31 May, 2006

Leadership: Intermission

No time last night to write on Titus 3, but I had enough time to put together a quick word about the last 4 verses of the book.

12 As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. 13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.

15 Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith.

So far as I know, this is the only mention of Artemas in the bible, but Tychicus we know. He was with Paul when Paul was first planting the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:4). So, Tychicus, Titus and Timothy all got the same training there with Paul. Nicopolis is on the far side of Greece, nearest to Italy - Albania, really. We don't hear much about Paul in Albania, but he wintered there, at least.

Zenas is only mentioned here, but someone figures he was a Jewish lawyer who later became a Christian.

Apollos is one of the biggest small-fries of the new testament. He was at the center of quite a stink in Corinth, and maybe he even was the stink in Corinth. A study of Apollos might be a great followup to the generic leadership thoughts I have been working through. Whatever the case might have been in Corinth, Paul is looking out for him now.

Paul references good works one more time, just for good measure, and then sends and accepts love from those on both "ends of the line."

These verses get precious little attention, but they are the glue that hold the new testament together. Paul gives us little throw-away indications of what is happening in and between the churches from day to day. They are worth attention just on their own.

Maybe another day. :-)

29 May, 2006

Leadership: Titus and responsibilities

I love how Paul starts this second chapter of Titus. (All quotes are from Titus 2.)

1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.

The "however" is because Paul just finished listing the foul deeds of those who claim to know God, but in action deny Him. Now, Paul turns to telling Titus what needs to be done in these churches.

Paul does not tell Titus to give the Cretans sound doctrine.

Titus is to teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.

The Cretans appear to have enough sound doctrine. They need no more. Now, they need to know the things that spring from sound doctrine.

On the one hand, it looks like I am reading to much significance into the text, but I don't think I am. Paul might have good reason to be worried about Titus reinforcing the doctrine of grace in Crete. It is the people of the circumcision, the Judaizers, who are spreading meaningless talk, and deception, and making money at it to boot. Paul could have asked Titus to go in there and straighten the errors of the Judaizers out again.

Paul is silent on the whole subject.

The Cretans must know enough about grace, or Paul would be addressing that issue. Instead, Paul spends ALL of chapter 2 talking about deeds. Old men, old women, young men, young women, and slaves are all addressed. They are told to be reverent, good, self-controlled, sound and trustworthy.

These things become sound doctrine. In doing these things, Paul says:
10 ... so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

That's a goal!

Finally, though, Paul does get theological - toward the end of the chapter, right?
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Paul still is not worried about doctrine.

Paul is still moving Titus to the things that matter. Doctrine is good, but there is an end to doctrine. Works of love do not end. Evidently, Paul was a little worried that the focus on works might upset some people, because he finishes the thought with these words.

15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

So far, in chapter 1 we have seen the outward signs of the kind of character that enable a leader to be effective in the church. In chapter 2 we have seen that the leader's primary goal is to encourage character in those he leads.

Maybe chapter 3 will be about the importance of right doctrine?

2 Thoughts on Slow Posting

I think I have set a new record for slow posting. 6 posts in 12 days give or take.

While I doubt anyone is in a tizzy over that minor break from my , I figured I would say something about it anyway because it niggles at me.

Reason 1)
My son has decided that he works better downstairs, and that he cannot think with me in the same room. I respect this desire to perform at his optimum, and his desire to do excellent work on his final papers. It has been a touchy time for both of us, but it seems like we are navigating it. If not posting helps - there is no posting.

Reason 2)
I cannot seem to get excited about this leadership series. It's an odd feeling, but I don't find the subject as exciting as I thought I would. And the comments have been really good, too (thanks all!).

I don't know, I'm just guessing. I don't get excited and then type. I get excited as I type. Once I start chasing an idea, it begins to get its hooks into me. You know, I think that's it. I think that not being able to chase the idea to its conclusion is what is driving me to boredom with it.


The mind is a funny thing. Thanks for listening.

26 May, 2006

Memorial Day - thoughts on small arms tactics and leadership

I am writing this one to relax a little bit. If you are not a fan of reading how wars are fought, I doubt you will be a fan of this whole post, so I offer you an excused absence now. :-)

War is a fallen human thing, and it is also a fascinating thing. There are no rules in war. Nothing defines victory or defeat. The Egyptians still celebrate their victory in the Yom Kippur War (yes, they lost.) Nothing defines the way in which you are allowed to fight (lying is de rigeur.) The stronger force usually wins, but not always. At Thermopylae, 300 Spartans led 7,100 Greeks to withstand 150,000 Persians for 3 days, giving the whole war to the Greeks.

War is fascinating to study because in it you see men stretched to their utter limits for an often worthy cause. They are stretched to the limits of their cunning, courage, endurance, and love for their brothers. This also gives me a decent excuse to relate it to the church. We should be so committed.

I want to talk about the tactics men used in war over the years.

There have been evolutions and leaps in how wars were fought, but I am going to contend that no leap was greater than that taken by the Germans in World War 2. I am then going to suggest that the church would be well served to emulate that evolution.

The key to war has always been, "Get there the firstest with the mostest." The objective of any general has been to get his army to the battlefield first, and to have the most people at the critical place. If you get there first, you can determine where that critical place will be. You can then place your strongest force at that point, and drive to victory.

At that critical place, you force a hole in the enemy lines through which your force can get behind your enemy, create confusion, and rapidly force panic. Once the panic begins, the battle ends and a slaughter takes place. The great generals used dozens of ad hoc and deliberate means to decide where to break through, and to make it happen.

This was true for Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Joan of Arc, and Napoleon. Whether the battle was fought with spears, swords, or muskets nothing changed. Choose the critical place, mass your most confident troops there, force a breakthrough, and exploit the panic.

World War 1 held every seed of change, and tragically it did not happen. The machine gun was introduced in WW1. The machine gun changed everything (and the tank would have too, if anyone had figured out what to do with it.)

The machine gun gave one man the ability to stop dozens. It could not be used in attack, because it needed to be firmly emplaced, but it made defence almost omnipotent. Hence WW1 became the horrid trench war that it was.

The generals were still massing their troops at the critical point, and trying to force a breakthrough. They would send a tightly bunched mass of soldiers across the "no-man's land" between the trenches in an attempt to create the all-important breakthrough. That tightly bunched mass of troops would have turned the battle against Napoleon. Napoleon had only cannon.

These generals had machine guns.

Those masses of boys died without hope. They were never going to make it to the other trenches, and they were never going to break through to create that panic. The generals were still fighting as they had all through history, but that history was over. Everything was different.

Germany was not defeated in WW1. They surrendered because they were running out of supplies and saw defeat coming, but they had not even pushed out of France when they surrendered. They surrendered because the war had broken everyone's hearts.

(The armistice they were handed after they surrendered was evil. They could not bear the burden that was laid on them after that war. Everyone says that, and doggone if I don't have to agree with everyone. Hitler was an evil half-wit, but he was given the keys to the kingdom by the evil built into that "peace".)

When World War 2 was brewing, the Allied generals planned how to win it. They took the lessons of WW1, and refined them so that they would be ready for anything. And they were ready for anything. The French Maginot Line was truly an impressive piece of defense work. It really was unassailable.

When the French created the Maginot Line, they created a living perfection of the machine gun as a defensive weapon. Every machine gunner could safely protect every other machine gunner while stopping all advancing enemies. It really was the perfect expression of the purpose of the machine gun as demonstrated in WW1.

That's why the Germans went around it.

But the Germans did not win because they went around the Maginot Line.

The Germans conquered the better part of Europe in 2 years because they re-invented the Sergeant, and the sergeant invented a new way to use the machine gun.

French decisions during battle were made at the level of the "company" and above. That is a group of 100-200 men, or even 500-800 men at the battalion level.

German decisions were made at the squad and even "fire team" level. That is a group of 10-12, or even 5-6 men. A sergeant was in charge of a squad, and his corporal was in charge of half the squad when it was split into fire teams.

And each squad had a machine gun.

This was not a machine gun like had been used in WW1. Those machine guns needed water to keep them cool enough to fire, so they weighed 120+ pounds when ready for use and were far too unwieldy to tote around during an attack. The Germans built machine guns that weighed 25 pounds, and required no water when firing.

Before the battle, the French generals, colonels, majors and captains would review the battle plan. When they understood everything, they went out to position their troops. At the same time, the German generals, colonels, majors, and captains would review their battle plans. Then they did something the French never thought of. The German captains would go back to their troops and review the whole battle plan with their sergeants.

