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Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

closet

I had the privilege of officiating a wedding on Saturday. Everyone dresses up for a wedding. The bride and groom look sharp. The wedding party put on fancy outfits and fix up their hair. Even guests get into the act. They dress up, no matter how hot the weather may be. People always want to look their best for a wedding. We clothe ourselves differently from day to day attire, because a wedding is a special occasion.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

As Christians, we should clothe ourselves in love each day. We should “look sharp” all the time, no matter the event or the location. Love is not a unique garment that should be worn on special occasions, but an item to wear every single day.

Before you put on your socks or lace up your shoes, remember that there is one more item to wear before you head out the door. Clothe yourself in love.

 

 

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difficulty1

It may seem like a paradox, but difficult times strengthen our faith and nourish relationships. Talking with my grandparents and their friends, I could detect a trend that seemed almost universal.  They would reminiscence and share stories on truly tumultuous times.  They would talk about WWII, the Great Depression, dust storms, blizzards, or the loss of crops and livestock.

We are no different. Ask any strong, stable family where they got such strength, and you will likely hear a story of crisis.  Times of hardship allow us to see where our faith and confidence is placed.  Biblical characters like Job and Abraham survived excruciating trials of faith.  Ultimately, the purest faith emerges from these difficult circumstances.

1 Peter 5:10 shares, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

May God strengthen us for today and the days ahead.

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boy and girl

I read a story on parenting a few years ago.  It was eye opening to say the least.

A mom and a dad wanted to start a family.  They wanted to raise their child in a better way than they had experienced.  The parents wanted to raise their child to have better choices free from social norms that they considered harmful in our world.  This all sounded fine and dandy until I read their plan.

You see, they believe that society imposes certain gender norms on people.  And these norms make us who we are.  Biology has nothing to do with it.  Boys are wrapped in blue blankets and girls are wrapped in pink blankets at the hospital.  We are all hapless victims of circumstance and society after that.  Boys play with toy guns and girls play with dolls.  This forms us.  Boys take wood shop in school while girls take home economics.  This determines who you are.  All of these social constructs are then forced down on the individual child and that is what makes us a guy or a gal.  We become products of our environment and mirror the social norms around us.

The couple has a child and launch out on their parenting plan.  From this point on, the story reads more like a strange sociology experiment.  They give their child a gender neutral name.  They dress their child in neutral clothes, so that it could decide if it wanted to be a boy or girl.  They give their child a neutral haircut or hair style, so that it can have the freedom to choose its own gender.  You see the parents are just waiting for the child to tell the parents how it wants to be raised, known, and identified.  Will the child play with boys or girls on the playground at school?  They will stay out of the way until the individual child makes a decision.

This libertine parenting method struck me as very odd.  Why would these parents purposefully keep truth from their own child?  If there is no truth from mom and dad, what kind of life will this kid endure?  What other choices are they leaving up to their child?  Why wouldn’t they try to help, protect, and actually raise their kid?

A laissez-faire approach to life can only get you so far without dramatic consequences.  I am personally grateful that my parents taught me that fire is hot, some snakes are poisonous, and to come in from the rain.  That sounds ridiculous, but so is laissez-faire parenting.  Perhaps it is best to share the truth with those that we love.  Living in the example of Jesus, wouldn’t that be a better way?

Part of that truth is that we are made in the image of God.  Psalm 139:14 declares, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . . .”  Each life is a wonderful masterpiece made by our Creator, the Living God.  God does not make garbage.  While people may question who they are or why they are here, they always bear the fingerprint of the Master.

God made us male and female.  Pointing to Genesis 1:27 is not bigotry, but science.  Our DNA is unique from our parents.  Gender is determined immediately upon fertilization or when life begins. The 23rd pair of chromosomes will establish the sex of a baby.  Biology, not feelings or childhood toys, determines our gender.

