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If I Could Just Control My Mouth…

Cat Mouth

The Apostle James said it best. The tongue is like a fire, or perhaps poison. When not under control, our mouths can destroy lives, especially our own. He went on to say, “If we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” (James 3:2 NLT)

Thankfully, James was a practical dude. He didn’t just point out the problem, he gave us a simple solution. In a single sentence, James summarized the wisdom pretty much everybody on the planet needed to hear about communication.

Be quick to listen…
slow to speak…
and slow to get angry.

– James 1:19 NLT

There it is. Your three-step plan to changing every relationship you have in an extremely positive way. Think back to the last argument you had with your spouse, or friend, or parents, or whomever. Replay that argument with three new rules in place:

Listen Longer

And then listen some more. Instead of thinking of your response while the other person bears their heart, what if you actually suppressed your own desire to react and just listened. Really tune in. Keep the mouth shut a little longer. Breathe deeply and calm the nerves. Hear the heart. Mentally repeat what you’re hearing so it gets your focus.

Then, listen even longer.

Plan Your Words

Having really listened, what if you took two seconds before reacting, even if you’re right. Consider the weight of your words (because words can be very, very heavy can’t they?), especially words like always and never and idiot. And words like sh… you get the picture.

When I’m preparing sermons, the hardest part of all is trimming and cutting what isn’t essential to the message. I hate to eliminate good material. We do the same in arguments. Oh, this is good… I HAVE to say this… this’ll nail’em! Slow down. Then slow down some more.

Stay Calm

You’re right. Anger isn’t bad, in and of itself. It’s a God-given emotion and has its uses. Like when ISIS beheads people, Boko Haram kidnaps little girls, and unborn lives are destroyed by the abortion agenda. But James makes a pretty important clarification. Our anger never seems to lead where we want it to in what should be a friendly fight. He says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:20 NLT)

Anger can produce action on behalf of the oppressed, but it never produces righteousness in our hearts. When it comes to our relationships and friendships, our anger pretty much just hurts people, including ourselves.

So, here are the ground rules for your next confrontation.

Listen first.
Listen longer.
Listen a little bit more.
Plan your words.
Eliminate some words.
Breathe.
Stay calm.

I’m pretty sure your next fight is going to go better than the last one.

Husbands, Treat Your Wife Like the Treasure She Is

RingsMy wife is a treasure! She’s precious. In addition to all of the many personal qualities about Angie that make her awesome – such as her tender, sweet heart, charming smile and her beauty – there’s this, and it’s from the Bible…

The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord.

– Proverbs 18:22 NLT

Here’s a blunt truth… when all a guy can talk or think about is how much of a nag or a burden his wife is, it tells us way more about him and his attitude than about her.

Let me open that up just a bit. Man, you have a choice to make about your own attitude. If you appreciate your wife, care for her, honor her, and choose thoughts about her that are good and positive, you’re going to enjoy God’s favor and marriage will be a rich and satisfying experience for you. But if you stay focused on yourself and your own wants, you’ll create a standard she can never meet.

Dude, if you’re married, she’s a gift. God has been good to you – far better than you deserve, in fact. Therefore…

  • Cherish and value her, like a found treasure.
  • Honor and respect her as a gift from God.
  • Show her off by speaking well of her and refusing to talk about her faults to others.
  • Protect her and provide for her.
  • Desire her, pursue her, and be the first to show your affection for her.
  • Listen to her heart. Then listen some more, before responding.
  • Lead her, not because you get to be the boss, but because she needs and wants you to be in front spiritually.
  • Stare at her and remind yourself how good God has been!

Here’s a tip (from a guy who is still figuring all this out myself): Make your phone’s lock screen a picture of her pretty face smiling back at you.  

All couples go through tough times, and there are times when we need to honestly confront the faults in our spouse, but our view ought to always ultimately be for her good, not for our own.

Remember, you’re responsible to God as a steward over every relationship in your life. And if you’re married, no other relationship is as important as your marriage. Someday, you’ll stand before the Creator God of the entire universe, whose name is Holy, and answer this question: How’d you treat the treasure – my daughter – that I gave you? 

Photo by Alexis Arnold.

Rekindle the Flame of Love by Paying Attention Again

We don’t fall out of love. We stop choosing to do things that are loving. So the way back to love is to do the loving things we did early in our relationship. And that often starts with the simple step of paying attention again. Paul challenged the believers in Philippi, Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT)

We usually measure the value of things in money, but for most of us there is one commodity even more precious than money. It’s our time. When we give our time, we never get it back, but it’s a worthy investment. When it comes to your spouse, your kids, your friends and family, nothing is more precious a gift than the time we are willing to spend in conversation, listening, sharing, and staying tuned in.

