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Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Divorce Isn't a Finish Line

My wife and I recently watched Grumpy Old Men because she had never seen it.  The movie is funny but one thing disturbed me in it and it's not Burgess Meredith's many one-liners.  The movie makes you cheer for a divorce.  You find yourself rooting for Melanie and Mike who have a child to split up so Melanie and Jacob can get together.  Now, Grumpy Old Men isn't anywhere near the only movie that does this nor is this the main point of the movie, but as a child of divorce and a Christian I find myself feeling a bit icky that I cheer for a divorce even in a movie.

In Hollywood divorce is pictured as some sort of a finish line.  I'm not here to condemn Hollywood for this.  However, I'm sad that many people in real life view divorce as the end of something that it just isn't.

If you have children and divorce your divorce isn't the end at all.

My parents divorced when I was in middle school.  My parents did, in a bad situation, the best they could following the divorce.  They did shared care, they treated each other with respect, they married people that are fantastic step-parents... they did their best following the divorce.

But divorce isn't the end and it wasn't the end for my parents' relationship.  If you have children your relationship with your spouse continues until the day you, them or your children die.

If you have children and are considering a divorce let me show you just a few of the ways that divorce isn't the end of the pain and struggle.  I'm not trying to guilt you.  I don't know the pains and struggles of your marriage.  I simply want to share some of the reality of post-divorced life.

Holidays
You only get up to 18 Christmases and Thanksgivings with your kids at home.  Now you get half of what's left.  You will spend some of those without your children and they will spend all of theirs without one of their parents on holidays.  Then when your children get married the half becomes a fourth when they rotate with their spouse and try to cram you into it; or it is a half with a speedily done celebration.

Vacations
You thought it was difficult planning around your work and Junior's little league season before?  This becomes doubly hard when your spouse is trying to do the same thing.  Having your children another state or country away is never easy.

Weddings
You and your ex will both be there at the wedding.  You and him/her will go back to talking about the fun subject of money as you try to get on the same page for what you're paying for.  If talking money was fun and exciting married wait until you talk it divorced.

Graduations
Will you throw two celebrations or will you let your graduate have the pleasure of having just one shindig with both of their parents there?  Once again, be ready to figure out how to communicate ideas and preferences and budget on this one.

Birthday Parties
Every year the tension of the two above comes together on this one.  Who gets to see your son/daughter first thing in the morning on their birthday?  Who gets to kiss them goodnight as an 8 year old for the first time?  Divorce will make you miss precious, unrecreatable moments.

Grandchildren
All the factors that steal time away from you being with your child will steal your time from your future grandchildren.

Sleepovers on Your Days
Remember that your kids are still kids.  They won't care as much as you do that it's been five days since you've seen them when they ask to stay the night at Jimmy's on your night.  My parents did a great job with shared care and I love them but there were many nights spent at friends' houses instead of theirs.

Parenting Together Apart
Divorce may end a marriage but it doesn't end the co-parent relationship.  What movies are okay to watch?  How late can they stay out?  How much junk food will they eat?  What words are off limits to say?  You will need near constant communication with your ex to parent well together apart.  You will need to restrain each other from parenting becoming a competition of whose house is the most fun.

Divorce is a Generational Sin
Divorce is 50% more likely for people whose parents were divorced.  Divorce is 91% more likely for people whose parents got divorced and then remarried (source).  If you get divorced there is a good chance that you'll pass on this generational sin and the mess that accompanies it.

If you have children and are considering divorce I implore you to think rightly.  I beg you to not believe the clich├ęs of "at least we'll be done" and "the kids seem to be better off when we're not together."  No, divorce is not a finished line.  If you have kids it's simply a new kind of relationship you and your spouse will have.  No, the kids aren't better off.  Even if they get great step-parents out of the mess your children will likely be left trying to tiptoe around your mess for the rest of your life.

For those of you divorced already please know that God still loves you.  But for those of you that have not committed the sin of divorce yet I encourage you to keep fighting for your marriage.  You and your spouse reconciling is best for you, for your kids and most importantly for the glory of God.  Divorce is not the finished line, it is a messy detour.  Don't abandon the race you're running now because it's gotten hard.  Rather endure and when you feel you've reached your end, keep enduring.

Count the cost and fight with all you have and all that God will give you to make your marriage work today.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Remember Me

I just finished the book of Nehemiah.  For those who have never read the book I'd highly encourage you to read it.  It is, of many things, a great blueprint for Godly leadership and like all of the Bible it will magnify your view of God.

