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It was reported this week that Jennifer Aniston’s beauty routine costs an estimated $12,000 a month.

Her beauty habits, which include hair-care, skin-care, eyebrow-care, makeup, spray tans, nutrition, and exercise training — run a steep $11,933.97 per month.  That totals $141,037.97 each year.

It was interesting to read how many people lavished approval and praise on the story.  They affirmed her determination and stamina in pursuing a youthful figure.  As a Hollywood actress, she has to stay fit, look young, and eat right.  That is the only way that one can ultimately get the right role in a million dollar movie.  Many compared it to a gym membership for a firefighter.  It’s the price of doing business.  It’s necessary for this line of work.  You expect a firefighter to be strong in order to rescue people from burning buildings.  So, you should expect a movie star to look her best for a role.

As a Christian, I’d like to suggest another way to view the story.  God does not care what you look like on the outside.  It doesn’t matter one little bit.  God places greater priority on our heart, our thoughts, and our actions.  Beauty is determined on the inside.

Jesus directly addresses the issue with a group of Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-28.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus knew that the Pharisees were playing a game.  On the outside, they appeared pretty good to the crowds of people.  But in reality, their hearts and actions showed a very different person.  Jesus exposed the truth about this group.  You can wash the outside of a dish, but the inside is still dirty.  The same is true today.

While our society and Hollywood may only focus on the external appearance of a person, beauty is truly from within.  In a world where teenagers are getting plastic surgery to improve their looks, we have a responsibility to teach people where beauty truly resides.  God wants us to focus on the inside.  We need to share a different perspective on beauty, one that honors God.

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I am often reminded of my mother in the spring.  She loves to be outdoors gardening and tending to the fruit trees on our family farm.  Each March she would take the kids out to the orchard as she pruned the apple trees.  Our job was to pick up the fallen branches and move them to the burn pile.

As a child, part of this was concerning.  Doesn’t this process hurt the tree?  Why would you snip off branches if you want to get more apples?  Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?  Surely more branches would equal more apples.  It turns out that mother did know best, at least when it comes to apple trees.

Wild trees have strange branch angles that cause limb breaks.  This in turn reduces the number of apples and ultimately reduces the life of the tree.  If apple trees are left fallow, you may only get a bushel of apples every ten years.  And that is bad news if you enjoy apple pie like my family.  If you prune apple trees, they yield more apples, provide apples at an earlier age, and live longer.  It turns out that pruning allows the tree to develop a strong branch framework that will support fruit production.

I fell into the same trap of wrong thinking after my deployment to Iraq.  It was difficult to find the off button and relax.  More time with my friends would help my transition home.  More time at work would help my military career.  More hobbies would help me relax.  More somehow looked better than taking time to prune away the unnecessary distractions in my life and in turn be more fruitful.

Many people fall into the same way of thinking.  “I need to have more.”  “More is better.”  “Bigger is better.”  Perhaps a little pruning will do the trick.  Just make sure that God has the pruning shears.

John 15 reminds us that, Jesus is “the true vine” and His followers are the branches.  These branches are already productive, but God occasionally prunes them back so that they can “bear more fruit.”  While pruning may seem wrong to our earthly eyes, it is the best thing that could ever happen.

Remember that more branches will not equal more apples.  Allow God to shape you into a better fruit producing machine.  Continue to abide in Christ and enjoy the season of life that He brings.

 

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Is lying free speech?  Veterans and civilians should have an answer this year.  The US Supreme Court will soon take up the Stolen Valor Act and determine if people can lie about military service.

The Stolen Valor Act was passed to address people who falsely claim military medals and awards.  Since September 11, 2001, the number of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines grew to meet the need of protecting our nation.  Unfortunately, the number of charlatans and swindlers also increased as warriors went off to defend America.  Military service regained much of the popularity and prestige that was lost in prior conflicts.  As veterans came home from Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more people would make false claims about missions, medals, or just being in the military.  In short, it was popular to lie.  You could easily exploit the actions of America’s warriors for your own personal gain.  It made you look good.  It made you stand out in a job interview.  It made you look courageous and full of integrity.  You could immediately become a valiant war veteran with little to no cost.

