Do High Wedding Costs Reflect Our Beliefs About Marriage?

While preparing for a sermon about marriage and sexuality, I ran across an interesting statistic done by a company that does wedding venues near Charlotte that the average cost of a wedding in the US is now more than $28,000!

In the UK, couples are more than doubling their engagement times (to 3 years!) in order to save money for the big weddings they’re planning.

My wife and I recently caught an episode of Say Yes to the Dress, and I was stunned at the costs of the dresses the brides were casually purchasing. $10,000 and up seemed to be the normal cost. I know that “reality” TV is anything but real, but the fact is that many people take their cues from the media. The wedding industry has effectively convinced most of us that a good wedding needs to be extremely expensive.

So here’s my question for you: What does the rising cost of weddings say about our cultural views about marriage?

Do people believe that an expensive wedding is necessary in order to represent the depth of their love? Do people overemphasize the wedding day itself, while underemphasizing the years of work and ordinary life that will follow? Is it possible that rising wedding costs indicate that we think marriage ought to resemble a fairy tale or a Disney princess movie?

Or is all of this normal and within the bounds of reason? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Of Boys and Body Image

It’s not only girls who worry and wonder about their bodies. Boys and men have body image issues too, although they often express themselves differently than girls.

When my young son says, “Dad, see how fast I run,” or “Dad, look how strong I am,” I’m hearing his version of the question my daughters frequently ask: “Do I look pretty?” Right now, he defines his body’s value by what it can do rather than what it looks like. As time goes on, I know he will become more aware of what his body looks like, and how it affects the way others treat him. In my years as a college pastor, I spoke with numerous young men who were insecure about their bodies and their limitations.

Girls are expected to struggle with body issues, but boys don’t really talk about it much. As a result, I think most young men lack a biblical framework for thinking about their bodies.

As my son grows, here are a few concepts about his body that I plan to tell him:

1. God made you, your body included, to reflect His image (Genesis 1:26-27). God designed your body, your mind, and your spirit so that those around you can understand Him better. His creativity and love and power are reflected in your physical body, just as they are reflected in your mind and your heart. That means the way you treat your body matters. More importantly, the way you treat others with your body matters. You have the opportunity to use your body to help, encourage, and serve others. By doing so, you represent the One who made you in His image.

2. Your body’s value isn’t primarily found in its appearance or athletic ability. When I was a kid, sports team selection, in gym class or on the playground, was a scary and humiliating ritual. Two team captains would choose the strongest, fastest, and most coordinated boys first, leaving the rest of us to wait nervously for our turn. To be chosen last was more than a statement about your soccer ability — it was a devastating statement about your worth as a man.

As a teenager, I often wanted to be taller, faster, or better-looking. I wanted straighter hair and clearer skin, and spent hours fretting about whether girls found me physically attractive. One day, you might struggle with those issues also, believing that your value is found in how others appraise your physical body.

But appearance and athletic ability are poor measures of one’s worth. Physical training and sports do have some value (1 Tim 4:8), but they aren’t nearly as important as knowing God and loving others. When you’re old, few will remember how well you played basketball, even if you’re a star. Everybody who knows you will remember your character, though. They’ll remember whether you used your body to help or to hurt, to smile or to scowl, to draw near or to be distant. Reflecting the fruit of the Spirit with your body is a great deal more important than running fast or throwing far.

Your body matters because God made it. Your body will make an impact on others if you submit it to His purposes.

3. Physical strength is a stewardship that requires you to protect the weak. At every school, in every class, you’ll know kids who are too weak to defend themselves. Because most people judge a man’s value based on his strength, people will make fun of the weaker kids. They might even physically attack or bully the smaller boys. They do it because they can get away with it, and because they hope to validate their own worth by undermining the worth of others.

Never participate in that sort of bullying. Don’t even laugh at it. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Defend the unpopular, weaker, and uncoordinated kids. I wish I’d done a better job of that in school. When you take care of the weaker kids, you’re reflecting the heart of God (Psalm 82:3-4) and using your strength for His purposes.

4. Nobody should be defined in purely sexual terms. One day you’re likely to notice young women and their bodies. You’ll be attracted to some and not to others. You’ll face a great temptation to treat women differently based on their looks. It’s a selfish tendency: Sinful people like you and me treat others better when we think we have something to gain from it.

But you and the women around you are much more than sexual beings. Your sexuality matters, but it’s not what defines you. And it shouldn’t define how you treat other people. I hope you’ll treat every woman with respect and kindness, regardless of her appearance. Look her in the eye, speak to her kindly, offer her a helping hand and a listening ear. Just like you, every woman has value because she’s made in the image of God. Despite what you will be tempted to believe, nobody’s value begins or ends with their appearance or sexuality.

