Routine Prayer Doesn’t Mean You’re in a Rut

I get up early. Like 4:15 in the morning early. It’s so I can do something that – frankly – I could do any time of the day.

But I can’t do it with my wife at any time of the day, so early morning it is.

After all, when else can we pray with one another without the rest of the world interrupting us?

Night Time Turned Into Nighty-Night Time

We tried praying together at bedtime. My wife said my voice put her to sleep.*

But we didn’t need to get up at 4:15 just to carve out time to pray together. It’s not like we spend three hours in prayer before work (although if I had the stamina for that I’d be stoked).

No, it’s fitting it in with all the other things going on in the morning that causes us to go to bed earlier than most toddlers. Someone has to make the bed, so I do it while she gets in some Bible reading. Plus we like to exercise before work, running a few miles or hitting the gym depending on the day. And after that a guy’s got to eat, and my colleagues really appreciate it if I fit in a shower too.

That’s a lot to do, so we get up early.

But the priority in all this is to have time to pray together before we go on to do all those other things like exercise and work.

It’s the commitment to making our prayer time together a priority that makes it a routine. And while it’s a truism that routines can become just that – routine – this routine doesn’t mean we’re in a rut.

For one thing, this is my wife I get to spend time with and I like her company. She’s pretty special.

For another (and even more important than the fact that this is an opportunity to be with my wife every morning) this is time with the God I love, the one who loves me even more than my wife does. And I get to share this time with God with the woman I love.**

The Routine Of Togetherness

When I describe our morning routine to people, they aren’t impressed by a person getting up early to workout. They aren’t all that impressed by me being the one to make the bed either. But people do seem impressed by the fact a couple would get up even earlier just to have time to pray together.

I think that might be a recognition – even if they don’t know it – that some things are even more important than keeping your house neat or your body in good shape. What we do spiritually matters beyond what we can see and feel. It matters for eternity, and it can be part of our daily routine even before I get to experience what eternity really means.

Does that mean I have to pray with my wife in order for God to love me? No, but the reality is that my wife and I love each other better when we join in these routines that are part of a relationship with God.

So just as I make sure there’s time to make the bed and go for a run or get to the gym, I make time before everything else that day to pray with my wife.

It’s a small ritual that is really huge when you stop to think about it.

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*The soporific quality of my voice is on display in this short video I made on the musical blessings of the kazoo. Truly joyful, and truly sleep-inducing.

**You know that part up there about praying early so people won’t interrupt us? We still get interrupted. Whether it’s someone texting my wife to day they need her to sub for their gym class that morning or a police officer calling me for an emergency protective order or a search warrant, we can still get interrupted even at 4:30 in the morning. Oh well.

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This first appeared as a guest post for Cara Meredith back in 2015. My wife and I still get up early together. I thought it especially appropriate to run it again the day after Daylight Savings kicked in and messed up everyone’s sleep routines.

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The Godliness of Women Exercising Authority Over Men

Some men think women should never exercise authority over men. According to Jesus, they’re wrong:

“The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here.” (Luke 11:31.)

The Queen of Sheba Visits King Solomon, Tintoretto ca. 1555 (Wikipedia)

This isn’t the only instance of the Bible showing a woman exercising godly authority over men, and the fact that in Jesus’ illustration King Solomon was a man and the Queen of Sheba a woman is not an indication that women are still ultimately subject to a man’s authority. This event is not brought up by Jesus because Solomon is the archetype man. Rather, Jesus brings up the meeting of these two monarchs because Solomon is a foreshadow of Jesus and the Queen is a foreshadow of those who come to Jesus in faith. Coming to faith, not the relationship between women and men, is the point of Jesus’ teaching.

Yet some would argue, perhaps, that Jesus is talking about the Queen of Sheba’s example being the condemnation of those who chose not to have faith in Jesus. This argument again takes the verse out of context. Jesus was talking about people who viewed his own actions and teachings and yet rejected his authority, and then compared the Queen of Sheba favorably to himself. He is saying that her actions show her authority to condemn those who did not choose to follow him. Also, even if someone sidelines the Queen of Sheba to their own satisfaction, they then must address Deborah, Priscilla, Huldah, Phoebe, Rahab, Tamar, Abigail, Junia, Zipporah and other Bible women who acted with godly authority over men in a variety of ways (which collectively represent all manner of authority) and try to sideline them as well.