In the French army, ~1% of the soldiers in the battle knew the plan. In the German army over 10% of the troops knew the battle plan.

The French army lost in 20 days because they were out-thought by the German sergeants at the grass-roots level of battle. German squads would work together to set up crossfires with their machine guns that kept the French from moving while the Germans circled around behind them.

The strategy of battle had not changed. It was still pick the critical place, mass your troops there, create a breakthrough, and exploit the panic. The Germans just shrunk the scale from the army and division level down to the squad level. The Germans would achieve micro-breakthroughs all over a battlefield, and combine them into the macro-breakthrough the allies had always wanted in WW1.

They embraced the new battlefield and overcame their enemies on it.

The Lord stopped the German advance. He then turned the tide, and ended the Third Reich's reign of terror. The crimes of Germans against all of humanity during those 6 years are appalling if you actually take the time to read up on them, and praise the Lord, He did not let them triumph. My son read me some stuff last week that curdled my blood.

Practically, the Germans lost because Hitler was a half-wit, because they bit off more than they could chew, and because the British and Americans were quick learners. We learned in Africa and Italy how to turn their tactics back against them. We also adapted to the new battlefield - to the battlefield the Germans had created. We learned how to pin them down, and create our own micro-breakthroughs.

Our boys were green when they got "over there", but they took everything the Germans could throw at them, learned from it, and turned it back on them better than they got. We learned to work in small teams exercising initiative to exploit tiny advantages as they happened. By the end of the war, American tactics were as refined as anything Germany ever deployed.

(The Russians used up all the German bullets with warm bodies, then killed them with whoever was left. We won't learn much from them except the horrors of evil leaders.)


In the church today, I see us as being led at the 500 person level, like the French. I believe we need to move leadership down the chain, to the 10 person level.

There are so very many reasons to do this.
  • Responsibility given breeds responsibility acted. Put a man in a position of responsibility, and he is many times more likely to grow responsible.
  • Small teams can react to small problems. Many small teams reacting to similar small problems can make a big impact.
  • Small teams look to each other for brotherhood. Large teams look to an organization for brotherhood.

I had never thought of that last one before. I think I am going to end on it, because it is potent.

The French army was highly proud of being the glorious French army. They were proud of all their beautiful uniforms, glorious history, dashing leaders, and eternal dedication to France. 20 days later they were defeated.

Our boys fought in squads of 12. The other 11 soldiers in your squad depended on you. Sure, America was a great idea, but Jones over there was in trouble, and if you didn't get your head out of that foxhole and start laying down some lead, Jones had no hope at all.

I cannot be loyal to a church the way I can be loyal to brothers.


Thank you to all the men and boys who paid the price for each other and for America.

25 May, 2006

Letter to a philosopher

Ray from church (he did read the bible study on Rom 8:4, btw. I will get feedback from him and another soon and post it up) has an athiest philosopher who leaves him things to read. He shared one with me. I don't feel like transcribing the letter, and I lost it anyway, so I have an excuse for not putting it up. ;-)

Anyway, if you have an interest, here is what I wrote back to Ray's philosopher.


Hello Sir,

Ray gave me the opportunity to read your paper on whether God was able to make 2+2=5. I enjoyed it. I'm afraid I have since mislaid it, so I will not be able to quote it in my little note here, but I think I remember the gist.

Keep in mind, I am no philosopher - I'm an ex-diesel mechanic who found his way into the software world - so I won't be chatting about this from a deeply philosophical perspective. Maybe a blue collar cogitator's perspective.

I appreciated your reasoning. The number 2 certainly cannot swim the English Channel, and a square root is not yellow. God cannot make these things be, or they would be other things. We use language to attach words to perceptions, so that we can communicate with each other. If we perceive a thing, we must be able to describe it, in order to share its experience to some degree.

So, you talk about a little island on which 2+2=5. Given our language, I expected you to describe a situation in which two people, each holding one coconut in each hand come together and combine their coconuts to end up with one more coconut than their 4 hands could carry.

You did not do that.

You described a situation in which 2 people each carrying 2 coconuts combine their coconuts and end up with one coconut in each hand but use the word/number "5" to describe the situation.

OK. That's odd, but if they can understand each other, who am I to whine. If they are able to communicate in such a way, then I will be the last to change their language. Just don't require me to understand it.

The denouement comes only in the last paragraph.

You admonish the reader not to drop their most cherished beliefs merely because their human understanding of God might lead them to doubt those beliefs. It may happen that God is simply trying to teach us how 2+2=5, and we are too busy being "right"to listen.

Again, a very cool thought. One with which I agree. I hold some views of God that are very unpopular, both with those who love Him, and with those who do not. In order to hold these beliefs, though, I had to drop some other cherished beliefs.

There are cherished beliefs that are wrong, and dropping them is required to lay hold of freedom. It is important to know how to discern between cherished truths and cherished falsehoods. Combining 4 coconuts does not create a 5th from nothing, and distributing the energy of this universe by a big bang does not create intelligence. Yellow cannot swim to Australia, and God cannot be created by my conception of Him.

Jesus Christ changed everything when He rose bodily from death. Things about which there once was legitimate doubt are now beyond disbelief. God cares for people, to the extreme of dying to transform them. Now is the time of learning what that transformation is.

May the Holy Spirit bless your contemplation of these things.


23 May, 2006

Leadership: Titus and the things that matter in a leader

Titus has never gotten a lot of play, so I am going to try to put him in the spotlight for a second. Timothy was Paul's shining son, and he gets most of the good press. That's cool. There's almost certainly a reason Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, and Titus in Crete. Timothy had something that Ephesus needed, and Crete needed someone so they got Titus.

Titus's letter is smaller and less dramatic than either of Timothy's, but it is straightforward, and that makes it my choice for this series. Quotes in this post will be from Titus 1.

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Like I said, straightforward.

There are some things to conclude from this.

First, Paul was willing to leave Crete without appointing elders. We don't know how long those churches had been leaderless, but consider just how dramatic that is! The church can survive without elders. With nothing but Jesus, the Holy Spirit and rank and file believers, a church can be born and live. I think that's pretty cool.

Second, a church should not live without elders for long. Bad things happen when no wise, spiritual people are identified as responsible for the witness of the church.

Third, Paul has a term for leaders in the church - old men. (I will recall for everyone that I am an egalitarian - I believe that this term here means old person, but I won't go there tonight. For this night, only men can be elders. We'll stick to frying one fish at a time.) I don't think this term came about by accident, and I think it's important. Old men don't fight like young men do. They're not indefatigable like young men. They're not still trying to figure out how to be a man.

Old men don't shift like water. When you know an old man, you know him. He's going to be that same man tomorrow, and next year. Young men run hot and cold as their passions flame and cool. Patience ebbs and flows with them.

When Paul runs through this list, you can look at an old man and know whether he is most of these things. If he is today, he will be next year too. If he's not, don't try to "groom him for the ministry". It's not likely to work.

6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God's household, he must be blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

I quote that whole passage at once because I count 18 requirements there, but the first 15 have nothing to do with doctrine. Amusingly, also note that the elder in verse 6 is also the bishop in verse 7. This version translates the word as overseer, which is great, but it is translated bishop elsewhere. Elders are bishops.

Titus's elder candidates must already have proven themselves leaders. It's not complex, and you can read the list as well as anyone. You can pick an elder. They tend to stand out, actually. He's the one you like to visit, because he likes to have you over. He's the one that saw your kid knock over the the flowers and didn't get mad at either of you, but took the time to teach him how to set the flowers back upright before running off.

He's also the one who holds firmly to the gospel as it was given to him.

10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach, and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

I have heard numerous talks on how these men (and, yes, I will say "men" here. If it's fair for the goose tonight.... ;-) were making money off the gospel. I frankly don't get it. Big words like peripatetic philosopher (one who teaches while walking around, and collects tips in jars or some such) get thrown around, but the truth is nobody was getting rich off this stuff. These members of the circumcision who were spreading lies about how to please God must have been charging a little something for their "personal trainer" skills, but they were not living high on the hog.

Pastors did not yet exist in Crete. That much is clear. So, there might have been a little money floating around, though we can hardly conceive of just how little. It seems to me that the first people to earn a salary off the gospel were probably people in the line of these rebels.

An elder had to be able to silence these rebels, and do it without being a mercenary.

