Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus is What We Want

How many people do you know who are really happy? Maybe not very many. People everywhere are struggling with a gnawing feeling of emptiness deep inside. They can’t seem to get rid of past regrets that haunt them. They are disheartened with their life and disappointed with the people in it, from their parents to their spouses. They don’t like their work and feel resentful most of the time. When they are alone, they don’t like the disappointing thoughts they have about themselves, so they find ways to deal with the disappointment. The things they try only leave them even more disillusioned. As they grow older, they become more and more cynical.

Many unhappy people find themselves crushed between two overwhelming burdens: a regretful past and a bleak future. The past offers few comforting memories and delightful remembrances since it is overcast with a sense of failure. These people have little hope the future will ever be any different than the past. Consequently, they don’t live in the present, and they don’t enjoy life. Their life has little meaning and purpose.

What we really want is Jesus, but we don’t know it. He made us, and when our lives are aligned with his purpose for us, we live in the present. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the way, not one of many ways, but the only way. He is the truth, not someone’s perception of truth, but the embodiment of truth. When we find Jesus and commit our lives to him, we have life, not a life free of problems, but a life that is full of meaning, even if we are suffering. When Jesus comes, the emptiness goes away. Our perspective of the past and future will change, and the present comes alive.

Jesus does for us what we cannot do for us, ourselves. He forgives us. Forgiveness is God’s gift to the world. When Jesus says to us as he did to the woman caught in the act of adultery, “…neither do I condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin," he frees us. He frees us from our past failures and future fears. He sets life within our reach. That is what he said he came to do, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” (John 10:10). We all know the thief and have experienced the loss, the disappointment and the devastation. It’s time to get to know the author of life.

Once a year at our church we have a Missions Convention. It is a time when we remind ourselves about our mission in life. Jesus stated the mission of the church in these words: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).

Every committed Christian takes these words to heart, and we believe it is our privilege to share the story of Jesus with people all over the world. We do not believe the message should be forced on anyone, but it should be shared, giving each person an opportunity to decide for themselves whether they would like to know and accept Jesus as their savior.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Kids Learn From Their Dads

One of the most important things children can learn from their fathers is to love their mother. Just think about it for a moment; which home would you like to grow up in--one where your father criticizes and ridicules your mother, sending her into depression and resentment or one where your father praises and affirms your mother, causing her to flourish? The difference between the two homes is night and day.

Solomon said of the virtuous wife and mother, “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…” (Proverbs 31:28). This woman is described as smart, beautiful, hardworking, kind and strong. She is comfortable being a woman, brings delight to the home, and her husband cherishes her.

Men, I would like to address you for a few moments. The word “husband” is related to the word “husbandry,” which denotes cultivation. A good husband cultivates positive qualities in his wife by praising her. He does this freely and in the company of his children. He doesn’t browbeat his wife or put her down with insults and hurtful remarks. That’s not a strong husband—that is a petty man. This is a beautiful picture of genuine praise. What a difference there is in the home where the man sets the tone by literally affirming his wife with spontaneous praise. This wife and mother blossoms in this environment, and this man and his family are the richer for it.

Dads, our children will learn and imitate the role of husband and father we portray. Never think that your silence or resentment against your wife will not affect your children. It will in so many ways, but here is the good news—so will your praise of your wife and family. Not only will this attitude transform your home, but it will also prepare your sons and daughters for their future roles as spouses and parents.

Perhaps you grew up in a home where your father didn’t praise your mother. In fact, he put her down, and you find yourself doing the same thing. You can change that. You can stop that cycle. You can start a new trend in your family. Maybe your family wasn’t very affectionate and didn’t affirm each other openly. Don’t let that stop you from doing what you need to do today. Stop blaming your past. Look at your wife and your kids as your greatest treasure on this earth and praise them. Make them feel as if your home is a castle and they are royalty.

As a counselor, I meet with families each week, and I have observed a few things. We all have set patterns of thinking and behaving. Many of those patterns are negative and counter-productive. Whatever patterns we have formed in our lives we hold on to dearly. Change comes hard for people. Men, this pattern of praising your wife is worth attaining—no matter how hard it is to implement. Do whatever is necessary to learn it. Make whatever changes are needed. Go to counseling. Find out why you are the way you are. Once you have experienced what it is like to have a home filled with praise and affirmation as opposed to negativism, you will never go back. Praise inspires, encourages and motivates growth and industry, while criticism and ridicule squelch growth and diminish confidence. My prayer for your home is that it will be like this:

Proverbs 31:28
“Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Marriage Sustains Love

A few days ago Marilyn and I completed 41 years of marriage. The celebration of such a momentous event should have some comment. I thank God for my wonderful wife and the beautiful family God has given to us. Marilyn and I would say that making a marriage work is not easy, but it is so rewarding.

Strong marriages survive the decades of disappointments, stress and problems because two people love each other. However, love alone is not enough to sustain a marriage. Love is a powerful force, but, as we can see all around us, people who once loved each other are no longer together. Those whose marriages thrive through the years allow their love to be sustained by the promise of marriage. The promise they made to each other was for life. No love, no matter how pure, how intense, can sustain a marriage over the years, but marriage can sustain a love.

