Pain in Marriage: For Your Joy

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Have you ever read Paul’s Letter to the Romans, particularly chapter one?

Because of our fallen nature and natural bent, we have not only rooted our worship wrongly so that now we worship things that are going to lead us into external sin and discontentment, but we often contrarily believe (despite the reality of our lives) that we know what’s going to bring us the most amount of joy, the most amount of pleasure, and the deepest amount of life. We tend to feel like we know what’s best, that we know better than anyone else, and so we make decision, after decision, after decision for our own pleasure and our own joy. Even when we seek advice, we take what feels best to us.

We don’t find contentment for any length or period of time, but we perpetually think that we know how to get there. We only seek help when the illusion of control comes crashing down on the rocks of reality, but even then we aren’t willing to completely give up this sense of control. Instead, we will grab some variation of a self-help book or talk to somebody we think has it a little more together than we do, and we’ll simply try to “do better” or clean ourselves up some, and “try harder” to live our life in such a way that will bring us more happiness and pleasure. But we continue to seek this better life through what we think is best, only taking advice if it fits within our already existing worldview, and only accept something if we think we can still control it.

We don’t really control anything other than how we react to what is beyond our control. And just about everything is beyond our control. God is certainly beyond our control, and no amount of good behavior will control His affection for you, and no amount of distance can separate you from Him. I will contend that every command of God in the Scriptures are not about robbing from you happiness, but rather it’s all about leading you into the fullness of it. Into depth, meaning, and joy that our naturally shallow minds couldn’t imagine without His help. I’m not saying I don’t struggle with living this out myself, or pretending this isn’t written primarily to myself… because it is a truth that I’m constantly reminded of when things don’t go as I want them to.

Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “There is nothing in the law of God that will rob you of happiness; it only denies you that which would cost you sorrow. “

I’ll give you an example out of my own life, a very personal example out of my own life. I grew up in a dysfunctional home, sometimes even a little abusive. It could be a difficult home to grow up in at times, but nothing unheard of as common in this day and age. And praise Christ that He has worked mightily in our family and we’re still one family. However, growing up in a hostile environment like I did, it helped to create and then further develop some baggage. I have some issues. Anyone close to me is aware of many of these issues, my sweet wife more than anyone.

So I’m coming from this, and my beautiful wife is coming from what I would just kind of label a “good girl home.” And what I mean by that is not that everything’s okay there, but at least it all appears that way. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not making any accusations or have any quarrels with her family; I’m just telling my perspective. Anyway, we got married somewhat young by today’s standards, I mean I know plenty who were younger, but the majority seem to be older. So, what happens when you take a young guy who’s not very self-aware, still maturing on a basic level, has a lot of issues and vices he isn’t even aware of, and you put him in a house with a woman who’s not okay, but who wants to pretend that everything is? Well, you get some very difficult years of marriage. At the very least, that’s what you get.

And I want to be real honest with you, with my wife’s permission. There were nights that I would lay in bed… and talking to myself, start to list out all was wrong with her, what all needs to change, what all I do that deserves to be reciprocated more… but really, the issue was me. I had a selfish, self-centered, lazy heart… and am definitely still working on it. And Kat had some issues too, but she couldn’t even begin to see them because mine were so big. I was asking her to satisfy something that she just couldn’t possibly fulfill. She just couldn’t possibly do it. And so my love was very, very, very conditional, which means I would do what was right as long as I got the reaction I wanted. But when I did something nice, and the reaction wasn’t what I wanted, then I would start to lose the motivation to keep doing what’s right.

Anybody else have that experience? Maybe? Or am I really all by myself in this? I doubt it… at least I cannot imagine I’m the only one. Because there were times when I was lying in bed after a few years of frustration, and I’m like twenty-five years old going, “I can’t do 50 years of this. This is marriage?” And you can’t help but go, “I guarantee you this would be easier with somebody else.” I mean those are just thoughts you have, thoughts I had, the whole time being painfully aware of God’s command on me in Ephesians 5: “You love your wife like I loved the church in that I gave My life for her, initiated it, did not expect the correct response to it. I loved freely, openly, unconditionally. That’s how you love your wife.”

I hated that text. That text haunted me. It still does. Because I wanted to be mean. I wanted to jab. I wanted to retaliate when I felt wronged. I wanted to wound when I felt wounded. I wanted to tell her what she was doing wrong. I wanted to receive grace and understanding, but still expected her always do what I felt was right, never get tired, never make mistakes, and live up to an impossible standard. And that went on for months. Years. We’ve be married six years as of this summer. And while I know some of you may be reading this and thinking, whatever rookie, come back to us when you’ve at least passed that 10-year mark… any amount of this pain is frustrating.

And here’s what has happened in our marriage. Over these past couple years, God has been doing what we would call theologically “progressive sanctification.” Which means that, on the throne of my heart, I sat and ruled ruthlessly. Sometimes with honor, but mainlydisgracefully ruthless. And God had to put “king Samuel” to death. And continually crushing my rebellions. Do you know why? Because He loves me. When “little king Samuel” rules, it goes bad. It goes really bad. I will quickly wreck it all. So ignorant king Samuel has to die for their to be true worship, joy, life, meaning, love, and depth. So I had to die. I have to die to myself, my short-sighted wants, my stupid lusts, my ignorant desires, and my foolish cravings.

But how are you going to show an ignorant, arrogant king the error of his ways? Well, God has already done me a major favor, He gave me a wife. The Scriptures even say, “he who finds a wife finds what is good.” And here’s what I mean. Up until that point of marriage, I could make almost anything work. At least I felt that way and perceived life that way. Up until that point, I believed I could fix it. Up until that point, I could motivate. I could move. I could accomplish. I had nobody to answer to on an intimate level, and was free to succeed. I mean, until this moment, I FELT like most things I touched would work well… except now… I was such a failure… and at home…

It took marriage for God to slap the realization into my mind that to the degree I forget how fully I have been loved by God, I will always forget how to love others in my life. So when I am focused on myself and how to control my behavior with the expectation of getting certain results, I am forgetting how to really love my wife. When I am looking for ways to serve my wife to the purpose of getting things I want in return, or having things go the way I want them to, I’m not really serving or loving her. When I’m self-absorbed and focused solely upon my wants and “needs,” I begin to lose sight of the covenant I made with God; that I didn’t just make a promise to Kat on our wedding day. I made a covenant with our God to love and serve Kathryn until one of us dies, regardless of my feelings or her actions.