It might also be worth suggesting that these rebels did their foul deeds household by household. The odds on shot, according to the archaeology I listen to, is that they were meeting in those households. There probably was not often a meeting of the church in a larger group than could meet in a house. The best current guesses I know of suggest that it was quite a while later that the church started meeting in actual auditorium-like buildings. Being a new religion made that pretty much mandatory.

If that is true, then we can begin to scope out how large a group an elder might oversee.

13 ... Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith

Rebuking ain't easy, and rebuking sharply requires a great deal of confidence and ammunition. How do you think our newly minted elders are going to do at this? I think they are going to be terrible.

But, did you notice that this word of command is spoken to Titus?

Titus is to go and pave the way for them. Sure, in time those elders should be able to rebuke as necessary, and sharply at that, but it will be a little while before they are good at it.

There is an old, old story told in the army over and over and over. Some Spec4 (between private and sergeant) will be promoted to be the Sergeant over all his buddies. The buddies go to the Staff Sergeant, and complain that Specialist Jones "ain't never gonna be no sergeant." The Staff Sergeant just looks at them and says, "The stripes will make him one."

Responsibility changes a man.

These men are old, so they know that they are taking on responsibility, not power. They will be slow to slam the ones that see things differently than they do, and quick to make sure everyone is treated well. If an old man's family is happy, he has probably already figured the important things out a long, long time ago, and just needs to learn how to adapt them to his new role. Titus is going to dump a huge responsibility on him, but by now he won't let it go to his head. He's seen too many kids do that before.

So, to revisit my questions:
Which of these battle fronts is most important?
I see nothing here that answers the question better than Ellen did. Whichever front the fight's on at the moment.

Which of these battle fronts does a seminary education prepare a man to handle well?

What training method would best prepare a leader to handle all of these things?
Living is the best training method. Paul tells Titus to look to the man's character and his family's character. We learn character from life.

What training method would best teach a leader when not to react?
Well, that sure ain't seminary. I read in a commentary about Titus 1:9 that "The overseers need to be doctrinally sound, so they can detect and correct even the slightest deviation from the truth." I'm sorry, but if you correct every slightest deviation from the truth, you are going to kill the flock. People cannot thrive under that much correction.

Overreacting teaches people not to overreact, if they are good learners. Let them make those mistakes at home, not in the church.

Here is one of my main points. If you take a young man, and give him a piece of paper that says he knows how to care for the flock, and start paying him to do it, you are hurting everyone. I believe with all my heart there's a job for him, but not pastor. (And not scrubbing toilets, either! I hate those ersatz tough-guys who want to torment the young to prove how hard everything was when they were kids. That is a false strength, and I wish we would quit encouraging that kind of attitude.) I will get back to that young man's role later, and I will get to what a pastor might be later. Life teaches old men not to overreact and not to underreact.

How can you know a leader?
I hereby retire my answer for Maeghan's.
Cool but firm.
Firm but loving.
Loving but right.

How many leaders does our church of 200 need?
Paul has not given us a clear answer. Maybe, though, the size of the meetings is a clue. We are talking about household-sized meetings. Houses were smaller then, but people didn't mind being close. Maybe 40 people, give or take? Maybe a couple of elders per group?

So far, I'm seeing our church of 200 split into groups of 40-ish segregated by neighborhood as much as possible. I hope to see 2-3 elders per group, so that's 10-15 leaders. Realistically, finding that 5% to 7.5% of any given population meets the description of an elder found in this book is a stretch. Now throw out 50-60% of your possibilities because they are women and the odds get steeper. Throw out another 50-75% of the possibilities because they are too young. Now you are hoping that fully one-third of your seniors can bear the responsibility of elder.

That's OK.

Let's pin some stripes on them and see whether they don't rise to the responsibility.

What that responsibility is will be found in Titus chapter 2.

22 May, 2006

DVC: I was wrong

The Da Vinci Code is no trifle to be poo-poo'd away and moved beyond. It must be answered.

I went to it with the calming glow of the the Cannes Film Festival's rejection of it on a "quality" basis, and the knowledge of its errors. I hate to walk into a conflict prepared, it somehow seems like cheating to me, but against my better laziness prepared I was.

The movie was entertaining. It was thought provoking. It did not need to be bullet-proof, or constantly filled with new directions and false clues. It was adequately fascinating because it challenges every assumption you've ever made about our culture.

You will not notice that the Xth clue is telegraphed, because you are too busy thinking about how Jerusalem was sacked to win back the "something". The crusades were not evil enough in their own right; no, the evil of the crusades was a cover for something vastly more sinister. You do not notice the alleged bad acting in the crucial middle of the movie, because you are busy learning that the last supper forms a "V", and that everything upon which Western Civilization is founded is a facade to keep Cardinals under the pope in power.

If you ever want to ruin a movie for someone, tell them it's the best, most important thing they will ever see in their lives. If they get there and it is any less than that, they will be disappointed. Then, your poor friend automatically holds this great movie to a standard so high it can't help but fail. They will walk out of a great movie wondering why they hated it.

If, however, you tell the world that a movie stinks up the joint, any ol' signs of life will be a pleasant surprise. I bet I'm not the only one "pleasantly" surprised by this movie.

What a shock. You put a good director, good actors, and a popular book together, and out koms a movie that's passable good. We Christians are setting ourselves up for failure when we criticize the movie for its lamenesses.

Technically, Dan Brown uses lots of techniques to good effect. For example, he uses the obvious tactic of making the hero of the movie the spokes[straw]man for Christianity. When the crucial argument comes, in which the patriarchy is exposed for concealing the truth of Mary Magdalene, the hero is offering the defense for our faith. He throws up little gems like, "You're only guessing!" and "That's just a theory!" and "You are seeing what you want to see!" During the impassioned moments, our hero throws up softball after softball for Gandalf to knock out of the park.

If was good enough for Plato, I guess it's good enough for Dan Brown.

The point is that it is effective.

Will it work on Josh MacDowell? No. Will it work on Joe Sixpack (or Joe Sixverse)? You bet. So many and varied and profound are the lies are thrown out in such a short time that it's almost impossible to believe that all of them could actually be false. Of course, all of them are not false. It's only the facts that matter that are actually lies.

A special note of recognition has to go out to the Gandalf actor. When he insults His Lord and Judge, there is a repeated twinkle of heartfelt joy in his eye. Every actor there was performing in direct warfare against the Lamb of God, but Sir Ian McKellen really seemed to relish his role.

May the Lord send His Spirit to teach His children the truth.

And may they take the time to get up and find the truth at places like The Christian Cadre, Cadre Comments and their DVC page.

Leadership: Leading what?

In a church of 200 people, how many do you suppose are having problems "right now?"

I put that figure at about 160, but let's assume I am a pessimist - or acknowledge that I am - and call the number 40.

What kinds of problems might those 40 people be having?

On the relationship front, there's a couple of marriages floundering, kids being abused to one degree or another, kids that are running amok, seniors that are alone and experiencing different fears, single parents pressed out of measure.

On the work front, there are people in dead end jobs, without jobs, cheating at their jobs, in fear of losing their jobs, wondering if they should leave their babies to take jobs, in need of encouragement to take chances at their jobs.

On the financial front, there are people working but who have debt, no retirement, hoarding money, no discipline, no trust in God, no foresight, no joy.

On the spiritual front, there are people who have forgotten prayer, who pray superstitiously, who have forgotten scripture, who wield scripture as a club, experimenting with license, who forget to "do" the works of faith, who have forsaken Christ for the wealth of this world, who have forgotten their first love.

On the doctrinal front, there are people taking one doctrine to an extreme, and trying to run everyone's life with it, reading and teaching heresies they don't understand, making foolish decisions because they don't trust God in an area in which He has made promises, thinking they are saved, but are deceived, wanting to get power over others because of some doctrinal leverage they have found.

On the political front, (Nope, don't try to pretend it doesn't exist. Where two or three are gathered, there is politics.) There are people who think the pastor is too impersonal/ friendly/ lazy. There are people who want the music and worship more challenging/ passionate/ purposeful. The elders should be more ____. This church building should be ____. We need to do more ____.

I probably need to go back to my 160 number. :-(

These are all things that need someone's attention. People just need attention. Even the people who sit in the front corner and disappear as soon as the sermon is over need attention. (Ask me how I know ;-)


Which of these battle fronts is most important?

Which of these battle fronts does a seminary education prepare a man to handle well?

What training method would best prepare a leader to handle all of these things?

What training method would best teach a leader when not to react?

How can you know a leader?

How many leaders does our church of 200 need?

