A Simple Survey to Help You Make Decisions

Whom should I marry? What career should I pursue? Should I go for more education? Should I take this new job? Where should we raise our children? What house should we buy? What church should we attend? How should we parent our children?

We face a thousand difficult decisions in our life. But how do we know we are making the correct decision?

Here is a simple survey of questions based on James 3 that I use when I make decisions.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. -James 3:13-18

Here are the questions I ask myself:

  1. Which direction would promote good conduct?
  2. What is most meek? What is most quiet, submissive, gentle, and non-aggressive?
  3. Do I have any bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, or personal ambition in either direction?
  4. Where is the source of my reasoning for one way or another? Is it earthly wisdom, unspiritual reasoning, or carnal desires?
  5. Think through the possible outcomes. What direction might lead to disorder? Evil practices?
  6. What is the most pure direction I can go?
  7. What is the most gentle direction I can go?
  8. Have I been open to reason/counsel from others? Or have I only talked to people who might agree with me? When I looked for counsel, have I shared the whole situation, or only enough to get the counsel that I want?
  9. What decision will exemplify the most mercy and good fruit in my life?
  10. Am I impartial? Have I been able to truly step back and examine what is most God-honoring?
  11. Do I sincerely think this is the best decision?

Sometimes all of these questions will be applicable, but other times only a few will be applicable.

The world is ravaged by sin, which is one of the reasons why difficult decisions are difficult. Our own and other’s selfish desires and actions complicate decisions. Sometimes, there only seems to be a wrong way and more wrong way, but other times, there seems to be two right ways. How do enjoy that peace of God as we make difficult decisions in the middle of a sin-ravaged world?

“That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2:2-3

In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In other words, the wisdom we need to make decisions are found in Christ. This means that, in a right relationship with Christ, we find the wisdom that we need to make good decisions.

The first step is to recognize and confess our own sinfulness. In our sinfulness, we not only are self-deceived about right and wrong, but we are living in open rebellion to God, who is our only hope to determine right and wrong. By faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins, we have access to God the Father and to the wealth of knowledge about what is right and wrong. All wisdom is in Christ because through Christ we have access to the God of wisdom.

The struggle is that we lose our way, become distracted, and become numb to God’s wisdom. This grid of questions helps to slice through our sinfulness and self-deception so that we can determine the best decision to make.

We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10

Handling Fights Part 3

In part one and part two, we identified the symptoms of our fights and diagnosed our primary illness as idolatry. Idolatry causes us to worship what is important to us, which affects the way we pray and the way we relate to one another when we don’t get what we want.

The treatment for idolatry is pure confession.

THE TREATMENT: PURE CONFESSION

James 4:6-10 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Our confessions are riddled with insincerity, presumption, and hypocrisy. James knew this, which is why he shows us in these short verses what pure confession looks like. Pure confession always includes genuine sorrow for sin, humility, repentance, and a restoration of the relationship.

  1. Genuine sorrow for sin – In this passage, James tells us that when we confess, we should not be laughing or joyful, but rather sorrowful for our sin and the pain that it caused. If a cheating spouse laughed as they apologized for their sin, there is no way they would be forgiven. If we approach God with a light-hearted, presumptuous, insincere attitude, why would we be forgiven?
  2. Humility – True confession always includes humility. In confession, we willingly expose ourselves and admit our failures to the person we wronged, relying only on their graciousness to forgive us.
  3. Repentance – Confession always includes a genuine desire to make things right. This includes cutting off opportunities to repeat the sin and restitution for the wrongs committed.
  4. Restoration of the relationship – God’s grace is not only available to free you from guilt. He wants you to come close to him in full assurance you are completely forgiven because of Christ.

In one sense, we could be compared to a queen who cheated on her husband-king. In ancient times, a king had the right to execute anyone–even the queen–for basically any reason. For a queen to be unfaithful to her husband would put her life at great risk. However, if she went before her king, bowed before him, confessed whole-heartedly, and ended the relationship with her former lover, the king might restore his queen to his right hand.

In the same way, God gives more grace, but he gives it to humble and broken confessors.

Fights are a Pain in the Hip

A few years ago, I started to struggle with a lot of pain in my knees. It got so bad that I could not stand up for a complete message. If I tried to stay on my feet too long, my hips and ankles would start to bother me also. There were times when I came home, laid on the floor with my legs in the air, and had Janae rotate my leg in order to alleviate some of the pressure.

After going to the doctor, I found out that I had small amounts of extra soft tissue in my knees that were causing chronic inflammation. This led to me compensating in the way I stood and walked, which caused irritation in my hips and ankles also. My entire lower body was thrown out of alignment because of the pain in my knees, which led to multiple other problems. I had surgery to remove the extra soft tissue from my knees and after the swelling went down, I really haven’t had any problems since.

