Good Marriage

Secrets to a good marriage. Take a good marriage to great. Have a healthy marriage.

These phrases ooze out of book titles, sermons, and conversational pleasantries. They are as pleasant as losing your keys. What is a ‘good marriage’ vs a ‘bad one’. Can I get a tester at the hardware store? Is there a list of ten key items so that I can grade my relationship? This would be useful and absurd.

Yet, that is what we are looking for. A test to objectively critique a relationship. What measuring rod do you use for two human hearts? The modern desire for measurable knowledge turns a rod intended to measure into one used as abuse. Yet sparing the rod spoils the relationship.

Without any clear guidepost we won’t ever find what we are looking for. If we don’t know what a good marriage is we won’t ever be satisfied in one. We may find it. But we won’t know we have found it. “This is cool. … Better keep looking” the search never ends.

 “It is always in the last place I looked” Is true bey comical definition. I never found something and thought to myself, well, better keep looking under tables and around corners (except in the hunt for a spouse). Once you find it the quest is completed and there is satisfaction. But if you don’t know what that ‘it’ is, then the looking can never stop.

Not all who wander are lost. But some who wander are most definitely lost. If the destination is the goal, but you do not know the destination you are most assuredly lost when wandering. If you are enjoying the journey as the goal then you can wander to your hearts content and be satisfied. If you want a destination as the goal then the destination must be known.

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Relationship Skills

I had the opportunity to be friends with my ex, I’ll call Holly, and visit her over the weekend in LA. I sat behind her at the bar while she was doing dishes and cooking breakfast. She shared mixed feelings for a guy she was talking to over the last few weeks. Holly stopped, turned off the water, and turned around to look at me. I looked at her bright blue eyes.

“I shouldn’t be sharing this with you. It isn’t considerate of our relationship. I am sorry.” She said with all care and sincerity.

I muddled something incoherent in reply and looked out the window or something. She waited. I returned I contact and shrugged. Satisfied she changed the subject and returned to cooking.

I do not know anyone as adept at communication skills as she was. The more books I read on neuropsychology, communication, relationships, and emotional intelligence the more I am amazed at how she just does everything naturally. No research. No books. Just good well intentioned relating.

I have had a few dates with young girls who are very present and engaged. It isn’t a completely lost art, but it is definitely difficult to find. I think it is an affect of social media and cell phones. Eye contact has become increasingly difficult to manage. Many are so lost and disillusioned that they have difficulty ignoring themselves long enough to really listen and engage with another human being.

That is the goal. Learn the habits that lead our hearts to putting the other person first. Some of us naturally put the other first. Others need a lot of help with lots of practice. I lived genuinely selfless before others and developed a severe selfishness disorder. The last five years have been fighting to get it back. I still fail regularly.

A few months after this interaction I unfortunately didn’t think of Holly first. I put her in an uncomfortable situation because I couldn’t die to my own desires first.

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Celebrate our Independence

USA Independence Day is a celebration of America’s separation from Britain. Typically it is a celebration of freedom. Os Guiness claims in his book Last Call for Liberty, Great Britain considered themselves free. In contrast with the other European nations they were. The United States were the free of the free. We took liberty to the extreme.

Christians typically are ones to take pride in the freedom of the American experiment of freedom. Unfortunately, some go so far as to call our nation a Christian nation. Some critique of America and say it is, “post-Christian”. Either claim is a misuse of ‘Christian’.

A Christian is one who follows Christ. Nations do not follow Christ, people do. The misuse of the term degrades the word when we use the same one to identify ourselves.

Christians in America do have unique was to conduct themselves in the Christian life. As we celebrate our independence and celebrate freedom this ought to include thankfulness to God for giving us opportunities that we have. It is from God that we have the political challenges we face and it is from him that we have the significant freedom to live well.

What is the most Christian response to freedom? Diligent use of that freedom to do well, thankfulness to God for that freedom, and consistent prayer for those that are not as fortunate. It is in God’s good nature to shape nations and shape his people by those nations. As we celebrate our country let us also celebrate the many blessings it affords us in thankfulness to God.

Happy 4th of July!

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Secular and Sacred Pt. ii

The separation of secular and sacred is rooted in Gnostic Dualism. The belief that the perfect state of man and woman is spiritual. There is a perfect design or blueprint of a person. The only way to reach perfection is to shed the physical state and become a perfect spirit.

               This is not Biblical. God made us with a physical body. When Christ returns and makes a new heaven and earth, we will have physical bodies. Christ himself is raised from the dead in his physical body and ascended into heaven in his physical body. We will be like him in the resurrection. We are made to be physical.

