Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. ESV Matthew 19:8

Around the dinner table the other night we were discussing the recent divorces of several prominent leaders in Christian circles. While we don’t know all the causes and ramifications of these divorces, my heart breaks as I consider the end of these marriages. I have enough divorced friends to know divorce is incredibly painful, and this post is not intended to heap shame or pain on those who have walked this horrible journey. Instead, I hope to remind those who are married of the incredible importance of maintaining our marriage at all costs.

My premise is this (feel free to disagree): If God calls you to be married, your marriage becomes a critical part of your spiritual formation and ongoing spiritual leadership. I don’t know the details of many divorces, but in our celebrity Christian culture, I suspect many of the marriages were strained by the stress brought on by expanding ministry. I’m assuming these ministers and ministries were genuinely blessed by the Lord and guided by hearts that genuinely desired to see God exalted and people changed by the gospel. However, these endeavors can be consuming, especially when they take off in a viral way. At that point, it seems counter-productive to pull back to focus on marriage, but perhaps that needs to happen at times. (There is a counter argument as well, that some people “put their marriage first” and in the process don’t work for the gospel as well as they perhaps could…there is a balance in all things in life).

In particular, I think of a family my wife knows. The wife in this family has suffered from severe migraines for the past 30 years. This has no doubt hindered her husband from expanding some of his ministry opportunities. However, if God is sovereign, perhaps limiting our ministry opportunities to care for our spouses brings God glory, saves our marriages, and ultimately shapes us spiritually. God can reach the world without us, so if He called us to not separate from our spouses, perhaps we should take whatever steps are needed to maintain our marriages. In such a short post, I’ve only scratched the surface, and I know these issues are incredibly complex. What thoughts would you have?

“The Mouth of the Journey”

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. ESV Proverbs 22:6

God blessed my wife and I with five children (and we are in the process of adopting a few more). With that many kids, many aspects of our home are structured and ordered, and we do much together as a family. However, one of the most important aspects of our children’s spiritual formation is the recognition that each child is uniquely made by their creator and as such, He has a unique plan for each of them.

The verse quoted above is so often quoted in the context of “take your child to church when he’s young, and he will continue to go when he’s old.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t say that or mean that, so when parents base their parenting philosophy on this interpretation, it’s no wonder they are surprised by the negative outcome. Literally translated, the Hebrew says “Train a child upon the mouth of his journey…” It has the idea that each child has a lifetime stretching in front of them. Our responsibility as parents is to help that child find the “mouth of his journey” or the beginning place of the path to which God has called him. In other words, God has called each of our children to walk a unique path. Our responsibility as parents is to help them find that path and begin their journey well. If we can help them get on the path God has called them, Solomon assures us they will continue well.

This “mouth of the journey” involves so much more than just making sure they are followers of Christ. It involves helping them find their gifts, talents, abilities, calling and considering their fears, weaknesses, besetting sins and struggles. Collectively, these things make up the calling God has for each of us. We have all seen too many people struggle to find their life calling. Our responsibility as parents is to help our children find the mouth of their journey with God. What a high calling! I’ll try to unpack exactly how we do this in future posts, but for now, know this is God’s calling to you as a parent.

A different kind of work

In all toil there is profit... ESV Proverbs 14:23

Generally on Mondays, I reflect on our work and how God uses our vocation in our spiritual formation. However, this week I’m on vacation, visiting my family in Florida. My sister and brother-in-law recently bought their first home and are in the process of renovating it. Today, I get to work with them, hanging and finishing drywall and prepping the floor (removing tiles and cleaning the concrete slab). In essence, it will be work, but not the kind of work I generally do on Mondays.

While some people may find this challenging, I’m actually really excited about it. I worked various construction jobs throughout college and seminary and find it invigorating. When you make disciples, progress is slow and you often don’t see changes. Theoretically, by tomorrow night, I’ll see drywall hung, the first coat of mud, tiles up, floor smooth, perhaps some painting done, and who knows, we may get other projects done as well! This should be quite invigorating for me. My body will be physically tired, but my mind will be refreshed, and I’ll get great fellowship with my sons and brother-in-law in the process. I think Solomon understood this. God created us to work, and while He calls us to a particular vocation, even when we engage in work outside that vocation, we engage in profitable endeavors. These efforts shape our spiritual formation.

What about you? What work has God called you to outside your general vocation? It may not seem spiritual, but sharpening mower blades, washing the car, doing your neighbor’s laundry, picking up stuff at the store for a friend…all these things are profitable and character forming. We learn to serve others; we learn new skills; we meet new people (and have new disciple making opportunities). We engage with people at Home Depot, or perhaps we meet new neighbors. In all work, there is profit. Engage in profitable work today, even if it’s outside your “work.”