The affirmation of the authority of the Queen of Sheba comes straight from Jesus’ mouth. Who would argue with Jesus? Maybe Pharisees, but I’d rather not follow their example.

I’d rather follow Jesus.

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Male Privilege – it’s real and it’s an abomination to God

Male Privilege came up again in a discussion on one of my FB posts. I got the impression that some men either think it doesn’t exist or (if it does) it doesn’t apply to them.

“I grew up in adversity, not privilege,” some say.

That’s not the point. Male privilege isn’t something earned on the individual level. It’s a social and cultural phenomenon where men generally are placed in a position with privilege over women. Access to leadership positions, education, business opportunities, financial resources – in all of these and more there is generally better access for men than for women in most societies around the world.

Some men will cite an example of a woman who attained power or wealth as if that proves the absence of male privilege. Exceptions tend to prove the rule, though.

For example, Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and Theresa May is the Prime Minister of the UK. Yet a woman who becomes prime minister, chancellor or president of a country is worth remarking on because it’s a remarkable event. And then there are all the men who are the heads of almost all the other countries in Europe, let alone around the world. Not remarkable.

Other men acknowledge the disparities between men and women but then resist efforts to remove those disparities. If men should not hold men-only leadership conferences, for example, a man might say that’s fine as long as there are no women-only conferences.

This misses the point.

Many churches are set up, either intentionally or unintentionally, with men in charge. If the church holds a men’s event, the leadership of the church will likely be in attendance. Conversations about leadership will occur that no woman is ever privy to. With weekly men’s Bible studies or monthly men’s breakfasts, these conversations occur throughout the year. And as leaders engage men in those conversations they might find some men are suitable for various roles in the church, perhaps even joining the leadership.

And that’s how male leadership begets male leadership, which is itself a prime example of the privilege men enjoy merely by being men. Will some men not actually experience the benefits of that privilege, i.e., will they not become part of church leadership? Yes, but the male privilege as a social construct has come into play in that church none the less.

This is why in my own profession we are prohibited from joining groups that discriminate on the basis of sex (among other immutable characteristics). No judge in California, for example, can belong to a club that won’t allow women. Same for clubs that won’t allow men. Yet many judges belong to groups like the Women Lawyers Society (WLS). How can that be?

It’s because the WLS doesn’t restrict its membership to women. Men can join and take full part, and many do. The point of the group is to promote the presence and abilities of women in the legal profession, whether as lawyers or as judges, not to exclude men from the legal profession. The society wouldn’t even be necessary if male privilege hadn’t had such a profound and adverse impact on the profession of law.

If you think this is a thing of the past, here’s a thought experiment: consider the phrase “woman judge” as in “I was on jury duty and we had a woman judge” and you might think the person using it is behind the times; if they said “man judge” you might wonder why on earth they felt it necessary to point out the judge was a man.

Now consider how this works in your church. If you belong to a church that ascribes to a doctrine teaching only men can lead and women have to submit to them, this goes beyond male privilege over women. It’s male oppression of women.

Together for the Gospel but Not Together With Women for the Gospel (photo source)

But if you are in a church that says women and men should alike have access to all aspects of church life yet the leadership is predominantly male and the church continues to run separate activities based on sex, you might want to rethink how that might be a manifestation of male privilege.

You might also consider why there are separate activities in the first place.

Does a church really need men’s studies and women’s studies, women’s retreats and men’s retreats (or men’s advances as some churches have taken to calling them on the theory that men don’t retreat, they advance, which is itself a problematic concept infecting discipleship in the church)? It’s not that there is never a place for a couple of men to meet together, or a group, and same for women. But why should this be the norm?

We are to gather in fellowship as members of the family of God.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29.)

The default mode for families is to gather together regardless of sex. There might be times for a mom to talk to a daughter and a father to a son, but is it more often than other match-ups among family members? So too there might be times when a church discussion might have to be limited to one sex, but it should be so rare as to be remarkable in its occurrence. Regular same-sex retreats, Bible studies and breakfasts are not rare.

In accordance with that Galatians passage churches would never exclude a person from an activity or divide people up based on race or social status, because churches recognize that these distinctions don’t count among children of God. Yet exclusion and division based on sex continues within God’s family.

And for those who insist that men and women are different so they need separate ministries, the answer is that they are not so different as to justify regular and institutionalized exclusion from each other’s fellowship. On rare occasion based on unusual circumstances, perhaps; on regular occasion enshrined in the church calendar, no.

