“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” –Acts 1:8, ESV
When I hear the word “witness,” my mind conjures up a picture of someone sitting in court, giving testimony to whatever he saw, heard, or experienced that the court proceeding finds relevant. In truth, my mind isn’t too far off of the actual definition of being a witness, which means to serve by testimony. I just need to break it out of the narrowed venue. Being a witness for Christ is something that all believers are called to do everywhere, at all times, and with everyone.
If we take a look at the actual Greek of Jesus’ words, I think we get an even better picture of what this calling really entails. The Greek word translated to “witness” is martys. It is the same word from which we get the word “martyr.” Bible translators translate martys into both witness and martyr. It amazes me that the same word is used to produce two words which are vastly different in our American minds. Giving your testimony is merely stating words of truth when called into account. Being a martyr means standing by that testimony to the point of death.
When Jesus calls us to be His witnesses, He is wanting more than for us to stand up in a court of law and tell the truth about Him. He wants us to go everywhere and tell everyone the truth about Him, even if it results in suffering or death. This understanding is much more in line with what Jesus taught about being His disciple. In Luke 14:26 Jesus says that anyone who doesn’t despise his own life cannot be His disciple. Later in verse 33, He says, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
If you are not willing to meet the conditions of being a disciple, then you cannot call yourself one. And if you aren’t a disciple of Christ, then can you call yourself a Christian? Can you consider yourself saved? I think it is something for us all to consider.
In the July 2nd entry of My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is a difference between devotion to a Person and devotion to principles or to a cause. Our Lord never proclaimed a cause; He proclaimed personal devotion to Himself. To be a disciple is to be a devoted love-slave of the Lord Jesus. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not devoted to Jesus Christ.”
A disciple of Christ is devoted to Jesus Christ, not to the cause of Christianity or Christian principles. We are not to be devoted to a concept, but to the Person of Jesus. When we find ourselves more devoted to the Church or to a ministry or to a role or to a value, we have made an idol (replaced Christ and His proper position in our lives) with things that should be evidence of our devotion to Christ. It’s like being in love with the idea of love rather than the actual person. You can be devoted to the idea of Christ and Christ-likeness without being devoted to the actual person.
Jesus said that we should count the cost before undertaking something of enormous magnitude (Luke 14:28-32). There is nothing of greater magnitude or importance than being a disciple of Christ, and the cost to undertake it is everything.
Are you willing to surrender everything out of devotion to Jesus? Are you willing to be His witness to the point of suffering or death? Are you willing to surrender control and follow? Being a disciple isn’t just about getting into Heaven. It is about answering a call to a lifestyle of learning, obeying, and being transformed.
I live in Arizona in what is affectionately called the Valley of the Sun. In the middle of August, it actually does seem like the sun itself has come to sit right down inside our little valley. Sometimes it can be too hot to even go swimming because the sun has warmed up the water in the pool to an uncomfortable degree. When it hits 118˚, you run from your car to inside your house as fast as possible for fear of the soles of your shoes melting to the pavement. Well, maybe it’s not that bad, but I do still make a mad dash for the air conditioned house because the heat is so oppressive, so exhausting, so debilitating.
No one likes to be sitting in the middle of the Valley of the Sun in August…
…but sometimes, that is exactly where God meets you. In the dead center of the oppressive heat.
Heat is an interesting thing. It warms us when we are cold. It cooks our food. It sterilizes our water. Those are all good things. But, heat can also make you hot – unbearably hot. It can burn your food and dry up your water.
The right amount of heat seems like a blessing. Too much heat seems like a curse. Perhaps that is true when we are talking about the physical body. But, don’t be so quick to judge when God turns up the heat on your spirit. There are times when God allows us to get unbearably hot emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There are times when God allows our metaphorical food and water to be dried up. He wants us sitting in the middle of the Valley of the Sun in August.
Because sometimes things need to be burned down to ash before a new thing can spring up. Forestry people know that small forest fires are necessary to maintain the health of the overall forest. The trees that have been growing for a long time develop a canopy of branches and leaves that block the sun from reaching the forest floor. With little sun light, not many plants can survive there, leaving hardly any new growth. There are even some plants with seeds that will only germinate after a hot fire and will then use nutrients from the fire to begin to grow.
If you find yourself in the midst of unbearable spiritual heat, look around and find those things that have been growing for so long that they are preventing any new growth. Allow God to clear out the old things to create something new, perhaps even something that needs this heat to take root and to grow.
Jesus began His ministry by reading a passage of Scripture from Isaiah 61 and declaring it fulfilled by His presence and the work that He had come to do. One of the things that He proclaimed is that He had come to give His people beauty for their ashes. But first there needs to be ashes from which the beauty can come. What is it in your life that needs to face the oppressive heat of August?