The Universal Church

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:11-12 ESV

Vacation! I hope you are able to occasionally leave town, even if it’s only to visit family such as is the case with my trip this week. It’s good to get away from everything…work, neighborhood, church, etc. However, I hope that when you are out of town over the weekend, you don’t take that as a free pass to skip church. Instead, I’ve found these weekends to be some of the best church times for me and my family.

In the verses above, Paul references how he has never been able to visit the church at Rome, but he indicates how much he wants to visit there. He wants to be encouraged by their faith, and wants to encourage them. As believers, I think we often think of the church as our local congregation and we forget that Christ’s church is actually so much greater than our local congregation. Visiting other churches in other towns opens our eyes to God’s greater kingdom plan, and this plays a vital part in our spiritual formation.

I’ve actually developed a tradition where my oldest son accompanies me to one or two churches in the morning (usually an 8:00 and a 9:30 service) before we grab the rest of the family and attend church with one of my extended family members. The first two services are mostly for me to observe what other churches are doing and learn, but even then I grow and enjoy them. (Granted, a big part of it is just being able to go to church and not be responsible for anything! This is a huge gift for a pastor). The last service is special for me, because I get to sit with my family and we get to worship together. I hope you take the opportunity to engage in whatever churches you can find in your travels. We are all part of a great family.

A Calm Soul

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2 ESV

I write about this a lot, but perhaps it’s because it weighs heavily on me. On Saturdays I take time to reflect on the state of my soul, and for the past several months, it seems my soul has been constantly distracted, buffeted, anxious, busy, frazzled…. Most of it is good stuff, even spiritual stuff. However, in the midst of it, my mind especially has been constantly running to the point that I can’t stop and enjoy God. By His grace, this past week has been a week off; a week to spend with family, to cut off screens, to take a break from the pressures of daily life. In the midst of this, the coolest thing has happened. My joy in the Lord has resurfaced!

In the psalm referenced above David remarks that he has become like a weaned child–a picture so profound in its simplicity. An unweaned child constantly clamors for his mother to feed him, to meet his needs, to care for him. Only when a child has been weaned, can he simply lay in his mother’s arms at rest. David has reached a place where he no longer “occupies himself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (see v. 1). Instead, he simply occupies himself with pleasant thoughts of the LORD. For this reason, he concludes his brief psalm by encouraging Israel to “hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.”

In a similar vein I’ve found myself this week simply taking delight in the LORD. As I have been able to remove myself from the things that so consume my thoughts, I have found the joy of the LORD naturally springing up within me. You have no idea how wonderful this is for me. Perhaps this is one of the key reasons we need regular vacations. We need time to quiet our souls and enjoy Jesus. As I prepare to return to “real life,” I’m determined to keep some of the distractions out so I can continue to enjoy the Lord. What about you? Would you describe your relationship with the Lord as a “weaned child” or a “screaming infant”? God is good. Rest in Him. This is spiritual formation.

A time to not keep time…

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV

On Friday’s we usually review spiritual formation as it pertains to our stuff: our time, our money, our resources. Part of being our spiritual formation involves managing and investing the time, money and other stuff God has given to us. A big part of our spiritual formation then requires us to become better time managers (I highly recommend What’s Best Next as a start on time management), and most of time management involves getting more done within the time God has given us. Generally speaking this is a sound Biblical principle. However, I write this post as I prepare for vacation. And Solomon reminds us there is a time for everything. In light of vacation, that means there is a time to not keep time.

For type-A people like myself, this is a hard spiritual truth to grasp. To think that on some level, at some times, God wants us to turn off our clocks and just live seems unthinkable. (I realize for some of you, this is how you live everyday….you need to grow disciplined, and most of the other posts will be for you :-)). Regardless, taking time where we don’t pay attention to time is important in our spiritual development. Ideally we should do this every Sabbath (one day a week). Then throughout the year, we should set aside full weeks to do this. Did you know God commanded the Hebrews to take three weeks off a year? One week was a mandatory camping trip (see Leviticus 23:33-43), but I digress.

Because my parents and my in-laws live in the deep south, our “vacation” this year is really running the triangle to both sets of my kids grandparents. While it’s not as nice as a cruise or trip to the Caribbean, it will be ten days where I won’t pay attention to rise times, bed times, work times or really any other times. Instead, I’ll try to simply “be” and embrace God as I meet Him. Perhaps I grow so structured (including with the time of my daily devotions) that I don’t have the “time” to just enjoy God. That’s the point of taking time to not keep time…a fun part of our spiritual formation.

