Friday, April 27, 2012

James, the marriage counselor

James 1:19  "My dear brothers, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."

Yesterday was mine and Sara's wedding anniversary.  As we talked the night before, we were both able to say in all honesty that we still love each other the same as we did on our wedding day, and we are both still where we want to be.  We stated the goal of being able to say that on every anniversary we celebrate.

James gives great advice not only for living as an effective Christian, but much of what he says could be found in a manual on creating an effective marriage.  Being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry are key components to having effective interpersonal relationships.  We have no more important interpersonal relationship in our lives than the one we have with our spouse. 

It is easy to see how practicing these actions can improve a marriage.  I've learned that Sara, like most women, wants to feel heard, understood and validated.  That requires me to listen without immediately jumping in with a solution to a problem.  And I certainly don't accomplish the goal of validating her feelings if I become angry. 

This is valuable advice to carry into the world, but even more valuable when practiced at home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Don't leave home without it

Ephesians 6:4  "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

Parenting is the most all-encompassing job I can ever imagine having.  There are no vacation or sick days off in parenting.  There are no slack days where I can take it a little easier if I am tired.  Kids require the same effort and patience every day.

Some days, about the best we can hope for is to get everyone through the day in one piece.  But the challenge is not to let everyday be a mere quest for survival.  We have a relatively short amount of time to lay a solid foundation for our children.  At the center of that foundation is teaching them about God and His incomparable love for us.

If our kids were to leave our house with only one thing, it should be a knowledge and understanding of the Gospel.  Hopefully someday they will leave with much more, but this is most important.  Although it is God's job to draw them to Himself, He gives parents an active role in the process. 

I pray that God will help Sara and I to be thoughtful, intentional and diligent in training our children in the way they should go.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

There are no style points

Philippians 1:18  "But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice."

Paul recognized that some were preaching the Gospel with less than pure motives.  They had possibly figured out that the growing movement provided a platform from which they could make a name for themselves.  This motive was less than the pure motive of spreading the Good News and drawing others to Christ. 

Paul also recognized, though, that regardless of the motive, the Gospel was still being preached and spread.  This seems a little contradictory when you view this stance by Paul in light of his strong arguments against false teachers and about those who go through the motions of Christianity without a changed heart.  Maybe Paul knew that God would ultimately deal with these people about what was in their hearts, and that was not his concern.  Rather, he recognized that the preaching of God's Word has value even if the motives of the preacher are not totally pure.

We should keep this thought in mind when we have our inevitable debates about stylistics and how one preacher or church spreads the Gospel versus another.  Some use massive church buildings, some use the living room of an individual's home.  Some use television, some only preach in face-to-face, one-on-one conversations. 

We need to keep in mind that there is not one exclusively acceptable system for spreading the Gospel.  Style is not important.  If one style of worship reaches a non-believer where another style would not have, we should rejoice.  The important thing is that they are reached.  God and His Holy Spirit will take it from there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Are you a taker?

Matthew 7:14  "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Jesus described the way to life as being a small gate and a narrow road.  His message is that He is the only way through which we may come to God.  But even within that group who says it accepts Him as their Lord and Savior, there is an even smaller portion who find life in the way Jesus meant it.

Many accept Jesus in name for the gift of salvation, then go about their lives as if they've just been given the ultimate "get out of jail free" card.  But notice the words Jesus uses here, as they give a clue as to what He truly offers us.  Notice what He says the road leads to- "life".  He didn't say the narrow road leads to salvation (although it certainly would have been true had He said this instead.)  Jesus offers us more than simply salvation- He offers us life.

Those who accept the gift of salvation but continue living life for themselves and in conformance with the values of the world miss what Jesus is saying that He offers- true life.  It is only through how we live our lives that we can glorify God for what He has done for us.  Without a life that expresses our gratitude for His grace and mercy, we are simply takers. 

Life, as Jesus meant it, involves a level of sacrifice on our part, not just acceptance of a free gift.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Walking the talk

Deuteronomy 11:19  "Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

There are many responsibilities God entrusts to you when He makes you a parent.  You have the responsibility to provide for your children's needs, care for them, and protect them.  But He gives us no greater responsibility than to introduce them to God and build a strong foundation upon which their faith can be based. 

Ultimately, they will have to choose for themselves whether or not to place their faith in Jesus Christ and to love God with all their heart, soul and strength.  But while they are entrusted to our care, it is our responsibility as parents to lead and guide them through their early years, building in them a core knowledge of who God is, how much He loves us, and how we can live in a way that honors and glorifies Him.

This is a daily responsibility, and doesn't simply involve taking them to church on Sunday.  In fact, the way we as parents live our lives every day of the week either reinforces or contradicts what we teach them about God.  Walk the talk, because they are always watching and learning.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Humility and hypocrisy

Ephesians 2:3  "All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."

Paul writes about the inherent sinful nature all human beings possess.  A Christian believer does not have any less of a sinful nature than a non-believer.  None of us are immune to our own basic sinful nature as human beings.

One of the most common criticisms of the church, expressed by believers and non-believers alike, is hypocrisy.  There is a belief (and sometimes a reality) that those who show up at church on Sunday morning judge those around them while committing the same or worse sins than those whom they have judged. 

The second part of this is absolutely true.  While the specific sins may differ, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.  It doesn't matter where we are or are not at on Sunday morning.  It's the first part of the definition of hypocrisy that is the heart of the issue- judgment.  Be it real or perceived, it is the feeling of being judged by others that we all want to avoid. 

I believe there are two sides of the issue to be examined within ourselves.  First, when we feel we are being judged, is that by definition a bad thing?  Is it really the judgment of other humans we feel, or is it conviction by the Holy Spirit?  When we feel judged, it might be useful to pause and see if there is any validity to the feeling.  Ask God to help you sort through the feeling and see if there is anything He is trying to communicate to you.  Make no mistake, perceived feelings of being judged by others is a scheme of the devil to weaken our self-image and destroy our relationships with others.  If our examination of the feeling with God's help reveals nothing of substance, it may be an attack from Satan.

The second side of hypocrisy is to examine yourself for feelings of judgment against others.  Judgment of others can reflect a lack of humility within ourselves.  We need look no further than Jesus Himself for a perfect model of humility.  I think the temptation to judge others is stronger when we feel judged.  Judging others can be a self-defense mechanism to shift the focus away from the judgment we feel. 

Judgment is a useful exercise, because we have all be judged guilty by the one true judge- God.  But He has provided perfect atonement for our guilt, and we can all walk in humility before God as a result.  Humility is the sword that slays hypocrisy.