“Those who marry will face many troubles in this life…” – 1 Corinthians 7:28, NIV
Nobody ever reads those words in a wedding ceremony yet they are the reality of married life. We will face many troubles in life and in marriage. Things will go wrong. Times will get hard. The heat of passion will, at times, become a heat of oppression. Heat is inevitable because your spouse is married to a sinner. And you must have some empathy for that because you are married to one too.
Bring two sinners together for a lifetime and things are bound to heat up. And when things heat up, tempers usually flare. In those times, it is essential that you take a look at what is fueling your temper. Did you set up expectations somewhere along the way that have yet to be fulfilled and have now turned into something your spouse owes you? Do you sense some sort of injustice taking place in your relationship? Have you experienced some sort of loss, whether it is real or perceived (e.g. respect, power, identity, security, affection, trust)? Maybe you haven’t lost it yet, but it is being threatened or endangered.
Anger is always fueled by an unpaid emotional debt, injustice, some sort of loss, or fear of a loss. Always. One or more of those things. Without fail. Meaning, take another look at that list instead of blowing off this part of what I’m saying to you.
You cannot solve anger in anger because the problem lies behind it. You have to solve the problem at the problem. When the heat rises and becomes unbearable, look for what lies behind your contribution to this potentially combustible situation.
If Paul thought that those who marry will face many troubles in this life, then he had no clue how compounded that statement would be for those who have children. Take a situation that already has two sinners in it and add more to it. It’s like adding fresh kindling to already glowing embers. Little fires pop up all the time. There isn’t a day that goes by without my two little boys getting into some sort of a roe with each other. And there are plenty of days where parenting my children creates some heat under my collar.
What I have come to realize is that it never does any good for me to lose my cool with my kids. My agitation makes my kids more agitated. They bicker even more and are in worse moods when I project negative emotions. Not only does my anger distract them away from the real issue, but it’s like I am adding lighter fluid to their already heated exchange. Everyone remains in a bad mood and the negative energy just seems to simmer before boiling over again.
So, how do we parents remain cool in the midst of the oppressive family heat? Step 1 is to take deep breaths. They are calming. They add oxygen to our brains which will help us remain clear-headed.
Step 2 is to talk to yourself. I recommend doing this part quietly in your head, but it’s up to you. What should you say to yourself? Whatever you find calming, centering, or encouraging. I like to say things like, “Smother the fire,” “Give them a good example,” “Be the adult,” or “Lord Jesus, please calm me down before I go and take this child that I brought into the world out of it.”
Step 3 is to assess yourself and the situation and do the best thing possible at that moment. If you are calm enough to address the issue, then go ahead and do it. If your children are too worked up to hear you, separate them until they calm down. If you are too worked up to do anything other than contribute to the heat, separate your children as a temporary reprieve while you go and calm down. If this is a recurring issue that you have already talked about with your children, then separate your children until you have had time to decide upon a course of action (aka think of something better than what you have already tried with them).
Step 4 is to plan a time, preferably in the very near future, when everyone involved in this negative exchange can enjoy each other. You have to replace the debit that this negativity had upon the family’s overall atmosphere. Maybe you make cookies together after dinner or go rent a movie that everyone can watch or head to the park for a bit of outdoor fun.
That’s it. Breathe. Talk to yourself. Do the best thing you can in the moment. Plan some fun.
I think I can get an “Amen” when I say that nobody likes going through the Refiner’s fire. It is uncomfortable. It is oppressive. It downright sucks. But we are always better for it. We appreciate its effect. We revel in the closeness that we feel with God that only comes on the other side of the fire.
I may be literally sitting in the Valley of the Sun in August as I type this letter to you, but we all find ourselves there emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally at one time or another. Perhaps you find yourself there now. Find comfort in the knowledge that God has not forsaken you. God is not punishing you. God is using this time to refine you, to purify you, to make you holy because He is holy.
Zechariah 13:9 says, “I will put [them] into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
When silver is refined, the Refiner places the silver into the center of the fire where it is the hottest in order to burn away all impurities. He has to sit in front of the fire with His eyes on the silver the entire time because if the silver is left in the fire for even a moment too long, it would be destroyed. He watches the silver because He knows that it has been refined only when He can see His image reflected in it.
In ancient times, in order to test for the purity of gold, it had to be heated. If it retains its color when heated, then it is pure. If it pales, roughens and hardens, or softens and blackens, then it contains impurities.
We will face many troubles in this life, whether married or not, whether parents or not. And it is in these heated troubles, that God refines us like silver and tests us like gold. He burns away the impurities and looks for His reflection. He heats us up and looks for our reaction to see how pure we have become.
