Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Advice on Courtship

Not too long ago, a lovely young lady wrote me.  She was just beginning a courtship relationship with a young man.  She wanted to know if I had any advice on guidelines for proper courtship.  I have had some first-hand experience with this.  My wife and I courted without really knowing what we were doing at the time.  My oldest daughter courted a young man, is now married, and we are expecting our first grandchild.  My oldest son is in a courtship relationship now.  And with five more daughters and another son, I imagine courtship will be something of a continual exercise at our house.

So here is the advice I shared with this young lady plus an additional thought or two I have had since then:

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  • You will pretty quickly figure out you are crazy about one another. But before you make plans for activities, stop and think about family first. You need to court one another's family as well. When the time comes for you to get married, your family is giving up a daughter. Their time with you is especially precious right now -- even more so if you have been away from home for a while.
  • Work on developing relationships with his parents and siblings even when he is not around. When you get married, you marry one another's family, too. 
  • When my daughter and son-in-law were courting, I asked Donald to always clear plans with me before inviting her to something. That way, if we already had plans to do something as a family, I didn't have to look like the bad guy who had to tell Melody that she needed to go with us instead of doing something with Donald that day. If your young man will clear things with your Dad even before asking you, then it will help him build your father's respect for him and will also help avoid potential conflicts and hurt feelings that can so easily arise during courtship.
  • During the courtship -- prior to engagement -- focus on spiritual unity. This is a great time for the young man to demonstrate his ability to be a spiritual leader. Before you listen to what men will say about different subjects, it would be good to make sure you are both on the same page about what God says. So here's some specific projects you might do together:  
    • Find every verse in Proverbs that deals with finances. Make an outline about what God says about finances.
    • Find every verse in Proverbs that deals with marriage. Make an outline about what God says about marriage.
    • Find every verse in Proverbs that deals with parenting. Make an outline about what God says about parenting and children.
    • Try to not discuss specific details about wedding plans until after you are actually engaged. Otherwise you short-circuit some of the spiritual unity you need to be developing.
    • It is good if you can occasionally have some joint-family activites that involve both families. It helps for your entire family to know his family better -- that helps them to better get to know your beau.
    • Younger siblings often struggle during this time. They perceive that they are losing a brother or sister who is their best friend. So spend time cultivating your relationships with your own siblings -- strengthen those relationships as much as possible before you are married.
    • Journal what you are doing and thinking during this time. It will be a treasured memory and may allow you to give insight to others in the future.
    • Over-communicate. The devil loves to interfere with courtship by having problems arise through missed communications. NEVER DEAL WITH CONFLICTS IN WRITING (EMAIL, LETTERS, ETC.). Conflict will arise as families are adjusting to new situations. Make sure these are discussed in person when possible, on the phone when not possible -- but never in writing. Written words can stay around for a long time to hurt. The more you communicate with everyone, the less likely there will be problems.
    • Daily pray (together) over your courtship. Ask God to put a hedge around it and to make Himself known in the midst of it. Journal how God provides specific answers to prayer. One of the surest confirmations that a courtship is right -- outside of mutual parental approval -- is to see that God is working out the details of your lives together and answering specific prayers.
    • Be careful about your physical proximity to one another. There are actually two reasons for this.
      • Being too close together -- particularly if unchaperoned -- can present real temptations to both the young man and the young woman that could result in a loss of focus on spiritual priorities.  It could lead to physical intimacy that violates the spirit of courtship.  Worse yet, it could lead to loss of sexual purity prior to marriage.  My daughter and her husband practiced a "Bible's distance" between them when courting.  They derived the standard from another family that practiced the same thing. Watching my son-in-law practice this during courtship led me to have a great appreciation for his self-control and personal discipline.  It caused me to respect him all that much more.  I know that my daughter will enjoy the blessings of the life lived with a man who understands the principles of moderation and self-control and that she will only grow to respect him more as time goes on.
      • Each of us has a "personal zone" of intimacy that extends about 24 to 30 inches away from our bodies.  People enter the zone because they have something intimate to give to us.  Perhaps they lean in close to tell us the secret, or to give us a hug or a kiss.  Some of us have the zones that extend further out than others.  However, we are all aware of the personal zone around other people.  If a young man and woman are seen together in public as being inside one another's personal zone, it often makes others feel uncomfortable -- as though they are witnessing a level of intimacy to which they should not be privy.  For that reason the concept of personal space in is especially important when in public.  People are watching young couples who court to see if courtship really works and if it is really different at all from dating.
      • When I see a young couple inside one another's personal space, with eyes locked upon one another, and the young lady's hands on the young man's jacket (or the young man's hand and the young lady shoulder), I feel I am witnessing something private and intimate between two people that should not be in front of me.  Public displays of intimacy and affection often make others around the couple feel uncomfortable.  Also, young couples who believe in courtship need to embrace a set of godly standards for their behavior so that younger adults and children around them and have a good example of deportment that they can follow in the future.  (I have had many people tell me that my daughter and her husband encouraged them by the example they set during courtship.)
