GUARDING ONENESS

How to Deal with the Killer of Unity in Any Relationship

My mentor and friend surprised me the other day. I asked if he could recommend a go-to resource on marriage. I figured he would point to any number of more recent publications by major evangelical authors. Not so.

humility word in metal type

He suggested Larry Crabb’s 1991 publication Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference (Zondervan). It just so happens I have a copy in my library. I read it years ago. Never hurts to take another look, so I pulled it off the shelf and began reading again.

It took only twenty-eight pages before these words hammered me:

We will not move very far in our efforts to develop good marriages until we understand that repairing a damaged sense of identity and healing the wound in our hearts is not the first order of business. It is rather dealing with the subtle, pervasive, stubborn commitment to ourselves. Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit . Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility—everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.

If Crabb overstates the case at all, then I am not sure how much. It seems he lines up perfectly with Paul’s instructions in Phil. 2:1-4.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

He gives two directives for guarding oneness. The first addresses attitude–humility of mind which counts others more significant than oneself (see also Rom. 12:16; the second focuses on action–look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Greek word for “look” is the word skopeo from where we get our English word “scope”–as in a rifle scope. We are to keep our eyes wide open for the concerns of others. He assumes we will do that for ourselves. Guardians of oneness in marriage, family, church or any relational sphere scan the horizon of needs on a broader scale for the benefit of others.

Philippians 2 finishes with four examples of his day from which to draw inspiration: Jesus (5-11), himself (12-18, Timothy (19-24), and Epaphroditus (25-30). Of course none of those matters more to our motivation to guard oneness than that of the Lord Jesus in His humiliation and exaltation.

Why? Because He not only gives us an example to follow; He supplies the power to live similarly through the transforming gospel.

As you move into 2017, where might you have to drain the cesspool of self-centeredness for the joy of growing in others-centeredness?

A PEACEMAKING WIFE

How Nancy Excelled at Safeguarding Oneness in Our Marriage

Today would have marked our 42nd wedding anniversary. Ever since Nan went home to Jesus last May 31, I’ve wondered how this final major historical marker would unfold for me.

cananda-trip

As I paged through our wedding album this morning, tears fell again. I have so many great memories of life with the wife my youth. We enjoyed uncommon oneness by and large throughout the years.

In this personal post, I want to pay tribute to Nan the peacemaker. She took Eph. 4:1-3 seriously in the church and in our marriage. She eagerly preserved the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. She embraced the blessedness Jesus promises in Matt. 5:9.

I offer these ten practices for the benefit of any marriage desiring to know abiding peace in the home.

One, she loved Jesus  more than she loved me (Matt. 10:37-39). From the day of her conversion, Nan counted the costs of discipleship. Jesus was first in her affections. She knew it was not wise to pursue her satisfaction in me. God never made any spouse fit for that.

Two, she chose not to allow me to control her joy (1 Thess. 5:16-18). She had to learn this over time, but she got there. She came to distinguish the difference between what was about me and what was about her. And when it was about me–and it often was, she released and rested in Jesus.

Three, she perfected the art of asking me questions (Prov. 20:5). Nancy got me big time on this. She knew if she challenged me outright about something I thought, said, or did, I could so easily get defensive (again–that’s on me).

So she kept respect for me high while making her point by posing thoughtful questions to draw out my heart. I loved this about her! She engaged my heart; she didn’t stomp all over it.

Four, she refused worrisome nagging, choosing rather to wait on God for change in me (Prov. 21:19). It’s not that Nancy wouldn’t say hard things to me. I assure you, she knew how to do that well (see number six below). But once she made her case with me, she let it rest–asking the Lord to do in my heart what only He could do.

Five, she didn’t peacebreak (Prov. 15:18). Some will question my memory on this. It is true just the same. Nan lost her cool with me only one time in all our years together. Frankly, I deserved it. Outbursts of anger crush oneness; we simply refused to go there by God’s grace.

Six, she didn’t peacefake (Eph. 4:25-27). Sorry to say, I specialized in stuffing my anger and punishing Nan with the cold shoulder treatment. I got better over time, but Nan never struggled with fear of conflict issues like I did. She consistently told it like it was in love.

Seven, she overlooked my sin–a lot (Prov. 19:11). Nan outright forgave me for my offenses over and over again without saying a word. SHE WAS NOT EASILY OFFENDED. This matters so much to marital oneness.