21 May, 2006

Divorce: Operational Pause

Update: Tone deaf typist sacked. :-)

Preface to post:
I will now preface this post with the good news, because I was feeling it so strongly that I didn't say any of it out loud in the original post. This is always a problem for me. I should never post while happy. ;-)

While I'm sure noone can tell, it was in good but overloaded mood that I wrote the following. I can't really explain why, and I won't try, but rest assured that the underlying mood of this evidently darkly confusing post was cheery. The Lord is much better than this post would seem to indicate.

Original Post
I'm going to ice this subject for a while.

Aside from being horribly depressing (I ripped off those 4 posts so quickly solely so I could be done with them - I can only think of a time or two that writing has given me so little joy,) I have hit my capacity for new thoughts on the subject.

I know when I write that it sometimes sounds as if I am giving ideas, but that is almost never the dynamic. I am almost always getting them, and when Milly, DugALug, Andreia, Danny Kaye and the rest get to circling the subject, I get ideas from a dozen directions. (Mathematically, that would be 10 different directions, but you know what I mean.)

Right now, I have so many new thoughts running around in my head that to say anything else would just be indulging my knack for gibberish. I would rather gibber about tennis than divorce. :-)

My thoughts are swirling around the idea that divorce is awful, and always the result of evil, but that we had better figure out a way to do it right. We need to figure out the right way to prevent it, to help each other through it when there is no other path, and to live to Christ after it.

Maybe come winter some order will have come.

Thank you to everyone.

17 May, 2006

Divorce: Remarriage


Anyone want to see codepoke eat dogfood?

So, I'm sitting here thinking about the remarriage question someone stated, and I know that I have no answers. That just means I have to think more, right? Well, what are the options for finding answers?

I could dig into the scriptures.
Well, actually, I think everyone has already done that. Probably ad nauseum. I doubt I'll find anything that hasn't already been said a couple dozen times.

I could look to counselling tomes.
Yeah, but duelling with counselors is even less satisfying than doing so with scripture.


I could eat my own dogfood.
That's a computer programmer's term. It means to run your company with the software you sell, as opposed to buying someone else's software off the shelf - thereby accidently proving that their software is better than yours.

Why don't I ask the seniors in my church what they think of remarriage?


OK. I'll do it!

So what will it look like?

I think maybe an interview for a report I'm going to give to a small group. (I remembered that they are old folk, and if I tell them that I'm doing this for a blog post, they'll all freeze up at the thought of the Internet.)

Then the thought occurs, that this might be kind of fun, other people might want to play, and the more people we ask, the more answers we get.

Sound interesting?

If so, here is my first cut at the questions I might want to ask. It will look like a survey, but I'm thinking of an interview nonetheless.


I'm doing some research for a friend who is going to write a report for his small group. It's on divorce and remarriage. He has looked at all the scriptures, but he really wants to know what some experienced Christians have seen in real life, so he is having some of his friends interview experienced Christians. Could I ask you his interview questions?

*) Do you believe that divorce is acceptable in the eyes of God?

*) Do you believe that remarrying a new spouse after divorce is acceptable in the eyes of God?

*) Have you ever seen a divorce that you think should have happened?

**) What made it seem necessary to you?

*) Have you seen many divorces reconciled?

**) Do you think most of them worked or failed in the end?

*) Have you seen many Christians remarry a new spouse after a divorce?

**) Do you think most of those remarriages worked, or failed in the end?

**) Why do you think that was?

*) Under what conditions do you think remarriage might work?



The first two questions are only there to get a barometer for how the other answers might look. I don't expect anyone who bans remarriage to say there are conditions that make it right.

Anyone have other questions to add? Rewordings for these ones? Want to do some interviewing?

I open the floor.

Divorce: iMonk loads his pen

For those of you who don't link iMonk, he has announced that he will take on divorce and remarriage as his next series.

I have not really established a habit of commenting on this blog about another person's blog before, so I don't know whether I will do so in this case, but who knows. I'm just glad I got most of my thoughts out there before he started. It's easier to write without a shadow that big over your shoulder. :-)

16 May, 2006

Divorce: The Church

Does anyone else find it annoying to check comments on my multi-thousand word posts, especially when I write them back to back to back? I sure do.

My apologies.

Maybe this post will be short. Relatively short? It could happen - really, it could. :-)

But it didn't. Sorry.


Matt 13
The Parable of the Weeds
24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
28 " 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
29 " 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

I think this passage holds mountains of significance. There are several little points hidden in its compact story that it seems most people miss. For our purposes, though, I think we can limit ourselves to the obvious.

The saved and the unsaved grow in really close proximity to each other. They are both in the same churches. The very servants of God cannot be trusted to remove the unsaved from among us until the end of the age. And yet, we expect hormone impaired children to reject really attractive weeds and pick wheat every time.

Are you wondering why the Christian divorce rate is the same as the world's?

I see 2 causes. 1) We're just human, and products of our society, and 2) we marry people who are not as well and truly converted as they seem to be.

(Some of you will believe that those people were saved, and then fell away. OK. I have no need to argue that here. That interpretation works just as well for my purposes. The parable teaches that the wheat were wheat from the day they were planted, and the weeds were weeds from the day they were planted. So, while it might mean either, I will go with the theory that they were never saved. Just mentally substitute, "fell away" where appropriate.)

It's not easy to be a Christian in America. Nope. It's dead simple, mind-numbingly easy, and it's almost hard not to be Christian. Even our atheists use nominally Christian phrases in their arguments against the God in Whom they don't believe. Unless you go out of your way somehow, everyone is going to believe you are a Christian. 76.5% of Americans identify themselves as Christian in some meager way. 44% of Americans identify as born-again.

This ain't the world Paul planted his churches in.

And we have glorified a proofless faith. When the phrase, "... I will show you my faith by my works ...," is read out loud (by accident, usually) a chorus of voices rises to explain how James wasn't really trying to undo anything Paul said. As if Paul ever said that we were saved for licentiousness.

Attend a church, feel some sincere feelings, say an emotional prayer, believe you are saved, and suddenly you are among the faithful. Jesus taught His disciples the truth about the faith.

Matt 13 (again, just a little earlier)
The Parable of the Sower
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear."

Put these two parables together, and you get a sobering picture. Only a fraction (hopefully a sizeable fraction) of the seed will fall on good soil, and even after that happens, the enemy will come and sow false seed in with the good. It is desparately easy to unwittingly marry an unbeliever in America, especially under the intoxicating influence of human attraction.

Given this, what can the church do to prevent divorce?

1) Tell the truth about marriage to our children.

It was fruit that made the difference between the weeds and the wheat, and between the good soil and the rest. We need to start teaching about fruit. And preach to our youth that enthusiasm does not equal fruit. We all look good on missionary trips. Meeting a really cool person in YWAM is a good thing, but does that person still look as verdant and committed to Christ when they get back home?

When we are young, the world looks all sunny one day, and all gloom the next. Today the world is a shopping basket of wonderful choices in a mate, and a sahara of rejection tomorrow. The truth eludes the young, and our churches ignore their need. Many of the beautiful people around them are verdant weeds, and many of the rejections they receive are blessings from God their Provider.

Our children grow up believing in the eHarmony approach. You have to search out someone with whom you are compatible on 70%+ the 40+ relationship scales. You have to be constantly looking. You have to find your soulmate.

I don't doubt eHarmony is right, but soul-mating ain't cutting the mustard.

Teach our children that mating about pulling in a yoke together. There's time and opportunity for play aplenty in marriage, but every bit of the profit to be had from marriage comes from pulling in the same direction together. They will be pulling in that harness together long after they quit looking like rock stars - if they choose wisely. If they choose poorly, then they will be looking for a mate all over again, without the obvious benefits of youth to aid them.

Do you know who can help them decide whether their current infatuation is worthy of love?

The gray heads.

Teach our kids to seek out advice from seniors who know the young men and women in question. Even if that means going to another church to seek these people out. Even if that means restructuring our churches so that our old people get to know our young people. Especially if it means restructuring our churches so that our young people have a motivation to impress our old people.

2) Save troubled marriages

At some point it occurs to everyone that they need counselling.

I think this point occurs between 1 and 5 years after the last counsellable moment is dead and buried.

I don't know what the numbers are, but once the love is gone, receiving counseling is like chewing on sand and washing it down with vinegar. One spouse will probably be all for it, but trying to get the other one to play along at that point is not a recipe for success.