After the passage of the law, several people were arrested for making false claims about military service.  As appeals and court battles ensued, attorneys claimed that the law needed to be struck down to protect and guarantee “pure free speech” for every citizen.

No matter where you stand on the issue, we should all take time to reflect on the basic claim of the law and the current court case.  Is it okay to lie?

The Bible is pretty clear on the matter.  In fact, the issue was so important that God handed it down to Moses as one of the Ten Commandments.  It’s number nine if you were counting from home.  Exodus 20:1-17 spells out an important code for God’s people.  This would be the fundamental way that they should be set apart from the world and obey God.  While it may not be as popular as jazzing up a resume or getting a pat on the back, pleasing God carries a far greater reward.

As the court battle ebbs and flows, take time to understand the importance of being honest in every aspect of your life.

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My last deployment was very unique.  The mission was conducted by a combined joint task force.  That title may seem complicated on the surface, but it’s easy to explain.  Everyone worked together.  And when I say everyone, I mean everyone.  Every Army Soldier.  Every Navy Sailor.  Every Air Force Airman.  And every Marine.  Everyone also included multiple armies from across the globe.  Allies like the British, the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the South Koreans, and several others comprised the task force.

There were several ways to tell that the task force was different.  You could walk into the mess hall for lunch and see a rainbow of different uniforms.  You could separate the green Army uniforms from the blue Navy uniforms pretty easily.  You could also separate the white dress uniforms of the Japanese Navy from the green French Navy uniforms.  Conversations were another way to show our differences.  The Navy chief from Alabama or the Army Sergeant from Missouri, they each spoke in a different way.  So did our allies.

The book of Revelation shares an interesting phrase when it refers to heaven.  The phrase is repeated in several areas like 5:9, 7:9-10, 11:9, 13:7, and 14:6.  We hear that the assembly is comprised of “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.”  A message like this is repeated several times to get our attention, but also for the simple fact that it is true.

Anyone and everyone can be saved.  That was the radical message of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah.  It was also the loving message of Jesus Christ.  The promise is found in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  That is an incredible promise.  It says that no one is beyond redemption in Christ.  It says that God cares for me and the African orphan.  It says that everyone is welcome through Jesus.

A mess hall full of people who wear different uniforms and speak different languages can be a great reminder of heaven.  But the real take away is that God loves everyone and they are all invited to make heaven their home.

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No one can deny that Valentine’s Day is almost here.  You can glance at the calendar, hear a commercial on the radio, or you could just walk through any store for a reminder.  The chocolates, Valentine Day cards, cupid figurines, plush animals, and fragrances are everywhere.

I am often conflicted by Valentine’s Day and the message that it sends.  Perhaps you are in the same boat.

A part of me wants to believe that it is a great reminder for couples to show love and affection toward each other.  Husbands and wives will separate themselves from busy schedules and spend time to reconnect as a couple.  Soldiers and spouses will find a way to share their love and devotion even though they are several time zones apart.  Or that our society will look at the calendar and try to improve the day by practicing compassion to family, friends, and neighbors.

The other part of me feels that love is much more than flowers and a box of chocolates.  Unfortunately, the commercial nature of February 14th does more to cheapen true love than to enhance it.  Do our actions and expectations say that mandatory gifts equal affection?  If so, then we turn love into some kind of transaction or mathematical formula.

Love is certainly bigger than Valentine’s Day.  Love is larger than one day on the calendar.  In fact, it is best found in the Bible.

Jesus loved the rich young ruler even though he walked away in disappointment.  Jesus loved the woman at the well.  A lady so ostracized, she wasn’t allowed to gather water in the cool of the day.  Jesus loved tax collectors, cheats, and swindlers.  He loved children, lepers, and blind men.  In short, Jesus loved the unlovable.  He showed compassion to people who didn’t “deserve” His attention.  He demonstrated a perfect love where no gifts or dinners were required.  This love cannot be bought, only accepted as a free gift of grace.

No matter how you view Valentine’s Day, let us remember that love is much more than flowers and a box of chocolates.  Let us also remember how perfect love has been demonstrated by our Lord Jesus.  May His example guide us to show the perfect love of heaven here on earth.