Now, nowhere in any of this am I saying marriage doesn’t require a lot of work, and all these issues just went away over night because I read a Bible verse or a marriage book. We sought counseling, older couples to spend time with, and began to work on our own hearts instead of trying to fix one another. I realized the problem was me. And she had the same realization for herself. But don’t assume that I’m saying that every struggle is behind us, and it’s all gonna be easy and painless from here on out. I’m not pretending that every heart issue I have is gone, never to be dealt with again. But I am saying, it’s been a huge relief to let go of some things. It has been extremely liberating to confess my darkest secrets, and to admit where I’m weak and need help. It’s still been pretty painful and scary to be that vulnerable, but in all its difficulties, having a wife is a lot of fun. Marriage really is a lot of fun.

The past year has really been unbelievable in comparison to the years before. I love going home and hate leaving. I love going home. I love walking into my house. When I get home, my sweet bride and cute little man are there waiting for me. I’m get to kiss her and say hello. And be tackled by my son. I love them, and I love going home. The best shot I’ll ever have at deep, sustaining love is not to leave, give up, antagonize her until she changes to what I selfishly want, to start over, look for the non-existent easier/better woman, but instead to stay and fight for my wife, not against her. To understand men should be tired at the end of the day, that the extra effort to do things even when you don’t want to doesn’t make you a super husband, that’s merely living the basic call on your role.
This is what the Scriptures say. That God is leading me into joy, even through pain, sorrow, frustration, and the realization that I’m an idiot, God is leading me, blessing me, correcting and disciplining me for His great glory, and my eventual joy. Because when God wounds, He wounds like a surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to you. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts. Marriage is a beautiful scalpel in the hand of our great God.

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Compassion

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Henri Nouwen explained it well that “Compassion is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.”

Our God has displayed ultimate compassion in His Son, Jesus Christ. By putting on flesh, stepping down into darkness, walking this earth, feeling pain, temptation, loss, weakness, abandonment, betrayal, hatred from others, unjust persecution, and wrongful sentencing from the government… witnessing the death of friends, and even experiencing death Himself on the cross and disconnection with the Father, the triune God has shown us He is not immune to pain. Rather, God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it upon Himself. In Jesus Christ’s birth, life, and death He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned, persecuted, and godforsaken. The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, eloquently observed, “For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” Might we be moved by His grace and reflect this great love to the world instead of trying to merely subdue it with suffocating law. Because everything that isn’t gospel, is law.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” – John 15:1-17 (ESV)

“For it was fitting that He, for whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in Him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” – Hebrews 2:10-18 (ESV)

Blinded by Ourselves

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There are numerous catchy self-help phrases and popular inspirational quotes circulating in our American culture today that go something along these lines: “Listen to yourself, not the noise of the world. Only you know what is right for you… Listen to your heart, follow your feelings. Nobody else can tell you how to feel.”

The Scriptures (and history too for that matter) explicitly tell us how much we are to trust our gut and rely on our own feelings though. Just taking a glance through the Proverbs, we read in 3:5, “Do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 12:15 states, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 14:12 teaches us, “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” And then Proverbs 28:26 tells us, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 5:15 that Jesus came so that those who live would no longer “live for themselves.” Paul is arguing something significant here, something that every Christian should remember. He is arguing that the DNA of sin is selfishness. Sin inserts me into the middle of my universe; the one place reserved for God and God alone. Sin reduces my field of concern down to my wants, my needs, and my feelings. Sin really does make it all about me.

Because the inertia of sin leads away from God’s purpose and glory toward my purpose and glory, as long as sin is inside me there will be temptation in life to exchange God’s glory for my own. In ways that are subtle and not so subtle, I begin to pursue the alternative of human glory. Things like appreciation, reputation, success, power, comfort, and control all become way too important. Because they are too important to me, they begin to shape the way I think about everything in life, the things I want out of my life, and all of the things I do in my life.

“The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of grace and salvation is God substituting Himself for us. We put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God puts Himself where we deserve to be.” – John Stott

We would do well to remember also, that no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one else talks to you more. The things you say to yourself about God, you, and others are profoundly important, shaping your participation in things and experiences in life. So many of us just sadly function in a regular state of gospel amnesia. We forget to preach privately to ourselves the gospel that we declare publicly to others.

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller

Some of us today seem to believe that what we feel has greater value or holds a greater element of truth than what we would reason through by thought and logic. Too many of us still operate as if we don’t have any major blind-spots in our life. C.S. Lewis addressed this very craziness years ago in his book The Abolition of Man, “No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

“Our feelings are an essential part of our right response to reality, but they should never in themselves be the determiner of reality.”

Even if we don’t acknowledge, believe in, or accept the reality of something, it does not change the reality itself. So we must consider that if sin blinds (and it does) then as long as sin remains in our heart, there will be pockets of spiritual blindness. And the really scary thing with spiritually blind people is that they’re blind to their blindness. This means that we all need “instruments of seeing” in our lives as much as any of the people around us (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Henry David Thoreau famously said, “It takes two to speak truth – one to speak, and another to hear.”

We need to understand and realize that our relationship with God, our spirituality, although immensely personal, was not designed to be exclusively private. The more you make your struggles and your victories private, the more you turn sanctification into a crawl and the less you’re able to know God relationally. Our faith has never been meant to be private. You weren’t created to hide or keep your feelings, your love, your mind, to yourself. We were designed to have spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers, spiritual brothers and spiritual sisters, spiritual sons and spiritual daughters. We were designed to live in community; to have men and women above us who speak life and encouragement into us and walk with us, and men and women underneath us whom we can serve, help to guide, and mentor.

“Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” – John Wooden

And in regards to communal sanctification, C.S. Lewis eloquently put it this way, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” To live life well, it requires real relationships, and authentic community. In order for there to be genuine, real, deep relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you and then you have to submit to it. Like there are things that I do that my wife doesn’t like. I know… I can’t believe it either… Anyhow, there have been times where she’s engaged me on those things and she was like, “Look, this is not ok, I don’t like this.”

