Monday, May 31, 2010

Caring for Your Heart @ransomedheart

Sorry I've been out for a while: I've been studying for my final licensing exam, and I passed on Friday, so now I have more time! :)

In the past couple of weeks, I have thought a lot about my heart and what my future holds professionally. Ransomed Heart is a great organization that has reminded me how important my heart is. This email devotional from Ransomed Heart was particularly good, in my opinion.

Ransomed Heart
Ransomed Heart

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Do Whatever Brings You Back to Your Heart and the Heart of God

Against the flesh, the traitor within, a warrior uses discipline. We have a two-dimensional version of this now, which we call a "quiet time." But most men have a hard time sustaining any sort of devotional life because it has no vital connection to recovering and protecting their strength; it feels about as important as flossing. But if you saw your life as a great battle and you knewyou needed time with God for your very survival, you would do it. Maybe not perfectly-nobody ever does and that's not the point anyway-but you would have a reason to seek him. We give a halfhearted attempt at the spiritual disciplines when the only reason we have is that we "ought" to. But we'll find a way to make it work when we are convinced we're history if we don't.

Time with God each day is not about academic study or getting through a certain amount of Scripture or any of that. It's about connecting with God. We've got to keep those lines of communication open, so use whatever helps. Sometimes I'll listen to music; other times I'll read Scripture or a passage from a book; often I will journal; maybe I'll go for a run; then there are days when all I need is silence and solitude and the rising sun. The point is simply to dowhatever brings me back to my heart and the heart of God.

The discipline, by the way, is never the point. The whole point of a "devotional life" is connecting with God. This is our primary antidote to the counterfeits the world holds out to us.

(Wild at Heart , 171-72)

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Forgiveness Takes Two

One of the devotionals I subscribe to is called PeaceMeal, put out by Peacemaker Ministries. I thought the latest PeaceMeal was particularly interesting and useful. I like the focus on full forgiveness requiring two people, not just one. It's not our usual way of thinking about forgiveness. And you know I like making us think and challenging our usual way of thinking about things. :)

Here's the devotional:

PeaceMeal is a publication of Peacemaker® Ministries. Copyright 2009. Reprinted with permission. To sign up for this free weekly email publication, go to the Peacemaker Ministries website at

It Takes Two to Tango (And to Grant Forgiveness)

When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God (see Mark 11:25; Luke 6:28; Acts 7:60). By his grace, you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you. This requires making and living out the first promise of forgiveness, which means you will not dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word, or action. Instead, you pray for the other person and stand ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents. This attitude will protect you from bitterness and resentment, even if the other person takes a long time to repent.

Granting forgiveness is conditional on the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person (Luke 17:34). It is a commitment to make the other three promises of forgiveness to the offender. When there has been a serious offense, it would not be appropriate to make these promises until the offender has repented. Until then, you may need to talk with the offender about his sin or seek the involvement of others to resolve the matter (Matt. 18:1620). You could not do this if you had already made the last three promises. But once the other person repents, you can make these promises, closing the matter forever, the same way God forgives you.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 210-211.

Food for Thought

Today's Food for Thought is pretty simple: When it comes to granting forgiveness, don't forget to involve the offender! Many times, forgiveness is described as "letting go" or "getting over it." This is true and absolutely necessary, to the extent that "letting go" is, in essence, a matter of taking your eyes off the offense and the offender and putting them on the cross, where the ultimate act of reconciliation took place. But again, this only gets us to the beginning of the first stage of forgiveness. To be able to make all four promises of forgiveness (i.e., to experience complete reconciliation), however, we must involve the other person.

Now ideally, the granting of forgiveness takes place in the context of a confession by a repentant offender. When the offender can't or won't repent, then it is true that our only choice is to maintain an attitude of forgiveness. But when our offender hasn't had a chance to confess, then we owe it to him (or her) to go to him and give him that chance. As we "gently restore" the offender, and God works in his heart, then we both have opportunity to experience the joy of true and complete reconciliation. Forgiveness is a gift--so let's remember to let the offender know he received it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sex, Porn, & Marriage Redeux

On the heels of last week's series on unmet marriage needs, focusing on sex, I read two articles from two separate Christian magazines relating to this issue.

The first is from Christianity Today, reporting on a New York Times article on gay marriage and how many gay male partnerships are open relationships. As they point out in the article, this situation has ironically strengthened the endurance of the relationships. Again, I'm not advocating for open marriages, but the facts should make us think about our assumptions.

The second is from Relevant, discussing the idea of emotional pornography. I love the line the author wrote, stating "Just as there is sexual excitement surrounding the mystery and allure of what flesh might be seen in a movie known for its racy reputation, so too are we drawn in with an anticipation for the emotional and physical high of a romance film." I recommend you continue to read the article. It brings up some excellent points, including how emotionally relationships media often encourages can actually be counter-productive. I thought of Shakespeare in Love in particular...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Calming Celtic Devotions @ivpress @ivpbooks

This review was made possible by a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press.

