Ron Goes for Counseling

After dating several women who told him he had “issues,” my friend Ron finally decided to look for a good counselor.

“That’s a great move,” I encouraged him. It was all I could do to stop short of adding, “And it’s about time, Ron!”

Yet the conversation grew darker when he asked my advice on how to go about finding a counselor who could actually do him some good.

“That’s a tough one, Ron. You’re a pretty hard case,” I chuckled. “And 95% of the counselors out there are either well-meaning but incompetent, or else they’re total frauds, just out to make money.”

I later had to admit that I had no scientific basis for my “95%” statistic. Perhaps the situation in the counseling community is even worse than that!

When Ron asked why I was so down on the counseling profession, I told him my Parable of the Dandelions.

“There are four kinds of counselors, Ron,” I explained. “Picture someone approaching four different advisers for input on controlling the dandelions in his yard.”

Counselor #1: This kind of counselor looks at the yard and says, “I don’t see any dandelions. I think you’re doing great!” This is the counselor of choice for those in denial. The person going for counseling denies he has any addictions or psychiatric conditions, and the counselor comforts him by agreeing!  A variation of this is the kind of counselor who provides reassuring comparisons: “Well, sure, you have dandelions. But there’s no need to worry about it, because all your neighbors have dandelions too!”

Counselor #2: This kind of counselor specializes in validation. After spending an hour with the patient and charging $160 or more, the counselor says, “Yes, you surely are depressed” or “Yes, you really do have a lot of anxiety.” Of course, the counselee already knew  that before spending his $160, but it feels good to have someone validate and confirm all the things he’s been feeling. The problem with this, quite obviously, is that nothing has really been solved  by the counselor. In essence, he’s just saying, “I see the dandelions you’re talking about!” Frequently, this kind of counselor also tries to validate your perspective on the cause  of your problems. By the end of the counseling session, you’ve found other people to blame for your troubles, leaving you guilt-free. “I agree with your assessment that your spouse is a jerk,” the counselor assures you. “So it’s no wonder you have anger issues.” Or you’re told, “Your self-esteem problems are all the fault of your parents.” You feel a remarkable sense of relief in knowing you’re not to blame for your current condition—but your condition never changes when you insist on shifting all the blame to others.

Counselor #3: This kind of counselor goes a little further than Counselor #2. “Yes, you definitely have dandelions, and we’re going to do something to fix that!” However, Counselor #3 opts for the same approach I once took when my dad told me to get rid of the dandelions in our yard: I simply pulled off the dandelion heads, and soon the yard looked dandelion-free. Counselor #3 typically accomplishes this by providing medication to mask a person’s pain, anxiety, depression, or other unpleasant symptoms. The greater the emotional pain, the higher the dosage that is prescribed. I’m sincerely thankful that medication can relieve some of these troublesome symptoms, and some people need that approach, at least in the short run. However, I can’t help but remember what happened when I pulled off the dandelion heads in our lawn. For a few days, it seemed like I was a genius, eradicating all signs of dandelions. But soon the dandelions were back, even more prevalent than before. And that’s why we need counselors like #4…

Counselor #4: I’m convinced that most counselors fall into the categories of #1, #2, or #3. You might wonder how they stay in business when they’re so ineffective. The answer to that question isn’t hard to find: Instead of truly being healed and delivered from their sins and dysfunctions, many people would prefer to live in denial, find affirmation that their problems really aren’t so bad, or find medication that will cover up the symptoms. In contrast, Counselor #4 understands that our emotional “dandelions” must be honestly acknowledged and then pulled out by the roots.

My friend Ron, like so many other people, stands at a crossroads. It’s tempting to pay a counselor to tell him he’s not nearly as messed up as those women say on his dates. And if he had some good medication, he probably wouldn’t worry about their opinions anyway.

The search for competent help won’t be easy, but I’m praying for Ron to find Counselor #4—someone with the spiritual discernment and patience to unearth and remove the roots of his emotional pain.

Tell me what you think. Am I being too hard on the counseling community? What kinds of remedies have helped you  find help and healing for your emotional wounds? Ron could use your advice.

#PrayForRon

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Unpacking Ron’s Baggage

Recently an unexpected firestorm ensued when I wrote about my friend Ron’s woeful dating life. Some people said Ron was clearly shallow and judgmental. Others blamed him for pointing out the baggage of the women he’s dated, while seeming oblivious to his own issues. One woman even prophesied that Ron was too picky to ever  find a new wife.

