Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Don't Buy the Latest, Fastest, Biggest | Live Simply

The Trumpet Player Mentality

On this blog, I have mentioned on a few occasions that I am a musician. My primary instrument is the trumpet and I have been playing now for over 30 years.

A running joke for many trumpet players is a line which goes something like "higher, faster, louder." A lot of trumpet players act like they want to be the next Maynard Ferguson, so they are always trying to outdo one another in playing higher and louder.

You know, we as consumers here in the United States can kind of have a similar philosophy as far as how we spend our money. Instead of a "higher, faster, louder" mentality, though, we approach life with a need to purchase the "latest, fastest, biggest." We have a tendency to get into the mindset as consumers that we need to go out and buy the latest and greatest "thingy" that is available today, whether it be a television, car, computer, or cell phone.

The Christian Mentality

If the world says you need to go and buy the latest, fastest, and biggest, it would stand to reason that perhaps this may not be the best philosophy for the Christian. In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul encourages us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Christ himself as well as the apostles modeled lives of simplicity for the early church. Their over-riding concern was to accomplish God's Kingdom work while living on earth, rather than accumulating a pile of worthless stuff in light of eternity.

The Reformed Church of America (RCA) has an interesting perspective on this mentality when it issued a statement in 2005 that included a reflection on stewardship in the following passage:
How can we individually and communally - in our homes, churches, camps, workplaces - resist the rushing current that is our materialistic culture and its siren song of success while cultivating and putting into practice a more faith-filled way of life? Here are... simple strategies: 1. Say no. Don't buy the latest, fastest, biggest. Live simply. 2. Tithe. Give a percentage of your income away - to your church, to Bread for the World, to Church World Service, to missionaries, to the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter (Source: Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money by Smith, Emerson, and Snell).
The Purpose For Simple Living

The call for simple living is not a punishment or even a commandment. There are practical reasons why we as believers should strive to keep our lives as free of the clutter of this life as possible.

First, simple living frees up our income in order to be able to give more away. When we have margin in our family budget, we can give extravagantly and purposely to His church as well as to those in need. Becoming debt free is perhaps the best way to simplify your finances and give you that extra margin in your budget to live a life of generosity.

Second, simple living helps us to live selflessly instead of selfishly. Instead of using the incomes God has blessed us with on selfish desires, we become outward focused. We become more concerned with the needs of others instead of our own needs or wants.

Third, simple living keeps our focus on God's Kingdom instead of our temporary home here on earth. We really start living like aliens at a temporary address. Why should we be so concerned with piling up possessions here on earth for 70-80 years, when our real home is in heaven for all of eternity? Instead, we should be piling up treasure in heaven through investing our time, talent, and money into God's Kingdom work in our brief time here on planet earth.

Are you living the simple life or are you still chasing after the "latest, fastest, biggest?" What do you need to do in order to move away from the world's philosophy to God's philosophy?

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

8 Steps for Spiritual Growth

Spiritual Growth Is Necessary

If you're not growing, you're dying. - James Ray

We began a new life in Christ for the purpose of growing in our relationship with Him. We don't simply pray a prayer for fire insurance and then remain the same. The Lord wants us to mature in our faith and walk with Him.

In 2 Peter 1:5-8, we read the following written by the Apostle Peter:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
8 Steps for Spiritual Growth

