7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

7 KEYS TO LIFE-LONG LOVE: Valentine Advice for Women

“Dear Pastor,

Please help. My man has gone into a shell and I can’t get him out. He used to be attentive, warm, and affectionate, but now he lives in his own world.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me. He works hard and pays the bills, and helps around the house, and takes the kids to soccer practice, but he’s just, I don’t know, gone somehow. He walks with God and has good friends, but he is distant from me, operating at an emotional remove; civil, but not engaging, polite, but perfunctory. I long for the connection we had in our first years together. Is he having an affair? I don’t think so, but something is wrong. What can I do?”

That lover’s lament is fictitious, but close enough to similar stories I’ve heard in counseling to make the point: long-term romantic success isn’t easy. Worse, many women have no clue about the things motivating their man’s behavior. (Hint: neither does Cosmo).

Thus, today’s Valentine advice for women: Seven ways to build long-term love.

First: Validate his need for masculine approval.

“One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely, “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable:” A man’s need for his father’s affirmation. You might wish your approval would be enough, but it isn’t. If your man has unresolved issues with his dad that have caused pain for him, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation.[1] If his father is absent, as is the case for many men, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

Second: Validate his need for accomplishment.

Every man has “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose; to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. [2]” Validate that. Pray for him to find his purpose, be his greatest cheerleader in it, and celebrate each step he takes toward fulfilling it. He will thank you for it.

Third: Validate his financial pressure and don’t increase it.

The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and stress inducing. The best thing you can do 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 working long enough to afford it. Do that and he will dig for ways to spend money on you.

Fourth: Be a loyal companion.

Men are notorious loners. They learn early to keep their guard up lest someone take advantage of a vulnerability. They need a partner in life that they can trust with their weaknesses as well as their strengths. That kind of trust takes time to build and is easily broken. Ridicule him or betray his vulnerabilities and you will lose him. Keep his secrets. Prove that he can trust you, that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will kill himself to show his appreciation.

Fifth: Speak his love language.

Most women can talk rings around most men. It’s just the way we’re wired. Unsurprisingly, many women say that their love language is words of affirmation and many men—most in my counseling experience—that theirs is physical affection. “Whatever there is of me resides in my body,” writes Gary Chapman in his bestseller, The 5 Love Languages. “To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.” You may have many reasons not to touch him, but he is only hearing one thing: “she doesn’t love me.” Whatever the language, learn to “fill his love tank” with it and he will reciprocate.

Sixth: Feed him.

But you knew that.

Seventh: Let him lead.

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.”

Interestingly, Doyle didn’t plan it that way, but like many strong-willed, strong-minded women, she realized she had to make a choice to let her man be in charge. For example, men will not prioritize a task list like women or do things in the same order when they get to the task. She wants it done her way right now so, she does it now. The man thinks, “OK, I’m not needed here, won’t go there next time.” Soon, a pattern emerges and next thing you know the woman is leading and the man is disengaging from the relationship.

The need to control is generated by impatience, sometimes, and fear, but not trust. The Apostle Peter wrote: “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 and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear,” (emphasis added).[3]

Ladies, don’t let the words “submissive” and “master” throw you off. In our context it means follow the leader. If you’re in a relationship with an abusive man do not submit to it and do not make excuses for him. But if you’re a woman who is destroying her romance by over controlling her relationship I encourage you to let go of your fear, trust God, and let your man lead. You will be amazed at the results.

Happy Valentines Day!

[1] Patrick Morley, What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew About Men, p. 16 & 30.

[2] Ibid, pgs. 35 & 46.

[3] 1 Peter 3: 5-6

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.”

THE DEACON & THE HOOKER

It’s a simple story told in Luke’s characteristically lucid style.[1] Jesus is dining with a Pharisee named Simon. Picture him as the successful, well-dressed chairman of the deacons and you’ll be in the ballpark. A woman steps haltingly into the room. Her name is not given but it is not needed. Everyone knows her, the local hooker. She is not composed, not there to impress or seduce. She is weeping with gratitude, on her knees over the feet of the reclining rabbi from Nazareth, pouring out years of pent-up guilt, little rivers of happiness and shame, down upon his ankles and between his toes. She bends further and wipes the watery dirt away with her hair. Then she withdraws an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and empties it on his feet, rubbing it in with her hands as the sweet aroma fills the room.

Simon is aghast. The Pharisees were known for their righteousness, their religious purity and high moral character. They were the successful middle class evangelicals of their day. They didn’t hang out with sinful people nor approve of those who did.  Scenes like this were too much for such men. “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is…” he grouses within.

