EXPECTATIONS, PART II

You’re engaged and excited about your future life together. Write down your expectations–and throw them away. What if you, sir, have the expectation of a clean house? You come home with the hope of the house looking good. It doesn’t. Your expectation just morphed into a right. Far better for couples to live with responsibilities than with rights. Civil rights should be accompanied by civil responsibilities. Sometimes they don’t. Victims claim rights; they don’t want responsibilities. My right becomes your responsibility.

So if the house isn’t clean, I have an unfulfilled expectation. That does not create fellowship; it engenders agitation.

Ephesians Five is the clearest statement of marital responsibilities. The husband is told to lead and to love, the wife to respond and respect. But the husband’s responsibility is not the wife’s right and vice versa. “Hey, Romeo, you’re supposed to love me as Christ loved the church. Get to work, senyor.” Nor can he say, “Submit, woman. Down on your knees.” He can only love as Christ loved, by laying down his life more for his wife. And she can only trust in God to produce in her husband what she is believing for.

Expectations easily become rights that turn into demands. No place for demands in a healthy marriage. There is room for trust and hope and love, but put your expectations in a God who doesn’t fail you. Otherwise, you are going to find yourself living with tit for tat and this for that. Not a fun way for two people to live together.

“You didn’t pick up your clothes.”
“Yeah, because you didn’t clean the house.”
“Yeah, because you left the living room a mess after watching TV for two hours.”
“Yeah, just like after you had your friends over last week.”

Rare? All too common. Instead of claiming your rights that grow out of expectations, how about accepting your responsibilities? If your spouse doesn’t accept his or hers, try trusting in God to change what needs to change rather than going to work yourself. It does not feel good to know your spouse is attempting to transform your behavior or your performance. Like the guy said, “Don’t get hitched at the altar if you have the itch to alter.”

Servants accept rights and do not have responsibilities. Jesus came “not to be served but to serve…” That should give us a clue as to our stance with others, and especially with our spouse. Serving our spouse with humility rather than voicing our rights allows the Lord to do the transforming work. I Peter 3:1-7 spells this out clearly.

AS THEY WENT

Jesus once healed ten lepers by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests: “And as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14). Healing sometimes happens as we step out and do the next thing, in this case checking in with the priest. Some get touched when they get out of their seats and walk forward for an altar call. The priests discovered that the waters parted when they stepped in, not before (Joshua 3:15). For others it might mean asking someone out, asking for forgiveness, or taking responsibility for the family.

Passivity can keep us from the next thing on God’s agenda. He has plans for us, but they are not realized without our participation. Our part–take the next step. Could one step forward be that important to God? Indeed. Waiting upon God is not paralysis. We are in motion, doing what He says and trusting Him in the process for the desired outcome.

We may be thinking, “If God does this, I will do that.” God may be waiting for you to do that before He does this. God is leading the dance, but sometimes it looks like He is following us.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Healing is often incremental. It happens in stages as we take steps of obedience. Faith is sometimes spelled r-i-s-k, though a well-calculated one. Faith has lips and legs. It says something and goes somewhere. By faith Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8). Had he said, “I am not going until you show me the way,” he would have waited a long time. We don’t need to see the distant shore, just the next step. And “the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord.”

Growth is a little at a time. It does not happen all at once. People who are looking for God to heal them may need to take the next step in order to see a new level of healing. This is often true of emotional healing or healing from strongholds.

God brought victory for the children of Israel who took the Promised Land phase by phase. “I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you are increased and possess the land” (Exodus 23:29, 30). That is a visual picture of the way God often heals us. It is more often a process than an event.

Sometimes we balk at the process because it is taking longer than we hoped for. Faith is required each step of the way, lest we sink back into passivity.

Vulnerability helps us in the process to accept where we are and by faith move forward into the fuller healing. Being transparent about what is in process gives others grace to walk out their life in God with the same courage and realism.

Healing from depression or serious identity conflicts such as same sex attraction most often comes incrementally. Many steps of faith are needed before the process has been completed. That will take courage and trust when the outcome is not yet clear. “Faithful is he who calls you, and he will do it.”

WHAT LEADERS DO

Balance vision with values. Vision is overrated; values are often ignored. Values undergird vision, keeping vision from going crazy. Think Hitler. Values reflect identity, vision drives destiny. Make it a good ride by choosing values of integrity.

Say no. They can find someone else. Keep your hands to the plow. You have an assignment. Don’t leave it for someone else’s. You will not stand accountable for another person’s vision. Do what you have to do, not what others want you to do.

Build an immunity to discouragement. John the Baptist had incredible vision of Christ’s work (“Behold the lamb of God…”) until he saw life from behind bars. Then he questioned the Christ. Elijah said and did stupid things when discouragement and fear took him out. You cannot afford the luxury of discouragement.

