SEVEN KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL ROMANCE: Valentine Advice for Men

SEVEN KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL ROMANCE: Valentine Advice for Men

My senses were assaulted at Wal-Mart last night. I strolled in, minding my own business, looking for our favorite frozen desert, when the smell of flowers and candy and a huge splash of red and pink displays hit my eyeballs like a baseball bat.

“Oh, yeah! Valentines!”

Call me distracted, but don’t call me unconcerned about matters of the heart. I’ve been happily married for 34 years and doing marriage counseling for almost that long. Those displays reminded me that flowers and candy, important as they may be, are only the icing on the cake of a robust romance.

Here men, are the top seven things you need to succeed in love. Ladies, I’ll get to you next week.

ONE: An All-Out Commitment to Christ – (See Rom. 12:1-2 & John 15:1-4). All of us bring the baggage of our sinful nature into every relationship. When the flames of passion dissipate, as they always do, the baggage remains. Our lovers often want to “throw the baggage out,” so to speak, but that creates conflict. Abiding in Christ, making our lives a constant sacrifice to God and conforming our minds to his frees him to take out the trash and replace it with real love before it begins to stink up the relationship.

TWO: The Heart of a Servant-Leader – (Matthew 20:25-28). Successful lovers lead through service. Begin by leading yourself. Your lady wants to be your wife, not your Momma, your co-laborer not your wet nurse. She needs you to grow up, maximize earning potential, use money wisely, and stay out of unnecessary debt. She needs you to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, learn how to make good decisions, and be strong in the challenges of life. Not superman. Not unwilling to take advice and counsel. Just strong, full of faith, trusting God, looking ahead, paying attention, adjusting to contingencies, pursuing a goal, refusing to wither in the face of adversity.

She also needs you to take out the trash, run the vacuum, do the dishes, change the baby and—if you can do it without poisoning her—cook from time to time. It boils down to this: study her like a good waiter watches his table and provide for her needs. You will be amazed at what this will do for your love life.

THREE: Commit to Communicate – Men who succeed in love don’t hide behind the strong-silent illusion of manhood. Learn to say what you need and ask for what you want. Make sure you know your love language and how to speak hers.

FOUR: Conflict Resolution Skills – No one grows up knowing how to resolve conflicts in romance. We leave them to fester at our peril. Successful lovers learn how to have a productive argument, and then have one. They learn how to say they’re sorry, and mean it. They even learn to say that they were wrong, sometimes ;-). After that, they celebrate with ice cream. Good conflict strengthens love. Poorly managed conflict leaves deep wounds.

FIVE: Commit to Commitment – Hollywood will tell you otherwise, but all loves ebb and flow, wax and wane. Remember this: it’s the promise that keeps the love, not the love that keeps the promise.

SIX: Practice the Art of Forgiveness – The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Romantic relationships are fragile flowers. They cannot bear the chill of resentment. They wither under a grudge. Forgiveness lets the sun in and keeps the life-giving water flowing.

SEVEN: Work at it Like a Gardner – Loving a woman is like keeping a garden, not like fixing a car. A car needs a timing belt once every 100,000 miles. Romance needs daily attention like a garden needs a gardener. Every day he’s there, feeding it with the sunshine of his affection, pulling the weeds of conflict, watering it with encouragement, and fertilizing it with affirmation. And every now and then, maybe when Wal-Mart reminds him, he feeds it the Miracle Grow of flowers and chocolate. A man like that will enjoy a fruitful garden of love. The guys who don’t get weeds.

Succeeding at love is not brain surgery men, but it does take humility, commitment and work. Trust God, practice these habits and you will succeed.

STAYING PUT: Lessons from Long-Term Ministry

“Thank you,” seems inadequate for all of the honors I received from Faith Community Church  last Sunday. The church took the morning to celebrate my twentieth anniversary as its pastor, taking me by surprise in the process.

Some themes stood out in the comments, and others came to mind later, which might prove helpful to you someday. Call them Leadership Lessons from Long -Term Ministry, but many will apply even if you are not a preacher.

Preach the Word. Expository preaching, interpreting and explaining a passage of scripture in its historical, grammatical, literary, cultural, and biblical context, demonstrating how it applies to the listener and points them to Christ, is key to the vitality of any church or believer. It is a time-consuming endeavor that preachers either have to fight for against other demands, or are gifted with by a congregation. FCC made the decision long before I arrived to give its pastor, and by proxy itself, that gift. All of us benefit from it. Find a church that values this and you will usually find a healthy church.