5. Bodily self-control is a supernatural discipline (Gal 5:23). Self-control is listed last among the fruit of the Spirit, but it’s not the least important. You’ll be tempted to use your body in all kinds of inappropriate ways. At times your sexual desires will seem uncontrollable. You’ll want to eat to excess or punch somebody in the face or shove your sister down the stairs. That’s when you need prayer and dependence on God’s Spirit. When you rely on Him for self-control, He’ll provide ways for you to use your body well. It’s not easy, and it’s a lifelong journey, but I pray you’ll trust Him along the way.

Use your body to express God’s love, to know Him better, and to serve others. Don’t worry so much about what you look like or what you can do. You have limitations and strengths, just like everybody else. Instead, focus on how you can use the resources and gifts God has given you to reflect His character.

Here’s a question for my readers: What would you add to my statements above? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts here? 

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Grace, Karma, and Viral Video

There’s a beautifully made video making the rounds on the internet this week. It’s an ad for a Thai telecommunications company, and it’s intended to highlight the value of a selfless life. Watch the video, then return here to read the rest of the post.

When I first saw the ad, I’ll admit it brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of a very short version of the old movie It’s a Wonderful Life, in which Jimmy Stewart plays a man whose life of faithful kindness is finally rewarded in his own moment of terrible need.

Upon further reflection, though, I had a major concern about the video’s content: It’s really a movie about karma rather than grace. The message of the ad (produced, incidentally, in a majority Buddhist country) is that the good deeds you do now will be rewarded later. Put positive energy into the universe, and you’ll get positive energy out of it. Although it’s generally true that being kind to others will cause them to be kind to you, the karmic philosophy behind the video isn’t really Christian. Karma is at the root of most major world religions, but not Christianity.

Christianity is based upon the concept of grace rather than karma. Despite our good works, karma would eventually kill all of us. If my future is dependent upon how much positive energy I send into the universe now, then I’m in serious trouble. And so are you. The scales will never balance in our favor, especially if we serve a holy God who can’t abide any sin.

In contrast, grace offers what we don’t deserve. In grace, God offers us eternal blessings that we haven’t earned. He offers them freely, through the death of His own Son, despite our selfishness and sin.

So I’d love to see a viral video that highlights grace instead of karma. What if we saw a man who didn’t deserve the kindness of others, a man who was unkind and selfish and sinful, but who was granted grace in his hour of deep need. What if we saw a person whose life was literally saved by someone who knew he didn’t deserve it but chose to help him anyway?

Such a story would be closer to the story of my own life. It would accurately reflect the heart of God in Jesus Christ. And I think it just might make me cry. 

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Discipleship for Grown-Ups

(This is a guest post by Abby Perry, whose husband Jared is the Assistant Youth Pastor at Grace. You can find Abby’s blog at joywovendeep.com). 

What do you think about when you hear the word “discipleship”? For me, there were seasons of my life (college for example) when the word “discipleship” meant three hour coffee sessions at Sweet Eugene’s, “official” mentorship through a student organization and formal accountability that I could easily schedule, since my life was constrained only by 12 hours per week in classes. During those years, I learned about unity, struggle, growth and the character of God in a new, accelerated way. I was excited to be a part of the body of Christ. I loved my ability to arrange my hours around spiritual growth, and I was determined to mirror my college experiences throughout the rest of my life.

And then, the rest of my life started to happen.

I got married at 20, moved to Dallas for my husband to attend seminary at 21, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 22, scrambled to regroup my life at 23, gave birth to our first child at 24 and moved to College Station for Jared’s new position at Grace at 25. Suddenly, three hours of coffee and 2am prayer sessions with 10 of my closest friends just weren’t reality. For a while I struggled with what this meant. Was I not making God a priority? Was I letting the world’s agenda creep into my plans? Was being a wife/having a career/becoming a mother just too distracting to continue growing in the faith? While all of these things have been true at times, the fact was this – as my everyday life filled to overflowing, my life in Christ became more integrated than ever before.

As I joined a small group of seminary wives for Bible study each week, we dug into the Word and shared honest, difficult prayer requests, and I saw the Spirit bearing fruit in my life. As Jared and I began serving together in our community and giving of our finances collaboratively, I saw God exercise a hint of what “great faith” looks like in me. As I became sick for a semester and received care from friends who spoke Scripture and provided meals and poured out affection, I realized that discipleship was happening. Centered on Christ, built on the Word, acted out in community, exercised in service, we were growing and shaping one another into women of God.  Those who were a few years further down the road from me held my hand, encouraged my heart, and challenged my selfishness. I was refined and made better. As a new mother, those with more experience poured out wisdom and grace and I was sharpened to look more like Christ.  Those ahead of me and those alongside me looked forward toward a common goal and together we sought the face of Jesus, determined to see Him before us in every mundane, “unspiritual” moment of our lives. And, as He always is, Christ was there. Just like He was with His original disciples, leading, guiding, walking alongside.