I doubt that counseling is all that medicinal anyway. I was greatly helped by counseling after my divorce, but he really didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. The difference was that I believed him when I could no longer believe myself. In a golden past, one that even our grandparent still remember, people got along just fine without counseling. They had another resource. Wisdom.

We need our old folk to step up to the plate for our middle-agers going through the wringer.

We subdivide our people off into seniors' and parents' and youth groups, and wisdom hardly crosses the divide. I think that when I've got another 20 years under my belt, I might be able to smell a husband with thoughts of leaving on his mind from the foyer to the baptismal! But really, if I don't know him, he'll just smell like another suspicious, cow-licked kid.

We have to give that hoary head with wisdom a chance.

Consider how much easier it is to expose your weaknesses in front of a senior than a peer. Consider how much more likely it is that a senior might know what to say!

Brotherhood and sisterhood are necessary, too. I am not slighting peers helping peers. I might even agree that we have a large weakness in that area. But, if we are weak on our peer to peer relationships, we are crippled in our senior to middle to youth relationships. Most of our seniors have seen the bottom side of life at some point, and learned a thing or two.

After 60 years of fire and flood, the best of them don't panic, don't overreact, and don't underreact.

Someone who's been through fire and high water can handle talk of adultery, despair, and abuse. Someone whose been there might even be able to confront lovingly on any of those subjects.

Too many of us try to figure these big things out alone.

I know I did.

We listen for good sermons, read good books, and keep the Christian radio on, but sermons don't fix marriages. People fix marriages. The Holy Spirit could, but He doesn't. You see, years ago He gave the wisdom the church needs today to those people who meet in room 107, and now He wants them to pull it out of their store houses and share it.

Bring in the gray-heads.

3) Rescue those who fall.

There's some good people out there who are questioning everything. Divorce makes you do that. We "divorced" are a people who have some seriously teachable moments!

But only grace can take advantage of those moments. A person going through that kind of trauma is a moving target. One day they're too depressed to hear anything, and the next they're too bouyed up by a beautiful scripture to hear anything.

On those days, remember the words of some old cowboy somewhere, "Never miss a good chance to keep your mouth shut."

Weep with them. Rejoice with them. Take notes. Take very good notes (on paper if you must) because some day you are going to have a wide open door. You have been weeping and rejoicing with them along the way, so when that day comes, you will know what to say. It will seem like a miracle because you'll know exactly what they needed to hear all along.

We all love to be listened to, but to hear exactly what we need to hear, exactly when we need to hear it, is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

I don't know a divorced person who doesn't want to feel "worth rescuing". Keep reminding them that the Shepherd leaves the 99, and rejoices when He finds that one that was exploring the wilderness.

Oh, and our seniors are really good at this. :-)

Prevention is better than cure, and cure is better than healing, but the church is ideally equipped for all three. We only need to intentionally restructure our churches to allow our people to support each other.

And that requires leadership.

I hope to return to the subject of leadership some time this week.

15 May, 2006

DVC: God strikes back

Yes, I knew it when I posted it. I could not help myself. I knew that you would know it, too, and still I could not stop myself.

It was like I had this insane urge to dowse myself with gasoline, scuff my rubber soled shoes on carpet and say I was cold as I touched the aluminum screen door.

Fortunately, I avoided that. All I did was say I was never going to mention the Da Vinci Code willingly on my site again.


Here we go.

My daughter is pumped about it next week, so I get to see it with her on Monday after opening weekend, and so is my pastor, so I get to hear about it for 2 weeks during the worship service.

All that for the price of one little comment.

But wait! There's more!

Yes, my Thursday night bible study is doing the DVC thing. In some gracious stroke of mercy, they are only doing it for 1/3 of the 12 week session, but I'm sure we'll have covered all the ... uh ... informative stuff by then. The pastor leads this group, and since I actually said out loud 3 weeks ago that I was Da Vinci'd out, he personally asked me to die to self and attend and contribute.

Me and my big mouth.

The odds approach 100% that I will share more of my ... uh ... discoveries with you all here.

I apologize in advance.

Oops. Opened my big mouth in sarcasm again. Now it's going to be profitable. Aaaargghhh! I just know it.

Me and my big mouth.


13 May, 2006

Divorce: Helping a brother through that valley

Only a perfect sacrifice was allowed to be brought to the Lord. Praise the Lord that He came and stood in my place, because I could not even have made an acceptable offering of myself, much less serve Him in holiness. There are things about Kevin Knox that are broken, and those things will never be set right on this side of Jordan. I thank the Father, the Son and the Spirit that He has done everything necessary to save me, a cripple, and am amazed beyond measure - almost beyond belief - that He did it out of burning love and not just out of divine self-obligation.

The two biggest dreams of my life were to be married, and to work in the kingdom of God. The two biggest mistakes I ever made in my life were marrying the wrong woman and joining the wrong church. They both bore their deadly fruit starting on the same day in 1997. I made both of those mistakes because of unique faults deeply engrained in my character. At the time that I chose my wife and my church, I was thrilled because the things that led me to choose them were unique in me, and very "deep." In the naked light of hindsight, the fact that those deeply rooted things were character flaws is clear.

I am solely responsible for my divorce.

God forgive me, I am not ashamed of my conduct over the last nine years, as this thing began brewing and eventually fermented into the bitter cup that I am now drinking. There are still a few dregs left, and may the Lord grant me grace to drink them with an attitude that befits a man who both is redeemed by Christ, and who chose his poison.


In my first post, I tried to talk about marriages in general, and their ends. That will not be true here. One thing you learn in divorce is how unique everyone's story is. If you are reading this, and you have been through a divorce, please forgive me if I say something as fact that was absolutely not true in your case. Please correct me, too. I think the odds are good that I will talk about divorce again in my life, and I do not want to hurt its victims with loose phrases, so don't let me get away with them.


It was in year 10 of our 17 that my wife announced that she was following a new-age guru. Some day I might tell the story of what was going on while she made that announcement, but let's pretend it doesn't matter. I was floored. I confronted her, and forbade her to do this. I was the head of the house, and this was my responsibility to God and to her. Don't get me wrong. I was as kind and understanding as I could be, but I was firm. Right was right, and wrong was wrong, and this guru was wrong. I would not allow this thing in my home.

That was a mistake.

I exercised headship without leadership. Leadership understands that people do things for reasons, and tries to get to those reasons. Extract the root, and the fruit dies too. Misapplied headship can issue orders without understanding. It doesn't have to, but it often does. The things it says are factual, without being edifying.

She even obeyed me, but she bore the damage.

I tell about this day, because that was the day my confusion began. Before that day, I was riding the wave - I had it all. After that day, the wave was trying to throw me under its massive force. Before that day, I was surfing in the sun. After that day, I was trapped on a narrow surfboard, balancing for my life over a million tons of angry water driven by the force of the deep sea's struggle with a distant moon. Nothing had really changed, but suddenly it was all beyond me.

I am something of a coward. That day, I saw the grapes of bitter consequence being squeezed into the cup, and even that the cup was almost full. I knew evil was coming, but I did not know which evil it would be, how I could react, what I could prevent, what I could endure. And ignorance was not blissful.

Along the way to that day in 1997, my opinionated personality had brought a lot of fire down from the church onto my family. My wife was as opinionated as I, but she has vastly more social graces. She would have been fine, but the waves I stirred up kept washing over her. There were many times that she felt I left her hanging out there, unprotected and alone, amongst the wolves of the church. Her resentment toward me was growing.

Over the next two years, My wife and I made discoveries about our church that made it impossible for us to remain. The leader was dishonest, and the church was all about this leader. It took two more years for me to finally accept that this dream was shattered. Those two years took far too long for my wife. She had believed the church to be empty off and on all along, so my slowness to give up on it hurt her. In Jan 1999, we formally pulled out.

In March 1999 we also learned that the church had conspired to cover up a sin against our family that happened years earlier. Any reasonable person can see how deeply my wife was cut that I had brought her into a place that would hurt her so badly, for so long, and that I would still be so hesitant to leave.

[Brother, if you are reading this, and your wife is being hurt by a church, either fight or leave.]

Leaving that church castrated the loftiest dream and goal of my life. Truly, everything I had lived for since I was 17 (1981) was gone. Forever. I could see that everything I had lived for was a lie. It was not just that church that was a lie, but my very dreams were lies. It was the deep wrongness of my dreams that had drawn me to that church in the first place. I had thrown everything away to live a dream that was now exposed as a nightmare.

I was not a lot of fun to live with as I came to grips with these things.

I was officially in the valley, and I had neither map nor compass.

