Grandpa’s Gift

We were on one of our many treks up and down the I-75 corridor.  Living in Cleveland, Tenn. but hailing from central Michigan was the impetus that lead to many miles of familiar highway being traversed once again.  We had one great advantage – my wife’s grandparents lived in Muncie, Ind., which was just slightly more than the halfway point of our 12-hour journey to the homeland, if we made a slight detour.

Her grandparents were incredibly loving, generous and kind people.  Even if we could not stay long we always tried to map out our trip in such a way that warranted a visit.  This halfway stop provided a much needed reprieve from the road as well as a fun break for our kids.  No matter how short the visit, we still managed to squeeze in a game of croquet or a couple hands of euchre.  Grandpa could always make the kids giggle by allowing them to yank on his earlobe so that his hearing aid would emit an extended beep.  And I think Grandma always planned for our visits by stocking up on fresh grapes before our arrival knowing our kids would devour every one of them.

There was always something special about their home.  Each visit was full of laughter, playful picking on each other, and a lot of love.  One visit in particular I saw something that was a little shocking to me.  Her grandparents were in their late 70’s at the time.  I remember Grandma went into the living room where Grandpa was relaxing in his favorite chair. She promptly sat on Grandpa’s lap and threw her arms around his neck.  Now, this type of behavior may be normal for others.  But for me, it was a poignant moment.  It’s not simply that my wife’s grandparents were still affectionate after nearly 60 years of marriage.  Somehow, through all those years, with all of the inherent difficulties normally associated with marriage, these two lived out a deep and abiding love for one another for all to see.

With this image still fresh in my mind, the next morning I asked Grandma and Grandpa a simple question,

“What would you say is the secret to your long-lasting, loving marriage?”

Grandma immediately responded with some sage advice, “You have to remember, marriage is a 50/50 relationship.  There has to be give and take and compromise.”  I remember thinking to myself, “that makes a lot of sense.”

With his continual half grin, Grandpa interrupted her discourse by saying in his mildly raspy voice, “no, no it’s not.”

Everyone in the room was a little surprised, including Grandma.  It seems Grandpa had a philosophy even Grandma didn’t know about.  He continued,

“It’s 100/0.  Give 100% and demand nothing in return, and you will have a happy marriage.”

I have to tell you – this may be some of the most profound wisdom I have ever received.  At first glance this principle doesn’t seem to make sense.  Surely, a marriage involves give and take, right?  Isn’t a marriage about mutual fulfillment and meeting each other’s needs?  Of course it is.  It’s not that Grandma was wrong.  It’s simply that Grandpa had tapped into a deeper principle.

It is true that Jesus made the well-known statement, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38 NASV).  But, three short verses prior he made a difficult statement that brings some clarity to this verse.  Jesus declared,

“But … do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35 NASV).

At their core, our attitudes, actions and responses toward our spouses are an issue between us and God.  If our motivation moves from pleasing God to expecting something from our mate, we will probably end up disappointed.  At some point our spouse will not respond in the way we had hoped, leaving us hurt or frustrated in the process.  In that moment we place in our spouse’s hands the power to determine how we feel about what we are doing.  What Jesus is saying is, “interact with others in a way that pleases me regardless of what they say or do.  Do good, expecting nothing in return.  When you do, you reveal who you belong to.” The great invitation of scripture is to –

Give All of yourself and make no demands in return

When my head hits the pillow at night I want to know that regardless of how others acted or reacted, I lived my day in a way that pleased Him.  I want to live in a Christ-like manner regardless of the behavior of others.  I’m not always successful but, this is my goal.  Realizing my reward comes from God and not man takes the pressure off of my relationship with my wife.  It is liberating, for both of us.  It frees my wife up to love me back in her own way.

When both partners are giving and serving and expecting nothing in return is when God pours out His blessing and gives back to us “a good measure, pressed down, and shaken together.”

Thank you, Grandpa, for incredible godly insight that has forever changed my marriage and my family.