Jesus knows exactly what she is, a broken woman experiencing forgiveness and freedom from guilt and shame for the first time in her life. But Jesus also knows something else: what Simon is, a successful man in need of humility, a man every bit as lost in his self-righteousness as the hooker had been in immorality. The only difference between the two is that the woman knows her sin and knows she needs a savior. Simon’s success blinds him to both.

Jesus tells Simon a story of two forgiven debtors, one who owed eighteen months wages and one who owed about two months. “Now which of them will love the forgiving moneylender more?” He asks.

Simon can’t help but answer, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

Then Jesus says the most important thing in the whole story, the thing that reveals who he really is. “Correct!” He looked at the woman. “See this woman? I came to your house yet you have not offered me the least of common courtesies. But she has not ceased, since the moment I walked in, to show me the greatest love and devotion. Therefore I tell you, her sins which are many have been forgiven, for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

In other words, “Simon, in the grand scheme of things I’m the lender, I’m the one that everyone is indebted to. I’m God. Your achievements in life and religion matter not at all. Your relationship to me is all.”

And as if to put an exclamation point on it he turns to the woman with something only God has the authority to say, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

It isn’t what we’ve done or not done in life that determines our salvation. It isn’t how religious we’ve been or how irreligious, our successes or failures. The only thing that matters is our ability to acknowledge our sin, to own the guilt and the shame, to the one who “holds the note” on it and trust him to forgive the one and remove the other. Then every room we enter will be filled with the aroma of our love for him.

[1] (Luke 7:36-50)

ADVICE TO AUTOMOTIVE WIDOWS & ORPHANS

 

You know your kids are growing up when they write and say, “Dad, I’m beginning to see the wisdom of a mini-van. How can I find a good one?”

My kids aren’t the only people who ask car questions. I’m meeting one of our congregation’s widows today to advise her about her next car. Last week I checked out another member’s car, one of the most terrifying examples of automotive inspection malpractice I’ve ever seen.

My church knows that I was an ASE certified technician before I was ordained. I like helping people with their cars and I really hate it when unscrupulous dealers and technicians take advantage of my friends.

Car buying is one of the most stressful things Americans do. It is also one of the most costly. If you’d like to know how to save money and get an excellent used car, this article is for you.

The first step to saving money and having an excellent ride is, well, saving money.

Pay Cash If You Can, Borrow Smart if You Can’t

The late Larry Burkett had a great maxim for car buyers, “The cheapest car you will ever own is the one you’re driving right now.” I’ve seen the exception, but the exceptions prove the rule.

The costs of operating a car in this country will continue to rise. Borrowing money to finance a new car over many years will cost much more than the average repair bills for the same car if you keep it five to ten years after it is paid off.

Cash is the best way to pay for a car. Driving isn’t free, so why pay the bank and kiss off all that interest? Make car payments to yourself, even after you pay off the one you’re driving now. In five years you will be able to afford a nicer used car. If you can’t pay cash, borrow smart. Home equity loans usually have better interest rates than car loans. Credit Unions are also good bets. Shop the lenders and remember most used car lots that provide their own financing make more money loaning money than they do selling cars. The interest rates are exorbitant. You don’t have to pay them if you’re willing to shop.

Shop Smart

Most private sellers have migrated to CraigsList. My two favorite sites are Autolist, which has a very usable smartphone app, and AutoTrader, which doesn’t.

Tap the net for reliability ratings. Consumer reports.org offers a one-month subscription to its auto ratings web-site. Their reliability ratings are the best and most objective in the business. Look for red bubbles under engine, transmission, brakes, and air conditioning, as these are the most expensive repair items. Stay away from any cars with black bubbles in those areas. The higher the rating, the less the car will cost in the long run. Also, the higher the mechanical reliability, the higher mileage car you can purchase. A ten-year-old car with 110,000 miles on the clock can be 25% less than a six-year-old car with 90,000 miles on it, and the difference in quality and reliability is negligible. Older cars are also cheaper to insure and incur lower taxes.

Look for ‘One-Owners.’ When buying from a dealer check the CARFAX and look for one owner cars with no damage history, clean titles, from low corrosion, low flood probability parts of the country.

The best used cars come from the best owners. A guy who bought it new and had all the maintenance done as per ‘the book’ is rare, but he is the best because he can substantiate its history.