As many people who know me well know that I love all things Celtic, particularly Celtic Christianity, I was very interested when I saw Celtic Devotions by Calvin Miller in a bookstore.

The book is meant to be a 30 day devotional to lead the reader in morning and evening prayers. Physically, it's an easy book to carry, which makes it effective for its intended use. It's small in all dimensions, but has a hard cover, which is nice to protect as it is carried or moved.

Each chapter for the 30 days includes a devotional reading to set the day up and then a morning and evening reading and prayer. The book uses Psalm 119 as its core, which Miller explains is because this Psalm is central to Celtic spirituality. I like the use of this kind of core because it ties all the chapters, devotions, and prayers together.

The chapters and prayers are short, making it easy to use the book for a quick morning and evening devotion. The incarnational element reinforces what I love about Celtic spirituality.

If you like Celtic Christianity or want to get into a rhythm of daily prayer, this is a nice book to use. It's nothing that will be shockingly new, but that's the beauty of it. So often I try to use my time and reading to learn and engage new things, when in fact, I probably need to slow down. This book encourages just that.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Unmet Marriage Needs, Part 3 of 3

So continuing from the last two days, sex is a need at some level. If it's not being adequately met (and it's not met in many marriages), how can that need be met without destroying the marriage?

One option is masturbation, with or without porn. Christians have a lot to say on both masturbation and porn, often with passionate arguments on both sides. My supervisor recently gave a lecture to a group of female nurses on sex addiction. He started by asking them if their husbands were masturbating to an image of a beautiful nude woman on their computer screen, how many would consider that cheating. Only about 1/3 raised their hands. Adjusting the situation, the woman is now in the room, while the man is doing nothing different. Now the whole audience thought it was cheating. Sure, there are dynamics as to why the man would be in the same room as the nude woman. However, the action itself is the same, under slightly different circumstances.

This emphasizes the very fine line between what is considered cheating and what is not. Affairs are a clear example of being on the cheating side (that's the definition of affair). But what about blow-up dolls and other anatomically-correct tools to self-stimulate?

So then there's the option of an open marriage. Both parties agree that sexual needs are not being met within the relationship, so they agree to let them be met in other ways.

Interestingly, most people are more appalled at the idea of an open marriage than affairs. We are not shocked to hear spouses straying. We're not even shocked by pastors having affairs. Yet a couple has found (what they believe to be) a mutually satisfactory solution to a problem in their lives in which they can protect their marriage. The couple in House brought up this point. I think it's an excellent one and shows the hypocrisy of much of our societal judgment on sexuality.

This reminds me of a point a friend made about a group he knew of that attempted to "help" homosexuals. In the group, the people were encouraged to discussed ways they "slipped" into having a one-night-stand or anonymous sex. But talk about a meaningful relationship, and you're out of the group. Interesting approach that is very similar to this topic.

How can we approach the topic of unmet sexual needs without condemning and while finding a satisfactory solution. Open marriage and affairs are not particularly satisfactory on a theological, psychological, and emotional level. Masturbation for most people is not satisfactory on a physiological level (or emotional level due to the lack of emotional intimacy).

Many marriages have unmet sexual needs due to relational, physiological, emotional, and psychological reasons. As I provide therapy to these couples (or an individual), I would not be sure what to suggest. There does not seem like a good solution about ways to get these needs met.

Of course, to complicate and at time negate this whole conversation, it's also important to remember that sexual desire is also a symbol for other desires within a relationship and may, in fact, have nothing really to do with sex...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Unmet Marriage Needs, Part 2 of 3

Yesterday, I introduced the topic of unmet needs in a marriage and how they can be met outside of the marriage. At least this is true for most needs. The problem is in the area of sexual needs.

The reason I put the spoiler alert yesterday for House is that last week's episode had open marriage as a central topic (and got me thinking about this topic, so hat tip to the screenwriters! :)). For those who don't know, an open marriage is one in which the partners are free to have sex with other people without it being considered cheating.

The physicians were largely appalled by the idea of an open marriage. However, the woman (the one who had asked for the open marriage) said the reason she wanted the open marriage was because she loved her husband. Huh? That's surprising to most people. But let's follow her logic for a moment. She said her husband meets 90% of her needs. The 10% can be draining and can take away from her appreciation of that 90%. And she doesn't want to let that go. I have to say that's a very valid point, although the solution of an open marriage is still questionable at best. But let's explore this a bit more.

Maslow puts sex as a fundamental, physiological need. It's more fundamental than relationships. It's at the same level as food, sleep, and breathing. Now, I would argue that we can survive without having intercourse, but sexual arousal will occur whether or not we like it (ever heard of a wet dream?). We can argue how fundamental a need sex is, but many theorists have emphasized the importance of sex. So I would say sexual need is something that needs to be legitimately looked at within a marriage.