Eight, she consistently forgave me for my sins (Eph. 4:32). Nancy lived out the gospel of grace by showing her chief-of-sinners husband forgiving grace. She practiced the four promises of forgiveness–especially never using my past as a weapon against me. Good grief, I was a fortunate man! If you only knew.

Nine, she embraced assisted peacemaking with me when necessary (Phil. 4:2-3). We visited a fair number of Christian counselors over the years. We never regretted the investment. If we got stuck with maintaining oneness, we got help restoring oneness.

Ten, she never wavered on her covenant commitments (Matt. 5:37). On December 21, 1974 Nancy Masologites spoke vows to me, Curtis Heffelfinger, promising to love and to cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, until death did us part.

Death did us part this year, but Nancy’s legacy lives on in so many ways–including in my aim to be a better peacemaking man and pastor for the rest of my days.

Thanks, babe, you were the best.

Keys to Counseling Success

counseling couch

Over the years I’ve logged my share of hours on the therapist’s couch. At different seasons, biblical counseling has played a huge role in my life. Lord knows I’ve needed it.

But not every counseling experience was created equal in terms of its profit and degree of change. I suspect that had more to do with me than with the various counselors.

peacemaking for familiesI wish I had been armed, during those peel-back-the-layers-of-the-onion days, with five principles I just read about this evening. They come from one of my favorite authors and friend, Ken Sande. He wrote a book in cooperation with Tom Raabe called Peacemaking for Families: A Biblical Guide for Managing Conflict in Your Home (Tyndale, 2002, 224 pages).

In it, he particularly focuses on marital conflict (though he includes chapters on conflict with children as well) and ways to ensure getting the most benefit from pursuing marriage counseling, assuming you find a solid biblical counselor, of course. Here they are:

  1. Focus on your own responsibilities (Matt. 7:3-5). Among the many drums Ken beats, none sounds louder than the call to get the log out of your own eye. Don’t go into counseling assuming your spouse has the corner on the sinful market. Sincerely pray with each session, “God, please improve my marriage, starting with me.”
  2. Go to the heart of your problems (James 4:1-3). Don’t just focus on surface issues; scuba dive for the heart idols (desires-turned-into-demands) that ultimately control the heart and undermine a marriage. Sinful patterns will give way far more likely with that strategy than they ever will with mere behavior modification.
  3. Third, remember the gospel (Romans 1:16). Oh, I forgot. Here’s a drum Ken bangs on even more than the second “G.” Good thing too. Fix your eyes at every turn on the One who died, was buried and rose again. He alone has the power to set us free from the old ways and help us put on the new ones of love and respect in a marriage.
  4. Ask for prayer support and accountability from within your church (James 5:16). Marriage counseling constitutes a form of spiritual warfare given the formidable foes, like our idols, that we seek to defeat. Such things give way to the fervent, righteous prayers of God’s people. Ask people to lay down intercessory prayer cover for you.
  5. Persevere. On this note, he writes:

Most marriages get into trouble as a result of attitudes and habits that have developed over a long period of time, some of which preceded your wedding day. Since these problems took a long time to develop, they usually take a good deal of time and effort to resolve. Therefore, make a commitment to keep working as long as it takes to overcome problems that threaten your marriage, even if that means an extended season of counseling (p. 179).

Now that’s good counsel.

39 Years, 39 Lessons

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On December 21st of this year, my bride and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. Since then I’ve pondered reasons why, by God’s grace, we’ve survived, even thrived all these years. I wondered if I could articulate as many lessons learned or being learned as years. Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Believe the gospel for yourself AND about your spouse.
  2. Love your spouse more by loving him/her less than Jesus.
  3. Believe the best of your spouse as a saint.
  4. Suspect the worst of yourself as a sinner.
  5. Repent of sin quickly.
  6. Use the words “Will you forgive me?”
  7. Use the words “Of course I forgive you.”
  8. Forgive 70 x 7.
  9. Patience, patience, patience.
  10. Listen attentively.
  11. Ask questions to draw out the heart.
  12. Avoid judging with broad-sweeping statements; speak the truth in love.
  13. Peacemake, don’t peacebreak, or peacefake.
  14. Get mediation help/counseling if necessary.
  15. Prize oneness highly.
  16. Wait until you’re on the same page the bigger the decision.
  17. Pray for one another.
  18. Pray with one another.
  19. Read the Bible together.
  20. Read good books on marriage and other topics together.
  21. Limit TV and other forms of digital entertainment time.
  22. Converse with one another.
  23. Defer to one another –  A LOT.
  24. Kiss each other good morning, goodbye, hello, and good night.
  25. Go to bed at the same time.
  26. Give conjugal rights freely.
  27. Go to church together.
  28. Be a part of a gospel community together (small group).
  29. Serve others inside and outside the church together.
  30. Practice hospitality.
  31. Keep good boundaries with extended family and in-laws.
  32. Never demean one another in front of others.
  33. Never raise your voice to one another.
  34. Share everything together.
  35. Eliminate the “D” word from your vocabulary altogether.
  36. Stay in touch with each other throughout the day, especially when travelling apart.
  37. Date each other; take walks together.
  38. Get away from the normal routine together, if and when you can.
  39. Always look for the next lesson God will teach you.

