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Minimize the Little Annoyances in Marriage

By Doug Fields

It’s obvious there are some marriage issues that are so big they cannot be ignored. Left unresolved, these large and painful issues can and will destroy a marriage. Similarly, there are some little things in marriage, which if ignored, can also lead to big issues. In this post however, I’m not going to refer to any of these types of issues. Instead, I want to focus on the “little annoyances” every married couple experiences. And I want to encourage you to minimize them in your relationship.

Some of these little annoyances might be:
• Leaving the toilet seat up,
• Squeezing the tube of toothpaste in the “wrong” way,
• Leaving clothes on the floor,
• Returning empty or nearly empty containers to the refrigerator,
• Leaving an empty roll of toilet paper on the holder,
• Leaving the cap off the shampoo in the shower,
• Refusing to ask directions, or to use GPS in the car,
• Stealing the blankets in bed,
• You get the picture.

The first step in minimizing little annoyances in marriage is to identify them. Identifying them allows you to train and discipline yourself to let them go, and to refuse to give them power over your attitude toward your spouse. Your energy, passion, and concern toward these little annoyances isn’t worth the effort you invest into them, because there will always be “something.”

Here’s how you might define a little annoyance in your marriage: If you’d most likely be embarrassed to tell a marriage counselor about the behavior, it’s likely a little annoyance. You can almost anticipate the counselor’s response, “Really? That [behavior] actually bothers you?”

When you come up against the kind of raw, everyday stuff your spouse does that bothers you, how do you respond? Do you pull back? Yell? Withdraw? Go passive/aggressive? Do you retreat into your emotionally gated heart and hide? Do any of these actions help?

Here’s the truth: the chances are very high that some of these “little annoyances” your spouse does, won’t ever change. If they won’t change, why maximize them? Who wins with that attitude? It results in disappointment, arguing, and constant tension. No one wants to live in that type of environment.

The chances are also very high that your spouse isn’t performing these behaviors as little acts of defiance to wound you. When I leave the toilet seat up in the middle of the night, I’m not thinking, “Hmmm… how can I make Cathy’s life more miserable? I know, I’ll leave the toilet seat up. Yeah! That’s it!” No. I’m just half-asleep and not thinking.

Who cares?! Let it go. Do your marriage a favor. Minimize the little annoyances. 


Anger. The Quick Fix.

Seemingly poles apart, what’s driving all the political campaigns, the Black-Lives-Matter movement, the Blue-Lives-Matter movement, the radicalized religious bombers, the conspiracy-theorists?

Anger.

Anger is the heroin of our public discourse.

Anger is adrenalin’s cheap-shot.

Anger is in the back of my mind. In the back of your mind, too.

No, you might say, it’s driven by a desire for justice, or by hope. Not really. The source of it all is anger. Anger on all sides, anger from all races, anger from all social classes. Angry over immigration, on all sides. Anger over police abuse, on all sides. Angry birds, angry talking-heads, angry mobs, angry religions.

Surprised by anger?

Christians are never surprised by anger, because we understand it’s love’s opposite. We understand it’s the default human response. We understand it’s the normal natural way to respond to threat and injustice.So we’re not surprised, although usually disappointed. We’re not surprised by conflict or abuse. Saddened to tears, yes, surprised no.

This is the moment for Christians to demonstrate love. Not jelly-bean candy-cotton sickeningly-sweet love. But real love; sacrificial love. This is the moment for Christians to figure out how to live love in this context, an angry context. You don’t need a grand jury investigation or an FBI investigation to know every detail of every atrocity. Whether it’s Istanbul or Minnesota, I can assure you it’s an escalating cycle of anger that can only be broken by love’s intervention.

So what should we do? The basic rule of love is “Don’t look out for #1,” for yourself. The identifying characteristic of love is that it seeks the good of the other above our own good.

Even as we weep. Even as we repent. Even as we work for justice. We love sacrificially.

God so loved that he gave… That’s the story we’re to imitate. “yes but they might kill us.” Right. That’s what happened, isn’t it? But whenever we look to further our own cause, our own finances, our own “kind of people” we deny the faith that depends on our father. Faith is being at risk, faith is trusting that we don’t have to defend ourselves. Faith was embodied by our Lord who laid his life down, on purpose, to an angry mob, not just to forgive us our sins but also to show us how to love.

