Hello, Silence. I hear you.

Hello, Silence. I hear you.

 

negev-3

Here, at my crossroads moment, I hear the voice of silence bid me to linger.

“Voice of silence.” That’s how Elijah described his crossroads moment in the Negev wilderness of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 19:12).

Yeah, I know. Your version probably says something like, “the sound of a low whisper” (ESV), “a gentle whisper” (NIV), “a still small voice” (NKJV), or somthing like that.

The literal Hebrew expression reads, “a voice of small silence” or “a voice of thin stillness.” It’s meant to be paradoxical, a seemingly self-contradictory, absurd description. In other words, Elijah perceived God’s presence supernaturally.

Elijah’s crossroads moment occurred after a significant personal failure.

For many years he had steadfastly opposed the despotic, idol-worshiping rule of Ahab and Jezebel, boldly speaking truth to power. His long campaign then climaxed with a triumphant showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:20–46).

After this dramatic victory,  the prophet’s confidence should have reached an all-time high. His years of ministry had been validated by God’s omnipotence and he stood on the threshold of victory. Yet when Jezebel threatened to kill him, his courage wilted and he ran.

As his personal failure sank in, he prayed, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

After God gave His servant food to replenish his body and sleep to restore his mind, He called Elijah to enter a season of solitude. Forty days of quiet reflection in a very special place (1 Kings 19:5–8).

When the time was right, in the midst of his crossroads moment, Elijah perceived God’s silent voice and received the affirmation and direction he needed so desperately.

My natural response to moments like this is not to remain where I am. Ordinarily, I would take action, get busy doing something positive, seek constructive change.

But this time is different. There’s nowhere to go. Nothing different I should be doing. My triumphs and failures have led me to an empty cave, where life has left me famished, and I hunger to hear from God.

While I am still, I am not idle. I have work accomplish–worthy work. I have people who need me to be present when I am with them. Waiting to hear from God isn’t a time for passivity.

There are things we can do to prepare for perceiving God’s silent voice. And I am doing them.

My Castaway Crossroads

My Castaway Crossroads

castaway-crossroads-1a

My journey has led to a crossroads.

A true crossroads moment is rare. It comes along once–maybe twice–in a lifetime. It’s more than a mere intersection, where one must decide which direction to take toward a particular destination. A crossroads moment, instead, begins with the realization that you have no particular place to go.

A crossroads moment represents the end of a journey, along with the mourning that usually accompanies loss. And it represents the potential start of a new journey, with all its frightening uncertainty and tentative hope.

It has the vague sense of being lost, except there’s nowhere to be . . . other than here.

Staying put is the only wise choice.

A crossroads moment calls for a deep reevaluation of self. My past has contributed to who I am, but God now wants to fashion someone new out of that old me. To join my re-Creator at this crossroads, I have spent the past couple of months in a detailed examination myself in the harsh, unforgiving light of truth.

I have reviewed my Myers-Briggs, my StrengthsFinder, and my Enneagram results. (Please don’t suggest another assessment; I have moved on from this phase.) I participated in the painful affirmation of a 360 Feedback Review and engaged the honest insight of trusted colleagues by asking the questions, “How have you experienced me as a co-worker?” and “What advice would you have for me to improve as a leader?”

I think I have a reasonably objective view of myself, including admirable and shadow qualities. I struggle to make sense of my mixed bag of abilities, education, and experience, which qualify me for a vast array of vocations . . . and, therefore, none in particular. At least none in plain view.

So, at this crossroads, feeling more than a little paralyzed by too many options, I have decided to embrace the moment. I will savor this unsettling freedom and allow God to do His work within me. And I will do the hardest thing of all: wait.

If you think of me, pray that the Holy Spirit will bring clarity.

If you find yourself at your own crossroads moment, I hope these words offer encouragement and insight. I pray you find your path.

