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Archive for December, 2009

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)…”

One day in my English class we were discussing proverbs.  I mentioned the old American saying, “If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy” and explained it to my students. I asked them if they had any similar proverbs in their languages. One of my married female international students smiled and said, “Happy wife, happy life!” 

This student knew what she was talking about.  Her saying is echoed in Proverbs 31.  In this passage, some sayings of a fellow named King Lemuel are written down.  They were taught to him by his  mama.

His mama told him to watch out for loose women and stay away from booze.  She also advised Lemuel to care for the needy.   The epilogue to these proverbs  proclaims the virtues of the woman with noble character.  She is among other things a hard worker and a great businesswoman.  She also ministers to others (Proverbs 31:1-31). 

Is it possible,  in an age in which  women had little rights, that the noble wife was set up to succeed by a husband who saw his wife as someone who needed his love and care?  Perhaps he funded her business enterprises, and in doing so gave himself and his children a happy life and helped the woman fulfill her own ministry before God.

Too many of us Christian men have abdicated our responsibility to our wives. I am the first to admit my sins in this area.  I am working hard to correct this.  As another old saying goes, “Better late than never”.

What is it that we Christian men are doing or NOT doing?  First and foremost, we are not loving our wives.  The Scriptures tell us we are to model ourselves after God, who is the essence of love (Ephesians 5:1).  Instead we get involved in immoral behavior, and lead our wives down the primrose path to destruction in the process. 

Many Christian men today are no different than their counterparts who not profess Christ.  They mess around with sex , wrongly handle money and drink like fishes.  The author of Ephesians warns that we Christian men have come out of that dark lifestyle and that  if we follow Christ we should have nothing more to do with it (Ephesians 5:8).

Is it any wonder a lot of women have had it with men? Did you ever wonder why the Bible tells men to love their wives, but for the women to to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33)?  Maybe it’s because so many men are not worthy of respect.

Sure, women are sinners too.  But Christian men are accountable to God for leading their wives, especially in their relationship with God.  Instead of being the agents of the sins of our wives, we Christian men ought to be the reason why they are walking with God.

A great New Year’s resolution is to make the success of our wives a priority. We should spend our time over the holiday thinking about how to do that instead of getting soused or doing online trading.

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“Indeed, of Zion it will be said,’This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her'(Psam 87:5).”

We just experienced our first Christmas together as a reunited family.  Right before the holiday my family joined me from overseas after a two month separation.  In addition, my oldest son moved here from California shortly thereafter after living apart from us for several years. While our new location and situation is a work in progress, having everyone together again is, to say the least, a wonderful development.

There is something about the traditional family unit that provides the possibility of healthy relationships and stability in the midst of a world that offers neither.  It is true that there are a lot of dysfunctional traditional families out there, but who is to say that other structures such as cohabitation and having children out of wedlock offer a better chance for family health?

One study notes that unwed couples are economically and socially handicapped compared to those who are married.   These couples tend to have less money and less education. They also have more problems with substance abuse and are more likely to suffer from depression.

 But marriage and the traditional family unit isn’t enough to avoid these kinds of problems.  The “something” that provides our traditional family with the prospect of being successful is the fact that Jesus Christ is its Head.  The members of our familyall profess Christ, including Mom and Dad.  With God in charge, we have hope. We can use our spiritual gifts within our family and therefore have a better chance of becoming unified and mature (Ephesians 5:7-13).

Our efforts to pursue godliness give us a better chance for success, also.  Thriving godly people create joy,spread wisdom and justice and are self controlled.  In addition,  godly parents know how to handle their children (Proverbs 29:2,3,6-8,11,15).

On the other hand, families without God in their lives are caught in a trap (Proverbs 29:6).  They are subject to deception, futile thinking and ignorance. As a result, these families are more likely to be desensitized and unrestrained in their actions (Ephesians 4:17-19).  

Unfortunately, the trend is away from the traditional family.  Twenty one percent of the couples in Finland, the country we just moved from, are cohabiting. The percentage is even greater in other Nordic countries. In Britain, married couples will soon be in the minority.

This trend doesn’t bode well for our world.  What is even worse than the move away from the traditional  family is the move away from God.  What we need in Western society is a revival of maginificent proportions.

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 “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;  my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home,  and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you (Psalm 84:1-4).”
      

We’re thinking of getting a dog down the road, so the other day my wife and I went to a couple of shelters.  I have never been a big dog fan, but even the hardest heart would have to melt at the plight of some of these animals.

