If it doesn't count for Christ, it doesn't count.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Worth getting all caught up in . . .

OK, two blogs in one month from me is unusual, but two in one week?

Well, this should be a short one.

Christmas is upon us. And, to me, the Christmas season is a wonderful part of all that comes with the gift of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We all wonder, as expressed in a song I always identify with Elvis, "Why can't everyday be like Christmas?"

Well, Christmas is special. There is a spirit in the air during what we call Christmas Time that is not there every day.  The thing is, the love and grace and mercy that so many of us show friend and stranger alike during this time of year is all around us all the time! That love and grace and mercy live in Jesus. And He is a 24/7/365 Savior!

He came in love, because He loves us, to love us! So, at this time of year as we celebrate His arrival here among us, let's all remember what He came here to do and why He came.  Some sweet day it will be like Christmas for eternity!

I have gotten on a kick here lately of attaching videos to my blog. I'm not going to do this every time. This may seem like overload, but it takes these 3 videos to complete the message. I know time is a valuable commodity especially over the next few days, but if you can, take a few minutes to watch these. Yes, you've seen others like them before, but the very brief message in the last 2 videos makes these stand out to me.
(And sometime in the future, I might just share what surprised me (in a good way) about Pentecostals that I learned from these videos. I'm trying to post them in order. If you can't watch all 3, at least try to give the middle one a look.(Also, this gal sings her heart out, and, as much as I love a beautiful voice, I really prefer music where the voice expresses the heart.)

Before I forget . . . It's all about how He loves us, and oh, how He loves us!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Christmas! So why isn't everyone happy?

I have started this blog twice before with a different purpose in mind each time, but I couldn't quite get them finished. In fact, as I was considering a blog on this very day, I looked back through my unpublished ones and I found this one! The last time I worked on it was December 21, 2009.  My initial thought just seemed to lose steam before I could bring it home.  It's one of those things where I know what I want to get across, but I just can't find the words. Maybe I'll make it this time!

There is a lot of pressure at Christmas. And when I say "Christmas" I am not just talking about "the day". I'm talking about the season, which for my family starts on Thanksgiving afternoon as decorations begin to go up.  The pressure takes many forms: shopping, cooking, cleaning, parties, cards, programs, wrapping, music (we must get the music in because it just does not sound the same come Dec 26) . . . and the list goes on.

When it comes to Christmas, though, the greatest source of stress for more people than any of us know is the pressure to be happy.  Christmas doesn't just automatically make everyone happy. Whether it should and whether it could is not something I will address here - just that "it" doesn't.

Nothing evokes what I call "emotional memory" like Christmas. By "emotional memory" I am not referring to actual memories that we all carry of Christmas past, though that is a part of it. I am talking about the way we feel when the subject of Christmas comes up and particularly when the Christmas Season comes upon us.  It is a deep rooted physical, mental, spiritual, emotional feeling that springs from our core, our soul.

And as wonderful as it is for some, it is not always a such good feeling for others. Instead of anticipation it brings anxiety. Instead of wonder it brings dread. Instead of hope it brings hopelessness, instead of belonging it brings loneliness. Instead of happiness it brings a painful sorrow. Instead of good memories of lost loved ones it revives mourning. While so many regale in memories of years past, some are annually confronted by a past that they wish they could forget. Their greatest Christmas wish may well be that they could just leave their past in the past never to be reminded of it again. But they can't. How often has someone told you that they wish they could just go to sleep after a good Thanksgiving meal and wake up on December 26?

And, for all of these, being constantly reminded that they should be happy only serves to make it worse.  It is not like they want to feel that way.  It is frustrating because you are dealing with people who are going through things you cannot understand.  And for some it is true that they don't make it any easier for themselves or anyone around them.

Indeed, in what may seem to be their quest to not enjoy Christmas, any "dis-enjoyment" they can bring to yours just further validates their claim that Christmas is not to be enjoyed by anyone with half a brain.  On the other hand, many of those who are burdened by all things Christmas are equally burdened by the effect their attitude has on those around them who really are trying to enjoy the season. It can be a frustrating time all around.   

It is difficult to understand. We would say that Christmas is a time of joy and happiness . . . a time of spiritual and emotional relief that the everyday stresses and strains of life should not impose upon. But, that is not always the case. For most, they can't. They just simply can't find a way or a reason to sustain a happy, cheerful, or even joyful attitude throughout the Christmas season.  And they are all the more saddened by that fact.

So, why even bring all this up at the risk of saddening the few people who might actually read this blog?  (Now that I mention it, I'm not sure that I should. But, I've gone this far.) For one thing, more people are touched by this than are willing to reveal it. (As if no one close to them knew!) And it is frustrating, maddening, and saddening. But, what can you do?

Let them have their time of sorrow. Be sympathetic, not judgmental.  Support them right where they are with love and prayer. I know . . . that is so very hard to do. You want them to be happy. And there will be moments of happiness for them. (They may go by unnoticed and unregistered by them, but you will see real smiles, hear genuine laughter.) Build on those moments. Amplify them.  If you can, talk them through.  You know, love fills most any void for a time. Jesus has told us that nothing is worth doing if love is not motivating the doing.  Emotional memories of Christmas are made up of actual memories of Christmas and life in general.  Do your best to make good memories for all those around you. In time you may see their reaction to Christmas change. Sure, the "bad times" are still back there. They cannot be erased.They can, however, be diminished and even overcome in their ability to rule the present.