Love Problems Are God Problems

love_is_all_you_need_

Given my role as a pastor, I see a lot of these. Love problems. They crop up all over the place, especially in marriages.

Recently I scoured the web for potential resources to use in a marital support group to help some couples deal with their recurring issues. Finally I landed on a book and accompanying study guide that looked very promising. Winston Smith’s Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments (New Growth Press, 2010, 285 pages) stood out among the myriad of offerings. This Christian Counseling and Education product doesn’t seek so much to contribute to the numerous biblical theologies of marriage on the market, many of them good as they are. This tool helps couples work through how the gospel can bring lasting change to troubled relationships in the ordinary, often challenging, moments of everyday life.

Smith’s premise goes like this: marriages change when we recognize God’s agenda for so-called ordinary moments. He launches his argument from a familiar passage of Scripture and then unpacks the core idea.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, italics mine).

Marriage_Matters“God is love.” We all want more love in our marriages. Who doesn’t love love? For the most part, we marry because of love–or at least because we hope for love. But in the most difficult moments we don’t feel loved, and we find it hard to love. God may not seem to make much difference in these moments; however, his involvement is crucial because God is love. When we find it hard to love, we need him all the more. A lack of love should prompt us to not just look more closely at our marriage but at our relationship with God.

The bad news: your love problems are bigger than you think because love problems are God problems. The good news: the solution is bigger than you think because God cares and is involved. Having more love in your marriage means having more of God in your marriage. Having trouble loving is evidence either that you don’t know God or that something is interfering in your relationship with God (p. 9).

Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? When that revolutionary concept sunk into my think head and prone-to-be-hard heart, I decided I needed to take the love problems in my marriage more seriously. Yes, tough as it is to believe, Nancy and I have these too, from time to time. Most, by the way,  are due to my idols doing their destructive thing in our relationship.

I knew without a doubt the first step I needed to take – memorize and mediate regularly on 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes referred to as the love chapter in the Bible.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Part of mediation involves inserting my own name into v. 4-6 and praying the content back to God. Curt is patient and kind; Curt does not envy or boast. Lord, make these things true of me. You get the idea.

Do you have love problems? We all do. Bad news: the problem is bigger than you think. Good news: the solution is bigger than you think. Why not ask the Lord to help you bring your love problems with your spouse or whomever to the Lord so as to tap into His unlimited reservoirs of love? He alone can enable us to love better our neighbor as ourselves. And to ensure that the nature of your love matches His own, take up my challenge to memorize the love chapter and prayerfully meditate upon it. It will surprise you just how much that spiritual discipline shapes the ordinary moments you share with those whom you love.

From now on I think I will make memorizing 1 Corinthians 13 mandatory in my premarital counseling ministry. Better late than never.

Dealing with Your Earthly Dearest

Another OGC couple made the marital plunge this past weekend. I actually got the family name right this time around. With their “I do’s” Danny and Beth became even more than they already are each other’s earthly dearest.

How are they/we to keep from allowing our earthly dearest to outstrip our affections for our heavenly dearest? The words of C. S. Lewis give helpful counsel:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

Pray to God for grace to put first things first that second things be not suppressed but increased.

November Resource of the Month

The good folks at Desiring God have done it again.

True to their mission to promote the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples by providing excellent resources at rock bottom prices they recently made available case lot quantities of John Piper’s first rate book on Christian marriage for a ridiculously low price. I purchased a case and determined to make This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence, (Crossway, 2009, 191 pages) our November resource of the month.

