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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Peace With God

We've heard it said that sin is its own punishment, and there is a whole lot of truth to that statement.  Sin keeps us from living the best life we could live, it keeps us from enjoying the blessings that could be gained from a wise life.  Though like the psalmist in Psalm 73 we see sin sometimes seemingly working out for others but we trust that in the end righteousness works out best.

When Jesus died on the cross He died to set us free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:18).  We are no longer bound to a life of sin.  Sin is a punishment in and of itself and we are no longer subject to it.

But sin is not solely its own punishment.

Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God.  Before Christ's intervention we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  We were enemies of God.  God's wrath was directed at us as cosmic insurrectionists who always attempt to force God to abdicate His rightful place of authority in our lives and in all of the universe.

"But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life"  John 3:16

We were objects of wrath and enemies with Almighty God and God Himself extended the olive branch to offer us peace before we asked for it.  Christ died to free us from the bondage of sin and to save us from the wrath of God and make peace with God for us.  Christ absorbed the full wrath of God... "He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:26

See how Paul explains it in Romans:

"He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." Romans 4:25-5:2

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!  For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!  Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:6-11 (emphasis added)

See, sin is missing the mark, but it's more than just that.  As R. C. Sproul has said: "Sin is cosmic treason.  Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign."  It is treason that puts us at odds with God.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31b)  Well, if God is against us, what chance do we have?  But thanks be to God that God Himself, while we were still His enemies, made the terms of peace and made all the efforts necessary to secure that peace for us.

You can have peace with God and having that peace is necessary, it is the first problem we need fixed.  God is extending the olive branch of peace, a branch that cost His Son's life, to you.  Will you accept peace with God today?




Monday, July 24, 2017

Vows

My wife and I have never had a big fight.  We've never had a big blow out.  We've had our disagreements and we've raised our voices at moments but we've never had a big conflict.  I will tell you our secret.

We've not been married very long.

We are not so disillusioned to think that we will have a marriage completely full of happiness and free of conflict.  Our marriage is and I pray will overall be happy and hopefully be more peace filled than conflict ridden, but we are not naive enough to think we'll have a super long marriage that is all roses.

Christine and I are young and we go to a lot of weddings.  From friends and classmates, to former youth group kids and siblings we've been to a lot of weddings.

At weddings we notice the flowers, the DJ, the dresses and suits, the location, the colors, the groom's face as she walks down the aisle, the toasts, the first dances and all the things we thought about when we planned our wedding.

But the thing that matters most at a wedding and the thing I pay close attention to is the vows.

Vows are the solemn promises we make to each other and to God and before God and the congregation of witnesses.  These words we speak must be greater than a Hallmark card.

I've too often heard vows, especially self-written vows, that make promises that are unkeepable.  Promises to always make the other person happy, promises to keep a certain sense of adventure and wanderlust, promises to always be inspired to love by the other person; and while these promises seem lovely they are not doable.

I've not been married long, but I think there are only a few things we can really promise one another in our vows.  It seems being there and trying with God's help are the only two things we can really promise.

At our wedding Christine walked down the aisle to a song I recorded called "I Will Be Here" by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I will be here is one of the greatest promises we can make to our spouse.  I will be here: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer till death parts us.  This is a very difficult promise and one that only by the grace of God can we keep, but one I believe we can make and if you ask someone who has been married for 60 years it's a very romantic and loving promise.

Trying.  This is the other promises I think we can make on our wedding day.  While trying is nearly unnecessary on our wedding day and trying sounds pretty darn unromantic on day one, trying is a very necessary and loving promise.  So many marriages ultimately fail because the will to try has been lost.  In fact, divorce is impossible unless one or both people give up the will to try.  I don't know this experientially yet but there will be times in every marriage where the ability to keep trying needs to come from outside of ourselves.  There is a point when your spouse will not inspire you to try, no matter how good looking they are and how warm and fuzzy you felt on your wedding day.  At this point we must get our ability to even try from God.

If you're engaged or thinking about marriage someday I encourage you to, when the time comes, think soberly about the vows you will make.  On your wedding day your heart will be stirred to make many grand and lovely promises, but I implore you to make promises that you can actually keep.  I encourage you to promise to be there and to try.

And if you've made vows I encourage you, and myself for that matter, to stay true to the vows you made to your spouse and God today.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Joshua Needs a Better Father

Joshua is two months old tomorrow and is getting bigger and bigger and getting more and more personality by the day.

Before Joshua was born I was terrified about being a father.  I had very little confidence in what I could do in that realm.  I'll be honest, babies are nice but I'd never volunteered to change a diaper and, in fact, I managed to avoid all but one in my life before Joshua came.  I like babies but I'm not one for drool, pacifiers, general messiness or much babies do other than smile and sleep.  But when Joshua came I found fatherhood to be much more natural to me in many aspects than I feared.

Having been a father to a baby outside of a woman's body for two months now I know a few things for sure.  I know I love him so much and I know he needs a better father.

I'm much more confident in being a father now than I was two months ago and I'm much more keenly aware of how short I fall in providing what my son needs most.  My son needs God to be his father.

"He will not let your foot slip,
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep." Psalm 121:3-4

Me.  I sleep.  I need to sleep.  I can't function without sleep.  In fact, I have not written on this blog in seventeen days, when I've written at least weekly for about seven years, because I've chosen sleep over writing.  Meanwhile, while Joshua sleeps God works.  While I sleep God works.  He never sleeps nor slumbers nor does He grow weary.

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom." Isaiah 40:28

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love." Psalm 103:8

I'm not always compassionate or patient... especially when I'm tired.  While I am so lacking in the traits above, God is perfectly all of them.

One day Joshua will think I'm the strongest man in the world... and he'll be very wrong.  I'll rarely be the strongest guy in a room, let alone the world.  Now, while my strength is very limited God's is unlimited.

"Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you." Jeremiah 32:17

All that I am on my best days as a father God has me beat.  My efforts and skills may grow but God's infinite nature will always outdo my best and for that I'm thankful.

I'm thankful that God has entrusted me to care for my little boy.  I'm glad that I get to father this precious boy, but I pray every day that Joshua gets a better father than me.  He needs God to be his father.  Not that that excludes me, but I pray daily that Joshua has God as his father.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1a

If Christ is your savior then God is your father, so celebrate that.  And if you have children, cherish them and pray that God be their father today.



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.