So, am I some kind of loving pacifist?

Would that make you angry if I were?



Continue the Conversation

I have heard the phrase “continue the conversation” quite a bit lately.  Years ago, that was a polite way of saying, “There’s no time to finish our conversation now so we will pick it up later where we left off.”  It was an issue of time.  I have discovered that there is an alternate meaning which seems to be a more prevalent use of that phrase.  It means, “Let’s not land on a conclusion too hurriedly.”  That is less about time and more about the nature of conclusions, reluctance to come to a conclusion too quickly or, in some cases, to come to a conclusion at all.

I understand the intent of the phrase as a matter of delaying conclusive thinking.  And, depending on intent of use, I like it in some senses and dislike it in others.  I like that in an age where culture and opinions are many, diverse and strong, people are willing to refrain from judgment until a matter has been thoroughly investigated.  That is simultaneously wise and polite.  I like the intent of some who desire to give space for thought and reflection.  I certainly fit in that category.  Thought and reflection are always appropriate related important matters.  As a Christian, prayer and meditation on God’s word must increase along with thought and reflection.  I like that relationships are valued highly enough for some to want to give sufficiently respectful time and space for matters of importance to be considered.  I deeply appreciate “continuing the conversation” when those are the reasons for doing so.

However, I have sensed an entirely different implication for some who use that expression.  I have less appreciation for these uses.  I dislike the use of the phrase to avoid altogether talking about difficult subjects, especially if it is with people about whom we care deeply.  It is evasive and disingenuously dismissive to infer interest in continuing a conversation when there is none.  I dislike its use when people have no intention to ever draw a conclusion.  In fact, in the minds of some, drawing a conclusion is like drawing a line and both are connoted as bad.  They like talking about things without ever committing to action or firming up belief.  Unlike the first point, this is not evasive but indecisive.   I also dislike it when it is no more than “polite speak” for holding all thoughts, beliefs or conclusions equal.  This is a more sinister use of the term.  It comes from a mindset that there is relative truth in everything and so no thoughts, ideas or conclusions are wrong.  The potential damage is obvious.  By continuing the conversation without sufficient conviction, some are led to decisions that are destructive.

Unlike the uses of the phrase which I appreciate, calling for thoughtful consideration and sufficient time and respect of relationship, the phrase used in the latter senses are devoid of honesty, strength of belief or conviction.  They are bent toward not believing truth and ideas to matter significantly enough to bear the weight of being right or wrong, true or false, helpful or hurtful.  Even writing thusly will likely make the skin crawl of those who frequently use that phrase in such ways.

What pains me is when Jesus is leveraged or exampled by those who use the phrase in these latter senses as an inclusive lover of all people and presumably all ideas.  I have heard that quite a bit lately regarding a broad range of subjects- sexuality, race, religion, politics.  The problem is that it is hard to see Jesus himself using that kind of language for that kind of reasoning.  We never get the notion in reading Jesus that he was either unsure if there was a better way, or uncertain as to what might injure people, or whether or not there were costs to believing and acting certain ways.  In those cases, his words were often conversation stoppers.

On the other hand, I can very much see Jesus using the phrase “continue the conversation” in appropriate and respectful ways.  He did that with his disciples along the road opening up a little more deeply about his purpose for coming and his impending betrayal and death (cf. Matthew 16-24), unpacking a difficult and personal experience in ways they could better understand along the journey.  In that sense, he continued the conversation from place to place along the road with his closest disciples.  I think he could have used that phrase with Nathaniel (John 1:43-51) when Nathaniel was trying to figure things out.  He walked a long way with a couple of disciples and continued a protracted conversation before revealing his identity (Luke 24) which I am certain cemented His status in their minds forever.