As I finished the book a line stuck out to me.

"Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services." Nehemiah 13:14

Often when I think about God's perfect memory I am filled with fear.  It is a fearsome thing to think that God knows and remembers everything I've done or ever will do.  I picture myself standing for the judgment giving an account for all I've done and left undone and it terrifies me at times because I know all the ways I've fallen short.

Yet, Nehemiah asks God to remember.  He asks God not to remember one of His promises, though I'm sure Nehemiah was glad that God remembers His promises.  No, Nehemiah asked God to remember something that Nehemiah had done.

Here is a truth we can take from this: God will remember what we've faithfully done in service of Him.

God will remember what I've faithfully done in His service.  God will remember and He won't blot out the record of it.  This is incredible.  God's memory is infinitely long and He will remember what I've done in His service.

How many of us remember something that our great-great-great-grandfather did?  I'll be honest, I don't even know any of their names, let alone their accomplishments.  King Solomon said it well when he said:

"For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
in the days to come both will be forgotten." Ecclesiastes 2:16a

Very few people in history are still remembered by mankind for the good that they've done.  Yet God has not and will not forget it.  God remembers it all.  The good we do will be remembered forever in God's glorious telling of history.  Our faithful service will live on.

Some of you may say, "But I've not accomplished anything of worth."  I know how you feel.  I often look at others and envy what God has done through them.  I recently read something that greatly encouraged me in this, Pastor Greg Laurie said, "In the end, God isn't going to say, 'Well done good and successful servant,' but 'well done good and faithful servant."

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

Our faithful service of the Lord is not in vain, it is accomplishing something great.  God will remember our faithful service and it will not be blotted out of His grand history book.  So, if you want to be remembered, then aim to be remembered by God.  Be faithful, not necessarily flashy but be faithful to the work God has planned in advance for you to do and God will remember your efforts forever.

I love Nehemiah's prayer and I will tweak it just a bit as we pray it to close.  "Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for your Kingdom."  And as Nehemiah ended his book, "Remember me with favor, O my God" today.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Somebody's Prayin'

When Christine and I got married my Dad sang the Ricky Skaggs song, "Somebody's Prayin'"and then implored the witnesses of our wedding to pray for us.  I'm so appreciative of the prayers that many have lifted up for me over the years and this very day.

I'm buoyed by the knowledge that somebody's praying for me.  It lifts my soul and gives me endurance to know that people are asking the God of the universe to be good to me and my family.  There are few better things you can do than pray for one another.

But there's someone I'm more thankful to have praying for me than you, and that's no slight to you.

Jesus.

Often I'm strengthened and encouraged when a friend sends a text to let me know that they're praying for me, but I often take for granted that Jesus daily prays for me.

"...Christ Jesus, who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Romans 9:34b

"Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them." Hebrews 7:25

Jesus, the Son of God, is at the right hand of the Father praying for all believers personally and collectively.  This is fantastic news!

This good news doesn't mean that I should be nonchalant about the saints that pray for me; no, I should be thankful for the prayers of others but the prayers of Christ should thrill my soul the most.

My pastor has recently and often said to me and others that we Christians act as if more people praying for us gives us a better chance of giving us what we want.  This, he says, is a paganesque belief not rooted in reality.  It's not as if God says, "There's 50 people praying!  Well, I better change things and give them what they want.  I could say no to 49, but not 50!"  No, God sits in Heaven and does what He pleases and every thing He pleases to do is the best.

But our prayers do matter in some mysterious way.  As my pastor, Jim, said on Sunday, "our prayers our a means that God works but not a cause."  Our prayers don't cause things to happen as if He needs us to inform Him or convince Him to do His perfect, sovereign will but rather God wills our prayers to be a means through which He works.  In prayer we get to participate in the work of God.

So, pray for one another and know that God is working in your prayer to do His perfect will.  Appreciate the prayers of others because they are appealing to the One who can answer any request.  But above all reflect and rejoice in the fact that Jesus Himself prays for you and I.

"... The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16b

Who is more righteous than the Righteous One?  Rejoice!  This Righteous One with the most effect prayers is praying for you today.

                       (Ricky makes the point of this blog at the end of his song)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Love That Requires Effort

I love my son so much.

Loving my son came naturally and instantly to my wife and I.  The moment he was born I looked at him and then I looked at my wife as she repeatedly with tears in her eyes shouted with joy, "My baby, my baby!"  I watched her eyes as she instantly fell madly in love with Joshua.

