Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Building Strong Families

So, ideally, the whole world turns to Jesus and in turn we see crime disappear, communities strengthened, schools as safe learning centers, the government running efficiently, the economy robust, and our nation healed.

Because those who are following Christ are not embezzling money, selling drugs, or killing people. They’re caring for the needs of others around them, seeking to build them up, and working in cooperation for the common good. They’re respectful, patient, kind, and tender-hearted. They’re wise in leadership, honest in business, and trustworthy as employees. They’re productive, law-abiding, godly, model citizens.   

That’s not to say that Christians are perfect by any means, but the ways of Jesus are good and right and true. And true followers of Jesus strive to live in His ways.

Are we still having this national discussion about how to have a better America, or not? If so, my answer stands: The world is a better place when Christ is honored as King. And my plea remains: Come to Jesus and surrender your life to Him.

Of course, we’re not living in an ideal world. People have rejected Christ in favor doing whatever seems right in their own self-centered eyes, and even Christians fail to live up to the standards they profess. So where does that leave us as a culture? It leaves us with a wide chasm between what’s ideal and what’s real, and a massive bridge to build in working toward forming a more perfect union.

Here’s my contribution to the discussion: Even if the whole world doesn’t turn to Jesus, we still need to learn this foundational truth: Strong families create strong communities. If we’re looking for practical solutions for our nation’s ills, why aren’t we doing everything we possibly can to promote healthy marriages and loving homes?

Families in disarray lead to communities and cultures in disrepair. I say this in love knowing that so many come from dysfunctional homes, but the evidence clearly bears out the burdens on society that arise from turmoil in the family.

Look up some of the studies on your own and you’ll see that from toxic home environments there is direct correlation to increased crime, alcoholism, domestic abuse, divorce, poverty, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, gambling addictions, and so much more.

In a report from Princeton University and the Brookings Institute in 2015, David Ribar of the University of Melbourne writes: “Reams of social science and medical research convincingly show that children who are raised by their married, biological parents enjoy better physical, cognitive and emotional outcomes, on average, than children raised in other circumstances…[R]esearchers have been able to make a strong case that marriage has causal impacts on outcomes such as children’s schooling, their social and emotional adjustment, and their employment, marriage and mental health as adults.”

Any intellectually honest sociologist, psychologist, teacher, doctor, lawyer, judge, business and community leader – or even politician! – would readily agree. So let’s do all that we can to build strong homes.

But building homes, like building bridges, takes hard work and unwavering commitment to the job. It means laying unshakeable foundations. It means making life choices that support the integrity of the entire structure. It means giving attention to the details of the project and not allowing anyone or anything to interfere with the work.

Will we build the bridge toward healthy homes? Christians, I say let’s lead the way. Is it worth it? I say we can’t afford not to. Is it possible for strong families to restore our dying nation? I say yes, but it might just take the world turning to Jesus first.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The cure for an incurably sick heart

The human heart has been desperately sick for a long time and more deceitful than a fake news outlet. The heart – representing human will and emotions, the core of who we are – is polluted like a squalid stream and follows a crooked path bent on ungodliness. It is incurably sick; no medicine, no religion, no psychology, nor self-help section can heal its critical condition.

The evidence of man’s depravity continues piling up with each day’s headlines: a murderous rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida, a politician sexually harassing his or her employees, a drunk driver recklessly killing innocent lives, another domestic abuse case, a marriage rocked by infidelity, some 125,000 babies aborted again today, scammers preying on elderly victims, men pretending to be women and vice-versa, a life ruined by drug use, a gambling addiction destroying a family, a schoolyard bully picking on a special needs child, a home invasion leaving a mother beaten and child missing.

Shall I go on? Where would I stop? Who really knows how bad the corruption of the human heart is? It is “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity…full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice…gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:29-32).

So what can we do about it? Should we pass more laws against murdering people? Should we ban all alcohol sales? Should we stone adulterers to death or cut off the hands of thieves? Should we tack another anti-bullying poster to a high school wall or give away more condoms to try to prevent unwanted pregnancies resulting from sexually immoral behavior?

Or could it be that what we really need is a new heart? Perhaps a heart of compassion for others would be nice, and one overflowing with humility, kindness and respect, as well. A selfless, sincere, serving heart would sure go a long way.  Add in patience and forgiveness and now we’re getting somewhere. Oh, and let’s not forget the most important ingredient of all – love, which binds them all together in perfect harmony.

Can we order a new heart like this on Amazon?

Actually, it’s better than ordering online, and certainly far more effective than anything Congress can do, but unfortunately most people don’t want to hear the answer.

The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross so that we could be born again – and in Him receive a new heart, new spirit, and new life. Speaking prophetically through Ezekiel God says, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 11:19-21).

If people would only turn in faith to Jesus and follow His ways, we wouldn’t be having such discussions, lamenting the sewage spewing from humanity’s depraved heart. Instead we’d have hearts beating with the love of Christ for one another – because of the love with which He first loved us. And there’s no law that can heal nor change the heart of a nation or community or family like the love of God through Christ Jesus.

Friend, let me urge you in these troubled times to seek the Great Physician, who alone can cure the sickest of hearts and make the foulest clean.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Treasuring marriage as a gift of God's grace

Of all of the incredible gifts God has given to mankind (beyond the gift of eternal life!), one of the greatest has to be the gift of marriage.

Think about it – the Lord Almighty formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. God then surrounded the man with a beautiful garden in a perfect paradise, in which stunning trees and luscious green plants produced good food for the man to eat. And the Lord gave the man fulfilling and meaningful work in tending the garden.