But, Jesus never continued the conversation out of ambivalence, personal uncertainty or universalist theology positing that all conclusions result in the same outcomes.  For the people like the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-25) or the woman at the well (John 4) who might have desired to continue a conversation from feigned interest or for the purpose of deflection, Jesus pressed toward a conclusion that would beg a decision.  One gets the sense from Jesus’ many dialogues with teachers of the law that though they might have wanted to “continue the conversation” Jesus was completely fine with forcing a close to them understanding those with whom he conversed to be recalcitrantly entrenched.  As a result, most of Jesus’ conversations were either brief or at least reported as such.  That does not mean that Jesus was disinterested in building relationships or talking.  To the contrary, He built and sustained close and intimate relationships with people throughout his ministry and He spoke apparently too much to reasonably be contained in the writings (John 21:25).  It is just that He was not undecided, ambivalent or seeking conversation for conversation’s sake.

Someone might say, “Yes, but that is Jesus after all.  Move on to Paul or Peter.”  Precisely!  Follow their writings and conversations and I think you will arrive at the same conclusion.  There is nothing indefinite in their thinking on matters as it relates to sin and righteousness, the person of Christ or the way to life and a better future.

I would hope that all who know Christ are certain of some things and committed to persevere in them.  In those senses, “continuing the conversation” should be to deepen that which we already know to be true.  It should never be to relish uncertainty.

I also hope that we would always be patient with the skeptic, doubter and confused.  I hope that we have enough humility to “continue the conversation” on disputable matters and on matters where relationship building requires it.

In a world that is soaked in uncertainty, the certainty of salvation and the love of God springing from within is like a well-watered garden- producing much fruit.  I am hopeful that all believers resonate with Job who said, “I know that my Redeemer lives. . . .” (Job 19:25), and David who said, “I am still confident of this . . . .” (Psalm 27:13-14), and Paul who said, “I am convinced that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39).

So, let’s continue the conversation to build relationship, clarify, firm up our own belief and eliminate our doubt.  Let’s continue it to fully understand an issue or a person.  Let’s continue it to know more fully.  But, let’s not continue it because we are afraid to conclude anything.  Let’s not continue it because we have concluded that beliefs and convictions don’t matter.  Let’s not continue it because we fear being unliked.  Let’s not continue it because we would rather talk than act.  Those are unbecoming reasons for those who follow Christ.

By the way, I am a little troubled by the expression I have heard used a lot lately by some of the same folks who want to perpetuate the conversations, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.”  Don’t get me started.  It’s about both. . . (to be continued).



The Freedoms of Free Methodists

 
 
 
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It is no surprise that researchers in business have identified the importance of a “values-based, sustainable” business model (fmchr.ch/valubiz). Recognizing that strong core values provide energy and direction to successfully reach a worthy goal, the researchers found that these values are of utmost importance over time in continually energizing not only those within the business but also those who become loyal customers and partners with that enterprise. This has been the result of the freedoms we share that have shaped us as Free Methodists as well.

Based on the values of Jesus Christ as expressed through the heart and mind of John Wesley and B.T. Roberts, Free Methodists are a people who have continually been energized by our freedoms. These core values not only direct our work but also provide an energizing force within that work. Easily identified as the values Christ taught and reflecting our Wesleyan understanding of the blend of individual and social holiness, our Free Methodist values change us individually as well as focus our work to change our society collectively.

Just as our Wesleyan “theology of love” or “relational theology” defines us as we “love God, love people and make disciples,” this theological foundation has caused us to build a structure of freedom that takes the Methodism we inherited and expresses it in uniquely defining ways of how we treat one another. Though there are varying expressions of the freedoms of our movement, the five that provide the most synergy and energy have been expressed as:

1. Freedom of all races to worship together in unity.

2. Freedom of women and men to be treated respectfully and use their gifts equally in the church, in the home and in the world.

3. Freedom of the poor to be treated with dignity in the church and with justice in the world.

4. Freedom of the laity and clergy to be given equal authority and decision-making positions within the church.

5. Freedom of the Holy Spirit to inspire our worship.

Freedom of All Races to Worship Together in Unity

Free Methodists were and are abolitionists. This social justice comes from a deep place of love and respect for all people. Recognizing that every person is created in the image of God and that we are all brothers and sisters within His family, we come to our Father with our arms locked in solidarity with all His children. The sin of racism in all its varying forms is an evil that we do not tolerate. We work diligently to bring all people together into multicultural congregations, conferences and Christian communities. That we are imperfect and have not yet achieved the fullness of this value only compels us to work even harder for justice for all.