In Loving memory of Charles & Cleota Reece 

Love is in the Air.

Love Is In The Air!

Jesus was hanging out in the temple one day sharing stories as he was prone to do. Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests and elders were systematically grilling him with difficult questions in an attempt to trip him up and catch him saying or teaching something wrong.  Jesus handily deflected the verbal arsenal as each inquiry was launched at him.  Finally, one particular Pharisee, who happened to be a lawyer, scrutinized him with yet one more question.

“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?” he asked.

Jesus gave the standard answer that was often repeated by the religious leaders.  Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This was the answer the hearers would have accepted and expected.  But, did anyone really expect Jesus to just give a simple answer? As was typical with Jesus, He didn’t stop with just answering the question.  He added a statement that struck at the heart.  He followed up his first response by adding,

“And the second is like it:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).

  This was a difficult thing for the religious crowd of His day.  They prided themselves on the outward appearance of their great loyalty to God and adherence to His commands.  In a single sentence Jesus challenged their devotion by adding this second component.

It has always struck me as odd that Jesus was asked one question but gave two answers.  Why did He do that?  I suspect that the reason He gave two answers was because in His mind, in the mind of God, you cannot really separate the two concepts.  The result of loving God is loving people.  Also, you cannot really love people unless you first love God.  You cannot separate the two.  If that is the case then His two answers are really just two parts of a single answer.

What that means is that church attendance, Bible reading, or even singing along with your favorite worship songs are not the truest measure of showing your love for God.  In fact, you might say that the best way to show God you love Him is  … to love people.  A better translation would have been “the second commandment is JUST LIKE the first one.”  In this passage it’s almost as if God was saying,

“If you really love God, you will love people.”

Gary Smalley one time said “Life is relationships; the rest is just details.”  Many times we mistakenly lead our lives thinking life is about our jobs, our finances, our position, our achievements or our notoriety.  We strive and contend.  We chase and pursue.  We are busy.    And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with much of that.  But, at the end of the day, everything we do revolves around the people we do it with and the relationships we build along the way.  In fact, many times when we build relationships first, the success we desire will follow naturally.

What does it mean to “love” people?  Jesus actually gave some fairly clear instructions within the context of His response.  He said we are to love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves.  In another context He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12 ESV).  When I jump to conclusions, make mistakes, have an angry response and say things I regret, I want others to give me grace, forgiveness, and understanding.  Sometimes I want them to overlook my shortcomings and give me the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I want people to treat me with value and respect.  If I’m going to treat others the way I want to be treated, if I’m going to love my neighbor as myself, then I should give them the same.  Maybe that means is lending a listening ear the next time my teenager does something wrong instead of yelling.  Maybe that means giving grace when the cashier makes a mistake or the customer service employee treats me rudely.  Maybe it means not getting an attitude or shaking my fist when I’m cut off in traffic. Maybe it means seeking understanding when my boss is acting like a jerk.

With Valentine’s Day on the 14th and the National Marriage Week leading up to it, people are focused on their love relationships in the month of February, and rightly so.  Couples are intentional in February.  They make a “date” to spend time together, they give each other gifts, they treat each other kindly, and they see the best in each other.

But, everywhere around us are people who need many of the same aspects that we bring to our closest relationships:  time spent together, a listening ear, understanding, compassion and care.  Any relationship can be strengthened, enhanced, or healed when we are intentional and put into practice many of the same things that lead to a strong marriage.  Our kids need it, our parents need it, our neighbors need it, our employees need it, and our pastors need it.  The cashier needs it, the waitress needs it, and the homeless guy on the corner needs it.  And all of them are made in the image of God.  If we love God, we will love people.

It’s February so love truly is in the air. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35).