May the heat that you next face be a revolutionary heat that purifies you and draws you closer to Jesus.
I bet most of you don’t know that July is national ice cream month and this Sunday, July 17th, is national ice cream day (note to self: Google free ice cream offers for Sunday). Ice cream is certainly a favorite for my kids as it was for me and my sisters when we were kids. My sisters and I always got a kick out of making our own ice cream at home. Every once in a great while my parents were willing to drag out the ice cream maker and undertake the arduous task of creating homemade ice cream. A lot of work went into a little bit of ice cream, but we always thought it was worth it. Nothing beats homemade ice cream. So why go and buy ice cream at the store if it isn’t as good? Simple. Because it is easier. We are willing to settle for lower quality in order to save effort.
Unfortunately, that turns out to be a very compelling metaphor for a lot of things in life.
A major claim against Christianity by nonbelievers (and some believers) is that Christians do not walk their talk. Jesus and the Apostles modeled a lifestyle that few modern Christians follow. The Bible teaches principles and values that would make the world a significantly better place if a larger portion of its population practiced them rather than merely considered them.
So why don’t we?
Because living the Christian life and upholding Christian principles and values require a strong connection with God. Our human nature prevents us from fully expressing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control on our own. We need a strong reliance upon Jesus every single day. And that takes effort. Effort that most people aren’t willing to exert.
It is much easier to go to church for an hour a couple Sundays a month and let the worship leader sing the songs for you and the pastor read the Bible and pray to Jesus for you. It is easier to believe and not act. It is easier to put on the Christian moniker than the armor of God.
Let’s face it. Just like that homemade ice cream, we know that having our own relationship with Jesus is so much better! And just like that ice cream, we find ourselves willing to scrimp on quality in order to save on effort. We rely on others to do our praying for us. We wait for others to prompt our Bible reading or share Scriptures they’ve read. We get lazy or busy or tired or distracted.
Stop settling for store-made Jesus. Make your own relationship with Him.
Most relationships start out really good. Like homemade ice cream good. And it is because we are willing to put forth the effort to meet the other person’s emotional needs. We listen. We encourage. We smile and touch. We say nice things. We spend time together. We have fun together.
Unfortunately, most relationships go the way of the ice cream. Life gets complicated. Time gets filled with obligations and responsibilities. We get jobs or take on hobbies or make other friends or join groups or have kids. Our plate gets fuller and fuller, so the effort we once put into the relationship slowly erodes.
Isn’t it easier just to talk to your friend or get the attaboy from work or get affection from the kids or have fun with our hobbies? That’s where we spend much of our time. That’s where much of our effort already goes. Two birds. One stone. Right?
Only if you want a store-made relationship. And those don’t feel too good or last too long. Keep making the homemade ice cream in your marriage. It takes effort, but it is so much better!
Wow, kids need so much time and effort! If you’re a parent, you know that your day can easily be filled with your kids’ needs and activities. If you want to get anything else done, then you need to find something to occupy your kids. That means school, daycare, their friends’ houses, babysitters, television shows, video games, etc.
I have seen many parents burn-out. They start out with such good intentions and high hopes and then their energy and effort is sucked out of them. It is easier just to let their child watch whatever television he wants, whenever he wants. It is easier to give them a video game to play for hours. It is so much easier when they go to school or daycare. Parents slip from homemade ice cream to store-made ice cream with their parenting.
I have also seen the other extreme. This is the parent that not only makes homemade ice cream, but built the machine herself. She doesn’t use ice cream mix, she makes her own from scratch. She doesn’t put chocolate flavoring in, she has organic raw chocolate that she prepares to flavor the ice cream. She chips the salt from the rock herself. Parents can take it too far and allow their kids to take all their effort and time so that relationships, faith walk, and their own identity suffer for it.
The key is balance. Don’t get lazy and settle for the store-made version of family. But, don’t get so crazy with the homemade version that there are no boundaries and the parent’s identity, self-worth, and life purpose is wrapped up in their kids.
We live in the age of modern convenience, so the idea of putting effort into anything for a sustained period of time is ridiculous to our sensibility. We naturally seek the path of least resistance in everything – relationship work, housework, schoolwork, work work. We only have so much time and energy in a day and too many things are pulling at it – including our own laziness.
Balance looks different for everyone. The key is evaluating your tendencies and tweaking your behavior until you are spending the right amount of effort on the things that are the most important. If you want a life, a faith, a marriage, and a family that is à la homemade ice cream, then you need to do the steps that it takes to produce it. Stop settling for the store-made stuff. It may seem easier in the moment, but we all know that scrimping on quality will disappoint and frustrate us in the long-run.
