Do not feel you are missing something by not sinning

Lindsey Maestas felt she was missing something every time she sinned.  Although she gave her life to Jesus when she was 19, she had loved Him and failed Him ever since.  Her go to sin was sex outside marriage. She jumped from relationship to relationship because she “just wanted to be happy”.

Instead, she felt the exact opposite. While sharing her story in Relevant magazine she, wrote “My heart was a torn-up piece of cloth and I kept trying to patch it with the wrong things.”

We all have issues.  What is yours?  If you are like me you can certainly relate to Linsey’s experience of inviting Jesus into your life yet disappointing Him in your thoughts and actions over and over.

That is where the season of Lent comes into play.  For centuries Christ followers have used these forty days before Easter as a tool to become more like Christ in order to enjoy the fullness of Christ found only in that singular relationship.

Michael Hidalgo said, “Over time, our hearts and souls, when left unattended, get messy. Lent invites us to deal with the mess. Lent invites us to roll up our sleeves and sort through the debris of our lives.”

So many have tried and failed in this endeavor they quite trying.  Often the problem is approach.  Lent is round two of their New Year’s resolutions.

The season is not about giving up something, or even taking up something, as a self-improvement technique.  Do not think (even if only in the back of your mind) of fasting in terms of a diet or improved self-will.

The point is not self-improvement even in spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading (though they may come). Drawing closer to Jesus is the goal.

Clifton Stringer explains, “The point is to feel a little discomfort, a little pain, and by that to be constantly reminded of the love of our Savior Jesus Christ, who denied himself for our salvation.” Receiving His love enables us to love Him in return and “your neighbor as yourself”.

Affections change the closer one gets to Jesus. Our hearts desire and receive a better sort of joy.  “They have developed a taste for other pleasures and find happiness in holiness. This shift is key to leaving behind sinful behaviors.”

“It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich” (Ps. 37:16). There is no need to feel deprived, as if God is withholding something good.

The more we acknowledge God’s love for us the greater the desire to determine what hinders deeper intimacy.  Identifying and discarding barriers in our relationship becomes a yearning rather than a burden.

Such is the purpose of Lent and any acts of denial or increased devotion. Lovers of Jesus do not miss out when sin is avoided.  They find the perfect patch for the torn fabric of their lives.

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Who is walking who?

“Pa, let’s go” implores my beautiful and impatient granddaughter.  It seems I take much more time to get ready for a walk than she does.  This little free spirit wants to see more of this big beautiful world and I am holding her back.  Looking down and smiling into those big beautiful eyes, I say, “Ok.  Where are we going?”  She surveys the landscape even as she moves her feet forward.  “Let’s go over there”, as she looks down the paved road in the camping trailer park. We walk up the steps to the bathroom then back down again.  We walk very closely to the drainage ditch in order to look at and a bit into the concrete pipe.  We talk along the woods edge as all the while she pulls me along. I follow her lead unless she starts down a road that would take too long, is the park rangers private drive, or she gets too close for comfort to the drainage pipe that is several feet below us.  In those moments I pull her soft little hand in a different direction and say, “Let’s go look at that”. There is occasional resistance and an even rarer insistence on grandpa’s part that we are NOT going where she wants.  After a few moments the tension in the air and between our hands dissipates as she surrenders and says, “O-kay.”

Who is walking who?  Was she in control when she was leading or was I leading from the second chair. Perhaps this is God’s picture of His walk with us.  He extends his hand.  If we take it, He smiles and asks, “Where do you want to go?”  Because He loves us with an everlasting love, He wants to help us realize our hopes and dreams.  “Let’s go,” He says.  Who enjoys life’s journey more?  His redirection may not be noticed or it may be resisted.  Unlike the parent of a child, the heavenly Father will allow us to turn loose of His hand and go a dangerous direction if we stubbornly insist on it.

As we mature in Christ the realization becomes stronger that the wisest course of action is to seek God’s plan for our lives.  After all, He is All Wise and Ever Loving. The writer of Psalms experienced what we can, too. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” He leads.  Will we follow?  He teaches what is true, right, good, pleasing, and perfect.  Will we agree or argue?

