This article by Christian Living’s Brett McCracken sheds light on a concerning trend:
In recent years, evangelical Christianity has made its imperfection a point of emphasis. Books were published with titles like Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People, Death by Church, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and churches popped up with names like Scum of the Earth and Salvage Yard. Evangelicals made films like Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, wrote blog posts with titles like “Dirty, Rotten, Messy Christians,” and maintained websites like anchoredmess.com, modernreject.com, churchmarketingsucks.com, recoveringevangelical.com, and wrecked.org — a site that includes categories like “A Hot Mess,” “Muddling Through,” “My Broken Heart,” and “My Wreckage.”
Meanwhile, self-deprecating humor sites like Stuff Christians Like and Stuff Christian Culture Likes became hugely popular repositories of Christianity’s many warts, and writers like Anne Lamott and Donald Miller became best-selling, “non-religious” expositors of messy spirituality.
Evangelicalism — both on the individual and institutional level—is trying hard to purge itself of a polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our “realness” and “authenticity,” have evangelicals turned “being screwed up” into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?
We have all heard that the divorce rate amongst Christians and non-Christians alike is around fifty percent. There is some evidence that this number may be falling — not because more people are staying married, but because fewer people are bothering to get married in the first place. If you include couples who live together for a few years and then separate, the numbers go right back to that unfortunate baseline.
The one thing that has been shown to protect marriages better than anything else is prayer. Couples who pray together regularly have a divorce rate of less than one percent. Sadly, only about four percent of Christian couples actually do this (pray together regularly). If you happen to be a pastor, then that number goes up to six percent!
It seems that if we want to protect marriages, we need to teach couples to pray together. We read books, attend seminars, go to counseling, and do a myriad of other things of unknown benefit to those trying to stay married. Yet,we don’t do the one thing that is virtually guaranteed to work.
If you contracted Ebola and had a fifty-fifty chance of dying, but your doctor offered you a vaccine that would give you a greater than ninety-nine percent chance of surviving, would you take the vaccine? Your marriage has a fifty-fifty chance of survival, but a vaccine exists called prayer. Only a small percentage of married couples have actually taken this vaccine. Are you one of them? Should you be? Is today the day to start?
Of course, marriage is just one facet of the Christian experience. Perhaps the reason we lack spiritual power in other areas of our lives is because we aren’t plugging into the spiritual power Source through prayer. Churches aren’t lacking in plans or programs — just in prayer.
In Colossians 4:2, Paul urges Christians to “devote yourselves to prayer.” In fact, he encourages prayer over and over throughout all of his letters to the churches. If someone is sick, pray. If someone is in jail, pray. If someone is suffering persecution, pray. His answer to virtually every problem is the same: prayer. Even in the Old Testament, people would “call upon the name of the Lord” or “cry out to God” in times of trouble.
Prayer is a central theme of Scripture, yet it seems to be less central with modern believers and modern churches. Perhaps that is why today’s Church appears so anemic. We’re trying to do things in our own limited power, when what we need — now as desperately as ever — is God’s supernatural power.
Could it be that modern affluence and technology has tricked us into believing we can do things on our own that we actually cannot? Maybe we have all been busy building a gigantic spiritual supercomputer, but no one has bothered to plug it in.
Is prayer a central component of your personal life?
Is prayer a central component of your family life (spouse and children)?
Is prayer a central component of your church’s life?
If you are not relying on God’s power through prayer, what are you relying on? At work? At home? At church? Can you change?
Consider your ability to lead the lost to Christ. Has God used you to lead anyone to Christ recently? Ever?
Is it a lack of knowledge that is limiting your witness — or a lack of power?
Is it a lack of opportunity or a lack of perception that is holding you back?
Are you willing to pray that God opens your eyes to the needs around you and that He gives you the power to meet those needs?
Power and perception are only a part of the equation. Wisdom, in both conduct and speech, is the other part of the equation. Paul addresses them both in the second portion of this passage.
If a nation has empowered someone to be an ambassador to a foreign country, how is that person expected to behave while serving abroad?
When that person speaks on behalf of his home country, should he be rude or diplomatic?
Whom are we representing in our conduct and speech? Are we representing Him well, as good ambassadors?
