7 Keys to Successful Romance

7 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 about 36 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.

First, make 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.

Second, develop 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 mamma, 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.

Third, 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.

Fourth, develop conflict resolution skills. Few people grow 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 and … well, read the Song of Solomon and you’ll get the picture. Good conflict strengthens love. Poorly managed conflict leaves deep wounds.

Fifth, 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.

Sixth, 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.

Seventh, work at it like a gardener. 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.

WHY CAN’T WE COMMUNICATE?

WHY CAN’T WE COMMUNICATE?

“Are you listening to me at all?” My wife asked gently as we waited for our meal at Applebee’s.

Oops, I thought. You’re so busted! “Uhhh…No, I was trying to see who won the game last night,” I replied, still snatching glances at the wall-mounted screen over her right shoulder. Good thing she likes sports, or she would’ve really been mad.

Have you ever said something to someone and, having listened to their response, realized that they didn’t grasp the tenth part of what you were saying? Or felt like they weren’t listening at all?

Perhaps this is only common to preachers (and football widows). After all, preaching, as they say, “is just talking in someone else’s sleep.” But I have a feeling that you know what I’m talking about, that you’ve experienced communication frustration. Where does it come from? Why is communication, especially communication about spiritual things, so difficult? Well before you take a megaphone to the next person that doesn’t listen consider a few things.

A friend who is an engineer for a large utility company tells me that when he had to hire some new engineers, he required applicants to hand write sample repair instructions to a mechanic. Something like two out of ten could do it with any competence. Our education system is not what it used to be. More and more people are graduating from high school and even from college without the ability to make themselves understood.

We are also in a much denser communication environment than ever before. Commercials are shorter and faster, cell phones, Twitter, and text messages interrupt normal conversation, emails, pop-ups, dual screens – all of these technologies force feed us with hundreds more messages than earlier generations had to process, causing us to erect thicker message filters than we did forty or fifty years ago. We humans can only absorb so much information at a time. As a result, attention spans have shrunk. We are also becoming more reliant on pictures and music and less on words. We are a nation of receivers tuned to the elemental frequencies of image and melody. Language is becoming harder to digest.

But there is a third reason that people often cannot hear what we’re trying to say, especially if our message concerns the kingdom of God. Spiritual forces are at work. Consider Jesus and Paul’s comments on the matter:

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. (Jesus in Mark 4:15 NIV)

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (Paul in 2 Cor 4:3-4 NIV)

The ability to communicate clearly and powerfully is a skill that can be learned. But in the end only God can penetrate the darkness, the spiritual veil that covers the heart of men and women. So, no matter whom you’re talking to or when, before you begin to speak, pray for the Lord of light to open the eyes and ears of the soul in your listeners. He alone has the power to make his light “shine in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6).

THE POUND CAKE HAS LANDED and other thoughts on community

THE POUND CAKE HAS LANDED  and other thoughts on community

The “Smith” boys got arrested last week and I couldn’t help them. My brother is moving this week and I can’t help him either. And the pound cake landed in my office today, but I didn’t bake it.

Those three things percolated in my head this morning as I sat down to write. Though they are unrelated events in a typical week, they share a single thread: Healthy community isn’t optional, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It must be intentionally built.

I’ve been acquainted with the “Smith’s” since they were born. We greeted them as toddlers on our daily walks past their house, one block over from ours. We watched them graduate from training wheels to big boy bikes. I helped them refill their tires once with my air compressor. We waved and said hello every time they passed our house on the way to the basketball court at the park. But we never built a real relationship with them or their parents. Their vandalism—the neighborhood always knew it was them—escalated with age. Now they are under arrest, charged with  murder.

Maybe, just maybe, if I’d hosted that annual 9-11 block party I dreamed of shortly after the terrorist attacks, a relationship could have taken root. Mentoring might have happened. Now I’ll never know.

My brother is moving from the gulf coast to north Georgia this week. He is desperately tired with all the preparations and needs a lot of help to get moved in. I’m too far away, there is no room in my work schedule to go anyway. He doesn’t have a network of friends there yet. I’m hoping and praying the church he visited on one of his house hunting trips will hear of his need and give him a hand.