Ouch!

Ron has been surprised by the negative reactions. He’s really a nice guy, after all, and not used to all this criticism.

As you might imagine, Ron has been rather irritated at me as well. His only explanation for people’s criticism is that I must have portrayed him in an unfair and unflattering light.

“The truth will set you free, brother!” I told him jokingly, paraphrasing the words of Jesus in John 8:32.

But time will tell whether Ron can truly handle  the truth.

Fortunately, my blog has also resulted in some helpful suggestions. Someone offered to launch a #PrayForRon campaign on social media. Another idea was to start a GoFundMe initiative to reimburse Ron for all the money he’s wasted on bad dates. And several people requested that I keep everyone posted on Ron’s ongoing dating saga.

With predictions from some of his critics that there’s no hope for him, Ron gets discouraged at times. Often I try to lift his spirits by pointing him to the promises of Scripture. “Even deplorable people like you found hope in the Lord!” I tease.

One of the Bible passages I’ve shown Ron is Lamentations 3:18, where the prophet Jeremiah said despondently one day, “My strength and my hope have perished from the Lord.”  For any of us, some days are like that!

But everything changed for Jeremiah a few verses later when he remembered God’s faithfulness:

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him!” (vs. 21-34).

So there’s hope for Ron. And if there’s hope for someone as shallow and picky as him, there’s certainly hope for YOU as well! No matter what you may be going through today, God’s power and goodness are bigger than your pickiness and your problems.

Isn’t that good news?

P.S. Ron says he’s open to additional suggestions on how to solve his dating impasse. Please feel free to send them my way. #PrayForRon

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Shocking Dating Lessons from My Very Good Friend Ron

I’ve written before about my friend Ron’s dating escapades. He’s now in his 60s, and it’s been quite eye-opening to reenter the world of dating after a marriage of over 30 years.

At the advice of his kids, Ron signed up for Match.com after his divorce was final a few years ago. There he quickly found a Christian woman named Sherry, whose favorite books were Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer.

“This is my kind of woman!” Ron confidently told me before his coffee date with her at Panera Bread.

But things didn’t exactly go as he had hoped. The first thing he noticed was that Sherry looked at least 10 years older than the pictures she had posted. Hmmm…pretty disappointing, he immediately thought.

However, Ron is a nice guy, and he decided to at least engage Sherry in some friendly conversation. After some small talk, he asked, “So, how long ago was your divorce?”

Ron thought this was a pretty easy, straightforward question. But her answer stunned him.

“Well, I’ve been married four times,” Sherry informed him, “and for a while I also lived with a guy I wasn’t married to.”

Ron’s jaw probably dropped at this point. But she went on to say she had eight children and fifteen grandkids, attributable to her various marriages and boyfriends.

Yikes, Ron was getting queasy. How did things go so amiss in his attempt to find a wholesome Christian woman? While the conversation was running its course, he couldn’t help envisioning Thanksgiving dinner if he married Sherry. How would he be able to figure out “who’s who” among the kids and grandkids—not to mention remembering who everyone’s daddy is?

This was a rough start to his online dating experiences, no doubt. Yet Ron wasn’t about to give up. He continued spending time on Match.com every day, trying to find suitable prospects for dating and eventual marriage.

Uncomfortable Encounters

Things didn’t get any easier in the following months, though. One day he was having a nice phone conversation with a woman named Sarah, and they seemed to have some things in common. But he started getting uncomfortable when she mentioned her distress that her son was gay and had married his lover. Once again, Ron started envisioning Thanksgiving dinner, and he wasn’t sure how he would respond to the family dynamics of Sarah’s son and the guy he was married to.

Then he had another coffee date, this time with an attractive woman named Sheila. But her husband had died of HIV, her father had been shot to death and, once again, Ron felt there was just too much baggage for him handle.

Ron says one of his favorite dates was with a woman named Linda. She attended a good church and clearly had a strong relationship with the Lord. But the conversation took a difficult turn when she described her daughter’s bipolar personality disorder and the incredible anguish it had caused her. Some days her daughter loved her, and other days her daughter hated her, making Linda’s life miserable.

Another disappointing date occurred when Ron went out to dinner with a woman named Sarah. She had been a single mom for many years and was now agonizing that her 16-year-old son had become a neo-Nazi skinhead, hating Jews and believing all sorts of conspiracy theories. She had no idea how to convince the young man of his erroneous views—and neither did Ron.