      • Remember that we are not to place a stumbling block before other Christians.  If other young couples are less spiritual or are less committed to courtship, your behavior should not be anything that could cause them to stumble into compromise or moral failure.
      • The question should be this: If Jesus were in the room right now with me and the one I am courting, how would my behavior change?  Let that be a constant guide to you.
    • Set a reasonable curfew for conversations.
      • It is true that the devil loves darkness.  There is nothing that can be said after 11:00 PM between a courting couple they could not have been said prior to that time.  In fact, since courtship is supposed to focus on spiritual activities (followed by planning for a life together during the engagement phase), it is usually counterproductive to a couple's spiritual growth to engage in intimate conversation so late at night -- just before going to bed.
      • While you are still at home, your family relationships are paramount.  Make sure you get off the phone with the one you are courting early enough that you can say goodnight to your siblings -- hopefully after having some time for conversation or prayer with them.
      • Ask your parents what they think an appropriate time boundary is for speaking to the one you are courting, and honor their wishes in this matter.  This will bring you the blessing of God.
    • Determine when it is appropriate to initiate a conversation. Be sensitive to cultural differences between families.
      • Times have changed, but I do not always change with the times.  When I was fourteen, my father made me break up with my girlfriend because she would call me several times each day.  He said that it was inappropriate for young lady to call a young man.  This broke my heart, but I now realize that he was wise.  This young lady was emotionally needy because she did not have a good relationship with her father.  She needed to work on that relationship so that she could have a more effective relationship with her future husband.  Also, she should not have been giving her heart to first one guy and then another at so young an age as sixteen.
        • I have maintained the old-fashioned belief that the man is the one who should initiate communications, rather than the young lady.  In general, I believe God designed a man to be the initiator of the relationship.  The apostle Paul tells us that marriage between a husband and wife is an analogous relationship to that between Jesus Christ and his church.  Jesus initiated the relationship.  He sought out sinners -- sinners did not seek out Christ.  In fact, Jesus made it plain that no one would come to the Father unless the Holy Spirit of God drew them.  Even in the wedding ceremony, the man always enters the auditorium first to symbolize the fact that he is the initiator of the relationship.  It is men who are supposed to propose to the women.
        • I do not know that this principle was recorded anywhere, nor do I have a chapter and verse of Scripture for the same.  But whenever I hear a young woman calling a young man, I perceive her as being in pursuit of the young man -- rather than his being in pursuit of her.  Now obviously, after marriage a wife often hands need to talk to her husband numerous times each day and it is perfectly appropriate for her to call him.  However, during courtship it seems to me that a young lady calling a young man puts her in the position of the pursuer -- the position that I believe God designed for the young man.
        • I did not communicate this concept to my daughter, but she seemed honor it intuitively.  She wanted the young man who was courting her to initiate communications and to call her.  She would only call Donald when I instructed her to call him for a specific purpose.  Otherwise, she would wait until he called her.  If he was working late he might actually miss a call one night.
      • However, my main point here is not whether it is appropriate for young lady to call or not.  I certainly have no verse or scripture that says it is a sin for her to do so.  And perhaps, in her family, it is a perfectly acceptable activity.  The real point is this -- you need to be sensitive to cultural differences between families and not do those things which would cause them to perceive you unfavorably.  So if that family would think it inappropriate for you to call, then you should make other arrangements for communicating with the one you are courting.  For example, you could call him earlier in the day when he was not with his family.  Or you could send a signal -- perhaps a single ring on his phone followed by your hanging up -- to let him know that you are at home and near your phone whenever he has a moment to call.  Or you can set up a scheduled time for him to call and know that if he does not call by certain time, he will call the next morning.
      • This requires that you ask the one you are courting if his family has expressed any concerns or adheres to any standards of which you are unaware.  By being sensitive to the fact that your families have cultural differences, you can improve your relationships with his family and avoid unnecessary irritations.
    • Never assume that the young man you are courting has properly communicated with his family about planned or scheduled activities.  Young men are often busy with their jobs and other social relationships and failed to communicate to their parents adequately.  It is always appropriate when your family is extending an invitation for the young man to come and do something for you to communicate that imitation and the details around it to the family of your beau.
    • Do not forget to focus attention on the young man's family.  It is easy to get so wrapped up in one another, that you forget the purpose of courtship is also to get to know one another's families.  If you go sometime without communicating with them, they may feel as if your future relationship to them is no longer important.  Constantly cultivate your relationship with his family.  It will make future Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners so much more enjoyable.
    While these tidbits of advice were given to a young lady, you can take almost every point and apply them to a young man who is courting a young lady. 

