Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Apr
22
2014

A Subtle, but Powerful Way to Love Your Spouse

There are all sorts of big and small ways to show love to your spouse. One of the easiest, but powerful ways to demonstrate this is to talk about them positively in public. This one reason I am so grateful for Angela. She has to live with my sinful tendencies, my human weaknesses, and my annoying quirks. There is a lot of material from which she could easily draw when talking with her girlfriends or other friends. And yet Angela has always talked well about me in public. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing to me. If she has a problem with me, she tells me. But never does she send a message through passive-aggressive shots delivered while in public. I appreciate and love her for that and I try very hard to return the favor.

I’m amazed at how often I hear good, faithful Christian couples undermine each other in public. I hear wives degrade their husband’s character and worth, sometimes in the church parking lot. I cringe every time I hear this because in my mind I can see the strength and confidence of the husband shrink. I also hear husbands rail on their wives in a sort of “can you believe what my wife just did?” kind of manner that tells me how much they really value the wive God has given them.

Angela and I are far from perfect. We have many flaws. But I’m grateful we’ve made this small commitment to each other. It’s hard for two people to walk together in mutual love if one or the other feels degraded. It’s crippling to the kind of long-lasting marital love that reflects the love Christ has for His Church.

In fact, I would bet there is more value to not saying negative things about a spouse than the kind of over-the-top flattery we sometimes display in order to have others commend us. If my wife never said I was “the best husband alive” on Facebook, but committed to not criticizing me in public, I’d be a happy man. And I”m guessing she’d say the same about me. Not tearing her down in public is better than a thousand “smoking hot wife” references on Twitter.

The reason this matters, I think, is because we often reveal our true selves when we’re trying to posture ourselves in front of other people, in a crowd. We reveal our true motivations. And for the other person to observe us sort of using them as fodder for a well-timed quip or cutting remark–this hurts more than we might realize.

So maybe my advice today is pretty simple: speak well of the one you are committed to love. You’ll be surprised how well this cements your bond of love.

Mar
28
2014

Faith at Work: More than Evangelism

A recovery of the doctrine of vocation is one of the most encouraging things I see in the evangelical church. In the last few years, there have been some really good books written on the intersection of faith and work. Work Matters by Tom Nelson and Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller are two notable ones. Recently, pastor Greg Gilbert and businessman Sebastian Traeger coauthored a book, The Gospel at Work that promises to further equip the church to think holistically about the workplace.

I had a chance to interview Greg Gilbert for today’s edition of The Friday Five for Leadership Journal. Here is one of the questions I asked:

I’m guessing the typical Christian, when hearing “the gospel at work” thinks of evangelism. But you are aiming for a more holistic vision of the workplace, right?

That’s right. This is not really a book about workplace evangelism (though we do talk about that). We’re actually aiming to try to help Christians think about how their faith in Jesus changes the way they think about and act in their jobs.Most Christians fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs.

Most Christians, we think, tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs. In other words, they either find themselves trying to find ultimate satisfaction and meaning from their jobs, or they lose sight of God’s purposes for them in their work. Neither of those, though, is the right way to think about work. Work shouldn’t be the center of our lives, but it also isn’t merely a necessary evil. Whatever you do, the fact is that you work for the King. It’s God who has deployed you to that particular job (or lack of a job!) at this particular time, and he has purposes for us in our work. In fact, our jobs are actually high profile arenas in which he wants to bring glory to himself and make us more like Jesus. If we remember that, it changes everything about how we approach our work.

You can read more here: 

Feb
13
2014

A word to husbands on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that sneaks up on you. Well, at least it sneaks up on me. The winter is rich with holidays for the Darling Family: Angela and I were married the week before Thanksgiving, two of our four children have December birthdays, and my birthday is in late January. It gets busy and  . . . expensive.

And I’m guessing I’m like most men. We do the Valentine’s thing sort of reluctantly. It’s a bit of an eye-rolling holiday. We feel we’re getting hosed by Hallmark. Think about it: Mother’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, Anniversary. I’ve even heard some (very unwise) husbands (who apparently have a regular cot in their garages) say they ignore it and just “love their wife the entire year.”