So what makes my relationship with my wife life-giving and intimate is that I can hear that and respond. I can humbly submit, apologize, and work to better love and serve her… or more realistically I will argue and be stubborn for a little bit first, before the Holy Spirit (often times through prayer, a friend, or a book) blows me up and opens my eyes to the unbelievable amount of selfishness that still resides in my heart. But in our relationship, my wife can contradict me and I can contradict her. And it’s a faulty illustration at some levels because you never really get to contradict God or motivate Him to change, but do you see what happens if you make God, or truth whatever you want it to be? You have no God or objective truth at all. You have a robot or something made by your own hands, imagination, something that our own ignorant minds created that has existed for a mere fraction of a fraction in the scope of history.

“A long life will eventually beat the pride out of you, and if it somehow doesn’t, death will provide more than enough proof of your weakness.”

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us. At the same time, the Gospel solution when a person is blind to some serious issues in their life (or even when they become aware and are paralyzed by a sense of guilt or unworthiness or uselessness) is not to increase self-esteem; the Biblical answer to a paralysis of low self-esteem is not cultivating a high self-esteem. It’s sovereign grace. (“Fear not you worm…” – Isaiah 41:14).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and those around us. We are to love God above all, and love our neighbors as ourselves. And that is the core of true salvation and freedom, that is the greatest reality.

Love: Discipline & Dependence

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Have you ever read, or pondered the closing words of the Old Testament? Malachi 4:6 states: “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” These are the last words contained in the Bible before a 400 year silence.

In the Gospel of Luke, the author lets it be known that this was not forgotten “… and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Fathers, as you look to our heavenly Father, may the preaching of the Gospel in the spirit of Elijah turn your hearts toward your children. Don’t let work, hobbies, disappointment, or your pride turn your heart away from or against your kids. Be kind, considerate, patient, and encouraging with your words. Don’t provoke them to anger, but nurture them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Fathers and mothers, let us prepare the way of the Lord and anticipate His return by pointing our affections toward Christ, and reflect His love towards our children.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” – Proverbs 29:17

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

The Scriptures tell us that God at times, nurtures us by speaking the truth in love, and sometimes that plays out in an aggressive way. There was an interesting study I read recently about behavioral analysis. It was a study on certain adolescents who came from really good homes, but their hearts were just filled with rage. And so, they would medicate them, talk with them, and try to figure out why. In an effort to better understand where this rage was coming from, they started this intensive study on why these kids were angry like this, and here’s basically what they found:

In almost every one of the cases, they found a mother who took nurturing to a sinful level. Let me try to explain what I mean by that. From their research and study, they found in one case in particular, that one of the kids would be painting and then as the kid walked away and left the paint and started playing with another toy, the mother would clean up all the paint and put it away. And then the kid would move over to this other toy for a little bit, but then he would come back and want to paint again. And so, the mother would pull out all the paints and then put back up the other things and the kid would start to paint again. And so while the kid was painting, the mother would go over and clean up the toys over here and clean up the toys over there. And then the kid would leave the paint, come over back to the toys that the mom just put up and pull them out and start playing with them again. So the mother would go back and clean up all the paint again, because you couldn’t leave the paint out or it would ruin. So she would screw on the top, she would take down the easel, she would put it all up and then the kid would come back over and want to paint again. And so the mother would get the easel back out… and I’m sure some of you are reading this, thinking about your mom, and are just like, “Who is this mother?!” It certainly was not my mother (for which I am grateful). But this mom would pull all the paint supplies back out and set it all back up again, over and over.

And what ended up happening was, as the kid grew and developed, they weren’t really ready for any of the disappointment that is life. Because that little scenario is the only bubble in which you’ll get your way all of the time. And so, the kid couldn’t deal with kindergarten. And so as they grew, they began to develop this anger and this rage towards everyone who didn’t give them what they wanted. Because if we would just give them what they want then everything would be great… and I don’t know if you’ve ever been with anyone like that, like they just have this pervasive problem and they can’t ever see that the common denominator is them. And what happened here in this case is that it was not biblical nurturing. Biblical nurturing would be more like, “Uh sweetie, mommy put those up. You can paint tomorrow. (kiss) Little artist, go on now. (hug) Go on, play with your other stuff. Mommy already put the paint up.” The Biblical idea of nurturing is more like that. And overall, women just naturally provide nurturing nourishment much better than men do, but that does not excuse fathers from raising their children in a nurturing manner.

We must always remember though, that as parents, we’re not going to be a good enough to pull off salvation in our children’s hearts. We’re just not. We’re not going to be able to model it well enough. All we can do is commend God’s works to them. He’s got to save them. So we are to plead with Him. Men and women who walk in pride, they don’t need to plead for the lives of their children. You know why? Because they’ve got it. Why would they need to plead? God forbid if their kid runs amok. You know what the issue was? The issue wasn’t them; the issue was all you other guys’ kid. Your kid(s) came into their life, influenced them into darkness and if you would have done a better job, if you would have watched what they watched, if you would have watched what they read, if you would not have allowed them to watch the “Smurfs, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, the Disney Channel” or whatever the Evangelical community is now saying is evil and wicked and after the souls of our children, if you would have done that, then in the end, “my kid would love the Lord, because I raised them to love the Lord. That’s not how I raised them. Your kid was the real issue.” I’ve been in that room before. I’ve actually heard parents declare that nonsense.

Or here’s one I think that most everyone has seen. There are men and women who cannot sustain relationships for any period of time. Like, they have a good friend for about six months and then they’ve got this whole other group of friends for about six months, and then they’ve got this whole other group they run with for about six months. Or they go from this relationship, to that relationship, to this relationship. And if you sit down over a drink with them, they could tell you all about all that was wrong with all of those people without ever being able to see that the common denominator is them. And that’s pride. “Let me tell you why everyone else has issues.”

People who walk in pride are just perpetually in crisis. There’s always a crisis, always. It’s never having to do with them though. It’s always someone else. It’s absolutely devastating to the pursuit of Jesus. Because in the end, you don’t believe you really need Him despite the fact that all objective evidence would say it’s the other way. But you can’t see objective evidence. It’s this insane belief in our own sufficiency that robs us of freedom and life… it’s pride (Luke 18). I mean, God has flat out said that proud He will know from afar and they will not be able to draw near to Him (Psalm 138:6). Think about what that means? God opposes the proud. (Ecclesiastes 7:8; Jeremiah 13:15; Luke 1:51; James 4:6; 1st Peter 5:5)

The proud also deny their need for dependence. The Bible is clear in its teaching that we are all beggars, in desperate need of grace. We are completely dependent on God for everything; we are to praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Job’s conversation with God near the end of the book of Job is a great display of how little and not-in-control of things we all really are.