Talk to the owner. The seller’s character is as much a part of the deal as the new tires he may have installed as incentive. Take someone along who is a good judge of character if you aren’t. You aren’t just buying a car; you’re buying a maintenance history. After I’ve picked a make and model I shop for the guy who’s been taking care of it for me for the past six or eight years.

Run Smart

Have it inspected by a competent technician. Have him provide a list of potential problems and costs. If he has any serious reservations, walk away from the deal. Also, use him for regular oil changes and ask him to keep an eye on critical systems. He will save you money and increase reliability by doing required maintenance that can be budgeted and scheduled, rather than waiting for an expensive breakdown.

You can save thousands of dollars per year on the costs of driving. You don’t have to be a mechanic, and you don’t have to drive a ‘junker’ to do it. All it takes is a little homework and a little discipline and you can enjoy a great car as well as a higher standard of living.

BAGPIPE BLESSINGS

Fog deep and cool shrouded the road and the massive, borrowed 1975 Lincoln Continental that we drove down the mountain. It was the morning of our marriage, a day or two into our honeymoon near Banner Elk, North Carolina. I could barely see past the hood ornament, doing my best to follow the yellow lines a few feet at a time, wondering if I should turn around.

That’s when we heard the music; bagpipes? Yes, unmistakably, bagpipes, the sound rising from the mists, enchanted. We could not see the player until we were almost on top of her, the fog and the switchbacks conspiring to keep the young lass from view until suddenly; there she stood on a small rise, in front of an old stone church barely visible, surrounded by tombstones, blowing a blessing on us. The road curved again and just as suddenly she was gone, the notes of Amazing Grace trailing after our tail lights.

We looked at each other and smiled in awe and wonder at the sweetness, that God would give us such a gift on such a day.

Many days have passed with many mountains sweet and valleys bitter, between that one and this and I see that drive as a metaphor. Life unwinds before us, a mountain road in the morning mists. We get glimpses here and there of the highlands and of cool meadows near rushing streams, feel the blessing of those things, and are drawn by them to take the journey. But mostly, like the lass on the hill, they show up unexpected; bagpipe blessings blowing in the breeze. We cannot see beyond the hood ornament, we do not know what waits around the next bend.

Live long enough and we will meet with bitter disappointments, hurts too deep to bear. If we had known they were coming, we would have turned around, never taken that road. Having retreated, however, we would have missed the bagpipe blessings, the sweet things hiding in the morning mists.

The lessons? Never fear the fog, to live the life God has called you to, to take the journey into the unknown even when you cannot see past the hood ornament. Never linger in the bitter curves, the painful unexpected turns of life. Keep moving, keep trusting, and keep listening, for you do not know what blessings lay hidden in the mists.

We found that little stone church again last week on our vacation. Thirty-two years, many mountains and valleys later, we remain blessed by God, enchanted by grace, and following his road. May he give us thirty-two more.

PARENTING ISN’T FOR SISSIES

Parenting isn’t for sissies. If you don’t believe it just ask anyone who’s managed to raise even one child to productive, responsible, God-fearing, adulthood and we will show you our scars.

Children also make you fat. Yes, I know, you think it’s the donuts in your diet, but I can prove it. I’ve gained seventy pounds since I got married and had kids.

Just kidding! But seriously, parenting is one of the most demanding and rewarding things anyone can do. It is also a task for which many find themselves unprepared. Children have a way of revealing how selfish and ignorant we are. Their needs seem endless when our energy is exhausted. Their development demands wisdom when we are at wit’s end.

With that in mind I want to offer some encouragement as well as a resource for wisdom along the parenting way.

Begin with the Bible
Considering the critical nature of parenting, that whole “hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” thing, the Bible has very little to say about it. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” comes to mind, as does “raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.” But the rest of the Bible’s specific advice on parenting can be summed up with, “Children obey your parents and fathers don’t exasperate them.”

The bigger picture the Bible paints, however, is the more important one. Children bear the image of God and as such have huge potential for good, but they also inherit the sinful nature of Adam, and while they aren’t exactly little animals, they aren’t little angels either. Every child is human, and everything the Bible says about restoring the image of God in humans and restraining the evil inherent in our nature applies.

Apply Basic Principles
Experienced parents know that there is no magic formula for raising the perfect child, but a few basic principles proved themselves to us over the years.

First, use common sense. Some parents are so afraid that one mistake will permanently damage their children that they fail to do the obvious. Children, and I include teens in this, aren’t yet adults. If a rule seems obvious to you but doesn’t to them, never fear to impose it. They will get over it, they won’t hate you forever, and they may even thank you later.

