and I go way back…dogs didn’t enter my life until I was in junior high, when we moved away from the busy highway.  (I don’t know why I had to wait till the move to get a dog, but had cats.  I guess my folks didn’t think it such a big deal that cats got hit by the cars.)

As a youngster, I had all sorts of cats, because they tended to be short-lived near the highway.  And I must pay tribute to my Uncle Joe, who loved cats way beyond any normal person would…and in his honor I even named my last cat after him!  As an adult, I have tended toward one of the worst kind of cat people, I have had Siamese cats.  If you are a cat person, you know exactly what that means, if not, then suffice it to say that Siamese cats don’t meow, they wail…if they bother to talk to you at all. 

In my divorce, I lost access to the family dog, and the two cats we had in the home—one for each of my kids.  Having had pets in the house, a home without them felt especially empty after a divorce.

I didn’t get a cat of my own until several years later, as eventually my son moved in with his cat…the Siamese.  It was after he went to college that I got my own Siamese, who died a few years ago. 

I am a firm believer that obtaining a pet after a divorce is good therapy.  They represent a new, living relationship and require the owner to be involved with something outside of him or herself.  It is kind of a new beginning, but it is also establishing a home and arranging companionship when your primary companionship has been withdrawn.  I have a friend whose life was her horses, but since I’m a city kid and equine illiterate, I opt for more traditional indoor pets.  Dogs are friendly, and will always let you know that you are loved (they will also make you think you are absolutely wonderful…just don’t buy too deep into that).  Cats, on the other hand, are calming and stress reducing, in my opinion. 

There were many times I would come home for the day to a house that was empty of habitation when children were at their mother’s or away at college.  Sometimes I would sit or lay on the couch to read or watch television.  It was then that the cat would come over to say, “hello.”  Actually, cats never really say, “hello.”  

When cats come, they say several specific things:  

“Hello, you need to clean my litter box.”  

“Hello, why are you sitting there?  Do you not realize my food bowl is empty?”  

“Hello, why were you gone so long without asking my permission.  I am here to get your 
attention so that you can reach my direction and I can snub you by walking the other way to let you know how perturbed I am at you.”  

Or, my favorite is, “Hello, here I am and there is a place on my back that needs to be scratched.  Are you going to do it, or do I have to rub against your leg and do it myself?” 

Yes, cats are wonderful, aren’t they?

Anyway, back to lying on the couch.  Once I got comfortable, the cat would come over, climb into close proximity…sometimes my face, which required moving him to a more reasonable location…and then start to purr.  Purring, for me, is a very soothing sound.  It implies things are calm and secure.  It represents caring and support.  For the cat, it probably means, “I finally got this idiot human to pet me correctly!”  But for me, it was a good feeling to rub the soft fur and hear the purring sound in response.  When you have experienced the lack of appreciation that comes with divorce, hearing appreciation for something as simple as rubbing a cat’s ears can be a good feeling.

Well as I mentioned, my cat died a few years ago.  One of these days I’ll get another, and it will be Siamese once again, I am sure.  Just not right now.  But the point of the whole matter is this:  if a person is divorced, a loving pet can mitigate the feeling of being alone, and is well worth the trouble and a little expense. 

If you know such a person, it is worth a recommendation for their benefit.  I’d offer to send you one of my wife’s miniature dogs…but she probably wouldn’t appreciate that, so you will have to seek one out yourself.  I’m sure your local pet rescue shelter would be more than happy to oblige.  You won’t regret it!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Saying Good bye to Our Dog

My Son’s Dog

This has been a fairly difficult day emotionally, because I have known all day that this would be Maggie’s last day.  So she has had a few extra treats today, a few leftovers she wouldn’t normally get and a few extra pats on the head.  I know why that was happening, but she didn’t.  It has been a tough year.  My dad passed away last spring at 94 years of age, after he and I have spent day after day together for the last five years.  It also wasn’t that long ago my mom also passed away, 2012 in the fall.  A while back I wrote a blog about my own dog when I had to put her down, and how important she was for me when I went through my divorce.  So there has been plenty of loss in my life in recent years.  Maggie introduces another dimension into the mix.