There is this idea of sanctification in the Christian faith that is beautiful, but pretty painful at times; more specifically, it is the truth that God is working all things together for our good so that we might look more like Christ. This is easy to regurgitate but difficult to really believe and apply in our daily lives. I am bent toward a particular cynicism that doubts the goodness of God in my life and His unwavering commitment to finish the good work He began in me (Philippians 1:6). My natural inclination is not to see every situation as His grace toward me and care for me in leading me to depend less upon myself and my wisdom and more upon Him and His.

As parents, there are so many more ways to see this, and feel this, than those without children.

I am more confident in my ability to love and serve my wife when I am in prayer. As parents, we are called to be more confident in our ability train and discipline when we are in prayer. I’ll admit my first thought is not always to pray. My first thought is not always to ask the sovereign Ruler of the universe to watch over and protect my marriage. The reality that I have access to the Father, through Christ, does not always immediately enter my mind when I first begin to have difficulty or struggle.

But we are dependent on God. Even when we’re not fully aware of it, or living as if we don’t believe that. In subtle ways, as parents we are to continually train our children in dependence. It doesn’t matter the situation or circumstance – dependence upon God or dependence upon ourselves to grow in maturity should be taught. This road was never promised to be easy, or to be filled with happiness and void of pain. But in the end, we hope for something greater, we rest in the idea of this promise: “Some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.”

Little Things in Life & Basketball

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When I was younger, I remember reading an article about how legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to explain to his players how to put their shoes on correctly, and wear at least two pairs of socks so that they wouldn’t get blisters on their feet. (To this day I actually always wear double socks, with the first pair inside out, no matter what the activity because I became so used to it while playing ball.) The reason he did this was to emphasize just how important the little things are in the game of basketball. Although this might be a little bit much, it just shows you the importance of details. Details and little things can be the difference maker in basketball, in your faith, and in life. Paul Tripp put this well when he said, “Life is really lived in the little moments.”

As a player, a constant volunteer for camps, an avid fan of the game, and someone currently pursuing an opportunity to coach full-time, I have been able to catch a decent glimpse of both sides of the player-coach dynamic. As a player I have been apart of some good teams, as well as some pretty bad teams. The difference between the losing-teams and winning-teams for the most part wasn’t a major talent gap or a significant game-plan strategy issue, it was the little details. It had a lot more to do with all the little things than a single big shot or turnover on a crucial possession.

My life has had some big moments: particular birthdays (like the Space Jam themed party in Independence, KS… or the couple birthdays where Texas Rangers baseball was still being played into October and we gathered around a TV with some good friends, good food, and good drinks, to cheer for a Rangers’ win), certain holidays (like our annual Easter, 4th of July, Neewollah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve celebrations), trips and vacations (like Disney World, Red Lodge, Montana, and many trips back to Kansas), my proposal to Kat down by the lake after a nice picnic dinner, our wedding day (that whole day is a blur, with some beautiful highlights and moments I’ll never forget), our honeymoon in Montana (that was a blast), anniversaries, great meals at nice restaurants (like the first time we went to a Brazilian steakhouse… oh my goodness), big games and concerts we’ve been blessed to attend (like the Eagles, The Who, Anberlin, Phil Wickham, U2 & Muse, and Jimmy Eat World & Foo Fighters concerts… or the 2007 NBA Finals, or the final KU vs. Mizzou game at Allen Fieldhouse… that was an amazing and unforgettable game), and on and on I could go with big moments in my life that I’ve been truly blessed to experience… but that is the vast minority when compared to the little moments of life. All the daily breakfasts, lunches, dinners, all the time cooking and waiting for something to heat up, grocery shopping, stopping by the gas station to fill up, all those moments right after walking in the door from being somewhere and getting settled in, all that time spent at work (perhaps sitting in a cubicle starring at a computer screen, just mundanely working one account after another), time spent in the gym, time spent loading and unloading the car, those moments spent watching movies or television, time spent doing laundry, time spent playing video games, board games, card games, etc., all those text messages sent each day, time spent cleaning and organizing, time getting ready to go places, time spent reading or studying, time spent in school taking classes, driving to and from work, time spent putting something together, countless hours messing around on Facebook or other social media, time spent getting ready for bed, time spent day dreaming, the moments of laying in bed trying to fall asleep, the third of your life spent sleeping, and heck, even all that time spent in the bathroom…

Similar to life, the little things make up the vast majority of the game of basketball. That’s why there are highlights for games that last only 10 seconds, for a minimum 48-minute game in the pros (still 40-minutes in college). There is a lot more to basketball than just shooting a ball through a hoop. And even more involved in the preparation for playing the sport than simply practicing one’s shot. Being a minute late to practice, shorting a line in sprints, not going over the mechanics of shooting over and over, ball-handling drills ad nauseam, or missing a class assignment may seem minor, but these things are such a big deal if not dealt with the right way. If a player is willing to short a line in a sprint, then who is to say that he won’t be one step out of position on defense at the end of a game, and instead of a charge he gets called for a block. There are just so many little things in basketball that can add up if you don’t focus on them everyday.

For example: closing out with high hands, talking on defense, putting a body on someone during a rebound opportunity, squaring up for a jumpshot, setting a good screen, making an intentionally crisp pass, setting your man up before coming off a screen, etc. are little things or minor details and the list could go on and on. Each thing individually might not be that big of a deal, but put all, or even just some of them together and it can be the difference between a great season with some hardware to take home… or end with some players losing significant time on the floor being cut/traded, or even the Athletic Director looking for a new head basketball coach for the next season.

From the very first day of practice, and every single day after that you must emphasize the little things. Just like someone in the Christian faith never moves on from the basic and fundamental message of the Gospel, a basketball player never moves on from the need to have the basic and fundamental aspects of the game down. A good ball player is constantly going over and refining their basic, fundamental skills of the game. No player, not even guys like Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, or Lebron James could ever practice too much, improve their ball-handling enough, tweak their footwork, work on their shot too much, go over too much film, or be in the gym too long, to have reached a level that moved on past the need to continue to work on those basic skills.

