Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Father's Expectation for Boys Dating Girls

A few years ago, I sent letters to my daughters' boyfriends. In the letter were three pieces of paper. Two were my attempts to be funny. I had seen an "Application for Dating My Daughter" and "10 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter" in email forwards several times and included those in the letter. If you haven't seen them, look them up. Very entertaining, especially if you are a father of daughters who are dating. I sent those two pieces for fun, but the third piece was the one I really cared that the boys read and internalized. It was called, "Expectations."

This "Expectations" piece originated as I thought about how over the years I have said things to our girls about my expectations for boys who are interested in them. I have talked about the attitudes and actions of their significant other that matters most. One night I couldn't sleep, got up, and put my thoughts on paper. For what it is worth, I now share them with you. This is what I expect of boys who are interested in my daughters.

We have tried to raise our daughter in a virtuous home. While we have failed at this at times, only by God’s grace can we say that we have succeeded more often than not. My expectations of a boy my daughter dates and ultimately, should the relationship progress, marry, are that he continue what we have begun. In addition to helping my daughter experience fun, crazy, abundant, and goofy happiness in life, I expect them to be models of the pursuit of holiness.

Specifically, I expect:
  • He has an active faith in God through Jesus Christ. I want my daughter to be in a relationship with someone she will also spend eternity with as a fellow believer. Is this your faith commitment?
  • He will lead her towards an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing matters more than that. If he is not committed to that, I am automatically at odds with him. Are you committed to this?
  • My daughter will not need to bring her boyfriend up to biblical standards of living… the boyfriend will already be there and leading the way. This means a personal commitment to worship God with others in a church, Bible study individually and with groups, a life of prayer, serving and helping others, and a person who gives away his time, money and faith to build God’s Kingdom on earth. Are these your practices?
I want to see a visible commitment to the ethical life of a Christ-follower. Whatever else this may mean, it at least means
  • A passion for purity of thought, words, and actions. It is not that sexual immorality, drunkenness, lying, gluttony, profanity or other items are simply things to be avoided; they are actually offensive to a man because they are offensive to God. To be blunt here, the boy will not seek to have sex before marriage, get drunk, or use profanity NOT because someone else says not to, but because the Holy Spirit has already convinced him it is not right.
  • A burden for the people on the “outs” of society like the homeless and poor. Jesus clearly favored this group with his compassion.
  • A sense that the earth is to be cared for by humans. Green is good.
  • A commitment to non-violence and non-aggression as a basic disposition. I am not a pacifist and understand that bullies often need to be forced to stop bullying, whether on the playground or as the leader of a rogue country. I expect physical strength in protecting my daughter when needed. But in relationships, generosity and kindness of spirit are the standard, not aggression.
Are you committed to this standard of living?

This is a tall list. To be sure, grace abounds and I am not interested in legalistic following of “the rules” for the rules’ sake. This is about holiness. I expect the boyfriend to already be “sold out” to Christ—to His causes, His way of living, His priorities, His holiness. A boyfriend who makes that commitment is a man after God’s own heart. And a man after God’s heart is a one who will have mine.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

10 Commandments of Marital Love

I just listened to music from the wedding ceremony of my daughter, Lauren, and her new husband, Alex. It always brings me to tears. I walked Lauren down the aisle and my friend Norm Hatter began the service. At one point, I got up to speak to Lauren and Alex and lead them through their vows. Lauren also requested that I share my "10 Commandments of Marital Love" during the ceremony.

These are words of wisdom that were originally inspired by something Dear Abbey posted, but after nearly 14 years of ministry, almost 28 years of marriage, and countless counseling sessions with couples, I created my own version of it. I come back to it from time to time to see if God has given me any new wisdom or insights. What follows is the current version and the one shared at Lauren and Alex's wedding.

Take note, couples. It doesn't matter if you are about to get married or have been married for 60 years or more, the strongest couples I know have somehow internalized these commandments.