Where Anti-Christian Attitudes Thrive

Where Anti-Christian Attitudes Thrive

In my research for a potential book, I’m looking at statistics on Christians, especially those identified by the term “evangelical.” I’m happy to say the news is generally good. That is, if you ignore certain Christian “research” groups that derive financial benefit from shocking believers with gloomy statistics. Two sources with credible data and competent analysis include:

Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse, 2010).

In Wright’s work, I ran across this passage near the end of the book. This should be of great interest if you have a loved one in college, especially if it’s a generally secular school (with or without former religious ties). Here it is without further comment from me. His information is sobering enough on its own.

In 2007, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research surveyed the religious beliefs of over twelve hundred faculty members at various American colleges and universities. As I understand it, this study was looking for anti-Semitism among faculty members, but they instead found something surprising: a strong intolerance toward Evangelical Christians.

christians-are-hate-filled-hypocrites-professors-regard-for-religious-groups

One of the questions asked faculty members if they had negative feelings toward various religious groups. As shown in Figure 8.10, over half-53%-of the faculty members reported having negative feelings toward Evangelical Christians, and this was far more than toward any other group. Twenty-two percent of faculty members had negative feelings toward Muslims, 18% toward atheists, 13% toward Catholics, 9% toward non-Evangelical Christians, 4% toward Buddhists, and 3% toward Jews. The study’s authors concluded that “if not outright prejudice, faculty sentiment about the largest religious group in the American public borders dangerously close.”[1]

[1] Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse, 2010), 205–206.

 

 

My Vote in 2016… Principled or Practical?

At the risk of offending almost everyone, I’m pondering my vote-casting options openly in this forum.
Here is my dilemma, which (apparently) I share with many these days:
I must not cast my vote for Clinton, and I cannot cast my vote for Trump, and I will not cast my vote for Johnson, who opposes most of my convictions. So, on election day, whom shall I write in?
 
I’m tempted to write in Ronald Reagan. I realize he’s not healthy enough for office (being dead and all), but with the right spin machine, that shouldn’t be a problem. Having served two terms, his election would be illegal, but that doesn’t seem to matter these days. His convictions, even with a dead brain, are more reasoned than than the third-party man.
 
Still, while a dead man cannot fib and has a suitable temperament for office (being dead and all), it’s more nostalgic than realistic.
 
So, whom shall I write in?
I have been told that voting for anyone outside the two-party race is a wasted vote, or that not voting for the lesser of two evils is a vote cast for the more evil candidate. Some have even urged that I should not allow my principles to guide my choice but to vote pragmatically, lest we end up with a more evil president.
As I survey my memory of world history, a disturbing trend emerges. Dictators and despots thrive on this kind of thinking. They rise to power and establish regimes that no one wants when individuals ignore their principles and make choices based on which way they perceive the political winds to be blowing.
When people succumb to their fear of standing on the wrong side of a political victory, they hastily toss aside their convictions and let self-preservation guide their choices. Consequently, they become capable of abominable decisions that contradict their own core values.
On the other hand, the power of despots crumbles when people allow principles to guide their choices, independent of what their peers may or may not do.
So, whom shall I write in this November?

Why Love Must Be Active

In his epic ode to love, Paul the apostle declared, “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4). Good words for today, when gentleness is such a rare quality in relationships. Unfortunately, our desire to be patient and kind can also lead to passivity when a loved one begins to fall into sin. While it might seem loving to step lightly and speak softly when a loved one begins a pattern of wrongdoing, nothing could be more dangerous to a relationship. Here’s why:

Passivity Camouflages a Trap

Passivity allows a wayward loved one to gradually and comfortably enter Satan’s trap. An old folk legend claims that a frog dropped into a kettle of boiling water will immediately recognize the danger to his life and waste no time leaping out. However, a frog placed in a kettle at room temperature will happily continue to bask as the water is slowly heated, even to the point of boiling. The legend has become a standard illustration for the mortal danger of gradual change.