Paul uses the phrase “seasoned with salt” concerning our speech. Is salt sugary sweet? Is it bitter and offensive?
In addition to adding flavor, salt also acts as a preservative. Could Paul be communicating the idea that we are trying to preserve relationships in the way we speak?
Those who name the name of Christ are ambassadors for Jesus wherever we are. We don’t get to take off the uniform and just “be ourselves.” We have been purchased with His blood and we are no longer our own.
Our goal is to represent Him well in all that we do or say. This is a daunting task, one for which we have not the strength. God, however, does have such strength and is willing to give it to us, if only we will ask. Isn’t it time to stop trying to do so much in your own power?
When it comes to your marriage, your chances of success on your own are the same as the flip of a coin. When it comes to leading others to faith, your chance of success apart from God’s empowering grace drops to zero.
Isn’t it time to stop treating life-like a Vegas casino with the odds so heavily stacked against you and to call out to the only One Who is a sure thing?
When it comes to raising children, we’ve been told, “Affluence is a handicap you must work to overcome.” Kids who have everything are hard to motivate, so as parents we’ve chosen to consciously withhold some things we could easily provide.
Our children buy their own toys and, once they hit the teen years, most of their clothes, as well. We send them to serve the poor via mission trips and community service projects. We expect them to do chores.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then wealth can sometimes have the opposite effect: It can stifle creativity and resourcefulness.
The same is true of talent. It is easy to rely too heavily on our own abilities, to become overconfident, to say, “I got this.”
But talent only goes so far. Heads will nod in agreement at sermons, feet will tap along to songs, but heart change requires a supernatural act that God alone can accomplish.
My pastor sent me a link this afternoon to the following article by J.D. Greear. It was so good that I wanted to share it:
“There aren’t many societies that praise weakness. Ours is no different. Whether you’re a pastor or a police officer, an on-the-go salesman or a stay-at-home mother, weakness is seen as a liability. Nobody wants to be weak. Strong is the name of the game.
“Sadly, our obsession with strength blinds us to a key biblical truth: God uses the weak. It’s so pervasive that you’d be hard-pressed to find a book of the Bible that can’t be summarized this way. And yet despite being hard-wired into the very DNA of Scripture, we don’t really believe it. We still clamor after strength. But God doesn’t need our strength to deliver us. In fact, our strength is actually more of a liability than an asset…” [continue reading at jdgreear.com]
There are countless ways to demonstrate your love, but women still like to hear it spoken. Open and continuing communication is key.
My father-in-law used to brag (presumably tongue-in-cheek), “I told my wife I love her on our wedding day and promised to let her know if that ever changes.”
His implication was clear: Once should be enough.
But it isn’t.
Not for most women. Not by a long shot.
Once a day would be a closer approximation, and even that may still fall a little short of how often your wife would like to hear verbal assurances of your love.
Of course, words not backed with action are meaningless: Remember Christ’s parable of a father who asked his two sons to come work in the field with him?
The first son said, “Sure. I’ll be right there,” but never showed up.
The other son initially refused, but later regretted it, sought out his father, and worked alongside him for the rest of the day.
The question Jesus then posed to his listeners is this: Which son actually obeyed? The same principle applies to love as applies to obedience.
If forced to choose between the two, your wife would probably rather have you demonstrate your love for her through your actions without expressing it in so many words than to have you repeatedly declare, “I love you,” then behave in a way that contradicts what you’ve said.
Hollow affirmations don’t carry a lot of clout.
But why make her choose, when it’s within your power to do both?
Show her you love her. Yes, by all means. But then speak your love, as well.
Tell her you love her. Tell her how much you love her. Tell her what you love most about her.
Tell her clearly. Tell her sincerely. Tell her often. Then back it all up in the way you treat her.
This post is adapted from my new book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife: A Handbook for Husbands, on sale now. Pick up your copy today and give your wife the gift of LOVE — in both word and deed.
Praying for patience is a little like asking some one to tape a “Kick Me” sign on your back. There’s no easy way to learn it, except to endure countless events that drive you crazy.
Opportunities to practice patience fall into two broad categories, and I’d be hard-pressed to say which is most important.
The first category is acute circumstances that call for patience: You’re stuck in traffic. You’re waiting for a reply to an important text or phone call. Somebody is doing something that drives you absolutely nuts.