Healthy community doesn’t happen by accident, it must be intentionally built.

And just in case you were beginning to get depressed, the pound cake has landed, and I didn’t bake it.

We’re not talking just any pound cake here either. We’re talking Ann Chaney’s finest lemon-glazed, melt-in-your-mouth, make you wanna slap your Momma ‘cause she never gave you anything this good! southern Virginia masterpiece of a pound cake. Ann, who has been my administrative assistant for fourteen years, baked it for our upcoming Alpha Course. I’ll never be able to bake anything that good. But I can’t wait to bless our guests with it.

Life is tough and people have free will. We can’t save every wayward boy or help every worn-out brother. But we can, if we are intentional about it, create an environment where relationships can grow, people can hear the gospel, receive the gift of life, and experience the community of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But it won’t happen by accident. Healthy community must be intentionally built. Sometimes all it takes is a really good piece of pound cake.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. [1]

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Php 2:4). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

LAUNCHING THE LAST ONE: Five things I would say to myself as a young father

LAUNCHING THE LAST ONE: Five things I would say to myself as a young father

The last of my three daughters launched today, off to pursue her calling as a storyteller and begin her career as the digital video and media producer for a private university in a neighboring state. I couldn’t be happier for her or prouder. She worked hard and smart and with the grace of God achieved her goal. A biblical paraphrase comes to mind: This is my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased. Followed by, WATCH OUT WORLD, HERE SHE COMES!

I am, of course, exceedingly proud of all three of my daughters, each of whom loves God and others, serves their respective churches, has happy, healthy relationships, and have become self-supporting adults who will contribute much to society. But watching the last one launch reminded me of how fast it all went by and how often I wondered how it all would turn out. No human life is without trial and tragedy. Our girls did not escape serious illness, hidden trauma, and acquaintance with sudden death as they grew up.

Knowing this, many people choose not to have children, but I’m so glad we did.  With 20-20 hindsight, here are five things I would say to myself as a young father.

First, don’t wait till you can afford it. I was earning less than $10 an hour when my second daughter was born. We had maternity insurance, but still, given our conviction that my wife should be at home with the kids till they entered school, (she home schooled them through third grade), times were tough. We used the envelope system of cash management and my wife was a champion shopper. God is faithful and provided just what we needed when we needed it. If you wait till you can afford it, you can become more attached to your standard of living than is necessary to raise healthy children.

Second, be present in their lives. The best parenting advice I ever got came from a very successful friend. “Don’t let your ministry consume all of your time,” he said. “I’ve worked too much and lost touch with my sons. I wouldn’t want to see that happen to you.” It was only too true. Sadly, one son took his own life as a high school senior. Some things only a dad can do and some things only a mom. They need both of you in their lives. This will require sacrifice of other things that may seem more important. Make the sacrifice.

Third, hold the reigns loosely. Keep the picture of the mature adult you are aiming for clearly in mind and guide them toward it, but don’t over control. Don’t let the daily details—the foolishness of youth, the ups and downs of adolescence—discourage or enrage you. Hold your temper and your tongue and keep the big picture in mind.

Fourth, be the storyteller in their lives. Read to them—the Bible and other good books—before they know what a book is and manage well what they watch and read as they mature. That includes, of course, worshiping with other believers each week, living out the story of the gospel in the body of Christ. The storytellers of a culture shape the values of a culture and of a family. Discuss what you read and the sermons you hear “as you go in and out, as you rise up and sit down,” in the car and at the table, everywhere life happens. Make sure they know how to analyze every story from the biblical worldview. Then they will know how to write their own.

Finally, let them fail and learn how to stand up again. “Success is never final,” the saying goes, “and failure is never fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Life is no Disney World, and the sooner they learn how to suffer defeat and keep going, the better.

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”[1] I’m so glad I became a dad, and look forward with great anticipation to see what God is going to do next in my daughters’ lives.