    As a parent, I would like to offer one final observation.  One of the goals of courtship is to secure the blessing of both sets of parents for your marriage.  Parents are not perfect.  They do not always have reasons for things that you will understand.  But you should honor them.  There is an interesting story in the book of Genesis.  Abraham took his only son Isaac -- who was about twenty years old at the time -- to Mount Moriah where they would build an altar and worship God.  Unbeknownst to Isaac, God had told Abraham to sacrifice his only son on the altar they would build.  On the way up the mountain, Isaac bore the wood for burning the sacrifice on his own back.  At some point during the journey, he asked his father, "where is the animal we will sacrifice?" Abraham replied, "The Lord will provide a sacrifice." After they had constructed an altar on top of Mount Moriah, Isaac put the wood on top of the altar.  Then Abraham ordered his son to lay upon the altar where his father bound him with cord.

    Surely Isaac understood as he lay upon the altar ritually bound with cords, that he was the intended sacrifice.  The fascinating detail about the story is in what the Bible does not say.  The Bible does not record that he questioned his father, or his methods or motives.  He simply obeyed.  The Bible does tell us in the New Testament that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac up from the dead again after he offered his son as a sacrifice.  But we do not really know what went on in the mind of Isaac.  He simply obeyed.  If you are courting, let me encourage you -- to the greatest degree possible -- to honor the wishes of your parents with respect to the standards of your courtship.  It may be that your parents do not really care about how you conduct your courtship.  Or it may be that they have very definite feelings on a number of topics surrounding your courtship -- some of which they may have developed due to their own premarital experience.

    There is a great temptation when you are courting to say in your spirit, "I am an adult now.  I have my own job.  I am starting my own family.  I am going to do this my way."  However, you risk damaging relationships that you should be able to enjoy for the rest of your married life.  Moreover, as we honor our parents, we get the blessing of God.  In fact, the first commandment that ever carried with it a promise was the commandment to honor your parents.  Consider carefully whether yielding a few personal freedoms or adhering to a few standards -- even if they do not make sense to you -- is worth receiving the blessings of God and the blessings of your parents toward your future marriage.  Your attitude during courtship will affect the attitude of your family and the family of the one you are courting.  Consider carefully your response to issues that arise.  A wrong response can lend a parent in ways more deeply than you can imagine.

    May God move upon the hearts of more young people to adopt courtship rather than dating as their preparation for marriage.  May God help young courting couples to build lasting ties to their families and serve as a lasting example of godliness and righteousness to others.

    To you parents with children of courtship age, let me encourage you to love your children unconditionally -- even during the inevitable conflicts that will arise during the process of courtship.  If you love your children, giving them up to someone else will be the hardest thing you ever get to do as a parent.  They are essentially taking their hearts -- which you have worked so hard to win and to keep -- and giving them to someone else.  In one day, you will go from HERO to ZERO.  In one day, you can go from their very best friend to someone they will probably never even call unless it is a special occasion or they have a particular problem.  I have never jumped off a cliff into the ocean, but I think I know how it feels.  Our family has been unusually blessed with the addition of my new son Donald.  And I know we will experience a similar blessing with a young lady who will become my new daughter.  But while you gain these blessings, you are giving up others.  So my heart goes out to you.  You will undoubtedly experienced some hurts, some disappointments, and some frustrations during this time.  Give your expectations to the Lord and your love to your children.  Try to let your children leave home without slamming the door behind them.  And pray like crazy!


