Follow Jesus By Picking Up Your Dirty Clothes

Over the course of a few months, I met with a couple to offer them some marital counseling. They were like most couples who come to me, about to give up after a long hard struggle to survive. It appeared they had tried everything, and they were going to give it one last shot with me.

In one of my conversations, the problem began to crystallize. The wife was upset about the way he treated her. He was never physically or emotionally abusive, but he seemed to be overly irritating all the time. One example she gave was they he never picked up his clothes. He would take things off at night and throw them in the corner of the bedroom. The next day he would put on clean clothes and leave the old ones in the corner for her to pick up. She had tried everything to get him to change. She left them there until the pile reached enormous proportions. She quietly asked, and she yelled with a loud voice to wake the neighbors. Nothing changed.

The conversation that brought this all into focus was one that I had with him alone. I asked him what he was doing to help his marriage, and he gave me an honest and straightforward response. He said, “I am trying to follow Jesus.” I inquired as to what that meant, and he said something like, “You know I am reading my bible and praying.” I asked what else he was doing. He thought hard and said, “I also come to Church each week with her, and I am trying to attend a Sunday School class.” Once more I questioned him, “Is there anything else you are trying.” He looked at me and said, “Nope, just trying to follow Jesus and asking the Lord to work this out.”

Trying to be a good counselor I did not state the obvious and tried to lead him to the truth. No matter how I posed the questions he came back to this singular idea, “I am just following Jesus.” Looking back, maybe I should have said it directly, but I also think he would have resented me for it. I wanted to shout at him, “Why don’t you try picking up your clothes!”

I share this story because it gives us insight into why a marriage crumbles. A marriage usually fails when people fail to put faith into action in the simplest of ways. They have a disconnect between following Jesus and picky up their dirty clothes to make their spouse happy.

Couples fail when one or both of them quit saying, “I love you” or stares at their phone instead of talking. It happens when the things that please my spouse go undone despite their continual requests. Ask someone you know who is divorced and most of them will not tell you about one significant incident that ruined it all. Instead, they will tell you about a flood of small issues that were never resolved.

Truly following Jesus sometimes means doing the little things that bring joy to other people in his name. We can follow Jesus best by picking up our dirty clothes.

What could you do in the name of Jesus this weekend that would help your marriage? The answer might be as easy as a laundry basket.

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Three Dynamics of Faith

What does it mean to be a Christian and follow Jesus? The answer to the question is multifaceted. Lately, I am pointing to three different areas that express our faith.

1. How I think. One of the most significant places where Christ must have an impact is in the mind. Paul challenges his readers to transform their thinking by the renewing of their mind. We are called to have the mind of Christ in us. We are to strive to make God’s thoughts our thoughts.

2. How I feel. There is an emotional connection to God as a believer. Our emotions are to be trained to realign themselves from the desires of our flesh into the satisfaction of faith. Our feelings can deceive us because the heart is deceitful above all things, but they can also enhance our spiritual journey when they are lived in faith.

3. How I act. What you do in any given situation is perhaps the ultimate expression of our faith. The words that come from you mouth, the actions of your hands, and the service of your life are expressions of what you really believe.

Here is what I have been noticing lately. All three of these must be working together for us to have complete faith. The Pharisees knew the right thing and even did the right action, but the feelings and intentions of the heart were wrong. They did stuff for self-glory. A hypocrite knows and feels the right things, but the actions do not line up. A moralist can do the right things with good intentions, but not do them for God. There thinking is skewed.

All three dynamics of faith must be in harmony.

If that is true, each one of us must continually ask ourselves honestly, “Which area am I falling down in my faith?” Do you need to learn more? Do you need to develop a deeper emotional connection to God in faith? Do your actions need to change? The temptation is to focus all our attention on the one or possibly two that we like the most and neglect one of these. A complete believer is continuously striving to elevate faith in all levels.

Which one of these needs the most work in your life?

Embrace the Mess

One criticism that has been vocalized against me through the years is that I share too much of myself. I tell stories about my brokenness. A pastor is supposed to have everything figured out and live in a way that shows I no longer have issues. The question is usually asked something like, “How are we going to show people the beauty of faith when you are such a mess?”

Two things I have learned in 25 years of ministry.

One is that all pastors are a mess behind the scenes. We all struggle in our faith, family and with insecurity. We can paint on a happy face, write articles about how we have overcome sin and sing about our victory in Jesus, but is a façade. We are broken people in need of the grace of God at all times.

The second thing I know is that the people we lead are a mess too. Their lives are filled with junk that they try to ignore, avoid and deny. This is true of the good ones who seem to have it all together while leading Church ministries. It is also true for the ones who linger on the edges never letting anyone get close enough to know about their life. The Church is a bunch of broken people in need of the grace of God at all times.

I believe God allows me to lead to that I can use my mistakes to help others. No one is helped in their faith when I am fake. No one is helped when you deny the existence of problems. Everyone finds grace when we are both transparent about our struggles.

The only way we will find healing for our souls is when we bring all our hidden junk into the light. Sin and shame grow in darkness. Healing is located in the light of God’s grace.