[1] Philippians 3:13-14.

 

ONE RING TO BIND THEM

Glenn T. Stanton’s The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage

Ask any pastor what the toughest part of his job is and, second only to funerals of the young, he will tell you “counseling broken marriages.” Nothing else wreaks more emotional, spiritual, familial, and financial havoc than divorce. No wonder then that we are always on the lookout for resources to help couples, especially pre-marital couples, prevent that disaster. Glenn T. Stanton’s THE RING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE (Moody Publishers, 2011) takes aim at one of the preeminent pre-cursors to broken marriages today: pre-marital cohabitation, and does so with pinpoint accuracy.

Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, and a leading spokesperson on marriage and family issues. He can also be heard on the weekly “Breakpoint This Week” podcast, hosted by John Stonestreet.

At fewer than one hundred and fifty pages, The Ring is an easy read, incredibly well-documented, and highly practical for couples or individuals who want to think carefully and act wisely as they approach marriage. Each chapter has large-print summary quotes for quick review along with five or six insight-inducing questions at the end.

The book is also a great example of science “catching up” with scripture. Anyone familiar with the biblical understanding of marriage knows that sex before marriage is sin and cohabitation is not equal to marriage. The mid-twentieth century sexual revolution and feminist movements undermined that message, and cohabitation has skyrocketed as a result. Most couples just sort of slide in to the arrangement, not intending to commit sin so much as failing to see why it matters. But social scientists have been tracking the results of that sea-change for fifty years and the results support the biblical view. A few of the findings are indicative:

“Marriage matters, not just because it is preceded by a wedding that costs us or our parents tens of thousands of dollars, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes a difference in ways you probably never imagined.”

“Even if (cohabiting) couples consider themselves essentially “married,” they know that without a marriage license, they are freer to exit the relationship at any time. This lack of security in the mind of each partner affects how they deal with each other.”

“Marriage involves things the cohabiting couple–or at least one of them–would rather not deal with. This is why cohabitation even exists.”

“People with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50 to 80 percent higher likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited.”

All of those findings are important, but the one that stood out most, because it is the one that I deal with most often in counseling, is that cohabitation, even with someone you eventually wed, sets up unhealthy relationship patterns that carry over into the marriage. Cohabitors have fewer and weaker conflict resolution skills. They are less likely to be supportive and self-sacrificing. Most notably, “the lack of relational clarity is likely to foster more controlling and manipulative interactions to try to keep the relationship together and get the partner to do what the other desires. As a result, cohabitors are much more likely to report a sense of relational instability than their married peers.”

Any married person would benefit from Stanton’s book, but I highly recommend it to young men and women contemplating marriage, as well as to those who haven’t yet found that special someone. Read it, and protect yourself from a world of hurt.

 

WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN Five Keys to Success

Everyone wants to succeed at love yet few of us are born with the wisdom for it. I’m no different and have benefitted greatly from many writers over the years. Two of those are Patrick Morely and Laura Doyle, whose insights on how to successfully love a man I pass on to you ladies today. As Valentine’s Day arrives and your lover attempts to express his appreciation, here are five things that may help as you seek to express yours.

1. Understand his need for masculine approval. “One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely in WHAT HUSBANDS WISH THEIR WIVES KNEW ABOUT MEN. “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable.” It is a man’s need for his dad to be proud of him. You might wish that your approval of him would be enough, but it won’t be. If your man has any unresolved issues with his dad that have caused pain for him, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation. If he doesn’t have a dad, as is the case for many young men today, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

2. Understand his need to accomplish. A second driving force for every man boils down to “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events,” says Morely. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose. He wants to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. Let your man know that you understand this, and that you pray for him to find it, and will be his greatest cheerleader in it and he will love you for it.

3. Understand his financial pressure and don’t increase it. Americans are doing a little less borrowing than they were before the crash of 2008, but it’s tough. The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and often drives men to load themselves with debt. The best thing you can do for the man you love is understand the pressure he feels to provide you with the best of everything and let him know that a used car is OK, that cheap dates are just fine, and that you can wait for that expensive honeymoon until you’ve been married long enough to afford it.