The Secret Marriage Healing Agent

 

Recently I was re-wiring an outlet in our house.  I realize that for many this may seem like a simple assignment.  However, I am certainly no professional electrician.  So, this little job was more of an adventure than it was a routine task.  First step – remove the outlet cover. Simple enough.  Next I removed the screws that held the outlet inside the electric box.  Done.  At this point I was feeling pretty confident.  The next step was to pull the outlet out from the wall far enough to loosen the screws that held the electrical wires to the outlet.  So, I did the obvious – I used my index finger and my thumb to grab each side of the outlet.  Not thinking, I placed them squarely on the wires on either side of the outlet.

Zap! –a JOLT blasted through my hand!

I immediately JERKED my hand back and without thinking I jammed my fingers into my mouth to sooth the instantaneous tingling-burning sensation.

Surprise! – I forgot to flip the breaker that supplied power to the outlet.  Whoops! Lesson learned.

But, here’s the real lesson:  It is a natural response to sooth and heal wounds within our own body.  Wounds almost never heal without some intentional attention and care, especially deep wounds.  The deeper or more severe the wound, the more care it needs.

In the midst of his exposé concerning the relationship between husbands and wives Paul made an amazing statement that may be often overlooked.  He explains “Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies. The man who loves his wife loves himself. No one ever hates his own body, but provides for and takes care of it” (Eph 5:28-29).

The reality is all of us are broken.  All of us are wounded in some way.  The way I read this passage is that it is our job to care for, attend to, and minister to, our spouse’s woundedness.  It is our responsibility to attempt to sooth and bring healing to our mate.  It might even be possible that the reason the Lord put us in their lives is to attend to their healing.

Unfortunately, many times we respond to our spouses out of our own woundedness.  We tend to react out of self-preservation rather than service.  As a result, instead of healing we often cause further damage and deepen the wound.  We know he needs affirmation but instead we criticize, further damaging his ego.  We know she needs understanding but instead we snap, further damaging her self-esteem.  But, I believe part of God’s call on my life is to recognize my wife’s woundedness and respond and react to her in a way that brings healing, not further damage.

Imagine how different our households would be if we actually did what Jesus said we should be doing, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:35).  Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted.”  If we are truly to love one another as Christ, then attending to one another’s healing might be a top priority.

Things to think about.

Fruitful Marriages

Fruitful Marriages

Fruit Bowl, Shell, Fruit, Fruits

Many times I have been asked, “What is the real secret to a long-lasting, happy marriage?”  Usually I give some pithy, poorly attempted humorous response like, “for us, I think it has been that we were just too stupid to quit” (there might actually be some serious truth in there somewhere).

However, I have discovered that regardless of a couple’s particular belief about matters of faith, applying biblical principles to the relationship always leads to improvement (can everyone say a big collective “duh!”), regardless of whether they are believers or not.  I realize this may seem elementary to some.  However, sometimes even the most devout Christians can forget their Christian graces when they walk into their own homes, with the most important relationships they have, that is – their spouses and children.

For example, men are often patient, understanding, and forgiving with business partners or employees.  But those same men can be inconsiderate, unforgiving, and outright rude with their families. Although they listen intently during strategy meetings at the office, they often don’t take the time to listen to their wives or children. Conversely, the same women who are caring and compassionate with their friends can become demanding and insensitive at home.

There are hundreds of passages of Scripture to draw relationship principles from.  For today I would like to focus on just two verses – two verses containing nine simple words.  Words so profound that I am convinced if they were properly applied, could heal every single broken marriage, struggling marriages could be put on a firm foundation, stagnant marriages could be revitalized, and happy marriages could go to an even higher level with deeper intimacy.  In fact, applying these nine words could revolutionize homes and families!  It may seem like a tall order but, I am convinced it is true.  Follow along with me.

The Apostle Paul said, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  Wait a minute.  Read that again, ruminate for a moment and let those words sink in … (pause).  Love … Joy … Peace … Patience … Kindness … Goodness … Faithfulness … gentleness … Self-Control.  Now, try putting your name at the beginning of that verse and read it again, asking yourself where you stand:

“David is loving in his relationships.” Am I?

