Simple Answers

She graciously steered the conversation toward a topic she knew I like, “So, how do you make a horse go?”

I paused, pondering the question and possible responses. Honestly, the question would have been easier to answer a couple of years ago when I knew less about the topic…which meant I was probably overthinking the question.  Should I start with explaining I don’t make a horse do anything, I ask him?  No, she’d think I was just being nit-picky.  Should I talk about differentiating cues for different speeds?  No, she almost certainly meant moving from a standstill to walking and continuing to walk.  Should I start with explaining it depends on the horse’s level of training?  No, she was clearly referring to a well-trained horse.  It was asked as a simple direct question with expectation of a simple direct answer.

Unsure of my reason for hesitating, she reframed the question, “When you’re riding your horse, how do you get him to go?”

I latched onto the specificity of the reframed question, “Well…with my horse I usually just shift my weight slightly forward and maybe lift the reins a little. That’s usually all he needs.  If that doesn’t get a response, then I might nudge him a little with my legs or smooch him.”

It was a simple direct question expecting a simple direct response. My response was as simple and direct as I knew how to make it.  Yet I knew it likely had more qualifiers than she expected.  I also knew was a very incomplete answer…and not very useful.

It was a very incomplete answer...and not very useful. Click To Tweet

I knew the situation she was referring to. I’ve experienced it myself a few times.  A novice rider on a rented or borrowed horse starts out with a group of riders on a trail ride.  The borrowed horse falls behind the group and slows to a gradual halt.  The novice rider clicks, kicks, swats, or in some other way tries to prod the horse to move out.  The horse responds by picking up to a trot for a few strides then drops right back to a slow walk before stopping to browse on grass or leaves.

The answer I gave was a truthful answer, but of absolutely no use to a rider in such a situation. A horse that did not respond to clicks, kicks or swats was unlikely to respond to a shift of weight or a lift of reins.

To inspire a horse to go in such a situation, one must first understand why the horse stopped. Most likely, the horse stopped walking because the rider stopped riding…or maybe never started riding.  However, that answer requires explanation of what riding entails.

Riding a horse is more than being a passenger. Riding is active.  Riding is movement.  Riding is communication.  I don’t just ask my horse to go.  I also ask him to continue going.  I move in rhythm with his movement, then ask him to move with my movement.  If I stop moving, I expect him to also stop moving.

But it’s not just movement.  It’s communication through movement.  It’s relationship, balance, timing, and movement with meaning…where horse and rider have worked out a system of communication where both know the meaning of different cues and the expected response.  And it’s not one way communication.  The rider isn’t just telling the horse what to do, he’s also listening to the horse, feeling what the horse is thinking and noting where his attention is directed.  Ray Hunt described it as, “First you move with your horse.  Then your horse moves with you.  Then you both move together.”

“How do you make a horse go?” Such a simple direct question…deserving of a simple direct answer.  Yet master horsemen have written volumes trying to answer that question, and will tell you they fall short in the telling.

Why is the answer so complicated? Because the answer involves relationship and communication…because a useful answer must first bring the questioner into a paradigm of beginning to understand a little of that relationship…and because every horse and every rider are different.

Pondering these things I am reminded of the many questions we ask about godliness, expecting simple direct answers. Why would we assume simple direct answers could possibly be either complete or useful?  Human relationships are exponentially more complex than horse relationships.  Human communication is much more nuanced and prone to misunderstanding than horse-human communication.  The Bible tells us God’s ways are much higher than our ways and are beyond our understanding.

Yet, we stubbornly persist in asking simple direct questions from incomplete paradigms in expectation of simple direct answers.

Ask ten different theologians, “When is divorce permissible?” and you will likely receive ten different answers.

But that’s not the puzzling part.

The puzzling part is that nine of those ten theologians will likely respond with a simple direct answer…confident they have provided an answer that is both complete and useful…the sum total of what God has to say on the topic.

Human relations are extremely complex. Marital relations are even more complex than most.  Marital relations in a marriage having gone so badly wrong for one or both to be asking about divorce are likely full of complex contradictory emotions and many years of trying and failing to effectively communicate or effect change.

A person asking the question, “When is divorce permissible?” is clearly interested in pleasing God. Otherwise, there would be no need to even ask the question.  Discerning God’s plans and intentions for any person’s life in any given situation is difficult, requiring listening to the Holy Spirit and understanding His cues.  Yet, many pastors and theologians seem to believe they can speak godly wisdom into people’s lives through trite prescribed wooden answers assumed to fit every situation.

And a person asking such a question is likely in very real need of wise godly input. They don’t need a trite rhetorical response.  They need help and understanding.  They need useful input and prayerful suggestions.  An answer that is incomplete and unhelpful is worse than no response at all.  A simple “I don’t know” would be much better than a misleading answer to such a question.