5 Lessons

Eventually Ron had some relationships that were more than a one-time phone call, coffee date, or dinner. He says some of these were with very nice women, but he just couldn’t see himself spending the rest of his life with them.

Recently Ron and I took time to review his dating experiences, hoping to glean lessons for others entering the dating scene in their 50s and 60s. Here are five lessons we came up with, but perhaps you can add some insights from your own experiences:

  1. Dishonesty is rampant. While it’s understandable to “put your best foot forward,” it’s sad there are so many outdated pictures and misleading online profiles. Also watch out for the out-and-out scams that target online daters. Despite your hopes for “love at first sight,” be careful to verify that the person you’re dating is who they say they are!
  2. Baggage is rampant. Ron chuckled that many woman on Match.com describe themselves as “baggage free” and “drama free.” What a joke. He concluded that it’s virtually impossible to be a divorced person in your 50s or 60s without accumulating some baggage along the way.
  3. Our OWN baggage is rampant. Like many men, Ron initially thought all the baggage was on the female  side of things. Yet after some painful breakups, he had to admit that his own baggage was often a large part of the problem. Just like landmines under the surface of the ground, he discovered emotional scars that were triggered in pressure situations and close relationships.
  4. Sexual temptation is rampant. Ron was a virgin when he got married, but he admits that sexual abstinence is a lot harder these days. Perhaps this can be attributed to several factors: (1) Loneliness in being single after many years of marriage; (2) feeling like “time is running out” to have a close, intimate relationship; (3) the amazing willingness today of many women (even longtime Christian women) to engage in sexual activities with men they aren’t married to.
  5. Not everyone really wants to be married again. At the beginning of his online dating journey, Ron assumed anyone on Match.com or eHarmony was there in search of a marriage partner. Surprisingly, it turned out that many people were more interested in dating than marrying. Why so? Some are fearful. No one wants to enter into another unhappy marriage. And some prefer the freedom of not having to answer to anyone. Instead of being tied down, they would prefer to “keep their options open.” And, once again, Ron had to come to grips with his own commitment phobia. “I have a pretty good life as a single guy,” he told me. “Why run the risk of another bad marriage?”

What About You?

If you’re in the dating world today, my heart goes out to you. I sincerely hope you’ve had an easier time than my good friend Ron.

Although I could attempt to provide all sorts of spiritual platitudes and additional advice, let me close with just a simple reminder from Scripture:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths
(Proverbs 3:5-6).

I wish you well on this perilous journey!

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Avoiding Overdrawn Relationships

overdrawn account 3

Many decades ago, I discovered the reality of Jesus’ teaching that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). So I became a giver, and I’ve received many blessings as a result.

But, as with most truths, there’s another side to this principle: Healthy relationships are reciprocal.  When one person in the relationship does all the giving and the other does all the taking, the bond inevitably becomes twisted and toxic.

Sadly, I’ve been rather slow in learning this. Giving has always been a natural part of who I am, but receiving is much more difficult for me. I don’t like asking people for their help, even when I need it. And the thought of being a burden to someone else is horrifying.

So, when I give, I seldom expect anything in return. Based on Jesus’ words in Luke 6:34-35, I’ve always thought this was the godly way to relate to people. But once again, I’ve often missed another important component of the relationship equation. Too often, I’ve been willing to continually give and give, while the other person received and received. Although this made me feel good at first, it was a prescription for codependency, certainly not a healthy relationship.

The apostle Paul seemed to face this kind of situation with the Corinthian church. He had poured his life into them and opened his heart wide. While this kind of imbalance was fine in their infancy, he said it was now time for them to grow up and open their hearts to him as well (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).

Monitoring Your Account

If we don’t ever monitor our checking account, we run the risk of overdrawing it from time to time. Our relationships need to be monitored and assessed in much the same way.

I’ve found that when our emotional bank account is full and overflowing, it’s very easy to be a giver. But if the other person never puts anything back into the relational bank account, we eventually discover that the account is empty or even overdrawn.

Have you ever experienced this? If you’re a chronic giver like me, I’m sure you have. And then you find yourself resenting the very people you joyfully gave your life to for so long.

If you are willing to do all the giving, you’ll have no trouble finding people willing to do all the taking. Even with that imbalance, everything is likely to seem fine until the relational bank account finally runs dry.

This is a hard lesson, but you’re not doing people any favor if you allow them to become a leech instead of a healthy contributor to the relationship. They may not be able to contribute as much as you do, and that’s okay. But they need to contribute something.