My advice is to . . . not do that. Don’t do that at all. For one thing, your wife doesn’t want to be nor does she deserve to be the only wife on the block, in her small group, and in the office who sheepishly tells her friends that her husband “doesn’t do this holiday.” Man up, buy a card and some flowers or chocolate or whatever she likes and do it. Secondly, we should use this cultural moment as a divinely appointed opportunity to show our wives some love. After all, we are supposed to, as Paul instructs, love our wives as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23). You don’t very well do that by leaving the Mrs in the cold on Valentine’s Day. We need these prompts, even if created by Hallmark, to be reminded to show our wives just how we feel about them, to renew our commitment to loving them as we love no other human being on the earth. Yes, it is true that love is more than show displays of flowers and chocolate and candy and balloons and teddy bears. But loves is not less than that either. Verbal expressions of love, tangible gifts are important to communicate what we say we feel in our hearts. So we need to do this. We need to make our wives feel every bit the treasure they are. I admittedly struggle with this, to show Angela just how much I love, cherish, and respect her. Valentine’s Day is like a cultural slap upside the head to do what I should be doing more often.

So guys, let’s get it together. I’ll see you in the Hallmark aisle at Walgreen’s tonight.

Jan
06
2014

Don’t let your kids say this phrase

There is a phrase in our vocabulary that nobody has to teach us to say. It’s a phrase kids learn very quickly in childhood. And it’s a phrase you should ban in your household:

“That’s not fair.”

It sounds innocent enough. Everybody wants life to be fair, right? But this is an insidious phrase, revealing a sin so bankrupt it goes back to the very beginning, back to the Fall of Man. It’s essentially what Eve was told by the serpent. “You’re getting a raw deal. You’re entitled to more. God is holding out on you.”

If you read Paul’s account of the Fall in Romans, you’ll discover that it was this attitude–ingratitude and entitlement–that lit the match of sin, plunging Creation into darkness. And it’s a surefire way to test your own heart, to see where the idols are.

Maybe it seems a bit melodramatic to bring all of this up to my four children ages 2,4,5, and 9. But I fear that if I allow them to embed entitlement in their little hearts right now, if their first reaction to a someone else getting an extra dessert, a gift from a friend, a new pair of shoes is “That’s not fair.”

And so we don’t allow this in our home. And when it comes up, my kids know they are in for some form of punishment, which usually involves a long-winded soliloquy from Dad that goes something like this:

First, you are right in saying that life isn’t fair. Because it’s not fair that little children go to bed hungry this very night, having eaten nothing but a handful of rice and here you’ve just had seconds on french fries. It’s not fair that some boys and girls grow up without a mother and father, orphaned by a war they didn’t start. It’s not fair that some children won’t even see many birthdays, succumbing to diseases we treat with immunizations and routine trips to the doctor. So if there is a complaining about being fair, its you and me and all of us in prosperous, free America on the other side of “Not fair.” So in the line of people complaining about a bad lot in life, we are several zip codes away from the front. Most of the world is pointing to us and saying, “Life isn’t fair” and they have a much better case.

Second, you really don’t want life to be fair. We all have a scale of what is just–but the problem is that we are human and not God. He actually holds the scale and the Bible says to us that it’s weighed down heavily in favor of His mercy. Listen to the words of the prophet, Jeremiah, “It is of his mercies we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22). In other words, because of our sin against Him, it is overwhelming mercy that we are not immediate targets of His judgement. Instead, we are beneficiaries of His grace. We really don’t God to be fair, but to be just. What’s unfair is Jesus’ assuming our wrath and guilt on the cross on our behalf so we could be restored to a right relationships with God. And on a more personal, pragmatic, earthly level, we should ask ourselves: do we really want God to even out the score? For us in wealthy, rich America, that might mean taking some things away from us and giving them to the less fortunate. Or someone more appreciative.

Third, a heart of ingratitude and entitlement is evident of a deeper problem with God. This is what worries me most about entitlement. It is saying to God: I do not trust you to be my Father, to take care of my needs, to love me and care for me. Worse, it elevates self to a god-like position. Ingratitude says: I know better what is good for me. I’m a better god than God. When we say, “That’s not fair”, we are saying to God, you haven’t distributed things as evenly as I would. Even though I’m a sinful human, I know much more about what is just and right than you. That’s a dangerous position to be in, because we know from Scripture that God is the perfect Heavenly Father and to trust ourselves to our own care, our own lordship, only spells disaster (Proverbs 14:12; Matthew 7:9-11). You don’t want to go through life as your own lord, your own god, your own master. You only have to look around at the misery and despair in the world to see that’s not a path worth pursuing.