Every coach needs to sit down and explain to his players what is acceptable and what he is expecting of them. It may take a little while at first but once the players realize what is expected of them, and they buy into the system with the hopes of achieving an end goal, they will earnestly do what is expected of them. Since most players would have never been held accountable like this before, a little grace should always be shown at the beginning. They need to understand the value of doing the little things and and be committed to doing them. Whether a coach has to run his team or repeat a certain drill for days until they get it right, it is the coach’s job to ingrain in his players the details of this great game until it becomes second nature. Coaches also aren’t to show favoritism, whether it is their best player or the 12th man, they strive to make sure that everyone is doing their job correctly and putting forth their best effort.

Just as relationships with spouses, friends, family, parents, children, small groups, etc. serve to expose and uncover deep heart issues in our lives, certain situations in basketball will reveal areas of your game that are lacking. For the sake of maturation and development, coaches should put their team in circumstances that will test them, help them to come up against obstacles in the game that will reveal those who can’t or won’t do the little things. Conditioning is one of the greatest ways to do this. When players get tired or have to do something that is hard you begin to see their true nature. Just as someone who is going through a very hard time, and is extremely stressed out by their current circumstances at home, school, and/or work; how they react to the storms of life will be a greater testament of their character than how well they handle having money in the bank, good health, and they’re at a party having fun.

The players who don’t buckle under a little pressure, the guys who touch the line every time, don’t go down to their knees after every sprint, and who encourage their teammates throughout drills are the players you can trust. These are ones who are going to be able to execute a play the right way at the end of a close game. It is the coach’s job to encourage all his players to do this, to put their heart into it, to give it their all, and to really buy into the team.

During a game or even in practice a coach is not always going to be able to stop play every time a player closes out without high hands, isn’t in the right defensive position, didn’t put a body on someone as a shot went up, didn’t crash the boards, didn’t shoot with proper form, threw a lazy pass, etc. However it is still very important to focus on the details and a great way to do that is film. It is a lot easier for players to correct something if they can see themselves doing it the wrong way. I once heard a commentator say during a review in a big game, “the film doesn’t lie…” And that is exactly true. If a player is continually forgetting to close out with high hands in a game, going right every single time they get the ball, or is always out of position on defense, a coach can use film to sit them down and show them what they are doing wrong.

Similar to how a brother in Christ goes to a friend to help him see something in his life that is harming him in hopes of seeing him repent from that, and then strive together for further sanctification to get more of Christ, to know Him more deeply; a coach pursues the maturation of his players. A coach is to strive to make sure that his players understand their correction and discipline is out of a motivation of love and hope for improvement in their ability to play. A good coach earnestly works hard and puts forth a diligent effort to make sure his players understand this.

It is not easy to do all of the little things in life or in basketball. It takes a lot of effort from the coaching staff to communicate, mentor, and guide the players well in hopes to make sure that every day the players are doing things the right way. It also takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and buying into the team’s plan and strategy from the players. It always takes community and team effort.

Basketball really is like a microcosm to so much of life. The game of basketball can teach us so much about ourselves, as well as us being able to take our strengths in life and apply them towards the game. Something that will help make playing basketball easier is for a coach to sit down with his players and explain to them why the little things are so important. If they understand and really believe in what they are doing then they will work harder to accomplish it. It will always be very difficult at first for everyone, so we must try to remember that and not get frustrated quickly. Because over the years when the team has players return and can have some stability, the returning players will be able to help the new players, and it will be easier on the coach, and the team overall. Similar to life, the little details in basketball are what it takes to be great; it is worth the time and effort.

Covenant love.

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“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” – Proverbs 18:22

A ring doesn’t mean anything if you can’t haul the weight… Love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning, not a feeling, or a moment. I didn’t just make a promise to Kat on our wedding day. I made a covenant with our God to love and serve Kathryn until one of us dies, regardless of my feelings or her actions. In this promise, this oath, this covenant, this marriage, I’m not going anywhere. I am privileged and blessed to never stop pursuing my wife until my lungs are completely void of air.

Understanding the wickedness and selfishness of my heart; understanding Biblically that marriage is for my sanctification, not simply for my sexual pleasure, not to have better financial stability, not to have somebody to help clean the house, not to have someone to bring me water and meds when I’m sick, not just to have someone to give me children and then help raise them… no, God has displayed His love for me in that He gave me a wife to grow me more into the fullness of Him. This involves the further death of me and my selfishness. God has given me a wife to show me the areas in my life where I am tremendously selfish, self-centered, and still desirous of my own petty way. And much to my frustration, but eventual joy, Kat helps me see more how stupid I am on a daily basis.

This is God’s grace displayed in my life. The image of marriage in the Scriptures is this image of God, Christ, His bride, the bride’s rebellion, Christ’s love, His pursuit, His grace… In this earthly marriage, God has said, “I love you so much, that I’m gonna show you what it’s like to actually pursue you. So have fun, you’re gonna need Me.”

My marriage to Kathryn is ultimately about the two of us acknowledging, understanding, growing in, displaying, and celebrating the love that Christ has displayed for His bride. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes in chapter five about the truth that marriage is not ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment; rather marriage was created to be a human reflection of the ultimate love relationship with the Lord. It points to the true marriage that our souls need and the true family our hearts want.

For me personally, I never really even caught a good glimpse of the fuller meaning of this truth (of what it means for us, the church, being referred to as the bride of Christ) before mine and Kat’s wedding day. I mean, I had heard it taught on, read about it, thought about it, but the deep truth of Christ’s love for His bride had not yet really penetrated my heart or amazed my intellect. When those doors opened, and my bride, Kathryn, walked into the wedding chapel room looking beyond incredibly amazing, yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit it… I teared up as it all began to hit me.

We, the church, are not called Christ’s wife, but His bride… Think about that for a moment… The groom does not look upon his bride on their wedding day and think about her imperfections, but rather he is intensely focused on her precious qualities and beautiful attributes. On the wedding day, the groom is overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude, and devotion. Because this bride, standing adorned before her groom: she is his. He sees only her, and no one can deter his gaze. She alone catches his eye and she alone can hold his attention.

I will never forget how Kathryn looked that day, and how she was completely dressed up in splendor, having been presented to me as a beautiful, radiant, spotless bride. That is how Christ sees us, His chosen loved ones whom He died for, and He calls us His bride. His pursuit of us is fierce and unwavering, His affection for us is strong and deep, His love for us is abiding and unending. Our sincerest hope is that the Gospel is preached through our marriage, as God has chosen the story of our lives to be a shadow of His much greater narrative.