Decide to stay. If you want to have a deep impact on a community you have to commit to the long term. Randy Pope, Eugene Peterson, Rick Warren, and many others advocated for this in their writings as I was preparing for ministry, and I believed them then. But now I’ve seen the generational effects of hoeing one row for two decades and the fruit is sweet. Warning: You cannot do long-term work without short-term rests. Build Sabbath into your lifestyle and vacations into your years.

Speak hard truth with soft words. Speak with grace and gospel faithfulness to the difficult cultural trends of the day and do not flinch. It will force you to examine yourself, be fair to others, and rely more on Christ. It will also stiffen the spines of your listeners.

Be with people one-on-one. Love them for who they are, where they are, as they are. Grieve with them, celebrate with them, honor them, and respect them. They will do the same for you.

Make sure you have a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy; a mentor, a brother, and a disciple, or trainee into whom you can pour your life. They will coach you when you are clueless, strengthen you when you are weak, and challenge you to keep growing.

Believe in people and don’t micro-manage them. Find good people, give them the goal and the support they need, and then get out of their way. Look for and expect their best, and they will usually give it to you. Related: recruit people to your team who are strong where you are weak. I learned long ago that I was too emotional and empathetic for my own good. That’s one reason I try to surround myself what I call “concrete rational” personality types who can help me stay grounded in biblical objectivity.

Pray more than you politic. Consensus building and deal-making have their place in life. But no amount of politicking can accomplish what prayer can do.

Plan ahead and then give your plans to God.  Every leader needs to be at least five months, and preferably five years, ahead of his organization. But as in war, so in ministry, no plan survives combat. Keep the goal clearly in mind, pay attention to the dynamics of the situation, listen to His Spirit and be flexible with the details.

Offend early and often. I’m a recovering co-dependent people-pleaser. It took years to realize that people come into churches and other organizations with all kinds of expectations of the leadership, some conscious, some not; some reasonable, some silly, and some outrageous. Trying to keep them all happy was suicidal. I learned to make sure they knew what to expect, and what not to expect, as soon as possible. It felt offensive to my empathetic soul to do this, to disappoint some people up front, and anger others. Thus the motto, but the proof — the stability and harmony generated by uniform expectations — has indeed been in the pudding. FCC’s Handbook has been a great tool for this. If your organization doesn’t have a handbook, you should write one, and then require everyone to read it.

Finally, hold everything loosely. Any entity you lead is a stewardship from God, including your family. It doesn’t belong to you and he can take it from you whenever it suits his purposes. Live with gratitude and open, up-raised palms.

Phil 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [1]

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Php 1:3–6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

BEYOND CLINTON AND TRUMP

Thirty-six years ago tonight I met with half a dozen college friends, as I had for weeks, to pray that God would make Jimmy Carter a one-term president and give us Ronald Reagan for two. I have been thinking theologically about and actively involved in the political process ever since and I have never been so disgusted with its results. Yet three-plus decades do provide perspective.

It is no sin to advocate for any policy in American life derived from the biblical worldview. But it is a sin to make an idol of political parties or individual politicians, be they liberal or conservative. If Christians are guilty of that then God has been very gracious to disillusion us with the two golden calves now running for president. The catalog of each candidate’s crimes is too long and oft repeated to list. Their policy positions and governing philosophies are just as problematic, if not downright terrifying. Neither is fit to hold the office, but barring a miracle one of them will.

What to make of it then, and how best to move forward with hope? I offer the following.

First, maybe it’s good that the masks have come off. Feckless evil used to hide behind press-filtered layers of sophistication in our political process. Now we are seeing the porn culture that began in the 1950’s, and the death culture born in 1973, and all of their progeny in the open at the top. Now we are seeing the shear lust for power without the polite veils. Perhaps we will grow sick enough of them to consider real change.

Second, maybe we will finally come to understand that politics is downstream of and politicians draw their power from culture. When the spring is filthy the river is foul.

Government is at best a blunt instrument enforcing the values already approved by the many. We will not reduce the rot at the top of our country until we change the hearts of our countrymen. That will take much more than a change at the White House. It means changing the culture from the bottom up. It means creating culture that is better, more attractive, and life giving than the sick stuff now being sucked up by the masses.

Third, pray for politicians, but put no hope in them. God’s specific instruction for us is to pray for all who are in leadership so that we can live godly lives in peace and quiet. But our hope is in Christ and Christ alone, in the gospel that alone can change the hearts of men and women.