Making Changes

Recently I’ve had to say “NO” to several people who wanted to make a withdrawal from my emotional bank account. Why? Because, over the course of time, they had never put anything into the account.

When people face times of crisis, it’s natural to want to help them. But what about a situation where someone always seems to be in crisis mode? And how should you respond those who never make any deposit into your account even when times are good for them? It may seem harsh, but sometimes the imbalance is so great that the wisest thing to do is to shut the door on the relationship altogether.

In contrast, I’ve found that it’s always a great joy to give to those who’ve taken time to make a deposit of some kind into my life. Whatever they need, I’m happy to give it if I can.

So I hope you’ve discovered the joy in being a giver. But I also hope you’ve learned to develop healthy, reciprocal relationships, where both of you are putting something into the account.

If, like me, your relationships have often been off-balanced, perhaps it’s time for some frank discussions with your friends and family members. Don’t wait until the account is totally overdrawn to request some changes.

One More Thing…

Even as we learn the importance of cultivating reciprocal relationships, where both parties make contributions into the account, there’s another vital principle we must never forget: The ultimate source of love is God Himself, not any human relationship.

“Let us love one another,”  we’re told in 1 John 4:7, “for love comes from God.” If we look to any other source, we’re certain to face disappointment.

You see, we’re much more likely to be hurt by our human relationships when we allow our love relationship with the Lord to run dry. When His love is overflowing in our lives (Psalm 23:5), we’re far less likely to be offended by the failure of people to make deposits into our emotional account. That doesn’t let them off the hook, but it means we can abide in God’s peace and joy even when people let us down.

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Love-Starved but Love-Resistant

Love hard heart

I recently discovered a strange phenomenon: People who are the most starved for love usually are resistant to receiving love when it’s offered to them.

This is like California or Texas after a long-term drought. When rain finally comes, the ground is so hard that it can’t properly soak up the water. Instead of being a blessing, the rain sometimes causes a flood!

Have you ever tried to show love to someone who was extremely love-starved? If so, the person probably either rejected your love or latched onto it in a completely unhealthy way. If you doubt me on this, talk to some of your friends who’ve ventured into the world of online dating…

The love-resistant principle is illustrated in the life of one of the Bible’s most fascinating characters, Mephibosheth. This son of Jonathan was crippled at age five and after his father’s death on the same day, he was exiled to a desolate wasteland called Lo Debar.

One day King David started wondering if any of Saul and Jonathan’s heirs remained, and he was told about this woeful, exiled prince (2 Samuel 9). David was intent on finding this forgotten young man and showing him kindness.

But although kindness was something Mephibosheth desperately needed, there was just one problem: this crippled son of David’s friend Jonathan was love-resistant. Like a Type 2 diabetic who’s insulin-resistant despite needing more insulin, he was emotionally unable to absorb the very thing he so clearly needed.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised. For several years this man had grown up in squalor and hopelessness. Lame in both legs, he was completely dependent on others. Day after day, his condition reminded him of his great loss, which occurred at no fault of his own.

So what happened when Mephibosheth was brought before the king?

Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?” (v. 8 MSG).

How sad. After years of deprivation, this dispirited, love-starved man judged himself to be a loser, unworthy of kindness from the king or anyone else. Instead of being heir to the throne, now he felt of no more value than a stray dog!

Can you blame him? After all, he couldn’t hold a job…couldn’t produce anything…couldn’t even walk! In the eyes of most people in that period of time, he was WORTHLESS, plain and simple—and that’s how he saw himself as well.

As the story makes clear, Mephibosheth was crippled in both of his feet. But if we read between the lines, we realize that he was even more crippled emotionally. Instead of seeing himself as a prince, he was a pauper, completely unlovable.

Oh, but David’s love—like God’s love for us—was not to be denied. Despite the deplorable condition of this man, both physically and psychologically, the king persisted in his plan to RESTORE him to what he had lost.

That’s good news, because we’ve ALL suffered losses of various kinds. Thankfully, King Jesus offers to bring us from Lo Debar, bringing us restoration rather than judgment.

This story has a beautiful conclusion: “So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table” (v. 13). No longer dwelling in the spiritual wasteland of Lo Debar, the crippled prince once again ate at the king’s table, just like one of David’s sons.