When I see and understand my marriage this way, and not as some kind of selfish contractual agreement with another person who exists only to serve me, make my life better, easier, and more enjoyable for myself, then it frees me up to not lay in bed at night and pout because I’m not getting what I want or not getting my way. Rather I better understand what is actually happening; I’m being sanctified, I’m being grown more into the fullness of Christ, that God is loving me in these circumstances (as difficult as they may be right now) in order that I may know Him and rely on His sufficient grace all the more. So I need to be more gracious, patient, humble, slow to anger, gentle, abounding in love and encouragement, and never stop pursuing my wife in Christ-like love.

Many people get from books, movies, television, etc. this idea that if you have married the right person (or if you’re just “with” the right person) you may expect to go on “being in love” forever, and it should come naturally and effortlessly. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake, or the other person fooled them, and they are entitled to a change – not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour of any new relationship will eventually go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one.

Because love and marriage are much more than the fleeting feelings of a new infatuation. Our wedding, our marriage, our family, our love, our lives are not meant to simply terminate on momentary happiness here in this lifetime on this earth, but to find and experience eternal joy as we celebrate our great God and King: Jesus. And when we arrive at eternity’s shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Christ’s bride will come together and we’ll sing, You’re beautiful!

Golden Monkeys in America

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“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” – Jonah 2:8

“Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.” – Isaiah 2:8

“They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood!” – Jeremiah 10:8

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” – Habakkuk 2:18-20

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Just like the cultures and religions that have created golden monkey idols or something else finite that they themselves made, and they put their trust in it, they worship it, they sing to it, chant to it, and have priests who give prophesy on behalf of it… We in our American culture are guilty for much of the same thing. We will create for ourselves an idol that we make, that we create, that we build, and in that we put our trust. If you think that is nonsense and there is no such silliness in our culture, let me point out some of the most popular. The number one by in large is the idol of self. We are uppermost in our own affections. Even if you’ll think about how some people choose a church or religion or group they devote their time and resources to, most of us choose a church, religion, club, group, society, etc. on what it can do for us.

And the reason why so many of us don’t belong to a community of faith, but rather go to or attend several, is because we feel like the church exists to meet our needs, not to be that community of faith that you belong to and give to as well as receive from. So for you, it becomes all about a particular preacher, how long their service is, what time their service is, a style of music, what programs they offer, how extensive is their child-care, etc.

Let us pause and think for a moment how this idol of self works itself out just where I live, here in the DFW area. In the DFW area, there are no mountains, there are no oceans, no great scenery in which to play in. (On a positive note, it makes us appreciate vacations anywhere so much more though.) So what we have done, since there’s not a lot of outdoor culture here, is we have taken physical beauty and we’ve made that a sport. So many of us have taken physical beauty and have said, “We’re going to be attractive and desirable.” So Dallas is a very, very pretty place in that aspect. We are all about external beauty. “I’m going to make myself look lovely. Because if I am better looking than others, if I am stronger than others, if I am more chiseled than others, then I validate myself above, and beyond others.”

Now idolatry is a funny animal because it rarely dwells in morally dark things. It almost always dwells in positive things that are made ultimate. Taking care of yourself is a good thing. Eating well is a good thing. The Bible would call both of those things wise. Even the apostle Paul said physical training is of some value. The Bible is going to talk about how we eat, what is smart, how to avoid eating in excess, and how not to eat for comfort. The Bible has a lot to say. The problem is not those things in and of themselves. The problem is when you take those things, make them ultimate, and they become the thing by which you identify yourself. “I am the strong, buff guy… I am the in shape, toned girl… I am the athletic beast person.” You begin to identify yourself by those things. You see it often and it works itself out a bit differently in males and females. What I’ve seen in males is this real desire to look this specific way and to be stronger than others. Now there is a great competition thing that can play into that that can push you into being all that you can be, but it’s this, “Just let me look good with my shirt off.” It’s almost purely physical, and it’s a primal, “Let me show that I’m the baddest guy on the planet” kind of thing. And it builds, it consumes, and their whole life is built around this external physical beauty.

In women, it plays itself out like that also, but what I haven’t seen among men as much as I’ve seen among women is this ferocious comparison that ends up causing a great deal of drama. Like I married a very beautiful woman. I have walked with my wife at the grocery store or mall, and seen other women checking out my wife. So part of me goes, “What’s wrong with me?” And then another part of it is I’m getting a glimpse of this dark side of the female soul where they’re going, “Do I look like that? Do I need to look like that? Should I look like that? I wish I looked like that…” Or even at times, there’s this horrific judgment that occurs where we’ll be out and about and see women dressed to the hilt in really tight things, and there’s this thing even among modest, kind-hearted women where they’re just like, “Can you believe how she’s dressed?” “Look at her, she must be such a floozy.” “Where is that girl’s mother?” “Hey, it’s the Real Housewives of such and such right there.” But really, what in the heck is happening there? How in the world can you judge soul and character by dress. Even if there is something broken in their soul that has them dressing in such a way that they want external attention? That should grieve our heart. It shouldn’t make you angry, or jealous, or have contempt. It should make you sad that they have not found value in who they are but rather in their ability to catch the eye of the opposite sex, and maybe make other women jealous. So you’ve got this external piece to our idolatry.

And then some of us just don’t have that going for us. That’s just not a temptation for us because it’s just not going to happen. So a lot of us go to the mind, and our mental strength. With linear information at our disposal, we just become smart and we pride ourselves on our brilliance. We don’t buy into anything at the surface level. We’re going to drill down. We’re going to know the truth. We’re going to know how things work. We’re not just buying into anything. And let me be clear about this, we should all be thinkers, we should be seekers, and want to get to the bottom of things. But there is a level of idolatry to that where you’re not going to believe anything that you can’t taste, touch, or see. Only what can be empirically known by the five senses, understood, and controlled by you will receive your time and attention. So then our mind becomes our idol.

And then you’ve got this whole third thing that is still about you, but it works itself out in every domain of your life where you want to throw out a certain vibe, you want to have this certain persona about you. So from the car you drive, to the clothes you wear, to where you live, all of that is carefully thought through and constructed to produce what you want people to see, despite the fact that you don’t even like most of those people. So really, your debt isn’t a money issue. It’s an image issue. Debt is not about money. It’s about image. You spend more than you have, to look a part that you want to look because you believe that, by looking that part, you somehow project to the world that you are worth something, that you are viable, that you are legitimate, that you have it going on and people should like you, and want to be around you. And that is idolatry. So the primary idol here in DFW is basically just “self.”