Recently I was studying the book of John and I found myself struck by the story of Jesus healing the blind man at the beginning of chapter 9. This man had been born blind and spent his life begging near the temple. He catches Jesus’ attention and Jesus does heal him, but here’s the thing – Jesus could have healed the man with a thought, a word, or a touch.
Instead, Jesus spit on the dirt and made mud with it.
Into the dirt.
To make mud.
And then He put it on the guy’s eyes.
Spit-mud on the guy’s broken eyes.
In the ESV, it says that Jesus anointed the man’s eyes with the mud. Jesus didn’t just slather it on like some first-century spa treatment.
He anointed the man.
Anointed – consecrated, made sacred, sanctified, taken for use, called for divine service
With mud made from spit.
Jesus used gunk to make this man sacred, to call him to the divine.
This man had a choice when Jesus applied the spit-mud to his eyes. He could freak out and run away or he could trust Jesus and see the situation through. He could get angry at Jesus for the gunk, blame Jesus for the gunk, and allow the gunk to separate him from Jesus. Or, he could choose to let Jesus transform the gunk into an anointing, into something that would make him sacred.
We are all broken. We all have gunk.
You have gunk.
What choice are you making with your gunk? Are you freaking out, running away, getting angry, blaming Jesus, and letting it separate you from your Savior? Or, are you trusting Jesus, seeing it through, letting Jesus transform it into your anointing?
If you read the story, you will find that the gunk did not heal the man’s brokenness. The gunk was the anointing.
What healed him was his trust and obedience.
Jesus anointed the man’s eyes with the spit-mud and then told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. Siloam is the Greek variation of the Hebrew word Shiloah, which means Sent. This particular pool is actually a mikvah near the temple. It was used to cleanse, purify, and make holy those who washed in it so they could enter the temple.
It was a baptismal pool.
And this pool was fed by the Spring of Gihon, which means bursting forth. It is fed by living water that is bursting forth.
The man was cleansed and purified of this gunk in the baptismal pool of the Sent that is fed by Living Water that is bursting forth. He was made holy, not so that he could enter the Jewish temple, but so that his brokenness could be healed, his blindness removed, his eyes opened. So he could become the temple.
When the disciples asked Jesus why this man was born blind, Jesus said that it was so the works of God could be displayed in him (verse 3). So that he could be anointed, made sacred, called into use.
This man’s brokenness prepared him for the gunk that would be his anointing.
We are all broken. We all have gunk. Our brokenness prepares us for the gunk.
The gunk is inevitable. We live in a gunky world. But, for those who trust and follow through, Jesus can use this gunk as an anointing that leads to a purification that makes us into a temple of the Holy Spirit.
God’s presence dwelling within you.
You are broken. You are blind. You have gunk. And you have a choice.
You can freak out and run away from Jesus or you can trust Him, let Him use it as an anointing, and see it through until He purifies you of it. He is the Living Water bursting forth. We are the Sent.
Here’s what it ultimately comes down to…
We all need Him.
Many of us want Him.
But few of us choose Him.
What will you do with your choice?
It is terrible to watch societal trends swing from one extreme to the other like a big pendulum. We moved from total frigidity in the Victorian era to total liberality in our modern era. We went from women having no rights to a brand of feminism that many have taken to the militant degree.
For this newsletter, I want to focus upon the pendulum that has swung in regard to men. Men used to hold all the power and authority. They were the only ones counted as people in a census. They had the money and the property. They made all the decisions for society. We actually still see this attitude in some cultures around the world today.
I will be the first one to stand up and cheer that this particular brand of masculinity is not the norm in America anymore. But, I will also be the first one to stand up for men against the male-bashing that the feminists have acquired as their favorite pastime. Just watch any sitcom and the father is the butt of all the jokes. The mother is the strong one while the father is the schmuck. The wife is the smart one while the husband is the fool.
I believe that God did not intend for either gender to be regarded in a negative or lowly way. Neither gender is superior or meant to rule over the other. Men and women were designed in tandem, to come together as a strong partnership, both equally made in God’s image and infused with natural talents and spiritual gifts.
In honor of Father’s Day, I want to honor the man that God created men to be.
I have heard the arguments that place great significance on the fact that God created man before woman. I have also heard the theory that Adam had no gender until God created Eve because the word adama is the generic term for humanity, not the term for the male gender. I don’t know that I have been persuaded to a particular argument, but the fact that both claims can be made shows that we are applying human wisdom and reasoning to God’s design. Which means we have it wrong no matter what we argue.
There is no argument, however, that God made male and female people just like He made male and female animals and plant-life. His design is for the two elements to come together; to partner for God’s larger plan. Each gender has a part and each gender is to do their part to the glory of God, for the benefit of their partner, and for the greater good of their community.