Sin is a trap that hypnotizes its victim into thinking that all is well. Convinced that the first transgression caused no harm, the wayward one rationalizes his or her decision. Meanwhile, Satan works overtime to insulate his prey from reality and to provide an opportunity to take sin a step further. Gradually, “bad” behavior seems less and less bad until the person becomes capable of astounding evil with little or no feelings of remorse. It’s not uncommon for a deluded sinner to become convinced that others are ultimately responsible for his or her sin and, in many cases, that the destructive behavior is actually good!

Whereas truth frustrates this gradual twisting of the mind, passivity allows Satan greater opportunity to isolate and deceive his prey. The wayward loved one needs, more than anything, a shocking dose of reality. The most loving response is to turn up the heat so that he or she will sense the danger and escape Satan’s trap.

Passivity Reinforces Sinful Behavior

Passivity reinforces the false promise of sin that we can do whatever we want without suffering negative consequences.

As Eve gazed at the forbidden fruit hanging within easy reach, she saw that it was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). A serpent saw her longing gaze and moved a little closer. “You surely will not die!” (v. 4). His words contradicted her Creator’s stern warning; nevertheless, she and her husband swallowed Satan’s poisonous lie. And from that moment on, nothing would ever be the same. Within hours, the couple stood trembling as God explained how they would experience the consequences of disobedience. “Death” would not come immediately. Worse, death would painfully distort all of creation; death would come with sudden, unexpected certainty; and death would carry the soul to yet another kind of death, an eternal death too horrific to describe.

Imagine if, instead, God had remained passive and silent. At lunchtime the following day, Adam and Eve return to the forbidden tree to find the serpent lounging in its branches, wearing a contented smile. “See? What did I tell you? There you stand, quite alive! Take off that silly fig leaf underwear and have another delicious meal—on me.”

Fortunately, the Lord didn’t remain passive. Moved by love, He confronted Adam and Eve, opened their eyes to the consequences of their disobedience, and then cast them out of the Garden to make repeated sin more difficult (Gen. 3:22–24). His righteous anger reaffirmed His earlier warning that eternal life and disobedience cannot coexist. Sin leads to death. It’s a fundamental law of the universe that’s as predictable and as certain as gravity.

Remaining passive while someone balances precariously on the edge of skyscraper is not love. A wayward loved one needs intervention, not the casual affirmation of a passive response to sin.

Passivity Allows Sin to Harm Others

Passivity allows the destructive consequences of sin to devastate the innocent. Sin is a fire that destroys everything it touches. Substance abuse, rage, violence, sexual immorality, abandonment, neglect—any sin that burns out of control affects everyone, especially children. And a passive response to unrepentant sin is like standing idle while an arson sets fire to the people we love.

Passivity Undermines Respect

Passivity undermines a crucial element of any healthy relationship: respect. In his book Love Must Be Tough, Dr. James Dobson warns that nothing destroys a romantic relationship quicker than passivity and appeasement. On the other hand,

Successful marriages usually rest on a foundation of accountability between husbands and wives. They reinforce responsible behavior in one another by a divinely inspired system of checks and balances. In its absence, one party may gravitate toward abuse, insult, accusation, and ridicule of the other, while his or her victim placidly wipes away the tears and mutters with a smile, ‘Thanks, I needed that!'”1

Love

Love That Is Tough

Unlike passivity, a proactive response to unrepentant sin reflects the character of God. He is relentlessly loving yet utterly uncompromising when it comes to behavior that undermines our relationship. Similarly, our loving response to sin must come from a place of strength, and sometimes, love must take strong, decisive, even aggressive action.

Tough love requires courage. Paul’s ode to love also declares that our selfless care for another “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). That means we may have to endure a period of time when our loved one doesn’t like us very much. But if we cling to the truth of God’s Word, and steadfastly reject destructive behavior, and with unwavering devotion call our wayward loved one to turn from wrongdoing, we offer our loved one a compelling reason to escape the trap of sin, and a chance to experience love as God intended it: love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

1 James Dobson, Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Families in Crisis (Dallas: Word, 1996), 19.

Marital Betrayal Is Not Your Fault, but What’s Your Part?