Maggie entered our lives as a puppy.  It was during my children’s teenage years that my ex-wife decided she was going to file for divorce.  During those early days I got my beagle who kept me company for many years.  A year or so later, for a variety of reasons, our youngest child, my son, moved to my home and out of his mother’s.   It had been a tumultuous time for all of us. 

Shortly after he settled in, we got to talking about dogs.  He had run across an ad for giveaway puppies that were half Labrador half German short hair, and he asked if he could get one.  Though I explained it was not a great time since he would be headed to college in just a few short years, he won out and we went to get a puppy.

The puppy was one of a large litter, born into a large pack of aggressive guard dogs.  She was the runt of the litter, and extremely timid. That must have been what won his heart.  She was the one he selected and brought home, naming her Maggie. 

Maggie was very timid, very nervous and very quiet.  In fact, I have only heard her bark a handful of times through her approximately a decade and a half of life.  And when she did bark, it was for good reason.  It took a long time for her to be willing to even come to us, as she hid under the back porch, where she and my dog had houses to sleep in.  Over time, she cozied up to my son, and was at least willing to say hi to me now and then.  Eventually I was accepted into her inner circle.

Often she slept on a pillow beside his bed, sometimes she was outside.  But she always had an overriding fear that somebody was going to leave her behind, and I never knew why.  I figure the timidity came from being small and the aggressiveness of the other dogs where she was born, but who knows why she had “abandonment issues”?  (Little did I know at the time that this puppy would be followed by lizards and snakes and cats…sigh.)

Divorce was a hard time for the kids, as it often is.  Maggie was a source of comfort in an unstable time.  When he moved to college, he wasn’t able to take her at first, so she was content to live with me and my beagle.  Sometimes the two of them would get loose from the yard, and they would go tour the neighborhood and visit all their doggie friends.  I might find them clear across town, but they would always be side by side.

I only heard her growl or bark in anger one time, and that was when a stranger was walking through the alley and got too close to where my young step-daughters were playing in a tree.  The stranger did not come closer.  She was a good guard dog. 

Later, when he transferred to another school, she was able to go be with him.  But her abandonment issues continued.  He once left her in a cousin’s second floor apartment for an evening, only to come home and discover she had broken through the window and was wandering around Portland, Oregon looking for him!  They found her after a long evening. 

When he moved again, the new apartment restricted the size of pets, so she came back to live with me.  She likes being around me, but if my son shows up, she won’t be around me very much at all.  

I suspect Maggie has brought a great deal of comfort to my son during hard times.  And I suspect she has heard his struggles, as he hugged her close (after all, you aren’t going to tell your troubles to a snake!).  This dog was an important way he staked a personal claim in an uncertain time.  She was someone who belonged just to him, as well as gave him responsibility around the house.  Though the divorce was between his mother and I, the heartaches were shared by the children as well.  Maggie helped him through some rough times of life. 

Lately, as she has aged, Maggie has developed back troubles.  She couldn’t see very good any more.  And she couldn’t hear, either.  In fact, there are several things that were just kind of falling apart about her.  She would slip and fall, and get grouchy if you touched her sore back, but she still loved to eat.  And she might have slept all day if I was around, but the second I left the house or left her in the yard, she would start pacing looking for me, until I returned.  When I returned, she would always come over to greet me and put her nose against me as if to ask, “Where have you been?  And why didn’t you take me with you?”

When her walking turned to a troubled hobble this week, we decided it was time to let her go.  And so an appointment was made, treats were given, and she had her final time with me and my wife, and with my son today.  Now she lies buried beside my dog, together again. 

I once had a child ask if pets go to heaven.  I decided they did, since the scripture talks about the wolf lying down with the lamb, and that creation is longing for the redemption that comes with Christ’s return.  So maybe my beagle and his lab mix are wandering the streets of heaven today, wondering when we will come and see them.  As I have gotten older, I am more aware of how much loss and heartache comes in life, and perhaps the hardest of all is when you have to say goodbye to someone special for the very last time.  Even if that someone is just a dog.

If you have been caught in the hard times of divorce, I encourage you to consider what you could do to help ease the time for your children.  Some of the choices you make may help, some they misunderstand, but don’t get so caught up in your own pain that you can’t see theirs as well.  Maybe, just maybe, you ought to get them a dog.  (I recommend it over the snake or bearded dragon!)  I’m glad I did.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Valuing How the Other Sex Communicates!