In the above passage of Scripture, Peter gives us eight steps for believers to mature in their relationship with God.
  1. Faith. Our faith in God is the foundation, the starting point for our spiritual growth. When we have faith in God, we have the conviction that He exists and that He alone is the Creator and ruler of all things. We believe that salvation comes only through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  2. Goodness. Once our faith has been firmly established, we should add goodness as the second step. Goodness is defined as virtue or moral excellence. We should have the desire to live out lives that are pleasing to God.
  3. Knowledge. The third step is knowledge. We need to study the Bible. We need to be involved with a local body of believers where we are learning more about Him in corporate worship and small group Bible studies. In order to become more like Him, we need to know Him in a deeper way. God's Word is our instruction manual.
  4. Self-Control. In today's world, self-control is hard! But in this passage, Peter clearly states that once we have a firm knowledge of God's Word, we need to add self-control as the next step. When you have a control of self, you are able to master your desires and passions, especially in the area of our sensual appetites. 
  5. Endurance. In this next step, we move up to endurance. In the New Testament, this has been typically defined as not swerving from our spiritual purpose and loyalty to the faith, even in the middle of severe trials and suffering. As we patiently continue our spiritual journey through difficulty times, the Lord is able to mature us for what He has called us to accomplish for His Kingdom.
  6. Godliness. Holiness is the sixth step in our spiritual growth. We should desire to live Godly lives that are set apart for His purpose. Every day, we have a longing to become more and more like Him.
  7. Brotherly Affection. As members of the Body of Christ, we should love one another. The meaning of the Greek word used here is the same as the city of Philadelphia or "city of brotherly love." This is a New Testament type of love where Christians cherish one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
  8. Love. The Greek word used here is agape, or the highest form of love. This is the same type of love that God has for us. The purest, most selfless love that has ever existed. This is the final and most difficult step in our process of spiritual growth. We must learn to view others through the eyes of Jesus and love them with His love.
Why Are These Steps of Spiritual Growth Important?

Peter not only gives us these eight steps for spiritual growth, but he also adds an explanation before and after this particular passage on the "why" of their importance. Here are six reasons why he considers these steps important in our walk with the Lord.
  1. To share in the divine nature (v. 4). The goal of every Christian should be to become more like Jesus each and every day. At the point of salvation, we were given the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are able to share God's divine nature as a result of the Holy Spirit's power.
  2. To escape the corruption of the world (v. 4). When we are focused on spiritual growth, we take our eyes off of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Our focus is on the Lord and how we can become more like Him.
  3. To avoid laziness and unfruitfulness (v. 8). The point of salvation is not to wait around in a lazy state for His return. God wants us to lead fruitful, productive lives for His Kingdom purposes. We can accomplish this through purposeful spiritual growth.
  4. To remember our cleansing from sin (v. 9). In this verse, Peter states that those who lack the above qualities of spiritual growth have been blinded and have forgotten that they have been cleansed from their sin.
  5. To confirm your calling and election into God's family (v. 10). Living a Godly, productive life is evidence of our salvation. This in no way saves us, but demonstrates to the world that we are His children.
  6. To avoid sinning (v. 10). When you are working on these eight steps for spiritual growth, it becomes more difficult to live in a fleshly, worldly state. We avoid sin because we are attempting to live lives that are pleasing to the Father.
Where are you at today in your journey through these eight steps of spiritual growth? In what areas do you need add to your faith?

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to relate to fellow believers

Why Is It So Difficult To Love Family Members?

Have you ever noticed that family members are some of the hardest people to love? Sure, we have the familial feeling of love toward them, but then the way we treat them defies our supposed love for them. We have a tendency to treat strangers and acquaintances better than our own family.

I guess it's because we have seen our family members at their best and at their worst, and our family has seen the same in us. We tend to place unrealistic expectations on each other and then when those expectations aren't met, we get upset with one other.

The same could be said of the Body of Christ. The church body is our spiritually family. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord. As we grow in our relationships with our fellow church members, we begin to place unrealistic expectations on them and then the cycle begins.

A Biblical Model

In 1 Peter 4:8-10, the Apostle Peter gives us an excellent model for relating to our fellow believers in the Lord:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Four Steps In Relating To Other Believers

From the above verses, Peter gives four steps that fellow believers should follow in their relationships with one another.
  • Love deeply. When you love someone deeply, forgiveness flows easily. You overlook the flaws and problems in others. You are less judgmental and more understanding. You are careful not to place overly high expectations on others.
  • Be generous. The foundation for hospitality is a generous spirit. You are willing to share with others what God has blessed you with. This may be financial or material blessings from the Lord. This may be welcoming fellow believers into your home for a place to stay. And most importantly, you are willing to share your time with others. "Give yourself entirely to those around you. Be generous with your blessings. A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal." - Steve Maraboli
  • Don't complain. As we express a generous spirit to others and love them deeply, we need to avoid complaining about it. Don't hold grudges against those who are taking what you are generously giving.
  • Serve each other. The Lord has called us to be faithful managers of what He has blessed us with, whether it be time, abilities, or finances. We can take these blessings from the Lord and selfishly keep them for ourselves, or we can turn around and serve each other with those blessings. Peter encourages us to take those gifts we have received from God in order to minister to one another.
How have you been relating to fellow believers, lately? In which of these four areas do you need to experience growth as you attempt to relate to your brothers and sisters in Christ in a better way?