The dogs are in one large room in separate cages.  As you enter the room, the barking starts.  Many of them look at you with eyes which are starved for companionship.  One dog in particular jumped on the door of its cage with its front paws, seeking to stick its nose through the wire for some human touch.  Other dogs are slumped in their pens, looking dejected and without hope.

They are well-taken care of by those in charge of the shelters. One couple obviously cared for their animals.  They stayed open even though we arrived late.  The woman caretaker told me that anytime someone came to look at shelter dogs that they were more than willing to accomodate them.

Humans without God are like these dogs.  They long for a home, but are in prison.  Although animals operate by instinct, humans know in their hearts that they need loving companionship.  Unfortunately, many people look for it in the wrong places and end up straying from God and the home He would provide for them.

Instead, people running from God end up in a jail run by an evil warden. They become subject to his whims and rule and are as good as dead. They are without hope.  One day they wake up in a prison of their own making because they have hardened their hearts toward God (Proverbs 28:14).   

 However, some of us have had the joy of watching Jesus walk through the door and adopt us.  He took us home and we have experienced His kindness ever since (Ephesians 2:1-7). We gladly accepted His offer of a new life.  We’d have to be crazy to run away from home again.

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“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor…Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.( Galatians 6:6,9-10).”

Christmas Day was not your normal day of revelry for the passengers aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253.  The people aboard the plane were disturbed by a man seeking to explode some kind of incendiary bomb as the pilot prepared to land in Detroit.

However, one man upset the propsective terrorist’s apple cart, jumped the man and foiled the plot.  The hero was burned in the process, but the bomb maker was apprehended.

Leadership is in short supply today.  This is why I admire the man who saved the lives of close to 300 people on Christmas Day.  He saw a bad situation and took it upon himself to intervene.  He didn’t hesitate or say to himself, “I don’t want to get involved.”

Right before Christmas I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping and saw a gift I knew a friend of mind would like.  It was a little pricey, but this friend has been so instrumental in leading me and my family over the years that I didn’t hesitate to buy it for him.  It was a very small price to pay to show my thanks to this man for all the good he has done to me.

Lots of Christian leaders have fallen by the wayside.  Like the ancient men of Ephraim, they have rebelled against God despite His goodness to them.  Many of them have just lived lives of self indulgence. These leaders were supposed to fight for the people under their charge, but like these men of Israel, they chickened out (Psalm 78:9-20).  

Not this  buddy of mine. I pretty much owe my life to him in so many ways.  Honoring him at least in a small way at Christmas is the bear minimum I can do. Somehow I will benefit from the gift giving, also. 

Many of these leaders sacrifice themselves in many ways to do us good.  At least occasionally we should reciprocate when we can.

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“Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day (Psalm 96:1,2).”

Most people who follow sports know the story of Michael Vick.  He is the American football player who had the world at his feet.  He was a gifted athlete for the Atlanta Falcons and highly celebrated.

Then Vick’s world came down like a house of cards.  He was arrested for being involved in a vicious dogfighting ring and sent to prison. He was disgraced.  There was a good chance he would never again play in the National Football League .

However, one team gave him a second chance.  The Philadelphia Eagles took him under their wing (pun intended) and let him play football again. He hasn’t done much on the field. But this didn’t stop his teammates from voting him as their most courageous player.  Even though he knew he would face criticism and abuse for his past because he was again in the public eye, Vick took the field again and by all accounts has been a model citizen. His teammates wanted to recognize this.

As Christians we are apt to take a dim view of a man such as Michael Vick.  We will join in the chorus of fault finding and judgement.  We tend to forget, however, that none of us are immune from sin.  The Scriptures tell us that if anyone thinks that he or she stands, they should take heed lest they fall (I Corinthians 10:12).

The Galatians are an an example of believers who had heard the truth, but were turning away from it. The apostle Paul used an athletic analogy to rebuke them.  He wrote, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth (Galatians 5:7)?””

We are prone to be very eager about sharing our faith and God’s love with people around Christmas and judging and criticizing them the rest of the year.  Our pop culture and the media showed at Christmas that he is a God of second chances.  He appears to be gving Michael Vick one.  More than likely God is doing it so Michael will see God’s grace and turn to Him. 

My mother has a unique approach to her Christmas tree. She leaves it up all year long and decorates it according to the season. For example, in July the ornaments may be American flags celebrating the birth of America.