The man was in charge of the garden and had dominion over every creature on the face of the earth. The world was at his fingertips. He had untainted fellowship with God, and sin wasn’t even on the radar. What more could he want? No ESPN yet, of course, nor Harleys to ride, but otherwise he had it made.

But there was something missing. The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18).

The story goes that God approached Adam and told him that He would create for him the most gorgeous creature he’d ever seen, a lovely figure to behold, charming and pleasant in nature, and beautiful in every way. But it would cost him an arm and a leg. Adam thought about it for awhile and countered, “Well, that sounds great, but I’m not sure I can give up an arm and a leg. What can I get for just a rib?” (Ba-dum-ch!)

Maybe not quite like that, but God did take one of Adam’s ribs and with it He made a breathtaking companion in all of her radiant beauty and brought her to the man. Adam declared, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).

Can you imagine the joy that must have leapt from every fiber in Adam’s being when God introduced him to this incredible new creature, this woman who was designed to be man’s suitable helpmate, and who also just happened to be easy on the eyes?

Do you wonder how their first conversation may have gone? The Bible doesn’t say this exactly, but can you see Adam ambling up to her with a cheesy pick-up line like, “Is it hot out here, or is that just the Holy Spirit burning inside you?”

“I didn’t know angels flew so low.”

“Excuse me, is your name Grace? Because you are amazing.”

“Or is it Faith? ‘Cause you’re the substance of things I’ve hoped for.”

“I’m not usually very prophetic, but I can see us together.”

Warning to single guys: If you ever use any of these lines, you will forever remain single. And if Adam had, well you and I wouldn’t be here today.

What the Bible does tell us about this gift of marriage is that, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). That was our Maker’s gracious purpose from the beginning, affirmed by Jesus in His earthly ministry (Mark 10:6-8), to define the sacred covenant of marriage for all time. And what a gift God has given!

The Bible also says this to us, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

Friend, let me urge you to honor marriage. Honor it by keeping it pure, by keeping your marriage vows faithfully, with steadfast love and unwavering devotion. Honor it by refusing to allow an ungodly culture to redefine it in ungodly ways. And honor it by treasuring this gift with much gratitude to the Lord for His great grace.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ironing out the wrinkles

Press me on this and I’ll confess that I’m a wrinkle-free shirt kind of guy. I mean, who irons stuff anymore? And I’m too cheap to take it to the cleaners. Just throw it in the dryer, set it on wrinkle-free, and when you get it out it’s good enough. Right?

So, Sunday morning I’m feeling like a certain blue-ish / turquoise-ish colored dress shirt is the way to go, along with a pair of brown Dockers, casual shoes, and no tie. I don’t know if it matched well or not. Sometimes you just have to feel it. Predictably, I’m still waiting for GQ to call for that cover shoot.

Of course, when I pulled it out of the closet and wrangled it off the hanger it was painfully apparent that it needed ironed. And not just a little touch up. I can handle a shirt being not perfectly pressed and starched. But this thing needed the full-blown treatment, which is probably why I hadn’t worn it for a really long time.

So should I pick out a different shirt? The thing’s not going to iron itself out. But that would mean I’d have to change pants, wouldn’t it? And if so, then I’d have to change socks and shoes, and maybe even the color of undershirt I had already put on. Do I have time to iron? Do I feel like it?

Oh, the debates that go on in my head just picking out clothes on a Sunday morning! Dress pants or khakis? Dress shirt or something more casual today? What color? Tie or no tie? Sweater vest Sunday? Honestly, I’d be a lot more relaxed in jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes, which some pastors make work. But I haven’t gone there yet.

Well, I ironed the shirt. It was a cotton / polyester blend, so I had to be sure I had the iron on the right setting. Number 4, I think it was. Because if you don’t have enough heat it won’t get the wrinkles out, and if you set it on 6 you might scorch the thing, or shrivel it all up like I did with a silk tie one time.

And I carefully pressed out the creases and lines, one sleeve at a time, then the back, then the front, with special attention around the buttons, and on the collar, applying the right amount of pressure with the right amount of heat, until the shirt looked good and presentable. Aren’t you glad you learned a lesson in ironing today?

You know, as we journey through this life it’s not a wrinkle-free cycle. We get crinkled and crushed, rumpled and furrowed along the way. It’s a broken world; a sin-infected world where the fall-out from our choices (and those of others) can make us feel like a wrinkled up shirt nobody would want to wear in public.

But we have a heavenly Father who loves us, no matter what we look like on the inside or out. He knows we’re messed up. He knows we can’t fix things on our own. And that’s why He sent Jesus into the world – to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He gave His life on the cross to forgive us for our sins and to make us right with God. He rose from the dead to give eternal life to those who call upon His name in faith. Friend, He invites you to come to Him for life! Take Him up on it!

And let me press this point home in closing. Following Jesus is no easy road. Temptations still tempt. Sin still assaults. Sorrows like sea billows still roll. The stuff of life on earth still causes wrinkles. But our merciful Savior continues to work in us to gently iron out the wrinkles so that we might be presented in splendor, as holy and blameless, and “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph. 5:27) before Him.

Applying the right amount of pressure, the right amount of heat, He sometimes, for a season, for a little while, uses trials in our lives to prove our faith genuine. And the result is always for our good and for His glory. Hold on through the process, dear friend, and rejoice in knowing that our Lord knows how to iron us out for good.