In Praise of Female Pastors Part I: The Call

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People have been discriminated against for centuries based on their gender, skin color, preferences, socioeconomic status and abilities. Although clear and measurable progress is duly noted, it is unlikely (in my opinion) that discrimination on all levels will be abolished until Jesus returns and the first heaven and the first earth have passed away (Revelation 21:1). Until those events occur, my desire is to share what I  learn based on my education, experiences and Bible studies. The longing of my heart is to “set the captives free” (Isaiah 61:1).

I recently read two new books (titles and authors views will be shared in a later post) that I feel perfectly articulate what I have sensed in my soul for so long, but have been unable to verbalize. Both of these books affirm women in church leadership. The reason this material is so dear to me is obvious (if you know me): I am an ordained minister in the Nazarene church. I am also a licensed counselor and I find the two roles impossible to separate. I am a shepherd. What does a shepherd do? A shepherd cares for and feeds the flock of Jesus. I have been educated and trained in all kinds of counseling theories and techniques, but the Holy Spirit is the True Counselor (John 14:16) and He lives inside of me, enabling me to care for the flock.

I have never felt discriminated against, until I became a pastor. At times I am given the “cold shoulder,”  when I share that I am an ordained minister. Through my interactions with other Christians (mostly outside of my denomination), I receive comments such as “What’s the point of that?” and “Oh…” with a confused look, or I am simply ignored.

A few years ago, the pastor of a community church (where my children happen to attend school) held a luncheon with a motivating message for local pastors. The secretary called me because we knew one another; she wondered if I would extend a verbal invitation to the male pastors at my church. Since I was serving as an Associate Pastor alongside those brothers, I asked her if I was invited as well, to which she nervously responded “Oh, I’ll have to ask.” Sometimes I feel the church is the only place where you can still discriminate against women and not get into trouble.

These interactions have been hurtful to say the least, so most of the time I don’t even tell people that I am a pastor until I know them better. However, God has revealed to me that I have erred in hiding my calling. My education has been endorsed by an accredited university, my doctrine is sound, my understanding of Scripture is solid, my teaching and preaching gifts have been affirmed by those in leadership over me and appreciated by those who have learned from me. My call has been acknowledged by my denomination and sealed in an ordination service in Black Mountain, North Carolina on June 7, 2013. I have entered into a sacred covenant with God to teach his word at all times and I will endeavor to do so with excellence.

I have a burden to share a series of posts that I believe are liberating. I invite you on this journey with me as I write this four part series. I will share with you what I have learned from some amazing authors and women of God, the Holy Spirit and a proper exegesis of Scripture.

 

10 Signs Your Spouse Might be Cheating

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Current infidelity statistics reveal that in over one-third of marriages, one or both partners admitted to an extramarital affair. This number might actually be low because affairs are under reported. Other research estimates indicate that nearly 60% of all individuals will engage in an affair at some point during the marriage.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I do a lot of affair recovery work. My clients have taught me that sometimes there are obvious signs that the faithful spouse misses and sometimes there are no signs at all, because (sadly) some folks are just that good at compartmentalizing. The signs below are not meant to represent an exhaustive list and if present, may not necessarily mean your spouse is cheating. Every relationship is unique and you will have to discover the truth for yourself in your own situation.

  1. Emotional Distance is a huge clue that something may be wrong in your relationship. It’s hard to be emotionally invested in two people at the same time so the guilty partner creates space. The emotional distance works to create a shield that protects them from discovery. If you notice conversations becoming more superficial and your spouse withdrawing more and even becoming secretive, it could be because he/she is growing closer to someone else.
  2. Critical Attitude over the things that never bothered your spouse before such as your weight, wardrobe choices, not having things in common, the way you clean the house or cook, your appearance or even your sexual preferences and zeal between the sheets. Being unfaithful creates a lot of tension and requires the guilty party to focus on the negative aspects in the marriage. In a way, having a critical attitude helps the guilty partner justify their decision to continue their extramarital liaison.
  3. Guilt drives behavior changes. Most people cannot handle the guilt of cheating, so they respond by either showering the unassuming spouse with gifts, attention and affection or they withdraw. They may avoid eye contact and communication efforts aimed at explaining their behavioral changes. The guilty mate may pick fights, especially when the faithful spouse does something nice because it creates mixed emotions and forces the cheater to think about their actions.
  4. Grooming improves during an affair. The cheating partner may suddenly pay closer attention to their looks, change fragrances or begin wearing a fragrance, purchase a gym membership, a new wardrobe or lose weight.
  5. Evasive or unreachable when he/she used to be accessible. Text messages are not given priority and phone calls are not answered or returned. “Client meetings,” “projects” and “business trips” increase with a hyper focus placed on work responsibilities while at home.
  6. Defensiveness is a form of self-preservation. It is a way to blame your partner and says, “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault.” Defensiveness when attempting to address suspicions or making an observation about recent behavioral changes can be an effort to hide an affair.
  7. Blaming the faithful spouse for all the marriage problems and only seeing the marital relationship in negative terms. Often the infidel will flip the script and begin keeping tabs on the faithful spouse or accuse them of being paranoid, delusional or insecure.
  8. Change in behaviors such as listening to new music, picking up a new hobby, an increase in privacy, shutting doors that used to be left open, becoming more confident or more flirtatious with other men or women. It takes money and passion to fuel an affair, so look for changes in spending, a desire to suddenly control the family finances and credit card statements, working longer hours and pulling away from church or extended family.
  9. Sexual intimacy fizzles out or abruptly stops. The guilty partner moves to the guest room or the couch for “better quality sleep” because “snoring” or “restlessness” is keeping them awake. Paradoxically, intercourse sizzles with requests to try new positions and techniques.
  10. A new “friend” enters the picture and more and more time is spent with them. Talking less about interactions with certain colleagues that used to be the topic of conversation can also warrant suspicion.