And my wife was done obeying my commands about new-age gurus. She knew that I had put her through 12 years of hell, and she needed something helpful and living. She was pleased to continue with me, and I was pleased to have her, but we were no longer yoked together. We could not be.

We continued in remarkable agreement on politics, child rearing, food, and the hundred other little things that make up daily life. We drifted on values, though. I remained puritanical, while she relaxed. She had conformed to my standards to a large degree over the years. That eroded.

She felt herself to be living with a man who had sacrificed her to a twisted little church, and who was bound up in a repressive morality. She also was living with a man who would not share her joys and excitement as she learned new things every day about what spirituality really was, and how life was meant to be lived.

Beyond all that, I had my fair share of the mortal flaws of any fallen man. She began to take each of them very personally. One day I cooked a gravy. I thought it was fine. Humans would consider it horrible, but I can be pretty flexible on foods. When I served it to her, she exploded. I had not cooked a bad gravy. I had cooked a bad gravy at her.

My point is that she had grievances that were only growing worse. Her discomfort in her own home was growing, and neither of us had any clue where to find relief. All the old truisms were true. We looked happy. Heck. A lot of the time, we were happy. We just weren't yoked together.

We were baffled. We did a lot of fun things together still, but this was the only meaningful thing left between us. We didn't talk about it often. There was not much to be said.

I thought about it every day, pretty much all day. I waited and I prayed. But I offered no leadership. I didn't know how. I got promoted to my first position of leadership just a few months before she left. I have learned things from that position that might have made me able to hold that marriage together, but at the time I was clueless.

Every day, for seven years, my subconscious was fully occupied with the shattering of those two dreams. And my thinking was wholly unprofitable. Nothing I thought contributed anything toward a solution. I imagine it is like being in prison with a sentence of unknown duration. Anything you do will die there in that prison with you. You are not even sure whether there will ever be a reason to draw breath again, but you keep breathing anyway. I kept thinking, hoping, and and praying.

I also have to say that I still enjoyed being married to her during these seven years. We laughed, enjoyed movies, enjoyed lots of little things, and enjoyed each other. The pain in our hearts began to leak out into our lives, but we both disciplined ourselves to keep the unpleasantness to a minimum. We were both very loving, even past the last day. It was easy to enjoy each other.

Many marriages don't die like this. I thank the Lord for this grace given to us. I don't know how I could have survived what many tender people have to survive as their marriage dies. May the Lord have mercy on those whose spouses are not so kind.

I never thought about divorce. It was simply not an option that crossed my mind. I would be released from my prison when one of us died, or when I turned away from the Lord, or when she turned toward Him. (One of those was not an option. :-)

Not thinking about divorce did not help in any way.

[Saint, if divorce might be in your future, think about it. Only a clear eye and a clear mind with wise counsel can hope to heal that which is broken.]

I knew she was thinking about leaving before she did. I brought it up one idyllic day we spent together, and she really did not know it was on her mind. She denied it. That's OK. We had both been denying for a long, long time. What else could she do?

A couple months later, there was a guy from work. She had lived honorably with me, and not violated our covenant, but now it was time for her to move on. She moved from my bed to his, and it was over. Upon my request, we jointly filed for dissolution.

I won't go into "how I took it." If a friend had called me every waking hour of every day to check up on me, and been there for every meal, and for the going to bed alone, and the waking up alone, I would still have gone through it alone. Everyone who goes through a divorce goes through it alone. That's the nature of the beast.

At the time, I was not in a church. I fear that this was a mercy. I don't know that I could have survived being ignored by the people of God. I think it was easier to go through it without hoping for help from a church. I am admittedly a little skittish about the body's gifts in the area of love.

My bosses at work were both blessings to me, and a couple friends from NorCal were there for me whenever I called. In all these nine years, the Lord has been faithful, and I trust that He always will be. Still, I find that it really is harder to believe that the Lord is faithful after seeing my wife walk away. Not because He could have stopped it and didn't, but because lovers leave. I have given Him plenty of reason to leave me, much more than I gave my wife.

[The worst thing you can tell a divorcing person is that the Lord rejects divorce. When He rejects divorce, he rejects them, and they cannot bear that burden right then. It is too much. The Lord hates divorce, but not as a sin - as a tragedy befalling His beloved child. Please, please don't ever turn the Lord against a saint in their mind by your words.]

If divorce comes, write off two years of your life. I was told this by a counselor, and she was right. It takes at least two years to find your feet again. Life becomes a roller coaster of desparate lows and subterranean lows. Their are fleeting moments of laughter, but there is too much confusion for there to be real joy.

[To all you who know how to quote, "the joy of the Lord is my strength", "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice" and "whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are pure, blah, blah, blah, think on these things," I quote you this:
Prov 25:20
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
I did not say this to your face, but I resented those words. They burned like fire. There were two people who endured enough with me to earn the right to encourage me like that, and they didn't have to. They stayed with me until I could see the joy for myself. May the Lord spare you from being given your medicine when your day comes.

Weep with those who weep.]

I have not mentioned the word "disdain" in all this. That is no accident.

Know that disdain was there. May the Lord forgive me that disdain which I poured upon her, and her that which she poured upon me. The Lord will judge which of us is victim, I cannot.

Yes, she left me for another man, so the good book says that I am scot-free. She might say that divorce was her release from 17 years of disdain from me. She might say that far from scot-free, I am the party who brought this all down on her head. I brought her into a marriage promising safety, and instead look what happened to her. May the Lord have mercy on us both. Any debt she owes me is close enough to cancelled by that which I owe her, and I have been forgiven vastly more by my Father than I could ever forgive her. I cannot justify myself. I can only run to the sacrifice of Christ, and wrap myself in the Lambskin.

As I wrote yesterday about "victims" and "perpetrators" I was overwhelmingly aware that only in the rarest case does one party in a divorce not consider himself or herself the victim. The best divorces have two victims in each other's eyes. My ex and I both consider the other to be a victim of this divorce as much as ourselves. It has helped. It has helped the children. (I am not going to talk about children and divorce here, but I can recommend a book.)

[This should be obvious, but I will say it. Don't try to help a victim of divorce by demonizing the partner. Present the facts, by all means, and let them comfort the victim, but insulting the ex does not help.]

I did not equivocate about victims and perpetrators yesterday, because I know that Christ does judge in these cases. Christ does know and believe that there was a perpetrator in our marriage, and a victim or two. He judges truly, and by His death and providence He offers mercy to us.

It is in His judgement that I will find my course laid out before me.

Do you know where I am going yet?

I'll give you a hint.

1 Cor 6
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord's people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord's people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

Will I remarry?

If I were a member of a church that could judge angels and the world, I might know the answer to that question. I hope I would at least know whether a remarriage would be an offense before God. Am I free in my case to consider remarriage or not? The scripture says it is legal for some, and not for others.

If the church cannot judge in this matter with the mercy and wisdom of Christ on earth, it is not worthy of the name "church." A divorce is a dispute that we take before the ungodly for judgement, and try to keep out of the sanctuary as much as possible.

May the Lord spare every divorcing couple from a church that judges without mercy or without wisdom.

I will return to this matter in post #3.

You should give a divorcing/divorced saint the truth. Was that saint a victim? Pronounce blessing and freedom upon him or her. Was that saint a perpetrator? Confront him or her, and command him or her to make right reparations. Lift the cloud of doubt, and let the truth set the captive free.

There were some saints who did this for me. They did not know my wife, so it was hard for me to rest in their judgement, but it helped. I am not confident enough to publish their thoughts here, though.

In the end, the cup of consequences must be drained.

So how can you help a brother?

You cannot save a him from reliving every moment and every decision that brought him to divorce. You cannot save him from the awful loneliness that will be his lot. He earned it, and it is his to experience.
  • You can assure him that his emotions are understandable - appropriate if you will - by weeping with him (figuratively is fine :-).
  • You can assure him that His Lord loves Him the same today and tomorrow as He did the day He marked him off in Christ. God knew and paid for your brother's sins because He loved him, even though He knew that he would make these mistakes, and that this day would come. God still loves him, and always will. God does not retreat or abandon His children - ever. Not for anything. Not for divorce. Not even for failing to handle a divorce well. God doesn't just still love your brother, He is still "in love" with your brother, completely, and committedly.
  • You can tell your brother the truth, and what the truth means. He made mistakes, but nothing to deserve this. Or he has committed a grave injustice against a girl who did not deserve it, and he needs to make it right.
A few of these thoughts have lived in a vacuum, and this is the first time they are seeing the light of day. As such, I know they need refinement. I hope they are profitable to you anyway.