Giving our time and attention may seem simple, but it’s complicated by living in the age of distractions. The way we consume media, network with others, and allow our lives to revolve around mobile devices all affect our attention spans and how easily we are diverted to something seemingly more urgent, or at least more stimulating. Paying attention requires us to block out distractions and spend time focusing on the needs and lives of other people.

Thankfully, God is able in His infinite power and wisdom to tune into the lives of every single human being on the planet. How He does this is beyond our understanding, but He cares so deeply about you that He pays attention to every detail of your life. He knows every pain, every frustration, and every highlight too. You’ve got God’s attention. Does He have yours today?

Diversity Was God’s Idea to Begin With

Diversity and equality have been hot topics in the last decade of American life. We’re in the midst of various shifts in our culture surrounding these concepts, especially in relation to ethnicity and gender, and some of these shifts are good. When my family lived in southern California, we were ethnically not in the majority in our neighborhood, and we appreciated it greatly. Our church was home to people from dozens of ethnic backgrounds, and we loved that even more.

All of the tension between ethnicities as well as what we have termed the “battle of the sexes” is really our problem – it’s of human origin. What is of divine origin are the ideas of the beauty within diversity as well as the equality of all peoples whom God has created. Just peruse the first chapter of Genesis to see diversity on display.

Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind… God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals… So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:20, 25, 27 NLT

It was God’s intention that there be a veritable rainbow of sights to see in His wonderful creation. Did you know there are about 8.74 million species of animals and plants on earth? And inherent to the diversity with which God created all things are wrapped up two ideas we must hold in tension: unity and uniqueness. When we fail to value uniqueness, we esteem one ethnicity over another. And when we fail to value unity, we allow cultural wedges to divide us.

When it comes to the human race (there is only one “race” represented in many, many ethnicities), God made one particular distinction. We would be male, and we would be female. Gender is rooted in our pre-fall and pre-sin story. Men are men. Women are women. And there are three essential facts we often confuse and forget.

First, men and women are of equal worth and value to God. When we forget this, one gender tends to dominate the other in the culture. Second, women and men are designed to compliment each other, establishing the basis for marriage as one man and one woman in an equal partnership of mutual dependence. And finally, not all men are exactly like all other men, and not all women are exactly like other women. There is a vast diversity wired into our unique personalities and experiences.

Diversity and equality are God’s ideas. They are not the product of any particular cultural phenomenon, though we’ve certainly fought as a human race to rediscover them at various points along the way. Diversity and equality are rooted in the history of God’s handiwork and put on display for His glory. And what and awesome God He is proven to be by the canvas we see every day we spend on planet earth!

God’s Five Purposes for Your Marriage

Brandon and AngieAngie and I are approaching our 17th wedding anniversary. I’d love to say that we’ve always been happily married, but that kind of dishonesty wouldn’t help you much. Happiness rises and falls, for all of us, married or not. And happiness isn’t the real goal of life anyway. Every day, I pray a prayer over my children that says, “God, help them to first be holy (set apart for You), and then to be healthy (physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially), and finally to be happy.” I want all three for them, but I want them in the proper order. So hoping to be married “happily ever after” will leave most people frustrated by unfulfilled expectations.

If you just read that and thought, “Man. The guy sounds pretty UNhappily married…” you’d be way wrong. I would just say it this way… I’ve been married to the most awesome woman for nearly seventeen years. In the seasons of our marriage where holiness has been my first priority, and when I’ve been healthy on multiple levels, our marriage has experienced joy that goes deeper than mere surface or self-fulfilling happiness. But in moments or seasons where holiness has slipped to some lower priority, when feeling the fun feelings of happiness has become my goal, or my god, or whatever, our happiness together has faded and struggled.

Overall? I’m really, really happy to be married to Angie! (And I’m thinkin’ she would say the same.)

When Angie and I are mutually committed to being God’s people for each other, our marriage soars. Right now, I feel that we’re stronger and more blessed than ever. But that’s partly because we’ve been in the fight of our lives, recovering from the discovery of some very deep, real sin and pain in each of us. Selfishness always destroys because it’s rooted in pride, works in the opposite manner of love, and can never be satisfied. But when we exemplify the very nature of the gospel (the self-sacrificing love by which Jesus went to the cross and laid Himself down for us to have and to hold us forever), then healing comes. And along with it, joy and happiness and fulfillment and intimacy and oneness and all the other things we know marriage ought to bring.