We ought to be individual living Christmas trees every day of the year, celebrating Jesus’ birth and ready to share God’s grace and love to hurting and sinful people all the time.

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“You have exalted my horn  like that of a wild ox;  fine oils have been poured upon me.  My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries;  my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes. The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age,  they will stay fresh and green,  proclaiming, ‘The LORD is upright;  he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.'(Psalm 92:10-15). 

While waiting to get treated at the doctor’s office today, I spent my time observing the posters on the wall.  They were pictorials of different parts of the body with titles above them.  The graphics included titles such as, “The Amazing Shoulder” and “The Amazing Arm”.  (Since I was there for my ankle, I was wondering why there wasn’t one that said, “The Amazing Ankle”.)

I started thinking of how amazing the brain was after looking at these pictures. It wasn’t included, but at the time I was concerned about this organ.  You see, I am on an antidepressant and my prescription had run out.  My doctor in Europe was nowhere around since I am now living back in the States.  So I was hoping I could get some help.

Due to a mishap, whatever supply I had was thrown out. So I had gone two or three days without my meds.  By yesterday I was a basket case.  I had no patience at all, which was a bad thing since I was in the midst of Christmas shopping and the kids were in the midst of Christmas excitement.  Without going into detail, let’s just say I wasn’t a very nice guy.

So this morning I was determined to get my pills.  Otherwise I would be the Grinch who stole Christmas. Thankfully, I got a prescription today and found an extra pill to get me through last minute Christmas shopping today. So now I can go back to being Santa Claus.

Some might even wonder why as a Christian I am even in need of an antidpressant. Why don’t I just live by the Spirit?  Let me explain how I understand my need.

It is true, as Galatians says, that I am no longer a slave of the world and have the Spirit of God.  I have all the rights of a son of God (Galatians 4:1-7).  However, there was a time that I was indeed enslaved to ungodly things.  As a result, my my soul took a beating.  In this life, the damage that was done still affects my human software and hardware. My brain and soul  need medicine to restore their function to normal.

When I go without my meds, I become like the drunken man described in Proverbs. I have all kinds of woe, strife, complaints. I don’t sleep. My brain doesn’t work (Proverbs 23:29-35). Ironically, unlike the drunk whose problems are caused by substance abuse, this sober human actually has to take a substance to restore himself.

I am grateful for medicine. I believe it is a gift from God. It actually helps me to walk with Him in the Spirit and oppose the Evil One.

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 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:22-24).”

In an episode of the old “I Love Lucy” sitcom, Lucy thinks her husband and best friends have forgotten her birthday. She is upset and goes to the park where she meets a group of outcasts.  This group calls themselves “The Friends of the Friendless”.   These people befriend her and Lucy, herself feeling rejected, readily accepts their fellowship.

Unbeknownst to her, her husband and friends are planning a big surprise party for her. In the end, she realizes they love her after all.

Sometimes we feel like that in our relationship with God.  It seems He has forgotten us.  The problem is exacerbated when we feel like we have no human friends either.

I recently lived in a town which I left for a total of two days in almost three years. As a foreigner in this place, I had a difficult time making friends.  It was pretty lonely.  When you are in this situation, you begin to wonder where God is and what He is doing.

The Psalmist felt this way.  He not only felt like that God didn’t love him, but also felt that God was trying to bury him (Psalm 88:3-6).  The author also feels like God has taken away his friends and put him in a box he can’t get out of.

Interestingly enough, in the next Psalm the author is discussing how he will sing of God’s great love.  Both authors appear to be from the same tribe.  Perhaps Ethan and Heman lived in a family which was isolated and alone.  Then God rescued them.

Life has its season. In my own case I have moved and have begun renewing relationships with old friends and family.  It has been wonderful to love and be loved. 

Imagine how Jesus felt. He was divine, yes, but he was also human.  The Scriptures say he was cursed (Galatians 3:13).    They also say He was “despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3)”.  He was a “man of sorrows”.  Emotionally at least, Jesus must have been really low.

But God had  a purpose in all of it.  Jesus was born to die.  It’s easy to focus on the coming of Jesus as a tender baby  at Christmas.  However, the complete story from an earthly perspective is pretty sad.  What makes the story of Jesus’ Incarnation worth singing about is Easter, when He rose from the dead to give life to us all.

The whole saga of the life of Jesus gives me hope.  When life gives me lemons, I know that eventually God will make lemonade out of them.  In suffering, His purpose is to draw me to Himself.

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