I fell for him almost as fast.

There is a love I have for my son that is deep and even though he's only three weeks old I know it's a lasting love.  I can't imagine ever not being in love with him.

Joshua does absolutely nothing to deserve this love.  All he does now is need.  He gives us nothing other than soft skin to kiss and big eyes to look into now.  He needs food every few hours and he shouts for it.  He needs to be held and shouts for it.  He needs God only knows what and he shouts for it.  He poops and pees and needs to be cleaned.  He wakes us up.  He keeps us up.  He worries us.  He changes our routine.  He does absolutely nothing to deserve the love we have for him.

Yet we love him immensely and couldn't stop even if we wanted.

Some of you may be thinking this post is an analogy for how God loves us and it very well could be, but it's not.

Love for my son comes to me so easily and that's a good thing, but it's made me realize that I need to put more effort into loving my wife.

I love Christine deeply and I've covenanted to love her up to the day I die and I intend to keep that promise; but I'll be honest and if you're honest you'll likely agree... love for my wife doesn't come as easily as love for my son.

Sadly, unlike my love for Joshua that comes with no strings attached and no requirements, I often have unpronounced requirements for my love for Christine.  I too often love Christine for what she does to deserve it and not just because she is my wife.

Christine and I have a good, healthy and happy marriage.  Being married to her is one of the greatest blessings and joys of my life.  But since the birth of Joshua I've been struck by the fact that unconditional love for my wife takes more effort to cultivate than love for my son.  Love for her will require effort because it doesn't come naturally despite what we feel on our great days.

My love for my son may remind you of God's love for us.  It does for me in a small way, too.  And that reminds me of this:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her..." Ephesians 5:25

Holding Joshua has shown me that my heart is capable of more unconditional love that I knew was possible.  My wife deserves that depth of love from me and I will need to work to give it to her, not because she deserves it but simply because she is my wife.

I challenge myself and you when I say, men, let's think of ways we can do the work required to love our wives with more stability, more longevity and more depth today.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Advice for Graduates

Congratulations graduates!  Here's some advice I have for high school graduates who will head to college in the Fall from a post written in 2014.

Practical Advice for Graduates

Graduation is here for many high school and college students.  Several students I've had to privilege to know and love are leaving for college in the Fall.  So, here's some practical advice for high school graduates.  This list isn't exhaustive, but in my experience it is very helpful.

1) Don't go home every weekend and especially not the first weekend.

Your parents might not like this advice, but it is good advice.  So much of what you learn at college will not be learned in a classroom.  You will learn from the experience of being around new people.  Weekends are so important for meeting people, especially the first weekend.  Some of those people you meet your first weekend will possibly be life-long friends.

2) Leave your door open.

When you're in your room just hanging out leave your door open.  This will give you an opportunity to bond with those students living on your floor.  Most, if not all, of those students are also scared freshmen and that common experience is a great catalyst for friendship.  People who close their doors all the time often miss this companionship in a shared living space.

3) Don't overlook the weird kids, they're often the nicest.

High school may have been about cliques but college doesn't have to be like that.  Those "weird kids" are often the most friendly people on campus.  If you want college to be cliquey like high school it will be; but if you befriend people of all walks of life you'll learn so much more and have deeper friendships that aren't based solely on your social strata.

4) Don't believe everything your professors say, but think about everything they say.

Newsflash: many professors have an agenda.  A great number of these men and women want to teach you the subject matter and share their opinions with you as if they were facts.  These professors range from the atheist to the extreme liberal to the libertarian to the feminist that will make you sorry if you were born male.  Not everything presented in your class will be strictly factual.  However, don't use that as an excuse to stop thinking.  Some of my best professors were the curmudgeon former Christians and passionate near communists because they forced me to think sharply enough to defend my own opinion.

5) Plug into a church.

This is my most useful and impactful piece of advice for a few reasons.  In college you will be surrounded by 18-22 year-olds who think they know it all; your church will give you a chance to learn from your elders and give you an opportunity to mentor those younger than you.  Your church will keep you rooted in your faith.  For so long you've probably gone to church because your parents did, college will be a chance for you to go to church because you want to.  Don't underestimate the power of this.

9 years ago I plugged myself into a church in my college town, Waverly.  I was a nervous freshman at Wartburg College and I can't say enough how awesome the decision to go to Grace Baptist was for me.  Grace gave me a chance to be my own adult in the congregation.  No longer was I Jack and Kathie's son, I was just Matt.  My faith became even more my own and being plugged into Grace helped that immensely.  I'm still a member of Grace and I can only begin to say what a difference my church has made in my life.