We are all called to honor God with our body.  This means living in purity.  This is accomplished by upholding fidelity in marriage and upholding chastity outside of marriage.  We need to be aware of potential temptations and be transparent with those who hold us accountable.  This is also where parents need to speak truth to their children.  A laissez-faire parenting plan in this arena is reckless and harmful.  Teach your kids what is right, don’t ignore the truth.  Scripture calls us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds” Romans 12:1-2.  Heaven help us all to live by this standard.

As the bathroom wars of 2016 go on, let us remember to speak the truth to those we love.  Let us also remember that parenting is a ministry of the heart that deserves our very best and sharing what we know is never the wrong answer.

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crazy world

It may not be the politically correct way to say it, but sometimes I feel like the world has gone crazy. There are days when the common sense, decency, and values that I saw in my youth seem to have vanished from our culture. Common sense no longer seems common. Decency is no longer honored. And the values of yesterday feel strangely distant.

Take for instance these events. Presidential debates need a seven second delay or a PG-13 rating. Men must now be called biological males. Teen age girls can enter male locker rooms in a public school. The NFL won’t properly discipline or fire players who beat women unconscious. And it is now considered a public health issue that nuns provide free birth control. What in blazes is going on around here?

While it is easy to feel that the world has gone crazy, it has always abided by its own set of rules.

We live in a post-Christian society. The moral landscape of our day rests on shifting sand. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes, instead of following God’s example. The culture and practices of Christianity are mostly rejected or, worse, forgotten.

When we look at Scripture, the early church operated in this kind of environment. There was little or no Christian culture, only a cosmopolitan and secular society that focused on self. Rome and Corinth believers needed to be a community of contrast, one that shows the world a better way to live. They were encouraged to live and demonstrate light in a dark and twisted world. When we do this it shows that no one is beyond redemption and that God has a particularly soft spot for sinners. Messages that our world desperately needs to hear and understand.

And so again, it is up to the Church to live and act in a different way from our world. A way that dispenses grace like Christ and honors God. A way that demonstrates the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commission.

We have the power to change this crazy world, not by looking down on it in disgust, but up to God, the One who consistently calls us to become the people we were designed to be. May God empower us to live as first century Christians who showed grace, compassion, and mercy to a crazy world.

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blank page

Everyone talks about a different kind of list this time of year.  And it has nothing to do with being naughty or nice.  Our New Year resolutions for 2016 are taking shape on apps and lists across the globe.

Most resolutions focus on going to the gym and eating less.  The need for personal improvement can be physical, and it can be spiritual as well.  As you consider items for your list, here are five items that can strengthen your faith in 2016.

Schedule prayer time.  Find the right time of day where you can devote some effort to this.  Prayer is central to our faith. It is deliberate communication with our Heavenly Father. It is an act of worship. It is a spiritual discipline. It allows us to adore, petition, praise, and confess. On several occasions Scripture shows us examples when Jesus made time and space to pray. Follow in the example of Christ and find time to pray.

Meditate on the Bible.  You can read the text, receive a daily email, or listen to it on your smart phone.  Once you have a mode that is meaningful to you, make it a routine.  Spending time with God’s Word is vital to any Christian. It encourages and educates us. It provides direction when we feel lost. It reminds us that God is near.

Take a break. God gave the Sabbath for two reasons.  First, it is a day dedicated to honor and worship Him. Second, it is a day for us to rest.  Prevent burnout by setting aside work for one day out of the week.  Activities and events are always quick to crowd the Sabbath for other purposes. Resolve to use your God-given day differently in 2016.

Talk to your parents on a regular basis.  Set aside time for your family.  It can be on the phone, a video chat, or just stopping by the homestead.  Show them love and respect.  Show them that you care.  Continue to connect with them.  It will serve as a reminder of God’s love.

Try a new act of worship. This may sound radical, but too often we stay in a rut.  We stay with what we already know.  Try something new and different.  Feed your creative side and let it honor God.  Write a poem. Paint a picture. Learn to play an instrument. Create a new song or chorus for church. Volunteer your time at a local charity.  Find a new way to glorify God with a talent you haven’t used before.