  1. Remember That Next to God, No One Matters More Than Your Spouse. Act like that’s true. Put your spouse above your hobbies, work, circle of friends, and family.
  2. Get A Life. Have interests of your own. Nothing is more smothering than one or both partners who have nothing but the other person.
  3. Work on Your Marriage. Like a garden, if left unattended, weeds will eventually choke out the life. Attended to, however, it will bear delicious fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness.
  4. Get Help When You Have A Problem. If you can’t solve a problem on your own, find someone to help you. Too many do nothing and the results are tragic. Call me if you get stuck.
  5. Remember Your Relationship Is Much More Than Your Sex Life. A healthy, lasting relationship includes emotional and spiritual intimacy.
  6. Don't Forget To Say "I Love You.” Your love may be constant, but your spouse needs to hear those words often.
  7. Willingly Share Everything With Your Spouse. Your tools, your cookware, your bodies, your heart. It’s no longer “yours” or “mine,” but think instead “ours.”
  8. Pray Together. Not just a quick prayer before meals, but on your knees together speaking with God. Couples who do this and both want to do this not only stay married, but are the most vitalized of all couple types.
  9. Forgive Each Other As God Has Forgiven You—With Grace. Who among us does not need to be forgiven?
  10. Honor And Enjoy The Lord Every Day Of Your Life Individually And Together. It is our highest and most holy calling.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Word from the Clerk

Our church is governed by a board of elders called the Session. Each Session has a clerk whose duties include communicating information from the Session to others. Last week, our clerk, Greg Nichols, sent out a letter to the congregation on behalf of the Session. It was the one page summary of my seven page letter that was sent at the same time. Here is Greg's letter:

May 10, 2011

Dear Friends,

The national Presbyterian Church is on the verge of a historical event. If it has not happened already, our denomination is about to make the headlines. On behalf of your Session (the board of elders) I wanted you to hear how your church is responding to what is happening.

The issue of the moment is related to ordination standards. The denomination has decided to remove language from our church constitution that requires ministers, elders, and deacons to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” and replace it with more general language about submitting “to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” The effect of this is that it opens the way for our denomination to ordain non-celibate gay and lesbian people as ministers, elders, and deacons.

The Session met last night to discuss this issue at length and want you to know several things in response to what has happened.
  • Nothing changes at St. Andrews. We will continue to uphold the “fidelity and chastity” standard. The new language, though lacking the clear expression of “fidelity and chastity,” does not require us to violate our understanding of biblical standards.
  • The Session will make recommendations for what to do next. We have options and will weigh each prayerfully. That is the role of the elders of the church.
  • We will band together with other like-minded believers for a way forward. One group is meeting later this summer to consider options that include separating into theologically like-minded groups. We will monitor that group’s work closely.
  • We will not get sidetracked from our primary mission. St. Andrews will continue in our quest to make extraordinary followers of Jesus Christ. We will continue our journey towards being inwardly strong and outwardly focused.
  • We uphold love and truth here. We are commanded to love God and love others while upholding truth. Truth without love is abuse; love without truth is hypocrisy. We will uphold both because we love God, we love people, and we love truth.
If you are interested in more information about this, including a helpful history of the issue, the Session has endorsed and now commends Pastor John’s enclosed letter to you. If you have any questions for me, please contact me.

In Christ,
Greg Nichols
Clerk of Session, on behalf of the Session

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mourning for the Church

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every matter under the heavens...a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to laugh."
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

Yesterday, I sent out a letter to the congregation reacting to troubling news of the larger church body of which we are a part, the Presbyterian Church (USA). I will write more on this in the future, but for now, I appreciate the way one group explained the position of those who see this as a departure from truth:

This is a time for grieving for the Church of Jesus Christ. In recent years we have seen one denomination after another forsake its commitment to Scripture, and thus to the Savior and Lord we know only through God's revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture. With the passage of Amendment 10-A, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has joined that inauspicious list. By a majority vote of its presbyteries, the church has removed its ordination requirement of "fidelity within a covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." We have now become one of the denominations that have effectively removed any distinction between truth and falsehood by permitting what Scripture and our confessions call sin.

As a result of this action, we believe that the PC(USA) faces a grave threat to its unity, as well as its peace and purity. By this vote, the denomination has chosen to break the unity of the larger body of Christ in time and space, defying the wisdom of the Scriptures, the continuous witness of the Church through time, and the overwhelming majority of believers worldwide.

These are troubling times in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but followers of Jesus must continue to speak the truth in love, promote peace, unity and purity in the PC (USA), and invite others by our words and actions to unity of mission in Jesus.

I came to know Jesus in a personal way through a member church of this denomination and I've happily stuck with the PCUSA because of that witness to me. I am not happy about what I predict will happen: we will be significantly smaller and even more deeply divided as a result of this. I am in mourning for the Church of my spiritual awakening.