Piper explains his purpose in writing this way:

The aim of this book is to enlarge your vision of what marriage is. As Bonhoeffer says, it is more than your love for each other. Vastly more. Its meaning is infinitely great. I say that with care. The meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ an his people (p. 15).

In the first third of the book, the author painstakingly unpacks that overarching theme showing how marriage between a husband and a wife ultimately points to the mystery that is Christ’s union with His church (Eph. 5:32). He shows how the gospel informs and shapes Christian marriage in chapters like Staying Married is Not Mainly About Staying in Love and God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace and Forgiving and Forbearing and Pursuing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant.

In the second third of the book, Piper gives special attention to the responsibility of the husband to to practice what he calls lionhearted and lamblike headship and the responsibility of the wife to practice what he refers to as fearless submission. Rarely have I read a more balanced treatment of these challenging subjects.

The final third includes a brilliant twist one would rarely expect in a book on Christian marriage – two chapters on singleness! Single in Christ: A Name better Than Sons and Daughters, chapter 9, is a must read for anyone struggling with pangs of loneliness and feelings of being second class in the body of Christ for the absence of a spouse. Singleness, Marriage, and the Christian Virtue of Hospitality, chapter 10, lays down some challenges for both kinds of stewardship in the body of Christ. Singles, don’t think for a minute that you cannot profit from a book like this on marriage! These two chapters offer rich comfort and stirring conviction for your soul, if you will have them.

Along with the challenging subject of singleness, Piper also tackles sexual intimacy, childbearing, and divorce and remarriage. As always in all these things, he anchors his views in Scripture as he understands the Bible in each of these areas and writes with a pastoral heart for the peaks and valleys experienced by all in traversing the relational aspects of what it means to be male and female together.

Multiple copies of this book are now available in our resource center for only $5 each. For a free PDF download of the same book from Desiring God click here.

Here is my challenge, particularly to our married households in OGC. Christmas is coming. Let us determine that we will give ourselves and our church stronger marriages this Christmas. I want to challenge as many of you as are willing to take up the charge to get a copy, husbands and wives, and to read through this together, praying, discussing, and sharing all along how God would strengthen, change, and grow your relationship.

Whether your marriage suffers from particular distress right now or enjoys a season and pattern of blessedness, you can profit from this read. Pray with me that God will do a work in our households here at the end of 2012!

When Sinners Say I Do – March 10th!

A proper understanding of God’s purpose in marriage, the problem in marriage, and discovering the power of the gospel in marriage is vital to everyone whether single, preparing to be married, newly married or married for decades.

Our friends at Crosspointe Orlando are hosting Pastor Dave Harvey, author of When Sinners Say I Do, in a day long seminar on understanding God’s plan for marriage, EVERYONE’S problem in marriage and how discovering the POWER of the gospel will result in a thriving marriage. Click here to register.

I want to convince you that dealing with the sin problem is key to a thriving marriage. When we apply the gospel to our sin, it gives us hope in our personal lives and in our marriages. Bad news leads to great news. It’s the story of the Bible, and the story of our lives. -Dave Harvey, When Sinners Say I Do

This is the text I am now using for premarital counseling and marital distress counseling. If there is any way you can make your way to fit this into your schedule, I highly recommend it!

Childcare

Email laila@xpointe.com if you need childcare (include how many and age of children). Note there will be an additional fee for childcare.

More information about When Sinners Say I Do

The Fountain of a Thriving Marriage

I shared this quote from Dave Harvey’s terrific book When Sinners Say “I Do” a couple of weeks ago in one of my messages.

It packs such a punch that I decided to feature it today in my blog post.

The gospel is the heart of the Bible. Everything in Scripture is either preparation for the gospel, presentation of the gospel, or participation in the gospel. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the gospel provides an ultimate solution for our sin—for today, for tomorrow, for the day we stand before God, and forever.

There really is no end to the glories of the gospel, which is why we will spend eternity marveling that the Holy God would choose to crush his only Son for the sake of sinful man. The gospel explains our most obvious and basic problem—sin has separated us from God and from each other. Thus we are objects of God’s wrath. A Christian understands the necessity of the cross; our sin was so bad that it required blood, the blood of God, to take it away! Without the cross we are at war with God, and he is at war with us.