I am a beginner horseman. Yet I know enough to realize there is no simple, direct, useful answer to the question, “How do you make a horse go?”

How could any experienced pastor believe a useful simplistic answer could be given to a question so fraught with complexities and potential pitfalls as “When is divorce permissible?”

Anyone who believes such a question can be usefully answered with a trite canned response is lacking in wisdom and discernment.

It’s just not that simple.

Submit?

Submit…what emotions and images does this word evoke for you?

Such a simple word…with such complex relational and emotional overtones…

Listening to an authoritarian or patriarchal pastor teaching on the topic, one gets the impression that submission is the very means to salvation…as though the salvation of a wife and the salvation of her husband are both dependent on the level of her willingness to cheerfully and unquestioningly obey her husband in all things, no matter what.

For a Christian abused wife raised under such teaching, submission may be hell on earth…an impossible, unachievable task designed to make life increasingly more unbearable. Both her husband and her pastor may have beat her down with Ephesians 5:22 so many times she is in danger of losing herself in a bottomless pit of submissiveness.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22 KJV)

Ephesians 5:22-33 is the foundational text for those who hold a view that in all biblically based marriages the husband’s role is to make all the decisions and the wife’s role is to unquestioningly acquiesce to all of his decisions. But they are staking their entire doctrine on the word submit meaning what they believe it means.

What if submit doesn’t mean obey unquestioningly?  What if submit simply means to honor and respect?  The contextual evidence strongly supports such a position.

Verse 25 of this passage says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it,” and verse 33 says, “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself…”

There is nothing about these verses to suggest the husband is to be anything other than sacrificially loving toward his wife. There is nothing about this passage to suggest it is okay for a husband to lord over his wife in disregard for her feelings or opinions, nor that the wife should meekly submit to such authoritarian misbehavior.

So, what about this word submit in verse 22?  It is important to note that this same exact word also appears in verse 21:

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Clearly, the word submit as used in verse 21 cannot mean to unquestioningly obey no matter what.  So why would anyone assign such a meaning in the following verse?

Many people view the end of verse 21 as being the end of a topical section…a chapter divider, of sorts. In the first twenty-one verses of the chapter, Paul is exhorting the church to walk in love and purity.  Verse 22 is seen by some as the beginning of a new topic discussing marital relations.

Viewed from this perspective, one could argue that the same word can have a different meaning when used in a different context. By this argument, the word submit in verse 21 could mean all Christians are to honor and respect each other, and the same word used in verse 22 could mean the wife is to unquestioningly obey her husband no matter what.  While I don’t find this to be a compelling argument, on the surface it does appear to be a potentially arguable point.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation of verse 22 recently caught my attention:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

The italicization of be subject is what caught my attention. In NASB, italicized text is used to denote words added by the translators, for clarity or easier reading.

I dug a little deeper, and discovered Ephesians 5:22 is one of the few verses with a substantive difference between Textus Receptus and the Morphological GNT, as shown in the BlueLetterBible.

The Textus Receptus used for King James Version (KJV) translation includes the word “hypotasso” (G5293 Strongs) which KJV translates as “submit.”

However, the Morphological GNT used in NASB translation (which is considered more reliable) does not include this word in verse 22.

Ephesians 5:22 entry in Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible entry for Ephesians 5:22 with Morphological GNT shown at top and Textus Receptus at bottom. ‘Hypatosso’ is not included in the Morphological GNT text.

Essentially, this means the first century Greek texts considered to be the oldest and most reliable do not include the word hypotasso in verse 22. These texts include no primary verb for verse 22, relying on the reader to understand that the verb hypotasso (submit) is carried over from the previous sentence (verse 21).  Presumably, some scribe added the verb hypotasso to verse 22, for clarity…to make sure the reader understands the verb hypotasso applies to both verse 21 and verse 22.

So, based on the oldest and most reliable texts, verses 21 and 22 would have read something like this:

…be subject to one another in the fear of Christ; wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (verses 21-22 NASB with italicized text removed)

From the perspective of translation, this is a seemingly unimportant detail. Whether or not the word hypotasso is specifically included in verse 22, it is clearly intended to be used as the primary verb in both 21 and 22.  In the end, NASB arrives at the same basic meaning as is conveyed in the KJV.

However, in trying to understand the intended usage of the word submit in the English translation, it is very important.  Verses 21 and 22 cannot have two differently nuanced meanings of the same word, because they actually share the exact same instance of the word.

…be subject to one another in the fear of Christ; wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Not only is verse 22 not starting a new topic, it is not even starting a new sentence. It is an extrapolation of the same thought, sharing the same verb.  Whatever meaning Paul intended to convey with the word hypotasso (submit), he intended the exact same meaning for husbands as for wives, both toward each other and toward other believers.

So, submit, as used in this passage, cannot possibly mean to unquestioningly obey no matter what.