Have a bias toward action. Leave meetings with action items. Many end with talk and go nowhere. Not worth the time.

Record it. Rely on your retrieval system, not your memory. Write down brilliant thoughts–or lose them.

Live above offense. Ask my wife. It took me too long, but now I live that way. (Well, most of the time.) Be like my friend who said, “Just so you know, Paul, it’s almost impossible to offend me.” Unoffendable leaders can build a team; the other kind cannot.

Tend to your soul, or your drive will cause you to implode. First things first. Stay emotionally and spiritually healthy, so you can give yourself away.

Pace yourself. You’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Jesus was not in a hurry. He did what He came to do. He left some people un-healed, and it didn’t bother Him. Remember shabbat. It literally means “to cease.” God rested after a six-day work week. Take your cue from Him. If you think you are indispensable, have another thought.

Take charge of minutes. Time is too precious to waste. Must be invested. It is like money, a great friend and a terrible lord. Minutes add up; use them wisely.

Live with character. Talent wears thin. People should be treated with respect. Don’t overestimate gifting. Faithfulness trumps talent in the long haul.

Go with your strength. That creates passion and vision. Others can do what you can’t. Dreams are worth pursuing. “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” Sing your song!

Put a sign on the bus. If you are a leader, lead. You are going somewhere; tell them where. People who thought you were going to St. Louis will be angry if they end up in Cincinnati. Leadership cannot be delegated. Not leading creates a vacuum. Someone will step in, and you won’t be happy.

Take risks. Leadership without risk is an oxymoron. Make sure they are well-calculated. Then if you lose, it’s not a total loss. Don’t hire anyone without failures on the resume. He’s playing it too safe.

Under-promise; over-perform. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you need a sales job to get them, you don’t want them. Unfulfilled promises create resentment.

Evaluate. You are not into perfectionism, but strive for excellence. If you fail, ask yourself, “What did I learn?” Failure is not final if you learn. Don’t do an autopsy, but find out what you did and do better next time.

Serve. Leaders go low. Think under, not over, and be supportive. Apologize, don’t make excuses. Self-serving leaders are abusive. Serve the people you lead and they will live with gratitude rather than bitterness. Makes them better workers.

THE POWER OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Nora, age three, was running up the walkway. I said, “You are such a fast runner.” What did she do? What most kids would do–run faster. Encouragement is needed for every member of the human race. “En-courage” comes from two root words, “en” meaning “in, and “cor,” Latin for “heart.” Positive words give us heart, make us want to try harder. Negative words dis-hearten us, they take away courage, and make it hard for us to keep going.

Had I said to Nora, “You are sure a slow runner,” it would have slowed her down. Instead of a lift, a heavy word. Can you wonder why some kids barely make it–or don’t? They are fired away at with one discouraging word after another. They can barely keep their head above water. Some never recover and come into a true identity that allows them to walk into their destiny. Really sad.

Some older people are tough enough to take your word and prove you wrong. Most will receive it as a word on target and prove you right. No wonder that Solomon said, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” We hold the power to put courage in people or take it out–with our mouth.

Negative comments, even those meant to instruct or correct, take courage out of most of us. A coach told me that when he taught girls’ tennis at a local high school he tried encouraging the gals when they did well and offer advice when they did poorly. It didn’t work. He finally gave up trying to correct them.They found correction hard to receive. He discovered that it was far more beneficial to ALWAYS encourage.

What if you decided to encourage people wherever you went, and you told the boy pushing the carts that he was really doing a great job, and he decided to do it even better. You just changed his day–and maybe his life. What if you let your teacher know that he/she is really good at teaching and that you are learning so much. That person just got better. What if you shared with your pastor that you are strengthened by his Biblical and Christ-honoring messages, and he just improved his teaching.

What if you told your children how fortunate you were to have children that are obedient and bring much joy to their parents. You just increased their joy and their obedience. What if you decided to be an expert at encouragement, and you did it regularly at work, and it changed the atmosphere. You have the power to do that.

Scripture tells us encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today. I think it is still “today.” Is there a mail carrier, a sibling, a parent, a child, a co-worker who is waiting for you to make his or her day?

Flattery is not the same as encouragement. Flattery is given to gain some kind of access. It is self-directed. Encouragement is other-directed and contains no manipulation or control. The more a person encourages others, the more it shows a healthy and humble love for others.

One of the most important assignments of parents is to encourage their children–to put courage into them that they can do it, they can succeed, they can make their mark, they can walk with God, they can be used by Him. Correction is important, but nowhere near as needful as encouragement.