Men and Women Really ARE Different

James Wright Foley
American Journalist

David Haines
British Aid Worker

This is a precarious time in our world, and the leaders of many nations are struggling as they seek to decide how to respond effectively to the various threats in our world, and especially to the barbarous threats posed by ISIL/ISIS or whatever the latest name is.  

I have viewed reports in the past weeks of the murders of American and British citizens by the ISIS thugs.  First, was the report of the beheading of James Wright Foley and yesterday the report of the beheading of David Haines.  I can make little sense of these actions, as Foley was a journalist and Haines was a British Aid worker.    A Brit, who was there TO HELP PEOPLE!  Oh, OF COURSE, that  is clearly a person who ought to be killed!!!  

My heart and my prayers go out to these families.  I sometimes even wonder if it wouldn't be wiser for the news media to completely ignore these bloodthirsty and attention seeking gangsters, rather than place them on international news status.  At the same time, it has helped wake up the world to the kind of people we are dealing with, so there is more than one way view the matter. 

It was the interview of Diane Foley, the mother of James Wright Foley, by Anderson Cooper that caught my attention.  As my wife and I watched the replay of the interview on CNN, at the end of the segment, one of the news anchors responded in a way that truly surprised me.  Diane Foley stated in the interview that during her son's imprisonment, the Foley’s were doing all they could to find out his whereabouts and what they could possibly do to procure his release.  They made the accusation that they were way ahead of the United States government in the investigation, as the FBI and others came to them seeking information they had gleaned themselves in Europe and elsewhere.  The other accusation was that individuals from the Executive Branch of the government made threats of prosecution against them if they did anything to attempt to raise ransom money.  There may have been more to the discussion, but this was the part involved in this episode. 

Jim’s mother expressed her struggles in a very articulate manner, asking piercing questions of American policy as well as sharing her frustration with it all, ultimately ending in the murder of her son.  After raising all sort of difficult issues in relation to the kidnapping and American foreign policy, the news reverted back to the co-anchors, a male and a female team.  The first response was by the woman anchor, who made an extended comment on the composure of the mother as she gave her interview.  That is where the issue arose, because I opened my mouth.  I said, “Can you believe that?  All the issues that poor mother raised, and the most important thing that news anchor thinks needs to be discussed first is the composure of the mother during the interview?”  Big mistake.

My wife responded without hesitation, something very close to, “Hey, women are interested in that, in the emotional side of the mother’s experience.”  Not having learned a lesson, I chirped up, “But first?  That’s the first thing that needs to be discussed?”  The reply?  “Men and women are different, and interested in different things.”  Sigh.  I’m old enough that I should have known before I ever opened my mouth.  I get tired of the touchy feely news media always asking individuals in crisis how it feels…but then, I’m a guy.

This same issue arises, I notice, in commercials as well.  There is some weight loss television commercial out there where a woman talks about how women always talk about how they look or what the best way is to lose weight.  Then she announces that she finally got down to what really matters, and it is how she feels.  Hmmm.  I probably am not going to be motivated by that.  But then, I’m not a woman. 

Sometimes we go watch movies, and afterwards we talk about whether it was a good movie, a boring movie or what.  Sometimes, especially if it is a really slow movie, I will reply, “Well, the problem is nothing got blown up and there wasn't a single car chase or anything!”  That’s when she sighs.  Or rolls her eyes.  Or, on her good days, just ignores me. 

I have noticed that very rarely do two individuals see things exactly the same.  Oh, they may intersect with some things, or they may have similar concerns, but exactly the same?  I have noticed this happens a lot between men and women.  This is nothing new. 

I love old movies (she does not, by the way), and watching them one will find the same themes played out time and time again.  I especially enjoy Henry Higgins struggling with the female point of view in “My Fair Lady,” during which he asks Colonel Pickering in a mocking tone of voice (in my recollected paraphrase), “Would you be jealous if I went out with another man?  Or be devastated if I showed up in an identical outfit at a party?  Of course not!”  A key point for women to roll their eyes once again.  Which, having been involved in the raising of girls, is a skill perfected at a very young age and practiced regularly. 