In the creation narrative Adam and Eve were gifted the responsibility of tending the garden. The command to subdue the earth is prior to the fall (Gen 1:28). The narrative then moves into a detailed look at Adam and Eve. God commands Adam to tend the garden God made (Gen 2:15). The intent for responsibility and work is present before the curse.

The curse after disobedience extends from our calling to be stewards of the earth. Adam’s curse was to toil with the ground. His job and life endeavor did not change.

The law that God gave to the Israelites continues the theme of earthly importance. Contrary to several surrounding religions, God gave commands regarding food, building their houses, and even their waste hygiene. Other religions gods did not care about the ‘earthly’ and ‘mundane’, only the spiritual.

Our spiritual health is important. But the spiritual is present here. The laws given to the Israelites to separate them from the surrounding nations were specific regarding how they lived their physical life. The Israelites were commanded to be different in their daily lives.

Finally, as James tells us, “Show me your faith without your actions and I will show you my faith by my actions.” The actions that show our faith is every aspect of our lives. Job, free time, shows we watch and don’t watch all point to what we believe in.

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The Secular and Sacred

There are two great lies the church hands out freely. We are to love ourselves first and there is a separation between secular and sacred. The first is more widely held and defended. When I politely suggest that loving yourself first is not scriptural it is Christians who respond viscously. Those who do not profess Christ easily accept it. Christians are supposed to love others more than themselves. That is Christ like, is it not?

               More subtly is the separation of the secular and the sacred. The separation is not taught as much as implied. Sermons, books, conversations, bible studies, and tweets imply that the unseen spiritual world is of more importance. Church ministry, worship songs, winning souls for Christ, reading the Bible all have value. Everything else is just pointless filler.

               If you are working a secular job, it is good to tithe and not do wrong things in front of your coworkers and invite them to church. But your real life is the spiritual things you do around your job. You have the unfortunate position of only getting in a few hours of spiritual work. Blessed be the church ministries that get to do spiritual work 40 hours a week.

               Christ cares for conduct of all people, everywhere, in every action. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it well unto the Lord. If this means taking extra time to clean the runners in your sliding door unto the Lord, then do it well. If it means leaving that task undone to respond to a friend on Facebook, then do so to the Lord.

                 The separation degrades most of our life from diligent stewardship of God’s gifts into pointless tasks. Those not in full time ministry feel lost and without purpose. It strips lives of opportunities to serve and glorify God. Worship moves from all people, all places, everywhere to fifteen minutes on Sunday morning and listening to Phil Wickham in the car.

               Our crowns are created and shined on earth. They are shown in heaven. The next several posts I will be covering how to change our thinking to undo the separation of secular and sacred.

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Justice: Healing Wrong v2

I first published this post over a year ago. Given the current climate I believe it is good to republish with some edits.

The common view of justice is one of punishment. Someone does wrong and they receive a ‘just reward’ for their wrong deeds. This is, at best, an incomplete and warped view of justice compared to the biblical view.

Justice is: make something wrong, right. It is making something bent or crooked straight again. As all injustice and evil is a perversion of the just and good.

Punishment in and of itself does nothing to correct the root causes of pain and suffering. Punishment that focuses on restitution and correction of wrongs brings justice to its fullness in the area of law and government.  However, in the social sphere, we must also look at the root cause in the human condition.

The human heart which is shaped by the environment needs healing beyond punishment. Individuals need a relationship with someone who will mentor them, guide them, and show them goodness. From a relationship, individuals can really begin to change. More on the dichotomy of individual and civil justice later.

Next, justice as “making wrong right” expands justice to include active good. Some things in life are just broken. People will lose their jobs. Parents will fail. People die. Although facts of life they are also ills, like getting a cold. True justice reaches out and attempts to heal the sickness.

Justice feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, is a father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widows. It does the good that fills the void left by brokenness.

We are just when we assist a woman who is abuse in escaping that abuse. The abuse is part of our broken world. It is a wrong in this world and is evil. It must be made right.

We make her life more ‘right’ when we remove the abuse. Counseling can help make her internal world more right. For the right world is the one with goodness, gentleness, kindness, love, joy and all such good things.

The same can be said for feeding the hungry, providing shelter for those who have lost homes, consoling a loved one and any other action that causes a move towards what is right, good, and beautiful. A shattered ceramic in Japan is repaired with silver and gold along the cracks. The one that is made right is not without marks, but it has been made right again for its intended purpose and is beautiful.