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Blessing of Experiencing God

Through The Fire

When you've been through the fire, those times of trials and testing in your life, your perspective on life totally changes. If you have taken a mature, Christian response to your trial, then you have allowed God to use the experience to transform you into a different person. You have allowed the Lord to mature your faith. You have grown in your walk with Christ.

Over the last two weeks, I have begun sharing My Story of divorce and recovery. I have been sharing at least a part of my experience and what God has been doing in my life as a result.

Not My Plan

What I have experienced was definitely not what I had planned out for my life. I had planned on being married to same the person until at least one of us died; you know that whole "'till death do us part" kind of thing. Unfortunately, in today's culture and even in our churches, this kind of commitment is becoming more and more rare. In today's legal system, it only takes one marriage partner to decide that they want out, and then it's pretty much a done deal. The faithful, committed partner has little say with the end result.

I grew up in a very stable home environment that helped me understand how important it is for children to experience that sense of security. Unfortunately, what I had desired for my own daughters is no longer going to happen. I pray to the Lord every day that my girls will not be scarred by this experience. I'm asking the Lord that they will love and serve Him in spite of what has happened between their mother and father. I pray that I can still be a great father (even though I'm a flawed human being) and that they can depend on me no matter what. I know with His help, that they are going to turn out to be great Godly, women. I also pray that when they get older, they can both enter healthy, committed marriages of their own and stay married for a lifetime.

God's Blessing of Experiencing Him

Although what has happened in my life was not a part of my master life plan, God's perfect will for my life, or even His will for the life of my ex-wife, I know that God has walked with me through the fire. I made a choice from day one of this horrible experience that I would run to Him and allow Him to help me through the last two years. Has it been easy to do this? On some days it has been easier than others, but the best part of this bad situation is that I have experienced God in a greater way as a result.

In the Old Testament, the Nation of Israel was a classic example of this tug-of-war of difficult circumstances and then reminders to seek out the Lord and His help. In Exodus 32, we read the story of the Jewish people struggling with the sin of idolatry when they created the two golden calves while Moses was on top of Mount Sinai receiving God's Law. God was so furious with Israel, that He was preparing to destroy all the people, and then just start over with Moses. But Moses interceded on behalf of the people, and God spared the majority of His chosen people.

In the next chapter, Exodus 33, we see God telling Moses and the people to go ahead and take possession of the land of Canaan, but if they chose to go, He would not go with them. God was still angry with their wickedness and sin of rebellion against Him. When the Israelites heard this bad news, they mourned their loss of God's presence for their journey.

Moses then went before the Lord and pleaded for God's presence to go with them into the Promise Land. He told the Lord that if He chose not to go with the Jewish people on the remainder of their journey, then they weren't going to leave their current location. Moses and the people needed to know that God would be with them and bless them. Because of Moses' relationship with the Lord, God relented and promised to go with them.

Desire Him

In both good times and bad, God wants us to know Him and desire Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:36-38). Difficult times, though, have a unique way of driving us to our knees and seeking Him with our whole heart. I know as I have walked through a painful divorce that this has been true in my own life. I sought the Lord on my own difficult journey and His presence went with me. On this journey with Him, I was able to experience His awesome blessing of a unique encounter with Him.

I don't know where you are today on your journey through life. Your life may be extremely blessed and problem free, or you may be in the middle of a real life crisis. If you're journey is difficult right now, seek the Lord and ask that His presence go with you. Consider yourself blessed for the opportunity to experience God in a new way.
I would rather pay the price to hear God's voice personally, regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be, than to have to settle for always hearing from Him secondhand. - Joy Dawson from Forever Ruined for the Ordinary (Thomas Nelson Publishers)
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Estate Planning After Divorce

Divorce Changes Your Estate Plan

When you go through a divorce, there are a number of legal documents that need to be updated or changed altogether. Since the "two flesh" are no longer one, you are now in a situation where you are completely on your own. You have to look out for your own interests and those of your children in your estate planning. And if there are children in the mix, it's vitally important that you take care of these matters as soon as possible once the divorce is finalized.