It seems to me that these differences are a major part of the challenge of marriage, and possibly a major factor in divorce.  All too often one spouse is frustrated because the other does not see things the same way as he/she does.  Or because the things they do don’t make sense to them.  We forget that one of the advantages of not seeing things the same way is that we end up with a more balanced perspective by taking two points of view into consideration.  With two opinions, we end up with more information by which to make decisions, and learn that there is something beyond our personal way of thinking. 

Instead, we get too entrenched in our own little worlds, and become convinced that we are right and any other opinion is simply wrong.  Everything from squeezing or rolling toothpaste tubes to toilet paper coming from the front or back to the way we cook, do dishes, make the bed…even identifying the important points of a new story!

On the radio while driving today, we listened to a program where an underwater explorer discussed the wonder of discovering things deep in the ocean as he has done in life.  

Folks, that is NOTHING, compared to figuring out the opposite sex.  

One view the whole matter is to realize that learning about how this beloved member of the opposite sex experiences life, chooses values and deals with issues that arise is the discovery adventure that can last a lifetime.  You are NEVER done with that.  Individuals are just that complicated.  That is why when you think you have your spouse all figured out, something will happen and the response will surprise you.  You don’t have it as figured out as you thought.

So instead of letting it get to you or frustrate you when this spouse makes no sense or can’t seem to see the obvious things that YOU do, why not decide it is one more chance to learn something about your spouse that you didn't realize?  Too often, we try to make that person think like we do, but in so doing, we have forgotten the time tested adage:  “Variety is the spice of life.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ray Rice, Janay Rice and An Opinion


I saw a news report that compels me to write today’s blog.  This will probably be one of the hardest blogs for me to write, as the issue of domestic violence is one that I find especially troubling.  Forgive the length of the blog, it is a topic dear to my heart.  Sadly, I have known far too many women (and men), who have suffered abuse in the home, some already married, some who married the individual after the fact as Ms. Rice has done.  It is such a terribly sad and unacceptable home life. 

I have also learned that while physical abuse is an awful thing, there is also the harder to define emotional abuse which is equally devastating.  Let me say at the very start, if you are physically striking your spouse or being struck by your spouse, please seek counseling now, before it is too late.  If you know someone suffering in this way, you could offer to go with them to a counselor or someone who can help get the healing started.

So with that, let me tell you what happened today.  I am sure that you, like me, have seen newscasts about NFL player, Ray Rice, and the abusive episode with his then fiancĂ©.  Now a video has been aired of the event and in the aftermath, his wife, has spoken about how troubled she is that so many are intruding on their personal life.  Understandably, it must be very hard for her or them to be able to work through their difficulties with the whole world scrutinizing them.  

It is all very sad.  

Watching the video, it is clear there was more going on between the two than that Ray simply slugged Janay; it appears to be quite an aggressive argument by both parties.  Nonetheless, when Ray throws the punch…lots and lots of lines have been crossed.

In CNN’s Headline News report this morning, a twitter post was shown written by an abused woman who stayed with her husband and explained why.  Included was a mention that her pastor told her that God hates divorce.  That was when I decided I had to address the abuse issue in a blog.  I don’t know who the woman was they were quoting, whether it was Ms. Rice or somebody else.  And I don’t know whether that woman’s tweet indicated she was still with her husband and everything worked out, or whether she eventually left.  But I was a bit miffed at the quick mention of the pastor who told an abused woman that God hates divorce. 

If that is all he told the woman in this matter, then she walked away with the understanding that God hates divorce MORE than he hates seeing her beat up by her husband.  That doesn’t fit with the description of God that find in scripture.  

Nowhere does scripture indicate that husbands are allowed to abuse their wives (nor is it right for husbands to be abused, either, and I have known some of those.  

Unfortunately, guys are even more embarrassed to admit they are being abused than abused women are.) 

Based on the descriptions of marriage found in scripture, an abusive spouse has already clearly abandoned the sanctity of the marriage vows.  A husband beating his wife is in NO WAY submitting himself to Christ or laying down his life for her or doing everything he can to make sure her faults are covered and protected, or treating her with respect and recognition of the fact that she might be physically weaker and therefore needs to be treated with care. 

