Maybe being in love isn’t enough…

Bing in loveI do lots of marriage and pre-marriage counselling, as well as being a blessed veteran of 43 years of marriage. One of the startling observations that I have made is that our culture has blindly accepted the notion that romantic love and sexual chemistry is the major measure of selecting a mate. We feel something “special” for one another, we seem to be happy, we are pretty compatible; so let’s get married.

I was struck by an illustration I read of a pastor counselling a woman who was in a serious relationship with a man, but was wondering if she should break it off. She had been married twice before and thought that this was the guy. She told the pastor that her man was being unfaithful to her and emotionally abusive; the same traits evidenced by her previous husbands. “So why are you still in this relationship?” the pastor asked. Are you ready for this? She said, “Because I’m in love with him. I genuinely and deeply love him.” What would you say to her?

Here is what the pastor said: “Were you in love with your first husband?” She replied, “Yes, and I was devastated when he cheated on me and left.” The pastor continued, “Were you in love with your second husband?” She said, “Yes, it was different, I think, because he fed some ego needs, but of course, I was in love with him.” Then the pastor gently said, “Maybe feeling like you’re in love with someone isn’t enough of a reason for you to get married. Maybe you need to set the bar higher and find something more.” And then he said, “Just because you’re ‘in love’ with someone doesn’t mean you should seriously consider marrying them.”

This episode was found in a book I have been reading; “The Sacred Search” by Gary Thomas. This is a great book for those who are single and seriously thinking about marriage someday, or soon. Thomas finishes this section by asking us to consider that “romantic attraction, as wonderful and as emotionally intoxicating as it can be, can actually lead you astray as much as it can help you. I’m not talking it down; ‘connecting’ with someone at that level is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it, revel in it, even write a song about it if you want, but don’t bet your life on it.”

This is solid counsel. I have observed many couples who had the “chemistry,” but had issues that everyone could see. Yet, because they “felt” so intensely about each other they were blind to these issues and were willing to risk a future generation on their romantic attraction. Perhaps this is what is meant by the saying “love is blind”.

By the way, next week I would like to share what I think should be the basis for deciding to get married. Stay tuned…

If I Were Offered A Million Bucks…

a million bucksLet me ask you a question: If someone offered you a million dollars, would you take it? Are you serious? Yep. Of course I’d take it; why wouldn’t I? Well, what would you use it for? I don’t know but I’d find something. One more question: If someone offered you a million pounds of roofing nails, would you take them? Probably not. Why not? I don’t need them, and besides, where would I store them. OK, do you need a million dollars? Well, no, but I think could find a use for it; why do you ask so many stupid questions?

Someone has said that wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. Similarly Socrates is supposed to have said something to the effect that poverty does not consist in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed. Thus it would seem that the best insurance against poverty (and greediness) is to minimize our wants, because it’s human nature to keep wanting more and the more you have, the more you want.

I am not trying to minimize poverty, especially the two-thirds-world kind, but here in America possessions do funny things to us. When we have the basics (shelter, food, clothes, job), we are fairly happy, although we do worry about dealing with emergency situations like getting sick or going to the dentist. However; when our wealth increases, we tend to enjoy our new found status and security for a few months. Then something happens; we get used to having more (the new normal) and any downward deviation makes us feel “poor.” Not only that, but we look around at others (usually not those poorer, but those wealthier) and grow dissatisfied with what we have because our wants have increased. When we get more, we want more. When we want more, it is never quite enough. “Just a little bit more, and then I’ll be happy,” our inner voice says.

Tucked away in Proverbs 30 is a very insightful section (v.7-16) in relationship to money and possessions. The writer prays that God would keep him from two things: “Remove from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty or riches, [but] feed me with the food that is needful for me… lest I be full and deny you…lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” Perhaps it was this section of Proverbs that influenced Paul to write “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Phil 4:11) Then the writer of Proverbs goes on to say, “The leech has two daughters; Give and Give. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’; Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough.’”

Paul learned to be content because whether he was facing want or plenty he was able to say, “Enough.” He learned the secret of contentment because he knew that he “could do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) If anyone had offered Paul a million bucks, I think he would have said, “No, thank you. I have enough.”