I believe submit, in this passage, is intended to mean love, honor and respect.

What do you think?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Permissible

picture of a divorce decreeOne July morning in 1994, I found myself sitting in my pastor’s living room. He had graciously responded to my desperate phone call with an invitation to come over and talk.  My wife had left me, and I had no idea what to do.  All I wanted was God’s best for our family of four young children.

“Joe, you know divorce is permissible for adultery and abandonment. If you divorce, you would still be eligible to remarry.”

His words supported what I had been taught…and he meant the words to be gracious and helpful. He was sharing the truth of God’s word as he understood it, viewing the permissibility of divorce for specific situations as God’s grace to deal with harsh realities of life in this world.  In fact, by even bringing up divorce as a valid option, he was being much more liberal than many pastors would have been.

But at that moment, those words were no help at all.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, the Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

In the New Covenant, we live under grace, not under the law. So, I was not interested in what was permissible…what I could get by with.  My heart was, and is, to wholeheartedly pursue God’s will and seek God’s best!

See, this whole concept of divorce being permissible only for specific rigidly predefined situations is founded on a false paradigm. First it assumes that divorce is sin, although the Bible never calls it sin.  Second, it interprets Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7 as providing rigidly narrow “exception clauses” for when divorce is permissible.

Now, there are some basic logic errors in this paradigm.

As discussed in this post, sin is never permissible.  Therefore, since both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul discussed situations where divorce may be a godly course of action, divorce cannot be inherently sinful.  The sin is either in what led to the divorce or in how the divorce is handled, not in the act of divorce, itself.

Also, if Matthew 19:9 is interpreted as Jesus saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of adultery, and 1 Corinthians 7:11-15 is interpreted as Paul saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of abandonment, then we have the Apostle Paul contradicting Jesus.  They cannot both be providing a rigid solitary exception in which the solitary exception is not the same.  So the whole paradigm of divorce being unlawful with the exception of certain specific narrow instances listed in scriptural exception clauses falls apart.  It is based on flawed logic.

But that summer morning in 1994, I was not thinking about flawed logic and biblical hermeneutics. At that time, I accepted the prevailing Divorce Mythology as truth.  It was what I had been taught by men I respected and trusted.  I had never had serious reason to question its validity, and to be honest, I had never studied the topic closely enough to recognize the obvious errors.

What I was struggling with that morning was of a much deeper emotional nature.

See, this whole concept of divorce being forbidden, but then having narrowly defined exception clauses for when it is permissible…it fundamentally assumes divorce is never the best course of action.

When presented in sermons, we can almost always count on the preacher to immediately add, “…but not required.” For example, in a sermon on Matthew 19, he might say, “Divorce is permissible for adultery…but not required.”  The implication being it really would always be better to not divorce …that the truly godly course of action would be to find a way to reconcile…no matter the circumstances.  It implies that no matter what led to the divorce, people who have divorced are somehow less spiritual, less faithful, less holy than if they had remained legally married.

It felt to me at the time as though divorce would be a deviation from God’s best plan for my life… condemning myself and my family to a life of something less than God’s best…some sort of second-rate grace begging scraps from the children’s table.

This false assumption of divorce never being the best course of action is reinforced even in the terminology.

Consider the word permissible.  It means permitted or allowed, and that’s exactly how it is treated… as though divorce is always wrong but sometimes grudgingly permitted under specific narrowly defined exceptions.  Many churches treat divorce as something that should always be discouraged, never encouraged…no matter the circumstances.  In effect, divorce is sometimes permissible…but always discouraged.

Then there are these exception clauses used to rigidly define when divorce is permissible.  Do you see how legalistic this whole paradigm is?  Even the terms forbidden, permissible and exception clauses are legal terms, illustrating the inherent legalistic nature of this false paradigm.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently spoke against the legalism of the religious leaders, repeatedly demonstrating that righteousness is a heart matter. He often condemned the system of rigid rules, legal loopholes, and exception clauses debated among the religious leaders of His day.

Yet, somehow, many Christians (including many learned theologians) have embraced an unscriptural paradigm making Jesus out to have (on the solitary topic of divorce) replaced the law of Moses with a much more stringent law, including rigidly applied exception clauses for legal loopholes. This is the epitome of legalism and the very thing Jesus denounced the Pharisees for doing!

That summer morning, as I was reeling from shock trying to figure out what to do next, I didn’t need to be told divorce was permissible for my situation.  I needed to be told God is the God of divorce just as He is the God of marriage.  I needed to be told, divorce is sometimes the best and most godly course of action.  I needed to be told God’s blessing in my life and the lives of my children was not dependent on my staying married to their mother.

Who can you encourage with a message of God’s blessing and faithfulness through divorce?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

War Room

war room movieMy wife and I have been hearing about the movie War Room for months and finally made time to watch it together, this past weekend.