As we prepare for 2016, make faith a part of your New Year resolutions.  Make a plan to strengthen your faith today and for the new year.

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nativity

Just about everyone loves the Christmas season. While reasons may vary, from hearing a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus to watching snowflakes, people love the Christmas season. It is the arrival of our promised Emmanuel, “God with us.” This season also has a funny way of changing people.

Yes, Christmas is the best time of year, but we often forget what it does to us. Christmas brings out the best in us. No matter where you live, there is an increased effort for people to be kind, caring, and generous. Drivers are more courteous on the roadways. You open the door for someone when their arms are full with shopping bags. Neighbors help each other by raking leaves or shoveling snow off sidewalks. We even tell total strangers “Merry Christmas!”

This spirit of gratitude and grace comes from our Creator. God has demonstrated His love in sending Jesus Christ to earth. We celebrate this perfect gift in many ways, but the power of God’s love changes us.

We reciprocate the love that God has shared with us, His children. The gift of Jesus is so tremendous that we live in a different way. We choose to be transformed, and in turn, show greater compassion. This beautiful event happens more now than at any other time of the year. Christmas and the celebration of our Savior yield a new and different world, one where people give gifts, adopt orphans, feed the homeless, care for widows, support unemployed veterans, and show compassion to total strangers. In short, we decide to live out our faith. We put God’s plan of grace into action.

As the Christmas holiday approaches, make the decision to be transformed. Reflect the love that God has poured out from heaven through Jesus, the promised Messiah. Demonstrate your faith and share the love that you have received from our Heavenly Father.

 

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charity

Americans gave more than $358 billion to charities in 2014, an impressive number when you consider our economy. As a nation with stagnant salaries and rising cost of living expenses, $358 billion is quite a hefty sum, a figure that represents an incredible feat of generosity, one that deserves a deeper look.

When you dig into the total by category, you find that religious organizations received the most donations. Religious groups garnered 32 percent of the total.

Generous giving of that magnitude creates a lot of attention in the news. The talking heads on television continue to discuss the story. They don’t know how to interpret the information. They point to foundations, museums, scientific studies, and research hospitals as worthy causes for such giving, but for many reason religious groups seem like an odd place for people to send that level of financial support. They scratch their heads as they try to figure out why people give and sacrifice in this manner.

To me, the answer is quite clear. Churches, charities, missions, and religious organizations are performing the work of Christ.

Religious organizations feed the hungry, clothe the homeless, care for the sick, give comfort to the wounded, share hope with the broken-hearted, and minister to our souls. Significant acts like these will always mean more to people than receiving a tax deduction. It causes us to open our wallets. It enables us to volunteer and assist others in their time of need. It allows us to reflect Christ in a dark world.

As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, remember religious organizations, charities, and churches when you give. Armed forces personnel can give through the Combined Federal Campaign with payroll deductions. Odds are there is a charity that could use your assistance. Your financial support, no matter how great or small, allows people to share the redemptive story of Jesus and perform the loving work of our gracious God.

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road

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4

Graduation ceremonies are just around the corner.  I can hear families and friends asking a litany of questions to the cap and gown crowd.  “What are you going to do now?”  “Do you have a job lined up yet?”  “Are you going to move to find a job?” As a culture and a society we place a great deal of emphasis on the jobs we perform.  While we need employment, it seems that jobs can quickly become an obsession.  Jobs can turn into an all-consuming entity that receives much more time than forty hours a week.  In fact, we place so much importance on jobs and employment that a person’s career can quickly become your identity. As Christians, we should note the distinction between one’s work and one’s job.  Paul was an apostle, a missionary, and a pastor.  What was his job?  He made a living as a tentmaker.  Which was more important, his work or his job?  The job was used so that his work could continue. J. R. R. Tolkien was a university professor. He made his living at the university. But when we talk about Tolkien today he is remembered as the author who gave us The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  His life’s work surrounded the written word, sharing stories, and communication. Our work and our jobs are not the same thing.  As people of faith, our work is to be a Christian and to demonstrate that Christian witness here on earth.  We are to be like Jesus, no matter our employer.  Our work should surround us and what we do for a living.  There should be Christian attorneys, Christian journalists, Christian farmers, Christian factor workers, Christian school teachers, Christian politicians, and Christian social workers. Christianity is not a hobby, it is our life’s work.  You should not be a Christian on Sundays only.  That would mean being a Christian in name only.  Faith should be a devoted and integrated part of life.  We are to be consumed in the cause and work of Christ. No matter what your diploma says, your work is greater than what you do for a living.  Your work is greater than the job you hold.  Yes, your work and your job are totally different things.  May God help us as we pursue His plan for our life’s work.