The Important Paperwork

Dealing with all the details in a revamping of your estate planning post-divorce is a process. It's going to take several days or even weeks to put the correct legal documentation into place. So, don't get discouraged. Just keep plodding a long a few pieces of paperwork at a time until everything is done and in place.

Here's a list of the paperwork I worked through after my own divorce was finalized:
  1. Last Will and Testament. Typically in a marriage, it's pretty rare that both a husband and wife will ever die together, unless it's in a freak car or airplane accident. So, if something should happen to one partner, the other partner normally takes over the affairs of the deceased husband or wife. Once a divorce takes place, though, this obviously changes everything. You no longer have that "built in" assistance in case of your untimely passing. So, in my updated will documents, I specified who would be the Trustee of my estate and then how my estate was going to be divided up. After the sale of personal property and then the value of my various life insurance policies, I have directed that my church receive 10% of my estate and then my two daughters receive the remaining 90% divided equal between them. Since my daughters are minor children, I had to specify that my Trustee invest and manage my daughters' share of my estate until they reach the age of 25, at which time they can have the remaining money from my estate.
  2. Durable Power of Attorney. This document appoints a representative to take care of legal matters for you in case you become disabled or incapacitated. Remember, if you are newly single and on your own as a result of a divorce, you really do need to have someone waiting in the wings to look out for your best interest if you become debilitated.
  3. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Health Care Directive. Similar to Durable Power of Attorney, this document directs your Agent or representative to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. This is where you can tell your family to "pull the plug," so to speak, if you end up brain dead in a coma. You can also direct your agent to allow your organs to be donated upon your death.
  4. Beneficiary Forms. When I had to go back through my various investments and insurance policies post-divorce, I needed to outline who would be the new beneficiaries of my estate. I needed my new forms to match up with the 10/45/45 percentages that I had listed in my Last Will and Testament.
  5. General Information Sheet. Once I had all the above documentation completed, I created a general information sheet for my Trustee which included the location of all my important paperwork, pass codes, and the contact information of the various people that would need to be contacted in case of my death.
People To Include In The Process

In a marriage, the typical thought process on estate planning is that one of the marriage partners will die before the other. Hopefully, you will share with your partner the important details of your family's estate and where all the important paperwork and information is stored.  Once a divorce takes place, though, and you become a single parent, you need to line up people to assist you in the execution of your estate plan.

Here's a listing of people that I have utilized in my estate planning since my divorce:
  • An attorney. Although I have purchased self-service wills and estate planning documents and done these myself in the past, post-divorce, I wanted to be sure that my legal documents were more "official." So, I retained the services of the attorney who helped me through my divorce. I gave her some basic information that I wanted included in my estate plan, and then she produced the final documents within 4-5 days.
  • A Trustee and a back-up Trustee. As you set-up your estate planning paperwork as a single parent, you will need to appoint someone (along with a back-up) to execute your will in the case of your untimely death. I recommend that you choose a family member you can trust, such as a financially responsible brother or sister who understands your desires for your estate money upon your death. If you don't have any siblings, then you might consider your parents or a trusted friend to assist you.
  • Family. You should inform your immediate family of your desires concerning your estate and who you have appointed to be your Trustee and back-up Trustee.
  • The Ex. Once I had all the important estate paperwork and people in place, I then contacted my ex-wife and informed her of the fact that I had updated all of my estate documents. I also gave her the name of my Executor or Trustee of my estate and his contact information in case of my demise.

Once I had all my legal documents completed and in place, I made photocopies for my Trustee and handed those off to him along with a basic explanation of my desires if something should happen to me. I also took all the important original copies of my legal documents and placed those in a secure location. My Trustee was then informed of where and how to access this secure location.