Before I start repeating myself, I will just say that there are those dealing with circumstances in their lives that make what the rest of us might call "just every day joy and happiness" impossible to achieve. Just as Christmas heightens our anticipation of fun and excitement and a short while of near carefree living- creating a "lightness" of sorts -, it multiplies the weight of trials and troubles and sorrows in many individuals.  Whatever is there the rest of the year, there just seems to be more of at Christmas time.     

As Christians, we serve the very One Whose arrival on Earth is "THE Reason for the Season".  And we do indeed have reason to celebrate because ". . . For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8b (NKJV)

As I mentioned earlier, the Son of God has called upon us to do one thing over and above anything else.  And that is to love as He loves.  In this season of Peace on Earth and good will to men . . . and women, when we all seek opportunities to give and to spread the Word, perhaps our greatest ministry opportunity will be simply to love someone who is not having such a great Christmas just like Jesus loves them.  All the gifts in and of the world may be meaningless to them, but the love of Christ is never offered without meaning, and it is the only gift that truly keeps on giving and giving and giving and . . .     

With all of this in mind, I want to sincerely wish one and all a Merry Christmas.  May God grant you peace. And I would like to offer this song that so wonderfully addresses this issue.
Oh, yeah!  If you happen to be one of those I've been talking about here, if nothing else . . . just allow yourself to be loved.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Does it take a raise to get a rise?

From 1 Kings:  Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

. . . Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.  At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon's tangible expression of worship and praise to God pleased God to the extent that He commanded Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted. Ultimately, God gave Solomon more than he asked for.  And it all started with focused, true, and tangible praise and worship.  Shouldn't this tell the rest of us something? 

Our pastor and his wife attended a Chris Tomlin concert a couple of weeks ago.  He spent much of the service the following Sunday morning talking about how much he enjoyed the concert.  He wasn't just talking about the music though.  It was the praise which filled the building that impressed him so. The level of praise that was very freely offered up by the 2500 or so people there at Pinelake Church only increased his desire to see that kind of praise raised up in our own church. Preaching from Psalm 135, he called upon our congregation to return in a week prepared to more freely and openly and without fetter worship and praise our God.- - -(fetter - my word, not his that I recall - 1fet·ternoun \ˈfe-tər\ ,definition of FETTER 1 : a chain or shackle for the feet, 2: something that confines : restraint ) - - - 

Question: Is there tangible evidence of our praise and worship before God?   . . . not as a "show" before other people, but before God? Another way to ask that question might be, "Is your praise fettered?"

We talked about this in Sunday School that same week, having no idea of the message that was to come just a short while later. And then Bro. Chris comes out preaching on true praise.  I believe that this is one of God's ways of communicating His will to us.  A word or an impression comes to us in one situation and then it is confirmed in another situation. What can we do but act on God's revealed will for us?  (And it is not as if God has not told us many times before how he loves our praise of Him.)

So, back to my question. I asked our Sunday School class this same question.  Whether you raise your hands in praise or not may not matter. If you are standing or sitting there wearing an expressionless face, or even a solemn expression, no one around you knows what is going on inside. Maybe you are moved and you are praising your heart out, but only God can see. Well, that's ok, because He IS the object of your praise, not the people around you. But, doesn't God want to hear our praise?  Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV) "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."

On the other hand (no pun intended), maybe you are there standing with arms raised and to all the world you appear to be very actively praising God.  That may be the case. Maybe you are in a state of praise, but then, not all outwardly visible praise is genuine. Sometimes, it's just a show.

So, hands at your side, arms folded, or hands in the air, it is how you express the praise in your heart that matters. That is what God sees, not only your heart, but your tangible expression of what is in your heart. But, is it possible that you and I are somewhat inhibited or restrained, so that our praise is not fully expressed.  So instead of a full expression of praise and thanksgiving, God gets only what we are willing to allow someone else to see?

Think about the things you enjoy in life: sports, business deals, physical accomplishment, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays,  good news of any sort,  . . . you get the drift.  What excites you?  What makes you stand up and cheer or shout, or at least gets a rise out of you?  What stirs you?  These are all what I would call tangible expressions.  God certainly sees what all of these things bring out in us. So what does God bring out in us?

I have seen people in any number of public places uninhibitedly displaying their pleasure, or lack thereof, over an equal number of occurrences.  The truth is they really don't care what anyone else thinks about them at that moment.  But, in a public praise and worship setting they won't open their mouths or take their hands out of their pockets or off of the chair or pew in front of them.  In truth, it mostly comes down to the fact that they are too concerned with what the people around them are going to think of them.  The Spirit may be moving them to praise, but the Spirit is quenched.  The end result is that some ball player or some entertainer or some precious little child taking his or her first step gets the praise that is due them . . . and God doesn't!  "Well, that's different."  YES, it is!

So, does the presence of God tangibly move you?  Is your praise evident to God?  When He looks into your heart does He see you praising Him,  . . . or does He see you holding back?  (When I say "you", believe me, I ask myself this question as well.)

Is it important that others see you praising God? Yes!  I can attest to that in my own life. Some years ago, when our church, Hillcrest Baptist, was in transition from one area to another, we met in an elementary school auditorium/lunch room. A young couple there, Paul and Natalie, very freely and very visibly worshiped and praised God right down there on the front row.  It was all-the-more evident because they were about the only ones praising and worshiping in that manner at the time.