Seniors, congratulations on your graduation.  I'd advise you to consider all the advice I gave above but I implore you to plug into a local church above all the rest of the advice that was given.  You'll be glad you did.  Again, congratulations and consider this advice today.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Law and Love

Sometimes we juxtapose the law and love.  We often wonder whether we should be loving in a given situation or whether we should be obedient to a command.  We see love as something that exists best in freedom from regulation of any kind, something that can only be done with raw, unhinged emotion.  And we see obedience to the law and commands as devoid of the emotion of love, we see it as legalism.

The Bible makes no such juxtaposition.  Love and law are sisters not opposites.

"This is love for God: to obey His commands." 1 John 5:3a

John says that in order to love God we must obey His commands.  In fact, Jesus is recorded as saying a very similar thing in the book of John.  Obedience is love for God.  Obedience is not dry, empty servitude; no, obedience is an act of love and trust.

And obedience isn't only the benchmark for loving God, it also is the benchmark for loving people.

"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?'

The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment He expertly condensed the whole of the law (613 laws by some historians' count by Jesus' day) into two laws: love God, love people.  The teachers of the law ranked commands so they could know what to do when two principles seemingly conflicted.  In ranking these two commands as greatest Jesus said that love for God and for others is the filter through which the whole of the law is to be run.

Pastor Tim Keller summarizes it well when he said: "Jesus shows us that love actually defines the lawful life, and He shows that us that the law actually defines the loving life."

To be obedient to God is to love and to love God and others is to be obedient to God.  The law is not dry and passionless, rather it is soaked in love.  Love is not wild and without direction, rather it is guided by the law.

Love and law are sisters that help us glorify God and benefit our neighbors. Next time you see a command of Scripture view it as a way to love God and others.  When you seek to love God and/or others well look for Biblical commands and principles to guide your love today.




Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God Is Good

As I write this my exhausted wife and newborn son are sleeping.  It is so good to be able to type that sentence for several reasons.  One being that neither did that last night on our first night together at home and secondly because Christine and I have prayed for that little guy for a long time.

In August I wrote a post called "The Glory of Infertility" that was picked up by Relevant Magazine's website, a magazine in Singapore called Trinitarian Magazine and was interviewed about it on a New Zealand radio program called The Forum.  Needless to say I was surprised by the response, but not overly surprised that of all the things I've written about that the topic of infertility struck a cord.

Infertility is something 1 in 8 couples deal with and it is heart-wrenching. So, as I sit in the room with my sleeping wife and little Joshua I am filled with joy.

God is good.

God is good, but He's not good because Christine and I now have a son.  No, God is good because that is what and who He is.  Father, Son and Spirit are just simply good.  They are good all the time.  God is the very definition of good.

The circumstance we were in while waiting for Joshua was hard and the gorgeous circumstance that I'm sitting in today is much more preferable to me, but God is no more good today nor was He any less good then.

God is good.

God's goodness does not hinge on circumstances.  He is immutable and eternal.  His goodness never changes and it will never end.  Often we view the immutable nature of God in the light of His goodness and love never decreasing, but His immutable attribute of goodness means that His goodness and love can never increase.  He is the acme of goodness at all times and always will be.

So, when people come up to us and say, "God is good" in response to seeing Joshua I will agree wholeheartedly.  God is good all the time!  When I hold my son I experience His goodness more tangibly, but His goodness was there when Joshua wasn't.  It was planning Joshua from before the foundations of the earth, it was giving my wife and I strength to wait and trust, it was helping us see the glory in our infertility and it was holding our very fibers together.

In the post I wrote about our infertility I said this:

There must be glory in infertility.

I don't know how but I trust that when I look back on this it will be like flipping a cross stitch over from back to front.  I trust that God not only knows what He's doing but that what He's doing will be glorious.

I trust that if and when Christine gets pregnant it will be with OUR child planned for us from before creation.  I trust that when we adopt we will adopt OUR child planned for us from eternity before eternity. 

Now, I see it, at least in part.  I see the egg and the sperm that God joined together in His perfect timing.  I see the financial stability that He got us to before Joshua came.  And most importantly I see the sanctification of my own faith the He brought about in our waiting on Him.

God is good all the time.  Your experience may be one of great joy or crippling pain and I know there are days when believing in God's goodness is easier than others so I pray you have the faith to trust that God is good, no matter what, today.