Don't Delay

There is no guarantee that any of us will live to see tomorrow, so whether you're still happily married or you're a single parent, don't delay. Get your personal affairs in order for the sake of your children as well as your immediate family. Don't be rude by leaving them a big mess to clean up when you leave planet earth earlier than expected!
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15).
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Staying debt free through divorce

Photo by Alan Cleaver
Debt Free In Marriage

In my two blog posts last week, I shared My Story of divorce and the pain and challenges I've lived through over the last two years as a result. I've also shared my family's debt free story in this blog on a few occasions. During our marriage, my wife was mostly in agreement with me on finances. We were able to work together on setting up a baby emergency fund, sell our house, move into a rental home, and then pay off over $25,000 in debt in about 18-19 months. Once that debt was finally paid off, though, we couldn't seem to move beyond those steps into long-term wise financial management.

While I would say my ex-wife was about 90% in agreement on our finances, that final 10% caused a number of problems on a variety of different levels. Our money fights did not stem from large bills that couldn't be paid. Rather, our struggles revolved around a sense of agreeing on moderate financial sacrifice in order to continue moving down the list of the 7 baby steps.

Money Is A Big Deal In Marriage

Whether people like it or not, money and marriage are a HUGE deal. I'm sure you've heard the statistic that money is the Number One reason for divorce in North America. I would contend that money is not necessarily the reason for divorce. I view money problems in marriage as a SYMPTOM of bigger problems.

In my own marriage, money was a major symptom of other issues. The greater issues in my own opinion were control, maturity (or lack thereof), teamwork, forward thinking and planning, and finally a matter of honoring God through our family finances. If you are truly a child of the King and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your life, then at some point you need to surrender the family's finances over to Him. You need to allow Him to guide and direct the money He has entrusted to you through the financial principles contained in His Word.

How I've Journeyed Through The Divorce Process Debt Free

Honestly, as a single father, I have had an easier time managing my finances outside of the marriage then I did within it. I am a geek. I am disciplined. I am good at budgeting. I am generally low maintenance and require very little in the area of materialistic desires. Once our separation and divorce process was underway, I had resolved with God's help that I would remain debt free. I wanted to be able to cashflow the divorce so that I wouldn't need to go back into debt.

Here are 7 financial reasons I believe I was able to get through this time without going back into debt:
  1. I had a great starting point. Since we became debt free in the middle of the marriage and no longer owned a home together, I was in an awesome place to continue my debt free journey. I acknowledge that my situation is/was extremely unique and not everyone walking through a divorce has the same incredible beginning point that I had. I definitely used this to my advantage while I moved forward in my personal finances.
  2. I prayed for God to honor my financial stewardship. Many times in my morning quiet time, I would lay out before the Lord my major expenses related to the divorce process, whether it be making child support payments, attorney fees, and so on. I began this time of prayer acknowledging that the money I did have wasn't even mine to begin with. It's His money! I also reminded the Lord of my track record of generous giving and financial stewardship. I had worked very hard to become debt free and to lay a good financial foundation for the future, and I didn't want that taken away from me because of poor choices from my ex-wife.
  3. I increased my giving back to God. I realize that this seems totally counter-intuitive, but through increasing my giving back to God through the ministries of my church, I acknowledged that God was in control of the entire situation. In His economy, He could provide the necessary financial resources that would allow me to stay debt free. 
  4. I continued to work my financial plan. The Financial Peace principles as taught by Dave Ramsey really do work. If you follow the plan and consistently stay the course, then you will be successful over time.
  5. I sought and received excellent legal counsel. I was fortunate to have an attorney friend who saved me a few thousand dollars at the beginning of the process through helping me file necessary court paperwork pro se. Once I got past the first pre-trial court hearing, though, my attorney friend handed me over to a great attorney who was less expensive than a lot of other attorneys. Never underestimate or take for granted the power of your personal network of friends!
  6. I allowed the entire process to go to trial. I'll be honest, I did try to negotiate a deal a few weeks before our final trial date, but I never liked the deal that was being forced upon me by the other party. So, I allowed the entire situation to be heard by a family court judge. For the most part, I was pleased with his final ruling. I saved myself tens of thousands of dollars over the next 12-15 years by taking this route.
  7. I walked in an attitude of gratitude. From day one of my marriage problems, I did not want a divorce. I kicked and screamed my way through the entire process. I ended up having to spend thousands of dollars to protect the interests of myself and those of my daughters that frankly I would have rather seen spent on God's Kingdom work. I had to tighten down pretty hard on my budget in order to cashflow all of my divorce-related expenses. Even though I went through an 18-month process of feeling a slight sense of lack and financial strain, I still praised and thanked the Lord for who He is and what He has blessed me with. I tried to live my crazy, broken life with an attitude of thanksgiving, because I knew that compared to a lot of other men and women walking through divorce, I was doing pretty well. I was going to come out on the other side of this messy life in relatively decent financial shape. God has been good to me, and I praise and thank Him for His goodness!
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Story (part 2) | 9 Lessons learned through a painful divorce