This is a good time of year to recognize I was ugly with God and should apologize. We call that repentance. It clears the air, opens dialogue, and reestablishes healthy relationship.  Repentance is choosing to go a different direction, a better direction, God’s direction. Repentance from the heart involves the will, the mind and the emotions. It prepares the way to celebrate Easter mightily.

You choose. Who leads?

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Church Attendance Can Change Your Life

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The example and wisdom of Jesus Christ is esteemed even by those who do not believe he is the Son of God. The Koran teaches that Jesus was a messenger of Allah. The mainstream Muslim belief is that Jesus didn’t suffer death but was instead raised alive to heaven. Mahatma Gandhi, who is a teacher for Hindu said, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

Perhaps more men and women would cherish Jesus if those who claim to be Christians were more like Him. Jesus loved and forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery then sent her on her way with the caution not to repeat her past sin.

He gave food away to the hungry and ministered to their medical needs. He thrived in a strong family and was committed to His community/small group. Throughout His life with all its ups and downs “On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.”

Emulating His actions is a good beginning. Israelites would carry the backpack of a hated Roman soldier two miles instead of the legally required one.

Christians took in the sick and dying during the Black Death which killed 50 million people in the 14th century, or 60 per cent of Europe’s entire population. They risked their lives to love others either into death or renewed health. They made the needs of others their focus rather than themselves.  A young woman told me recently the church was significant to her as place to come “When you need someone to show they care”.

Church attendance can change your life.

Researchers at John Hopkins cite a close and meaningful family life as the best deterrent to drug and alcohol abuse. The most vulnerable youth had the chilliest home settings.

Does church attendance affect how much people value their families? According to a Gallup survey, 96 percent of those who attend religious services at least weekly say that family life is “very important” to them while only 75 percent of those who never attend church placed the same priority on families.

Church attendance makes a difference in school performance for kids in low-class neighborhoods, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

A major study of church attendance and mortality indicates that people who attend church every week live an average of seven years longer than people who never attend worship services. “This kind of data underscores the power of religion, not only for their psychological well-being, but also their physical well-being,” said Kenneth Pargament, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University.

All of us long for community and connection with others; and it is good for us! Sometimes people in church do not reflect Jesus.  In fact, sometimes they act like His nemesis.

If you have wounds from past encounters with church leaders or members, I’m praying for you—that God would bring healing and grace to you as you seek to follow him and love his church.  I have witnessed it time and again, not weekly but often several times a year.

Nevertheless, the blessings of Christian community outweigh the occasional wounding. Trust in God’s wisdom when He said to “not give up meeting together”.

The success of a church is not measured by the number of people who attend, the amount of money given, or the grandeur of the buildings constructed.  Jesus measures by the amount of spiritual fruit produced, which is an external indication of interior spiritual health.

Jesus watches to see if we love both His Father and our neighbors. He called them the greatest two commandments. This is hard to consistently do alone.  We need others.  I do not have all the gifts needed for spiritual construction.  Together we do.  When one person is down, another will be up extending a helping hand.

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”, Jesus said. Worshipping together is powerful. It will change your life if you embrace it mind, body, and spirit for the sake of others.

A wise pastor understood the importance of worshipping together as an entire fellowship. One day, he went to see a member long absent.  Wordlessly he entered the cabin.  Observing the lost sheep sitting across from the fire watching, the shepherd walked to the fire and moved a glowing coal from the middle of the fire to the edge.  After a time the flame from the coal disappeared and the red glow began turning black.  The pastor moved the coal back into the heart of the fire and left.  The following Sunday the lost sheep was seen in the middle of the church with an understanding smile on his face.

The season of Lent (40 days prior to Easter) is a time to reorient and renew life. The example of Christ on the day of worship is a good one to follow. “The Local Church Is More Awkward Than Your Facebook Wall. Embrace it anyway.”–Richard Clark.