Finally, take the long view. Understand, as Robert E. Lee did near the end of his life, that, “The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”

DISCOVER YOUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS

I do the work of administration, but I’m not gifted at it.

A couple of years ago I ended up being the “Table Host Administrator” for the local Young Life Banquet. In a nutshell that means: ordering, arranging, and tracking hundreds of names with dozens of tables so that everyone has a seat, and each seat has a name, and it all flows smoothly so that the guests have a good time.

I almost pulled my hair out. Everybody got a seat, and everyone got fed, but it wasn’t pretty.

The next year my friend Gail was available to do it. Gail has the gift of administration. Everything flowed like clockwork; no traffic jams, no people wondering where they were supposed to sit. It was beautiful. It was so stress-free for me I almost kissed her.

Have you discovered your spiritual gifts, those things that energize you and bless others? Would you like to? Then read on.

What are spiritual gifts?

A spiritual gift is an extraordinary spiritual ability, brought to us and made operational in us by the Holy Spirit when we are born again, which distinguishes one Christian from another and enables them to serve the church.

There are different kinds of gifts, “varieties,” according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:4. Some have the gift of service. Some have the gift of administration. Some have the gift of prophecy, some the gift of wisdom. Paul’s writings include three lists of gifts: 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Romans 12:3-8, and Ephesians 4:7-13. None of the lists are exhaustive.  Only one gives any idea of ranking in importance. The gifts are as varied as the God who gives them. The gifts Paul ends up talking about are usually the ones over which there was some dispute.

Sometimes believers tell me, “I don’t think I have a spiritual gift because I don’t have mystical experiences, and I don’t seem to have anything in Paul’s lists.” But if you can say, “Jesus is my Lord,” then you have the Spirit of God and you have a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:3).

Discovering your gifts.

In 1 Corinthians 12:5 Paul wrote, “There are different kinds of service …” Service translates the Greek word diakonia. It’s where we get the word deacon and it can mean “attendant.”

There are hundreds of ways to attend to things. A person with the gift of administration might serve in a school. But she might also organize a business. She might be an executive secretary, or she might be a CPA, or she might be a Mom with lots of kids, or a fantastic table host administrator.

If the Spirit of God lives in you then you have a spiritual gift. It should be used to help the church, but it isn’t limited to Sunday mornings.

One of the ways to identify your gift(s) is to determine where you excel and work at developing it, discovering the varieties of how that gift might come into play. Ask yourself, “What do I really enjoy that helps others?” We think sometimes that if we are enjoying something it must not be spiritual. Or if we are naturally good at something then it isn’t spiritual. The point is that there isn’t just one way that your gift can come into play. There are “varieties of service”, multiple ways that your particular gift might serve the Kingdom of God.

A good way to discover your gift is to take one of the many online assessments, like the one available at Lifeway.com: http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Women-Leadership-Spiritual-gifts-growth-service.

Employing your gifts.

Another fascinating word appears in 1 Corinthians 12:6. It’s from the Greek word Energema, from which we get the word energy, and is translated “working”. It means “effect,” the effects produced by the exercise of your particular gift. Two people with the same gift will not produce the same kinds of effects.

You may have the gift of teaching, but different effects from C.S. Lewis, or the gift of leadership, but different effects from Mitt Romney. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a gift. Your gift has different effects.

The thing is to put your gifts to work, asking: “What kinds of effects do I have when I serve in this particular area? Are they positive? Do people respond well? Are the effects helpful to the mission? Am I energized by it, or drained by it?”

If you are energized, the effects are positive, and people affirm you, you’ve discovered your spiritual gifts.

HAVE GREAT FAITH

Every day we face situations that call for great faith.

A loved one is sick, our marriage is on the rocks, or a job is downsized out of existence. There’s something new we want to do, some ministry we want to start, some new venture we feel called to pursue. But we’re afraid. We know the outcomes we seek are beyond our individual ability to achieve. We need great faith. How do we get it?

The Bible only records two times when Jesus was “amazed, astonished, or taken aback” by someone’s behavior. One is in Mark 6:6 when Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith.” The other is in Matthew 8:10, where it says he was “astonished” at the great faith of the Centurion. So what is it about the faith of that Centurion that was so great? And how can we imitate it?

Great Faith Apprehends His Authority
A Centurion was the commander of one hundred men. He represented imperial Roman power in its most immediate form. He commanded and others obeyed. He also recognized authority when he saw it in Jesus, saying to him, “I am a man under authority and I know how it is used. All you need to do is say the word.”