Let me ask you:  Does God hate divorce more than He hates when husbands (or wives) flagrantly disregard their marriage vows and violate them with raised fist?  I think not.  In fact, if I were selecting the lesser of two evils, I think I’d vote for divorce long before I’d approve of genuinely abusive relationships.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I fully believe that the very best solution is for a couple to deal effectively with the dysfunction of the relationship, stop the abuse, each face his or her own issues, and then together build a marriage that is healthy and good.  And I believe that divorce should be way down the list of options, that every attempt should be made to build a healthy marriage.  

But what if only one spouse is willing to address the dysfunction?  

What happens when the abuser refuses to recognize his or her own need to change? 

Well, of course that one spouse should make meaningful attempts to bring about change, and God may well use that spouse to cause the changes.  But not if things escalate and that spouse dies from abuse.  After all, it takes two to make a marriage (actually, three when you count God), and one spouse cannot make marriage work alone, especially when he or she is beat down at every turn. 

There sometimes comes a point when something needs to be done.  There are times that choosing to walk out of a marriage could be the thing that makes the more guilty spouse wake up and face his or her abusive behavior, and realize that sinful actions carry awful consequences.  A victimized person should not be victimized again for choosing not to accept the charade the marriage had become. 

Sometimes it seems that some Christians and pastors think that the only thing God ever said about divorce is that he hates it.  That reference is found in Malachi, and yet that same Hebrew Bible contains in Deuteronomy instructions for how to divorce.  In other words, God gives instructions on how to properly do the very thing that he hates!  Why would he do that?  When I think of the important scriptures, I think it is very significant that the one record we have of Jesus dealing personally with a person apparently divorced tells of the incredibly compassionate way he treated the Samaritan woman he met at the well, described in John 4.

OF COURSE God hates divorce!!!  So do most people who have gone through one.  It is NOT a fun experience, and leaves people broken, mistrustful, devastated and lots of other things.  I hate going to the dentist, too, but that doesn’t mean that the drilling in my teeth isn’t sometimes a necessary or even a useful thing!   It is apparent from scripture that even God recognizes that in this world filled with imperfect people, there will be times that marriages don’t work, and so hate it though he does, he gave the instructions for divorce.

When the pastor told his parishioner that God hates divorce, she likely walked away with the understanding that God hates divorce, but he doesn’t hate the beatings she suffers...at least not as much.  That’s a stark contrast to the exuberance the Samaritan woman felt when leaving the presence of Jesus.  Having counseled with a number of abused individuals in the course of my ministry, I know first hand how awful the stories can get, and how dangerous the situations can become.  I remember one young woman who was sometimes beaten in front of a very young daughter, and I asked her if that is what she wanted her daughter to grow up believing is the proper way for a man to treat a woman.  Heartbreaking though it was, she wrestled with the choice of staying or leaving, and decided to stay.  I am hopeful they worked things out well, but do not live in that area any longer, so do not know for sure. 

Do you suppose that pastor with his advice that God hates divorce wanted the woman to stay in the marriage until “premature death at the hands of her husband” do they part?  That isn’t what the marriage vows say nor intend.  If not, and the abuser refused to change, how long DID he want her to stay legally attached to him in a relationship that does not even deserve the name “marriage”? 

Well, I’m ranting now.  I guess the truth is that pastors like that are the reason I wrote the books I did, because individuals who have experienced divorce, and especially those in the church, need to know that they still are precious to God, and that God dignifies their being, rather than diminishes it.  And the books attempt to fill the gap that too many in the church leave void for those who are struggling with divorce, because all too often the only thing they are told by the church is what that pastor told the woman above.

Finally, for any who have suffered real abuse at the hands and words of someone who is supposed to be loving you, realize that what you are experiencing is NOT love from that person, no matter how often he or she apologizes.  And realize that you are a person who deserves real love, not the treatment you have received.  I know that because Jesus decided you are so worth loving that he died on a cross for you so that you could experience the love of God throughout eternity.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Famous by God's Standard


The above familiar names are just a few of many whose names have been much in the news lately after having passed away.  There have been numerous tributes to some of these famous people, reflecting upon their lives and careers, highlighting the impact their work has had on fans and successors.  Many times the reporters discuss how great these people were both as individuals and in their work.  Like many of you, I have enjoyed much of their work, most especially the work of Robin Williams and James Garner. 