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George Washington’s Advice

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George Washington’s birthday was February 22 and was celebrated on the Senate floor by reading his Farewell Address.  He only said three things were absolutely necessary for our country to endure.

One of those three is not very popular today, but no less true. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”  It would be folly to suppose that morality can be maintained without religion, he said.  “[R]eason and experience,” he wrote, “both forbid to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

President Washington was a leader in his local church as well as on the national stage.  This great patriot was a strong man of faith who knew success was won by more than human skill, intelligence, and luck. Whether he was a Deist (God created the world then left it to run on its own without intervention) or not is irrelevant to what he believed indispensable for the good of the new United States.

Lent begins this Wednesday Lent and concludes Easter morning after spreading over forty mornings and evenings days (excluding the six Sundays encountered because each of these is a “mini-Easter”).

Lent means many things, not the least of which is to remind everyone of their mortality and weaknesses that draws their attention away from God. George Washington’s farewell address to the nation came from its first military commander and civilian president, which, in part, sought to remind them of the same thing.  Do not turn away from God.  Depend on Him.  Follow Him.

Many churches this Wednesday will offer those who gather to worship the opportunity to have ashes placed on their forehead or hand in the form of a cross.  The ashes come from the previous year’s palm branches to dramatically symbolize how quickly victory fades and human popularity withers.

Caryn Rivadeneria writes “Ashes are a symbol of our repentance, of our desire to turn back to God; ashes demonstrate our solidarity of with Jesus, and with his journey to the cross and through the grave; and the sign of the cross in ashes is Christ’s own signature on us, that we belong to him.”

It may not be popular or even politically correct to state one’s personal need for God through faith in Christ. It may be even less popular to proclaim the absolute necessity for this great country to do the same if it is to endure much less flourish as it has in past years.  It is, however, the right thing and the truthful thing to do.  George Washington could not tell a lie.  We should not listen to lies either.

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Monogamy may not be natural, but it is esssential

monogamy

“Monogamy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or at least it’s not a “natural” way for people to behave in society, according to Scarlett Johansson….She says that while marriage is beautiful in concept, it’s not something she believes is a ‘natural’ state for people, given the tremendous difficulties people face committing to it”, as reported by Theresa Avila.

Maybe it used to be a natural state when women had little means to sustain themselves financially or men could only be sure a child was his.

Maybe it used to be natural when the dominant religion, most likely Christian, Judaism, or Islam, declared that was the way life was to be lived.

Today, however, monogamy is quickly becoming a declining choice alongside polyamory (open relationship), polygamy, and friends with benefits. Monogamy receives a boost from time to time when sexually transmitted diseases pose a threat to life; such as aids, Herpes, and Hepatitis C.  Otherwise, medical science mitigates the need. There has to be more behind the urge to commit than just that, and there is.

People are more than physical beings and the step beyond monogamy, marriage, minimizes the hurt which inevitably comes to all people and maximizes their joy, pleasure, and fulfillment.

Marriage, along with monogamy is on the societal ropes.  Most dictionaries do not include any reference to marriage being a lifelong monogamous commitment or to the fact it was not initiated by humans or any religious institution, but rather by God.  The 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary demonstrates what was once the common understanding.

“MAR’RIAGEnoun. The act of uniting a man and woman for life…. marriage is a contract both civil and religious, by which the parties engage to live together in mutual affection and fidelity, till death shall separate them. marriage was instituted by God himself for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity, and for securing the maintenance and education of children.”

Marriage bypasses a lot of pain such as regret.  As a 33-year-old psychiatrist said from personal experience, “I never imagined I’d pay so dearly and for so long. Sex without commitment is very risky for the heart.”

Marriage keeps the lid on depression and suicide. Thomas Lickona writing in “Physicians for Life” quotes Kieran Sawyer: “The more the relationship seems like real love, the more the young person is likely to invest, and the deeper the pain and hurt if the relationship breaks up.” Sometimes the rupture leads to deep depression that may lead, in turn, to suicide.