There were things I liked about the movie, as well as areas of concern.

My favorite theme was the focus on prayer and God working through the prayers of His people.  I also liked the depiction of prayer tending to first change the heart of the person praying.   I have certainly found this to be true in my own life.

Another favorite theme was the need to focus on right relationship with God and total dependence on Him, rather than focusing on human relationships and trying to fix other people’s dysfunction.  This powerful truth was portrayed well in the movie.

My primary concern with the movie is its perpetuation of the false and dangerous myth that all marital issues can always be resolved through prayer.  While one could argue the movie depicted a single scenario without explicitly stating it applied to every situation, this is a very common theme in most Kendrick Brothers movies, and the repetition reinforces the myth.  A survey of movie themes leaves a strong impression Kendrick Brothers is highly committed to this unbiblical myth and very intentional in proselytizing others to embrace their perspective.  Whether intentional or not, this is certainly a primary message most viewers will receive from a Kendrick Brothers movie.

In a nutshell, this perspective tells a troubled spouse that if they will just pray fervently enough, believe deeply enough, humble themselves lowly enough, and love sacrificially enough, God will always miraculously heal their marital relationship.

Frankly, that’s a lie!

It is a very dangerous lie holding too many abused spouses in bondage to their abuser for too many years. Click To Tweet

Yes, God does answer prayer in miraculous ways.  Yes, God will bring healing in relationships where both partners are committed to seek Him and pursue His heart.  However, God will not violate human free will.  If one spouse is determined to go their own way, rebelling against God in violation of their sacred covenant vows, God will not conquer their heart by force.

If prayer, faith, humility and love were guaranteed by God to always result in healed relationships, the Apostle Paul would not have instructed the Corinthian Christians to allow an unbelieving spouse to leave the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

God has not promised to heal every human relationship. Click To Tweet

Jesus made it very clear He did not come for the purpose of healing every relationship.

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  (Matthew 10:34-36)

I was also disappointed by the unrealistic reconciliation portrayed in the movie.  The husband was depicted as being very antagonisticly aggressive in interactions with the wife and daughter.  Yet he converted to a completely repentant change of heart without any boundaries having been defined or enforced by his family.  And, he had no further episodes of abusive behavior…no temptations to slide back into old patterns of behavior…just a completely new humble godly character.

While I hesitate to call anything impossible when we’re discussing the miraculous, to say the least the portrayed scenario is way outside the norm.  Most antagonistic aggressive character disordered people will never change without first running up against very strictly enforced boundaries.  Even then they are unlikely to change, and if they do, it will be over an extended period of time with strict accountability.

You know what I’d really like to see Kendrick Brothers produce? Click To Tweet

I would love to see them produce a really good movie depicting a realistic scenario of an abused wife learning to see past the lies, deceptions, and manipulations of her abuser.  The movie could show her learning to understand how much God loves her and how highly He values her.  It could show God redeeming her from that abusive marriage, protecting her through the divorce, and delivering her from the false doctrine that held her in bondage for so many years.

Now that would be a realistic movie with a solid Christian theme!

What do you think?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Cynical?

This morning I was listening to K-Love Radio while driving.  They had a caller giving a testimony of God miraculously reconciling him with his estranged wife.  He stated they had been moving toward divorce, each side had attorneys involved, and he had already purchased another residence.  Then, the morning of Sunday, February 14, St. Valentine’s Day, he and his wife happened to arrive at the church doors at the same moment.  They were both overcome with emotion.  They both said they needed to find a way to make their marriage work, and his wife sat beside him, in the seat he had been reserving for her each week.

Further interview questions revealed that neither party has yet apologized for anything, but they have both committed to seek counseling in their church for healing of their marriage and working past their issues.

The interview ended with cheerful congratulations and encouragement, “You’re doing the right thing,” followed by an exhortation, “We have to remember our spouse is not our enemy.  Even though it may sometimes seem like it, our spouse is never our enemy.”

Great praise story, right?  Classic example of a couple struggling with commitments until God unexpectedly intervened, right?  Every reason for congratulations and best wishes…no cause for cynicism or doubting, right?

And yet…doubt I do. Not just this story, but so many similar stories with fairy-tale-like endings... Click To Tweet

…whether I say anything or not, in my heart I wonder and pray.

I know how easy it is to get swept up in emotions, especially on Valentine’s Day, and how difficult it is to complete the hard work of reconciliation.  More than that, I know how little control either individual has over the outcome of relational issues.  It takes two committed hearts working toward a common goal to build a marriage, but it only takes one hard heart to destroy a marriage.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I firmly believe in God’s desire and ability to heal broken hearts and broken relationships.  And I firmly believe in God’s ability to perform mighty miracles.  I’ve seen His miraculous power first-hand.