Sharing My Heart

In my last post, My Story (part 1), I shared my heart on what has been happening in my life over the last two years. I'm not proud of what has happened to me, my marriage, and my family, but I've also learned the hard way that perfectionism and my pride are no longer worth holding on to.

Whether we like it or not, life is messy. If I can share my story through the vehicle of this blog, and it helps someone in their walk with Christ, then I'm willing to swallow my pride and perfectionistic tendencies and share with you what God has done and continues to do in my life.

9 Lessons Learned From A Messy Life

Over the last two years, these are some of the lessons that I feel that I've learned along the way. This is not an exhaustive list, but I think it's a pretty good representation of what God has been teaching me through a very difficult time in my life.
  1. Don't ignore warning signs. Whether it's in a dating relationship or in a marriage, if you see any warning signs that need to be addressed, don't stick your head in the sand. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that ignoring issues solves nothing. In fact, it usually makes things worse. In my case, many of these warning signs most likely led to an ugly divorce.
  2. You don't have life figured out. When I started this blog about two and a half years ago, I somewhat arrogantly thought I had life all figured out. In fact, I even thought I had marriage figured out after making it to the 10 year mark. Through this difficult time, I found out that I'm pretty stupid. I know nothing! This fact reminds me of the verse Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." None of us has a lock on life or marriage. Things will happen that are beyond our control.
  3. Trust in God. When my ex-wife walked away from our marriage, my prayers first focused on the Holy Spirit working in her heart and mind to bring her into right thinking. My trust in God was centered on how He was going to bring about change in her life. As time went on, though, my trust in God changed to what He was going to do in me and through me as He worked in a difficult situation. I continue to trust in Him that He will somehow use these difficult circumstances to ultimately bring Him honor and glory.
  4. God desires to go deeper with you. As you walk through a time of difficulty in your life, you have choices to make. You can blame God for your problems and turn your back on Him. Or, you can go deeper in your relationship with the Almighty. He wants more of you. He wants to walk with you through the pain. I can truly say that I have a more intimate relationship with God today then before my marriage fell apart. What Satan and other people have intended for evil purposes, God has turned it around and used this for good in my life.
  5. You can't make it on your own. I have a tendency to live life with a "pull myself up by my bootstraps," rugged individualism mentality. When my family fell apart, though, I needed help. I needed encouragement. I needed prayer support. I needed assistance as a single father. Many people from my church came alongside me to help me, and I'm so thankful that my church family was there for me. Even after almost two years, they continue to help me whenever they can. They haven't forgotten about me. In God's family, we truly do need each other!
  6. Seek out professional help. When you go through a time of difficulty, there is no shame in seeking out a professional therapist or counselor. I was blessed to connect with an excellent Christian counselor who was of great assistance in helping me sort out my pain, hurt, frustration, and anger. He gave me wonderful, Biblically-based advice, and I'm eternally grateful for his wisdom.
  7. Do right, no matter what. When we as Christians walk in obedience to what He tells us through His Word, then I truly believe that God honors right actions. Since I attempted everything possible to pursue reconciliation and healing of a broken marriage, I have no shame and no regrets for doing the right thing. I can move forward with my life because I attempted to write a better story while my ex-wife chose to write a different story. I can't force her to write what God's story should be for her or for me.
  8. God can still use you. Even though I have endured the shame and disappointment of a marriage that fell apart, I never felt a removing of the call of God on my life. In fact, I believe the call has grown deeper over the last two years. God has called me to be his servant in the areas of worship and stewardship, and I'm thankful that my church has affirmed me in my calling. God can still use broken people. In fact, I think that's usually when His best Kingdom work takes place.
  9. God has some really cool stuff planned for you. The storm clouds are slowly starting to dissipate in my life, and a new "normal" has set in for me since my divorce was finalized. I'm beginning to see how God is using my difficulty to help others in their own struggles. In many ways, I also sense that God is beginning to bring restoration and blessing into my life as I have attempted to honor Him through it all. Over time, God really can work all things for the good of those who love Him.
And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:27-29).
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Story (part 1) | God's faithfulness through great difficulty