Are you starving for love today? Remember the story of this dejected young man whose hard emotional shell finally gave way to the relentless kindness of God. When you let the King shower you with His love, it will open the corridors of your heart to experience love from other people as well.

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Defusing Your Emotional Land Mines

Land mines 4

My friend Ron is a divorced man in his 50s who has ventured into the world of online dating the past few years. He’s a good man who sincerely would like to find a new wife. But although he’s met a number of good prospects, each new relationship has exploded after a month or two, often suddenly and unexpectedly.

Ron typically explains the breakup in terms of “overemotional” or “hypersensitive” women. “They all say on their online profile that they’re baggage-free and drama-free,” he tells me with a grimace, “but they all have issues. They’re either kidding themselves or outright lying.”

Hmmm…interesting that guys always think it’s the women who have all the baggage.

While pondering Ron’s puzzling experiences, I remembered a news report I saw on the problem of land mines in Cambodia and Vietnam. Although the wars there ended decades ago, numerous land mines still remain, maiming and killing many innocent people each year.

The more I thought about these hazardous military land mines, the more I understood about the emotional land mines contributing to Ron’s situation.

A land mine is defined as “an explosive charge concealed just under the surface of the ground, designed to be detonated by pressure.” A minefield typically looks like an ordinary, harmless piece of land. It’s only when pressure is applied that the hidden mines are detonated, usually by completely innocent people who’ve unwittingly entered the danger zone.

So why haven’t all the unexploded bombs in Southeast Asia been removed by this time? Unfortunately, the people who laid the mines have often forgotten where they are. It’s a slow process to detect the unexploded mines with metal detectors or other devices, and great care must be taken not to unintentionally detonate the bombs while attempting to remove them.

Poor Ron, I thought to myself as I understood what had been happening. And even worse, I felt extremely sorry for the women he had dated. None of them deserved any of this.

But here are the sad facts about emotional minefields…

Just as the unexploded mines in Cambodia and Vietnam are the result of wars occurring 30, 40, or 50 years ago, we’ve all sustained emotional scars as we’ve walked through life. Many of them happened during our childhood, sometimes so early that we don’t even consciously remember the event. Other scars happened in our teen years or through shrapnel from a failed marriage.

Just like military land mines, our emotional land mines are detonated by pressure. At times the pressure comes through something like a health crisis, lost job, or financial setback. But as in Ron’s case, emotional land mines are frequently ignited when a person embarks on a close personal relationship.

Usually everything seems fine in the early stage of a relationship. But greater intimacy brings greater pressure. Like a ticking time bomb, the relationship is destined for detonation unless it can successfully cross the minefield of unresolved issues of the past.

Nothing is more bewildering than to detonate a land mine. One minute you’re walking innocently on a seemingly safe roadway, and the next minute you find yourself bleeding from an unforeseen explosion. You didn’t anticipate it…didn’t deserve it…but it happened anyway.

Although I’ve usually seen myself as an emotionally healthy person, I’ve been deeply jarred by Ron’s story. I’m horrified by the thought that my emotional land mines could detonate unexpectedly, doing great damage to someone I care about.

If you’re like Ron, hoping for a healthy new relationship, you should pray to find someone with lots of unconditional love. Why? Because land mines will inevitably be exposed in time. And to paraphrase 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of land mines.”

Also take some time, as I’ve been doing recently, to let God search your heart and expose hidden scars and forgotten minefields. You owe this to yourself and to those you love. Don’t let past wars and traumas sabotage the happiness of your present and future relationships.

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Driving Under the Influence (of Love)

Love influence

Last year I wrote some blog posts about the intoxicating power of love, describing some of my friends who’ve recently entered the hazardous world of dating.

In the right setting, romantic love is a very good thing—something designed by God Himself. If you doubt me on this, just spend some time reading the Song of Solomon…

However, like all intoxicants, romantic love is also quite dangerous. It can impair our judgment and slow our reaction time. Those under the influence of romantic love may feel invincible, when actually they’ve never been more vulnerable.