A secondary idol that we see all over the place is other people, other created beings, and it plays out primarily in two relationships. Relationship number one is a significant other. There is this idea built upon the philosophy of every Romantic Comedy, every sappy love song on the radio, that there is some mythical one out there who is going to complete you. Like if you just find this one right man, if you just find this one right woman, then all that has plagued you, all that has bothered you, all the loneliness that you have walked in, and all the rejection you have experienced will finally vanish. Just so you know… all of us married people make fun of you who buy into that silly lie. Because it’s simply not true. Seriously girls, no man will ever be able to do that for you. When you put that expectation on him, it is a smothering, exhausting expectation. He can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how romantic he is, it doesn’t matter how creative he is, and it doesn’t matter how careful and thoughtful he is, he cannot be that for you. He wasn’t meant to be that for you.

That “hole in your heart,” the book of Ecclesiastes says, that hole is eternal. Only what is eternal can fill the gap of eternity. Your man, as great as he is, isn’t eternal or infinite. He can’t fill that for you. He cannot complete you, Jerry MaGuire. When you have that expectation, when you place that expectation on him, your man will develop more and more hobbies to get out from under the weight of that expectation, because he can’t do it.

And for the guys, that thought of this beautiful, physically flawless being who is going to take care of every one of your physical and emotional needs, and make up for all hugs that your daddy didn’t give you, is going to lead to an unreal amount of conflict in your relationships. Please just stop and think about a couple things: You need to forgive your dad. He did the best he could with where he was, even if he was a schmuck. He did the same that you’re doing now if you’re a father now. And if you’re any better than your old man, then that’s the grace of God, not your awesomeness. And then, if you’re married, you need to learn to love your wife’s soul well beyond her body. She’s not your servant, she’s not your slave, she is not your sex toy and meal-maker. She’s not your, “Where’s my dinner, woman?” She’s not your work horse. She has a soul! So what happens for so many of us is a man comes into a marriage and says, “My woman is supposed to be all of this,” while a woman comes into the marriage and says, “My man is supposed to be all this,” … or singles go, “If I could just find this kind of woman/man,” and all our hope is wrapped up in these people who are going to fail us and let us down because they cannot possibly complete us or fulfill the deep longing in our hearts.

So then, when they do let us down, well it’s definitely not our fault. Of course it’s them! It’s not our expectations that are unreasonable. It’s their multitude of failures and personality flaws. Married people are acutely aware of their partner’s weakness vs. their own strengths. The husband can easily sit there and say, “She doesn’t do this, she doesn’t do that, and she doesn’t do this… but I do this, that, this, AND that…” It’s just strengths vs. weaknesses. You should always win that comparison. But this is what leads to the unraveling of so many different relationships. It’s an expectation that’s unrealistic. And all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations. So maybe the bar needs to be lowered a little, or be a little more realistic. Maybe we need to find the fullness of life in Jesus Christ, and not in a broken human who is going to betray us, because that’s unfortunately going to happen.

Now, the other relationship we see this stuff playing out massively (and specifically the northern areas where I live here in the DFW area) are the relationships between parents and their children. So many of the parents around here need to accept the reality that their kid is not going to be a professional athlete. Their kid might be a beast at sports, and they may really be excellent. But still, statistically, their boy is more likely to be struck by lightning, while holding a winning lottery ticket, whilst being eaten by a shark than he is to become a stud pro athlete.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports. I follow sports closely. I think sports are awesome, as long as they’re a game. It’s when it’s no longer a game, but you’re entire life that you’ve gone off the deep end. Do you know how we all know this? Because I used to play t-ball, little league, basketball, track, etc… And even now I can remember fellow five-years-old getting yelled at by their parents. It still happens today. Just go to the nearest ballpark and you can watch dads yell at their five-year olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds in t-ball. “What are you doing?! We practiced this! Get your head in the game!” Their kid is five, he just learned how to consistently not wet himself…

It sounds like a complete joke, but so many of these dads are dead serious. I mean they don’t do that with other games, do they? Like when their boy or girl is with their cousins playing freeze tag, they’re not running outside, freaking out, and screaming at them about how to tag properly. They’re not playing hide-and-go-seek upstairs with the parents shouting from downstairs, “Are you serious?! Focus! Hide like I taught you!!!” It’s just a game, guys. It doesn’t matter. But all of a sudden, now that it’s organized, some of us lose our minds. Some parents may have even been legit athletes back in the day, but we shouldn’t put that on our kids. Our children’s extracurricular activities should not govern our home. I mean, some parents spend more for their kid’s traveling select soccer team than my wife and my car are worth… combined. It is a foolish error for several reasons.

One, making your kids your god, turns them into little turds that you then release upon society to have to deal with. So then we’ve got coworkers and neighbors who are unbelievably obnoxious because their parents treated them like little gods. And then second, they’re going to leave the house someday. And as a parent, you should want them to move out someday. Shouldn’t you? I know parents with five, six, seven-years-old might find that harder to comprehend at the moment, but there is going to come a day as a parent where you love them with all the love you have in your heart, but they’re going to have to get out of your house. I don’t live with my parents anymore, that would be weird. (There are some exceptions to this, but it should definitely be a rare exception, not the rule.)

And then do you know what you’re left with as parents? Your spouse. So if the focal point of your existence is your children and then they’re gone, that puts you in this really weird spot with the spouse who you should have been doing life with this entire time. You’re like, “Man it’s so quiet around here now, who are you again?” Biblically a home is to revolve around a husband and wife under the banner of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What we should be imparting to our children is the wonders and glory of a Creator God who loves them, longs to save them, and rescues them from the fallen hurt of this world. And then let’s play some ball, let’s try to play ball well, let’s cheer them on, and let’s root for them, whether they really are excellent or horrible.

As parents, we should want our kids to not think that our affection for them is predicated upon their performance in a game. And don’t lie to yourself, you can have all the conversations you want with your kid about that isn’t what’s happening, but when you explode at their failures and beam at their successes in this arena, how in the world are they not supposed to believe that’s how they win your affection? If you even think that you can simply have a conversation with them, but continue to act that way towards them, I don’t think you have kids. Heck, I don’t even have kids, but just having grown up as a kid and helped serve in children’s ministry, I have observed that. I mean, do parents really think that their kids can’t read their bull? I could definitely pick up on where my parents or any adults said one thing and did another when I was growing up. I think we called it, “Does as I say, not as I do.”