After this, I then give them three things to consider about their ingratitude:

First, the cure for ingratitude and entitlement is the gospel. We don’t simply want our kids to “buck up”, but we want them to be sanctified by the Spirit of God. You see the gospel cures our our entitlement syndrome by reminding us that Jesus is enough. It reverses the curse of the Garden. It answers Satan’s lie about God by pointing to a bloody cross and a suffering Savior. It says: God did provide all you need. God is your Father. Anything else you think you need is a cheap, worthless, soul-crushing substitute. 

Second, the gospel nurtures in us a healthy sense of justice. You see there are imbalances in the world, but rather than looking inward at what we think we lack, God’s love teaches us to look outward at the injustice in the world. As members of Christ’s kingdom, we now become part of His plan to heal and restore. We stop looking at our own lives and saying, “It’s not fair” and we start looking at others, who are suffering under the weight of the Fall and we devote our lives to getting involved in alleviating injustice around us. When give up our own entitlement for the sake of others, we become a small window into the Kingdom to come, where Christ will fully restore all things.

Third, resisting ingratitude early on help us avoid unnecessary disappointment and sorrow later in life. This is not to dismiss genuine, real suffering and pain endured by so many people. However, there is much in the way of trial and hardship that is brought on simply by unrealistic expectations of what God is supposed to give us in this life. The entitlement mentality is never happy, always looking for what is mine. This is a fruitless, miserable pursuit. But a gospel-centered gratitude that recognizes God as Father and giver of good gifts helps us enjoy the blessings we already have, to revel in the grace we possess rather than wishing for things we think we are owed.  In a sense, it’s the reverse prosperity gospel.

In Summary: Don’t let your kids say the phrase, “It’s not fair” about their own situation. It’s the phrase that pays in misery and alienation from God.

Dec
17
2013

Repeat the Sounding Joy

Have you noticed lately that it’s the Christians who are often most cranky during the Christmas season? Complaining has almost become required. We hear sermons on how to deal with the stress of Christmas. We read ominous-sounding emails and Facebook posts on the so-called “War on Christmas.” And of course, cable news shows ramp up the debates on whether an elderly greeter in Dinkytown, USA, articulated her “Merry Christmas” greeting in a way that satisfies the Westminster Confession.

And let’s not even get into the tiresome annual debate about the chubby guy with the beard decked out in red from head-to-toe. Pastors, as part of their sober calling, are often summoned to decide whether using Santa wrapping paper is grounds for church discipline.

Is it just me, or have we Christians – the ones who know and believe God visited this sin soaked world in the form of a baby so He could save the world from sin – completely sucked the joy out of what should be the most joyous season?

My goal this Christmas season is to call Christians back to joy. Read five reasons why here:

Oct
30
2013

Jesus and the Digital Pharisees

It’s kind of ridiculous to ask, “What if Jesus were on Twitter?” But indulge me for a second, anyways. I’ve noticed something about our generation’s engagement online and with those we consider “Christian celebrities” – famous pastors or church leaders who have big platforms. There’s a tendency among those of us who blog, tweet, write, post, instagram, etc toward a subtle kind of Phariseeism. Our generation prides itself on not being legalistic, of casting off the sort of religious, rule-making paradigm we didn’t quite like about our parent’s version of church. But in our zeal to not be like those we think are bad representations of Christianity, we’ve adopted a legalism of a different sort.

In Luke 18, Jesus shares a haunting parable about who is justified in the eyes of God. I’m struck by a few things in this passage. First, Luke gives us a vague description of the audience.  The NIV puts it like this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” I”m guessing everyone in the audience thought that they were not in this self-righteous group. It was everyone else who needed to work on their pride.

Jesus then sets up a story of two people going to the temple to pray, a common occurrence in that culture. You first have the religious person, the spiritual one, who enters a time of prayer with pride. He wants to be seen as being prayerful and utters a public declaration, “I thank God I’m not like . . . . .” The people he names are people held in contempt by the culture, people who are “safe” to mock for their sin. Easy targets of ridicule and scorn. These are the people we might mock on Twitter and seek to distance ourselves from with heated denunciations or humorous take-downs. You can even envision the hashtags from this Pharisee’s prayer: #robber #evildoer #adulterer. Then the Pharisee, wanting to squeeze out every bit of public praise, narrows his focus to “and even this guy, the tax collector.” Here he is calling out the other man to enter the temple to pray, the guy with the worst reputation in the community, the easy target for manufactured outrage and public scorn. You can even envision this in a tweet, “So glad I”m not like @taxcollector who preys on the poor and betrays his own people.”

