Posted in John

A Personal Relationship

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” John 5:39

I believe many things about my wife, Alice. Some are just facts, like her birthday, her place of birth, her parents’ names, and her general history which anyone who is interested could easily learn. Other things require more personal involvement like knowing her character and her heart’s desires. My current beliefs about her are numerous, but my relationship isn’t with my beliefs about Alice; it’s with her. She’s a person. Because of this reality, my beliefs are always growing and deepening as we walk together.

But what if I no longer lived with my wife? Wouldn’t my belief system become static? I would still believe things, but they wouldn’t deepen or grow because of a lack of present experience with her. In the text above, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees because their relationship isn’t with God Himself; it’s only with their beliefs about Him.

There is a great danger in evangelical Christianity today of making our beliefs about God an idol that takes the place of an actual relationship with Christ. How can I tell if I’m in danger of this idol? Here are four symptoms:

  1. We become unteachable. We no longer believe what we read in the Bible; we only read what we already believe.
  2. We become divisive with Christians that don’t believe exactly what we believe about God and Christ. We’re experts and everyone else needs to listen to us to get it right.
  3. We become suspicious of any fresh moving of the Holy Spirit that doesn’t fit into our box of who we think God is and how He should act.
  4. We find ourselves bored with worship because our hearts actually love what we believe about God more than we love God Himself.

The Scriptures are not an end in themselves; they direct us into a personal relationship with the God who loves us and died for us. We all know “in part” and even the part we think we know is only a seed of all that is true about the transcendent, majestic, unchanging, and uncreated God of the universe. Getting to know Him is the greatest adventure of our lives and will last for all eternity!

Posted in James, Matthew, Philippians

Patience with People

“Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” James 5:7-9

Did you know that God is a patient Farmer? He sends His Word as seed and then patiently waits for it to do its work in and through us. We are the ones who are impatient and it gets us into all kinds of trouble. Oftentimes we value results over process, so we judge ourselves and others too quickly. What may be right on course in God’s eyes, isn’t far enough along for us, so we begin striving in a way that hinders our growth.

Do you ever take time to celebrate what God has already done in you? We may not be where we want to be, but we’re not where we once were either! This should be a cause for rejoicing and also a reason for patience. “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) When we see what’s happening in us as primarily God’s grace, not our works, we can enjoy the process more. And it’s only when we see ourselves as being in process, not as a final product, that we can extend the same grace to others.

Complaining about other people, especially other Christians, can easily become a habit, and it’s destructive. When we judge others, we don’t realize that the measure we’re using gets used on us by God. (Matthew 7:1-4) If you feel like you’re being forced to walk on eggshells in your walk with God, it’s probably because you’re making those around you walk on eggshells. Listen to the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) This does not just mean mercy in the life to come, but mercy right now.

Make mercy toward others your new habit. Life is hard enough already, let’s soften it for everyone around us, including ourselves, and enjoy more of God’s grace each and every day.

Posted in Luke

Defining the Relationship

“Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.’” Luke 14:25-26

After a couple has been going out for a while one of the parties, usually the woman, wants to have a DTR (Define the Relationship) talk. What is this? Are we just friends? Are we officially boyfriend and girlfriend? Is this possibly heading toward marriage? This makes the man, or the woman, look at the relationship honestly, and causes them to come to a crossroads where a decision must be made that will affect the future of the relationship.

In the passage above Jesus is asking for a DTR response from the crowds that are following Him. In the book, Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman comments on this passage:

“Jesus uses such dramatic language here, because in this culture if you were to become a follower of Jesus without having your family’s blessing, you would have been thought of as hating your family. A decision to follow Jesus would have been interpreted as turning your back on your family and walking away from them.” (pg 57)

Idleman continues: “In Luke 14 Jesus defines the relationship by making it clear that if we follow Him, we follow Him and Him alone. He won’t share us – not with money; not with a career, not even with your family. Maybe you read a passage like this and it seems that God is being a little possessive and jealous. But understand this – when Jesus explains that He will not share your affection or devotion, He isn’t just saying how He wants to be loved by you; He is making it clear how He loves you.

Where are you with Jesus? Is He not only first in your life but the center, the one and only, that true devotion requires? We need to define the relationship to move forward in God.

Posted in Colossians

Love’s Laboratory

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “Life is the school, love is the lesson.” If life is the school then I propose that marriage is the laboratory in the school. Marriage is where a man and a woman freely lock themselves into this small room with vows to one another, and then give God permission to lock the door from the other side by their vows to Him. God’s purpose is that we stay in there until we don’t want to ever get out because we’ve learned how to love.

God knows that if we can learn how to really love one person with all their flaws, we will be able to love anyone.  How can we learn to love God’s way in our marriages?