“David is joyful with those around him.” Am I?

“David is peaceful, patient, kind, full of goodness, faithful, gentle and David operates in self-control (that one hurt!).”

When I read it that way I am confronted with a huge personal challenge and tremendous goals for me to strive toward. Because, these nine simple words all address my own behaviors and attitudes.

Let me caution you, this is not an opportunity to start pointing the finger of blame at your spouse.  Taking responsibility for how I act, regardless of what my spouse does, can radically impact our home for the better.  I believe that when we pursue and practice these nine simple concepts, when we address our own attitudes and behaviors, the Holy Spirit will come alongside and help us along the way.

Spirit-led people do not throw fits of rage, they practice self-control.

Spirit-led people are concerned for the good of others.

Spirit-led people are patient and kind, and forgiving.

Spirit-led people carry the essence of joy.

When we begin to act in a way that is consistent with what we say we believe, I promise you – the Lord will bless it. Imagine what would happen in your home and marriage if you applied and practiced these nine simple words.  I think you will find your marriage is better than ever.

Enjoy the Fruit!

Maybe Bono Had It Wrong

Contrary to U2’s famous song, I think you will find EXACTLY what you’re looking for.

The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions is known in Psychology as “confirmation bias.” It is the type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and look for what confirms one’s beliefs, while simultaneously ignoring or undervaluing the relevance of what contradicts them. We like to imagine that our beliefs are rational, logical, and objective. But, they are often based on paying attention only to the information that upholds our ideas while ignoring the information that challenges them. We read about, hear and see data and facts about any given topic but come to different conclusions because of our own preconceived ideas. We see this playing itself out all the time in various political, theological, and cultural arenas. But, the truth is confirmation bias even manifests itself within the minutia of our everyday relationships.

One of the biggest challenges in many marriages is that we are often looking through bad lenses. Much like a cheap pair of sunglasses causes us to see the whole world through a warped tint, the lenses we wear, the perceptions we have, skew and distort truth. sunglassesIf your perception is that your mate is uncaring or selfish then everything they say and do will be filtered through that lens. Suddenly your perceptions will be reinforced by what you see. The dirty socks they left on the floor in the room you just cleaned becomes “They don’t care about me!” when filtered through your lens. Soon it seems that everything they do confirms your previously held beliefs. So even though your spouse took out the trash, cleaned your car, and mowed the lawn, it’s the dirty socks that stand out and substantiates your view. If you’re not careful you can become fixated on this bad perception and it can completely destroy your relationship.

But, the flip side is also true. If your lens is that your spouse is caring and attentive with a servant’s heart, you will see all the things they do that reinforce that belief. Simultaneously you will also subconsciously minimize the things that detract from that perspective. It all depends on which lenses you are wearing.

This is true of all relationships, by the way. We have lenses through which we view our bosses, our employees, our co-workers, our team-mates, our pastors, our children, and our parents. In every case our preconceived ideas about that person will almost always be confirmed by what we see and hear. You will find what you’re looking for.

Maybe Jesus meant something like this when He said, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, you are full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Lk. 11:34).

The good news is your perspective CAN change. We need to ask Holy Spirit to give us corrective lenses to replace our cheap, warped sunglasses. Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord … has chosen me to bring … recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18). We are often blind to the truth. Sometimes it’s as simple as CHOOSING to see the good. Most of the time it’s right there in front of us, we just haven’t seen it.

So, I challenge you to a treasure hunt. I challenge you to try to catch your spouse, your child, your co-worker, your boss, doing something good, every day. Make a note of it. Acknowledge it. Tell them you noticed. Affirm and appreciate them. Look for the times when they are helpful, caring, or self-sacrificing. I’m convinced that when you intentionally try to see the good in someone else you WILL find it. And many times your relationship will almost instantaneously improve without the other person changing a thing because now it is the negative things that have taken a back seat.

Happy Hunting!