But Jesus, poking holes in the self-righteousness of the Pharisee, turns the narrative focus on the tax collector, who enters the temple, head down, full of remorse. Unlike the Pharisee he has no illusions of his own righteousness. He’s overcome with guilt and sorrow for his sin. He knows he doesn’t deserve anything from God but punishment and so cries out in mercy, even beats his breast.

This man, Jesus said, walked out more justified than the Pharisee. Why? Because it wasn’t others’ sin that so gripped his heart and soul, it was his own.

Now most of us would hear a story like that and shout “amen!” because we don’t think we’re the first guy, the self-righteous Pharisee. Those are the people with all the funky religious rules and weird clothes. Those are the fundamentalists of another generation or the obnoxious guy on Facebook who doesn’t celebrate Halloween or the celebrity pastor who keeps saying dumb things.

But I think Jesus would beg to differ. Remember he addressed this parable to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” That cuts both ways. What’s more, if the tax collector in Jesus’ day was the easy target, the hated person in the culture, the one that reasonable, middle-of-the-road, kinda spiritual people are free to mock, then maybe it’s us who are the Pharisees.

Jesus words to the Pharisees of his day and to the Pharisees of our day is simple: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” (Luke 18:14). Empty, vacuous declarations of self-righteousness bounce off the ceiling. But desperate, humble cries for mercy and grace reach the throne room of Heaven.

Today, social media is our “public temple” in a way. It’s where we declare who we are and what we stand for, for better or for worse. And I’m afraid we’re so quick to make sure everyone knows that we’re “not like that other guy who keeps getting it wrong.” You might substitute “obnoxious celebrity pastor” or “outrageous Hollywood entertainer” or “corrupt congressman” for tax collector. Our generation of Christians seems too eager to “not be like those other kind of Christians.” We all think we are among the most reasonable people we know.

In our lurching attempts to not be Pharisees, we become Pharisees of a different stripe. But Jesus’ words to the self-justified should haunt us and then drive us to our knees in humility and cries for mercy. These may not be the stylish prayers of the digital world. But they are the prayers Jesus seems to answer.

Oct
28
2013

Your Family is Not a Problem to Be Solved

 In a symposium published by The Guardian, novelist Richard Ford was asked to deliver his best advice to aspiring writers. Forgive me for quibbling with the wisdom of a celebrated muse, but I was offended by his first two pieces of advice: 1) Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea; 2) Don’t have children.

In Ford’s view, marriage is only useful insomuch as it furthers personal aims and children are optional nuisances to be avoided, if possible. Marriage is merely instrumental instead of aspirational. I’m not sure if Ford’s advice was meant as tongue-in-cheek, but it reflects the utilitarian and the flaccid attitude toward the family in our time. As if the rigors of family life are an impediment to selfish career aims.

It would be easy to dismiss this kind of logic as the liberal worldview of the elite—and in some measure it does reflect the sort of utopian, family planning ideology of many academic precincts—but the seeds are part of a larger conflict that dates back to the Garden of Eden.

After all, it was the wily serpent who convinced Eve that to live out her existence as God’s image-bearer was to lead a less-fulfilled, less noble life. It became all about her aims to know more, to be more, to carve out a self-directed life apart from God.

This lie that leads to death is at the heart of Satan’s long war against God. To consider children and family life a nuisance to be avoided rather than a gift to be stewarded is the seed that leads to modern evils like abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking and other violations of human decency. We take the inherent worth of the imago dei and subject it to material gain or personal fulfillment. We become individualists, viewing each other not as a unique soul created in God’s image, but a product to be consumed at our leisure. Darwinian convenience is a direct assault on God’s ordered creation and therefore an assault on God himself.

But lest followers of Christ think this kind of utilitarianism is restricted to the airy halls of Berkley or the Ivy Leagues, we must be careful to resist imbibing the idea that family life is somehow a lesser accomplishment than career.