I believe each gender embodies unique aspects of God’s nature. God is described as both Father and Mother in the Old Testament. He is ascribed both masculine and feminine characteristics. When man and woman come together, they are bringing into union the aspects of God’s nature that they each uniquely reflect.
When that union is centered on Christ, then actual oneness is achieved. He is the bond the keeps the two together. He makes it possible for the two parts to become a beautiful whole. You honor God when you honor man. You honor God when you honor woman. You honor God when you honor His design for bringing them together in harmony and union. Not just in a marriage way, but in a family and community.
Marriage brings together a man and woman and makes them one, so that they are no longer two separate entities with separate goals and separate futures. They have become one, a strong partnership intended for life.
Outside of marriage, men and women still work best together because they bring balance. They see the world differently. They experience life differently. When the genders work together, God’s creation is honored and blessed. When the balance is disturbed, we find oppression, injustice, and even abuse.
I want to highlight a few of the male qualities of this union. I am speaking in generalities, so all men will find themselves somewhere between weakly possessing these qualities and strongly possessing them. The point is to celebrate the way that God made men overall.
Generally speaking, men possess an innate desire to protect and provide for their family. In Genesis 2, it says that God put the man in the Garden to work it. The woman is to help, but the onus of the job rests on the man. All cultures since creation have reflected this quality in men. Anthropology, sociology, and psychology all support that there is a difference between the genders when it comes to working, providing, and protecting – and clearly it is one of God’s strongest qualities too.
Men are more left-brained, meaning they are more logical and systematic in their thinking. Numbers, space, distance, time, and speed are easier for them to understand and to calculate. They are generally less emotionally-driven in decision-making. In fact, most men are capable of bypassing the emotional center of their amygdale so they can focus on the task at hand and not allow emotions to overwhelm what needs to be done. Additionally, they tend to be more action-oriented and competitive. This is why men tend to be soldiers, engineers, construction workers, lawyers and doctors (especially surgeons).
God made men with these natural abilities, tendencies, and talents to complement and work in conjunction with the way He created women. These are wonderfully masculine qualities, without which our world would suffer.
It is obvious that one of the biggest problems in American culture is the lack of fathers. When divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births skyrocketed, so did single-parent homes. We have been living with the long-term consequences of this trend for a while now and it is apparent that we are suffering without men in families.
Adolescents raised in single-parent homes have higher rates of sexual activity, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, sexual and physical abuse, living in poverty, crime and incarceration.
Clearly, children need their fathers. Men play a significant role in the health and well-being of their families. Not just because they tend to be the protectors and providers, but because of the contributions their gender brings to the family dynamic.
Imagine what life would be like without the masculine qualities of God. What if God didn’t provide for us? What if He didn’t protect us? What if He didn’t think logically? What if He had no clear big-picture in mind? What if God lacked action?
How can we find that reality horrifying, yet believe it makes no difference to raise kids without their fathers?
Children need fathers, but the kind of fathers that love God, love their wives, and live for the good of their families. Wives need husbands who love them as God loves us; who seek strong partnerships with them. Society needs strong, godly men who don’t seek their own good, who don’t seek to win and glorify themselves, and who don’t strive for a position of authority.
God made no mistakes when He made men. God made them in His image. God infused them with aspects of His nature. God designed them to be in relationship with Him, to be one with their wives, and to be a positive influence over their children.
This Father’s Day, let us pause and reflect on how important it is to have our men. Let us honor the significance of fathers. Let us recognize that life is better when men and women come together in strong partnerships, uniting their strengths, and working in harmony. Society is failed when the pendulum swings men into the role of controlling, domineering overlords. And it is failed when the pendulum swings men into being insignificant, unnecessary, and inferior. We need the men that God designed man to be.
Let us honor our Heavenly Father by honoring His creation of earthly fathers. Not just for a day, but for every day.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” – Deuteronomy 6:5
Jesus named this commandment as the greatest. And not just Muhammad Ali greatest. It actually is THE GREATEST or the commandment of first importance. The word in Greek for greatest is protos, from which we get the English word prototype.
Everything else in our faith and in our Scriptures comes from, hinges off of, refers back to, would be moot without this commandment.
So, do you know what it means?
Do you give it much thought?
If everything you believe and do is nothing without loving God with your entire being, shouldn’t it hold a pivotal place in your awareness?
I think the reason it doesn’t is because we read it as hyperbole. Exaggeration. Symbolic or metaphor.
How can you possibly love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength? Not possible, right? Maybe.
So, then, what do we do? We can’t fathom it. We can’t understand it. We don’t know the first thing about doing it. It seems too hard, too much, too (insert other doubt, concern, or fear here).
Let’s break it down and see if we can’t find some answers because I believe God gave His commandments literally, not as metaphor.