Great faith begins by recognizing the authority of Jesus.

Great Faith Submits to His Authority
By Roman law the Centurion could tap Jesus on the shoulder and force him to carry his pack for a mile. The world told him he had absolute authority over these rag-tag, conquered people. But his conscience told him something different. So instead of tapping Jesus on the shoulder and demanding his servant be healed, he humbled himself by saying, “I’m not worthy for you to come to my house.”

Much of faith teaching today is presumptuous. As the late Ray Stedman said, “Some people think the prayer of faith is crawling out on a limb and then begging God to keep someone from sawing it off. But that is not real prayer, that is presumption. If God makes it clear that he wants you out on a limb, fine–you will be perfectly safe there. If not, it is presumptuous to crawl out on that limb, expecting God to keep you there.”

Great faith looks to Christ in humility, submitting to his authority, asking for his help.

Great Faith is Confident in His Authority
Americans, having seen its abuses, have great distrust of authority. So it might help to think of authority in terms of orderliness. When you think of authority, think of order. Order the parts of a generator according to the laws of electromagnetism and we have the “authority” to produce power. Order the parts of the human genome correctly and we have the “authority” to defeat disease, to reorder a disordered system.

When the Centurion said, “You do not need to come to my house,” he was saying that as part of the system of order imposed by Rome he understood how things got done. It enabled him to recognize a higher order of things flowing from the ultimate orderliness of God, and to have confidence in it. When we depend on that authority it brings stability, and power, and blessing into our lives. “You don’t need to come to my house. Just say the word. I know it will be done.” Great faith is confident in Christ’s authority.

People often mistake faith for something it is not. Great faith is measured not by the depth of our ignorance, or the height of our presumptions, or the extent of our emotions. Great faith is measured by our apprehension, and submission to, and total confidence in the authority of Jesus Christ.

WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN Seven Keys to Successful Romance

My senses were assaulted at Wal-Mart last night. I strolled in, minding my own business, looking for our favorite frozen desert, when the smell of flowers and candy and a huge splash of red and pink displays hit my eyeballs like a baseball bat, “Oh, yeah! Valentines!”

Call me distracted, but don’t call me unconcerned about matters of the heart. I’ve been happily married for thirty-two years and doing marriage counseling for almost that long. Those displays reminded me that flowers and candy, important as they may be, are only the icing on the cake of a robust romance.

Here then, for the men, are the top seven things you need to succeed in love. Ladies, I’ll get to you next week.

1. An All-Out Commitment to Christ – (See Rom. 12:1-2 & John 15:1-4). All of us bring the baggage of our sinful nature into every relationship. When the flames of passion finally dissipate, as they always do, the baggage remains. Our lovers often want to “throw the baggage out,” so to speak, but that creates conflict. Abiding in Christ, making our lives a constant sacrifice to God and conforming our minds to his frees him to take out the trash and replace it with real love.
2. The Heart of a Servant-Leader – Men who succeed in love take responsibility for leading themselves. They also take responsibility for leading and nurturing their lovers. Nothing turns a woman off faster than a man who insists on being a boy. Grow up and lead guys, your women will love you for it.
3. Commit to Communicate – Men who succeed in love don’t hide behind the strong-silent illusion of manhood. They take responsibility for their emotions. Learn to say what you need and ask for what you want. Make sure you know what your love language is and how to speak hers.
4. Conflict Resolution Skills – No one grows up knowing how to resolve conflicts in romance. We leave them to fester at our peril. Men who succeed in love learn how to have a good fight, and then have one. They learn how to say they’re sorry, and mean it. They even learn to say that they were wrong, sometimes ;-). After that, they go have ice cream, or something better, with their lovers. You’ll be amazed at how this strengthens love.
5. Commit to Commitment – Hollywood will tell you otherwise, but all loves ebb and flow, wax and wane. Remember this: it’s the promise that keeps the love, not the love that keeps the promise.
6. Practice the Art of Forgiveness – The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Romantic relationships are fragile like flowers. They cannot bear the chill of resentment. They wither under a grudge. Men who succeed at love know that forgiveness lets the sun in and keeps the life-giving water flowing.
7. Work at it Like a Gardner – Loving a woman is like keeping a garden, not like fixing a car. A car needs a timing belt once every 100,000 miles. Men who succeed in love realize romance needs attention the way a garden needs a gardener. Every day he’s there, feeding it with the sunshine of his affection, pulling the weeds of conflict, watering it with encouragement, and fertilizing it with affirmation. And every now and then, maybe when Wal-Mart reminds him, he feeds it the Miracle Grow of flowers and chocolate. A man like that will enjoy a fruitful garden of love. The guys who don’t get weeds.