Second, let them make decisions, take risks, and fail! It makes them stronger when they realize that failure isn’t fatal and risk reaps reward. The biggest mistake parents make is smothering their children, doing everything possible to prevent failure and its associated pain. But overprotecting a child is like overprotecting a plant. It stifles development.

Third, tell them no, and don’t be afraid to enforce your no with discipline. The fastest way to fill your child with insecurity and anger is to fail to discipline them when they are wrong. The insecurity comes because for a child, the lack of boundaries, the lack of restraint on their impulses, is destabilizing. The anger comes when they reap the consequences of an undisciplined life and realize that you didn’t love them enough to reign in their rebellion. Love must be tough.

Fourth, encourage relentlessly. We need to be like the momma dog with a litter of pups I read about. She gave them six licks of loving encouragement for every disciplinary swipe of the paw. Learn to catch your kids doing something right and affirm it. Let your affirmations outnumber your corrections six-to-one. This is especially important for dads.

Fifth, keep calm and carry on. Kids, especially teens, pass through developmental phases faster than they outgrow shoes. Never let a fleeting adolescent furor produce a parental meltdown. Your calm in the midst of their storm will provide the anchorage they need to ride it out.

Get Expert Help
Those five principles will carry you a long way, but if you find you need more I recommend child psychologist, and syndicated columnist John Rosemond. There are many others of course, but I read his column every week and find his parenting wisdom to be without peer. Find him at http://www.johnrosemond.com.

REAL HEAD SCRATCHERS

Things that make us scratch our heads:

Christians line up by the thousands to vote for an arrogant, rude, reckless, serial adulterer. Huh?

Once staunchly-biblical denominations line up to support blatantly anti-biblical forms of marriage. Wha?

Liberals of all stripes line up to support the right of Islamists to impose Sharia law in European democracies and American Universities. Really?

What’s up with that? How did we arrive at this state of confusion? The answer, in one word, is tolerance. Tolerance is the virtue most exalted in the last thirty years of Western Civilization. The thoughtless embrace of it has led us to this point.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “How can you say that? Tolerance is a good thing.” And I agree with you. But the late John R.W. Stott, in his book Contemporary Christian, outlined three kinds of tolerance. Christians ought to support the first two to the hilt and oppose the last kind to the last man.

Legal Tolerance
You and I should be committed to everyone’s right to think or say or preach anything he believes. It is the basic ‘freedom of religion’ that this country was founded upon. If someone wants to say that the rapture will happen next week he should have the freedom to do that. If someone wants to say that gender-dysphoric people should have the right to use the restroom of their choice, he or she should have the freedom to say that. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should run up our credit cards because Jesus is coming back on Friday, or that we should allow biologically male teens to use the girl’s restroom at the high school with our daughters. The freedom to believe and say something does not imply the obligation of everyone else to agree with us.

Social Tolerance
You and I should be equally careful to protect social tolerance. Social tolerance means respect for all people, regardless of the views they may hold.

I think gambling is a bad idea. I can argue against its legalization and preach against its corruptive power. I am not at liberty however to label every person who gambles as a supporter of the Mafia. Social tolerance means I try to understand the values and convictions of others without passing judgment on them.

Christians believe that all humans are made in the image of God and that He wants us to live together in harmony. “As much as it lies with you, be at peace with everyone,” said the Apostle Paul to the Romans. That’s social tolerance.

Intellectual Tolerance
Intellectual tolerance is something we should beware of and oppose. Intellectual tolerance means that we’re supposed to accept every idea and philosophy and doctrine uncritically as equal in value and virtue with every other idea.

Stott said it this way, “To cultivate a mind so broad that it can accommodate every opinion, however false or evil, without ever detecting anything to reject, is not a virtue; it is the vice of the feebleminded and amoral. It ends up in an unprincipled confusion of truth with error and goodness with evil.”

It leads to Evangelicals supporting an ungodly, unprincipled opportunist; to pastors and parishioners supporting same-sex marriage; to intellectual liberals supporting a political ideology dressed up as religion that oppresses minorities, abuses women, sponsors terrorism, and murders gays.

That confusion of truth with error and goodness with evil is why so many of us are scratching our heads. Intellectual tolerance is a subtle but powerful cultural current and it is easy to go with the flow. We who stake our lives on biblical truth are swimming upstream against it. But swim we must, trusting God that as we do truth will prevail.