The DVR Saved our Marriage

I don’t know how we survived before DVR technology.

For all you youngsters out there, back in the day we actually had to … watch commercials!  Shocking and slightly unbelievable I know, but it’s true.  And, if we thought we were going to miss our favorite show we had to program our VCR’s ahead of time to record it. This task was fraught with difficulty.  And even if we had the technological prowess to figure it out at all, it would rarely catch the whole program.

Then, one glorious day, someone invented the DVR.

Press a couple buttons on the remote and presto, favorite program lodged into the mechanical memory banks forever, or until I delete it.

But the DVR had another unintended consequence. Picture the days before DVR. Husband and wife both come home from long, stressful days at work.  Husband wants to plop down in front of the TV to hide in his mental cave, zone out for a bit and de-stress.  Wifey wants to … share.  Oh yes. Every single detail of every conversation and every emotion she went through during the day.  Unending details of the lives of people husband has never met and doesn’t care to know.

Now, this might all seem fine.  I mean hey, they’re both just detoxing from their respective days in the way they are wired to do it. All well and good until you realize, wifey is unloading at the exact same time husband is trying to watch TV. Now, oh yes, now we have an issue.  Husband gets frustrated because wife talks over the TV and he is missing parts of his favorite TV program.  Suddenly he feels his wife doesn’t respect him or doesn’t care that he’s had a long day.

Continue reading “The DVR Saved our Marriage”

It’s a Stand-Off

The Democrats won’t talk to the Republicans.  The Republicans won’t talk to the Democrats. The debate is relegated to sound bites spoken at press conferences without real face to face conversation.  Our representatives talk “at” each other not “with” each other.  Name calling, accusations, and stonewalling ensue.  The presidential candidates pronounce that they have all the answers while their political opponents have it all wrong.  Subsequently, members of both parties feel ignored, constituents are frustrated, and multiplied thousands suffer the consequences.

Intrinsically, all of us know there is something wrong with this picture.  We ask the obvious question, “why can’t our government officials just get together, talk it out, and come to some sort of compromise so that we can all move forward?”  Though we may respect some for standing on their principles, all of us recognize the problems with this scenario.

Yet, a similar scene plays out in multiplied thousands of homes across the country every single day.  Husbands and wives won’t really listen to each other.  Neither party wants to compromise.  One person tries to prove they are right and prove the other wrong. Both parties begin to talk “at” each other instead of “with” each other.  Name calling, accusations, and stonewalling ensue.  Emotionally, households “shut down.”  Both spouses feel ignored, family members get frustrated, and children, co-workers, and other bystanders are hurt in the process.

It has been said that “marriage is the chief cause of divorce.”  But the truth is poor communication skills are what usually lead to problems in a marriage.  Without a doubt there will be times when there are differences of opinion, disagreements, and conflict.  But, research clearly shows that having conflict in marriage is not the problem rather, how a couple handles their conflicts will determine their level of success and marital health.

The challenge is we are not born knowing how to communicate successfully.  We usually learn these skills by observing our parents. If we did not see them having loving, collaborative, effective communication, then there is no reason we should know how to do it ourselves.  The good news is that we can learn how to communicate effectively at any stage in life. And, learning to communicate well is the best thing you can do for your marriage.

A great place to start improving communication in your marriage is with the Apostle Paul’s challenge to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition … but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3-4).  This means putting your mate’s needs before your own.  It means seeking to understand your spouse before making sure you are heard or understood. One thing is for sure, it is impossible to listen and talk at the same time. Listening behind the words and listening for understanding is the bedrock of good communication and might be the best way to communicate love, compassion, and grace to your spouse. In fact, theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich once said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”  This is why James declared, “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19). Understanding causes anger to dissipate.

So here’s my challenge for us today: Let’s open our ears and our hearts to really listen and understand. Let’s end the stand-off.  Maybe our government officials could start there as well.

(To read more about “Listening” click here)