Monday, June 3, 2013

4 Must-Read Books for a Better Marriage

There are approximately one hundred twenty gazillion books out there designed to give you advice on how to better live your life and improve your marriage.  I'm going to save you time by telling you the four that are indispensable from my experience.  That doesn't mean that these are the only four that are useful, and that all others are a waste of time.  It only means that it you are only going to read four books to help your marriage, then these are the four that I would recommend.  They would also make fantastic gifts for a newlywed couple!

#4:  Intended for Pleasure by Ed and Gaye Wheat

For couples who have faithfully waited until marriage before having sex, this will be a wonderful new experience.  Intended for Pleasure will help them to get the most out of this precious gift that God has designed to be enjoyed in their marriage.

 #3:  Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Learning to handle money together is a challenge that every new couple faces.  The stress of financial problems also has a way of making other problems much worse.  Dave Ramsey has some great advice for finding "financial peace" within the home.

#2:  Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

This is my absolute favorite book on marriage.  It does a fantastic job of teaching a couple how to treat each other.  The approach is simple, novel, and biblical.  Every marriage would be improved by applying these principles to avoid the "crazy cycle" and treat one another the way that God intended.

#1:  The Holy Bible by God

Let's not forget that God invented marriage.  His instructions are ALWAYS for our benefit, and we are much better off if we follow them.  One of the best things that can be done for a marriage is for the couple to grow closer to God.

So there you have it!  What books have you found to be wonderful helps to your life?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Some People Never Learn

     Erin James was heading to her home in the Chicago area after staying out late on a Thursday night celebrating.  Really late… as in after 2:00 a.m. Friday morning.  At 58 years old, you would think that she was old enough to know better, but here she was anyway. 

     Then she saw the blue light.  Busted!  The policeman had pulled her over for speeding, but he began to question her sobriety.  After testing her, he found his suspicions were confirmed.  At 0.155 her blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit.  She was going to pay dearly for her night of celebration, and subsequent DUI.  But what was she celebrating in the first place?  She was celebrating that she had finally regained her driving privileges after a DUI arrest in 2012!  I guess some people never learn.

     Have you learned from your mistakes?  Or do you gravitate right back to them the moment you’ve shaken yourself free.  Peter warns of this in 2 Peter 2:20-22, For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.  But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’"

     So what’s the lesson here?  Don’t bother trying to repent so you don’t fail and fall back into sin?  No, of course not!  The lesson is to take our previous sins seriously and be dedicated to avoiding their repeat at all cost.  If we do stumble, then get back up quickly and continue trying.

    You see, Erin James was not sorry for her crime.  She was only sorry to be suffering the punishment for it.  Repentance comes from appreciating the gravity of what we have done, and grieving the sin itself.  So how about you?  Have you grieved your sins and turned from them?  Or will you never learn?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Is Social Media the New Front Porch?

     Few things better emphasize the gap between generations as much as the proliferation of social media.  At 35, I find myself on the borders of that gap.  I can well remember life before the internet and social media, but I was young enough when it came along that it doesn’t frighten me.  My purpose in this article is to try to help generations to understand each other a little better.  They might actually have much more in common than they realize. 
     An older generation remembers the day when folks sat on their front porch at the end of the day.  Here they would catch up on the news of the day by talking with one another.  They talked to neighbors that might pass by on the street.  They knew their neighbors… by name… and what was going on in their lives.  It was a day when face-to-face interaction was valued highly.  Whoever was nearby was who got their attention, whether that be in a waiting room, a restaurant, or a checkout line. 
     This older generation looks at a young person focused on an electronic device, oblivious to his immediate surroundings, as being disconnected and anti-social.  In truth, he actually may be actively connected and socializing with dozens of people through electronic media.  Younger generations don’t wait until the end of the day.  They catch up with what is going on in each other’s lives instantly through Facebook, Twitter, and other social mediums.  They may not know their neighbor, but they know what’s going on in the lives of 900 Facebook friends.  They still care about people very much, but the way that they interact is quite different.
     Here is the key to understanding the difference between the “social media generation” and the” pre-social media generation” – for the first time in history, physical proximity matters very little in relationships.  Of course it still matters some, but it matters much less than it ever has before.  Young people are as likely to “meet” someone online as they are in person.  A cherished best-friend may live 300 miles away, but be a part of daily life.  Pictures, prayer needs, funny stories, and life news can all be shared with more people than ever, faster than ever, and farther than ever.  Skype even allows a “face-to-face” conversation with someone across the globe. 
     Younger folks still value people.  They still talk about politics, news, and even the weather.  They just don’t necessarily do it to the person sitting in the room with them.  They reject the notion that the person physically closest to them is inherently more worthy of their attention than anyone else.  They are simultaneously super-connected and completely disconnected. 
     I’ve heard people of the older generations ridicule younger folks for texting one another while in the same house.  But what’s wrong with that?  Why is yelling across the house better than texting across the house?  Younger generations reject the notion that vocal communication is inherently the best.  Personal communication is still occurring when texting or instant messaging. 
     Maybe these generations could learn from each other?  Many in the “social media generation” do need to do a better job of paying attention to those who are nearby – especially their families.  Turn off the devices and talk to each other sometimes.  Limit parallel screen time (that time when everyone is in the same room but each on their own devices).  Use some etiquette and remember that it is still worth taking more than 140 characters to communicate sometimes. 
     Some in the “pre-social media generation” need to remember than new ways of interacting are not inherently inferior to the old ways.  Remember that people who are not in the room are still people too… real, actual people… they are not just digital, imaginary friends that young people play with.  Take a look at your kid’s Facebook page, and you might just find yourself interacting with them and understanding them on a level that you didn’t before.  Hearing and seeing the laughter of a friend is definitely better than the occasional “lol”, but when that friend is miles away an “lol” can really brighten a day.
     I acknowledge that I have made some over-generalizations.  I know some people who more advanced in years who make great use of social media.  I also have some peers that fear it as if everyone on Facebook is there to steal identities or start affairs with their exes.  The whole point is that we seek to understand one another rather than making judgmental, fearful, assumptions.  Even though the mediums are changing, the messages are still largely the same.  People are still people, no matter what era they come from.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Lord's Supper