Over the next two Sundays, we have challenged the folks in our church to pick one of those Sundays to tithe a portion of their pay for that week or two-week period. We have committed ourselves to raise $25,000 worth of food for Children’s Hunger Fund that we will pack into 2000 boxes as a part of our worship service on March 2. It is also our desire to develop a team of people who will deliver this food over the next several months to folks in our community who are in need, thereby building a relationship with them.

When I tithe, I acknowledge that whatever I have (including what I do not give) belongs to the Lord. Additionally, tithing puts a gun to my greed and allows me to draw a line in the sand and say, “Enough, Lord, I have enough; I trust you for my needs and ask you to muzzle my wants so that others may experience your generosity though me.”

It’s Not Too Late to Get a Gift for Your Valentine…

valentinesMany of you, unlike me, are totally unprepared for Valentine’s Day. So I am posting my blog early to give you some ideas of what you can get your sweetheart before they even know you forgot. You folks in Australia are on your own because Valentine’s Day is just about over. Anyway, I have organized my gift ideas according to the stage of relationship you happen to be in with your sweetie. Here goes- you may want to print this out as a valuable resource to be passed on to your children and grandchildren:

Pursuing a crush: Maybe there is someone at work, school, or at church whom you like and want them to know that you think they are special. Why don’t you gift wrap a slightly roasted marshmallow (one of those big ones; white for a guy, pink for a girl). Include with the gift an invitation to a campfire meal finished off by making s’mores. Girls, a guy will be so impressed that you know how to make a campfire; and guys, a girl will be so impressed you know how to make something complex like a s’more. (Hint: wait till the weather gets above zero before the date.)

You are dating but have not yet DTR: Perhaps you have not yet “defined the relationship” and so you want to keep the gifts casual, but useful. For a guy, get him a sock. Yep, a sock. He’ll love it and will no doubt already have a match for it as he scrounges around in his sock-drawer. He will see all those single socks and will suddenly be struck by the fact that he is single and he may have found his match right there in his hand. Trust me, it works all the time. For a girl, get her a DIY cupcake paper planter kit from It’s only $15 and it is actually made of concrete so it is easy to carry in her purse. It also comes with potting soil and sunflower seeds. She will love it and it is guaranteed to define the relationship.

You are a couple now: It is public and all over social media that you two are an item, so now you are ready for more specifically romantic gifting. Every guy loves music, even if he can’t sing, so buy him a capo (short for capotasto); that’s the thingy which goes on the neck of a guitar in order shorten the playable length of the strings and therefore raise the pitch. Ask our worship pastor Bill about capos; he’s really good at using them. However, it doesn’t matter whether your guy plays the guitar or not; every guy needs a capo. Besides, you can subtly start your attempt to change him into a more cultured person. Guys, every girl loves jewelry (except my wife), so get her a shark-tooth necklace. These are so cool. You can get one from for only $39 and it comes with a little lip balm container attached (clam flavor) so her lips will always be kissably soft.

It’s been more than a year now and you are waiting for the ring: OK, this is the time for a strategic gift. Remember the sock, girls? Well, buy a really nice pair of leather gloves for your guy, but only give him one and you keep the other one. Guys are very relationally astute and your guy will get the clear message that when you get the ring he gets the other glove. It is not manipulatory at all, it is very symbolic. Guys, if your girl is dragging her feet about getting engaged, my suggestion for a gift will definitely push her over the edge. Give her a Nordstrom cubic zirconia nose ring which can be ordered at for only $46. Give it to her in a little ring box. This is where you need to be very observant guys; if she looks disappointed or has that questioning look at all, it is time to go ring shopping. If she likes the gift and looks relieved, dump her. I am speaking from a vast experience of dealing with lots of women; well, actually only one.

You are newlyweds: Get your guy a pocket knife. Every guy needs a pocket knife so he can come to the rescue of people who on a daily basis ask, “does anyone here have a pocket knife”? For him to say, “I do” will gain him more respect. However, it will also remind him daily of his marriage vows and that if he ever forgets them you will use the pocket knife on him. And for your beautiful young bride, think through the things you didn’t get as wedding gifts for the kitchen and buy her something she would love. Perhaps an electric toaster, or a Joroushi electric bread maker, or if she needs a place to sit while she reads gourmet menus you can buy her an electric chair. You can get a refurbished one at for only $150; certainly worth the price.