I will admit that I was distracted by it at the time. Even from my spot on the back row. I didn't understand it. I couldn't. I didn't even know that I was lost at the time, and there I was making judgments about how someone else expressed their relationship with Jesus! Over time I came to recognize the purity of their worship for what it was, and I began to wonder what it was that I had missed. Why didn't I feel that?  Why couldn't I worship and praise God in that way? In all probability, this is where I first recognized that something was wrong with my relationship with God. This may well be where the first crack formed in my own hard veneer of religion, and where Jesus first began the breakthrough that would lead me to true salvation.  So, yes! It matters what people see. Natalie and Paul were not "putting on a show" with their worship.  But, God reached me through their worship and showed me how very distant I was from Him.

Big letters here, so I'm not misunderstood. I am saying "praising and worshiping" because there is a difference between the two. Praise is a part of our worship.  So, when you see me refer to "worship" here in this post, please remember that I am referring to praise as it applies to worship. (And some of what is said here can be applied strictly to worship as well.)

So, am I advocating a particular "style" of worship? No. Far be it from me to judge the way in which anyone worships the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I am advocating true worship, whatever form it takes.  God calls us to worship and only God can determine the way we worship.

All I am saying is open up and be true to your God, your Savior, and The Holy Spirit in your worship.
John 4:23-24 (NIV) "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

In His own words Jesus uses the term "true worshipers", which implies that false worship is indeed practiced. He also says that God seeks those who will worship Him in the Spirit and in truth. God seeks worship!  True worshipers can only be those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. For only those inhabited by the Spirit can worship in the Spirit.  And only those to whom the truth, the Word of God, has been revealed can worship in truth. What a wonderful gift we have as Christians that we can be - should be - "the true worshipers"!

We know from as far back as Cain and Able that some worship is acceptable to God while some worship is not acceptable to Him. If worship is not directed by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Word of God, the worship is false and unacceptable to God.  It has nothing to do with what we feel like doing or not, or what we decide we want to do as worship. So we have to be very careful. Just as lack of emotion, or a reserved nature, might stifle the worship God seeks from us, unbridled emotion and giving ourselves completely over to the way we feel might result in a form of false worship as well. 

Keep in mind that among the vast multitude of things that Jesus set us free to do, one of the greatest is to worship Him freely, "in the Spirit and in truth". We must never think in terms of worshiping in the way we want to worship.  If our worship is going to be good and right and acceptable before God it must be the kind of worship He seeks, not a feeling that we seek

Psalm 100 (NIV)

 1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
 2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
   come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
   It is he who made us, and we are his;
   we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
   and his courts with praise;
   give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
   his faithfulness continues through all generations. 

When it comes right down to it, all of our relationships are defined by their confines, their boundaries. It is how far we will go, what we are willing, or not, to do for someone else that sets the boundaries of that relationship. Our relationship to God is no different.  Our relationship with God in this life will never go beyond what we are willing to do for Him at His beckoning.  I believe that if we want to live in the fullness of His boundless grace and mercy and love for us, then our love and our willingness to follow Him must be boundless as well. I also believe that, as we see in Solomon's story, unfettered praise and worship is where our boundaries, our self-imposed limits, are erased.

When we fall before our Savior in worship and praise and adoration, it is then that we will rise! 

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


I have never been satisfied with what I am able to give for Christmas, Birthdays, and Anniversaries. Never.  And for all of 34 years of marriage and 31 years of fatherhood that feeling has persisted.  I want to give good things to my wife and my children.

I really don't care about getting anything - really - except for the joy I have seen on the face of the giver.  It gives me great pleasure to give and to be given to in the true spirit of giving.  I would not take away the joy some people get in giving for anything in this world. The size, shape, cost, color, or brand of the gift - even the usefulness - are insignificant in comparison to the spirit of the giver.  The love or the caring or the appreciation that motivated the giving is the real gift.  The item is a symbol of the spirit.  Yeah, when you think about it, it's the thought that counts!

On the flip side,  there is not much pleasure in giving to someone who is hard to give to, for any number of reasons, and little real pleasure in receiving from someone when the giving is a burden or a chore.  Did I say it's the thought that counts?

So, for givers, not being able to give is hard. Especially at Christmas.  In a very real way, a lot of emotional well being is wrapped up in Christmas. And, like Christmas itself, it is not all about giving and getting.  But, that's what I'm talking about today so I'll stick to the subject . . . sort of.

Every year I find myself saying, to myself if not to someone else, "Maybe next year."  (Of course, I'm not the only one repeating this phrase.)  I was driving to work this morning and praying as I drove, and that thought entered my mind as I was asking God for some "provision", "maybe next year". I asked God to help me not be so concerned with the size, quantity, or cost of what Sharon and I are able to give. As soon as that thought was expressed I realized what it must sound like to God, of all beings!

When we fall into the devil's trap of allowing our lives to be defined in terms of material lack . . . or excess, it is good to be reminded of the true riches that are ours in Jesus Christ.  

"I am the least important of all God's people. But God was kind and chose me to tell the Gentiles that because of Christ there are blessings that cannot be measured."  Ephesians 3:8 (CEV)

More than adequate in every need and lacking in nothing, Jesus Himself has promised,  "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."  John 14:12-14

"Give me, please, God, a constantly conscious and grateful heart for the size, quantity, and cost of Your great Gift to me.  And give me the love and the opportunity and the words to boldly tell others of this same Gift you have for them. And when it comes to sharing the truth of this Gift, our Lord Jesus, with others, may I never say "maybe next year" or even "tomorrow". This I ask in your name, Jesus.