Continuing the work of B.T. Roberts who was an abolitionist in the 1860s, today we are working to end global slavery through our Set Free Movement. Under the guidance of Kevin Austin, we are working together to end the sexual and financial enslavement of the powerless in our world. Primarily represented by women and children, these modern-day slaves have lost the freedom that Christ came to give.

On another front, we are working through our immigration services to bring legal solutions to those who have come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. These legal clinics are approved by our government as a compassionate way for churches and others of goodwill to help in direct and tangible ways to set people free from the vulnerability they experience from often enslaving employment practices that working with an undocumented status produces.

The ultimate relationship of all Christians is described by John when God revealed to him the life we will all share in heaven. Beginning here on earth, we are preparing to be a united people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) as we stand before God in worship. This freedom from racism and vital expression of unity is a value of God that we take seriously as Free Methodists.

Freedom of Women and Men to be Treated Respectfully and Use Their Gifts Equally in the Church, Home and World

After a lengthy discussion that was begun by B.T. Roberts in the 1800s, Free Methodists have come together in valuing equality between men and women. The devastating curse of original sin that caused women to be dominated by men created a patriarchal world, but that has been restored by the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus revealed this restoration by His transforming interactions with women in the Gospels. Paul proclaimed in Galatians 3:28 that there is to be equality between men and women as between the races because “we are all one in Christ.” Because of this, Free Methodists look not to the gender of a person but to God’s call and gifting to determine whether a person is to be a leader, including fully ordained as an elder within the church. Thus Free Methodists work to set all people free from the arbitrary cultural limits placed on women so that the church may, by teaching and example, fulfill the redemptive work of God.

Though there are still those within the larger Christian faith who do not understand this tremendous freedom Jesus gave us, Free Methodists continue to proclaim this freedom. Representative of that, the seminal work of B.T. Roberts, “Ordaining Women,” has been edited and reprinted to fit present-day sensitivities and scholarship. Also representative is the Junia Project led by Kate Wallace Nunneley and Gail Wallace.

Freedom of the Poor to be Treated With Dignity in the Church and With Justice in the World

The enslavement of the poor and vulnerable continues to be a reality within our world. The inequity of socioeconomic class distinctions often extends even into the church when status and deference is given to those with wealth while the poor are in some way kept down. Freedom from this evil is the third freedom of Free Methodists. We are committed to leave socioeconomic distinctions and prejudices outside the sanctuary and invite all people into true fellowship and acceptance in our ongoing commitment to show the love of Christ to all.

This commitment is put into action outside the sanctuary as we seek justice for the poor and vulnerable who have substandard education systems, higher rates of incarceration, and poor health due to lack of health care and nutrition. Though Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, He also calls us to care for the least of these among us (Matthew 25).

Freedom of the Laity and Clergy to be Given Equal Authority and Decision-Making Positions Within the Church

Free Methodists are committed to ending the clergy domination of the church and forming a consistent partnership with clergy and laity working together to do God’s work. This elevation of laity to use their spiritual gifts alongside those given pastoral gifts enriches all aspects of life in the church and protects against institutional abuse.

This equality is increasingly causing us to recognize the necessity for the church to invest in leaders who are not only clergy but also function within the arenas of business, the academy and the community. Recognizing the Wesleyan and Free Methodist imperative of equality based on God’s love for all, Free Methodists value the education of all people. Thus we established and support Free Methodist colleges and universities to express our value of holistic education that integrates faith with practice to prepare students to serve God in whatever He calls them to do.

Freedom of the Holy Spirit to Inspire Our Worship

Often within the larger Christian world, the value of a specific style of worship defines the group. Free Methodists value the leadership of the Holy Spirit and affirm the freedom of each congregation to follow the Spirit’s leading in how they worship and express their devotion to God. As a result, there is no normative worship style within Free Methodist churches. Some worship in liturgical style with daily office while others worship in charismatic style with praise choruses. Most have taken this freedom to create a blended style of worship that brings together a community of people of all ages and creates a family of God that accepts both sacramental liturgy and the Christian year as well the most recent praise choruses and prayer services. Worship includes not only the music of praise, the study of Scripture, and receiving the Sacrament, but also the sharing of life in community.