      Beauty That Lasts

      I have seen marriages that run the gamut this week.  On one extreme, I listened to a beautiful woman tell me that her husband no longer wanted her.  I first thought, "This guy is an idiot."

      Today, I spent nearly 2 hours with a man at the side of a hospital bed where his wife lay.  She only weighs 80 pounds now.  I was able to wake her long enough to have about a three minute conversation with her.  She will soon be going home to Jesus.  If by some miracle, she were able to live another five months, this couple will be able to celebrate their 59th anniversary.  When he first saw her nearly 61 years ago, he knew instantly that this was the woman he wanted to marry.  And the first time she saw him, she had the same feeling about him.  You do not hear about too many "love at first sight" relationships -- especially ones that last nearly six decades.  But this one has.  The husband showed me pictures of his wife from sixty years ago.  He spoke of how beautiful she was then.  But the remarkable thing is that to him she is still just as beautiful even now -- at age 82.

      I have to agree with him.  This godly woman taught several of my children in Sunday school.  In fact, she taught hundreds of young children during her thirty-eight years as a Sunday school teacher.  There is no telling how many children came to know Jesus Christ because of this dear woman.  I have always known her to be grateful, loving, concerned for others, having a good sense of humor, and consumed with love for her husband.  She saw him off to work every morning at the front door.  She would raise the garage door every night at just the moment when her husband got home.  This man was blessed to have a wife that loved him so deeply and consistently.

      This last year I had the opportunity of seeing some people at a meeting that I had not seen for twenty or twenty-five years.  It was amazing how old they had all become!  Actually, the reality is that time (and children) takes its toll on our figures, our hairline, our hair color, our skin, and our energy levels.

      My wife and I both would like to lose some weight this year.  My hair has all turned gray or silver.  That actually does not bother me.  What bothers me is how wavy my hair has become -- it just waves goodbye every time I wash it or brush it!  Someday soon my head will resemble heaven -- a bright and shining place with no parting there!

      Whenever I see pictures of my wife from thirty years ago, I am still stunned that anyone so beautiful would even give me the time of day.  And she is still beautiful to me and to others.  I think that marriage must have been kinder to her than it was to me...

      I wonder sometimes what she will look like to me when she is sixty or seventy or eighty.  However, after my visit today I am quite confident that she will be as beautiful as ever -- even thirty years from now.  Our world has taught us to focus on the outward physical aspects.  We are told to buy the right cosmetics, have Botox injections, give in to plastic surgery, buy the latest fitness machine, and take a vast array of vitamins, minerals, and herbs -- just to remain good-looking.  But sooner or later time catches up with all of us.  So how do you keep looking at your spouse and admiring her, when there are younger, beautiful women in every direction?

      Learn to thank God for your sweet wife.  When I look at my bride, here are some of the things that I remember:
      • God picked out Judy for me and made it plain to me that she was His will for my life.  He went to great extremes to prove to me that I was to marry this woman.  In fact, I knew I was supposed to marry her before I was even sure that I liked her.  So Judy is beautiful because she is God's will for my life and His greatest present -- other than Jesus Christ -- to me.  Even if you do not share a similar experience, it is God's will for you to stay married to the woman who is now your wife.
      • Judy completes me in a way no other woman could.  She understands how I think and complements my weaknesses with her strengths.  I could be happy staying in my office with my books and computer.  But she is a people person.  I tend to hold onto things tightly.  She is a giver.  I thank God for a wife who truly is my help-meet and completes me so perfectly.
      • Judy is my best friend.  She knows me better than anyone else on the planet -- yet she stubbornly continues to love me anyway.  She knows my weaknesses, she has put up with my failures, she has borne the brunt of my frustrations and hurts -- but she still would rather be with me than anyone else.  When I travel, I hate to eat out at a restaurant because my best friend is not there to talk with me.  When I return home, I am always glad to see the children -- but I am desperate to have my wife to myself.  I can tell her anything and she still loves me.
      • Judy is an amazing mother.  I grew up with an amazing mother -- a single mom that made ends meet, gave me opportunities, invested her life in me, and overcame every hardship that came her way.  So I know an amazing mother when I see one.  But Judy blows me away.  She loves her children so much and has a heart so big that she could love another twenty children and make every one of them feel like they were special.  Judy makes do with a small grocery budget and a large family.  She finds beautiful clothes and outfits for her and the children to wear but spends very little money on these things.
      • Judy has forgiven me more times than I can count.  She wisely appeals my bad decisions but also recognizes God's authority structure in the home.
      • Unlike most women, she does not worry.  Whenever there is a crisis or need facing our family, she just expresses her confidence that God and her husband will work everything out.
      • Judy desires truth and accuracy and openness about everything.  She will not tolerate hypocrisy.
      I am grateful that my wife is still such a physically attractive woman.  But I have grown to appreciate far more about her.  She is the most intelligent, talented, caring, and forgiving woman that I have ever known.  God does indeed give the best  to those who leave the choices to Him.