We human beings tend to lose perspective from time to time.  Some might call it a reality check, but I would say it is a good thing to do a "God check" just to make sure we are seeing things as they really are.  We can always depend on God to put us right and to help us see things in the proper perspective if we are willing and listening.

So, yeah, I still want to do good things for the ones I love. (I think I get this trait from God.) And, yeah, maybe next year. But, this I know. God will take care of next year, just as He is taking care of this year, and all the years that came before, and all the years that are yet to come.

There is a gift that keeps on giving. And, no, it is not a subscription to The Jelly Of The Month Club.  The gift is salvation. And there is more to this gift than I could ever describe here even if I could fully describe it. The gift of salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is a gift, meaning that it is free. There is nothing that can be done to earn it, no price that can be paid to purchase it. 

If you do not have this gift among all that you do have, and if there is only one gift that you receive this Christmas season,  get this one. There is nothing greater to be had and it's yours for the asking.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

Next year? Why not now?

Merry Christmas 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Love Like That . . . for at least the next 34

"I Want To Be Loved Like That" is a great country music song from the 90's by the band "Shenandoah". The song mentions the on-screen love between Natalie Wood and James Dean.  It also talks of the love between the songwriter's own parents. So-called "great loves".  Television, movies, music, and history itself are filled with stories of great loves.  The kind of love everyone wants.  So many pine away their lives or go through life making terrible decisions in pursuit of such love.  An ideal has been created, but the tv show, the movie, the song and even history fail to provide real life instruction as to how to achieve that great love.

In all of these presentations of love-like-we-want-it there is a script or lyric sheet carefully written to convey an exact message or feeling, there are producers and directors, editors, sound, lighting and cinematography experts, and historical re-tellers - some might say hysterical re-tellers - all working to create a picture of that perfect love between a man and a woman.  Real life doesn't work that way. Even amid all of the books, tapes, cds, dvds, and seminars, perfect and true love escapes so many.

But it doesn't have to. It is freely available to everyone. And for those of us who are Christian, that love lives within us.  But, we have problems with it, mostly because of two little words: submit and sacrifice. Could the problem be that we really don't understand the true meaning, God's definition, of these words that we so often stumble over?    

Real life instruction is found in the Bible in Ephesians Chapter 5, beginning with verse 21. It is important to keep in mind that the truth of this Word from God is directed to marriages where both parties are Christians.  Such love will not be found nor can it exist outside of the bond of a Christian marriage.  And, unfortunately, that is not to say that it always exists within the bond of married Christians.  (Yes, there is a difference between a Christian marriage and married Christians.)

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.   

This word from God actually applies to all Christians. It does not mean that we become subservient to one another, but it does mean that we are to serve each other. No Christian should consider themselves as superior to another Christian, for in God's eye we are equal. We are to place ourselves into service for our Christian family, the whole Body of Christ. We are to place others before ourselves. We are to listen to each other, accepting counsel and even rebuke, when necessary.  Submission to one another is to recognize God's authority in each others lives.

If this command applies to all Christians, it certainly applies to Christian husbands and wives within the context of their marriages.  Submission as is called for here actually demonstrates equality in that it is a choice . . . the choice of the "submissor" not the "submissee".  Let's go deeper and maybe this will become clearer.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

On the surface, this is a tough one, particularly in this day and time.  But, if it is difficult to swallow, that is only because we continue to see this only through our own eyes and our own definition of wifely submission and not God's.  And, again, this is written to married couples where man and wife are Christians.

When this was written women had few or no rights, married or not.  To this day we see vestiges of those societal and religious attitudes in many cultures.  Some Christian denominations misinterpret and misapply this command to their own detriment and to a distortion of the Word. But, here, God is telling these Christian women that they are equal to men in His eye, and therefore must be held as equal in the eye of mankind. By issuing the command, God is saying you have a choice. You can submit or not. You can obey (God) or not. And you can follow the Creator of family into His design for YOUR marriage and family - the only path to true joy and fulfillment - or not.

So, what is meant by "submission"? This is an important thing to know, especially since any derivative of the word "submit" carries such a negative connotation.  In this day and time and in our culture, the idea of a woman submitting to any man is likely to get a "Yeah. Right."   Simply put, a submissive wife recognizes, respects, and accepts her husband's God given authority in the home.  Accepting the role of submission in marriage is to submit to God.  And can you ever go wrong when you are being obedient to God?

Think about this. When a Christian submits to Christ, the power of Christ is unleashed in the life of the Christian. Are wives being told here that submission in marriage carries benefits - blessings - in marriage commensurate to those blessings which come to the church from submission to Christ?  Do you want a spiritually charged marriage?  Then put the Holy Spirit in charge of your marriage!

OK, men, here we go.   

 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.

Husbands hearing this in the Church of Ephesus were in for a shock.  I'm sure that submission thing delivered to the women sounded pretty good to the men.  But, now, husbands were being told to take a good look at Jesus and His love for the church - His body -  and to love their wives just like that. Not something like that, but just like that! Love just as Jesus loves.  A tall order, but no where near impossible.  "Fetch my slippers, my foot!"

Jesus gave Himself, all He had, in His love for us.  It started when He left Heaven to come down and be born as a human being and to begin His walk on this earth.  What did He give up? What did He leave behind?  The Living Word by Whom this vast universe was created came to know hunger, fatigue, physical pain, emotional pain, human loneliness, fear, rejection, humiliation, temptation, and even death.  He left a place of perfection and unimaginable wonder to come down here and experience all of the above and more.  And He did it all for us in love and in obedience to God, the Father.  He sacrificed Himself for us.  Brothers, that is what we are called to do. We are each to love his wife just as Jesus loves us.