Succeeding at love is not brain surgery men, but it does take humility, commitment and work. Trust God, practice these habits and you will succeed.

WHEN A WARRIOR FALLS

When a pastor’s phone rings late at night it is never good news. That was true one year ago this week, when Marilyn, the wife of my friend Hank called from the local emergency room, clearly in distress. I jumped in the car, heart racing, uttering the only prayer I could manage: “Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” I knew from past experience that when the nurse had me turn left, into the staff lounge, instead of right, to the exam rooms, that Hank was gone.

I have lost so many youngish friends and family like this, suddenly and without warning, that making sense of it has been a lifelong endeavor. You know the deal: a few seconds one way or the other, a decision to go left instead of right, a slight medical miscalculation, fragmentary details that tip the balance between life and death. That huge two letter word IF. Who can calculate the odds? And what does it mean?

Some things can only be understood by faith. I want to share my conclusions about that shortly, but first I want to remember my friend Hank.

Hank the Warrior
Hank gave a talk at our 2014 men’s retreat on success and told us about several occasions with various companies where he had been given the privilege to, “resign to pursue other opportunities.” He said that most of us would share that privilege and told us how to handle it: “Never lose your confidence. Get up, brush yourself off, and say, ‘Well, that was fun,’ and get back in the game.”

For that and many other reasons, I saw Hank as a warrior. Not a Seal Team Six kind of warrior. Hank was a spiritual warrior, an Ephesians six kind of warrior.

Eph. 6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Hank was the kind of guy that the world could just throw stuff at and he could stand there and take it, and not lose his cool, and not betray his Captain, Jesus, and then lead.

For me and our church he had so many of those spiritual warrior qualities that a Church and a pastor need: A cool head, sober judgment, sound theology, engaging personality, the gift, with Marilyn, of hospitality, the abilities to teach, and lead and administrate. Hank was a good and faithful steward of everything that was and is our church, and all that with the heart of a servant. Because of that he was my personal friend and mentor, a guide stone when I was clueless, and a true partner in faith and ministry.

So what do you do when you lose a man like that? What do you make of it? Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
That Hank and you and I and every other follower of Christ serve the Creator of the universe in the Great War between good and evil. Jesus is our great Captain and we serve at his pleasure, in life or by death. He chooses the day we depart.

That He loves us beyond anything that we could ask or imagine.

That He takes care of his widows and orphans. How well I know this.

That in his own life of poverty and service, and unjust and brutal death, Jesus has identified with all who suffer, with all who are taken “before their time.”

That His resurrection proves that this life is not all there is. That Hank now lives in a world more real and so glorious that when we see it, all of life on earth will seem a mere shadow.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
What the Apostle Paul wrote in the last few days before his martyrdom:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8 NIV)

Remember that he goes to a reward, to be with his Captain. Remember to long for Christ’s appearing.

When a Warrior Falls Remember:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Phil 1:21-24 NIV)

I know that Hank prefers his current location over this world. And I have this great fear that I’m going to outlive everyone that I love. But that is up to my Captain. Either way, I will keep doing what he made me to do.

When a warrior falls remember to keep doing what your Captain made you to do.

Hank became an elder at our church in 2005 and I wouldn’t let him resign until 2014. Our board meets twice a month and begins every meeting by praying; first for the needs of people, then the various ministries of the Church, and finally for ourselves and the things before us a board. We go around the table and pray.

It’s easy for prayers like that to become perfunctory, like saying grace at meals. Sometimes you’ll hear yourself or another man drop into a pattern and you wonder if he’s “checked out.”

Hank developed a pattern over that last year, a close to his prayer that sounded a common theme, but it was never perfunctory. In fact it was so urgent within him; it was coming from such a deep place, that it became at once a riveting call as well as a benediction from my friend. It went like this:

“Father, no matter what we are able to do as a Church, no matter what we get involved in, never let us lose sight of Christ. Always draw us back and keep us centered on Christ and his Cross; the salvation and grace that come through him alone.”

And now dear friends, we cannot tell you how much we long for you to have the same hope and to follow the same Captain that Hank now knows face to face.