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Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

hallelujah-in-hand

Christmas is a few days away, but many may not feel like celebrating this year.  When a family member has died and Christmas is just around the corner, singing and rejoicing can easily feel out of place.

It is natural to feel a deep and prolonged sense of sadness when a loved one has died.  It is also easy for Christmastime to be an emotional roller coaster due to the many memories a family had with their loved one.  If a person is experiencing sadness, crying frequently, or feeling uncomfortable around others, attending a Christmas service may not seem like the right answer.

I encourage you to make time and space for God even in your sorrow.  If it is listening to a favorite Christmas hymn, lighting an advent candle, reading Scripture, or offering prayer share time with God this Christmas. This time can be in a public setting with other believers or privately at home.  Even a cold and broken hallelujah is an offering of love and devotion that God will hear.

In time, your song will change. The healing heart of God is there to strengthen and guide you through the difficulties of today.  Make time to connect with our Heavenly Father.  The peace of God is always there to restore, heal, and provide.

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soldier-praying

My first deployment was to Iraq in 2006. It made several things clear. Before Iraq, my faith was comfortable. It had been tried, tested, and proven, but in a very clean and simple way. My faith was comfortable in seminary, at home, at work, and in the church. But that all changed in Iraq. I saw what it was like to constantly be under attack and understood what it was like to be under the threat of death. Iraq gave me something that most Americans do not experience. Iraq also gave me something that most Christians in the western world do not experience. Iraq changed me, but it also changed my faith for the better.

One of the major discoveries from my time in Iraq was truly learning the power and importance of prayer. While seminary gave me the tools and the knowledge regarding a solid prayer life, Iraq was the furnace that forged my prayer life into a solid existence.

Here are four lessons on prayer that helped me down range.

Share your heart. Be transparent with God. Big or small, lift your prayers to the Lord. The night before flying into the combat zone, I spent two and a half hours in prayer. This was the longest span of time I had ever spoken to God in one setting. I had a lot of ground to cover if this was potentially my last night on earth. Cry out no matter what the concern may be. Philippians 4:6 reminds each of us “. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Pray now, not later. Be immediate with prayer. Time is precious, especially in a war zone. If someone shared a prayer request, my new practice was to stop and immediately pray with the person. The location may be on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, at the chow hall, or in the office. There was no reason to wait and the soldier had a need that deserved to be addressed. Hebrews 4:16 shares, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Keep it simple. There is no need to be fancy. Wordsmiths have their place, but not on the battlefield. I felt God calling me to pray for aircraft, well the crews and passengers on board. I crafted a simple three point prayer to say every time I heard a helicopter or aircraft departing the base. Jesus reminds us not to have babbling prayers in Matthew 6:7. Prayers are not heard for the sake of many words.

Have a consistent pattern. My routine was very disjointed in Iraq. The start and end of every day lacked consistency. Unit operations had to happen 24 hours a day and the war didn’t stop. The best time to pray was right before I went to sleep. I could make time to pray once my boots came off. It took a while to find that right recipe, but once I found it the routine stuck. Find a time or habit that can help you make space for prayer. Colossians 4:2 encourages us to, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

There are many lessons a veteran will find down range. Theses lessons can benefit our Christian walk. The trials of yesterday make us stronger for tomorrow. May God grant us the calling of Romans 12:12, to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”

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fig tree

Things aren’t always as they seem. How long was the Hundred Years’ War? It lasted 116 years. When do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? They celebrate it in November. What country sells the most Panama hats? Ecuador is known for the famous straw hat.

In Mark 11, Jesus makes a similar observation. Jesus is walking from Bethany to Jerusalem.  From a distance, He sees a beautiful green fig tree. It looks wonderful. It is full of leaves and seems to be a bastion of good health. When Jesus arrives at the tree, hoping to eat a hand full of young fig buds, there is nothing. The tree is barren. It has no fruit. It produces nothing.

Typically, fig trees make buds each March and they eventually turn into delicious figs. The buds are green like the leaves of the tree, so you need to carefully inspect the tree. When Jesus looks it over, there is nothing to find. The tree gives shade but no nourishment. It gives comfort with no provision. Help but no hope. The green, leafy, tree unfortunately produces nothing.

Jesus curses the tree for that very reason. It yields nothing. Despite all of the right signs and appearances, the tree is not what it seems to be. Jesus doesn’t condemn leaves, they are necessary for trees to live and grow. But we cannot be content with leaves alone.

Things aren’t always as they seem. A church might appear to be “healthy” when you look at it from a distance, only to be disappointed on closer inspection. The fruit it bears will tell the story. Individuals are the same way. A person may show all the right signs of “health” like a leafy fig tree, but bear no spiritual fruit.

The lesson of the fig tree is that we should bear spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). If we only appear to bear fruit, then we have missed the point and purpose of what God desires. God judges fruitlessness, and expects that those who have a relationship with Him will “bear much fruit” (John 15:5-8).

May our lives yield a bumper crop of spiritual fruit that benefits mankind and pleases the Lord.

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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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