It is possible that I share too much, but that is how I have best found to help people while cleansing my soul at the same time. Maybe you should try opening up to someone. Sure, it is embarrassing and messy, but it is the only way we can all find help and healing together.

The Slow Descent Into Darkness

Fifteen years ago, there was a moment when I sat on the floor of my garage weeping uncontrollably. I had just gotten another phone call attack, and the weight was more than I could bear. I had been holding back emotions for months, and at that moment the dam burst and all I could do was moan and cry. It was one of the four darkest seasons of my life. Through the years I have dissected those times to see patterns that emerge and use those to help myself and others.

1. I Begin to Personalize Issues. If you make any decisions in life, someone will hate you for it. This can be with your spouse, your children, your job or even a volunteer group. Someone is not going to like what you did, and most will be sure and tell you about it. There is this smooth transition from “they don’t like my decision,” to “they hate me.”

2. Listening to the Wrong Voices. Whenever I have been questioned, I look to people for validation. It is amazing how their words seem biased and too loving for me to hear. They have to say these things because they are my family. “Surely the mean people are just honest,” we think.

3. The Voice in My Head Turns Evil. Slowing everything going in my head starts to turn ugly. Shame, remorse, regret, and feelings of inadequacy fill my every thought, even when I have done nothing wrong.

4. Self-Fulling Prophecies of Ugliness. Before I leave the house, I have already convinced myself that something bad is going to happen. I know that when I see them, they are going to say something mean. Worse yet, they are going to see me and try to go the other way. I know the worst is coming in every interaction. I hear everything with a negative twist in each conversation.

5. Why Try? I start asking fatalistic questions of my actions. If nothing is going to work out for good, why keep doing anything?

6. Isolation. Deep down I think that if I want the pain to stop it comes from eliminating other people from my life. Avoid people, and all will be fine. Instead, the voices in my head get louder until the darkness overtakes me.

These have been the steps that seem to emerge every time my life slips into a funk. Maybe you have experienced similar things in your life? Perhaps you are experiencing them now?

For me, there have been two remedies that have helped me to overcome the darkness that always seems to be lurking. First, I need to be aware of these patterns. I need to process my thinking and be knowledgeable of the path I am walking.

Second, I need to work hard to do the opposite at each point. I need to not personalize everything. I need to more people around me who love and support me. I need to fill my head with positive thoughts and voices. I need to see the good in every situation and expect things to work out for the best. I need to keep doing the right thing every day. I need to bring people into my life when I feel like pushing them away.

I once went on a week-long fishing trip with a group of guys as part of a Christian camp. I talked to one older gentleman an extended period as we drove the twenty-four plus hours to our camp. He told me about a time in his life that he was so down that he considered suicide. He was a farmer, and everything had gone wrong that year with his crops, his family and for him personally. At the end of the conversation, he said, “You never know how dark it can be until you get there.”

Well, I have been there. I sat on the floor of my garage crying while calling out to God. He began to show me the light, and I finally moved out of that painful place. It took months to completely recover, but I made it. I am praying that if you are reading this, that God will help you find the light again. It is possible. I know it was true for me and it can happen for you too.

Stumbling Toward Eternity

The journey of faith is not always a clear track as we walk the narrow way. Frequently there are objects in our way that cause us to stumble and make some missteps along the path.

Some days the temptation is overwhelming, and we are tripped up by our desires.

Some days shame and regret feel bigger than grace.

Some days the voice in my head shouts louder than the words of God.

Some days the people in our life let us down just when we need them most.

Some days the steps are steep, and there is no one to hold us up.

Following Jesus is not a perfect journey made without mistakes. The sin in our hearts misleads us, and we stumble. Pain, remorse, regret become familiar feelings. The people you hoped would give you strength allow you to fall. There you lie flat on your face.

The key to making this trek a success is that you get back up every time you fall. You do not stay down wallowing in the fact that you are once again on the ground. You must get up, learn from the experience and keep walking the path toward God. True faith pushes us forward day after day ever toward eternity.

Right now, you might be down. That’s okay. Pick yourself up in faith and move farther down the path that leads you closer to God. A successful Christian life involves failure, but it is not permanent unless you allow it to become that way.

What Have You Done for Him Lately?

Whenever I talk to people about their service for the Lord, I usually can expect one of three responses.

1. Many people are very proud of what they did for God in the past. They can detail what they once did and how wonderful it was for everyone. There are fond memories of when they gave of themselves genuinely, and people were blessed.

2. Other people will tell me about what they intend to do for God. Numerous people have great ideas of some ministry they will one day do that will bless so many. Someday when they have more time, like after the kids are grown or when they retire, they will be unstoppable. They want to bless the world, but something is holding them back. They are convinced that one day nothing will stand in their way and they live with the dream of good intentions.

3. Some people can tell me what they are currently doing for God. This group is usually a little worn out. They are pushing the limits of their time and capabilities. They worry that they are not doing everything good enough for the kingdom, but they serve anyway.

Everyone falls into one of these three categories. Some people live in the past and others in the future, but few live in the present. The work of the Lord is not for those who have their one moment in the sun or even for those with big dreams. Kingdom work is about people getting up every day and serving even when they are not sure they are having an impact. It is not ability but rather availability. The ultimate question for the Christian is “What have you done for God lately?”