4. Understand his need for companionship. Men are notorious loners. It is part of their competitive nature not to let others get too close, lest they take some advantage of that position. Yet they also live in a brutally competitive world. They’re looking for a partner in life that they can trust, someone who looks forward to their homecoming, who will nurse their wounds when they’ve been “sacked” one to many times, and who will encourage them when it’s time to head back into the fray. Let him know he can trust you; that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will love you for it.

5. Understand his need to lead, and let him. Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife, “used to think that communication was the key to a better marriage. But that wasn’t how it turned out … Even though I have a degree in communications, trying for years to “communicate” with my husband never got me the connection I craved, but the principles of surrender did. One of those principles is that a surrendered wife is “trusting where she used to be controlling.”

The need to control is a need generated by fear, not trust. 1 Pet 3:5-6 says, “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope (or trust) in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham… You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear,” (emphasis added).

Ladies, if you’re in a relationship with an abusive and unfaithful man there are other biblical principles that apply. But if you’re a woman who is destroying her romance by controlling her man I encourage you to let go of your fear, first by trusting God, then by trusting your man enough to let him lead. You will be amazed at the results.

May God bless you and fulfill all of your desires as you seek to love each other according to his design.

PRACTICE THESE THINGS

Three Principles for Success in 2016
Believing that God’s principles for life exist won’t do anything for you. You have to commit to them. You have to put them into practice.

IRON LADY is a film about the late Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain. Meryl Streep gives a brilliant performance, as usual, but the movie had conflicting effects on me.

First it was a bit depressing, because it shows Thatcher as an elderly woman, struggling with dementia, living in flashbacks of her years in politics. And given that the producers are no friend to her conservative principles, the film gave short shrift to her successes emphasizing instead the upheaval caused by her policies as well as the strain her leadership style put on her relationships. Comments like, “When I’m out of politics I’m going to run a business, it’ll be called rent-a-spine,” did not endear her to her friends, much less her enemies.

However, the film couldn’t completely hide her achievements. Thatcher’s principled leadership helped bring down the Soviet Union, rescued the UK’s economy and kept Great Britain from becoming a 1980’s version of Greece, among other things.

In the process of telling that story the movie highlighted something that Jesus said and that the Bible teaches on practically every page: Believing in principles is one thing, but it’s the practice that changes things.

Jesus summed it up nicely in Matthew 7:24-27: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Emphasis added).

We can break down what he said into a four-part formula.

1. God has given us principles to live by.
2. We cannot be passive about them, noncommittal. We have to put them into practice.
3. We can expect a crisis.
4. We will reap a harvest.

Three Principles for a Successful 2016

Financial Security – Work hard. Spend less than you earn. Give away a tenth. Save a tenth. Do it for a long time and you will experience prosperity. (See Luke 6:38; Proverbs 6:6-8).

Successful Relationships – Look for the good in people and they will look for the good in you. But be discerning. Not everyone is worthy of your confidence. (See Matthew 7:1-2, 6.)

Leadership
(See Proverbs 18:13 & 15)
I love the way the late Stephen Covey formulated these: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

The Bible is first and foremost the revelation of God’s plan, through the sacrifice of his son, to rescue his highest creation from the penalty, power, and presence of the most destructive force in the universe: sin. But in the process of that revelation God gave his people bushels of principles for living life on a sin-cursed planet. Tom Minnery, in Focus on the Family Citizen, explained it this way, “[When] I was younger, I tended to believe that certain principles were true because they were in the Bible. But year by year, as I have read much of the social research, I have come to look at this a new way–that certain principles are in the Bible because they are true. They are true and helpful for all people, regardless of whether they accept or reject the Bible’s central claim. ”

The Bible is a book of principles, all kinds of principles for all kinds of life situations and God has been very gracious to give them to us. Put them into practice for 2016 and you will see their fruit for the rest of your life.