In a similar way, discipleship is a unique Holy Spirit-led maturation of faith in a process that can be accomplished using a variety of methods. Unique to culture, age, education and tradition, each congregation, pastor and teacher is free to discover the method that is most applicable to their community. This dependence on the Holy Spirit is a defining mark of our Free Methodist movement.

As we emphasize these five freedoms, there is an overarching freedom from legalism that has increasingly become a defining characteristic of the Free Methodist movement. This was not always the case. Historically, freedom was experienced in the Holiness Movement of the 19th century when we became free from the power of sin through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. However, in subsequent generations, it became a list of rules that each member was required to obey in order to not only belong as a member but also to signify that one had been sanctified.

During the last decades of the 20th century, this emphasis on external adherence to laws that had so enslaved the Pharisees was systematically and enthusiastically transformed by Free Methodists so that a Christ-centered identity has become our goal. This freedom from legalism has had a profound impact as the love of Christ has become our energizing value rather than the adherence to a set of disciplinary rules. This value has enlivened the Free Methodist movement as our love for Christ has become a transforming experience within our churches as we: embrace those of all races, honor both women and men, affirm the worth of the poor and vulnerable, partner with both laity and clergy, and celebrate and worship as the Holy Spirit leads and transforms us as disciples of Christ. This freedom from religion to relationship compels us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind while we love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39), and it provides the primary value of our Free Methodist movement.

The church of Jesus Christ in every generation has its own unique expression. In increasing ways, the energy that comes from our Wesleyan-Free Methodist values is propelling our generation forward in following Christ. With love as our primary value, and the five freedoms as our expression of that love, Free Methodists are speaking a form of the gospel that reaches a broken world that is in lonely and often isolating pain. When expressed to the young adults of this generation, there is a resonance with our values and freedoms that fuels a “values-based, sustainable” movement with which they not only identify but also enthusiastically embrace. That is the result of the loving, transforming freedom we find in Christ.

DENNY WAYMAN, D.Min., is the lead superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California and the author of “Healthy Biblical Communities” (fmchr.ch/fmbooks). He recently completed 40 years of service as the lead pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara.



Freedom From Sin

 
 
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Sin is always an injury. It is polluting in its nature and damning in its effects. When it is finished, it brings forth death (James 1:15).

Every awakened soul longs for deliverance from its dominion. No one can be rescued from its power and guilt, without often feeling a strong desire to have every sinful temper, which has brought him into bondage, completely destroyed. The prayer of his heart is, as Charles Wesley wrote, “Break off the yoke of inbred sin, and fully set my spirit free.”

Some passages look, at first view, as though the continuance of sin in the soul is unavoidable. The first to which we call attention is found in 1 Kings 8:46: “When they sin against you — for there is no one who does not sin.” In the original Hebrew the word that is translated “sin” is in the future tense.

“This tense,” says Bible scholar Moses Stuart, “designates all those shades of meaning, which we express in English by the auxiliaries may, can, must, might, could, should, would,” etc. Thus, Genesis 3:2: “We may eat fruit from the trees of the garden.” The term “may eat” is, in the original, in the future tense. This teaches not that every man does actually and necessarily sin, but that everyone is liable to sin. There is a possibility but not a necessity that people should sin. They might sin, or they might not. It expresses a contingency that could not exist if sin were unavoidable. That they might not sin is clearly implied in the declaration that if they did, God would be angry with them and deliver them into the hands of their enemies, so that they should be carried into captivity.

Most of the above remarks will apply to Ecclesiastes 7:20: “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” The word “sins” in the original is in the future tense and should also be rendered “may sin.” This passage teaches the doctrine that runs all through the Bible, that we are never secure from the danger of falling. In our best estate, when grace has done the most for us, we have great need to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).

Proverbs 20:9 states, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin.” This passage is intended to reprove the boasting of a self-righteous, conceited Pharisee, who not only claims a goodness he does not possess, but ascribes his fancied purity to himself. If we offer up in fervent desire, and a faith that will not be denied, the prayer of David, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10), who shall say that this prayer will not be answered? God alone is able to purify the soul. It is only by coming to Him in persistent prayer that we can obey the apostle’s direction, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

Job 9:20 states, “Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.” In this chapter, Job discusses the majesty and holiness of God. In v.15, he says, “Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.” Before the infinite purity of God, he counted his righteousness as nothing, however, he might lift up his head in the presence of his fellow man. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”

(Job 1:8). “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one” (Job 14:4). This text refers to the natural depravity that belongs to everyone that is born into the world – to what is commonly termed original sin. It teaches that all are by nature depraved, not that this depravity cannot be removed by grace.