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palms

Is Palm Sunday relevant today?

Many Christians view Palm Sunday as a quick time out before the clock expires on Lent.  Some see it as the start of Holy Week.  Others see it as a day that Sunday school children will dress up and lay green palm fronds on an altar prior to the worship service.  And some will see Jesus as a faithful and suffering servant, making his journey to the cross.

The answer will ultimately depend on how you view Jesus.

Palm Sunday is all about the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem.  He enters with the reception of a hero.  Palm branches are cut from the trees so that people can wave them and lay them at the feet of Jesus.  The crowds shout with joy and excitement as he arrives.  Some hope for a military solution to their suffering and see Jesus as the right leader for a rebellion.  Some want a new government established where better leadership can be found.  Some desire an economic solution where wealth and riches will fix the needs of their nation.  And a portion of the crowd just desires deliverance through the Promised One of God, the Messiah.  They desire redemption, restoration, and salvation.  A Savior who will wipe away their tears and forgive their sins.

By the end of the week, many in the crowd will be disappointed.  They did not find the expected fix.  The crowd did not find the general, politician, or ruler they had desired.  Only a small portion of the crowd will follow Jesus to the end of the week and they too will ultimately leave his side.  But later, they will see an empty tomb and realize the truth.  God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, and whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.

Palm Sunday is relevant because of the cross.  As Jesus moves closer and closer to His own crucifixion, it demonstrates the magnitude of His love for us.  That is the reason we sing on Palm Sunday.  We sing to celebrate Jesus, the Lamb of God.  We celebrate the One who journeys into Jerusalem, knowing that it will take Him to a cross, but that it will take away the sins of the world.

If we see Jesus for all that He has done, there is reason to worship, sing, and rejoice just like the first century crowds in Jerusalem.  May our voices ring out in acclamation just like theirs, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna, in the highest!”

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snow tulips

Most of America has snow on the ground.  People are inside, trying to stay warm. Recently, I looked out my window at home to see a dozen tulips poking through a snow drift.  I marveled at the strength and power that made those plants grow in such harsh and demanding conditions.  I didn’t want to go outside because of the freezing cold, but the tulips pushed through the layers of dirt, soil, leaves, and now several inches of snow.

We forget it, but people are like those snow covered tulips.  Folks can push through tremendous difficulty and hardship.  We often grow during the most difficult times in life when there is an inner strength guiding us forward.

Scripture provides a picture of this in 2 Corinthians chapter 4.  Paul writes to the church and says, “do not lose heart.”  There is an inner strength in you that the world will not understand.  While it may be confused with personal strength, it is a “treasure in jars of clay.”  This extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  It gives the ability to endure, maintain, and move forward even when life gives us the worst conditions possible.

Paul also shares how resilient believers can be because of God strengthening us in times of sorrow. In verse 8 he shares that God provides so well that “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . . .”  The Lord who helped Israel endure the desert sands will also strengthen you during the challenges of today.

God provides a covering that shelters us during the storms of life.  He also allows His Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us when we only see darkness.  The inner strength protects us and allows us to move upward, beyond the dirt and soil of difficulty.

Don’t lose heart.  Remember what God can do with snow covered tulips.  He renews their inner strength day by day, allowing momentary afflictions to prepare them for a greater reward and a new season of life.

 

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