Five Ways to Increase Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage

images-1What does it mean to be intimate with your mate? I’m not talking about the physical expression of your relationship; I’m talking about knowing one another on a profound emotional and spiritual level. You might have a decent marriage even if you don’t have much intimacy, but I have come to realize that we will never truly be fulfilled in life until we have depth in our closest relationships. Depth gives birth to purpose and meaning, security is fostered here and love is nourished.

I see three broad bands of people as it relates to intimacy:

  • Those who really do have intimacy and want more. Their marital relationship is rich with sharing and experiencing. There is an indescribable connection at this level. This isn’t something typically achieved in the first few years of marriage. Nope, these folks are veterans and need to be teaching the rest of us how they got to where they are. I’m not referencing an ooey gooey love here- this is a patient, kind and reverent devotion that is beyond the euphoric first stages of love.
  • Those who think they have intimacy, but don’t. Oh they pay lots of lip service to it, but what they really have is a shallow relationship at best. There is no depth or significant meaning in the marriage. They are roommates. They guard their feelings and finances and avoid sharing secrets and dreams. Priority is placed on relationships with children and friends over their spouse.
  • Those who don’t have intimacy and don’t want it because it requires being vulnerable and they don’t want any of that! Why? Because it’s uncomfortable and risky. Their chief thought about intimacy would sound something like this: “The last time I was vulnerable, I got hurt!” They are most concerned with protecting their own heart instead of guarding their partner’s.

When people don’t want to be vulnerable they will do almost anything they can to clothe themselves with modern day fig leaves. They construct emotional walls, cross all sorts of boundaries, participate in affairs, self-medicate with all their vices and forms of escape- some socially acceptable and others…not so much. They bury their emotions and never speak of them again, but anger, grief and sadness always find a way out of our human made cellars.

People pull away in their closest relationships when it leaves them feeling weak, exposed, helpless, ashamed, naked, or afraid. It’s easier to hide behind the fig leaf than it is to reveal one’s inner most thoughts and feelings. In the end this form of self-reliance leaves us feeling more afraid, alone and desperate than if we had just removed the covering in the first place. Vulnerability is crucial, without it you will never experience genuine emotional and spiritual intimacy with anyone.

These five strategies will facilitate greater intimacy in your marriage:

  1. Want it- You have to have a desire for intimacy with your wife or husband. Wanting it is the starting point. If you don’t “want” intimacy with your mate, the other points will be meaningless to you.
  2. Create it– This means you create essential time for each other. Your spouse is a priority over hobbies and other people. Use non-sexual touch to convey your feelings. Reveal your emotional needs to each other; your partner can’t meet needs they are unaware of.
  3. Protect it– Creating an environment of safety will serve as a protective barrier. Use effective boundaries to guard against affairs. Be sure you cut apron strings with your parents; your marriage is not “family business.” Placing a priority on your marriage partner above the children actually makes the little ones feel more secure. Your children’s whole world is wrapped up in the security of your marriage- so guard it like a watchdog!
  4. Communicate it– Use assertive communication skills rather than raising your voice and using disparaging comments. Tell the truth, articulate your fears and dreams and refuse to keep secrets. Share your faith with your partner, make time to pray and worship together. Discuss the finances and major spending.
  5. Practice it– By confessing your faults to one another and inviting your spouse into your mess. Allow your husband/wife to see you cry and accept their comfort. Assume good will, you’re a team and there is no “I” in team! Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help. Finally, remember this is a lifestyle not an event and practice makes better!