The difficulty is the complexity of sex. There is the "pure horniness" factor, which solely deals with physiologic arousal. Then there's the sexual intimacy, which includes a relational element. Maslow puts that much higher on his hierarchy (meaning, it's not as fundamental to life).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Unmet Marriage Needs, Part 1 of 3

Due to the controversial and sensitive nature of sexuality (the point of this 3 part post), I feel the need to remind readers that the purpose of this blog is bring up questions and struggles many people may have. Playing the devil's advocate is a very effective and good way to combat group think, which I believe is a major threat to authentic faith. I am NOT advocating for a particular position here, but rather pointing out an area of life that we, as a society, have not adequately addressed.

I also need to add a spoiler alert if you watch House and haven't seen last week's episode (the spoiler really won't affect much, though).

As I have mentioned before, marriage is not necessarily meant to meet all needs for individual. It hopefully meets most, but no individual or relationship is perfect, so not all needs will be met. This can create a variety of problems due to the modern romanticized marriage in which we expect all needs to be met in that single relationship. I think that's part of the reason the first year of marriage is so hard: It's beginning to debunk that myth.

In truly traditional marriage (not the false traditional marriage that is really based on a model of the 1950s), a person's needs were met in community. That takes pressure off the spouse to be everything to an individual. It's also useful for when one individual is incapacitated in some way (illness, death, etc.).

Now most needs if not fully met can be met outside of the marriage. For instance, (and again, I'm not saying my wife does not meet any of these--my phrasing is for the use of argument) is not emotionally available to me. Well, I can go to friends. Frankly, most spouses are not always emotionally available (they can't be), so we NEED friends. Or if my wife is not available to do hobbies with, then I can do that with a friend. Even for chores around the house, I could hire a housekeeper.

All of these are socially, religiously, and psychologically acceptable means to getting needs met. In fact, they can help prevent divorce and affairs. Many affairs begin when one partner is not getting all of his or her (yes, her) needs met. It could even be 90%, but when we are missing something, we focus on that. So we find someone who meets that other 10%, feel filled up by them and think they're the solution. Then you have an affair, followed by divorce. And the cycle repeats. Recognizing the limitations of marriage and finding ways to get the needs met in a healthy way can help prevent this breakdown.

But how do we deal with this when sex is the unmet need? More on that tomorrow...

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Wonderful Mystery of the Cross @ivpress @judithcouchman

This review was made possible by a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press.

The Mystery of the Cross by Judith Couchman caught my attention by a beautiful, illuminated manuscript-type cover and the promise of exploration of images of the Cross to enhance devotional time. Here's the book trailer:

Having reviewed several books that I was expecting to be great, but did not meet that expectation at all, I went into this book expecting it to disappoint me.

However, this book blew my expectations out of the water. First of all, the format is great. I appreciate that each chapter is quite short, making it easy to read a section when one has just a few minutes (like I usually do) rather than long periods of time to sit and really read deeply. This makes it particularly useful as devotional tool.

I also appreciated that each chapter included an image of the cross considered in that chapter. It helps to really understand what Couchman is describing. I also like that the images were hand-drawn, adding to the human dimension of the history of these images, making them seem more devotionally-focused than an aim for perfection.

The content, though, is where this book really shines. My undergraduate degree was in Religious Studies, particularly focused on early church history and hagiographies (the lives of the saints). Therefore, I really enjoy understanding the rich history behind images, stories, and words that make up our current faith. I find that this really helps me appreciate our tools for worship in a much deeper way.

Couchman does precisely this in each chapter. However, it's not boring or dry. She beautifully summarizes the history of an image and how and why it was used. She does so in an effectively concise way (something I cannot do :) ). This creates a nice balance between understanding the history while making each chapter short enough for effective devotion.

She then ends each chapter with a more devotional reflection. Some images may have a controversial history that may make some people not want to use them in devotion or that may challenge some people's faith. However, Couchman reframes the story in a way that does not negate the controversy, but rather uses it to enhance the mystical nature of Christian faith and the cross.

With these elements, Couchman balances both a cognitive, academic approach with an affective, devotional heart. Readers of my blog know that I look for ways to balance the two, as both are critically important for our lives. It's hard to do using all the spiritual formation resources we have. It's even harder to find in a single resource like this book. I am impressed by it and plan to continue to use it to enrich my own personal devotion. Few books truly have aided my devotion as much as this one has, especially recently.

As you can see, I strongly endorse this book. If you pick it up (and it's 30% off right now at IVP), I do suggest going into it with lower expectations. We all know how if we go into something with expectations too high, we are bound to be disappointed. This is one book I would not want to experience less because of my expectations.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jennifer Knapp Follow-Up

This is a really interesting interview Jennifer did with Relevant Magazine that follows-up on some of the controversy surrounding her coming out to the world as gay.

I again really appreciate her focus on relationship and the need for people to really struggle with their struggles, theology, spirituality, faith, decisions, and relationships.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).