Love in Hebrew is “ahab.” It is pronounced awe-have. It means to breathe after something. If you think about breathing, you take air into your lungs and from your lungs it gets dispersed to every other part of your body. Your blood carries it everywhere.
That is how God wants us to be for Him. He wants us to take Him in and make Him a part of ourselves. He wants to be a part of our hearts, our souls, and our bodies. He wants you to take Him into these aspects of your being. He wants every part of you to need Him.
If you were to keep reading in Deuteronomy 6, you would find some specific ideas offered by God on how you can begin to do that.
The first is to have His Word upon your heart. That means you need to be in the Bible. And don’t just read it to get through it; read it to consume it, devour it, be nourished by it.
Get into your Bible and read it for the purpose of taking it in and making it a part of you.
The second idea that God offers is to talk about Him. A lot. Like when you sit at home, when you are driving around, when you are getting ready for bed, and when you are getting ready in the morning. The more you talk about Him, the more dispersed His presence becomes in your life.
Make spiritual talk a natural part of your everyday life.
The third idea is to put reminders of God on your body. Carry Him with you physically. Maybe you get a travel Bible and keep it in your car or your purse or your backpack. Maybe you wear some jewelry or clothing that bears a cross or some other thing that makes you think of God. Maybe you just start cleaning up your language.
Make your outside match your inside.
The last idea that God gives is to make Him a part of your home. For some that may mean putting Scriptures on the walls or hanging plaques that bear verses or prayers. For others it may mean putting out crosses. Perhaps laying out Bibles. Maybe playing Christian music or movies. More importantly, it would be in how you treat your family. When others walk into your home, do they sense a difference? Do they perceive that they just walked into a Christian home?
Make your house a house of God.
So now you have some ideas that will help you start to breathe after God. I hope you don’t take little shallow breaths. My prayer is that you breathe in deeply. Take Jesus into your being and let Him permeate all its various parts.
“Ahab the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
As I am making dinner one evening, I turn into my husband’s arms for a quick kiss as I hear the pitter-patter of little feet coming down the hallway. My older son didn’t announce himself or proclaim what he wanted. Instead, he yelled down the hallway to his younger brother, “They’re kissing again!” Emphasis was added to the “again.” He then ran back to his brother. I never knew why he came into the kitchen.
My husband and I both laughed over that particular moment, but as I have reflected upon it, I am grateful that my son feels that it is commonplace to see his parents exchange affection. A child’s home environment and interactions with parents plays a humongous role in establishing their belief system from which they make decisions and have relationships of their own.
I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase, “More is caught than is taught.” Because of the inherent deceitfulness of humanity, we have learned to trust actions more than words. We also remember actions better than words because it involves more of our senses.
Don’t get me wrong, the words are important. However, children are shaped by what they experience more than by the words they hear.
That’s pretty scary to hear. (Do I hear an ‘Amen’ from some of you parents?)
My children are going to be shaped primarily by their encounters with me – by my actions. I will be the first to confess that there are too many times when I look back and grimace at my actions. I am a sinner and continually, daily, fall short.
No wonder old-time psychiatrists always blamed the mother. Not that it’s true. But, seriously, how responsible, mindful, and intentional are we being with the influence we have on our children?
I realized a long time ago that there is no way I can do everything correctly with my kids. It is impossible for me to instill in them absolutely every virtue.
I mean, let’s get real. I don’t possess every virtue, so how I could I possibly pass them onto my children?
Instead, my husband and I sat down several years ago and wrote out a family covenant. We prayed about it and thought about it and did a lot of soul-searching to narrow our priorities as parents down to a Top 5 list.
Our goal is to focus upon 5 characteristics, values, or virtues. I’m sure they will pick up others in the process, but by narrowing our focus I believe our chances for success are so much greater.
I will share with you our Top 5, but each family is unique and needs to pray about their own Top 5.
The Miller Family Covenant:
We proclaim that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We commit to loving God with all of our heart, our soul, our strength. We will live by the Spirit and seek God’s will in all that we do. We will make Christ the center of our lives and our family; striving to become more like Him each day. (Inspired by Deuteronomy 6:5-7; Joshua 24:15; James 4:7,10)
We commit to forever seeking to be imitators of God. We will strive for honesty, integrity, responsibility, humility, and loyalty. We will keep our commitments and follow-through on our promises. We will be witnesses with our actions and our words. We will make all that we do an act of worship. We will be what we believe. (Inspired by Colossians 3:23-24; James 2:18b)
We offer to one another the unconditional love that Christ has given us. We commit to being the tangible expression of God’s love for us. We will live with grace and compassion for one another, offering forgiveness and mercy. We will seek to understand, accept, and honor one another. (Inspired by Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
We will show one another respect by both our words and our actions. We will be kind to one another, offering encouragement and support. We dedicate our lives to serving our God, our family, and others. (Inspired by Ephesians 4:29,32; Ephesians 5:21; Luke 6:31)
In all that we do, we will give God the glory. We acknowledge that all good things come from Him. We will be content with what we are given and be grateful in all circumstances. We will not worry because we trust that God will provide for us and protect us. We will be ready to share what we have with those that are in need. (Inspired by Philippians 4:11-13; Luke 12:15)
As you can see, we want our family to focus on loving and following Christ, having integrity and humility, being loving and respectful, and being content through gratitude.