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways to Reignite the Romance in Your Marriage

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  • Feel more like roommates than lovers?
  • No longer connecting emotionally?
  • Attraction waning for each other?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions or if you just want to increase the passion in an otherwise good relationship, read on.

I get it…you work a stressful eight-hour shift, hustle out the door just to taxi the kids to their evening activities during rush hour traffic! You finally arrive home, but there’s more work waiting for you in the kitchen; after all, dinner’s not going to cook itself. Then there are the dirty dishes to contend with and perhaps even a load or two of laundry before you finally collapse into bed only to repeat the same madness the next day. Given the rat race, it’s no wonder couples fall into boring routines and drift apart emotionally and sexually. Not many people feel sexy when they’re operating from a sleep deficit. Bad as it sounds, when you’re exhausted, romance and sex just seem like more work.

The truth is, it’s common for busy couples who have been married a while to lose their passion. Early love is euphoric as the brain releases certain hormones that bind us to our lover. Dopamine, or the “pleasure chemical” gives us a natural high. It causes our heart to race and pupils to dilate. Oxytocin is released when we touch or have a sexual experience. These chemicals have a drug like influence on our brain, but like any drug, the effect does not last forever; the euphoria eventually fades. As the relationship makes new demands, our love must strengthen and mature or things grow stale signaling relationship danger.

So if you want “that lovin’ feeling” back, here are five ways to rekindle the fire:

  1. Create time for each other during the day: The average person spends 8-10 hours away from home daily depending on workday length and commute. Couples are left with four or five hours together at the end of the day and depending on your evening routine and exhaustion level, you may not spend any quality time with your mate. So one way to get the spark back is to create time for each other during the day. Commit to checking in by calling your other half to ask how they’re doing or send each other flirty text messages. The family has to eat and somebody has to prepare the meal, so why not join your spouse in the kitchen and work together? Take an evening stroll to discuss the days events, future plans or simply enjoy the night sky. Finally, before your head hits the pillow, spend ten minutes reading a couples devotion and pray together. God is for your marriage!
  1. Speak your partner’s love language: Gary Chapman author of The Five Love Languages, discovered five ways people use to communicate and understand emotional love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Take the assessment and discover your love language at 5lovelanguages.com. My primary love language is words of affirmation, so I really feel appreciated and loved when my husband gives me a card, love note, or pays me a sincere compliment. My husband feels loved when I hold his hand, hug him or sit close to him. The way my man speaks to me throughout the day has a lot to do with my response to his romantic gestures and the way I take time and care to address his need of physical touch communicates how “into him” I really am and that friends…can lead to fireworks!
  1. Physical affection: I’m not necessarily talking about sex here, rather I’m referring to holding hands, kissing, embracing one another, eye contact, tone of voice and just a general posture that conveys “You matter to me.” Gary Thomas (author of Sacred Marriage) recommends a daily 30 second kiss + 30 minute talk + 3 minute prayer to increase your emotional connection. I’ve noticed the more I stare into my husband’s eyes, speak to him sweetly and respectfully not only causes him to strive harder to meet my needs, but my love for him grows stronger as well. So if you’re thinking “You know, I’m just not feeling that way towards my spouse anymore,” express physical affection anyway. Feelings aren’t facts, do the actions and your feelings will follow.
  1. Increase your sexual intimacy: After couples have been married for a while the physical can become boring and lovemaking becomes a rote act or is relegated to the back burner altogether; this is very damaging to your marriage. So to keep things fresh and exciting, flirt with each other and let the tension build throughout the day or week. Be an expert in learning how to please your spouse. God created sex within the context of marriage, not only for pro-creation, but for your enjoyment- explore it together.
  1. Turn towards each other: After facing a few life challenges the marital bliss fades and couples have a tendency to turn away from each other, no longer supporting or meeting each other’s needs. The relationship then grows cold and lonely. But remember, you married your partner because you were unable to meet your own needs of companionship, emotional love and support. You are team- you are not enemies. Be intentional about turning toward each other for support. Learn to depend on each other (again). Enjoy frequent date nights, laugh together and reflect on why you fell in love in the first place. With time and intentionality, your love will mature, your relationship will strengthen and your spark will return!