Karen and I work with so many who did not receive enough. They don’t know who they are, and they struggle in life. Many of their parents were too taken up with their own issues to pour life into their children, and young adults wonder if they have what it takes. Children needs tons of encouragement. Don’t become a parent unless you are prepared to speak life into your children–all their life!!

“DON’T JUDGE ME!”

We’ve heard it before: “You’re not supposed to judge.” Who says? If it is like God to judge, then it is godly to judge. Paul told the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” (I Cor. 6:2,3). We need to know that…

God is the judge.
“It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another”(Ps. 75:7). “You have come to God, the judge of all men” (Heb. 12:23).

God has delegated judgment to Jesus.
“He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). “For the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22).

God’s children also judge.
Judging the eternal destiny of humanity is outside our jurisdiction, but we do make value judgments between right and wrong. The mature “have trained themselves to discern good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

We must learn to judge in an age of tolerance when absolutes are up for grabs. Tolerance means everybody gets to be right, except those who speak about what is right. Paul addressed the necessity of judging to the permissive church in Corinth: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you’” (I Cor. 5:12,13).

Judging in this sense is different from criticizing. Criticism arises from irresponsibility. It makes unkind judgments for wrong reasons. In this context Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1). He describes the one criticizing failing to see his own sin, blocking him from an accurate picture. Jesus tells the hypocrite to first deal with his own issues, which then gives him discernment for proper judgment (5).

How must we judge?
1. We realize that we get what we give. If we give love, we receive it.
2. We judge carefully. Dealing first with our logs enables us to see the splinters in others. Sometimes we judge most severely what we most struggle with.
3. We judge differently among Christians and non-Christians. We are responsible for our family. “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12). We spend too much time judging the world that is outside our direct jurisdiction.
4. We balance truth and grace. Truth alone is brittle; grace alone is sentimental.
5. We judge ourselves (I Cor. 11:31), but we don’t over-judge: “Indeed, I do not even judge myself…“(I Cor. 4:3).
6. We try to judge the heart of the matter: “Do not judge by external appearance” (Gal. 6:2). This means no pre-judging (called prejudice), the kind of discrimination that has brought untold suffering to the human race and is only healed by the Gospel of God and the power of the Spirit. Two safeguards in judging: Gray exists, and we may be wrong!

YOUR IDENTITY & DESTINY, PART II

How do you see yourself? Saul started with much promise, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (I Samuel 9:2). The Lord told Samuel that “he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines” (v. 16). Soon after Samuel anointed Saul king, “the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying” (10:10).

From early on, however, his insecurity showed up, and it proved his fatal flaw. When Samuel spoke highly of him and his family, instead of receiving the praise, he said, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (9:21). Saul saw himself as a nobody from nowhere. He did not tell his uncle what Samuel had done with him or said to him (10:10). When he was called forth to be presented to the people as their king, he could not be found. He had “hidden himself among the baggage” (v.22), not the right place for the leader-elect.

The Spirit of the Lord again came upon him when news came of the plight of Jabesh, and he delivered them and followed it with a great celebration. Then came a rout of the Philistines, the perennial enemies of Israel. And a further commentary said of Saul that “wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them” (14:47,48). He had moments of brilliance, but he was not careful to obey the Lord.

When Samuel rebuked him, he gave us a clue to his flawed identity: ”Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel?” (15:17). Not only did Saul not wait for Samuel to do the sacrifice, a priestly, not a kingly task, but he failed to carry out the Lord’s instructions to wipe out everyone and everything. His excuse: “I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them” (v. 24). Then he said, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel” (30). Saul seemed more concerned with what the people thought of him than what God thought of him, and it turned him into a wild man. He fumed with jealousy when David received the praise that he deeply wanted, and it consumed him to his dying day. A warped self-image spelled disaster for Saul.

By contrast, another Saul considered himself a terrible sinner. Then he added, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe…” (I Timothy 1:16). In other words, a killer became a trophy of God’s grace. And Saul-turned-Paul walked into an incredible destiny in God. Far from hiding among the baggage, he begged to preach the gospel to people who were rioting because of his presence. True humility brings boldness, not timidity. Paul saw God clearly as a Father of mercy and he saw himself as an undeserving but willing recipient of lavish grace! Two accurate pictures made all the difference in the world. And it will for you as you see God as He truly is and yourself as He has made you!

YOUR IDENTITY AND YOUR DESTINY

What are your chances of walking into your destiny? Clue: most people don’t. Like a poet once said, “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” The two pictures that most determine destiny are your view of God and your view of yourself.