Yet, in listening to this account, there were little tells that left me wondering… Click To Tweet

The fact that it was such an emotional instantaneous decision on St. Valentine’s Day…a day when emotions are likely to run high for divorcing couples.  The fact that they ‘just happened’ to both arrive at the church doors simultaneously…coincidence or contrivance?  The fact that neither party has yet apologized for anything…how serious can the reconciliation be with no discussion of issues and no repentance of wrongs?

Perhaps the brightest flag was his reference to saving a seat for his wife each Sunday…while actively pursuing divorce and purchasing another residence.  That’s not normal behavior.  One doesn’t come to church each week with sincere expectation of reconciliation while actively pursuing divorce every other day of the week.  So, why the behavior discontinuity?  One possibility (the one he seems to want us to believe) is that he was simply overcommitted in a relationship to a spouse who had no interest in reconciling.  BUT, the reserved seat seems a bit too showy for that level of sincerity…especially given how he slid that into the conversation to make sure we, the listening audience, all knew how gratuitous he was in his weekly seat saving.

No, to me, the saved seat comes across as being done largely for appearances…as a manipulation tool to influence the opinions of others.  In fact, it would be a classic abuser move, designed to jab guilt toward his victim while simultaneously eliciting compassion from the rest of the church (poor guy must be heart-broken…just look how he saves her a seat every week).

If we assume the saved seat was manipulation, we can also see how easily he could arrange to ‘coincidentally’ arrive at the church doors the exact same time as his wife on St. Valentine’s Sunday…knowing she would be particularly vulnerable on that day.

Then, for the ‘coupe de grace,’ call K-Love Radio first thing Monday morning, announcing the recommitment to the world while simultaneously giving God the ‘glory’ for the success of his manipulative scheme.  That publicly commits his wife whether she was ready or not, and by giving credit to God he projects the perception that to back out would be to act directly against God’s will.

Do you see how slickly that could be pulled off?

Now, you may be thinking I’m reading an awful lot into a few words…and you would be right.  The truth could be much more innocently naïve and much less malicious in nature.

Some would say I’m being cynical…that I’ve allowed my life experiences to make me too negative…too unbelieving.  I would say through my life experiences I have gained wisdom and discernment.

While I don’t know the truth of this specific situation, I do know the more sinister version is too often the reality.  And I do know Christians, in general, are often all too gullible and all too blind to evil.  Too often, we naively assume every marriage is worth saving, despite clear evidence to the contrary.  And that simple false assumption plays directly into the abuser’s manipulative schemes…duping good Christian people into believing the abuser is a saint while his victim is in need of repentance.

I’m not sure how I would have handled the caller if I had been with the K-Love team.  But I can tell you for sure I would not have affirmed to him he was ‘doing the right thing’ when there is a distinct possibility he may be doing great evil.  And I absolutely would not have said “Our spouse is never our enemy,” because I know sometimes a spouse is a great enemy indeed.

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Healing

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I married my Rodeo Queen, I understood horses and tack were part of the deal.  However, I had no idea as to the magnitude of cultural and language barriers to be overcome for effective communication.

On Monday, December 14, 2015, my doctor informed me the CT-scan of my neck showed a tumor-like mass.  Appointments were scheduled for PET-scan and biopsy surgery later that week.  We did not yet know whether the tumor was malignant, but my medical team was working under the assumption that it likely was.

In the course of one afternoon, Sherri and I were required to adjust our thinking from expecting my swollen lymph node to be a minor concern to realizing it was a huge concern.  It was a lot to try to wrap our minds around and emotions swirled.  We weren’t sure, yet, exactly what we were facing or how timing would play out, but we began to let employers know our work schedules would need to be flexible for a while.

Tuesday afternoon Sherri’s name popped up on my ringing phone.  I pressed the answer button with, “I love you!”  “I love you, too,” Sherri responded, “What did you think of that clinic I texted you about?”

I hadn’t received the text, but the mention of a clinic left me wanting time to process…to review, think, and pray.  Sherri had mentioned second opinions the night before.  While that sounded like a good idea, I wanted to get a diagnosis before we started soliciting more professional input.  My response to Sherri was brief, “I haven’t seen a text.”

“I sent you a text about a clinic.  I want you to look at it and tell me what you think. I’ll send it again, so you can look at it.”

“Okay, I’ll look at it.  What’s the name of the clinic?”  I assumed we were talking about a clinic within reasonable driving distance, such as UAMS in Little Rock or MD Anderson in Houston, but wondered if she was thinking something further away like Mayo Clinic.

“I don’t remember the name,” she responded, “but it’s a two-day healing clinic in mid-January.  I think it might be really good for us if you’re able to travel then.”

What?  I wasn’t sure exactly what a two-day healing clinic was…nor why Sherri was looking into it.  Sherri is very level-headed…not prone to rushing to try the latest health fad.  She also tends to have a healthy dose of skepticism toward spiritual things requiring more open-mindedness than her Baptist raising.  Of the two of us, I am the one more open to natural remedies and miraculous intervention.  Although I knew Sherri was upset about my impending diagnosis, this was totally unexpected.