Names of famous people are also bantered about a lot when there is a divorce among them, a wedding, or if (heaven forbid!) any one of them would dare to make a fashion faux pas or display an ounce of cellulite!  Frankly, I am glad my divorce wasn’t played out on national television.  And I definitely don’t think I’d like any fashion police evaluating the clothes I wear!  Don’t you feel the same about areas of your life?

Famous people such as these are made to seem larger than life, almost super human as every detail of their lives is magnified, glorified and repeated ad nauseum, because they are SO special.  Sadly, many of them give the impression that have come to believe they are super special and super human.  Many seem to feel trapped by the fame, believing they have to live up to the super perfection expected of them, as pressure is placed upon them to be something more than they really are.  It isn’t entirely their fault that the fall into that trap, because many of us feed that ego by our over the top adulation.  Now, my point is NOT to run down famous people…just like each of us, they are also people created and loved by God.  No, my point is elsewhere, so bear with me.

  Frankly, I think we do these people a great disservice to treat them that way, as evidenced by the problems so many of them have in their fame.  Granted, some of them eat up all the attention, but I’m not convinced that is such a great thing.  Sometimes it seems that their fame leads them to believe they are the wisest of the wise.  I always chuckle when I hear someone famous such as an actor, sports figure or musician pontificate absurdities outside their area of expertise, as if being on the silver screen or the cover of People or Rolling Stone makes one expert in all things political, psychological and scientific.  I have noticed in particular that insights into the world of theology are often very misguided.  But what is just as absurd and causes me to shake my head and chuckle again is when I hear people oohing and ahhing over such proclamations.  I’m sure you recall as many examples as I do, no need to name names here. 

Just for the record, if you look it up in the dictionary, under the word “famous” you will not find wise or smart listed as either the definition or a prerequisite.  The former provides no guarantees of the latter; fame is simply fame.  Fame is often a result of great skill and hard work, but in this day and age, contacts, marketing, luck, family name or family wealth and sometimes ruthlessness can play a role as well. 

I’m not sure exactly how famous someone has to be in order to be considered significant enough to be mentioned on CNN or to have the Hollywood set pay tribute if you die from natural causes.  But for those of you who, like me, are not famous, it may help to realize that God doesn’t operate by the same significance scale. 

I have known many individuals whose names would be unrecognized outside their own circle of family and friends, and yet the significance of their lives seemed immense.  Sometimes they are parents or other relatives who encouragement and support have valuable impact for good in the lives of those In some cases, they were teachers who had great influence on the minds of your children.  Others were custodian types who worked hard to provide for their families by making sure that everything was clean and in good working order for others to be able to accomplish their work and dreams.  Some were nurses or nurses’ aides who daily did unglorious tasks that eased the suffering of people in their care.  I have known others who faithfully taught God’s word to children and adults in Sunday School or study groups, and quietly prayed as someone entered the Kingdom of God by giving his or her life to Christ.  

So who really are the ones whose lives are so significant that major life events are newsworthy?

In Psalm 116:15, the scripture says that the death of His people is precious in the sight of God.  He notices each one, and places great significance on each one, whether anybody else notices or not.  I also believe he observes and weeps for each marriage that falls apart in divorce, especially if one of the partners has been bound in an abusive situation for far too long. 

My life, or your life, may not make national headlines.  Our names may not flash across a silver screen, or attract a huge crowd of followers.  But in God’s scorecard, that isn’t what counts.  His hall of fame is based on things like hearts that are attuned to him, on acts done in faith and obedience, and the practice of godly love.  This is most profoundly pointed out by Jesus himself in Luke 21 when he comments to his disciples that the greatest giver was not the individual who put lots of money into the temple treasury, but the widow who donated everything she had, even though it was only two copper pennies.  Her name was probably not inscribed on any pillar or stained glass window, nor would she have been welcomed and lauded in the courts with the famous people of the day.  But she was never forgotten in heaven, and her example was recorded forever both in scripture and on the heart of God. 