We’re a family, after all, and God our Father gathers us together.

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I’ve written on white privilege as well, and it too is abhorrent:
Why Black Student Unions Are Necessary and White Student Unions Aren’t.
White Privilege – You’re white? What are you going to do about that?.

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The Problem with Men Presuming to Speak for Jesus While Silencing Women

This meme is troubling.

“When we listen to pastors bring the word of Christ to us, we listen not merely to men, but to Christ himself, because they are stewards of the things of God.” Steve Parks

Two issues come to mind. First, the meme assumes only men are pastors. Second, it states that listening to these men is the same as listening to Jesus.

Women and Men Preaching God’s Word

Of course, not all pastors are men. Pastors such as April Fiet and Kate Wallace Nunneley serve their churches and preach the word of God faithfully. Those who think women can’t preach or be pastors won’t be swayed by their example, but those who understand God’s word will see that there is no restriction on women serving where God has called them.

As Paul said,

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28.)

Paul’s advice to Timothy about how to run the Ephesian church does not restrict women generally in all churches. (See Gail Wallace’s Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb.) If a woman is a preacher, she should be given the same hearing as a man.

Neither are any preachers described as speaking from the same position as Jesus. He is the one Peter said:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:68-69.)

Jesus, the Holy One of God, is unique, and from the earliest days of the New Covenant there has been an emphasis on preaching about him.

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24.) 

While miraculous signs show God’s power and wisdom is encouraged for a right understanding of God, neither of those bring reconciliation with God. Reconciliation is through Jesus and what he has done in his death and resurrection.

The fact that a sermon is about Jesus does not mean the preacher is somehow elevated to a position of trust different from that of everyone else. Everyone who belongs to Jesus is entrusted with the same responsibility in that regard.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. (Jude 1:3.)

Preachers contend for the faith. Non preachers contend for the faith. Women and men contend for the faith. And even Paul was subject to scrutiny as he did so.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11.)

So eagerly receive the message of Jesus, and examine the message to see if it truly represents God faithfully. You can even be appreciative of those from whom you learn. But to elevate the preacher as that meme suggests leads to a tendency to remove the preaching from proper scrutiny, as if the listeners must not question for fear of insulting Jesus himself.

Don’t restrict your learning solely to men and reject women, and don’t elevate preachers to a position as if you were hearing Jesus himself. Remember, all of God’s people are “stewards of the things of God”: women and men, preachers and non preachers, everyone.

Including you.

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Replacing Repentance with Apologies

[Today’s guest post from Martha Burton examines the distinction between apologies and repentance, and why it makes all the difference in the world.]

I have never liked receiving apologies from people. In fact, on a deeper level I can honestly say they anger me but I don’t know that I have really ever understood why until now.

In light of all of the upheaval within our American culture in the past few years over a myriad of different topics all of which somehow relate back to human dignity and the image of God wrapped up in the personhood of every human being it has become increasingly clear why apologies just don’t sit well with me.

I have come to realize that apologies are easy which is why they are so often chosen over actual repentance.

Apologies require nothing from the one giving them except words but everything from the one receiving them.

Apologies do not require change only forgiveness; they have become veiled excuses.

An apology according to the American definition is telling someone that you are sorry for their inconvenience or unhappiness. Nowhere is there recognition of fault or a call to change behavior. There is no promise of reparation or sign of regret or remorse for an action. An apology acknowledges nothing except one individual’s unhappiness over another’s unhappiness for their actions against or towards them.

Apologizing under scrutiny

We have seen a media storm of people lately whose sin has been found out both in the secular forum as well as Christian. Many of them have come forward and given public apologies. Everything from “I apologize but you must remember I grew in a time when culture was different” to “I apologized and took every step to respond in a Biblical way.”

They all sound like good apologies on the surface but is an apology what is required? Is an apology what will change the sin in a person’s heart or provoke another to forgiveness?

An apology is like using a get out of jail free card from monopoly. You don’t have to serve your time for your crime or make reparations of any sort. My five year old uses the art of the apology quite often to get out of trouble.

“I’m sorry mommy. I won’t ever do it again.”

Then five minutes later, literally, I catch him repeating the disobedient behavior. I catch him…he apologizes…and the cycle continues. There is absolutely no understanding gained, trust restored, or behavior changed.