God created marriage as his way of helping us keep our promises to each other. He knew we wouldn’t live up to our promises without a lifelong commitment. God wants marriages to survive because it is his plan. The prophet Malachi explained that part of the reason Israel was suffering was “…the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Malachi 2:14). God knows what is lost when marriages don’t survive. Often these two people who once loved each other carry the hurt with them the rest of their lives. They are not the only ones hurt by this divorce. Their children lose this God-given environment to grow up in and learn about life in the best possible setting. Malachi explains that this is one of the reasons for marriage, “Has not [the Lord] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15).

A strong marriage provides the best possible scenario to raise children. Research shows that children of divorced mothers have poorer and less stimulating home environments. Divorced mothers often have more discipline problems with their children, and especially their sons. Unfortunately, divorce usually leads to a decline in the frequency of contact between the father and the children, thus weakening the father as a role model for the children.

Divorce creates distance between parents and children. It causes an emotional disruption with increased conflict that undermines the children’s ability to trust their parents. It often takes years for children to overcome the traumatic experience of divorce. The effects of divorce sometimes cause young women from divorced families to feel a need for love and attention and even a fear of abandonment. Men, on the other hand, whose parents divorced, are inclined to have more hostile attitudes toward women. They find it difficult to be open, affectionate, and cooperative. Children of divorced parents often make poor choices when choosing a prospective wife or husband.

Divorce diminishes children’s capacity to handle conflict. The primary role model in their lives for coping with conflict is broken, and the result is devastating. During a divorce, conflict between parents is often accompanied by less affection, less responsiveness, and more inclination to punish their children, which leaves their children feeling emotionally insecure. Children of divorced parents move away from their families of origin more often and earlier than do children of intact marriages.

Children from divorced homes often develop a negative attitude about marriage. This leads to decreased commitment to romantic relationships, which in turn is related to lower relationship quality. Children of divorced parents are more likely than children of always-married parents to have more positive attitudes towards cohabitation and more negative attitudes towards marriage. Abuse is much higher among stepchildren (divorced and remarried) than among children of intact families.

Marriage is under attack as never before in our nation. Marriage is being assaulted by divorce, and now, by the threat of a new definition of marriage. Thirty-two states have affirmed traditional marriage by an overwhelming majority, and four more states will vote to do so in November of 2012. It is my prayer that God will help us preserve the blessed institution of marriage.[1]

[1] Fagan, P, & Churchill, A, (2012) The effects of divorce on children, Marriage & Religion Research Institute.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Power of Words

Words have enormous power to affect our lives. Solomon said, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov. 18:21). Most people don’t think of words this way. How many people do you meet that just seem to talk? When you leave them you can’t even remember what they said. Then on the other hand there are a few people whose words touch you in such a way as to make you listen. Sometimes they have something funny to say or something inspiring or maybe endearing but always worth listening to. Solomon said such a person was rare, “Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel” (Prov. 20:15). Let’s examine a few things that make words valuable.

First good words need to be truthful. It is easy to be careless when we speak but it takes effort to make sure our words are accurate. As a counselor I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people who don’t know how to trust people. You know why? It was because they have been lied to—they were the recipients of broken promises one too many times. This process of trust should begin early in life. A child learns to trust her mom or dad because she knows they will do what they say.

Secondly our words need to be controlled. Knowing how to control our words will save us much embarrassment and involvement in needless quarrels. All of us will on occasion encounter someone who is angry and sometimes it will be our own family member. What a blessing to just listen and refrain from speaking words at that moment. Solomon said, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). If our words are controlled they will not make us angry or incite the anger of another they will help to dissipate the anger and bring peace.

Thirdly our words need to be chosen. A good speaker is first a good listener. He doesn’t give his unsolicited opinion and dominate every conversation. When he speaks he adds something to the flow of conversation. Usually his words are in response to what he has heard someone else speak. This is an art and it has to be learned. One of the best ways to learn to speak like this is to observe those who do. Jesus was that way, “No one ever spoke the way this man does…,” (John 7:46).

Fourthly our words need to build people up. Paul wrote that we should only speak “…what is helpful for building others up” (Eph. 4:29). Words are vehicles that convey what we think, know or feel. Solomon said these kinds of words nourish people, “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Prov. 10:21). What do we want our words to do to people—to bring delight or to bring sadness? Solomon said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22). How many people around us have cheerful hearts versus crushed spirits? I have cringed sometimes to hear a man crush his wife’s spirit or a mother her little child by their thoughtless words. Yes, our words truly have the power of life and death.

Words should come from a reservoir of knowledge. Truthful and factual words come because we are diligent and observant to speaking only the truth and if we don’t we need to make it right. Words of healing, compassion and inspiration come from a heart that has love. Words that inspire and move us come from passion. As powerful as words are for either good or bad they are no more than the essence of what we are as a person. We may think we have done a good job of hiding our anger, indifference or self-pity but we haven’t because our words will betray us. If however we love God and are confident in his love and are aware of how flawed we are but grateful to be his chosen vessels we will speak words of life. Our words will be a blessing to those around us. Solomon said it like this, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21).