I've not yet fully grasped it, but as I read these 5 verses from Ephesians, I have come to believe that there is something very powerful in obedience to this command. Something far beyond what I have considered love to be capable of accomplishing.  We see what Christ has done for the church in His love for her, making the church holy and blameless, presenting the church to Himself ". . .as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish,".  And we are told to " . . .love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . ."

Can it be that a husband's Christ-empowered love for his wife has such an effect upon her and how she may stand before her husband, set apart for him and wholly accepted, being made in his Spirit-sighted eyes all that God intended for her to be? . . . and beyond that to be spiritually enriched and to serve at her husband's side as God's own portrait of His saving relationship with His creation?

I can't explain it all. Submission and sacrifice. Respect and love. And that's alright because I'm not supposed to.  I'm just here suggesting that we all look deeper into our role in marriage. That is what it is. It is a role. Man and Woman are equal before God, and He has given us, Man and Woman, a role to fulfill in our marriages.  How can we enter into Holy Matrimony and ignore or resist God's instruction to us as to the only way we can achieve His ideal marriage?

When there is a problem and we wonder what's wrong, what the problem is, perhaps we should go to Ephesians 5.  Am I fulfilling my role as defined by God? NOT, is she, or is he, fulfilling their role.  But, am I following God's instruction?  You see, marriage was not designed for jr high schoolers.  Certainly marriage will not survive without give and take, without compromise. But, there is no room for "I will if you will" where the roles of husband and wife are concerned.

It is a matter of trust.  Maybe, at the present time, you don't fully trust your wife or your husband to follow God's instruction in Ephesians 5.  It doesn't mean that you don't love them, or that they don't love you. It just means that you recognize that all is not as it should be in your home.  That is why, first and foremost, our trust must always be placed in God.  We can only - excuse me - must only do what God tells us to do.  We can't obey God for someone else or make anyone else obey Him. And we don't get a pass just because someone else passes. But we can trust God in all things to honor our obedience to Him.  He may use one person's obedient countenance to bring the other person around. He may work in some other way.  But, He will work. He simply does not make room for us to refuse to obey Him based on someone else's failure to obey.

And really, who best for us to rely on to make a great marriage?  Self? . . . or God?  Pray! Pray Ephesians 5 into your marriage.

God's design for marriage must be what we as Christians seek and pursue with all of our might.  Any marriage that does not have Christ at its center is a failure, no matter how great it looks from the outside. That is because a marriage made without regard to God's design and will and plan is counterfeit. Let's face it. God designed marriage so His design can be the only true definition of marriage and family there is.  We human beings have no right to redesign or redefine it.

So, here at our 34th wedding anniversary, when I have so little to give to my wife, and she has long known that I am no great prize, I am saying to you, Sharon, that I am praying and asking Jesus to teach me to love you like He loves us.  You know I don't like to ask for directions, but I am asking Him, and He will guide, and I will learn. My love, I have found is flawed, just as I am flawed.  His love is perfect. And that is what I seek for you and that is where we are going.     

I want a love like that.  I want to love like that.

Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Psalm 119:130 (NKJV) The entrance of Your words gives light;

I have loved this part of this verse ever since I first heard it some years ago. Even then, before I was saved, I could see the truth of these words. Since my salvation, however, the light provided by the Word of God is evermore bright. Just as sunlight is essential to the growth of plant life here on Earth, the light (understanding and application) of God's Word is necessary to the spiritual growth of a Christian. That light doesn't always show us what we want to see, though.

From time to time, as I am studying my Bible, certain scripture - usually Old Testament - shows me something of who and what I was. A light is focused on something that I have not taken to God in its fullness. Things I thought I had dealt with through prayer and repentance rise up. When this happens I realize that I have not dealt with it specifically, or maybe on the level of attention it deserves.

"Forgive me for my sin whatever it might be" does not always work. Sometimes we have to confront issues from our past because we've not yet fully realized their impact on our lives and the lives of others. We have not yet dealt with some things properly before God. We don't want to admit these things to ourselves, much less to God. But when we do He is faithful to forgive, and He so mercifully frees us from the hold they have on us.

As I seek God's guidance that I may follow Him into becoming the man He intends for me to be, I find more and more just how far from that I really am. This is not disheartening to me, though. Because now I see it! All those years as a phony wannabe were spent in darkness. Try as I might, I could find little real meaning for my life in the Word. Nothing worked. It couldn't. The power source that propels a human being's life along THE path of God's perfect will for THAT person was not alive within me. I was a dead man walking for more than 40 years, and the worst part of that is that I didn't see it. I thought the light was in me and yet I knew that I was spiritually blind. My spiritual problem, I found, was that I had no real spiritual life.

Only when God opened my eyes to the darkness that I was could He shine His glorious Light upon me in grace and mercy and forgiveness. The truth of those beautiful words in "Amazing Grace", "I once was blind, but now I see" really do have meaning. If the words of the Psalmist are true, "The entrance of Your words gives light;" then we have to also recognize the truth of “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12.

Life is a journey.

For the lost it is a long, rambling walk in darkness. The shiny things of life pull this way and that, offering temporary gain, temporary pleasure, temporary allure. The truth of that path is obscured by a more-often-than-not unrecognized sinful nature. And the journey of the lost comes to no good end. In fact, it does not end. The worst moment of earthly life for the lost may as well be their best by comparison to the torture of eternal separation from God in a place that offers only pain, no rest, no peace, no pleasure . . . and no light.