I’m a big believer that God is a God of purpose and He has five purposes for every one of us. These are elaborated upon in Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, which has helped to lead a generation to an understanding that it isn’t about me, or you. It’s about God. It’s about His plans and desires. And those five purposes are:

  • He has planned us for His pleasure and wants everything about our lives to be worship.
  • He has formed us for fellowship and desires that we develop deep relationships within His family.
  • He has created us to be like Christ and gives us every spiritual resource necessary to pursue that goal.
  • He has shaped us to serve Him and we serve Him by serving others.
  • He has made us for a mission and wants to use us to share the good news with everyone in the world.

God has these five purposes for your life as an individual believer. He also communicates these five purposes to the church, and every local church that focuses its work and ministry on fulfilling these five purposes in the world will be healthier for it. And as I’ve devoted plenty of thought to it, these five purposes wonderfully express God’s design for marriage too.

God planned our marriage for His pleasure. That is, the primary goal of the oneness that my wife and I develop is ultimately designed to reflect His glory to the world as we worship. This is why we grow when we pray together, sing together, attend worship services together, read or study together, and talk about spiritual things together. Our marriage is not simply a relationship in which we get to pursue our personal agendas of feeling good. Our marriage is an opportunity to glorify God and show the world what He’s all about.

God formed our marriage for fellowship, with each other and with Himself. I say at weddings that a strong marriage is really a marriage of three, not two, because God is always the invisible third member. That sounds pretty, but we forget it about six minutes after the bridal kiss. But it’s true. God wants spouses to be one, which means to intimately know and to intimately be known by each other. That’s why secrets destroy marriages – not just the scandalous secret sins but the secrets of our hearts – our pain, our temptations, our inadequacies.

Few things are more important to a thriving marriage than honest, open, real, raw, heart-exposing conversation. And He desires for us, as a couple, to know Him intimately. And intimacy is either nurtured by intentional pursuit, or it is stagnating, but it’s never neutral. Intimacy happens as we make time to be with each other, to talk to each other, to show physical affection and to enjoy physical intimacy with each other. God wants us closer to each other and closer to Himself.

God created our marriage to make us more Christlike. I am, by nature, a selfish dude. My wife has made an enormous dent in my selfishness. She challenges me to be God’s man, to be more like Jesus, to root out sin, to keep praying, to stay in the Word, and to love Jesus fully. And my responsibility is to present her to Jesus someday more mature, more Christlike. That doesn’t happen by controlling or bullying or dominating. It also doesn’t happen accidentally or unintentionally. God’s purpose for marriage is that we each look more like Jesus because of each other.

God shaped our marriage to serve Him by serving others. One of the most difficult seasons of our marriage hit us when we moved from serving together to doing life a bit separately. Church was great. The weather was awesome. The opportunities to be adventurous and to experience a new place were wonderful. And the friends we made are lifetimers, especially within our small group. But, we made a painful transition.

For thirteen years, we had been the Pastor and Pastor’s wife who put on Vacation Bible Schools, hosted families in our home, and sat together at potlucks. We were always in the trenches together doing ministry alongside each other. Suddenly, I left early for the office to carry on my pastoral ministry while Angie served in ministry at home – homeschooling and changing lots of diapers.

Neither is more or less ministry, but we were doing ministry separately and differently than we had experienced. Since planting Grace Hills, we’ve relished the opportunities to get back to serving people beside each other while also valuing our uniquely individual ministries as well. Few things will bring you closer as a couple than doing something together to serve other people.

God made our marriage for a mission. Our marriage, itself, should show the world what it meant for Jesus to love the church like a bride, to lay down His own life for her (“church” comes from a feminine Greek word), and to redeem and wash and cleanse her for Himself. So our love should be such that people see us and are taught something about God’s love. And we should show each other the kind of grace that teaches people how God forgives. And we should see our marriage as an opportunity to witness to the world about Jesus together. That means opening our home to the hurting, counseling couples and individuals together, and living on mission together.

I fell in love with Angie in high school. I wanted to be around her all the time. I couldn’t wait to marry her. I loved starting a life with her and I wouldn’t trade any of those earliest memories together for anything in the world. I get the warm fuzzies thinking about it. But while I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, I also don’t want to go back.

I’m loving “the now” with Angie. I’m grateful for all that we’ve discovered and are still discovering about what it means to be married, to glorify God together, to find community and oneness in each other, to serve others and share Jesus together. And with all of the painful discoveries and difficult conversations we’ve had, I’ve never felt more blessed and gifted with a girl who makes my heart melt.

I’m thankful for the virtuous woman God has given to me to be my wife. Her price is far above rubies. And I’m even more thankful that He has clarified His purposes for our marriage, and now, I look forward to each new day of seeing those purposes fulfilled in us.