Thursday, November 26, 2015

Relationships that Thrive

Relationships that are enjoyed don't just happen and yet most people want healthy, lasting relationships with those they love.  I suppose we need to ask ourselves, "What contributions are we personally making towards those relationships?"  At times, not all individuals are contributing towards the relationship, which leads to frustration and a lack of satisfaction.  Different relationships take different investments of time and energy.  We need to spend a different quality of time with our spouse if we expect our relationship to make the journey and thrive.  Our children, whether we know it or not, need time to spend with us (with no agendas).  Quality time often takes place during the quantity of time that you give.  It is difficult to say that quality time will just happen.  As well, our friendships with others will blossom and deepen as a direct result of the time and work that we contribute towards them.

It is important to understand our role in the relationship in order for us to strive to be the person that we need to be for those that we are interacting with, such as our wife, child, or friend.  Understanding the role helps us to be the best for that other person.  Perhaps a starting point for improving our relationship with the one we love is to ask them if they are satisfied with the current relationship and how could we possibly make it better.  There may be things that you are not contributing towards that are causing the relationship to limp along.  It might be painful to hear; however, a "wise" person (according to Solomon) welcomes the criticism of a friend in order that they might grow to be a better person (Proverbs 19:20; 27:6).

Consider some of these verses as a challenge:

     1.  Proverbs 22:6  " Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  (Parents, this type of training takes time in order for us to reap the reward.  Time and wise counsel for your children will mark your relationship.)

     2.  Proverbs 27:17 "Iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." (Time and skill is required for friendships to grow, deepen, and to be what you would like them to become.  They certainly do not happen over night and without work.  Some of us may actually dull our friends and fail to sharpen them.)
  3.  1 Peter 3:7  "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."  (Marriage takes skill, time, and work in order for them to continue to blossom.  If all we have to show is a thistle bush then perhaps we should consider how we are tending to our gardens.  Husbands are being taught here to invest into their wives with wisdom so that they both may grow spiritually.)
Make the most of all of your relationships and be careful not take them for granted; one day we may wish we had invested differently but it may be too late.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving as a Thermometer

It was always a great family time at Thanksgiving at my house as a kid.  I remember arguing over who would get the wishbone from the turkey.  Of course everyone loved the homemade dressing and chunky potatoes with gravy!  It meant Vernors soda over vanilla ice cream as a soothing beverage. I can’t fail to mention the great Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears competing along with a nice nap. The morning always included the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the evening with board games and leftover turkey.   It goes without saying that as a young boy I failed to appreciate the entire four-day weekend for what it was meant to be.  As an adult and as a Christian, Thanksgiving means so much more to me and my family.  The years bring about greater significance as I’ve grown in my understanding of the love and character of our God.

One marker that our dinner was ready was when the thermometer that was stuck in the turkey popped up.  At times I wondered if we had a defective thermometer as I waited with hunger pangs but it always seemed to pop up.  As a parallel thought, I wonder what it would look like if we as Christians had a pop up thermometer placed in us that popped up when we were truly thankful to God.  We might begin to replace some of our thermometers for fear that they weren’t  working properly.  Gratitude is a mark of a healthy and mature believer in Christ.  It is an understanding that God is the giver of every good gift.  It is walking in confidence that we are cared for and loved by the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the God of all creation.  It is resting in His all-sufficient hand even when we are totally confused.  It is reflected in how we refuse to complain and grumble when things aren’t going our way because our God is in absolute control of the details.  It is knowing that our God withholds no good thing to those who love Him and seek Him.

Strong evidence of our salvation is found in a heart that expresses a life of GREAT gratitude back towards God.  It points others back towards Him because He is the giver of life eternal and an abundant life.  It is a life that expresses grace and generosity towards others because we have been the recipient of such grace and kindness from God.  A life of gratitude conveys that something significant has happened in our lives.  A life of gratitude transforms us into the biggest servants for Him.  Such a life doesn’t allow for a “poor me” mentality.