Your self-identity is not who you are but who you think you are. A prince who doesn’t believe he is a prince does not live like a prince. If he thinks he is a pauper, that is how he lives. Sorry for the prince. A saint who believes he is a sinner lives like a sinner—and many saints do. Our creed becomes our conduct. What we believe about ourselves is how we will live. Said more simply—we behave our beliefs. In fact, it is not possible to live in a way that violates what we believe about ourselves. A person who is convinced that he is abandoned will live as an abandoned person, regardless of what people tell him. A girl who thinks she doesn’t measure up will operate out of her distorted picture. Perception is reality, both with regard to ourselves and to God.

The prodigal left home to discover a more exciting life. When it didn’t work for him, he decided to return home. He was surprised to find out that he received back home what he wanted out in the world—a party, nice clothes, cool shoes, and great relationships. He was amazed at how generous and forgiving his father was.

Meanwhile, his older brother wondered why he never got anything from his stingy “boss.” Choked up by anger and resentment, his tight fists could not accept the gifts the father held out to him, and he lived like a slave, though he was a son. He frustrated the grace of an outlandish dad, which is what Christians with a skewed picture of their heavenly Father do.

Jesus told a story shortly before His passion of a businessman who gave three men money to invest. Then he went on a journey. Two men promptly invested and made a 100% return on their money! The third buried his investment, perhaps out of fear that he would lose it. When the master returned, he commended the first two servants.

The third told him, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you” (Matt. 25:24,25). Something had convinced this servant that his master was difficult to deal with. His perception was his reality, and “hard” is what he got (see Psalm 18:25). Two men fulfilled their calling and carried out their God-appointed destiny. Yay! The third was crippled with fear and fell far short. Bummer. The master described him as “wicked and lazy,” and he never lived out his purpose.

The hardship of life, either what happens to us or (more often) what happens in us, can change our picture of God. If we prayed for recovery and a child died, or we prayed for success and had to declare bankruptcy instead, or a painful divorce made us feel forsaken, we may wonder where God was. We might not turn Him into a monster, but our trust level may plummet. We easily interpret suffering as the absence of God. In fact, He is no more present than in our pain. So who do you think you are, and who do you think God is? (Part II in four days).

A LETTER FROM A FATHER TO HIS DAUGHTER

Our youngest was married Saturday in an unforgettable wedding. Karis was a remarkable girl for the get-go–obedient and hard-working. I took her out when she was a beautiful nineteen-year old and asked if I could know the man before she would date him. She said two wise things: “I am not into recreational dating,” which she had proved by not dating, and, “I would never date anyone that you didn’t know.” I gave her the letter below when she was fifteen. Perhaps it could help a dad prepare his daughter for what is sometimes called the turbulent teens but thankfully never was for our Karis, who is now married to a wonderful young man, Kostas Alex.

March 17, 2009

Dear Karis:

You have become a beautiful young lady. We are not surprised that young men are beginning to notice you. Maybe they have been for a while. Your mom and dad also notice you. We see that you have beauty on the inside as well as the outside. We have always enjoyed your kind spirit. You have thought about others first. You are also a disciplined girl and you know what you want out of life.

God has put into your body and spirit a desire for affection. It is a natural and God-given attraction toward the opposite sex, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, for some it means that you can do what you want when you want it and with whom you want. The Bible doesn’t teach that. It says that our bodies don’t even belong to us, and certainly not to guys who may wrongly think they have rights to girls’ bodies. Our bodies have been purchased by the blood of Jesus and belong to God. They are temples of the Holy Spirit, making them sacred places. God Himself lives in our bodies. Wow!

He wants us to take care of His possession and to save what He has given us for the person we will live our lives with. Here’s a warning: That is a high and lofty ideal but not an easy assignment. Our urges can become so strong that we may feel in a moment of passion that it must be the right thing to give in and follow our desires. Like the song, “You Light Up My Life,” says, “It can’t be wrong ‘cause it feels so right.” What is right is not what feels right but what God says is right.

Sex is God’s idea, not Satan’s. He created it, so He knows best how to enjoy it. He has put it in the protection of marriage. Fire in a fireplace is a beautiful and heart-warming picture. Fire out of control is terrorizing and destructive. The same goes for sexual pleasure. While it will be a struggle to wait rather than to live out your passions, you will be much happier than giving into your passions. To do so for those who know that they belong to God brings guilt, shame, fear, and a host of other negative emotions. Your mom and dad want something better for you. We have dealt with girls facing surprise pregnancies and unfulfilled promises by guys who fled the scene, leaving them alone with many difficult decisions. We want your wedding day to be the height of excitement and in no way clouded over by the sad reality of not having waited.

We are confident in God for you. We look forward to how God will express His love to you in the future. We are glad that He has given you to us to care for in this season until the time that you come under the protection of a young man.

Please know that you can come to Mom or me with any questions or concerns. When we hold secrets, they start holding us. I hope that you feel you can talk with us about anything. Your siblings are also available.

May God’s grace be upon you these days!

Your thankful father and mother