For those saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, life is a guided tour through the will and the way of God. And tourists we are, for this earth is no longer our home. Some sweet day we will live eternally in Heaven, in the very presence of our Maker, our God, in a dwelling prepared for us by the Son of God Himself!. We will dwell in a place of unimaginable beauty and wonder. If you have ever felt the presence of God here in this life, then you have to agree that being there before His throne in praise and worship will be an indescribable experience.

On November 27, 2010, I will be 3 years old in the Lord! I cannot praise Him and thank Him enough for keeping me alive long enough to secure eternal life. And though I long to be with Him, I am so thankful that He has kept me here to tell others what He has done for me in hopes that they will accept what He has done for them as well. I do a poor job of it, but, still He abides with me.

The light of God's word doesn't always tell us what we would like to know about ourselves. If we take an honest look, we can see our own sinful life reflected in those words written so long ago. As much as we might regret our past we cannot constantly look back. Because the true Light of the Word, the Light of the World, the Word, came to offer forgiveness. If we know Jesus, then we know that He has set us free from our past. All of the chains that bound us have been broken! He has made us righteous and holy and able to enter into the most holy of places!

The same light that shows us who we were shows us who we can be, what God made us for and what Jesus Christ has made a way for us to achieve. I truly believe that the answer to any problem we have can be found in the Holy Bible.

"The entrance of Your words gives light;"

You don't have to wonder. You don't have to live in the dark!

I was darkness itself. Now I am light. Why would anyone reject this in their own life?

You wanna get lit?

Ephesians 5:8 (NIV) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh, Lord, do I really HAVE to like (fill in the blank)?

Ephesians 4 (NIV)

 1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it

This little piece of scripture is a little piece of what our Sunday School lesson was supposed to be about this past Sunday morning.  As it turned out, this little piece of scripture is as far as we got.  When I first read this the previous Sunday or Monday night, I felt like I was going to spend a lot of time on this particular section, with all of its "one's", but I didn't know why. And, even then I thought it would be approached from a different perspective than it was presented in the Sunday School book.  But, that is what happens when you turn it over to God.  He might take it in a different direction from that of the author or from my own impressions, which I admit sometimes differ from that of the authors.

It is powerful, though, so I thought I would share with you, my 2 or 3 readers.

Paul, inspired by God, unerringly, I might add, is echoing one of our Lord's greatest desires for us, the church. On the eve of His crucifixion, a night for saying the most important of things, Jesus passionately emphasizes His desire that we believers love each other just like He loves us and that we become one.

John 13:34-35 (NIV)

 34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

John 15:17 (NIV)

17This is my command: Love each other.

John 17:20-23 (NIV)

 20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I'm not going to re-state what it takes to live worthy of our calling to Christ. (It's right up there in Ephesians 4.)  And we all know that human relationships can become very complicated.  Jesus knows that, too. That's why He reminds us through His command, that love is something we do more than a way we feel.  (Have you ever noticed, though, that when you do loving things you feel more loving?)  And the feeling always follows the doing, but the doing does not always follow the feeling.

But, issues arise, disagreements turn into arguments, arguments produce anger, divisions occur, relationships damage and shatter, and love seems to fly away. So, how then are we to love in the midst of all this? And what of all these fractured relationships? (And before you think I am saying that anger is a sin let me hasten to add: Ephesians 4:26-27 (NIV) "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anger is not a sinful emotion, but improperly managed it can lead to sin and it can give Satan a foothold in our lives and our relationships. How often does that happen?)

Unity among believers, the body of Christ, is so very important.  Can you imagine what might happen if there was a breakdown in the unity of the Holy Trinity?  Jesus didn't want to go to the cross. He asked if that cup might pass without His having to partake of it.  He had the power and the free will to keep Himself off of the cross.  And yet, knowing the torture that was to come, He submitted His will to that of His Father, and He willingly laid down His life for you and I.  He kept unity with God at the highest of costs and reaped the highest of rewards.

We, who are believers, make up the body of Christ.  Just as aches and pains and breaks and severed connections keep a human body from functioning properly, damaged, broken, and severed relationships among believers keep the body of Christ from functioning properly. Thus Jesus' call to be One.

No one knows the day or the hour of Jesus' return for the church. Just a question: Does the functionality of the body have anything to do with the timing of His return?  Are our divisions delaying His return?  Is the fact that a divided body cannot do the work of a united body preventing some key elements from going into place which are intended to prepare us and the world for that great moment in time?

Does it make sense, then, in light of Jesus' great desire for unity among us, that our disagreements and differences and divisions go far beyond the focus we place on ourselves in such times?   When Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior to Whom all power and authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given, prays fervently that we love one another, and commands us to love one another, and counsels us through His servant Paul not to sin in our anger, and not to let the sun set upon our anger, does this not at least raise the question of eternal implications of our relatively petty arguments?

Yes, it gets complicated.  Among Christians friendships dissolve, marriages fail, families shatter, churches divide.  And Christian on-lookers, lay-counselors, co-conspirators, so-called friends. and concerned parties say "too bad", "so sad", "bound to happen", "couldn't be helped", even "you will be so much better off".  And all the while our Lord's command to love one another and His great desire that we become One fade through the background of  "I can't go on like this anymore."