In the past 25 years, teen suicide has tripled. This is the same period during which the rate of teen sexual activity has sharply increased. “Although there are certainly many causes, it is reasonable to suspect that the pain from such break-ups is a factor for some young people”, said Lickona.

Finally, temporary sexual relationships can lower the self-respect of both the user and the used. Lickona observes that casual sex can lower self-esteem, which leads a person into further casual sex, which leads to further loss of self-esteem in an oppressive cycle, which is hard to break.

People are not things. When we treat them as if they were, we not only hurt them; we lose respect for ourselves.

Lickona concludes that “Sex is most joyful and fulfilling – most emotionally and physically safe – when it occurs within a loving, total, and binding life-long commitment, historically called marriage.

Sexual union is then part of something bigger – the union of two persons’ lives.”

On the positive side, governments support marriage, the strongest expression of monogamy, because it best perpetuates and stabilizes society.

Strong marriage laws encourage men and women to procreate and then stay together to mother and father their children. That benefits children and all of society because children raised in biological two-parent homes tend to do better and cause society much less trouble than children raised in other situations.

Tax breaks for married couples is an incentive that benefits the family and reduces the cost to society associated with the breakdown of the traditional family.

Marriage will increase your pay. A Virginia Commonwealth University study found that married men earn 22 percent more than their similarly experienced but single colleagues.

Marriage will help you beat cancer. In a Norwegian study, divorced and never-married male cancer patients had 11 and 16 percent higher mortality rates, respectively, than married men.

Marriage will help you live longer. A UCLA study found that people in generally excellent health were 88 percent more likely to die over the 8-year study period if they were single.

God will guide with His counsel the Psalmist said. His counsel overcomes human folly and guides through all the pitfalls of life because He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

It is natural for men and women to shun God’s directions and plans.  We want to do what we want to do. It is essential, however, to follow God’s sexual guidance if we want life to the full and heartache to be minimized.

His plan is one man and one woman for a lifetime; no adultery, fornication, casual sex before or during marriage with anyone other than the one you share life with, not just a bed.  It may not be natural, but it is essential.

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How’s that contentment thing going?

happy-meal

December wantitis, n. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when longings or cravings for things thought to bring satisfaction or enjoyment peaks for the year. It may center around one big desire that has been simmering for a while or a number of smaller cravings that together is a big thing.

Some might compare December wantitis to a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  Ask children where they want to go eat and often the predictable answer is McDonald’s.  You can offer to give them a quarter to buy their trinket of choice so they may order something else, but the chant goes up, “We want a Happy Meal. We want a Happy Meal.” It is “the meal of great joy.” You aren’t just buying chicken McNuggets and a tiny plastic movie character ring, you’re buying happiness.

Adults marvel that children never seem to wise up that their Happy Meal does not make them content for long. If they would take a hamburger and quarter instead, they could buy their own living puppy. James Harnish writes, “The truth about human beings is that as we grow up, we don’t get any smarter; our Happy Meals just keep getting more expensive. [But] the world around us tells us that happiness is always just one Happy Meal away.”

January discontent, n. The thirty days immediately following December wantitis when latent discontent becomes visible and actual. The excitement and anticipation of December wantitis often withers thirty to sixty days after Christmas resulting from the mismanagement of the seeds of happiness dreamed about earlier.

C.S. Lewis was strongly influenced by George MacDonald who once wrote this: “Let me, if I may, be ever welcomed in my room in winter by a glowing hearth, in summer by a vase of flowers; if I may not, let me think how nice they would be and bury myself in my work.” MacDonald realized the pleasantness of dreaming and desire.  Furthermore, he realized he could be content without it.  Absent the object of desire, many find it difficult to fathom happiness.

A good and obtainable goal in February is to “learn” to be content. Chained in a Roman prison, the apostle Paul writes to thank his friends for sending him aid.  His letter overflows with joy made possible because, in his words, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.  Contentment did not just happen.  It was not the by-product of a great personality type.  Through mental and physical exertion and practice, Paul came to know, understand, and be able to find satisfaction whatever the circumstance.  It did not matter whether he received much or little of those things people find pleasurable.