A veteran couple: You are in this for the long haul and you want something special for that incredible person who is willing to sacrifice his/her life to be married to you. You have to give it some thought- especially you guys. A couple of minutes the night before Valentine’s Day doesn’t cut it. It won’t give you the time needed to think creatively and sensitively. You need to start at least two days before and be willing to commit at least a focused span of 5 minutes, which by the way is more than a lifetime of a gnat- or so I’m told. For her, especially for these cold nights, let me suggest a candy-striped flannel night shirt to replace your old football jersey that she’s been wearing since Ron Paul was a first-time candidate for president; only $44.95 at And for him; this is an amazing suggestion ladies- get him a pair of cherry red one-piece flannel pajamas with feet. Yep! The kind with a drop-seat- O yeah! And if he gives you any gas about why there’s a flap in the back and nothing in the front, tell him that he is so smart that you know he will be able to figure it out. You can get those at Land’s End (no pun intended) for $22.99.

I hope that my pastoral insights have been helpful to you. Let me know if you need counseling.

The Dark “Night” of Suffering

NightI just finished reading a small disturbing book written by Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. “Night” is a chilling tale of his experience in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps as a fifteen-year-old. The book is not for the faint of heart because the account of the sheer cruelty of the Nazis is appalling.

Upon his arrival in Birkenau by cattle car, Elie and his father were separated from his mother and sisters, whom they would never see again. The Jews were evaluated to determine whether they should be exterminated or put on the work detail. Elie and his father are deemed fit enough to work, but as they were herded to the prisoners’ barracks, they were taken past an open-pit furnace where the Nazis are burning babies by the truckload.

“The Jewish arrivals were stripped, shaved, disinfected, and treated with almost unimaginable cruelty. Eventually, their captors marched them from Birkenau to the main camp, Auschwitz. They eventually arrived in Buna, a work camp, where Elie was put to work in an electrical-fittings factory… A vicious foreman forced Elie to give him his gold tooth, which was pried out of his mouth with a rusty spoon. The prisoners were forced to watch the hanging of fellow prisoners in the camp courtyard. On one occasion, the Gestapo even hung an eight-year-old boy who had been associated with some rebels within Buna. Because of the horrific conditions in the camps and the ever-present danger of death, many of the prisoners themselves begin to slide into cruelty, concerned only with personal survival. Sons begin to abandon and abuse their fathers. Elie himself began to lose his humanity and his faith, both in God and in the people around him.” I won’t tell you any more of the story just in case you want to read the book for yourself.

Behind the physical and emotional struggles, the book revealed the spiritual struggle of this young Jew raised in the Torah and Cabala (teachings of Jewish mysticism). For me, the key paragraph in the entire book summed up that struggle: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night…Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever…Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams into dust.”

He uttered a similar cry when he witnessed the hanging of the little boy who tragically did not die immediately because he was too light for the rope. “For more than an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes…He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not glazed. Behind me, I heard a man asking: ‘Where is God now?'” How would you answer that question? I am not sure that anyone could at that moment because the absolute evil of that event would have sucked our breath away. However, eventually you would need to process your experience and help someone else through theirs.

The Foreword to the book was written by Francois Mauriac, with whom the author became friends later in life. Mauriac’s words are stunning. “And I, who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner, whose dark eyes still held the reflection of that angelic sadness which had appeared one day upon the face of the hanged child? What did I say to him? Did I speak of another Jew, his brother, who may have resembled him- the Crucified, whose Cross has conquered the world? Did I affirm that the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine, and that the conformity between the Cross and the suffering of men was in my eyes the key to that impenetrable mystery whereon the faith of his childhood had perished?…The Jewish nation has been resurrected from among its thousands of dead. It is through them that it lives again. We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace. If the Eternal is Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to Him.”

There are no easy answers to the problem of suffering. However, we believe that at the heart of suffering itself is the Cross and “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:3-5). “And the last word for each one of us belongs to Him.”