It is only when my son has realized that he has truly hurt me or someone else that I see him repent and confess although in a five year old’s world this still sounds like an apology. However, it is the heart that is different and it is evident both in how he apologizes and how he acts going forward.

Apologies don’t require that the sinner take responsibility for their actions, agree with the one they sinned against that the actions were wrong and call for a complete change of behavior from that point forward.

Repentance, however, requires all of them.

Repenting from apologizing

Not once in scripture are we given instruction to apologize. What we see instead are instructions for confession, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. But what do these words mean and how do they respond to each other?

Confession is to agree. Repentance is to change your mind or purpose. Reconciliation is to make right through a change. Restoration means to be brought back into harmony.

Confession and repentance must take place before we are to forgive. Reconciliation is only accomplished after repentance and reparation.

In scripture we are told “if your brother repents, forgive him.” We are told to forgive as God forgives. God requires repentance not an apology before He issues forgiveness. Make no mistake, through the blood of Christ forgiveness and reconciliation are made possible for everyone for all time but repentance must take place through confession before that forgiveness is obtained on a personal level.

We are told in scripture that if we see a brother sin we are to rebuke him. Quite an unpopular act in today Christian culture but we are to employ it never the less.  We are also told that if our brother has something against us we must go and seek reconciliation with that brother before attempting to offer our sacrifice to God. We are to confess and we are to receive confessions with forgiveness. We are instructed to restore the repentant brother.

There is a relationship presented to us in scripture between confession, forgiveness, repentance and restoration.

If we are going to witness a true change within the body of Christ today; if we are to hope to have God’s blessing upon our lives and ministries we must replace our feeble apologies with the biblical mandate of true confession and repentance that seeks out and results in forgiveness and reconciliation not a get out of jail free card. We must stop demanding that people forgive when there is no true confession and repentance given on the part of the offender.

A lack of confession and repentance on the part of the offender shows the true state of the heart. There is no remorse for their sin or the damage it has caused in an apology. There is in its place self-justification from a place of willful egocentric behavior. To forgive without the demand of confession and repentance is to damage a brother or sister. This pseudo forgiveness and restoration leaves them in their sinful state without a provocation to change or live a life of accountability. They are free to continue in an unresolved state within themselves. Yet Hebrews 10:24 tells us clearly that we are to provoke one another to love and good works.

Church let’s stop apologizing and start repenting through confession so that we can have true reconciliation and restoration. Let’s stop demanding people offer forgiveness without repentance for by doing so we have demeaned the holiness of God, harmed the brotherhood of the body of Christ and removed godly instruction from our lives. We have adopted worldly philosophy and have become a people unrepentant yet demanding forgiveness. We no longer require change only empty words.

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Born in Kansas City, MO, Martha Burton is the 45 year old mother of two and wife of a Baptist Minister. She holds a Bachelors of Religious Studies and Church Leadership with honors from Central Christian College of the Bible. She is a Christian writer and blogger at Auntie M’s Bookshelf, and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter too. But most importantly she is a daughter of the King; a follower of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) who has a passion to see God’s people live out the life He has set before them in a way that brings honor to His name, unity to the church and speaks salvation to the lost.

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Citations:

  • Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Dictionary. n.d. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/apologize (accessed 1 20, 2018).
  • Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.,, 2003.
  • New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995: Update.
  • Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.

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Welcoming the Warning Signs

“Sir, you’ll need to leave the courtroom and wait in the hall.” The young man in the audience stared at me. “You can’t communicate with people in custody,” I said. “You need to leave now.”

He stood up just as the bailiff started to approach him, ready to help him leave if he didn’t do so of his own accord. The young man turned toward the door and made a gesture clearly indicating he thought this was ridiculous.

“Sir, please stop.”

“I’m leaving,” he said as the bailiff reached his side.

“Sir,” I repeated, “please stop.”

He did.

“The reason I’m telling you to wait in the hallway is that you were communicating with your friend in custody. You can get arrested for that. I’m trying to keep you from getting arrested. You don’t have to wait in the hall. You can go home or whatever. I just don’t want you to stay here and do things that will get you arrested.”

The bailiff saw I was done and directed the young man to the door.

Courtroom control, life control

One way to keep control of the courtroom is through clear directions, sometimes becoming clear warnings. Courtroom control can ultimately be maintained by holding someone in contempt for creating a disturbance. You don’t want that to happen to you, because it can result in jail time and a hefty fine.