When I see my children say and do things on their own that display these qualities, I know that I am on the right track. If I had no goal or if I had the goal of everything, I would be lost in my parenting. By narrowing my focus and making my faith the foundation of my life, marriage, and family, I have a target to aim for. I have a guide to align myself with.
So, yeah, hearing my son exclaim, “They’re kissing again!” makes me very happy. Glory be to God.
I’m going to begin this article pretty point blank.
Marriage is a covenant – that means you do or die trying.
And you ain’t dead yet.
I know that in our culture and time, that is pretty harsh. But, who else is giving it to you straight? If we keep tip-toeing around the truth of the matter, we will continue to watch families and churches and, heck, even society crumble before our very eyes.
Now, if your mind has automatically started to rattle off all the “biblical” reasons for divorce. Let’s put the kibosh on that right now.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so,’” (Matthew 19:8, ESV).
Divorce was allowed because people’s hearts (and heads) were hard. Too hard for agape love and unconditional grace to penetrate. That is because before Christ, God’s people did not have His Spirit living inside of them, they did not have a direct 24/7/365 connection to God, and they did not have Jesus’ example to follow.
We, on the other hand, have no excuse. Denying the direction of the Holy Spirit, the very will of God, and ignoring Christ’s example is not a good enough reason to walk away from your covenant.
Now here is the part where I put in my little side note – there is never, ever, EVER any excuse for abuse. This entry is not about staying in a relationship where you and/or your children are being severely mistreated. As a counselor, I have advised women (and men) in that situation to take a period of separation and to pray their hardest for their spouse’s true repentance and reconciliation. Yes, reconciliation. You need that space for safety and for you to be able to listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
I also know that many people experience infidelity in their marriage and that it is very hard to overcome. I, for one, have already threatened my spouse with bodily harm should he ever be unfaithful to me. But, I have seen couples overcome it and I never advise divorce as a catch-all response to cheating. You have to pray about your particular situation and see where the Lord leads you. It can be overcome if both people are committed to overcoming it.
So, back to my main message: If she or he ain’t beatin’ or cheatin’ then you need to keep going. Keep trying. Keep working at it.
Of course, I am only speaking to you about you. You can’t make your spouse try. You can’t make your spouse stay if he or she has chosen or is choosing to leave the relationship.
And it may seem most days like you are the only one trying – but the truth is that God is the third party of that covenant and He will always be working harder than you are to make this relationship work. Go to Him with your hurt and disappointment. Give Him your broken heart and unmet needs. But, then you need to take the love that you have for God and pour it out upon your spouse. Regardless of what he or she may be doing with the honor that was put into their care on that wedding day so long ago. God will take care of it.
Staying committed to your marriage is truly about staying committed to God. If your eyes and your heart remain on what your spouse may or may not be doing for you, then you have missed the point and you will fail. I know this isn’t easy when things are going roughly. I know this isn’t fun when things are hurtful. I’m not dismissing the pain or the effort. I am giving you a way through it by remaining committed to God.
Ultimately, the question of remaining faithful to your marriage covenant is not, “Will you stay?” But, rather, it is God asking you, “Do you trust me?”
Most people are familiar with some rendition of, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is an essential element of the most famous prayer ever spoken. Millions of people recite it every single day. People have been reciting it since it was first spoken by Jesus over 2,000 years ago.
So, what does it mean? What is daily bread?
There are a few things that come to mind when I consider daily bread. The first is the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years with God providing manna from Heaven every single day. In the morning, the Israelites would go out and gather up the manna that God had sent down for them to eat for that day. Anything that was kept longer than the day became ruined and inedible (Exodus 16:20-21).
God literally supplied bread daily. If God had not shown up, they would have starved. I mean, they were wandering in a desert and, by definition, a desert is without much life in it.
That means there is a natural quality to the notion of daily bread. God provides food for us to eat. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 6:25-34. God knows that we need to eat (I mean, He did create us, right?). If He provides for the birds (and we are WAY more valuable to Him than birds), then He will provide for us if we seek after Him.
The second thing that comes to mind also takes place in a desert. Instead of 40 years, it takes place in 40 days.