Listen to how many times “God” and “Christ” are the focus of all our blessings.  1 Corinthians 1:4-9, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.  Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.   God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

According to these verses, we lack no good thing and we have been enriched in every way! Amen.  LET’S  GIVE GREAT THANKS TOGETHER!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Loving the Unlovable

I've been reading through the book of Matthew and marking up my Bible as Christ interacts with people around Him.  I'm striving to ask the questions, "In what way did Christ instruct others?" and "How did He demonstrate love towards others?"  Christ challenges his followers by asking them, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" (Matthew 5:46-47).

Christ is demonstrating what He values and prioritizes.  Christ wants us to love those who are the hardest to love.  For some it might be those who are poor and needy.  For others it may be those who you detest the most.  Nonetheless, it reveals the true love that we have for Jesus Christ by the way that we love on the unlovable people in our lives.  

Here are seven ways to strive to love the unlovable people in our lives:
  1.  Understand why they may be acting the way that they are acting.  They may have had a very bad upbringing or a very negative experience in their life.  It is easy to be critical when we have not walked a mile in another person's shoes.
  2. Pray for them.  This is of course what Jesus commands.  When we sincerely pray for someone, we begin to have a heart for that person, a true concern for their well being and a desire for their highest good.
  3. Look at them through God's eyes.  God sees them as unique and sent His Son to die for their soul.  Life may have scarred and hardened them but yet they are made in His image.  Seeing them as God sees them will cause us to see their worth.
  4. Forgive them.  It is very difficult to forgive those who have hurt us but it is what God expects of us (Eph. 4:32).  It is not condoning their foolishness or sinful action but it is releasing them and placing it under the blood of Jesus Christ, which allows us to avoid bitterness towards them.
  5. Choose to be a vessel of God's grace.  This may be hard but it typifies a Christ like spirit.  Those who have been forgiven should forgive much.  Most people would expect to be shunned and not given a second chance.  Let's show great grace and begin the healing process. 
  6. Treat them in a way that you would like to be treated.  Imagine a world that practiced the golden rule.  We can impact others in loving ways that may turn their behavior around.  It sends a message that you truly care and love them and it breaks the chain of negativity.  
  7. Seek to serve them.  Please don't tune me out.  By choosing to serve and walking in humility, you intentionally plant healthy seeds of love and reconciliation.  This may shock them but it will go far with the right motive.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fatal Attractions

During my years of ministry I have had three personal friends who have had inappropriate relationships with other women while they were in ministry.  This does not account for all the men that I know, this is just the men that were close friends to me in ministry.  If I were to consider my friends in general (non-pastors) it would be about 15-20.  Please know that there have also been many women friends who have cheated on their husbands.

Most of my brothers never thought of or intended to head down this trail.  The crazy thoughts of unfaithfulness typically started when they were not walking in  fellowship with God and when they allowed their relationships with their wives to begin to deteriorate.  Closeness to their spouse was no longer prioritized or guarded.  It was typically a slow fade and they began to justify harmless glances and inappropriate moments with other women as borderline faithfulness to their marriage covenant.  Solomon speaks about the strange woman, "Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27)  Flirting with the temptation of unfaithfulness is the first step to one's demise.  Looking for a freshness that comes from another man or woman, who is not your spouse, is foolishness and brings destruction.  The price is always higher than one ever plans to pay.  It often sets a pattern for their own children to follow.

Solomon says, "Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed," (Proverbs 5:8-11).  Most marriages DO NOT survive this unfaithful act, nor do the families.  The thought that this sin would never be found out is foolishness.  Couples begin to betray one another when in their mind they think of another man or woman in place of their spouse.  The sinfulness of pornography stages the physical act to be followed through with a real person.

The encouragement from Solomon was, "Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well." (Proverbs 5:15).  In other words, your spouse ALONE should be the one who quenches all of your thirsts.  This means physically and emotionally.  They are to be the source that you return to over and over again.  There should be NO substitutes that you would allow to diminish your need for the one who God has united you with for life.  If you are being tempted to head down this trail--Please Return Now and don't go any further.  The cost is far too great!

Prayer:  "Father, please preserve the marriages of those who proclaim you as Savior and Lord of their lives.  May their families stand firm in the character of Your love.  Please build your church upon men and women of godly character who walk in faithfulness to you and to one another." Amen.