            Once you begin worshipping with the churches of Christ, one of the first things that you will notice is that an important part of our Sunday assembly is the taking of the Lord’s Supper.  This is a very ancient and sacred memorial ceremony that has been a part of the New Testament pattern of worship since the church began.  This memorial forces us to spend some time each week focused on the most central aspect of our faith – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
            Paul gives us a great explanation of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, so let us center our thoughts around that passage for a few moments. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NKJV) 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.

He begins in verse 23 by drawing our minds back to the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas.  On this night, just hours before he would be arrested and crucified, Jesus gave instructions for a ceremony to remember the events that were about to happen.  The unleavened bread was broken and eaten to represent the body of Christ that was broken by the nails of the cross, his flesh that was shredded by the vicious lashings that he received, and his brow that was torn by the crown of thorns that was mockingly thrust upon his head.  Then Jesus had his disciples drink from the fruit of the vine.  He explained that this was to symbolize his blood that would poor forth from his broken flesh.  In Matthew’s account, Jesus ties this blood to both the new covenant and forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28 (NKJV) For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins”).  This ceremonial meal is for those who share in the new covenant, thus have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.  In this way, we reenact weekly the sacrifice that has made our salvation possible.  In other words, we “proclaim the Lord’s death.”
            Paul then goes on to say in verses 27 and 28, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”  Here we learn that the manner in which we take the communion is very important.  We ought to examine ourselves to ensure that our focus is proper.  So how should we take the communion?
With thankfulness - Jesus gave thanks before each element of the supper.  We ought to use that time to express our gratitude for the amazing sacrifice that Christ made for us.
With each other –Although it is a time of self-examination, there is also a communal aspect to the supper.  The disciples always came together to take the Lord’s Supper.  Paul said earlier in 1 Corinthians 10:17 (NKJV), For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”  In taking the Lord’s Supper, we acknowledge our fellowship with one another as a part of the same body of Christ.
With remembrance – Of course, the primary purpose is to remember Jesus.  He specifically says, “do this in remembrance of Me”.  We can do this in a number of ways.  We could read one of the crucifixion accounts.  We could reflect on a song about the crucifixion.  We could close our eyes and visualize the events of that night.  However we choose to do it, the important thing is that we keep our focus in the proper place.
Everything that God asks of us is ultimately to our benefit.  The Lord’s Supper is no different.  If we observe it each week in the proper manner, then we will find it to be a faith affirming blessing to our spiritual lives.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Look Both Ways...

     Early last Monday a 21 year old man named Luis Sarmiento got into a car crash in New Jersey.  Luckily, he was alive and well enough to walk away from his crippled Honda Accord.  Over the next 25 minutes, Luis manages to walk a half of a mile down the Garden State Parkway.  Then as he tried to cross the road, he was struck by two vehicles and killed.
     As I read about this unfortunate man’s story in the news, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the unavoidability of death.  He had escaped death only to be found by it again only a few minutes later.  Our stories may not be quite so dramatic, but surely most of us have had our close calls—those accidents that are narrowly avoided or a disease that is caught in time to be treated.  Yet, though our earthly lives may have been extended, they have not been permanently preserved. 
     We are reminded in James 4:14 (NKJV), “whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”  And again in Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV) ,”… it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”. 
     This is not to be seen as morbid or depressing.  On the contrary, death is welcomed by the faithful Christian.  This is simply an exhortation to maintain this life in its proper focus.  It is not nearly as important as the next life.  Let us focus our life on earnest preparations for the hereafter, for heaven, and for the judgment. 
     View earthly life as a means to an end rather than as an end unto itself.  Then we will confidently say along with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).