The gospel is therefore central to all theological truth, and is the overarching reality that makes sense of all reality. Never make the mistake of thinking that the gospel is only good for evangelism and conversion. By the gospel we understand that, although saved, we remain sinners. Through the gospel we receive power to resist sin. Accurately understanding and continually applying the gospel is the Christian life.

This also means that the gospel is an endless fountain of God’s grace in your marriage. To become a good theologian and to be able to look forward to a lifelong, thriving marriage, you must have a clear understanding of the gospel. Without it, you cannot see God, yourself, or your marriage for what they truly are.

The gospel is the fountain of a thriving marriage (pp. 24-25).

If you plan to get married or already are married, I wholeheartedly recommend this resource.

A Season of Marathons

I received this earlier this week from Jared Combs (new member at OGC) with a little help from Jillian Groeneveld:

I’m not much of a writer, so Jill has agreed to help me with this article. The Lord has spoken so many priceless things to me recently so this is my attempt at jotting them down.  As I ran the Disney marathon a few weeks ago and then reflected on it, I started seeing the symbolism between the journey of a marathon and the season of life I’m in these days. [It’s not like I was hurting for time to reflect as I ran 26.2 miles over a period of 6 hours!]  The message wasn’t complex but simply fitting for where I am right now.

In 2005, as a freshman at Flagler College we took a class trip to Disney’s Magic Kingdom as part of the Orientation week. It was my first week at college and my drug and alcohol addiction was already gaining speed. I woke up around 5:30 a.m. to begin drinking liquor so that when I got on the bus at 6:30 a.m. to make the journey from St. Augustine to Orlando I would already be drunk. I brought along a bag of cocaine and a couple of marijuana joints that I had rolled the night before. We arrived and I felt that I was the life of the party trying to fill a void inside with alcohol, drugs, the acceptance of my peers, and girls. A few hours went by and as my buzz from alcohol wore off, I went into a bathroom and used a little over $100 worth of cocaine with a so called “buddy” of mine. Later as we came down from the coke we returned to the bathroom to smoke the joints to relieve any feelings of withdrawal that came after the coke high.

On January 8, 2012 I awoke at 2:30 a.m. to take a shower and get ready for the Disney Marathon. I had been running for a little more than 5 months, and after completing a half marathon with my fiancé Jillian about a month earlier, we were off to run our first full marathon. There might not be a better place then Disney to do it! We took off with 21,000 other people on this daunting task to finish what, as legends hold, killed a man named Pheidippides in the first century in Athens, Greece. Jillian and I saw my parents at the castle as we ran through Magic Kingdom at mile 10. [Mom & Dad faithfully drove us to the race, cheered us on, and brought us home as we whined!]  Shortly after seeing their faces, we ran through the rest of Magic Kingdom. I hadn’t thought about that day in 2005 in a long while, but before reaching mile 11, we came around a corner and directly in front of us was that same bathroom I got high in over 7 years ago.

It all flashed through my head! The death and destruction of my addiction, how far the Lord has brought me as I celebrate the sixth year of my sobriety the day before our wedding (April 14!), the fact I was running next to my wife-to-be, and how God has blessed me with a purpose to reach other addicts. It’s amazing to be reminded that God is in the redemption business even if it’s through an experience in a bathroom at a theme park.

The larger symbolic message the Lord spoke to me through the marathon concerns the season of life I am in. I have been a great sprinter my whole life and we’re not talking about athletics. I believe John Maxwell said, “My gifts and abilities can take me farther than my character can hold me.” This has proven true repeatedly throughout my life as I have battled addiction, pain, severe loss, sin, and numerous decisions that have caused me to form Ishmael’s in my life. But now I’m in a new season – a season of sustained and focused strength as I look to the Lord, or try to look to Him, more than Jared. It’s a season where I don’t sprint only to fall short of the race God has called me to. Instead it’s a race like a marathon that goes the distance because I’m not running alone anymore – Christ is hand-in-hand with me! He has surrounded me with godly brothers to help me with this, but even more significantly He has provided a wife! This will be unlike any other relationship I have ever had. It won’t be short; I won’t quit before obtaining the goal; injury won’t occur like in the past; and I’m not running alone. Jillian and I have trained together for a race of 26.2 miles, but that is only one of the marathons we will run together. We are embarking on marriage and the rest of our lives. Placing all confidence in Christ, we will finish strong and together!