I also don’t want that to happen to you. I haven’t jailed or fined anyone for creating a disturbance in court in the 22 1/2 years I’ve been on the bench. Clear directions and follow-up warnings have worked just fine.

People ought to welcome the directions and warnings, but I get the impression that many don’t.

It’s the same in the rest of life. Take railroad crossings, for example. As Jeremy White says, “I’d rather be delayed by a train than hit by one.” Yet most people, as Jeremy says, consider the arms swinging down and the bells ringing and the lights flashing to be more of a hindrance than a help.

source

Road signs are good, though, as my wife and I found out when traveling a back country Georgia road one night. We were following the directions on GPS and ascending a hill that got steeper with every foot we climbed. Suddenly there were large yellow arrows showing a left curve. I hit the brakes just as the car leveled out at the top, turned a  sharp left, and shot down the slope. If I hadn’t taken the curve at that reduced speed, we’d have instead shot down a worse slope, the one straight over the edge and into the ravine the arrows helped us avoid.

I was glad for that warning.

You’ve probably been glad for some warnings too, even those that bring more concern than relief along with them.

  • A call from your doctor saying your routine annual lab work has revealed something she wants you to see a specialist about. The specialist eventually tells you there’s a high chance of treating it successfully, but it will take a lot of time and effort.
  • A note from your child’s school concerning grades and possible ineligibility for participating on athletic teams. Grades can be improved, but your daughter or son would rather just play sports. You have some hard parenting work ahead.
  • A trip to your mechanic about squeaky brakes, where you get the news your brakes need replacing and your car isn’t safe to drive home.

Warnings like these are hard to hear, but they should also be welcome to receive. Consider the alternative.

Warnings of love

The Bible is full of warnings and advice about warnings.

Jesus warned his friends to be wary of those who would lead them away from God:

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” …

“How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16: 6, 11-12.)

God gives you friends, as well, who can give you good advice:

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. (Proverbs 19:20.)

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted … . (Proverbs 27:5-6.)

This was the guide for God’s people in ancient times, and continues for God’s people today:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Matthew 18:15-16.)

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. (Galatians 6:1.)

This advice cuts two ways: how you receive warnings and how you give them.

You might be in a situation where you need to receive a warning. It might come softly and gently (as in advice from your doctor), or it might come loudly and suddenly (as with railroad arms and lights and bells). The warning in either case is intended to save, and is appropriate to the situation.

What about when you give warnings to friends or family. Do you make sure to be as gentle as the situation will allow? Think of the young man in court. No one yelled at him, he wasn’t arrested for speaking to his friend in custody, he wasn’t held in contempt for interfering with the proceedings. He was warned not to repeat his actions so that he would know how to behave properly the next time he came to court. He might not have appreciated being told he had to leave, but he learned something that would keep him from getting himself into trouble.*

Wouldn’t you like to avoid trouble too? Wouldn’t you rather be delayed by a train than hit by one?

I thought you might.

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*You might ask why the young man wasn’t allowed to stay in court after the warning. It’s a public safety issue. Once a person has started to communicate with a person in custody, the bailiff does not know whether it is part of a larger intent to create a disturbance or the person would heed the warning and cease communication. The bailiff must be able to watch over the safety of the entire courtroom and should not have her or his attention primarily drawn to a person who has already disturbed the proceedings once.

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Online Dating for the Christian Woman: How to Recognize Red Flags and Encourage Your Faith

[Today’s guest post is from Juli J. Ellen. I hope you enjoy her insights on Christian women, dating, and faith. And no, I did not pay her to say nice things about me as blog host.]

When Tim asked me to write a guest post on his blog about the subject of “dating and how God uses us to work in other people’s lives,” I immediately had a hundred ideas. As usual, I wrote each one down on a sticky note and started sticking them to the walls around my desk. When the sunlight hits the bright fluorescent pink sticky notes, it’s a blinding reminder I need to plunk out the keys on my computer and write those thoughts into a short story, blogpost, or work them into the book I’m writing.

Something was very different this time, as my stomach was churning when I thought about completing this assignment. I’d sit down to write, but instead I would allow myself the time to complete every routine task I could think of before actually doing any writing. However, the menial tasks would add up to an all day chore list and at the end of the day I hadn’t written a word. I knew I was impeding the process, and I felt like I had writer’s block. In attempting to write this blogpost, I realized my writer’s block had more to do with the condition of my heart than a slowing down of my creativity.