This illustrates our core problem well. Our idolatry is like the syndrome in my knees. When our relationship with God is not where it should be, we feel pain and longing. We were made to worship God by enjoying him forever, and when we don’t worship him like we should, we overcompensate to find joy and pleasure elsewhere. This overcompensation leads us to quarrels and fights with one another because we are not getting what we want. Our quarrels and fights with one another are like the pain in my ankles and hips. They are the direct result of our lack of joy in God and our desire to find joy in idols.

A good doctor would not focus his attention on my hips or my ankles, but on my knees. In the same way, our fights with one another are painful, but that pain is a parable of the separation from God that we face. If we confess our sins to God and he will forgive us.

We need to heal the core problem in our lives by reorienting our lives around God. Only then can the secondary issues of our fights and quarrels be completely resolved. .

Handling Fights Part 1

A few weeks ago, my wife and I had spent an entire day in a low-simmer fight.

It started when I got the perfect vision for a newly renovated patio. I wanted to use an extra pile of blocks we had to extend our patio out from our house. Because we were in a busy season, she did not want to add that to our “to-do” list. Even if she was interested in it, we had very different ideas about the size, location, style, quality, and layout about the patio.

I wish I could say that those kinds of fights are rare in our house. By God’s grace, they are more infrequent than they used to be, but every once in awhile my wife and I will regroup after a fight and ask questions like, “What happened? Why didn’t we let that go? Was that really worth it?”

This study is about the causes of fights, which should help us to avoid these potholes in our relationships.

THE SYMPTOMS: FIGHTS, QUARRELS, DESIRE, AND ANGER

James 4:1-2 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

This is one of the most insightful ideas about humanity that I have learned. Every single human fight is caused by a desire that we do not have fulfilled. That desire does not have to be evil by itself, but when it becomes so important that we are willing to fight to get it, then it is wrong and sinful.

Anyone with children can easily see this point. Kids generally get a long until one child has a toy that the other child wants. Grown ups may not fight over dolls and army men, but we may fight over money, jobs, free time, vacations , house projects, sex, movie choices, etc. Although they are more abstract motivations, we most commonly fight when we do not feel like we are being loved and respected.

Did anyone else come to the middle of verse 2 and say, “Wow, that escalated quickly” (I’ll give you a moment to scroll back up).

Did someone say, “Murrrder?”

We have no records that actual murders were happening in these churches, but many ideas in James correlate to Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5-7 and 23: pride, hypocrisy, the love of money, pure religion, giving to the poor, honesty in oaths, enduring trials well, wisdom, and fights.

Matthew 5:21-22 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

In Jesus’ explanation of God’s law, he shows that it is not enough for us to follow the Ten Commandments in action only, but we also need to follow them in desire and thoughts. Through this passage, we see that although the outcome of anger may look different — whether murder or insults or bitterness — the essence of anger is always the same kind of sin.

In Jesus’ mind, fights are the same as murder because they have the same essential quality of anger, even if their outcome is different. James takes this idea and reminds us that our fights are not merely disagreements, petty squabbles, or personality differences, but they are also transgressions of God’s law.

In the low-simmer fight that I had with my wife over the patio, I preferred a particular layout and size for the patio, but my wife preferred a different layout. I immediately thought that she was selfish for her desires and began to question her motivations. I don’t think I ever completely lashed out at her, but in typical lawyer fashion, I tried to argue my way to my goal. In doing so, I insinuated that she was selfish and didn’t care about my desires. Although we apologized several times throughout the day, I was not sincere and still maintained a willingness to tear her down in order to build up my patio my way.

The primary symptoms listed in the first few verses are fights, quarrels, anger, bitterness, insults, and murder. In the next post, we will examine the secondary symptoms, which finally show us what the true problem is underlying these issues.

The Problems in Marriage

The problems in marriage are not due primarily to the differences in gender, because God intended the genders to fit perfectly with one another (Genesis 2:18-25). However, the differences in the genders can exacerbate sinful tendencies. Have you seen this story floating around the internet?

motorcycle1

Let me kill the humor by over-analyzing it. The truth is, a guy wouldn’t really care if another guy was distant, and a girl would probably be more in tune with another girl’s emotions.

However, the pastor/counselor in me not only sees the differences in gender in this story, but also the unloving tendencies on both sides that caused this to happen. A more considerate attitude or a few simple words from the guy about his motorcycle would have saved the girl hours of doubts, insecurities, and self-pity. A more loving attitude from the wife would not have assumed the worst about her husband, and she would not have brooded over the issue.

These are sinful tendencies. These sinful tendencies infect every relationship. We should not reduce them to amorality by claiming this is the result of the axiom that “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.”

Let me contrast it this way:

Without sin: It does not matter if the girliest girl and the manliest man on earth get married; there would be no fights, no insecurity, and no problems. The relationship would be perfectly loving.

With sin: It does not matter if the man speaks “woman” and the woman speaks “man”, or if the man has read the complete guide to understanding women, or if the woman loves sports, pizza, and sex; there would still be fights, insecurity, and problems. The relationship would still be messed up.