So what can a person do to minimize the dangers of this powerful intoxicant? Picture a guy named Joe who drove to an uptown bar and had far too much to drink. Finally, it’s 1 a.m., and he’s in no condition to drive home. Here are Joe’s main options:

  1. STOP. Don’t go anywhere until the intoxication has worn off. When it comes to a relationship, you need to assess whether it’s fundamentally healthy and life-giving or toxic and detrimental. If it’s toxic, the only sane option is to immediately end it. If you’re not sure, you may need to back away until some of the intoxication has worn off.
  2. CALL UBER. If you’re wise enough to recognize your impaired condition, you’ll call Uber, a taxi, or a “designated driver” to get you home safely. If you’re experiencing an intoxicating relationship, you may need to call in some trusted friends who are still sober. Recognizing that your own judgment is questionable, you must surround yourself with sound-minded advisers who can offer you objective feedback.
  3. GO EXTREMELY SLOW. Here the analogy breaks down a little, because you shouldn’t be driving at all if you’ve been drinking. But although you shouldn’t throw away a promising relationship because of fear, you should proceed with caution…i.e., slowly. If your judgment is clouded by the exhilaration of romantic love, you are putting yourself in real danger if you trying driving down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. Your chances of a collision are much less if you travel at a mere 25 mph.

If you are single and seeking a mate, my prayers are with you. May God direct your paths, as He’s promised to do when you trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Bible teaches that “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). God is the ultimate Matchmaker, after all.

If you are married, maybe you can’t relate to this blog post at all. Perhaps it’s been many years since you’ve experienced the joys and perils of intoxicating love. How sad! Yet it’s not too late for God to restore some of the “first love” intoxication you experienced in your earlier days. Will you open your heart today—both to Him and to your spouse—allowing His amazing love to rekindle your original passion?

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So, What Are You Afraid Of?

When my friend Jacob recently entered the world of online dating, he found it to be a terrifying experience.

“Jim,” he confided, “you wouldn’t believe how different the dating scene is than when I was in my twenties.”

Jacob’s marriage of 30+ years had ended several months before, and now he was embarking on a mission he never expected: the search for a new wife.

Sensing his discomfort with the whole situation, I asked, “What are you so afraid of? Why don’t you just relax and enjoy the ride?”

“That’s easy for you to say,” he replied. “You just don’t understand…”

“OK, explain it to me then. What exactly is so terrifying about meeting new people and going on dates?”

Lots of things are terrifying!” Jacob said, clearly irritated that he had to spell things out for me. “Some days I’m afraid I’ll never find the woman of my dreams. Other days I’m afraid I will find the woman of my dreams, but I’ll mess things up and she won’t love me in return.”

“Sounds like a real dilemma,” I acknowledged.

As our conversation continued, it became clear that my friend was still hurting from his unhappy marriage and the rejection he felt when his wife left him. But I encouraged him that God had a plan and he shouldn’t give up.

“You’re still dealing with the grieving process, Jacob. That’s normal after what you’ve gone through, but as you trust the Lord in this, I know He will keep working to heal your heart.”

Just a few weeks later, Jacob called to say that my prayers for him must be working.

“Jim, I’m so excited. I found this amazing woman on Match.com, and she has agreed to meet me for coffee tonight.”

I told Jacob I was happy for him and asked him to let me know how things went on his big date.

Sure enough, my friend called on the way home from meeting this beautiful and successful woman he had found online.

“We talked for nearly two hours,” Jacob gushed. “It was going really well until we got to the part where we asked each other what we’re looking for in a partner.”

“That sounds like a fair question. So what did you tell her?”

Apparently Jacob gave this lovely woman a lengthy description of how he wanted someone faithful and kind…affectionate…loving unconditionally…never holding a grudge…grateful for the little things in life…and always glad to see him.

To his horror, she replied somewhat indignantly to his wish list, “It sounds like what you really need is a DOG!”

After I got done laughing at my friend’s plight, we ended up discussing the many benefits of having a dog while going through life’s transitions.

“You’ve got to admit, Jacob, dogs can be pretty cool. They’re low maintenance, easy to please, and they lick your face for no reason at all…”

Well, I probably shouldn’t have laughed at my friend’s anguish. But Jacob’s online dating experiences have given us some good opportunities to discuss two universal forces in life: FEAR and FAITH.

On the one hand, the Bible assures us that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). However, that certainly doesn’t mean He won’t place us in scary situations from time to time.

Remember the shepherds in the Christmas story? (Luke 2:8-20) They were just minding their business one dark night when “an angel of the Lord” woke them up with a terrifying divine encounter.

The shepherds’ experience follows a pattern found throughout the Bible: First, God puts us in circumstances that cause our fears to rise, and then He comforts those fears by telling us, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10).

Isn’t that pretty funny?

Jacob and I have concluded that fearful circumstances are simply part of God’s healing process to REVEAL and then HEAL us of our fears. It’s all part of His love for us and His determination to uproot anything that’s keeping us from His BEST for our lives.