So I just want to encourage you that, no matter your situation, each pain you suffer is close to Gods heart.  And each act of your life done in faith and obedience to him has great value.  Even though none may notice, and your name may not be familiar to any but a small circle of family and friends, those are not the standards by which God determines the significance of individuals.  And at we hear of the passing of Joan Rivers, Robin Williams, James Garner and other famous individuals, may we never forget that their deaths are just as significant as the countless others who died the same day.

Jesus reminded us that many who are first will be last, and the last first, so if you are one who seeks God but feel like you are pretty low on the totem pole, realize that the red carpet you walk on may not be at Grauman’s Chinese Theater or the steps of the White House.  Instead, it may be laid out for you on streets of gold.   Even those who do walk the red carpet and fly private jets in this world are wisest when they realize that the approval of God is more important than the fickle applause of the masses.  Because the only determination of significance that really matters is the valuation made by God.   

I wonder, is that what YOUR life reflects?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Wisdom of Investing in Your Marriage


In the news of the last few days, I saw reports of several couples who had gotten married or were planning their weddings.  The focus of some of those stories was a discussion of the venues people have chosen, including some that were literally fairy tale castle type places.  I can’t imagine how much renting a place like that for a wedding must cost.  

Sometimes we hear of couples who get married while skydiving or under the water in scuba gear, or in very exotic locations on land.  There are other shows on television about people getting married, that include plans for very elaborate cakes, or feature the brides trying on wedding gowns that cost $25,000 or more.  I can’t imagine dropping that kind of money on a dress to be worn once, or a cake that will be consumed in a few hours.  I had a college student once, who was a first generation American from another country, telling my about weddings in her home country.   She said she wanted to go back when she got married to have her wedding there, because those weddings last for a week or more and have something like 10,000 guests.  That is incredible.  Since her country is not one of great wealth, I wondered how such elaborate proceedings are financed. 

I have performed a number of weddings myself over the years, and taken pictures for a great many more, so I have a pretty long standing connection with weddings.  And over the years, I have done pastoral counseling with individuals in troubled marriages.  I find a stark contrast in the amount of money couples are willing to invest in a wedding ceremony compared to how much money they are willing to invest in counseling to work out their marital problems.  That contrast is something I have raised with couples whose weddings I have performed over recent years - challenging them to consider the time and money they are investing in the wedding versus what they have invested in planning the marriage.

I am a hopeless romantic in some ways, but I am also a great cynic in others.  I have seen thousands of dollars spent on weddings designed to flaunt or impress and I have also seen individuals living in abject poverty.  

I believe there is a fine balance between appropriate celebration and sinful indulgence. 

I have seen far too many couples spend fortunes on weddings but whose marriages fall apart because they are unwilling to invest themselves in ways that will make their marriage work.  

I wonder how much our perhaps misguided emphasis contributes to the divorce rate.  Sadly, there is no guarantee that a huge investment in a wedding will correspond to a successful marriage or the willingness to make a similar investment into that success.  (Remembering of course, Jesus reminded us that the only investments that truly endure are those invested in the Kingdom of God, such as helping the poor or living lives guided by the love of God…but that is another blog.)

It is notable that when you hear the old, “they lived happily ever after,” at the end of the fairy tale, you are hearing it at the point of the wedding, without describing the reality of marriage or what true happiness is.  Some say they aren’t supposed to, because they are fairy tales.  Maybe that is true.  

However, I think it is much wiser to help those we love prepare for the life that is beyond the day of the wedding.  I sometimes remind my couples during a wedding that in spite of all the efforts and planning and struggles to get everything right for that day, all their preparations are actually the easy part. The hard part is living out day by day in the drudgery of real life -  the lofty promises made in the vows.  When we focus only upon the one and ignore the other, I suspect we are contributing to a divorce rate by exemplifying misplaced values and priorities. 

Frankly, if I had to make a choice between a beautiful wedding and a beautiful marriage, I’d choose the latter.  But maybe that’s because I’m a guy…I have noticed women perceive these things differently.  Even so, not many women I know want only a beautiful wedding and not a good marriage as well.

 Perhaps today would be a good day to ask how wise the investments you have been making have been.  I know that a good marriage requires reinvesting day by day to ensure returns that will last.