I had excuses in my head as to why I should refrain from writing this post, one being that Tim’s audience is mainly Christian and the truth of my story and my attempt to be real may very well cause many to pass judgement and raise an eyebrow, or maybe two, and miss the point of my post. Consequently, I will refrain from giving specific details, but will state that it is possible in the midst of dating, either online or the old-fashioned meet at Home Depot, the bank or the grocery store, to be encouragers of our faith in a way that isn’t overbearing or judgmental.

A Certain Type of Man, a Certain Type of Church

Having a proclivity for attracting men who have secret lives, it used to take me a decade to figure out what was going on. I use the word “proclivity” for a reason:

pro·cliv·i·ty: A tendency to choose or do something regularly; an inclination or predisposition toward a particular thing.

To explain where this predisposition comes from, it’s important to know I was raised in two of the most conservative Christian churches in Southern California during the sixties and seventies. They believed women should not teach or minister to men, or do anything that attracted the attention of men. I was taught to be the submissive little girl and future wife. As a teenager, I was always trying to stretch the boundaries of what I was allowed to do. I didn’t want to learn classical piano, I wanted to play jazz and rock & roll. Not being allowed to participate in modern art, yearbook, dance, or other classes that would be out of the box, I was told to take typing, cooking and sewing. This was all in preparation for me to be a wife…a submissive wife.

As a child, I attended Sunday school every week. I remember in first grade, one of the lessons was to love my enemies and always be forgiving. I also remember being taught this during the time the girls and boys were in separate classes. I’ve wondered if the boys were taught equivalent messages. This teaching created a mindset in me that led to a traumatic encounter in first grade and affected my ability to know the difference between forgiveness and trust later on in my life.

In first grade, I decided to put my new Sunday school lesson into practice as there were two older girls who would hunt me down during recess, call me names, and physically push me around the play yard. I spent my savings to buy each of them a present and used my newly acquired origami skills to wrap these up in neat little paper designs. I put my two origami gifts in my lunch bag and trekked off to school with a nervous stomach, knowing I would need to approach these two mean girls at the first morning recess.

At 10:10 a.m. the sound of the bell was louder than any other day. I grabbed the two gifts and walked down the asphalt play yard. It was fenced with chain link on all four sides, and as I passed the foursquare courts painted on the ground, I sensed I had no escape.

The girls were playing with a volleyball and bounced it like a superball when they saw my approach. Each crash of the ball hit the pavement faster and faster as if it was beating to the rhythm of my heart. I walked up to them with my arms outstretched, with an origami gift balancing on the palm of each hand. I clearly remember citing the words I’d learned the day before from my Sunday school teacher. “I’ve been told to love my enemies, so I forgive you and have these presents for you, and I want to be friends.”

This is when one of the two girls expeditiously threw the volleyball in my face and broke my nose.

These girls were a few years older than I, so they had some pretty good throwing skills from being on the kickball and volleyball teams in the after school sports program. When they saw the blood gushing out of my nose and down my face, they looked at each other with fear and ran away. The only thing I remember seeing through my tears was the volleyball bouncing slower and slower and then rolling across the pavement and stopping at the chain link fence.

I was told by my parents and my Sunday school teacher I had done the right thing. I’d loved my enemies, shown I could forgive them and I would find my reward in heaven. Instead, I should have been given the tools to spot and deal with the bullies.

These teachings had an effect on my marriage and still have an effect on my subconscious when I meet someone I’m interested in dating. I have an unending capacity to forgive and be non-judgmental, but this leaves me missing the red flags that are waving vigorously in the hundred mph winds of caution. Winds I used to pretend were just a breeze blowing through my hair, like when I found out my husband had a secret life. I forgave him, I took him back, and it would happen again and again, affair after affair.

When counseled by my church in a joint session with my estranged husband, the counselor’s first sentence was, “This is happening because you’re not a submissive wife. You need to forgive him and take him back.” I had the good sense to get up right then, leave the counseling session, go out to the payphone and call my attorney to give her permission to file the divorce papers. I haven’t set foot on that church campus since. My husband at the time wasn’t sorry for his actions because of the pain he caused, he was only sorry because he was caught.