So the next time you sense fear rising in your heart, don’t shy away from it. Face it head on and recognize it for what it is: God’s plan to set you free from fear so you can enter into His highest purposes for your life.

Remember how the Israelites cowered in fear on the brink of their Promised Land (Numbers 13)? They didn’t realize it at the time, but their FEARS were actually pointing the way toward their FUTURE. Unnecessarily, they spent 40 years in the wilderness before they were willing to confront the fear and unbelief lurking in their hearts.

So, what are YOU afraid of today? It’s probably a clue to an important breakthrough God wants to give you in some area of your life.

Yes, you may want to get a dog too. But that’s only a temporary solution.

 

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Why Jesus Would Be a TERRIBLE Candidate for Online Dating

My friend Joe recently dove headfirst into the online dating world. We had an enlightening conversation about why that approach never would have worked for Jesus.

“The first step in online dating is to post some great photos of yourself,” Joe explained. “If you don’t have any photos, the website will just use one of those generic silhouettes, which always look pretty creepy. No one ever responds if there aren’t any photos.”

We agreed this would present a problem for Jesus, since no photographs were possible back then. And we also debated whether Jesus would have been a fan of selfies or other photos of himself. He never was an advocate of self-promotion. Instead of putting his best foot forward, he often seemed to go out of his way to do the opposite.

“What if we just used some of the artists’ drawings of him?” I finally asked Joe.

“That would be problematic too,” he informed me. “People get outraged when the online pics don’t really look like you. Most of the artwork about Jesus is pretty ridiculous, especially the paintings with the rosy cheeks and a halo. And it would be a real turn-off to include any of the bloody scenes of his torture and death.”

We both paused to think about some of the awful paintings we’d seen of Jesus. Finally, Joe suggested that we might just want to put a description of how handsome the Lord was.

At that point, all I could think of was the description of Jesus in The Message paraphrase of Isaiah 53:2-3: There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over…One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.” I could envision a line in Jesus’ profile that said, “One of my friends described me as being so ugly no one even wanted to look at me!”

“Joe, I don’t think a description of Jesus’ physical appearance is a very good idea either,” I concluded. “We really don’t know much about what he looked like anyway.”

“Well, what about the line that asks for his age?” Joe wondered. “That might present some problems too.”

“How about this, I offered:

‘Although I’m only 33 in earth years, I’m actually a lot older than that. In fact, one of my nicknames is Ancient of Days.’

“That could be pretty confusing,” Joe said glumly.

I decided to move on to the profile section, hoping things would get a little easier. “We’re off to a bad start on the photos, physical description, and age, Joe. What kind of relevant information could we provide in Jesus’ online profile?”

After thinking about this for a moment, Joe broke into a belly laugh. “That would be hilarious. I can picture it now:

‘My friends say I’m the Son of God and Messiah. My enemies say I’m an imposter and blasphemer. You must choose which of these is correct.’”

“Oh, my,” I groaned. “I’m not sure how people would respond to that.”

“Well, there’s usually a section about the person’s favorite things to do. Maybe that part of the profile would go better,” Joe said. “How about this:

‘I like to take long walks on the beach, hanging out with my 12 friends. Sometimes we attend parties, and I’ve been known to turn water into wine.’”

“Hmm…” I replied. “While that’s all true, it could paint a misleading picture unless we add more.”

“People love to mention visiting the mountains,” he replied confidently. “I guess we could include something about that.”

“Yeah, but in all honesty, we would have to describe it like this:

‘I frequently visit the mountains—either to pray all night or to be tempted by the devil.’”

Joe and I concluded that it might be best not to mention the mountains in Jesus’ profile. We went on to the section that asks about occupation and income.

“I guess Jesus would have to list his occupation as ‘retired carpenter, now an itinerant preacher and miracle-worker,’” I said. “And the income part would turn off most of the potential respondents too. He would have to say something like ‘income variable—living by faith.’”

“Yeah, I’m sure that would go over well,” Joe chuckled. “It would also be impossible to impress people by the kind of house he lived in, because he admitted at one point he had nowhere to lay his head. And people love to show off their fancy vehicles on the online dating sites, but that wouldn’t work either. Jesus would have to say, “I prefer to walk most places but occasionally borrow a friend’s donkey for special occasions.”

“Wow. I guess we better leave those sections blank or say, ‘I’ll tell you later.’ Is there anything else we can include in the profile?” I wondered.