After His baptism, Jesus is led into the desert where He does not eat for 40 days. The very first thing that Satan brings forth to tempt Him is food. In Matthew 4, Satan tells Jesus to prove He is God by turning stones into bread. Jesus’ response is to quote Deuteronomy 8:3b, “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
So that means that daily bread is more than physical bread or nourishment. It is also the Word of God. His Word is a different kind of bread, but it is still a bread that we need every day. It is spiritual nourishment.
Just like the manna from Heaven, God’s Word is readily accessible to anyone that wants to partake. You just need to pick it up. Every single day, you need to pick up your portion of spiritual nourishment.
There are two different times in the Bible where, in a vision, a man of God appears before the Lord’s messenger and is told to physically eat a scroll of Scripture. Ezekiel eats it in Ezekiel 3:3. The Apostle John eats it in Revelation 10:10. We are to consume God’s Word as if we are physically eating it. Take it in, chew on it, let it rest inside of you, and let it be absorbed into you.
The third (and final – I promise) thing that comes to mind also involves Jesus. In John 6, Jesus chastises a group who had followed Him just because He had miraculously provided bread for them to eat the day before. He explains that He came to provide so much more than physical sustenance.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,’” (John 6:35).
Our daily bread provides us with life – physical and spiritual, natural and everlasting life. Jesus is the ultimate portion of bread that we need to consume. It is life. He is Life.
That is why it is called Daily Bread, not Weekly Bread or Monthly Bread or Chreaster Bread (Christmas+Easter). We need bread every single day because…
Daily Bread = food (physical nourishment)
Daily Bread = God’s Word (spiritual nourishment)
Daily Bread = Jesus (physical and spiritual life)
Lord, give us this day our daily bread – food to eat, your Word to consume, and your Son to follow. Amen.
My son turned 5 this week.
One of my favorite things is to drag out the celebration over several days, rather than limiting it to one day. As we have been going about his celebration, I noticed that my perception has begun to shift. 4-years-old is closer to being a toddler whereas 5-years-old is closer to being a school-aged boy. It’s not that I thought of my son as a baby, but there was a shift in his stage-of-life and I was beginning to feel it too. My perception of him and of our context of life is changing.
Perception is a funny thing. It is limited by your senses. It is limited by your understanding. It is limited by your frame-of-reference or context.
And yet we so often live as if our perceptions are facts. Immutable, indisputable facts.
It’s almost as if we are floating along a river that has looked the same and acted the same for so long that we assume that this is the nature of the river. But then the river changes. The terrain is altered, the current shifts, and we find ourselves on the same, yet totally different river.
And when this new context of our river is fixed for long-enough and we adapt to this new nature of our river, we are back to thinking that now we really know it. When we thought we knew it before, it was just because we were younger and less wise. Now we know better.
We have fallen back into the trap of perception.
What happens when the nature of the river changes once again? Maybe even throws in a waterfall that we have to go over and be tumbled about in before we settle into a momentary serenity.
Can we find a way to allow our perceptions to be fixed enough that we can succeed in our current situation and still be flexible enough to adapt to the changes that are definitely coming?
I believe that answer lies in our limitedness.
In our limitations, we will have a difficult task of finding balance. Of grasping the context at-hand in such a way as to thrive in it. And then being prepared and flexible enough to shift with the changes that threaten our reality. And yet, how can we overcome limitations while still limited?
Now, any church-going believer knows that when a spiritual question is posed that you can answer “Jesus” and be right 99% of the time. This time is no different.
Jesus is what sets us free from our limitations while we are still stuck in our limitedness.
By giving us His Spirit to dwell within us, Jesus gave us that which enables us to reach beyond our humanness and not only grasp, but live by the Spirit.
In our humanness, there is a veil that rests over our perceptions and our understanding. “…whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away,” (2 Corinthians 3:17b, NIV).
In our humanness, we are only able to see, experience, and know what our humanness enables us to perceive. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Corinthians 2:14, NIV).
If we want to strike that balance between thriving in our current context and being ready to shift to the next without getting stuck or lost in the shift, we must cling to the Spirit. We must allow the Spirit to lead us because it is only with Him that our perceptions and understanding are opened up. The Spirit must navigate us through our river – all the aspects of the ever-changing nature of our river.
It is by the Spirit that the veil over our eyes is removed and we can see and know more.
It is by the Spirit that we are able to discern the things of God.
It is by the Spirit that I can shift from having a son closer to toddler-hood to a son closer to child-hood without getting lost or miserable in the process. I can see my son, my motherhood, our current and upcoming stages of life and know that we will not only thrive in this one, but transition to the next with an ease and grace that allows us to thrive there too.
Perception is a funny thing. Good thing we have the All-Powerful and All-Knowing at the helm.