12 May, 2006

Divorce: What Does God Allow?

This post is not a part of the leadership series, but I can hardly talk about preventing divorce without talking about surviving it. I arguably know diddly about the former, and am so far still doing the latter.

There are several things to talk about, and I will do two of them in this one post. The first is my position on the scriptural, legal rules around divorce. The second is how to live through it. The third is how the church should react to divorce.

Update: I have over 2000 words on the scriptural argument around divorce alone, so it looks like this post will only cover the first point.

Is Divorce Legal Before God?

Divorce is not a sin. It just isn't.

Of the divorces I personally witnessed, in every case one person was sinning by causing the divorce, and by not deciding to mortify his/her disdain for the spouse. I have seen cases where both spouses were equally wrong, and cases in which one spouse truly was almost innocent. I have seen cases where the disdaining spouse filed, and cases where the disdained spouse filed.

I always default to respect for the disdained spouse who files. We are such chameleons that it is hard to know who is right and who is lying, but for an abused spouse to file can be the hardest, and the rightest decision they will make in their whole lives.

I know of marriages where staying would have been an affront to God. In those cases, filing might even be a qualification for leadership, not a disqualification.

Once sin has broken the marriage, there is no sin in legally leaving it. There's room for debate about what makes a marriage broken or merely damaged, but Jesus declared that there are times when the marriage is broken.

I have personally known very few Christian remarriages, so my opinions on remarriage are weaker. Jesus made room for remarriage, and I believe that He did so because it is a good thing. The old testament says that remarrying the spouse you divorced after that spouse has been with another mate is an abomination. As such, I tend to believe that remarrying the spouse who divorced you is usually a bad, bad idea.

I am against reconciliation after either spouse has moved on, and will actively counsel against it for 3 reasons. In reverse order of priority: 1) The departing spouse needs to know that there is no road back while they are making their decision. It may give them pause. 2) The scripture says so. 3) The abandoned spouse needs to be able to close that door, paint it over, and know that they are safe. They will never again have to wrestle in that particular pit of alligators. That man or woman is gone, and will never be allowed to get close enough to hurt them that way again. Never.

I will also note that I cannot think of a divorce that I witnessed in which one or both of the spouses did not leave the Lord. That is a hugely significant fact in my mind.

OK. That's my opinion, and I know it's a minority view. For the record, my views on this subject have not substantially changed in over 20 years. My divorce has refined them a little, but not reversed them on any point. Let me lay out the scriptures that took me here.

Matt 5
31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Obviously, this is the biggie.

Before we can look at what these two verses mean, though, I think it is important to pull in some of the context quotes that surround it.

28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.
30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.
34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all:

Estimate the number of times you have heard someone quote the sermon on the mount with regard to divorce, and proclaim with certainty that no one should ever divorce, and even more certainly never remarry. Now, count the number of times you have heard someone recommend gouging out an eye or whacking off a hand. Is there any correspondence?

What can we learn from this?

Someone is slanting this message for some reason.

The verse plainly says that divorce in the case of adultery is legal, and that remarriage is as well. Jesus was tightening the screws on the Pharisees because they thought marriage was a trap from which they needed occasional release. I call a Pharisee to the stand:

Matt 19
1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' [
a] 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' [b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
7 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
10 The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
11 Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others have been made eunuchs; and others have renounced marriage [
c] because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

What God has put together let no man separate, but when it is separated it is not justice, mercy, or wisdom to require a victimized spouse to continue to be victimized. Nor is it just, merciful or wise to require a divorced victim to spend their remaining years alone. God does not treat His children like this.

Sexual immorality tears asunder that which God has joined. I grow frustrated with blatherings about not divorcing for "a one-night stand." I have never seen a divorce over a one-night stand. Divorce is always about disdain, and disdain either flaunts its conquests outside of marriage or protests its disappointments within the marriage. No happy couple could be torn apart by a one-night stand, so why torture the victim of a divorce by questioning whether or not they have been hurt enough to warrant giving up on the marriage? Why do that? They are having a hard enough time wrapping their mind around the fact their life is about to be shredded and used to line a kitty-litter box. Accept that this is not happening because they got bored.

Notice verse 10. The Pharisees were driving this discussion, but when the question gets really touchy, it's Jesus' own disciples who are asking it!

The disciples are appalled that Jesus might ask them to go through their whole lives with just one woman. They would rather be lonely all their lives than risk dying trapped in a marriage to a woman grown inconvenient. This custom of the Pharisees had taken over even the decent men of the day.

So Jesus stands against this type and custom of divorce. He speaks the simple truth. Divorce, excepting for adultery, is a cause of adultery. Divorce in the case of adultery is completely permitted, as is remarriage. The parallel passage in Mark does not mention the exception for adultery. There are those who put great stock in this ommision, but for the life of me I cannot understand why. Whatever. The single sentence quote in Luke from this whole discussion also omits the exception, but Luke omitted 9 other verses of this discussion too. Again, this ommision does not daunt me.

I enjoy the answer of Jesus to His disciples in verse 11. They suggest that they would be happier to live single if they cannot divorce for trivialities. He accepts their magnanimous/sulking offer, and proceeds to tell them how to fulfill their lofty goals. That is good for a healthy chuckle!

1 Cor 7
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

This verse also omits the statement allowing divorce in the case of adultery. Now I begin to sound like a broken record if I say that I don't care whether he forgot it. So, I will look at the verses that Paul references. Remember that he says he is quoting the Lord with this command.

Duet 24
1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

First, and most obvious, God allows divorce. Paul is quoting God's law, but it must be understood in the context of God's law. What God has put together, don't tear asunder, but if it must be torn there is a legal way to do so.

Second, the divorced woman is allowed to marry again, even though she was divorced for a trivial cause (not adultery.) You will note that she is described as, "defiled." It is the fact that she married again without the cause of adultery that makes her defiled, not simply the act of remarrying. Jesus explained this in Matt.


Jer 3
8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.

God gave divorce to us, because He knew that sometimes it's the only answer. He divorces Israel. It was not His preference, but when she tore asunder that which God had joined, He did not sulk forever. God closed the door, and moved on. He divorced her, and opened the way to marry another, a spotless, bride.

The context of Jer 3 is God calling Israel back to reconcile their shattered marriage. That chapter and the passage from 1 Cor 7 both seem to say that I am wrong to resist marital reconciliation. Like I said, I am not as strongly convinced on this subject as I am on divorce, but my opinion is entirely one way.

I offer 2 answers to that objection.
To Jer 3) This is really no argument. God's call to reconcile with Israel failed. Israel would not return to Him, so I take Jer. 3 as proof that I am right. Reconciliation does not work.
To 1 Cor 7) In almost every case of divorce I have ever seen, the departing spouse left the Lord. I heartily believe this is because they never knew Him. Therefore to reconcile with such a spouse is remarrying Christ to Belial. It is better to live alone than to go through that, and better to have bamboo shoots under your nails than to go through it a second time. So, again I am convinced that trying to reconcile after either party has "moved on" is not a good idea.

In the case that a departing spouse were to return whole-heartedly to Christ, I could possibly entertain the thought of not totally opposing the reconciliation. That spouse would have an uphill struggle winning my recommendation, though. I would set my face against him and test him over and again. Forgive him? Sure. Trust him? Let him earn my trust, and it won't be easy. The first clue that he is merely hoping to return to a safe bed, rather than to the Lord, and he's gone.

I probably need to balance some of my pro-divorce rhetoric now. I really am not in favor of it.

Malachi 2
10 Do we not all have one Father [
b]? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another? ... 14 You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
15 Has not the LORD made the two of you one? You belong to him in body and spirit. And why has he made you one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. [
d] So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate it when people clothe themselves with injustice," says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

It is a sin to the wife or husband who is unfaithful. It is God Who is watching, and God Who hates divorce. Such unfaithfulness will not go unpunished.

But must we punish the victims? When we tell them they should live the rest of their years alone, do we do the kind of justice God will commend?

I don't think so.

So, I allow divorce, favor remarriage, and discourage reconciliation after either party has lived with another mate.

May the Lord cover me if I am wrong.

The next post will be a little more personal, and will try to describe the confusion that is a real divorce.

10 May, 2006

Leadership: The Opposite of Denial

Divorce is a strategy employed by mere mortals to find happiness when their current situation seems hopeless.