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I want to share some veteran resources that continue to strengthen both soldier and spouse.

The Combat Trauma Healing Manual is a great book for individual reading or a small group setting.  The author, Chris Adsit, brings out Christ-centered solutions for combat trauma.  He is practical and telling in his approach. While many authors may simplify PTSD solutions to coping strategies, changing behaviors, and cognitive therapy, Adsit shares that more is available.  God wants to bring about restoration, stability, and healing.

I feel that this book is written with an attitude of gratefulness for veterans and a desire to bring peace to military homes.  It gives an appropriate spiritual approach that veterans need to hear.

This is the companion book for military spouses.  It is written with the same amount of care and concern.  Each time that a warrior comes home, the time and type of reunion is different.  One constant is the spiritual comfort that God can provide to military families.

PTSD will complicate how couples reintegrate at home, but military spouses will find stories, suggestions, and learn how to deal with new situations.  The book is also wrapped with advice from the medical and counseling community that is extremely helpful.  The personal stories and recommendations make this book worthwhile for both veterans and spouses.

You can find both books and additional information at http://www.militaryministry.org/.

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At first glance, prison doesn’t seem like a good place for a Christian.  But Martin Luther King Day should be a reminder of what we find in Scripture.  Disciples, prophets, pastors, preachers, ministers, and missionaries are frequently arrested and thrown in jail.

John the Baptist was arrested for sharing the law with King Herod Antipas.  Simon Peter was jailed for being a bold messenger of Jesus Christ.  Paul and Silas were arrested for preaching the gospel.  Eventually, they wound up saving the guard and his household.  Today, we find missionaries and ministers being placed behind bars as they perform Kingdom work across the globe.

It’s important to realize that Christians are persecuted for their faith, their beliefs, and their actions.

Martin Luther King was arrested several times in his pursuit of establishing greater equality in America.  While in prison, he penned what is frequently called the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.  His letter outlines a theological belief where slow progress should not be viewed as success, but people should instead be insistent about fixing injustice.  And he is also clear that while the church has at times been a vehicle for change, it has also been a slow or obstructing vehicle.

It was in this letter that he wrote that “In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church.  But be assured that my tears have been tears of love.  There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.  Yes, I love the church; I love her sacred walls.  How could I do otherwise?  I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers.  Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ.  But oh! how we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being non-conformists.”

John 15:18 shares, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Being arrested, beaten, tormented, and paraded through a kangaroo court was also part of Christ’s ministry on earth.  Prophets, priests, and pastors will continue to be imprisoned for the cause of Christ because He went to the cross for us.  It is important for us to be faithful and responsive to the call of God above governments, regimes, despots, and dictators.

Let us view MLK Day as a reminder to serve God and be true to His commands.  Let us remember that boldness is often required instead of compromise.  And let us demonstrate that churches can be a place where Christians stand up for what is right and just.

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Marriage is difficult.  Few people would argue with that statement.  The divorce rate in America is near 50%.   People spend more time preparing for job interviews than a life-long commitment.  People spend more time at work than at home with their families.  Our culture encourages sexual images on television, cohabitation, and ignoring our marriage vows.  It’s easy to see all of these factors and feel like the deck is stacked against couples staying together.  Now consider the additional difficulty of living in a military marriage.   Your spouse is frequently deployed, gone on training missions, or working long into the night.

Military marriages require devotion and work to succeed.  You can help turn the tide by strengthening your marriage.  Take time to reconnect after a deployment.  Take time to focus on one another.  Take time to get away and renew the love you have for each other.

Toward the end of my first deployment, my wife suggested that we attend a marriage retreat.  I didn’t know how to take the suggestion at first.  My boots had not even left the sand box and she wanted to work on our relationship!  It turned out that her idea was just a suggestion on making our marriage better.  It was not implying that something was broken or jacked up beyond repair.  In fact, it was a great idea.  We attended a faith-based “Festival of Marriage” event and we learned some new ways to improve our marriage.  Anytime a military couple makes the effort to improve their relationship, they are on the right track.