I’ve had more than one conversation with a Christian parent whose greatest fear was not that their son would leave the faith while in college, but would find a girl and get married, thwarting his viability for graduate school and beyond. I’ve heard the drip of condescension of some who view with pity the stay at home mom, as if she’s given up the best of her life to do the lesser task of raising her children. And I’ve battled the temptation to consider my role as father less important than the title on my business card.

To be sure, family life is a sacrifice of blood, sweat, tears and treasure. There are many parts of parenthood that are less than glamorous. Homework assignments, late-night bouts of the flu, consistent discipline—these are not warm and fuzzy moments that make the photo album. And yet if we were to be honest, our lives would be less fulfilled and lack a certain, unquantifiable richness  without the deep well of family life. I can’t imagine my life and my career without the steadying influence of my wife and the gradual sanctification God has allowed in me through fatherhood. Frankly, my writing and speaking career ascended only after I got married and started having kids. You might say that this was just coincidental, a maturity that comes with age. But those who know me best would strenuously disagree. Marriage and fatherhood settles men by forcing their concentration toward their most immediate context: their family. Where the wellspring of manhood bends outward instead of inward toward his family, we produce a society that reaps what it sows—immature men whose sexual appetites are as untrained and unfocused.

When we diminish marriage and family life, whether with Richard Ford’s intentional swipes or by our subtle lifestyle choices, we err in two ways. First, we acquiesce to the enemy’s ruthless attack on God. To diminish human dignity, in any form, is to snuff out the image of God. Marriage is an illustration of the intimacy between Christ and His church and a window into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity.

And secondly, we, like Eve, accept the lie that what God has designed is inferior to what we could design on our own. We would do well to repeatedly remind ourselves that Jesus came to restore us to the fruitful joy stolen by the enemy in the Garden (John 10:10).

Sep
25
2013

Grace Makes the Medicine Go Down

One of the things that confounds me, as a parent, is the refusal of my kids to take their medicine, even as they are crying out in pain. It’s particularly annoying in the middle of the night (you know, those few nights when it’s actually me getting up instead of my long-suffering and faithful wife, Angela).

It’s quite illogical, really, for kids to refuse medicine that not only has the power to relieve their pain, but also can heal them of the sickness or injury that is making their little lives miserable. And yet, there a kid squirms, mouth closed, head shaking in refusal. As good parents, we practically have to hold them down and force the medicine down. Then we have to tell them that this medicine–the medicine we just forced down their mouths–is for their good. Trust me, we tell them.

But just when I begin to shake my head in disbelief at my kids’ lack of logic, of trust, of common sense in all of this, I’m reminded of my own attitude toward God’s good medicine. How often do I refuse what God designs for my good, because in my childishness I think I know better than He does what is best for me. It even may be at the same time I’m complaining to God about pain in my life. And so God, because He’s a good Father, often has to force the medicine into my soul.

Now to be sure, sometimes God’s medicine, like the medicine we get from the drug store, doesn’t taste very good. Even when the label assures you it is “cherry flavored,” the aftertaste reminds you it is still medicine. Even if you tell your kid it tastes like bubble gum, they know it really doesn’t. It’s like this with the hard medicine God asks us to drink. Yes, He gives us grace in trials. Yes, we have the body of Christ to help us endure the worst of life. And most importantly, yes, we have the hope of future resurrection, where faith will be sight, where these decaying bodies will be transformed into eternal ones, perfect and fit for heaven.

Still, pain hurts. The Fall continues to crush every area of life. Even Jesus wept at death. Paul longed to shake off the dying flesh and be with Jesus. Jeremiah lamented. David vented and wept and longed for renewal.

So Christian maturity is not so much the fiction that medicine tastes good, that trials really aren’t that bad after all, that to follow Jesus means unending prosperity and happiness in this life. Maturity is more about perspective, putting away the childishness that refuses the sovereign medicine of trials, allowed by the Father, ordained because of His loving desire to mold us to be more like His Son. It’s saying, with a wry smile, “I may not like what God is making me drink now, but I trust Him. I will accept it.”

We don’t always do this perfectly, which is why we need grace. The grace of One who did take that cup of suffering, not because it would make Him better, but because by accepting this cup, we might be renewed. He trusted the will of His Father so that we could taste the grace of forgiveness and experience resurrection.