Paul had the same longings and cravings as every other human being. Contentment was always in the picture of his life because he had the right focus; Jesus. Just about everyone is familiar with this line from the 23rd Psalm, in the King James Version: “I shall not want.” But what does it mean?

Some people hear that line and see it as a pledge not to desire anything. But that’s not it at all. What the psalmist means by “I shall not want” is better expressed by some modern translations that render this line: “There is nothing I lack.” Or, as another version puts it, turning the phrase around and expressing it positively: “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.” It’s a statement of satisfaction, of sufficiency, of contentment that goes against the grain of our hyper-materialistic consumer society.

Paul, how is that contentment thing going? “Great!”, he would say.  “Jesus is in the picture and with His help, everything is under control.  In fact, “Everything’s coming up roses”! With practice, hard work, focus and faith in Jesus we can say the same, if not now, someday soon.

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Stand For Love

stand4love

What is a Shivaree?  A coworker explained during high school it was a custom in Northwest Arkansas.  It was a custom I had never heard of and hoped I would never experience.  He explained it was part of the wedding night celebration.  The newlywed’s friends would circle their home, creating a loud ruckus for hours usually accompanied by threats to come in and drag the bride or groom outside. At times the threat would become reality.  Imagine a bride in her nightgown paraded outside in a wheelbarrow. Do you think they could “feel the love” of those standing outside?

Those on opposite sides do not always appreciate how those on the other side genuinely feel.  Perhaps that is why God gave us two ears and one mouth.  Both sides need to hear each other’s legitimate and illegitimate concerns.  Most persons and groups want to influence not irritate those with whom they disagree.  How can we help them hear each other?

First, be informed. Listen carefully when told someone “said” something you believe is wrong.  Confirm the truth. What is the source?  Sometimes it is “reported” that someone said.  Who reported?  Did they cite their sources?  Context is important to accurately understand facts.

The recent gnashing of teeth over Trump’s proposed cap of 50,000 refugees annually is not much of a reduction.  The U.S. State Department website records the annual average of refugee admissions into the U.S. over the 2000-2015 period was 54,600.

Second, be respectful.  Be careful of calling names.  Make sure you are not what you accuse the other of.  The college Republicans at UC Berkley invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. The police canceled the talk after 150 masked agitators threw Molotov cocktails, smashed windows where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak and threw rocks and fireworks at the police.

They were incensed that such a bigoted, intolerant, hateful person would speak on campus.  A bigot is “a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion”. Was Yiannopoulos or the protestors the most bigoted and intolerant last Wednesday?

It may be legal to protest, but some times and places are more respectful than others.  Respect builds goodwill and is fair to all.  It helps both sides truly hear the thoughts and emotions of their opponents.

Third, do not miss an opportunity to bless.  A person being blessed is more open than one being cursed.  Gen. 1:27 records, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. Everyone is a person of worth regardless of race, creed, or gender.  Undocumented workers and their families are precious human beings created in the image of God, not illegal aliens almost less than human.

The Mosaic law frequently associates aliens and strangers with widows, orphans, the poor and Levites. The Intervarsity organization notes how this emphasizes that a foreigner’s life is not an easy one. “His work is often hard and poorly paid, and he may not be able to afford good housing. In addition to any material difficulties he may face, there are emotional challenges: he is an uprooted person, deprived of the comfort of his native language, family, and friends.” Perhaps the present situation is an opportunity for Christians to share in words and deeds the love story of Jesus Christ with people who may be more than ready to hear it.

I cannot help every person who comes to my door needing help.  Neither can local churches, local ministries such as the Manna Center and Genesis House, nor the United States. The need is too great.  It is not safe to open the door every time there is a knock.  Precautions must be in place and common sense activated.  Then again, the paralysis of analysis and fear must not be allowed to lead either.

God shows his care for everyone.  Christ followers receive God’s love and share it.  This is not a sentimentality only kind of love.  It is described in Hebrews 12 this way: “the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” It is time.  Stand for love; Christ’s love.

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