The Biblical Answer

James 4:1-2a What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. 

If I picked up the newest book about marriage at the bookstore, I might mistakenly think that if I only understood my wife, then I could help our marital problems. But my theology informs me that the root of our fights is sin, not misunderstanding. Therefore, if I merely add knowledge about women to my marriage, I will tend to take that knowledge and use it to my advantage, manipulating to get my way.

The Gospel

The good news of the gospel tells us that, although we are terribly sinful to our spouses, our sins cause even more problems in our relationship with God. Our selfishness and pride in our marriages are only a few of the many sins that plague our lives (Romans 3:10). Each of these sins demand God’s justice and punishment (Romans 2:4-5).

The gospel tells us that God sent his Son to die to take our punishment for us, so that we could be forgiven and loved by God. Christ gives us new life and power to turn from our sins and love him. The gospel is intended to right our relationship with God. As we find peace with God and our lives are filled with his love, we are free to have peaceful and loving relationships with others also.

Marriage Makes a Bad God Part Two

I already have discussed how deifying marriage is a major spiritual problem. In this post, we will look at how deifying marriage can have serious affects on your relationship with your current or future spouse.

As I did a little research on marriage and romance to write this post, one of my favorite sayings that I found reflects both the expectations of a true romance and the frustrated disenchantment that came when reality set in.

“My knight in shining armor turned out to be a loser in aluminum foil.”

So many people have experienced this after the honeymoon wore off. Spouses start to reveal their annoying habits, whether that’s chewing with their mouth open or leaving the toilet seat up. A man who looked like a knight in shining armor five years ago now looks like a fat slob wearing aluminum foil. A woman who looked like a dazzling princess five years ago now looks like frazzled mom on the verge of a breakdown. The cold harsh reality that “love doesn’t pay the bills” sets in. Our spouse no longer heals us or fulfills us like we expect they should. When the honeymoon wears off, many relationships go in one of two directions: 1) one or both spouses become frustrated and disenchanted with love and marriage, or 2) one or both spouses look the fulfillment of true love in someone else’s arms.

We expect our spouse to provide us with deep companionship, passionate sex, a fulfilling life, and healing to our wounds. When they are unable to do these things, we grow restless and frustrated. As we try to tell our spouse those desires, something gets lost in translation (from male to female, or female to male), and we end up fighting, distant, and cold.

As usual, the Bible gives profound insights into anthropology. As I argued in part one, we were made to worship, long for, and be healed by God. When we throw off our design by deifying romance, all kinds of things go wrong, including our relationship with our spouse. These frustrations are not easily solved, and they are also symptoms of a much greater problem, our idolatry.

What does idolatry have to do with our relationships? 

“James 4:4-5 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes hims an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.’?” James draws a connection from arguments in verses 1-3 to cheating on God in verses 4-5. Statements like “you adulterous people” and “he yearns jealously” shows us that God desires our love, our hope, our completion, and our lives to be found in him. If we find that hope or completion anywhere else, he considers it cheating on him, and he is jealous for our souls. The foundation of your marriage has to start with a right relationship with God. Our ‘vertical’ relationship must be right before our ‘horizontal’ relationship is right. As we confess this sin and rest in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, our relationship with God is restored, which puts our spouse in their proper place and gives us the power to glorify God in our marriage.

What causes fights in relationships? 

James answers the question in verse 1, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Fights in our marriage are often fights that start in our own soul. We feel the tension between what we expect from our spouse and what we actually get from our spouse. It frustrates our hearts that, even though we hoped love would finally complete and heal us, our “knight in shining armor” or “princess in dazzling dress” is now failing to rescue us.

This battle rages into our hearts until it overflows in our relationship, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Some marriages end tragically in literal murder, but most spouses merely slash with their words, shoot harsh glances, and bury their love until their relationship is cold and dead.

“Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places” 

“You do not have, because you do not ask.” If it were as simple as saying a prayer for our marriage, most marriages would be saved. Many men and women have begged God for their spouse to change, for their relationship to rekindle, and for their spouse to make them feel wanted again. But James adds, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

We turn to God for help, but we are unwilling to examine our expectations. In fact, all we are asking is for God to make our spouse more god-like, so that they will be a better idol.  No matter how good your spouse becomes, they can never be God, they can never heal you, they can never complete you, and they can never love you absolutely. God will not help you continue to make romance and ‘true love’ the hope of your life.

Conclusion

Love and romance are good things. Spouses should try to improve their lives in love for the other person. However, at the same time, we must recognize that our spouses are not infinite, all-powerful, or all-loving. If we expect a god-or-goddess-like spouse, we will always be disappointed, always be frustrated, and always be fighting with our spouse due to unrealized expectations.

Here’s some homework:

  1. What ways have you expected way too much out of love and romance?
  2. Which of your desires has been the cause for recent fights in your marriage?
  3. Consider confessing this sin to God and your spouse.