      Men, I challenge you to sit down and make a list of all the things in your wife's character and actions that you appreciate -- that are beautiful to you.  Then sit down across the table from her, hold both her hands, look into her eyes, and share your list with her.  Let her know why she is still gorgeous.  Keep this list where you can find it.  Look at it often, and review it.  And spend some portion of every day thanking God for the special woman who puts up with you.  As you do so, her beauty will grow in your eyes every day.

      May we all reach the day when we will have been married sixty years and still speak of our wife's beauty and preciousness.  May we all truly come to appreciate the beauty that comes from within -- the beauty that lasts.

      Monday, January 18, 2010

      Guys looking for fulfillment in the wrong places

      Have you ever thought about the moment in history where one half of mankind had fallen in sin, but the other half had not?  Think back to the story in Genesis 3 with me.

      "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat."

      Now there is a whole host of truths in this passage that I would love to have time to explain. But I just want you to notice two details of the story.  First of all, while Eve was being tempted by the Devil, Adam was standing right there with her.  I never really saw the story that way when I was growing up.  I figured that Eve was by herself when the serpent spoke to her and that she gave something to Adam to eat when he came along later.  But verse 6 says, "gave also unto her husband WITH her."

      So while Lucifer was telling his lies to Eve, Adam was right there hearing the whole thing.  So why did he not stop it?  Apparently, he was a bit captivated by the devil's promise of something that he did not yet have.  I can imagine him watching Eve taking a bite of the forbidden fruit.  God had told Adam that in the day Adam ate of the fruit from that tree, that he would die.  But suddenly, here is another human being that Adam figures can be a guinea pig to test what God had said.  Eve ate the forbidden fruit, but kept breathing.

      [Now the truth is that God really did kill Adam and Eve after the ate the fruit.  They did not die in their bodies that day.  However, they died in their spirits -- that part of their beings they communicated with God.  Since that day, everyone born on the Earth was born with a dead spirit.  You never have to teach a child how to lie, or steal, or be selfish -- these are the fruits of a dead spirit.  The only hope for any of us is to receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior so that His Holy Spirit can come and live within us -- thereby making us live.]

      So Eve eats the fruit which will separate her from God.  Adam watches for moment and Eve is still breathing.  Perhaps he does not yet understand what has just happened to her spirit.  The husband is supposed to protect his wife, but many men allow otherwise to take risks and suffer potential hurts before they will step to the plate and become a spiritual leader in their families.

      Adam is now confronted with a choice.  He can either obey God or he can do what his wife has just done -- joining her in whatever future she has.  So his choice is between God and the woman.  And we all know what choice he made.  He chose the woman.

      God designed man with a need to have fellowship with Him.  And yet, Adam chose the woman over his relationship with God.  Men have been making the same mistake ever since.  They look for fulfillment from the female gender.

      I have known of many men who damaged or even lost their families through an addiction to pornography and sexual sin.  If you can never talk to one of these men about their sin, you will discover that they feel helpless to do anything about it.  They simply say, "I can't help myself."  The three most addictive sins -- and the three most damaging -- are pornography, gambling, and bitterness (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- 1 John 2:15-16).