And a two-day clinic?  What was supposed to happen in two days?  Was this two days of Pentecostal-style name-it-and-claim-it preaching with a five-step plan to claiming your healing in two days or less?  Or was it two days of charismatic info-mercial-style lectures proclaiming benefits of expensive herbs with an abundance of anecdotal testimonials combined with limited scientific study?  Either way, I was skeptical.

That’s what was running through my mind, but all that came out of my mouth was a stammered, “What? Two-day healing clinic!  I don’t…I don’t even know what that means.  What are you talking about? What…what is a two-day healing clinic?”

“It’s just a clinic…a two-day clinic to learn about healing.  I’ll resend the text explaining it.”

“Okay.  I’ll look at it, but we don’t even have a diagnosis yet.  I really think we need to focus on the PET-scan and tonsillectomy this week.”

Long pause…followed by a stifled giggle…

“Oh, Joe!  I’m so sorry!  It’s not a medical clinic.  It’s a team roping clinic….for Dawson.  A heeling clinic, as in roping a steer’s back legs.  It looks really good, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to travel by then.”

We both laughed out loud!  Some much needed levity in the midst of a confusing situation.

That’s life married to my Rodeo Queen!  🙂

One more small detail…

One week later I had a second surgery to remove the tumor which biopsy had shown to be cancer.  Coming out of anesthesia, my mind was focused on one thing, “I have to learn to team rope!  I want to team rope with Dawson, and I have to learn to rope!”  When Sherri came into the recovery room I greeted her with, “I have to learn to team rope!”

I’m not sure what that means.

People say some crazy things coming out of anesthesia, and maybe this was just my own craziness coming out.  Or maybe it was my subconscious giving voice to some deep seated desire.  Or maybe it was a subconscious recollection of the prior conversation with Sherri and the word play on healing and heeling.  Or maybe it was God, Himself, taking advantage of the quiet of anesthesia to get my attention.

I’m truly not sure.

But, as I’ve had time to think about it, the idea appeals to me.  I know I’ll never be competitive, but it would be pretty cool to learn to rope…and finding another activity to enjoy with an adolescent child is always a good thing.  Right now, I’m still recuperating from surgery and my right arm lacks the strength to twirl and throw a rope.  But maybe that’s exactly what I’ll need for physical therapy a few weeks from now.

Maybe I’ll find healing in heeling!

Sounds like a good goal, at any rate.  🙂

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Why I Speak Out

wedding band on open bible[This is a repost, with minor edits, of my guest blog on Dan Erickson’s site December, 2012.]

I am a Christian.  I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.  I prescribe to a literal, conservative interpretation of God’s word.  I love studying biblical covenants and find a deep richness of covenant references throughout the Bible.  I view covenant as a common thread woven through both testaments, tying promises in Genesis to prophecies in Revelation.  I often describe our God as a covenant God for Whom all interactions with mankind are based on covenant.  Covenant relationships and the keeping of covenant vows are a very big deal to me.

So why does someone, with my background and convictions, write posts titled “Divorce is Sin…Says Who?”  “Free to Remarry,” “God of Divorce” and “The It-Takes-Two Lie”?

I have been accused, by people who don’t know my story, of trying to justify the divorce of my first marriage.

I have been asked, by people who do know my story, why I’ve felt compelled to change my perspective on biblical divorce.  “Joe,” they say, “you clearly had biblical grounds for divorce.  Your situation met the criteria of every exception clause as being permissible.  Why do you continue to search scriptures regarding marriage and divorce?”

And that’s just it.  My situation did meet the criteria of every “exception clause.”  I lived seventeen years in an abusive marriage to someone who intentionally and repeatedly inflicted deep emotional wounds, who seemed drawn to the intrigue of lies when the truth would have served her better, and for whom every word and action seemed designed to manipulate…even though I would have done anything for her without the need of manipulation.

Yet, I wasn’t seeking a divorce.  I wasn’t asking whether divorce was “permissible” or if my situation met the criteria of “exception clauses.”  My heart was not pursuing divorce.  My heart was pursuing a healthy marriage based on love and mutual trust.  My heart was pursuing a stable, loving environment for our family of four precious children.  My heart was pursuing what I understood to be God’s will for our family.

I wasn’t concerned with what was “permissible.”  I was only concerned with the relentless pursuit of God’s will and God’s best for our family.

My heart was broken…over and over again.  I was wounded and hurting, crying out to God for help and healing.

I saw many answers to prayer in that marriage….many miraculous softenings of her heart…many steps appearing to lead toward healing.

I also learned a lot about myself and improving communication.  The many counseling sessions were, in general, a healthy thing for me…and seemed a step in the right direction at the time.