To clarify, I don’t mean to say that simply having friends is discipleship. It’s not. Discipleship does require effort. It does require intention. It does require humility and honesty. Ladies, I think we struggle here sometimes. We are too quick to think that others are too busy for us, that our issues are too much to ask someone to sort through, or that our simple desire for growth in Christ isn’t exciting enough to ask someone else to engage in. Lies, my friends, those are big, ugly lies.

The truth is that discipleship is both a gift and command to those in Christ. The truth is that it may require you asking someone walking alongside you or a bit ahead of you for some of their time, as you seek to grow in the faith. The truth is that the moment may be awkward.  The truth is also that, by God’s grace, the outcome may have eternal impact.

Discipleship is not an isolated event.  Perhaps I can put it more positively:  Discipleship is a fundamental, organic quality of an active life in Christ, and while our pursuit of it may take various forms in changing seasons, God will be faithful to use it to foster great joy, growth and unity in the members of the body, honoring our obedience of Him and blessing our acknowledgement of His plan for us.

Look at your life. Take a moment and look around and see who is there. Who encourages you? Who has insight into the Word of God? Who prays with great faith and deep truth? Who does justice and loves mercy with conviction? If you see those people, walk beside them. If no one comes to mind, I encourage you to find a church that is centered on Christ, rooted in the Word and committed to loving one another. Discipleship will happen when we immerse ourselves in the people of God. And where God’s people are grown and shaped and refined, greatness will be done in His name.  Be filled with the Spirit and walk in the truth, hands held by those who desire the same.

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How to Avoid Being a Digital Jerk

I just stopped myself from sending a smart-alecky email to a friend. He sent me an email with a seemingly silly question. I thought of a hilarious response, a joke that would have us both in stitches, and I typed it up. But right before I hit “send,” I decided to read my response one more time. Reading it again, it didn’t seem so funny after all. It seemed mean. So I deleted it.

I wish I could say that I’m always that discerning, that I’ve never fired off a message that I later regretted. The downside of my quick and offbeat sense of humor is that I can hurt people with it if I’m not careful.

Digital communication — through email, Facebook, Twitter, or text — doesn’t always lend itself well to empathy or compassion. When I can’t see the other person’s face, I’m more likely to use words that I would never use in person. To make things even tougher, the online world seems to encourage humor, sarcasm, and razor-sharp wit, even at the expense of other people’s feelings.

I’ve been stunned before by the harsh words people exchange on Facebook and Twitter, things they would almost certainly never say to a person’s face. How can we keep a civil “tongue,” even in our online interactions? 

Here are a few ideas: 

1. Read it three times before you send it or post it. That might sound excessive, but I’m convinced that we send most of our angry, unkind, or snarky messages without thinking. If it’s going to be in cyberspace forever, doesn’t it make sense to spend just a few moments considering it before you put it out there? Without fail, in every instance which I wished I could take something back, I failed to reread it before posting.

2. Imagine how you would feel if somebody said to you what you’re about to say somebody else. This is a simple exercise in empathy. It’s almost laughably basic, the sort of stuff we teach to preschoolers, but it’s an easy principle to forget. Bullies nearly always justify their unkindness by saying, “It was just a joke.” Don’t succumb to the temptation to be funny at somebody else’s expense. Think in advance how they might feel as the target of your hilarious wit.

3. Ask yourself if your post, email, message, or comment is consistent with The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Are your words loving? Joyful? Will they promote peace? Are you being patient? Kind? Good? Loyal and true? Gentle? Self-controlled? If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then don’t send it!

4. If you’re not in the right frame of mind, step away from the computer. Step. Away. A wise friend of mine once said, “If you feel angry or in love, don’t use a keyboard.” How true it is. Wait until you’re in a better place before posting your angry thoughts about your friend’s weird theological or political views. You just might decide not to post it at all.

5. If you feel offended by something, pick up the phone or set up a meeting. I guarantee you that any major problem will be better settled face-to-face. The resolution will be quicker and the fallout will be less severe.

6. Finally, if you really mess up, apologize. I’ve had to eat crow on more than one occasion. You can’t undo the damage your words have done, but you can at least work toward restoration of the relationship. Admit when you’re wrong and follow up in private to apologize.

Do you ever struggle to be kind and compassionate in your digital communication? How do you handle the problem? I’d love to hear from you!

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