      Jesus had to die on a cross naked -- so that our sins which were placed on Him would have no place to hide.  Sexual addictions can only be overcome by public confession and by frank admission to our families and those who have been hurt by those sins.  I am thankful for the ministry of Paul and Jenny Speed (www.paulspeed.com and http://www.witministries.com) who are helping many men overcome these addictions.

      As a pastor, I have had opportunities to listen to beautiful, godly women who have portrayed a meek and quiet spirit in their marriage weep as they tell me how their husbands sexual addictions are destroying their marriage and family.  I wonder how a man could leave such a beautiful woman and his own children just for the sake of pursuing sexual sins which can never satisfy him.  What is it that would make a man do such a brain-damaged thing?  My initial gut response is to want to string these men up by their toenails and beat them about the head and shoulders with a baseball bat until I knock some sense into them.  (My reactions to problems as a pastor are not always immediately spiritual.)

      But I do understand the basis of their problem.  It is an inherited tendency in men to look for fulfillment from women.  However, when a woman does not meet every need in a man's life, he thinks the answer is another woman -- be it an illicit affair with the woman in his department at work, or a video chat with a woman over the Internet.  These things can bring some temporary excitement, but they too will leave him empty and looking again.

      Years ago, there was an ad for a particular brand of cigarette in a magazine and its motto was, "the one that really satisfies."  If that were true, a person would smoke one of those cigarettes and never want another one -- because they would have been satisfied.  But cigarettes do not satisfy.  They make you want more.  In the same way, sexual temptation leads a man into the illusion that he will find something which will satisfy him.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Instead, he is led further down the path to addiction and bondage.

      Now Paul Speed can give a lot better counsel than I can about how to overcome sexual addictions.  But let me give one tip to help other men prevent falling into those sinful habits which will destroy their families and futures.  Guys, find your satisfaction in a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ.  Spend time with Him daily.  Meditate on His Word.  Worship Him.  Praise Him.  Talk about Him to others.  Make Him the source of joy for your life.  Adam failed because he chose a woman over God.  Most men go through their entire lives never quite satisfied with the wife they have.  They may put on a good game face, and then secretly look at every attractive woman that comes their way and evaluate them as a potential conquest.  Why?  Because these men have not learned that the only true satisfaction in life comes from intimate fellowship with our Heavenly Father.

      So guys, let us be real here.  Looking at porn on the Internet will never satisfy.  Watching a racy movie is not going to bring this fulfillment.  Having a one-on-one lunch with a female coworker that nobody else knows about will not fill a need so that the need goes away.  In fact, any of these activities not only will fail to satisfy you, they will leave you with a greater dissatisfaction.  And they will also lower your self esteem.  Why?  Because a real man does not need to do these things.

      Someone once asked Charlton Heston what he thought his definition of a great lover was.  This tall, handsome, and commanding actor -- someone who surely could have had any beautiful actress in Hollywood at his side -- gave a fascinating response.  He said, "A man is a good lover if he can satisfy one woman for her entire life and if he can be satisfied by that one woman for his entire life."  A real man commits himself to his wife for a lifetime and remains faithful in that commitment.  He realizes that lusting after a woman is the same thing as committing adultery with her -- that IS what Jesus said.  A real man develops disciplines in his life that put his relationship with God first and look to God for meaning, for purpose, for direction, and for fulfillment.  Are you a real man?  May God help us to be real men!

      I am reminded of two Dave Ramsey quotes.  He applied them to finances, but they also apply to the subject at hand:
      • "Children do what feels good.  Adults devise a plan and follow it." -- If you were just living for what feels good, you are not an adult; you are not a real man. God's plan for you is to be faithful to your marriage covenant; follow that!
      • "When you do stupid, you are reap desperate!" Looking at pornography or having an affair is just plain stupid.  And while you may get away with it for a short time, "be sure your sin will find you out." you will reap desperation, when you have lost the esteem of your family, when you are in divorce court, when you cannot make your child support payments, and when your children grow up hating you because you destroy their family.  Think about it.
      Decide to be a real man.  Decide to be faithful to your wife or your fiancĂ©e.  Decide to put God first -- and quit looking for another woman to fulfill you.  Quit being a child that pursues the next good feeling; be a man, and live out the commitments you made.  Be faithful to God and be faithful to the one woman he gave to you.
      May God help me to do the same.