Three Ways to Love Successfully

loveSecular advice on love and success focuses on ways to maintain another person’s sexual interest or directives on getting your emotional needs met. In the end, this cheap brand of love is shallow and doesn’t lead to long term success. Genuine love is sacrificial and pure, it doesn’t demand its own way or take advantage of others. If you are interested in a love that endures all things, continue reading. I have identified three essential ways to love and be loved successfully:
1. Pursue love- How would you feel if you were deeply in love with someone who was investing more time and energy with their friends, career or hobby? Most likely you would feel insignificant and you certainly wouldn’t feel your love was reciprocated. We invest in the things that are important to us. People think nothing of investing in vehicles, real estate or the stock market, but they rarely apply that same logic to their relationships. Love is a verb. Couples must sacrificially work together to keep love safe, secure and alive. You cannot assume the passion you felt early in the relationship will remain if you invest little effort.

So just how do you pursue love? Put your partner’s needs ahead of your friends. If your other half is sick, cancel your golf game and play nurse instead. Enjoy each other’s company and pursue BFF status with your significant other. Regularly participate in activities you have in common. When eyes start wandering, people begin wondering what they’re missing; love has to be guarded with fierce devotion. Make your relationship an exclusive two-person arrangement. Continue dating after marriage, see a counselor before things go south and finally, never stop discovering new things about one another.

2. Nurture love- Love is among the most basic of human needs; everyone wants to be loved by someone. The ability to express love is what makes us human and sets us apart from the animal kingdom, so before we go any further, let’s define love. Is it a feeling? Is it a decision? Is it more spiritual than emotional or more cognitive in nature? Love is too broad a term to adequately describe in the English language. Would you take a bullet for your car or die for your favorite jeans? Of course not! You probably would, however, give your life for your child or your soul mate! The Greek language provides four major words (and at least eight minor ones) for love:

1. Agape- the idea of a person giving all his or her love or favor to another. Often associated as the love God demonstrates towards us, it is a pure and whole love.
2. Phileo- emotional love, emphasizing affection or a fondness one person has for another.
3. Eros- refers to the passionate love between a husband and wife.
4. Stergo- refers to the love between parents and children.

When the passion fades, you will have to make a decision whether or not to keep on loving in spite of how you feel or you will never leave Phileo Land and experience the depth and richness of “eros” or better yet, the perfection of “agape.” Love is sacred and for it to grow, it must be nurtured. Love should not be repetitive, it should be creative, original and inspired.

3. Hold on to love- Our culture has sold us an unrealistic brand of love. We have been deceived into believing that love is simply physical, which makes you and I no better than Fido the family pet. Romance novels and the silver screen hold men and women to unbelievable standards that devalue love and set us up for failure. Beauty is fleeting, in time romance dwindles, the physical gets boring and eventually, without a strong commitment, we abandon ship and jump into the next hot relationship. Initially love begins as a feeling, but if you want love to last, you must make it a choice and hold on with all your might. Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long term successful relationship. Commitment means honoring the promise to love someone even when the “feeling” is lacking.

In reality, there is no fairy tale ending and there is nothing magical about “true love’s kiss.” Successful love is an unfailing love and in all its splendor, it is quite ordinary. Love that never fails is long-suffering, it is the first to forgive, always seeking to understand rather than seeking to be understood. It means loving a person when they are unlovely or unlovable and loving in spite of each other’s failures and short comings because people are imperfect. Enduring love understands that there are not those couples who have it together and those who do not. We are all broken, messed up and in need of redemption, grace, mercy and forgiveness. So, you want to be successful in love? Pursue it, nurture it and hold on to it with fierce devotion!

Three Fundamentals Boundaries in Marriage

As a counselor, I meet with a lot of couples who are in relationship trouble. Ten minutes into the first session and it’s not too difficult to figure out how they wound up in my office. As personal stories unfurl about adultery, communication breakdowns, reconnecting with old flames, flirting with strangers, and verbal and physical abuse, I am amazed the marriages have lasted to this point. Each of these couples share a common link: they lack boundaries in their marriages. Failure to establish boundaries at the beginning of the union prevents couples from experiencing true intimacy and creates a rift in the relationship.

A boundary is simply a property line that determines who is responsible for what. Boundaries help individuals hold one another accountable in the relationship. Once you boundary_line-300x225are aware of who is responsible for a particular behavior or attitude, the opportunity for change becomes possible. Each party must assume responsibility for their own part in a problem. Assuming responsibility for your feelings, behaviors, attitudes, thoughts and choices empowers you to live an abundant life. Accepting responsibility becomes the change agent for a more loving and satisfying marriage. Boundaries are liberating! I have identified three boundaries that I believe are foundational for successful marriages.