Extended Family

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. Genesis 33:4 ESV

On Thursdays, we consider the relationships God placed in our lives. Usually this included disciple making with friends, neighbors and coworkers. However, one of the key relationships God has placed in our lives includes our extended family. I’m late posting today because I’m at my in-laws spending time with them and preparing to travel to see my extended family. Overall I have strong relationships with my family, and this trip has provided great opportunities to strengthen them. All of this involves a part of my and their spiritual formation.

This trip has provided time to spend with an estranged family member. Simply hanging out with him strengthens our relationship and helps affirm his value to God. Affirming some wise choices he has made and gently challenging some unwise ones are attempts to disciple him and lead him back to the Lord. We have also enjoyed affirming my in-laws. My wife and I have seen the Lord work powerfully in their lives, and both are exhibiting growing evidence of the fruits of the Spirit. My in-laws are handling a stressful period (transitioning my mother-in-laws out of state mother into a retirement community) with grace and perseverance. I’ve spent some time on the phone with my brother-in-law and later will help hang drywall at my sister’s home. All of this provides opportunities to affirm and disciple and maximize our relationships.

Jacob and Esau had tremendous strain in their relationship. So much so that Jacob was concerned about going home. However, God changed Jacob’s name and ultimately gave him confidence to meet his brother. The result was nothing short of amazing. May I encourage you that no matter the state of your extended family, God has placed you there to encourage their spiritual formation. Of course, in so doing, He will be forming you, and that’s the point of this blog: to explore all the ways God develops us spiritually. Take heart. Your next family reunion may be a divine appointment instead of a stressful disaster!

Marriage Fights

A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? Song of Solomon 5:2-3 ESV

Marriage is tough. Tough for me, tough for you, tough for even Solomon. In the verses above, he comes to spend time with his wife, but she’s in bed and doesn’t want to be bothered. (She does change her mind, but by that time he’s left, creating a tension that must be resolved). Regardless of how we idolize and idealize marriage, because we are sinners marriage is tough.

A good friend joined us for dinner tonight. Sadly, he’s currently estranged from his wife. After he went home, the kids were asking about his wife (where she was living, why they weren’t together, etc.). My wife and I realized this was their first exposure to marriage that didn’t work. They didn’t understand why our friend and his wife were no longer together. This provided a great teaching opportunity for our kids. We didn’t just explain “sometimes things just don’t work out,” because that’s doesn’t address the real issues at work. Instead, we presented the gospel truth: marriage is hard work because we are all sinners. I explained to the kids that each day my wife and I sin against and hurt each other. That requires us to forgive each other. We explained to them that each night, their Mom and I have to process our day and work through disagreements we may have. It’s why we sit on the couch and yell at them when they get out of bed! It’s our time to maintain our marriage and confess any sin that has created tension between us.

I share all of this because it’s the truth. Regardless of how strong or how weak your marriage may be, you are both sinners and will continue to sin against each other. Only through constantly deciding to forgive your spouse as Christ Jesus forgave you can you have a strong marriage. If you have a hard marriage, be encouraged, forgiveness can restore things. If you have a wonderful marriage, stay humble–sin can start small…continue to forgive daily. Fights happen. Sin disarms them.

Sex and our kids (Part 2)

I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28 ESV

On Tuesdays we discuss how our spiritual formation impacts our kids. Last week we began discussing how to lead our children through the challenging sexuality of our culture and help them live pure and holy lives. Today we continue this discussion by focusing on some of the tools I have found to be helpful in this area.

First, the tools I recommend are simply that: tools. Nothing can guarantee our kids will turn out the way we want them to. They will answer to God for their actions, and only He can shape their hearts. For that reason, the first tool is prayer. I commented before on the importance of praying daily for our children, so I won’t reiterate it here. Secondly, realize that shaping their heart is infinitely more important than fencing them off from bad things. I recommend Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp if you haven’t considered this aspect of parenting (worth a blog post in itself in the future). Thirdly, I have begun monthly breakfasts with my son as he prepares for the teen years. I hope these breakfasts provide open accountability and discussion where we can discuss all things, including sexuality and everything included there. Fourth, we must be proactive regarding the internet and the rampant availability of pornography. Your kids will find it and be forever changed by it. In my house, we use OpenDNS (a free service) to filter our internet. I like the way it is router based, so even if friends come over to the house and jump on our wifi, things are still filtered. We also install CovenantEyes (worth every penny of the $15 or so for a monthly family plan) on all our devices. This allows my wife and I to see exactly what sites our children visit and how long they were on them. Personally, I feel all parents are complete fools to not implement filters and accountability aspects such as these.

As I indicated before, only God can guard and shape their heart. Belief that OpenDNS or Covenant Eyes will keep our kids form porn is foolish at best and dangerous at worst. We must engage in prayer, accountability and open relationships to guide our children to understand how God created sex.

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