As a believer in Christ, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

Are you at the present time saved from sin? You may have been once. That cannot help you now. It only makes your condition still more deplorable, if you are now under the dominion of sin. Seek deliverance at once. Give no quarters. Let every sin die. Salvation from sin can alone secure salvation in heaven.

B.T. ROBERTS is a founder of the Free Methodist Church. This article is condensed from an article Roberts wrote for the May 1860 issue of The Earnest Christian. Some language has been paraphrased for modern readability. Go to fmchr.ch/sinbtr for the original article.

DISCUSS IT

1. Does the Bible teach that Christians still sin regularly?

2. What does it mean to be “saved from sin”?



Freedom Isn’t Free

 
 
 
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The United States of America celebrated 240 years of freedom last month — nearly a quarter of a millennium of freedom as a country. This issue of Light + Life Magazine is dedicated to the freedoms of Free Methodism. I urge you to stop and think about what that means.

I’m always quick to question word choices. When I think about what it means to be Free Methodist, I have to chuckle a little bit. “Free” and “Methodist” are not exactly synonymous words. To have freedom but live methodically seems contradictory if you don’t recognize what it truly means to be a Free Methodist.

I like to fly (in airplanes). My job takes me to really exciting places, and I have the privilege of meeting some of the best Free Methodists in the world. Some of my favorite conversations happen traveling next to strangers. Inevitably, someone will ask me what I do. I have several options I could share!

I could say I’m a solopreneur; I love starting companies and selling them. I could say I am an associate pastor for youth in the Near East Side of Indianapolis. I could say I work as the publisher and director for Light + Life Communications. I could say I work as a vice president of development for Day Media Inc., a global media company based out of Indianapolis. I could say I work in the area of leadership development with a global organization called the WiLD Foundation and BadBobby Leaders Inc. I love that all of my occupational ties are centered around the Free Methodist denomination. I usually take a deep breath and explain my occupation(s) and then brace myself for the questions.

The first question usually is: “What are Free Methodists?” My favorite question; that’s an easy one. Free Methodists are highly motivated people who stand for freedom and liberty to lead and follow according to a lifestyle that calls one to live like Jesus Christ. We have a responsibility to lead our society and culture. We lead by granting freedom to all people to worship together. We lead by treating women and men as equals and encourage the use of their individual gifts, wherever they are. We treat the poor and disenfranchised with dignity and humanity. We reflect the love of Christ to all people. We empower laity and clergy with equal authority in our churches. Lastly, we have the freedom to worship God in various ways and encourage the diversity that comes with our various contexts. The freedoms of Free Methodists allow and encourage us to be different in this world.

“Freedom is not free” was coined by retired U.S. Air Force Col. Walter Hitchcock whose service helped guarantee our nation’s freedom. If you think Free Methodists aren’t free, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m proud to say, “I’m Free Methodist,” because I am proud of our church movement and the freedoms in Christ we represent.

Jay Cordova is an ordained elder who serves as the director of communications for the Free Methodist Church – USA. He previously worked as a startup business entrepreneur and coached small businesses in a Michigan incubator.



I Am So Sorry

By Kelly McFadden

Couple reads the Bible in bed

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. –Galatians 5:1

My husband and I were driving home from dinner with friends and suddenly found ourselves bickering over nothing of importance. Our wonderful day together had been spoiled by a fight that could have been avoided. We finished our drive home in tense silence.

By the time we got home, we both realized how silly our argument had been. Still hurt and angry, it was hard to know where to start. My husband broke the silence by apologizing for his part and I quickly followed as I recognized my part. It should have ended there, but I couldn’t stop apologizing and saying how sorry I was. Even the next morning, the first words out of my mouth were another apology about how wrong I had been. That’s when he asked me to stop.

I probably would have kept apologizing all through the next day if he had not stopped me. It was hard for me to accept his forgiveness. I continued to want to make it up to him and do things for him to show him how very sorry I was. In fact, I often find myself doing that with God, too.