From the outset of this post, I'll be straight-up honest with you. This is going to be a difficult post for me (note: I've been tinkering around with this particular post for months; that's how difficult this has been to write!). I'm a perfectionist by nature, and I don't like to fail. Plus the fact that what I thought was not in the realm of possibility, suddenly became my new reality. Also, I'm an ordained pastor and write regularly on living the rich Christian life and the importance of relationships in living out that life.

If you have been a regular follower of this blog, you have probably noticed that I have eluded to a time of great difficulty that I have been experiencing. For almost two years, I have struggled through one of the most painful periods in my life. I have experienced the grief process in a major way as I have cycled through numerous times the five stages of the grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

My Dirty Little Secret

OK, so here's the dirt. Beginning in April of 2009, I discovered that my wife was done with married life and wanted her freedom. I won't go into the specific details of why, but all I will say is that I was committed to a lifetime of marriage. I had no desire for a separation or divorce. When I took my marriage vows in January of 1999, I meant every word: "For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And forsaking all others, be faithful only to her/him so long as you both shall live?" Apparently, my ex-wife only believed those words until they no longer suited her purposes, but I can't get inside her head and speak for her. I can only tell you my story from my own perspective.

Although I recognize that I played a role in my marriage problems and for that I will always have specific regrets, I can also celebrate the fact that when I finally did realize that there were major problems, I did everything possible to save a doomed marriage. I know for absolute certainty that many men who would find themselves in my exact same situation would immediately throw in the towel and move on, but I attempted to save my marriage because according to His Word, God hates divorce. In Malachi 2:15-16 we read,
God made husbands and wives to become one body and one spirit for his purpose—so they would have children who are true to God. So be careful, and do not break your promise to the wife you married when you were young. The Lord God of Israel says, "I hate divorce. And I hate people who do cruel things as easily as they put on clothes," says the Lord All-Powerful. So be careful. And do not break your trust (New Century Version).
For over 18 months, I delayed, kicked, and screamed my way into family court so that the Holy Spirit would have time to work in my life as well as on the heart of my ex-wife. For whatever reason, the prayers of thousands of people across America were not answered in the way that we had specifically prayed and hoped. I don't understand why God could allow my family to fall apart right before my eyes.

The challenge for every marriage is that it takes two committed, unselfish, loving people to make the relationship work. It only takes one person in the relationship to throw in the towel and give up. Each and every one of us has a free will. We can choose to take the right path for our lives, or we can choose to live in the flesh.

God's faithfulness through the difficulty

As I have traveled on this journey, I have been reminded of God's faithfulness to His children. He has never promised us that our lives would be problem free once we have been adopted into His family. He never promised that we would always be living out our Best Life Now while inhabitants of planet earth. But, He has promised to be with us through the trials and tribulations of this life.

In Lamentations 3, the prophet Jeremiah cries out in a poetic lament of hurt and pain for all the garbage he has had to endure as God's prophet to the stubborn, disobedient nation of Judah. As Jeremiah goes through his litany of problems and complaints, he is suddenly reminded of the hope that he has in the Lord:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD (Lamentations 3:19-26).
I wouldn't wish what I have gone through on my worst enemy. I have deep psychological and emotional scars from my experience that will probably last my entire lifetime. Even though the last two years have been extremely difficult, I can truthfully and thankfully say that God has used this experience to change me. As a result of the hurt and the pain, I believe I have allowed God to draw me closer to Him as I have rested in His love. I have learned to be dependent on Him as my source of strength and provision. I can truly say that I am thankful for what the Lord has taught me and continues to teach me through the experience.

In my next post later this week, I will go into greater detail on the lessons I have learned on my journey. Stay tuned.

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