How does this happen?  Why does this happen?  It happens because we are human.  And if, as Christians,  we continue to live out our relationships on a strictly human level, then those relationships, no matter what their origin or basis are going to fall victim to our flawed human way of maintaining things. Like all things of this world, worldly relationships, even under the pretext of Christian love, will not survive in tact.    

What, then, can we do?  How do we fix this? What is the cure for a sick and dying relationship?

Just as for all worldly ills, there is one cure  . . . one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all . . .

Move all of your relationships from the worldly level to the spiritual level.  Consider that nothing in your life should be separate from Christ including your relationships.  When cracks appear and irritations arise, when disagreements give way to to full blown arguments, resist the urge to turn to self preservation. If the relationship is Christ centered remember that the relationship must be preserved and that such is the ultimate in self preservation. If the relationship is not Christ centered and cannot be brought into the realm of your submission to Christ, then simply get rid of it. It is a sinful relationship and has no place in your life.

Complicated relationships?  They certainly can be.  But, the answers are found in the simple application of the Word of God as led by the Holy Spirit.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love . . ."

"that all of them may be one . . ."

"As I have loved you, so you must love one another . . ."

"This is my command: Love each other."
And, yes, it takes everyone involved whether two or three or a multitude.  Our responsibility before God, however, is to do all we can do.

Do all you can do to preserve unity for the sake of the Body of Christ. "Do all you can" is not to let you off the hook. "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."  This is to say do ALL you can through the leading of the Holy Spirit.  (That's the Holy Spirit who gives you power to do ". . . even greater things that these."  Just so you know, all you can do is more than you think you can do.)

Relationships . . . I could go on. But, . . . I won't. (for now)

And YOU CAN do whatever Jesus calls you to do in any relationship because  ". . . to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."  (He already gave you what you need!)


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Impressions From "The Shack"

Please believe that I mean no offense or criticism to those who are big fans of this book. 

This might be a short blog. Then again, it's hard to say.  I am writing this because I said I would, and because this is just what the title of the blog indicates. I read "The Shack" maybe 2 years ago.  (It could have been a year - I lose track of time.) Admittedly, I read the book with some trepidation. I really didn't know what to expect and my sensors were set to "discern" something like blasphemy.  So, now, a year or two  later, I am left with impressions of the book based on my poor ability to retain a lot of detail about anything I read or hear.

I am going to read this book again.  And I will blog on it again regardless of changes, or lack thereof, in my present opinion.  This reading will be more open than the first one. By "open" I mean that I will give it a fair shot. I will allow "The Shack" to state it's case without interruption from my own self-righteous spiritual outbursts. My spiritual guard, however, will stay up.

I will begin by saying that I don't like the premise of the book.  Or maybe I should say I am uncomfortable with it. . . . No! I don't like it. "The Shack" is a work of fiction featuring God, ("Papa" in the book), Jesus and the Holy Spirit, whom the author chose to give a name: Sarayu - which is a river in India, and also is an Indian name meaning wind. (Indian, not In'jun.)  "Christian fiction" normally tells of people seeking, finding, struggling, hurting, obeying, winning, etc. without faith, with faith, because of faith, without God, with God, because of God - any and all combinations withstanding.  In "The Shack" we have a fictional story (that is all to real for so many who go through the same kind of loss as "Mack", the protagonist, did) featuring the very real Holy Trinity as speaking, moving, doing characters.  And when I say this almost fictionalizes Them, I understand that many would say that the way the author has portrayed Them makes God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit ever more real. I think, though, that this is sometimes confused with the fact that the book "humanizes" them.  Jesus, I believe, IS in His glorified human body.  "The Shack" portrays His sacrifice very well.  God is NOT human.  And the Holy Spirit as described in "The Shack" is . . . well, I'm gonna have to read the book again. 

However, I do believe careful inspection will find that these "character portrayals" fall short of God as He has revealed Himself through The Word.  In fact, I don't recall mention, or validation, of the Bible in "The Shack".  I'm not saying it is not there, but I do not remember it.

"The Shack" does a wonderful job in telling of God's unlimited unconditional love for us. But, it falls short, and does a great disservice in telling of God's love without telling how we receive the full benefits of God's love.  I know it makes mention of Jesus' death upon the cross. But, our absolute need for the gift of salvation offered by Jesus because of our sin is just not there. There is no allusion to repentance nor to the great spiritual battle being fought over us - you and me.

In this, my next-to-final analysis, (I'm going to read the book again) I going to have to say, amid certain cries of protest, that "The Shack" bears false witness.

Yes, it points to an unconditionally loving God in a way that many have not seen before, and yes, it points to a Jesus that is approachable, supportive, sacrificial, easy to talk to and lean on, and yes, it gives a thought provoking if incomprehensible description of the Holy Spirit.  But, as I recall, it fails to address the awesome Holiness of God.  God is enthroned on high. Angels encircle Him with unending cries of "Holy, Holy, Holy".  In my heart of hearts I cannot take God, as revealed in the glory of His creation, as revealed in the truth of the Holy Bible, and as revealed to me by the Holy Spirit, from His Heavenly throne and put Him at my kitchen counter making biscuits from scratch. (There is a "whole 'nother" blog brewing about how God created me and is re-making me from scratch. I get the metaphor.)

The Holy Spirit, as far as I know, has no name. He may have one that will someday be revealed to us. But, in the meantime, who are we to name the Holy Spirit?  The Holy Spirit marks us, not the other way around.  AND, my main problem with "Sarayou" in "The Shack" is that there is no mention, that I can recall, about the indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit. (That would have called for explaining just how that comes to be.)