Lessons Learned and Lessons Taught

All of this brings me to one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Fall, who has been an encouragement to me during the time I’ve explored my equality with men and what the Bible really teaches. I’m learning to use the gifts God has given me, even if it’s contrary to the teachings of conservative pastors like John MacArthur or John Piper. It no longer takes me a decade to see the red flags in a relationship, and I know to let go sooner than later. I now understand that forgiveness and restoration of trust are two separate necessities in a broken relationship.

Dating these days is very different from when I was single before.

We talk politics, religion vs. faith, and many times they’re surprised to know my faith is a little different than the church going women they’ve dated in the past. I’m honest about who I am, why I think the church has missed the mark, and my obvious faults. All this lends itself to more honest discussions and when I have an opportunity to mention Tim’s blog, “Just One Train Wreck After Another.” they light up and look in my eye, as if I’ve just sent them the phrase that describes their entire life. If we’re honest with each other, we can relate to this train wreck because we all have the inability to be perfect and we will repeat our mistakes.

I don’t know how many of these men get over to read Tim’s blog, but I do know a few who have, and they’re relating to what Tim is posting. In a world of online dating, where flirting, sexting, and free love run rampant and politics collide, and where people are afraid to identify as a Christian, I am an encourager of my faith in Christ. Not because I’m a church goer who lives by rules, but because I have a daily relationship to Jesus. I trust Him, but at times I struggle with that, and sometimes I get angry, but I’m open to what He has for my life, even if I don’t at first agree.

I’m at ease with knowing God’s intention is for men and women to submit to each other in love, and that a successful relationship will exemplify this. I do single life fairly well, and if in the future I find I’m interested in a forever relationship, it will be a relationship where we inspire each other to be better people and do great things with the gifts God has given us. Where we can be honest with each other in a kind and gentle manner, and because we’re better together than apart.

***

Juli J. Ellen is an accomplished lifetime entrepreneur in the arts and business, from creating fine art photography to owning an ice cream store, working with child custody cases as a mediator and parenting coordinator to creating social media content for local, national and international brands. As an empty-nester mom of two grown children, and a lover of the outdoors, she finds the time to trek to the arctic, hike out on the trail in the Rocky Mountains, and spend time writing about her life adventures. Juli is exercising the gifts God has given her and hopes to inspire other women and girls who have been oppressed by patriarchal teachings.

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Letting Words Go Unanswered

On-line discussions can be difficult. Sometimes they are wonderful and worth the effort, and other times they are withering and not worth the time it takes to form the words on the keyboard. Blog comments, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and more can be deep wells of encouragement as well as deep pits of discouragement.

People sometimes lift others up with the greatest of ease, their words floating by and carrying you aloft in their kindness and plainly good intentions. People sometimes try to force upon you their demands you conform to their thoughts, their rules, their practices, or be labeled as unworthy of their esteem.

You can decide whether to breathe in the one and let the other die of its own lack of oxygen. Remember, silence is a time-honored tool for healthy conversation:

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
    and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
    and discerning if they hold their tongues.
(Proverbs 17:27-28.)

As Jacqueline Winspear said:

Sometimes it’s best to let words die of their own accord rather than fight them. (In This Grave Hour.)

This does not mean rejecting the other person, but it does mean not allowing the other person to set the rules. Not every demand on social media requires you to respond. After all, when you engage there is no reason to fight their fire with fire of your own. Rather:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger. …

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
(Proverbs 15:1, 18.)

Patience does not require endless engagement while the other person continues their disputatious ways, though. You don’t have to stay in those conversations forever.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. (Titus 3:9.)

If the conversation is a foolish argument, quarrel or controversy, you have permission to drop out of it. There is nothing about Twitter, Facebook or the rest of social media that says you have to stay. You have the freedom to leave a bad conversation behind and let it go.

Does that mean you should leave all social media behind? Not at all. There is much that can be good in connecting with people. As Paul said:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11.)

Do this with people you see face to face and with people you see on line. Encouragement and building one another up is a great way to use the Internet. Go and do likewise. (Luke 10:37.)

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Tolerance, Approval, and Love

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus

Love like Jesus.

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Why Struggling Against Sin Is Better Than You Think

“I’m still dealing with the same sins I’ve had all my life.”

“Join the club.”

“But you don’t know the sins I’m still committing.”

“I don’t have to. I’ve got my own.”

“Not like mine, you don’t.”

“Right. Yours are special.”

“Exactly.”

“You want advice about what to do with your special sins?”

