Tuesday, March 20, 2018

But I Can't Afford It

Early last year, Kathryn Vasel shared some numbers that caught me by surprise:
“The average cost of a wedding climbed to a record high of $35,329 last year, according to The Knot's 2016 Real Weddings study. That's up 8% from the 2015 average.  Meanwhile, the number of guests has dropped.  "Couples are spending their budgets to focus on guests, they are taking care of them and showing them a very personalized experience," said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, executive editor at The Knot. "But personalization is not cheap."  Last year, the average number of wedding guests was 141, down from 149 in 2009. Smaller invite lists mean guests are getting pampered: Couples spent an average of $245 per wedding guest last year, up from $194 seven years ago.”*  Later in the article it mentions that “the most expensive place to get hitched was in Manhattan, where couples spent an average of $78,464 in 2016. Couples in Arkansas spent the least on their big day at $19,522.”        
I was dumbfounded when I read this.  $35,000 for a wedding?  Who does that?  Apparently enough are spending that much to bring the average price up to that number.  Now I’m going to have to explain to my own kids how they were short-changed.  What a social embarrassment!  I’ll never be able to hold my head up in polite society again.  Just call me Ebenezer Scrooge.  Ok, rant over…(smile).
On a more serious note, wouldn’t it be great if more people today were as willing to invest in the strengthening of their marriage as they apparently are to invest in its beginning?  There are numerous good books, seminars, and retreats on the subject that cost a mere fraction of $35,000.  But for some reason, all of a sudden, such things become “too expensive.”  Then there’s also the investment of non-monetary things like time and effort.  “But I can’t afford it.”  My friend, you can’t afford NOT to invest in your marriage!

God loves you!


Monday, March 12, 2018

Living The Words We Sing

In an article titled “Hymns for the “Sorta” Committed,” Edd Sterchi lists the following “revamped” song titles:

I Surrender Some
It is Fairly Well with My Soul
Fill My Spoon, Lord
Oh, How I Like Jesus
He’s a Little Bit to Me
I Love to Let Someone Else Tell the Story
Take My Life and Let Me Be
Where He Leads, I’ll Consider Following
Just as I Pretend to Be
Onward Christian Reserves
When the Saints Go Sneaking In
Sit Down, Sit Down for Jesus
My Hope is Built on Somewhat Less
How Neglected is the Book Divine
I Need Thee Every Other Hour
To Canaan’s Land I Hope I’m On My Way*

While we smile at these titles, perhaps inwardly we cringe a bit, knowing that too often we also sing better than we live. I understand that many of our songs to God are designed to be aspirational — where we stretch for a target beyond us, such as “More Love To Thee.”  That’s all well and good.  But have you ever caught yourself singing some well-known words and then wonder: Do I really mean what I’m singing?  This isn’t intended as a discouragement to praising God in song.  It’s merely a reminder to us all to endeavor to live the words as well as sing them. 

God loves you!


Monday, March 5, 2018

After His Own Heart

          In 1 Samuel 13, King Saul is confronted by Samuel for his foolish disobedience in offering a sacrifice that ignored God’s directions in the matter.  As a result, Saul was informed that his kingdom would not endure and that God “...has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:14).  This coming ruler would be King David.
          Perhaps you have wrestled with the designation of David as a man after God’s own heart, especially in view of his own sins, such as lust, adultery, and murder.  Saul’s kingdom was not to endure because of an unauthorized sacrifice and, yet, David’s kingdom endured even in the face of what most would call “greater” sins.  What’s up with that?  Various explanations are offered, focusing on the differences between Saul and David, but none have ever seemed very satisfactory to me.
          In studying 1 Samuel 13 in preparation for a sermon, I ran across another explanation that makes more sense.  John Woodhouse describes it this way: “The expression “a man after [God’s] own heart” has entered Christian jargon, usually as a statement about the qualities of the person. In 1 Samuel 13:14, however, the expression is literally, “The LORD has sought for himself a man according to his own heart. . . .” This is about the place this man had in God’s heart rather than about the place God had in the man’s heart. It was a way of saying that God had chosen this man according to his own will and purpose” (1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader (Preaching the Word) (Kindle Locations 4760-4764). Crossway. Kindle Edition).
          This makes so much more sense given the context of 1 Samuel.  Remember -- Saul was the kind of king the people wanted (“like all the nations”) --  a king, if you will, after THEIR hearts. In contrast, David was to be a king that God chose according to His standards, after HIS heart.  Just some food for thought....

God loves you!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Perception Affects Prayer

            Last Sunday evening, our study group discussed Luke 18:1-8.  As part of that discussion, we explored how our perception of God tends to affect how we approach Him in prayer.  For example, if we view God as a legalistic tyrant or a distant deity, we will be hesitant to bother Him with our concerns or convince ourselves that He doesn’t care about us enough to listen to our prayers anyway.