1. Resolve your anger before it controls you- Anger is a powerful emotion, and in certain situations it can be useful, but human anger does not bring forth the righteousness that God desires (James 1:20, NIV). For love to grow, it must be nurtured and pursued; anger unchecked is like metastatic cancer, it spreads to the heart and kills love. Anger is a secondary emotion, it is the result of some other potent primary emotion. To demonstrate this point, I use the following formula in counseling to assist clients in identifying and discussing their true feelings:

fear + hurt + frustration = anger

Understanding this point is crucial in resolving anger for this reason: if I know my anger is the result of another emotion, I can identify and process the real emotion(s) instead of holding on to the toxicity that is eating away at me and killing my marriage. This is more productive than lashing out verbally or physically at your spouse, which only creates emotional distance and may even lead to divorce.

2. Protect your marriage from intruders- Marriage is an exclusive, two person arrangement that requires “forsaking all others.” Marriage is unique among all other human bonds because it symbolizes Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church. Because third parties threaten the marital union, it must therefore, be guarded with fierce devotion. Couples must sacrificially work to keep love safe, secure and alive. You cannot assume that the passion felt early in the relationship will remain if you invest little effort.

You are a steward of a sacred covenant between yourself, your spouse and God and as a steward, you must guard against intruders that may include: in-laws, work, hobbies, Internet, affairs, friends, addictions, and even church. A marriage is only as strong as what it costs to protect it; You value what you invest in. People will invest in houses, vehicles, boats, the stock market, etc., but they hesitate to invest in their marriage. Americans think nothing of spending $10,000 or more on a wedding, but they scoff at spending a few hundred dollars on counseling that may save a derailed marriage.

3. Establish personal limitations- Boundaries are not something you place on other people, they are set on yourself, to control yourself, because you are the only person you can control. Establishing personal boundaries is a method of serving and protecting the relationship, it says to the world “I value my marriage.” Consider these points when setting your personal limitations:

  • Tell your spouse the truth [in love; in a normal voice…without yelling] if your needs are not getting met. Use “I statements” such as “I don’t want to do that,” or “I like it when…”
  • Don’t reconnect with old flames through social media and texting. Unless you are actually planning to have an affair, no good can come from this action.
  • Refuse to foster secret friendships with the opposite sex, it only promotes jealousy and betrayal and erodes trust.
  • Guard your eyes. Greet the opposite sex eyeball to eyeball; forbid your eyes from roaming all over someone else’s body, regardless of their attractiveness.
  • Refrain from full frontal hugs with the opposite sex. Offer a side hug or better yet, extend a handshake.
  • Compliment your spouse more than you compliment anyone else.
  • Get the log out of your own eye before pointing out the speck.
  • Be the first to offer forgiveness.

 

Two Responses to Valley Experiences

Spring and early summer is typically when local communities gear up for Relay for Life; an organization whose tagline “celebrate, remember, and fight back” inspires its participants to raise money for cancer research for the American Cancer Society (relayforlife.org, 2014). It’s also the time of year that triggers a flood of memories from my own experience with cancer.

I frequently refer to my encounter as “the valley of the shadow of death” because those were some of the darkest hours of my life. It was an emotionally charged journey, filled with questions and uncertainty about my tomorrows. “Will I live?” “Will I die?” “Will I always feel this miserable?” These represent just a few of the questions that reverberated through my mind at any given moment. During periods of tribulation our faith is often tested and we learn what we are made of. People usually respond to valley experiences in one of two ways:

1. Grow closer to Jesus – These folks make an intentional decision to grow closer to Jesus; it doesn’t happen by chance. Although their suffering seems unbearable, they cry out to God in raw pain and He answers in tangible ways resulting in growth and greater intimacy.

2. Move further away from Him – Moving away from the Lord in times of tribulation is also a choice, although it may not always be a conscious one. Sometimes, people simply drift from God; usually because He did not answer them in the way that was hoped for.

After some deep soul searching, I chose to grow closer to Jesus. So I sought Him with my whole heart and in the midst of my suffering, I found Him walking with me, holding me, wiping away my tears and equipping me with promises I could hold on to. The most tangible promise God gave me came from 2 Chronicles 20:15-17:

15 “…This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you’” (italics added for emphasis).

Are you currently walking through your own “valley of the shadow of death?” Perhaps your valley isn’t cancer, but the death of a loved one, job loss, financial woes, a wayward child, infidelity, divorce, you fill in the _____________. Choose your response to your valley experience wisely my friend. Refuse to waver in your faith, even in the face of uncertainty. Go out and face whatever mighty army is coming against you and commit this truth to your heart…when God fights, God wins!