“Most websites ask what people can expect if they get together with you. For example, ‘What would happen on your ideal date?’”

“Oh, that would be fantastic, too,” I said sarcastically. “Jesus would have to say something like this:

‘Those who come with me must deny themselves and take up their cross daily, forsaking all else.’”

After thinking for a moment, Joe came up with another alternative. “I think maybe we should go more with the ‘abundant life’ approach. How about something like this:

‘When you come with me, you will surely experience YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!’”

“That’s certainly more appealing,” I admitted. “But it doesn’t seem to be as accurate.”

Our discussion then drifted further into frivolity as we thought about some possible punchlines for Jesus’ profile. We eventually settled on this one:

“I’ve been waiting for my Bride for thousands of years. Don’t miss out!”

Thankfully, Jesus won’t need to opt for the online dating scene. His personal representative, the Holy Spirit, is actively recruiting prospects for his Bride. It will be a match made in heaven, to be sure.

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4 Tips for Finding the Needle in Your Haystack

In a vivid dream recently, I was frantically searching for something that seemed very difficult to find. A huge stack of stuff was in front of me, but the object I was looking for was very small.

As I was about to give up my search, someone happened to walk by. Sensing my frustration, he asked, “What are you trying to find?”

“I’m looking for a needle in the haystack,” I said in dismay.

Unfortunately, the dream ended there, leaving me to reflect on the profound question: How can someone find a needle in a haystack?

This old word picture is pulled out whenever a search seems daunting, if not impossible. But as I’ve reflected on my dream, I think there are some other insights as well. It’s doubtful that any of us are looking for literal needles, so the issue is more about our quest for the important things in life amid all the superfluous “stuff.”

I’ve concluded that there are four keys for discovering the needle buried in our haystack:

  1. Separate the plentiful from the rare. Hay stands for something very plentiful, while needles are comparatively rare. Plentiful things have less value than something rare, and that’s why coal is less expensive than diamonds. Example: Why was the Proverbs 31 woman worth more than rubies? Because, sadly, a woman like that is very rare! So the principle here is to rid your life of the plentiful, less-expensive things. Instead, focus on the rare and exceptional things that are of much greater value.
  2. Separate the nonmagnetic from the magnetic. If you have a strong enough magnet, you might be able to attract the needle instead of wearing yourself out trying to find So if you’re upset because you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for in life, you might want to change your approach. Instead of working so hard to FIND something, put your focus on BEING something. You just might attract the missing “needle” in your life.
  3. Separate the light-absorbers from the light-reflectors. When light hits a needle, it shines. In contrast, hay merely absorbs the light, with no significant reflection. So in order to find a needle, one tactic would be to shine more light into the haystack. The needle will reflect more of the light back, especially if you do the experiment at night. The point here is that you’re called to reflect God’s light and glory, and you should eliminate the things in your life that don’t enable you to do that.
  4. Separate the temporal from the eternal. One of the other differences between hay and needles is that hay burns up in fire, while needles are purified by fire. That means if you want to find a needle from among the hay, all you really need is to start a fire! You see, when everything else is burned away, the needle will become obvious. However, I’m afraid most of us are far too attached to the hay to take such drastic measures. We have far too much “clutter” in our lives—temporal stuff that wouldn’t survive the fire. If you’re serious about finding the needle you’re looking for, you have to honestly ask yourself: Am I willing to allow the Lord to burn away the hay (the temporal things) in my life in order to reveal more of the eternal?

My dream about needles and haystacks ultimately led me to an even more sobering question: Is the underlying problem that we actually LOVE the haystack more than we want to find the needle? If so, we’ll never allow God to burn up the hay so the needle can be revealed.

If we love the hay (the things of this world) more than we love the needle (the eternal work God wants to do in our lives), we will inevitably face frustration. We’ll find ourselves so attached to the world that we’ll be unable to change the world.

Many of my fellow baby boomers are facing this uncomfortable reality. In our younger days we set out to be world-changers, but now we’re merely adapters, content to blend in with the haystack.

The apostle Paul wrote about this kind of thing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, when he warned us to be careful about the building materials we use to construct our lives. Will we be content to build with “wood, hay, and straw,” creating nothing more than big haystacks? Or will we choose the more enduring materials instead, “gold, silver, and precious stones”?

Someday most of what we see around us will burn up. What will remain? The answer is being determined by the priorities and values we live by today.

 

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