So that’s the other place it plays out in relationships, with kids. Both make crummy, crummy gods. You make a crummy god, a spouse makes a crummy god, and your children make crummy gods. They don’t work as deity. None of them can hold that weight. Because there comes a time in all of our lives where we will desperately need divine intervention. Everyone eventually has that dark night of the soul. And if your god is you, your spouse, your children, your health, your wealth, or your vibe, you will be godless on a day when you need the divine. We need to press hard on a couple of things as we think about what idolatry really is. Idols are normally built around control and fear. So you have this fear, and you don’t want this fear to happen, so you begin to try to control scenarios that you believe will keep your fear from happening. And that’s how idols are built.

In fact, in the Old Testament, God will charge Israel with idolatry twice for signing treaties with Egypt and the Assyrians for their protection. They were afraid, so they made this deal with the neighboring country that if they got in trouble, this other army would bail them out, and God goes, “They have become your idol. You’re not trusting in Me for deliverance. You’re trusting in your own abilities and politics for your deliverance.” So what happens on the day of trouble is your control of things is revealed to be what it really is, an illusion. You simply don’t control what you think you can control. You don’t control your finances like you think you do. Anyone can go bankrupt. You don’t control your health like you think you do. Anyone can get cancer.

As always, there are things that we can do that are wise and smart, there are good and right ways we should steward our time, resources, and our bodies, but ultimately you can’t control it all. Now we can see even in our own U.S. history, it just takes the bottom to fall out if our economy for all of that money you have to become worthless. It just takes an instant. It just takes something that is not even directly related to us, not related to this country. There has been some uprising in the Middle East (there’s always some kind of turmoil going on there). How’s that gasoline bill going for you? Does it slam your wallet and remind you how little control you really have every time you go to the pump like it does for me?

We all work hard at protecting our children, but ultimately you can’t protect them from everything. We weren’t able to stop the recent tragedy in Connecticut. No matter how many guns laws are put in place, men with wicked intent will still find a way to carry out deplorable things. You do what you can, but you have to trust them with God. That’s all you’ve really got. If you do more than that, I think you will hard press them and they are likely to rebel. The other place I think you can see this fear and control thing happening in idolatry is with spouses. You just know they’re going to betray you, you know they’re going to do this certain thing, they’re going to let you down somehow eventually, and so to keep that from happening, you badger, you pester, you question, you dig, and you search where they’ve been. You see, all of that is fear. So instead you move to try to control and then unwittingly actually push your spouse away from you, and then there’s no trust, no grace, no intimacy, but you still have that false sense of control to keep you warm, right?

It’s an idol, and the Bible says there will come a day when you need the divine. And if you have an idol, it won’t be able to speak to you, it won’t be able to fix anything. Just look at the passages listed above, and if you’ll remember the text, God keeps saying, “You’ve made an idol that was speechless… You created an idol that was speechless… If it says anything, it says lies. You have created an idol that is speechless and helpless to heal, fix, mend, or correct anything.” And the last verse of the Habakkuk passage says, “God is in His holy temple; let the earth keep silent.” Habakkuk is not saying, “Don’t talk to God. Leave God alone. He is in His holy temple, so hush your mouth and don’t bother Him.” But rather he is saying, “Since the Creator God of all things is speaking, let us listen to Him, submit to Him and not walk in conjecture of what God must be like or what He would be like.”

So you hear people talk like that all the time. “Well I just don’t believe God would do that. I just don’t believe God works like that.” We, out of ignorance and idolatry, exclude some aspects of God’s character; we’re selfishly buying in on specific aspects, but want to forget any that may contradict what we want. “God is love, so He can’t have any wrath… God is gracious, so He can’t hold anybody accountable… God is merciful, so surely He won’t judge the nations or anyone for doing wrong…” Now, those are things people say all the time that are in stark opposition to God’s revealed character in the Scriptures. So more than anything, that verse in Habakkuk is saying that God is speaking, so maybe we should shut up for a minute and just listen to Him.

So God speaks to us, not like a silent idol. He speaks to us in His Son Jesus, He speaks to us through His Word in the Scriptures, He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. What is He saying? He’s saying that you and I are broken from birth. Sin isn’t just an external action, it isn’t just a minor character defect. It’s a state of our heart that leads to those external actions. There are things that are sinful, but you do sinful things because you are sinful yourself. You aren’t a sinner because you sin, you sin because you’re a sinner. The problem isn’t just the action. The problem is you. There is nothing you and I can do to fix this issue. God is going to have to fix it for us. And He did, He is. He’s fixed it by sending Jesus, God in the flesh, to live a righteous life under the law, breaking no commands. He will then impute that righteousness to those who believe by faith. And on the cross of Jesus Christ, all the wrath meant for you and me in our rebellion will be absorbed by Christ so that we are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, set free to pursue God regardless of where we currently are.

So this is why we must constantly come back to this idea of moralistic deism, and expose it for the lie that it is. So many of us are like, “Let me clean up my life, and then God and I will be cool.” However, the realty is, you and God will never be cool because of your cleaning. You and God will only be okay because of Jesus Christ or you won’t be okay. Our hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. It’s also why none of us have anything to boast in. It’s also why there should be no swagger in you, in me, in anyone. There should be a lowliness, a humility, and a gentleness concerning all peoples. Why? Because you were shown mercy and grace. You didn’t earn it. You weren’t saved because you were awesome. Nobody is saved because they had some things that God needed for His kingdom. You were saved because He’s merciful. And that’s where we put our hope.

So how do you identify idols? Here are ten questions to ask yourself: What consumes most of your thoughts and feelings? What motivates the things that you do? What are you most afraid of? What brings the highest amount of frustration or anger into your life? What is one thing that can change your mood in a second? What would your friends say is your favorite topic of conversation? What are some things that you feel you can’t live without? What brings you solace? What do you yearn for? What is one thing that you wish God would do for you? If you begin to answer those questions, you’ll be able to find your idols. Because what you think about, what you yearn for, what you talk about, what you want God to do for you, what drives you, what makes you angry, what satisfies you, what sits on the other side of your “if only,” and what brings you comfort is what you worship.

Now you and I, everyone reading this has idols. Nobody is clean. The good news is that God knows and has made provision in Christ. So may we repent and trust in Him for that. Because again, our only hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. God Himself is the gospel.