What’s your instinctive response? If it involves angry words, exasperated sighs, long-winded lectures, or skyrocketing blood pressures, then it’s time to change your habits. Take a deep breath and focus on being kind, remaining calm, and not overreacting.
Of course, exercising patience does not mean you don’t deal with the problems that arise; it only dictates that you deal with them in a logical, loving way, rather than in a cycle of rage and regret.
Scripture implores us to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:13-14, NASB)
The second (and more difficult) category of patience-trying opportunities involves chronic or long-term problems.
These would include major life changes: You go bankrupt. You lose a loved one. You’re diagnosed with an incurable, debilitating illness.
But it can also include comparatively minor stuff: Nobody is actively getting on your nerves in a dramatic sort of way, but nonetheless, you must still draw deeply and repeatedly from your reserves of patience as they slowly mature over time.
Your spouse, your children, your friends — and, indeed, you yourself — are all works in progress. We emerge from the womb knowing nothing, and go to our graves knowing little more. In every area of life, we are in a continual process of acquiring knowledge and experience, of progressing from nothing to little of nothing.
By definition, every person we know is either behind us, ahead of us, or right there beside us on this continuum of growth. If ahead, we call them a teacher. Behind us, we call them a student. With us, we call them a companion.
You will find that your wife is a combination of all three of these roles. She will be ahead of you in some areas and behind in others: Sometimes, your teacher. Sometimes, your student. Always, your companion.
God designed each of you to complement the other. Accordingly, you both have different strengths and different weaknesses.
When we fall short in the area of acute patience — snapping at people because they didn’t do things precisely the way we like them — the underlying issue is usually one of pride.
It is a forgetfulness of where we once were on the learning continuum or an exaggeration of where we are now on that same continuum.
Patience recognizes that proficiency grows over time — we have not always been as skilled as we are now. Patience is also mindful of the fact that, even at our present skill-level, we can still make mistakes.
When we fail in the area of long-term patience, it is often due to a lack of vision. We fail to see what the other person could become; we see them only as they are now.
Goethe once said, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
This goes for your wife, too. God has charged you to live with her in an understanding way, to treat her with patience and gentleness, as a weaker vessel. So bear with her. Don’t expect perfection from her. Be patient with her. Love her.
This is what the Word of God requires of us, not only in the way we relate to our wives, but to our children and to the other people He places in our path, as well:
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”(Colossians 3:12-15, emphasis added)
The peace of Christ, ruling in your heart. Is that what your wife and children witness when you are irritated? Is it what your friends and family see when you face frustration? When somebody’s pushing your buttons, do you respond with humility, kindness, and gentleness?
As a Christian, that is what we are called to do. It’s a tall order, and I’ll be the first to admit that I often fail the test.
I’ve never cheated on my wife or beaten her or abandoned her, and in light of that stellar track record, it’s tempting to excuse ￼the fact that I sometimes lose patience or say things I shouldn’t say using tones I shouldn’t use.
But God has been convicting me lately that, in His eyes, there are no “small” sins. My impatience is grievous to Him, and they should be grievous to me — just as yours should be to you.
God isn’t interested in excuses or explanations or justifications for why we let our patience lapse. Nor is He impressed by half-hearted apologies or requests for forgiveness that aren’t accompanied by genuine repentance.
It isn’t enough to admit impatience is sin if we then persist in our bad habits.
God is calling us to turn away from our sin. To give up our irritated, impatient, prideful ways and allow Him to remake us in the image of Christ.
Surprisingly, I drew criticism for making LOVE the focus of my list, rather than RESPECT. This offended some of my readers, who (rightly) felt that women are every bit as entitled to respect as men.
But while I agree that women deserve respect, I do not believe they crave it. Certainly not in the same way most men do.
The thing women crave most is love.
I’ve been around smart, powerful women my whole life. Usually, they are awash in respect. They find respect wherever they go.
Their talent, intelligence, and wisdom command it.
Their employers respect their hard work and dedication; their colleagues respect their insights and integrity; their church and charitable organization leaders respect their contributions of time and resources to the various causes; their children’s teachers and coaches respect their involvement and commitment; even their neighbors respect their polite disposition and manicured yards.
Respect is all around them.
But love? That is something else entirely.