I carry shame and guilt over sins I have already confessed. I hold onto the guilt and work to make it up to God. I live as if I am really, really sorry, then He will forgive me. Or, if I do something for someone else today, then maybe I will make myself right before God. However, that is not what the Lord has for us. Christ has set us free. Not free to do whatever we please, but free from the penalty of sin. In fact, we have freedom from having to earn His love and earn His forgiveness. He has already paid the price and he has already forgiven us of our vices and shortfalls.

Actions in keeping with repentance are appropriate! But my extra apologies and all the things I do to try to make myself right with my husband are not about him. They are all about me and my attempt to improve my “standing” in his eyes. And they are simply mistaken. So the challenge becomes: even as we accept God’s invitation of forgiveness and freedom, when we apologize to our spouses and they grant us forgiveness, we must learn to trust their graciousness and in live in the relational freedom they offer to us.

FAITH CONVERSATIONS:
1. In what circumstances do you feel it is a challenge to accept your spouse’s forgiveness?

2. What makes it difficult for you to forgive yourself?

A STEP CLOSER:
None of us are immune from wounding our spouse’s heart. As two sinful people, couples are going to have plenty of opportunities to both apologize and forgive. Are there any old wounds that are creating relational distance between the two of you? Is there an apology that needs to be made or forgiveness that needs to be offered? If so, take these moments to take care of these issues now. Discuss together a workable plan for moving toward a more grace- and trust-filled, forgiving relationship. Close in a time of prayer together.
 
This post originally appeared at Homeword.


Converging Into a Unified Church

 
John Perkins (center) speaks at Christ Community Church during an interview with Executive Pastor Derrick Shields (left) and Lead Pastor Keith Coward (right). (Photo by Allen Allnoch)
 

John Perkins (center) speaks at Christ Community Church during an interview with Executive Pastor Derrick Shields (left) and Lead Pastor Keith Cowart (right). (Photo by Allen Allnoch)

Christ Community Church Pastors Keith Cowart and Derrick Shieldshad a lot in common during their high school days in small Southern towns.

For example, Cowart’s classmates voted to name him “Best All-Around,” and Shields’ classmates voted him “Most Likely to Succeed.” Their experiences at newly integrated high schools also revealed racial division was not a thing of the past. Each high school gave separate awards for white and black students.

“My wife still loves to remind me that I’m really not ‘Best All-Around.’ I was just ‘Best All-Around’ white boy,” Cowart said May 6 as Converge 2:14 participants erupted in laughter during the opening session of the two-day conference in Columbus, Georgia, that Christ Community Church sponsored with support from other area congregations, organizations and businesses.

Although the high school flashback provided humor, it also revealed the pain that Shields and other African-Americans endured in a changing South.

“There were always reminders along the way that, even though we were together in the school, we were still separate,” Shield said. “We were considered to be a little below.”

The days of segregated school awards have passed, but segregation hasn’t stopped in many churches.


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Is Church for Me?

 
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Why do Christians leave church? I often hear reasons like “the worship style wasn’t for me,” “the teaching wasn’t very engaging” or “I had a hard time connecting, and I never really felt pursued.” I understand these reasons.

We long for that perfect fit in a community, when the music, the pastor, the people and the expected involvement line up perfectly. We want to feel like we belong. I spent years trying to find the right fit in community. I wanted to be needed, to play music on Sunday morning and lead a Bible study. I wanted people to see me as a valuable member of the body of Christ and to pursue me in life. I wanted me.

We are not called to ourselves. Matthew 6:33 does not say, “But seek first to know yourself, and God will give you everything you want.” It says, “But seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these thing will be given to you as well.” We are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36–40). Why then, is our critique of our church so full of “me”?

The first line of the introduction of “Encouragement: The Key to Caring” by Larry Crabb and Dan Allender says, “The more I understand people and their needs, the more I am persuaded that God has uniquely designed the local church to respond to those needs.” Shortly after that, they write, “The church, where Christ’s holiness and love are to be evidenced the most, too often becomes an organization just seeking to perpetuate itself, while the reasons why it should continue and grow are obscured.”

The reason Christians so often become disenchanted with the local church is because we are obsessed with ourselves, and we believe the church exists to meet our needs.