I say that because it is important to know that divorce is not an irresistible natural disaster. In California (Northern CA, thank you very much) we always knew that an earthquake might be just around the corner. In Louisiana they knew that a hurricane might some day strike. What did we do about it? What could we do about it? When it comes, it comes, so we just live in denial and wish for the evil to stay away. We might even pray ineffectually about it. Everyone had a couple extra gallons of water on hand, but there was nothing to be done except leave, and we wouldn't.

If divorce is a random tragedy that sweeps in on the unsuspecting like a force of nature, with no warning and no hope, then there is nothing to be done. Most people just pray ineffectually, try to act happy, and hope it "misses them."

This is a horrible strategy for a couple, but it also seems to be the church's.

The church teaches us that God will preserve the marriages of His children when they have faith in Him and in His plan. That is to say that they teach the men to be the heads of the family, and then as long as the women submit rightly there can be no divorce. They back this primary tactic up by teaching that divorce is an offense against God so heinous that He will lay aside both parties for life unless they reconcile again. They are probably still saved, but the Lord cannot use such broken vessels.

[Here is where I pretend that you are questioning my observations.]

When was the last time the average American church told its wives to submit? When was the last time the average American church taught the congregation how to know whether their marriage is having normal problems, or is headed for divorce? In my experience, the answers to those questions are, "2 weeks ago" and "never." Your mileage may vary, but if so I doubt it varies by much.

Do you want to know how to tell if your marriage is headed for divorce?

I am a diesel mechanic and programmer, not a marriage expert, so give this all the weight it deserves, but it is pretty easy. The emotion you are looking for is disdain. When one spouse holds the other in disdain, the marriage is dead and just waiting for someone to pull the plug. Anger, rage, jealousy, adultery, addiction, abuse, passive aggression, isolation; all symptoms - all mere contributing factors - flesh wounds, if you will. The fatal blow is disdain.

I don't have this just on my own wisdom. In Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell relates the research of a social scientist around marriage. He taught his graduate students to recognize hundreds of human emotions captured in still photographs, then had them analyze video tapes of 10 minute interactions between couples who were trying to save their marriages. They looked at thousands of frames, one by one, and categorized all the emotions each spouse expressed for even the briefest of moments.

They found that of all the emotions that were expressed in those sessions, one was an almost perfect predictor of divorce. When one spouse showed disdain for the other, even for hundredths of a second at a time, the marriage was likely to end in divorce. As I listened to this story, it described my situation to a Tee. Over the last two years, I have only heard confirmation for that scientist's conclusion.

None of this should be a surprise to a Christian. The opposite of disdain is love - the bond that keeps a marriage healthy.

Anti-I Corinthians 13
4 Disdain is impatient, and harsh. It envies, boasts, and is proud. 5 Disdain willingly dishonors others in public and private, seeks its own benefit, and is easily angered. Disdain remembers every wrong. 6 Disdain delights in evil done toward others, but is discouraged when others win. 7 Disdain expose others, covers its own back, gives up on people, and eventually walks away.

Every little bit of that poison eats away at the tender bond between a man and a woman. The slightest inkling of disdain can set trust back for months. And we are all guilty of it at one time or another, to one degree or another.

Is there any hope for any of us?

Rom 7:25
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Yes! Yes, there is more than hope. There is salvation!

But I cannot give you the formula. (And not just because I failed at it myself.)

You have to find it. You have to fight for it. You have to want it with all your heart, and be willing to search it out. There's no golden prayer followed by an, "Ah-ha!" moment to save a marriage. There's learning how to run patiently the race set before you with wisdom asked for and given by God.

But now you know your enemy.

Can you take this information, and put it to use? Divorce is not a hurricane doomed to make landfall somewhere, but the natural death of a marriage poisoned by disdain. Can you find ways to earn and give respect? Can you draw a line in the sand and no longer accept being treated like a child? Can you serve in obedience, and find that you have learned to love?

The Spirit that lives within you, and the Lord Jesus Who overcame death to bring us abundant life, and the Father Who knows our needs before we even ask, can grant grace to overcome in this struggle. He does grant wisdom to those who ask. And He strengthens the feeble knees. You will not overcome in this struggle by your own strength, but by His.

The first step is that you must dismiss denial. You must be brave enough to stop "wishing" and "hoping" that the hurricane is going to miss you. You must take inventory of your marriage, and learn vigilance for love and against disdain.

If love is the opposite of disdain, leadership is the opposite of denial.

Our marriages need leadership.

  • Leadership uses every tool it can find to get the job done.
  • Denial hopes the problem will go away.
  • Leadership counts the costs of each option, and picks the best one it can.
  • Denial counts the cost of speaking up.
  • Leadership makes mistakes, hurts people by accident, and gets in trouble.
  • Denial has organized, comfortable deck chairs from which to watch the Titanic sink.

It takes courage to lead, even when you are clearly following the Lord, even when the Spirit is enabling your heart. Gideon didn't preside over the deaths of the Midianites without overcoming terrors springing up in his heart. He overcame his fear by faith. Gideon trusted the Lord to do what He had promised.

Remember, though, that Gideon did not just teach his people to put their enemies to flight in the Lord. When the Lord put the Midianites to flight, Gideon led Israel in pursuit of them, captured their leaders, and had them put to death. So it is with disdain in our marriages. When the Lord gives a victory, pursue disdain while it is in retreat, find its root, and cut off its head.

Leaders find the will of the Lord, practical strategies, and courage to implement them. Leaders also make mistakes. It's a risk we have to take, because denial is the more deadly mistake. The wounds of a friend are faithful.

One last thing.

Free our wives to lead. I do not assault headship in the marriage here. Live within the pattern of headship the Lord has delivered to you so far, whatever that might be, but still the woman can exert leadership. She is a helpmeet. The only other Person described as a Helpmeet in scripture is God Himself, and when He is described by that term, He is saving His people from disaster.

Helpmeets are allowed to do that.

Husbands, lead. Wives, lead. Overcome denial with the Truth, and let the Lord teach you practical ways to face the disdain that has slipped into your marriage.

If you do this, the Lord has greater things in store for you even than saving your marriage.

Picking the Next FHC Topic

"Picking," "Announcing," - poTAYTo, poTAHTo.

Actually, I use the word, "picking," to draw out the fact that I'm not sure whether to go forward with part 1. I am hoping for input.

We have talked about the the perfect church, but that was kind of a high level view. (Don't forget DK is doing The Perfect Church right now. He just posted installment #3 of 5.) I am now thinking about the kind of leadership that can make that church happen.

What does it mean to lead in the body of Christ?

Before I get there, though, I know where the path runs; it leads right through the family. Both of the main passages on picking elders start off with an evaluation of the candidate's family.

That is a touchy subject for anyone.

Approaching it as a divorced man with one unbelieving child and another struggling is somewhere between nervy, daunting, and asinine.

But I am not exactly alone in being a divorced believer. I have heard that the church's peformance in this area is statistically the same as the world's, and that the church actually exceeds the norm for society in general in child and spouse abuse. Of course, statistics being somewhat less reputable than damned lies, it is hard to know whether Christians are really doing better than society as a whole. It seems to me that we are not.

Given all that we now know about Rom 8:4, it is impossible that we should be doing so poorly in this critical area. If the Spirit enables us to live out the righteous requirements of the law, then we should all still be married, and happily at that. I'm just not seeing it happening.

So, why not?

Or, should we just say, "It's the fall. Bad things happen to good people. We're not perfect, just forgiven," and walk away? Is there something the church can do to prevent this trend? More weekend retreats? More sermons on submission?

Here's my mind on the subject of whether I should post on something for which I am utterly disqualified:
  • I think we need to talk about this, if we are going to talk about the church. I think we need to talk about what the church is not doing for marriages that allows so many divorces. I think we need to talk about how the church should approach the divorced.
  • I don't know what to say about it. I don't really even have coherent thoughts together yet, though I can sense them at the edges of my vision.
  • If anyone thinks that we should not talk about this, then we will start there.
  • If anyone thinks that we should talk about it, but that I am not the one, then I will ask you to post on your site and I will happily comment over there and shut up over here.
  • If neither of those things happens, then I am going to try to screw up my courage and start a discussion. I will actively admit up front that all of my experience is of failure.
  • I will be writing about other divorced people, not myself, as much as possible to keep the topic from getting too wierd. I post some pretty "out there" stuff about myself, I know, so I think that it would be wise to exercise a little discipline on this one.


Remember, the long term topic is leadership in the church, but before we get there we have to take a longish trip through the family in the church.