Love is not so easy to find and often even harder to keep.
For a woman to be loved by a man — deeply, passionately, unconditionally, with all that he is towards all that she is — that is a rare thing indeed.
It’s an ephemeral thing that cannot be earned the way respect can.
But it’s a gift a husband can give to his wife every day of her life. And when he does, it is both beautiful and magical.
“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6, NKJV
The Reason for the Season
We all know that Christmas is the season for giving. That giving is, of course, a reflection of the greatest gift of all, God’s Son, who was announced in the prophecy above, fulfilled in the Gospels (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16, NASB), and then explained in the Epistles (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:8, NIV).
The idea of gifts and giving is woven throughout Scripture, where Paul, quoting Jesus, admonishes us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – Acts 20:35, NASB.
Furthermore, our society reinforces the importance of giving with tales of stingy givers such as Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch who stole Christmas.
From the time we are little, we are taught the importance of giving. What is seldom emphasized is the importance of receiving!
The Opposite of Receiving is Rejecting
In sports we say, “The only thing worse than a poor loser, is a poor winner.” In the arena of giving, the only thing worse than a poor giver, is a poor receiver.
Consider the story of Jesus washing His disciples feet. At first, Peter attempts to reject Jesus’ act of service: “‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” – John 13:8, NIV.
Oh, how true that is for all of us! How many lives are there yet, where Jesus stands at the ready, towel in hand, waiting to wash them whiter than snow, only to be rebuffed by the prideful claim, “You shall never wash me!”
To gain a glimpse of the sorrow this must bring to our Lord, reflect on a time when you have had a gift rejected by someone you cared about:
Was it a physical gift?
Was it an act of service that was rejected?
What about unreturned friendship or affection?
But lest we become too prideful reminiscing about others, let us think of a time when we have rejected a gift ourselves:
Did we have “a good reason” at the time?
Does that reason hold up under the lens of hindsight?
How big a role did pride play?
Are the American ideals (idols?) of self-sufficiency and independence God- honoring? Can they be God honoring in the right context? Where do we draw the line?
Becoming a Good Receiver
We all know that a good giver gives generously, cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7), and often until it hurts (Mark 12:41-44). But what does it mean to be a good receiver?
There are FOUR things that are essential:
A good receiver is HUMBLE.
It is a humbling thing to freely receive something from someone else, whether that someone else is a fellow human being or God Himself. It sometimes feels like weakness or neediness, but humility is always the starting point.
“If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves…” begins 2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV.
Likewise, it is only in humbly recognizing that “all have sinned and fall short” (Romans 3:23, NET) that we acknowledge our need for a Savior.
Atheists will say, “God is for the weak.” To which we may respond, “Yes. Yes, He is, and thankfully so!”
Do you know non-Christians who think that they are “good people?”
Do they think that being good is “good enough?”
As Christians, do our actions and attitudes sometimes reveal similar beliefs about ourselves as good people relying on good behavior for what is actually freely given Grace?
A good receiver is THANKFUL.
The natural response to a gift should be gratitude.
Have you ever seen a child or adult act ungratefully?
Have we ever been guilty of doing the same?
What about the gifts God bestows, are they simply taken for granted?
What about the hard times that come our way, but cause us to grow? Are we thankful for our trials as well? (James 1:2-3)
A good receiver actually USES the gift.
Nothing makes us happier than seeing our gifts to someone else being put to use. No doubt God feels the same way!
Ever give a child a toy they just couldn’t stop playing with?
Ever find last year’s gifts unused in a drawer?
Are we using the gifts God has given us, or are they tucked away?
A good receiver PAYS IT FORWARD.
When we have been blessed, it naturally makes us want to bless others. Even the most ruthless businessmen find themselves turning to philanthropy, as they grow older. Which takes us full circle, back to giving.
After Jesus finished washing the disciples feet, He told them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” – John 13:14, NIV.
What are some ways we have been blessed?
What are some ways we can bless others?
How can we creatively introduce others to the “fount of every blessing,” who stands at the ready, towel in hand, waiting to wash them whiter than snow?
As we celebrate Christmas again this week, we need to remember that this season isn’t all about giving. It’s about receiving, too. God’s priceless gift will profit you nothing until you accept it.
What about you? Have you received the best gift of all?