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The Christian in Two Cities – Provide What You Cannot Keep

                The Christian lives in two cities. We are part of this world. It was built by God and is good. It is also the place where we get to live like Christ through trials. This is the only chance we get to be like Him in struggles and suffering.

                We also live for eternity with Christ. Our final hope is eternal. All the riches and opportunities of this world have no weight when compared to eternity. Neither do the sufferings or pain. No matter the consequences we are to do good and respond with good.

We are responsible travelers walking with a the message of the gospel in  a world that is not our own.

                Because of these two things the Christian should be both aloof and engaged in this world. We are to be aloof in that changing governments, policies, laws, wrongdoers, sinning, is expected and nothing to be concerned with. Christ is in control. So why get upset, bothered or worried? The only concern one should have is compassion and care for our loved ones that it affects.

                Love for those whom policy affects is the primary motive for being involved in politics. If a law prevents the Church from doing good that is an issue. For example: let us say that there is a ruling that no outside person is allowed in a prison to meet with or teach inmates. This would prevent Christians from helping them make connections to get back on their feet once freed and prevent an avenue for sharing the gospel. A petition or lobby to change this policy would be a good endeavor for the church.

However, even in the absence of being able to pass laws that make it easier to share the gospel, the church must be willing to fill the gap where needed. Even more importantly, regarding the removal of ‘free’ benefits from the government  for the those in need,  the church must step up and provide what they are asking the state to withhold.

More on this in the next post.

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Christians and Politics: Asking Questions?

Where is our hope? Where is our allegiance?

I do not believe the Christian Church in America has figured out how to live politically involved and serve Christ first. As I said to my mother the other day, I do not believe the best book on engaging politics as a Christian has been written yet. Nor do I believe that the church as a whole has ever truly ‘figured it out’.

                This is not an indictment against the church, but an example of Christ faithfulness to his people despite their flaws. Regardless of the church as a whole, or societies stereotype of the church, Christ remains faithful. This is true even in my own writings, thoughts, opinions, and life choices. I hope that I speak with the grace of truth and may contribute well to the conversation of, “How should we then live?”

                Generally, the Christian should be aloof in politics. That does not mean un-involved, it means involved with a disconnect of hope or belief in governing bodies. The Christian faith and call transcends cultural, political, or socio economic standings. Regardless of whether you live in South Africa, Communist China, the USSR or the USA your job is the same: Follow Christ. Be kind, put others before yourself, feed the homeless, take care of the widow, be a father to the fatherless.

                In the USA it doesn’t matter if the president is democratic, republican, or has purple skin: Follow Christ. The question is, what does following him look like in these contexts? In Africa one who is trained in Nursing may need to provide free medical services. The same nurse living in Orange County, CA may choose to not “work off the clock” especially for those who have insurance. A refusal to help in one case would be a failure to put others first. The failure to say no in another may be a foolish use of time.

                How do we discern what to do? That is the subject of my next several blog posts. But think on these questions:

                Am I afraid of the current political climate? If so, where does that leave my faith in Christ as King?

                What do I spend most of my time thinking about, talking about, or doing?

                Is the political position regarding a policy or leader going to help or hinder a life lived for others?                 Is my obsession with politics preventing me from seeing the good deeds that are set before me?

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The Church and Covid-19

              California has recently reclosed religious services. Churches are left with the option of defying ‘government’ orders and potentially blamed for the spread of Covid-19 and associated deaths or following orders and ceasing to be the church as we have known it. The Christian, and the church at large must decide when to disobey government orders and ignore all social opinions  in service of the Lord and when to submit to the government and be aware of the image of Christ (for the only stumbling block should be Christ and not us).

              The answer is simple. If church is simply an event to attend to receive teaching on scripture and enjoy a spiritual high in music, then quite honestly, there was never truly a compelling reason to value church in person above online lessons and worship music. If that is all church has been, then one should not go, and the church should not meet. We should live at peace and submit to the government.

But — if Church is a place where God works through his people, where God changes lives despite any flaws in the way we do worship in its emotional focus, the sermon in its disproportional length and emphases, and often marginal involvement in others’ lives; if communion is more than just remembrance like Thanksgiving and is something that the Holy Spirit shows up for; if it is the place that God calls all Christians to show up, fully present, in obedience to him just as much as feeding the homeless, doing good and avoiding sin; if going to church is where we obey the command to love one another and is the place through which we learn, focus, and fixate on this love for another – then, and only then we must… we absolutely must continue to meet regardless of the consequences.

              This church is worth showing up for even if the consequence is death.