“That’s why I asked you to meet me for coffee.”

“Get over yourself.”

“Is that it?”

“There’s more.”

“I hoped so.”

“Thanks for buying me coffee.”

“You’re welcome. But can’t you be serious? I’m struggling here.”

“That’s good.”

“You think it’s good that I struggle with sin? You’re supposed to help me!”

“All right, fine. Tell me how you struggle with sin.”

“I thought you said it didn’t matter what sin I was struggling with.”

“It doesn’t. What I want to know is how you struggle against it.”

“Well … sometimes it’s emotional, like I start feeling like I’m missing out on something everyone else has. I know that’s not true but that’s how I feel.”

“What do you do with those feelings?”

“Do with them?”

“Do you like them? Indulge them? Analyze them? Reject them?”

“I’ve never thought about it much. I guess sometimes I catch myself in time to realize I shouldn’t go down that path.”

“And other times?”

“To use your word, I indulge them.”

“What happens when you indulge the feelings?”

“I sin.”

“What happens when you don’t let yourself follow the feelings?”

“I don’t sin.”

“Which comes more often?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you catch yourself more than you let yourself indulge?”

“Sometimes. Maybe. I mean, it seems like it’s getting better sometimes and then I go through times where it seems to be happening constantly.”

“Would you say you struggle more now than you did before?”

“What do you mean? I’m struggling all the time!”

“Are you struggling more against this sin now than a few years ago? Overall, I mean, not comparing your worst moments now with your best moments then.”

“I guess.”

“I think your struggle against sin is a good sign.”

“How can you say that? I thought I’d be free of this sin after all these years.”

“I’m older than you, so can I give you a little bit of advice?”

“Like I said, that’s why I wanted to meet with you in the first place. Tell me how to stop.”

“Sorry, but that’s not my advice.”

“You don’t think I should stop sinning?”

“No, I don’t think you should stop struggling. The way I see it, every time you struggle you acknowledge you belong to Jesus, that he loves you and wants better for you than the sin could deliver. Your struggles testify that the Holy Spirit is in you, working against those sins.”

“I’d rather God just make me stop.”

“You’d rather be dead than have God work in you?”

“Not when you put it that way.”

“Every time you struggle and succeed, you have given in to God that much more and sin that much less.”

“But why?”

“Why?”

“Why does God work like that?”

“Because he’s kind.”

“Kind? What’s kind about letting me sin?”

“His kindness is proven every time you struggle against sin. It’s his kindness that leads to repentance in the first place, according to Romans 2:4, and your struggles are a sign that you want to repent.”

“Sure they are. Even when I give in and sin.”

“You think I’m painting too rosy a picture? A struggle against sin is an agreement with God that his ways are better, and that’s a start on the road to repentance. Sometimes you take a step down that road and sometimes you don’t. But eventually you will complete that journey.”

“You sound more confident than I feel.”

“I’m confident in God’s grace. Read the second part of Titus chapter two: it’s grace that teaches us to say no to unrighteousness.”

“I haven’t learned the lesson, apparently.”

“Teaching is not an instantaneous event. Teaching is a process. And God is a gracious teacher.”

“And I’m getting a failing grade.”

“No one who belongs to Jesus gets a failing grade.”

“Except me.”

“There you go thinking you’re special again, so hear this: everybody’s sinning.”

“I haven’t been able to stop, and that means I failed the lesson.”

“It means you still have a lot to learn. But you’re not getting an F. No one does, because there is no condemnation for those in Christ, not even for those still struggling against sin. That’s one of the main points of chapters six to eight of Romans, isn’t it?”

“I guess.”

“I know.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I must know something. Why else would you buy me coffee and sit here listening to me for so long?”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that if I were a fool, would you have even bothered asking me to meet with you? Because if so, that would make you foolish too. And you know I don’t think you’re anything of the kind.”

“You don’t? Even after all I told you about struggling with this sin for years?”

“I like what it says in Ephesians 4:2 – ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ We’re in this together, with God and with each other, because he loves us all. You’ve just realized that you still have a lot to learn.”

“So what do I do next time?”

“Next time you let me buy the coffee.”

“Not what I meant.”

“I know what you meant. And I think you know what to do. Keep up the struggle.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s all I got. And I’m serious about letting me buy the coffee next time, because it’ll probably be me who needs your help with something I’m struggling over. Just be there for me.”

“That I can do.”

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