Attorneys, doctors, social workers, and yes, even chaplains, are required to get a set number of continuing education hours each year.  This is encouraged to keep professionals current on the latest ways of helping their clients.  We should show the same devotion to stay current in our marriages.

Take time to attend conferences, presentations, marriage retreats, and faith-based marriage enrichment workshops.  Any nugget of knowledge that you find may help your marriage or allow you to encourage another military couple.

One upcoming event is focused on sexual purity.  Feel free to check out Men of Valor, Women of Virtue, or Youth 4 Truth at http://afa-ksmo.net

Know that military chaplains also offer Strong Bond events for married couples and single soldier events.  You can find a military marriage retreat near you at http://www.strongbonds.org

Find a way to strengthen your military marriage today.

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New Year resolutions are a popular topic this time of year and with good reason.  As 2012 arrives, we all get a fresh start on life.  An incredible new beginning where the sky is the limit on what we can achieve.  And while there are no guarantees on what will happen, we all get an opportunity to make 2012 better than last year.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  Most folks do.  What will you improve in 2012?  People commonly want to shed some pounds after all those Christmas dinners at work and home.  Some folks resolve to change their diet and eat healthy meals.  Others resolve to exercise more often or visit the gym.  Some decide to give up a habit like smoking, soda pop, or dare I even say it, Starbucks.  Many resolve to spend less money or start a savings plan.  You also hear about folks who resolve to read through the Bible in a year or start a daily prayer time.

Military deployments can also play into the mix.  Military spouses and families often want to make a change before that loved one returns from the combat zone.  Some resolve to paint the downstairs, improve the yard, start a business, or save some money for a welcome home party.    Other resolutions may focus on improving your relationship after a long deployment.

How long will your resolution last?  Studies show that a majority of Americans quit their resolution within four weeks of New Year’s Day.  Our resolutions normally last only one month out of the entire year.  While very disappointing, it’s easy to see how that can happen.  We get distracted.  We miss a couple of work out sessions at the gym.  Or that bag of Oreo cookies was calling your name at the store.  And after a couple of Oreos, carrots and celery just don’t taste as good as they did last week.  Just a few setbacks may convince us to quit our resolution altogether.

We can do better than showing four weeks of devotion to any given task.  When it comes to your service member, don’t give up on your hopes and dreams.  Focus on those projects and strengthening your relationship.  When it comes to God, don’t give Him the thirty day treatment.  He deserves more than one month out of twelve.  Maintain that resolution and build your faith.  The relationship that you build through Jesus will have an impact like no other in your life.

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During the 1800s, British merchants noticed an increase in lost ships.  Vessels were completely filled with tons of merchandise, supplies, goods, and people, but they never made it to shore.  Ships were sinking at a horrible pace.  If the first transport ship didn’t arrive, shipping companies would send a second with an even heavier cargo.  Unfortunately, the outcome was now two lost ships and many casualties at sea.

Samuel Plimsoll suggested a “load line” or “waterline” to limit how much cargo each ship could carry.  By using a Plimsoll line, ships would no longer be overloaded.  Merchants could limit the amount of weight put on each ship and allow vessels to safely reach its final destination.  Plimsoll lines are still used today to keep ships from sinking.

We all have a Plimsoll line that keeps us afloat.  That line keeps us from sinking at home or work.  It is important for us to look at the water occasionally and remember how much we can truly handle.

Galatians 6:2 shares, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

I frequently read this verse and think about how I need to help lift people up who are in trouble.  But I should also  ask, “When should I cry out for help?”  The verse shows a person in need and a helper.  As one who is suffering with a heavy burden, when do we know to ask for help?  When do you finally cry out?  There are plenty of times in life when I waited too long.  God should have been at the front of my mind and my immediate prayer.  When we think about sinking ships, there is little time to spare.  We need to understand our own limits and ask for help before the waves are lapping at the deck.

Don’t load yourself down with an incredible burden.  If you feel overwhelmed, know that there are always people who are nearby and willing to help.  Chaplains, military family life consultants, relatives, along with civilian pastors and counselors are always available to help ease the stress of life.  And yes, a loving God who is able to rescue us from any storm.

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