And yet…each positive step turned out to be so temporary…

As the years passed, new lies surfaced, exposing deeper and more recent betrayals.  The lessons learned in counseling became tools used for the purpose of deceiving me further, while continuing to deeply wound me with betrayal of covenant vows.  New communication tools were used, not for strengthening relationship, but rather for giving the appearance of deepening intimacy while actually concealing deeper betrayals.

I prayed fervently and continuously.  Yet, as the passing of time continued to reveal ever deeper deceptions and betrayals, there was also a need to face the facts…to realize that no matter how much I wanted to see healing of the relationship, that might not be the end result.

One person in the relationship seeking God’s will is not enough for relational healing. Click To Tweet

The summer of 2000 was, for me, a time of intense prayer and fasting.  I was doing a lot of running, and as my feet wound out the miles, I continually begged God for healing.

“How long, Lord, must I wander in this wilderness of pain and trauma?  Please, Lord, I need your healing touch.  My heart is broken.  My marriage is broken.  My soul is crushed.  Lord, I don’t know what to do.  Please, Lord, lead me out of this wilderness into a place of healing!”

And I began to hear God’s answer…softly at first…then stronger and more persistent, “Go in and possess the land” (Joshua 1:11).

“Lord, you can’t mean that!  You know how many times I’ve been deceived and how deeply I’ve been wounded!  You want me to put aside all my legitimate fears and act as though my marriage and heart are healed?  That’s crazy!  It makes no sense!”

And yet, I felt His consistent prompting, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed.  Go in and possess the land.”

I recalled the many stories of God’s miraculous work.  I was heartened that perhaps this is what God was going to do in my marriage.  Perhaps, this was my Jordan River to cross before seeing God’s miraculous victories!

So, I asked Him, “Lord, are you saying you’re going to heal my marriage?  That her heart will be changed toward me and our relationship will be restored?”

“Go in and possess the land.”

“Lord, what does that mean?  You want me to make myself vulnerable with no promise from you?  You never did that in the Bible!  You always gave a promise when asking for obedience in difficult circumstances.  Lord, what is your promise to me, today?”

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed, and the Lord, Your God, will be with you, wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

So I began, once again, to change my attitude and behavior toward her.  I began to draw in my boundaries and lower my defenses.  I dropped the wait-and-see attitude I’d held since the last major betrayal, and began, yet again, to actively pursue her heart.

And she responded by withdrawing further.

Over the course of that next year, as I attempted to open up toward her, she drew further back from me.  I still faced each new issue head-on, refusing to sweep anything under the rug, wanting true healing of our relationship.  I was actively engaging in the relationship while refusing to side-step or ignore any known issues.  Finally, one evening while discussing a recent issue, she asked for a divorce, saying, “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

There were still a lot of steps toward healing.  God was faithful through the divorce and later custody battles.  Not every battle was victorious from my perspective, but He continued to lead me and guide me…and to comfort and heal me.

A counselor asked me once, “You do realize, don’t you, that there is absolutely nothing you could have done differently to prevent this divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“And you do understand,” he continued, “that the divorce had nothing to do with you, personally?  That no matter who she married, it would have ended in divorce?”

“Yes, I can see that, too.  Thank you!”

And that’s the thing…the thing that so few Christians really understand…that I did not understand, myself, before experiencing it.

The health and longevity of a relationship cannot be determined by one individual.  Yes, we must each do our own part and be willing to love sacrificially.  Yet, no amount of sacrificial love, by one party, can ensure a healthy or lasting relationship.

In a marriage, we are each responsible for wholeheartedly living out our covenant vows in faithfulness, for the duration of that covenant.  However, neither partner is responsible for the longevity of the covenant.

I entered that marriage as an idealistic young man, believing if I loved deeply enough, believed strongly enough, prayed fervently enough, somehow God would always intervene to heal and restore the marriage relationship.

I learned, although God is always faithful to His promises, He does not violate human free will.  If one marriage partner refuses to surrender their will to Him, He will not force them to…and the marriage will not be healed.

I learned divorce is not always outside God’s will.  Rather, in many situations, divorce is God’s direct and perfect will.

In my case, God asked me to follow a difficult path of obedience.  That path did not lead to the marital restoration I hoped for.  Rather, it led toward further hardening of her heart, resulting in divorce.

God redeemed me from that marriage of abusive bondage in much the same way He redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh.  That divorce was a part of God’s perfect plan for my life, just as surely as deliverance from Egypt was part of His perfect plan for the nation of Israel.

God has used these experiences to drastically change my view of His heart toward His children who are enslaved in covenants of abusive bondage, or who have experienced divorce.  In recent years, I have become more outspoken about my views on these topics.

I’m speaking out, not to justify my own actions, nor because of emotional pain or bitterness in regard to that marriage.