I started going to my church because I felt like God was saying, “Plant yourself somewhere and stay there for a year.” Yet, despite this directive, I spent the next year simultaneously seeking for a way out and disappointed that I didn’t feel like I belonged. Do you see the problem? I certainly didn’t.

Then in the summer of 2013, God changed everything. I had a job offer at a church in another state that I was excited about, and God shut the door. I remember one afternoon, as I was praying through my disappointment, God restated His command to me: “Plant yourself somewhere and stay there for a year.” I realized that I had not done what God wanted. I had used my church as a stopover to the next location. In my concern for myself, I had placed distance between myself and true community, and, in the process, I hurt people who are now some of my closest friends. With this realization came a complete shift of how I see the church and God.

When we approach church as a solution to our needs, we will be disappointed. Yet the opposite of this is not to seek to meet the needs of others. That approach will be met with exhaustion and discouragement. Our true purpose is stated in the mission of the Free Methodist Church: “Love God, love people and make disciples.” When we seek to have our needs met in God, we free up so much space in our lives to see people.

Hebrews 10:24–25 gives a good starting point for the local church: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

When my focus turned from myself to God, and subsequently to His people, God did amazing things in my heart. Like Jonah, I tried to run away from where God had called me. Also like Jonah, it took great hardship, pain and submission to God to get me to recognize my own brokenness. Yet when I had begun this process, within a few months, I had been invited into leadership in my church. My city became my home instead of a stopover point, and most amazingly, He opened my eyes to see the beautiful woman who would become my wife. It is not a magic formula to everything being better, and it isn’t a comfortable place to be, but when we take on the difficult task of turning away from ourselves and facing God, He is capable of great healing. This is the first step toward a renewed local church.

Mark Crawford is the assistant editor of Light + Life Magazine.

DISCUSS IT

  1. In what ways have you seen churches or their members lose their evidence of Christ’s holiness and love?
  2. What prevents some people from finding true community in the local church?
  3. What tips do you have for keeping your focus on God and not on yourself or your personal preferences?


10 Ways to Transform Your Marriage

 

By Jim Burns

Too many couples settle for mediocrity in their marriage, when they would never settle for second best in other areas in their lives. Many husbands and wives unintentionally neglect their most intimate relationship, and in time “happily ever after” sounds like a fairy tale.

Still, I believe that fairy tales can come true. Yes, they can happen to you! It’s possible to develop a great marriage when you become both intentional and proactive in working on core strategies that will strengthen the relationship with your spouse. Here are ten strategies that I’ve learned can transform your marriage.

1. Adjust your attitude. You might not be able to change your spouse, but you can change your attitude, and it just may make a world of difference in your marriage.
2. Show affection and warmth. Simple words and actions that demonstrate your love for your spouse can change your spouse’s mood and the atmosphere in your home.
3. Offer encouragement. It takes nine affirming comments to make up for one critical comment. If you are like most people, you owe your spouse a boatload of encouragement. Watch for opportunities to give your spouse an affirming word.
4. Give sexual intimacy the time and attention it deserves. Are you too tired to work on this? Then your priorities are in the wrong place. Find at least two hours per week to spend on romance and intimacy. And flirt with your spouse–reminding him or her that he or she is still the apple of your eye.
5. Be friends with your spouse. The basic principles of friendship should also apply to marriage too: friends tend to have more patience with each other; they extend grace, forgiveness and kindness towards one another; and they have fun together.
6. Schedule more fun in your marriage. Look for creative date ideas–don’t just go out for dinner and a movie. Your willingness to put some thought into enjoyable, out-of-the-ordinary things to do together will speak volumes to your spouse.
7. Practice “thank therapy.” Sit down today and make a list of at least twenty reasons why you are grateful for your spouse.
8. Accept that all problems are not resolvable. Some problems will always be in our lives in one form or another. Compromise and find a workable solution you can both live with.
9. Nurture spiritual growth. Start by praying daily for your spouse and your relationship. Develop a regular time together to practice spiritual disciplines such as devotions, bible study, prayer, and reading.
10. Review and renew your marriage vows.

Vow renewal ceremonies are often more meaningful than the wedding. Reviewing and renewing your vows will move you toward spiritual intimacy.