      Am I really hearing what I am supposed to?

      I had one of those moments this weekend that they never tell you about when you first become a father.  My fourteen-year-old daughter has inclinations toward being either a veterinarian, a nurse, or a midwife.  In one of her "medical moments" she decided to inspect the ears of her little brother with a flashlight.  Upon seeing a strange green glow, she brought my youngest son into my office and declared that there was something green glowing in his ear.  I took the flashlight from her -- mustering up the four years experience that I had working in a hospital -- and looked into my son's ear to see a glowing green Airsoft BB lodged deeply in my son's ear canal.

      I debated for a few moments how to extract it.  I took a pair of pliers and made a small hook on the end of a paperclip but quickly realized that my depth perception was not good enough to know exactly how far the paperclip would be inserted in the ear canal -- so I abandoned that method.  I sent another sister looking for a long pair of tweezers, but suspected I would have the same problem there. Finally, I use a large bulb syringe filled with water and after about four attempts was able to flush the Airsoft BB from my son's ear.

      The fascinating thing is that my son had no remembrance of putting an Airsoft BB in his ear, or having ever been shot in his ear.  The Airsoft BB was covered in a small amount of wax -- indicating that it had been hidden in his ear for a while.  So we have no way of knowing how long he has been going around with this Airsoft BB lodged in his ear canal.  After removing it from his ear, he later commented that he was hearing better than he had heard in a while.

      Now from the ridiculous to the profound... am I really hearing what I am supposed to be hearing?  Has God been trying to speak to me, but something is blocking my ability to hear Him?  I have often heard young men say that they really cannot hear God telling them what to do with regards to a decision about their future.  I have wondered privately whether there was something in their lives that prevented them from hearing the voice of God.  But we do not just need to hear the voice of God during times of major decisions.  We should be listening to Him all the time.  But it only takes a little thing to block our spiritual hearing.

      Are there any spiritual Airsoft BBs in your life?  Does work demand your attention each day before you spend any time in the word of God? Have you already determined your future plans without checking with God?  After a day of coping with the mundane or accomplishing the impossible, do you find yourself just needing to relax for a few moments with a movie or sitcom?  Or do you do something good -- like spending time with your family -- but ignore spending time with the most important member of your family -- your Heavenly Father?  It only takes a little stubbornness, a little pride, a little lust, a little greed, or a little selfishness to stop up our spiritual hearing and prevent us from hearing the voice of God.

      So what is the cure?  The best thing is to stop and take time to flush out our spiritual hearing with the water of the Word of God.  Listen to it, read it, think about it, and chew on it.  Let it become a part of you.

      This is easier said than done -- especially when you are a busy man, perhaps working two jobs.  Here are some suggestions that may help others of you that live life in the fast lane:
      • Remember that you will get more done each day if you do the important things first.  Make reading God's Word and praying about what you find there your first priority each morning.  If you put it off until the evening, it will likely go undone.
      • Listen to the Bible in audio.  I have it loaded on my Blackberry phone, and can also play it from iTunes.  This gives me an opportunity to listen to the word of God in "stolen moments."  Last week, I had to sit for more than an hour in the waiting room of an automotive repair shop.  I plugged in my headphones and listened to the Bible from my Blackberry.  When I am straightening my desk at home, is a great time to listen to the Bible, Focus on the Family, or good solid Bible teaching from a great preacher.  While I am going back and forth in my office, shredding documents, putting books back on the bookshelf, clearing papers from my desk, and paying bills, my soul is still being fed with rich spiritual treasures.
      • Have an accountability partner who will ask you about your devotional life.  The devil is not worried about Christians who are consistently inconsistent in their devotions.  But it terrifies him when a Christian develops solid spiritual habits and begins to hear from the Lord on a regular basis.  May God grant us all the grace to strike terror in the minds of demons.
      • If a church near you has Faith Bible Institute, enroll!  The homework assignments will give you a plan for your devotional time as well as some accountability to keep it.  And it would be difficult for you to find better quality Bible teaching anywhere.    Check it out at http://www.faithbibleinstitute.com/Faith_Bible_Institute/Home.html.