My actions in that marriage and divorce don’t require justification, and I am now happily married to a godly woman, with whom I enjoy raising and loving children and grandchildren.

I’m speaking out against a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths regarding divorce believed by many Christians, today.

These myths lead to legalistic judgmental attitudes toward God’s children who have experienced divorce or who are currently enslaved in an abusive marriage.  They hold Christians in bondage and do not reflect God’s heart of love and redemption.

I speak out in an attempt to shine the light of God’s truth and hope in an area of blindness within the church.

I speak out in the hope someone in an abusive marriage will understand, in some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action.

In some situations, divorce is God’s perfect will and the godliest course of action. Click To Tweet

I speak out in the hope someone who has experienced divorce will better understand God’s heart of redemption and will draw closer to His heart of love.

Who do you know in need of encouragement through divorce?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Dear Anna Duggar

An open letter to Anna Duggar…and to others finding themselves in similar situations…

Dear Anna Duggar,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you or Josh.  I have, however, frequently thought of you and prayed for you over the past few weeks, as the daily news has dissected your marital relationship while exposing Josh’s infidelities.

According to reporters, your friends say “Anna will not leave him,” “She is fully and permanently committed to her marriage and her children,” and “Divorce is not even something that will be discussed.”  Your friend reportedly went on to say that you will try “on some level” to “absorb some of the blame…Maybe not publicly, ever, but privately, there will be some suggestion of whether or not she should have been more aware of the pressures Josh was under, of the issues he was facing, and how she could have better counseled him or helped him.”

Anna, your decisions and struggles during this time are yours alone, and I (a complete stranger) would not be so brazen as to attempt to tell you what decisions are right for you in this situation.

I want you to know my heart breaks for you.

I have some idea of the pain and confusion you must be experiencing, because I have faced similar situations.  Like you, I was raised believing that marriage is godly while divorce is ungodly…that divorce is always the fault of both parties…that God hates divorce…and that divorce is not an option for a true Christian.  And like you, I was faced with the reality of a repeatedly unfaithful spouse.  Although that marriage eventually ended in divorce, for many years I held the position your friend reportedly says you hold.  Determined to choose what I believed was the most godly course…to do what I believed was best for my family…I repeatedly renewed and restored fellowship, determined to avoid divorce.

My prayer for you is that you will learn of God’s grace through divorce more quickly than I did.  I pray the Holy Spirit will guide your reading of scripture and open your heart to understand God’s tremendous heart of grace and redemption toward His children who are in a covenant relationship with an oath breaker.  For your sake and the sake of your children, I pray you will at least seriously contemplate the possibility that divorce may be your best and most godly course of action.

I don’t know if divorce is the best choice for you.  How could I?  I do know you have some very difficult decisions before you.  I do know there is no easy path before you…that whether you choose divorce or reconciliation your path is filled with sorrow and anguish.  Divorce at least limits the anguish to a finite period of time allowing you and your children to heal and get on with life.  Reconciliation to an unrepentant adulterer is a path of never-ending pain and sorrow…lies continually renewed with freshly broken vows.

And therein lies the wrestling with your most difficult question, “Is Josh truly repentant?”

Your instinct will likely be (as reported by your friend) to believe he is truly repentant…because believing otherwise turns your entire life upside down.  And maybe he is…only God knows.

I pray you at least consider the very real possibility Josh may not be truly repentant…that he may go right back to the same traitorously adulterous behavior.  As harsh as that reality is to face, it is a very real possibility meriting serious exploration before making final decisions in regard to you and your children’s welfare.  Josh has repeatedly proven himself to be completely untrustworthy and entirely willing to egregiously violate his sacred marriage vows, fully realizing both the pain that causes you and your children as well the damage inflicted on your relationship.  Josh did not unintentionally ‘fall’ into an adulterous relationship with an acquaintance…rather he used the internet to actively seek out and pursue adultery.  To now take his word at face value would be neither wisdom nor faith.  Rather, it would be a refusal to accept reality.  Choosing to fully trust the proven untrustworthy is not inviting God into the situation.  Rather it is shutting the full reality of the situation out of the decision making process.

I pray you will not allow yourself to carry the burden of Josh’s guilt.  To do so is both unhealthy and unbiblical.  Yes, I’m sure you have made mistakes yourself.  That does not make you responsible for Josh’s sin.  There is a huge difference between unintentional minor mistakes and intentional egregious violations of sacred covenant vows.

Finally, my prayer for you is that God will use even this experience for your good and for His glory.  That whether this marriage is renewed or ends in divorce, you will learn God’s faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.  I pray you will emerge from this with a deeper understanding of God’s heart of love and redemption and a fuller grace toward all of His children.

May God continue to richly bless and keep you, now and through eternity.

 

Sincerely,

Your brother in Christ, Joseph J. Pote

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

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