And this brings me to Jesus. All I will say here is that "The Shack" points to Jesus in a way that we want to know Him so much more intimately than we do. The book tells us of a Jesus who does know us intimately and wants to walk so very closely with us as well.  It just doesn't tell us how to get there. In fact, my sense of "The Shack" is that it is saying that there really is no "getting there". There is no sin, there is no shame, there is no guilt, there is no repentance. No forgiveness required.

"The Shack" can be a good read for strong Christians who can glean from it ways to explore a growing and closer relationship with the Trinity.  It can, however, mislead the immature Christian, and misdirect the lost. (And, yes, some people do get their theology from works of fiction.)

Jesus offers us so much. Jesus is everything! The path to Jesus does not end at the doorways of the "shacks" of our lives.  The path to Jesus leads to the Cross where we are set free from our shacks, and our shackles.          

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2nd Chance?

Recently, I was looking at an article on one of the Yahoo sites. The article, actually a series of videos, was titled "What would you do with a second chance?".  I have to admit that this is something that I have thought about quite often down through the years.  (I didn't do so well with my first one.) To be honest, most of the time spent pondering such things amounted to little more than day dreaming. (I have some great day dreams, by the way!) After all, few enough people get a good "1st" chance in this life and 2nd chances seem to be even harder to come by.  And even when one does pass our way, how many of us actually reach out and take it?  Would we recognize it if we saw it?  Or would we just stay in the agonizing comfort of what we already know?

Epiphany: (from Webster's Online Dictionary)
2 : an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
3 a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b : a revealing scene or moment

So, I don't know whether I had an epiphany or I just remembered something I already knew. (Maybe it's all the same.)

It struck me, as I was thinking how nice a second chance would be, that when we accept Jesus Christ into our lives we get something far better than a 2nd chance! We get a new life! We get a life where we can now do anything God enables us to do! We can now have anything God desires for us to have! We can now go anywhere God leads us to go!  We can now discover anything God offers to show us!  We can now face any challenge God allows to come before us!   We can now be the person of our creation!

Colossians 1:16-17 (NKJV) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 
Revelation 4:11 (NIV)"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things,and by your will they were created and have their being."

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.


Just like the 1st one, there are no guarantees with a 2nd chance. We can mess that one up, too!  When we think in terms of another chance we think of all the things we would do differently.  "I would do this. I would do that. I wouldn't go there." Even with a 2nd chance we would still be pursuing our own agendas whatever they may be.  In a new life, surrendered - not committed, but surrendered - to Jesus we are following the very architect of life itself.  We have left behind our own pride that says "I know what is best for me" and we are in step, or truly seeking to be in step, with the One who does know best. We have admitted that God's plans and desires for us are immeasurably greater than our own could ever be and we seek to walk that path. 

As we grow in Christ, we come to realize how limited our former self was, and, understanding that we are indwelt by the one, the only, limitless God, we begin to see what Jesus meant when He said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." John 10:10 (NKJV)

I can't say that I know everything about this "abundant life".  Certainly, I view it much differently than I did before I started living it.    I know that I have it. And I know that my understanding and realization of it are growing. I know the best is yet to come. And I know that it is only found in Jesus Christ.

Times change. Things change.  People change.  The world changes.  There is only one constant, eternally unchanging thing, and that is God! 

Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

And yet He brings such awesome change into our lives.

2nd chance?  Who needs it!?!  

I have a new life!  . . . so, what am I gong to do about that?

(And, by the way, when I wrote above that "It struck me . . .", I have to say nothing struck me.  The Holy Spirit simply addressed the issue. (He's like that.))

Friday, April 02, 2010

Saving Private Ryan . . . and Saving Us - - - - - THE Difference

There is a scene just before the end of the movie, "Saving Private Ryan", where a dying Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) says to young Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), "Earn this." You see, Capt. Miller is the last of several soldiers to die in carrying out their mission to find Private Ryan so he can be sent home, the last survivor of four brothers involved in the invasion of Normandy. "Earn this." . . . two small words that obviously had a profound affect on James Ryan's life. In the final scene of the movie, he is an old man with his wife, children, and grandchildren nearby as he stands beside Capt Miller's Normandy grave. He speaks of how he hopes that the way he had lived his life was enough to earn the great sacrifices made for him.  "Tell me I've led a good life," he says with great emotion to his wife. "Tell me I'm a good man."

Many such sacrifices have been made and are being made by people for other people. Whether they can be earned, I don't know. And I certainly don't want to diminish these great acts in any way.

But, in contrast, the greatest sacrifice of all time and eternity was made - for all - on a cross outside of Jerusalem in Israel over 2,000 years ago. The very Son of God gave His life so we - you, I, and everyone else - could live eternally in the presence of God. Jesus took my sin, and your sin, upon Himself, and He was punished in our place. He paid the price that was ours to pay.

And what a price it was. The cost of sin is Death. Eternity in Hell, separated from God, separated from every one and every thing we love for eternity. Never again to experience joy, happiness, comfort, pleasure, love, companionship, peace or rest.

Jesus saved you and me from that. And never once has he uttered the words, "Earn this."  His words were "Father, forgive them. For they know not what they are doing." We could not earn Heaven in the first place, and we cannot now begin to earn Jesus' sacrifice which has given us Life.  It's wrong to try!  Jesus does not ask us to earn what He has given us, because then it would not be given!  For us to say in any way that we could or should "earn" Life takes God's grace out of it.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Earn this? . . . no way!

Live this? . . . absolutely!!!