            Terry Rush addressed this topic in a recent article.  Do we practice prayer sporadically and, when we do, it's the process of us sitting at the table (or pew) and placing our orders?  God, we'd like two days unscrambled so that by 8:00 p.m. we could note that they were over easy.  Too, would you keep others from disturbing us for You know we've got enough troubles of our own.  And, oh yes God, would you see to it that my tomorrow is carefree for I'm in need of a break from those pestering disruptors who seem to cut in line to my having a good day?  Huh, God?  Could ya?  Amen.’  When our prayers are laced with the ‘I wants’ coupled with incredible absent gaps of ‘Thank You's’ we are likely approaching God as our Waiter and not our relational Father.  Indeed, He is most interested in our needs and called for us to call on Him.  This thread is true.  Yet, to relate to Him as only one who takes our orders with little relationship misses the point of being His child.”*

            What’s the takeaway?  If we are struggling in our prayer life, whether it involves persistence or whatever, perhaps the remedy starts with reviewing our perception of God.  Jesus’ point in the parable is that God is not like the unrighteous judge.  He doesn’t have to be hounded or cajoled into acting on behalf of petitioners.  Would viewing God in that way change anything in the way we pray to Him?  If so, then perhaps we need to rethink our perception of God.

God loves you!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Magic In The Boredom

Richard Beck spends most Monday evenings teaching and serving inmates in a Texas prison.  During the past year, he periodically shared some of his experiences there with the world at large through his blog.  In a post near the end of 2017, titled “Prison Diary: This Boring Thing We Call Grace,” I found the following words to be a good reminder:

“Prison ministry isn't all that exciting. Maybe you noticed that as the year went on, getting bored to the point of skipping these Friday installments. I get that. But there is magic in the boredom. As I said at the start of the year, prison ministry is about fidelity, showing up week after week, month after month, year after year. There is nothing particularly sexy or heroic about just showing up. Heart-wrenching and amazing stories aren't happening every Monday night. Trouble is, though, we get addicted to those heroic stories. And the Christian publishing and speaking industry keeps us addicted to these heroic stories. But I'm not a hero. And the Men in White aren't heroes. And what we experience on a typical Monday night isn't going to show up in a story for a book or the speaking circuit. We're just small, broken people looking for grace in a sad, lonely, and very mean world. And from time to time, we find it with each other. Mostly in the smiles and hugs we share when we are reunited again each week. Grace, I think, always feels like coming home.”*

            Perhaps your work in the kingdom of God doesn’t qualify as “heroic” by most standards. Books aren’t being written about your marriage.  High profile speakers don’t reference your congregation’s efforts.  But you continue to serve anyway -- through thick and thin, through good times and not-so-good times -- because it’s not about being the hero.  It’s about being faithful.  May our service to God through serving others never become boring to us.  May we learn to hunger more for God’s grace than for our own glory.

God loves you!


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Comparison Game

“It’s no secret that most stay-at-home moms or dads struggle on occasion to feel a sense of appreciation, worth, or significance amidst the day-to-day grind of raising children. During a season of life when she was at home full-time with their children, Dr. Tony Campolo’s wife Peggy would occasionally face the question, “And what is it that you do?” Eventually she crafted the following response. “I am socializing two Homo Sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation.” Then Peggy would ask the other person, “And what do you do?”*

It’s likely that all of us have experienced feelings of insignificance.  Our culture feeds this illness.  Most of us were raised to compete in an environment that coached us to compare ourselves to others by what we do or what we have accomplished. If you are at the top of the food chain, then it’s no problem. You always compare favorably.  But for the other 99.999 percent of us, it’s not so much fun.  There is always someone else who makes more money, gets more done, gets better grades, has a better job, sells more product, etc..  And if our self-worth is tied to this kind of competition, we inevitably end up feeling inadequate or worthless.

There is a better way.  Instead of our self-worth being wrapped up in what we do, let’s learn to assess ourselves by who we are.  If you are a Christian, you are a son or daughter of God.  That makes you a child of the King!  Can you imagine how liberating that would be?  No longer do I have to measure up to anyone else.  God doesn’t love me any more OR less just because of how I compare to others.  We are loved because of WHOSE we are, not because of WHO we are.  Thank you Lord!

God loves you!


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Eat Your Spinach!

“The cartoon character Popeye is famous for eating spinach. Whenever he breaks open a can of spinach and eats it, he gains enormous strength. Popeye was employed by the US Government during World War 2 to promote the idea of eating spinach. Meat was a rarity during war, but spinach appeared to be a great substitute. In the 1890’s German scientists had shown that spinach contains the same amount of iron as meat. And iron, of course, is one of the essential vitamins in building strength. But the facts are wrong. The German researchers did prove that spinach contains iron, but when they wrote down their results they put the decimal point in the wrong place. They overestimated the amount of iron in spinach by a factor of 10! Unfortunately, the correction didn’t get across the ocean until after WW2.”*
Wouldn’t it have been great to have this information back when Mom was “encouraging” us to eat our spinach!  Since the dawn of time, humanity has been getting their facts mixed up or misrepresented -- sometimes unintentionally and sometimes intentionally.  The problem has only worsened in our era.  The information explosion, via the Internet and such, has made it even more difficult to discern truth from untruth.
The stakes are even higher in the spiritual realm because we are dealing with eternal matters.  In case you haven’t been told yet, let me break the news: you can’t necessarily believe everything a religious teacher tells you.  That is why John teaches to “...test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  That is why Paul praised the Bereans for comparing his teaching to what the Scriptures said (Acts 17:11).  Spiritual truth doesn’t always just fall into your lap.  Often it takes effort to separate fact from fiction.  I would encourage you to make the effort.  Remember, it is the truth, not lies, that will make you free (John 8:32).  Accept nothing less than the truth!

God loves you!