When my wife of eighteen years closed the door on our marriage and drove away to meet her lover, I crumpled to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. The news of her nine-month affair and her decision to leave me and our two children came just minutes apart, and out of nowhere. We never fought. We had just purchased a new home and had just planned the next five years of our family’s future. We had left our old marital difficulties behind and had built a strong intimacy before moving to Dallas to attend seminary. Our children openly boasted about the health of their parents’ marriage and the stability of our home. Everything was good.

Or so I thought.

The road to recovery was long and dark. I crawled at first. Then, I managed to hobble. In time, I grew strong enough to take long strides and recover from inevitable tumbles quickly. Eventually, I grew strong enough to stand up straight and ask myself a painfully difficult question: “What was my part?”

Find out how I answered that question, and how it applies to wives of porn addicts at the Breaking Free blog at CovenantEyes.com.

Blending Families without Going through a Blender

Not long ago, a couple asked to spend some time with Charissa and me. They were both divorced (due to the infidelity of their former partners), had met at church, and planned to marry soon. They had heard we had walked their path and had successfully blended a household with four teens (two hers and two mine).

All of our children were fifteen and older, so our job had been infinitely easier than most. Nevertheless, we did learn some great lessons. To prepare for our meeting with this very wise, mature, conscientious couple, Charissa and I tried to condense our hard-knock lessons down to something manageable. Here are the principles, rules, and tips we decided a blending family should consider.

Most of these principles, rules, and tips apply to parenting in general, but become especially important when becoming parents of a blended family.

Principles

Rules without a relationship always lead to rebellion.

You cannot become an authority until you have been an advocate.

Children need to feel some measure of control over their own lives; when they feel powerless, they rebel.

All children were created equal, but they were not created the same.

You can parent by controlling your children, or by earning their trust, never both.

You can be the very best mom or dad in the world, but you will never overcome biology.

Children always abuse the parent they trust most.

Sibling rivalry comes from a perception that there isn’t enough parental love to go around.

Children feel most secure when the marriage is strong.

Rules

Never disagree in front of the children. Remain silent, address the issue later, and make adjustments together.

Never discipline your spouse’s child; gently report problem behavior to your spouse, and focus on behavior, not perceived motives.

Never speak negatively of your spouse’s children, particularly in reference to their temperament, character, abilities, or prior upbringing.

Diligently guide each of your own children in the way each should go, and trust your spouse to do the same.

Discipline your own, but bless all of the children individually and equally.

Give priority to your mate as the best means of caring for your children.

Tips

Turn power-plays into opportunities to teach responsibility (decisions = consequences.)

Establish a procedure for resolving conflicts between step-siblings, explain the procedure to the children (as a couple), and follow it to the letter.

Make having fun together a priority by planning lots of opportunities; think creatively and seek variety. Encourage participation by inviting each child to join the fun. Entice; do not compel.

Whenever possible, give each child opportunities to make choices, especially those affecting the household.

Plan family meals in advance, giving each child his or her choice of meal on a given night.

Plan a family vacation within six months of the wedding, and make anticipation a stress reliever for the family.

During the first six months (at least), plan on the family consuming every spare moment. Suspend hobbies and activities, and postpone every outside commitment that isn’t absolutely necessary. Devote this time to your marriage and to getting your new family settled into place. Things will get better in time–and sooner than you think!–but only if you start well.

Blending lives will necessarily create turbulence. This is to be expected. But if you remain calm, take the turbulence in stride, and apply your principles and rules consistently, life will again become manageable. In fact, I think you’ll discover as we did, that having these guiding principles, rules, and tips in place will solve a lot of problems before they arise. Charissa and I found the blending of our households to be a joyful experience, providing memories all six of us continue to cherish.