  1. Focus on how you’re loving your spouse, not on how they’re loving you. There is no command requiring us to make sure we’re being treated in a certain way. When we focus on how our spouse is treating us, we’re set up for grievances. 
  2. Put on love every day. Being in Christ, dearly loved, holy and chosen, doesn’t guarantee we will live in love; it only makes it possible. A few verses earlier, we are called to put off the old man and put on the new. (Colossians 3:9)  Both outfits are in a Christian’s closet. If we don’t choose to put on love every day, we are capable of living just as selfishly as those who have no interest in pleasing God.
  3. Return to the source when love runs dry. One of the most shocking things we find out in the laboratory of marriage is how unloving we can be. Don’t freak out when you don’t feel you love your spouse anymore; get a refill. You can be fully assured that Jesus loves your spouse as much as ever and is able to soften and empower your heart again.

After God locks the laboratory door, He walks through it and will be the center of our marriages, if we will only let Him. And a cord of three strands is really hard to break!

Posted in Ephesians

For Women Only – How to Respect Your Husband

“Each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

When a husband treats his wife in an unloving way, her automatic response is to treat him without respect. But instead of withholding respect until he “deserves it,” God commands wives to respect their husbands regardless of what they feel the score is. Practically, how does one respect her husband?

  1. Respect his dreams. Men are risk takers which means that they will make mistakes. Mistakes aren’t failures but they make men feel like one. Instead of reminding your husband of his mistakes, encourage him to get back up and dream again. Every mistake is an opportunity from God to grow in character. Believe in your man. Men like to win and they hate to fail, so if you make them feel like they can’t win in your marriage, they will stop trying. 
  2. Respect his needs. Men are fairly simple and have two main needs: 1) Space. Women often relax by venting how they feel while men relax by withdrawing. It’s not that he won’t talk, he just doesn’t want to talk right now. It’s not because he’s mad, it’s because he is stressed, so he needs room. 2) Sex. For whatever reason a man’s sex drive is usually stronger than a woman’s in his 20’s and 30’s so he will want to make love more often than she will. If you are going to be the exclusive woman in his life (which you deserve to be – and that includes him refraining from all pornography), then you sometimes need to be willing even when there hasn’t been a highly romantic lead up to it. There is something called, “maintenance sex.”
  3. Respect his position. God has made men responsible for the home which is not a right for a husband to claim, but a responsibility he needs to accept. Men often abdicate their place if a woman wants to take it or if he thinks she can do it better than he can. He needs your encouragement to step up even if he isn’t as spiritual as you may be. Do this as an honoring wife; not sounding like his mother.
Posted in 1Corinthians, Ephesians

For Men Only – How to Love Your Wife

“Each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

When a wife treats her husband with disrespect his automatic response is to treat her in an unloving way. But instead of withholding love until she “deserves it,” God commands husbands to love their wives regardless of what you feel the score is. Practically, how does one love his wife?

  1. By listening to her and respecting how she feels. The first evidence of real love from God’s point of view is “love is patient…” (1Corinthians 13:4) Men tend to withdraw when they are under stress, but women tend to talk it out. If she feels like you aren’t listening to her it gives the message that she’s not important to you. If she expresses frustration with you by saying, “you never…” or “you always…” it is not time to defend yourself because in your mind her accusation isn’t true. Men, we need to go deeper and recognize that it is true that she feels that way right now, and that her feelings need to be validated. Here’s the question our wives want us to ask, “Do you want me to just listen, or do you want a solution?”
  2. By talking to her. She needs to hear your feelings and not just a list of what you accomplished. God’s main reason for marriage was that spouses would not “be alone.” Consider that there is no greater loneliness than to be married and feel alone; at least single people have hope of finding someone to share life with. When you won’t open up to your wife she feels desperately alone with nowhere to turn. God gave you to her so she wouldn’t feel that way.
  3. By reconciling with her. Be willing to say these words: “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” Pride hides and ultimately divides; humility is willing to do the honorable thing even if it means death to self. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” Jesus died before anyone had responded to Him. Men of honor initiate reconciliation even when they don’t “feel” like it because it is what is best for their marriage and family.
Posted in Hosea, Song of Songs

Embracing the Wilderness

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her… In that day you will call Me ‘husband’ and no longer call Me ‘master’.” Hosea 2:14, 16

The wilderness seasons of life are difficult. You feel alone, unappreciated, and frustrated. This is Joseph serving in prison; Moses taking care of a few sheep for years; David being chased around a desert – why would a God who loves me lead me into the wilderness?

First, so you will experience His tenderness. As long as God is just a concept to us we will not understand what our lives are about. God doesn’t lead us to the wilderness to punish or scold us; He wants us to know who He really is. We naturally assume God loves productive and impressive people (because that’s who people love), but all that is stripped away in the wilderness. God’s love for us transcends what we do or how we appear. God loves you. He made you and He redeemed you, first and foremost, so you could have a relationship with Him.

Second, so He can change our identity, or how we think about ourselves. “In that day…” In what day?  In the day where we experience the tenderness of God in the wilderness; then our motivation will change. Instead of performing for a master, we will be like a beloved bride to her husband. God will become our delight not our duty; our Protector, Provider, and Friend; not just the One we are accountable to.

So how do we respond when God allures us to the wilderness? Usually we fight it by blaming people or blaming God, or we get discouraged and want to give up. All that our wrong responses do is prolong our time in a place we don’t want to be. Let’s embrace God’s purpose in the wilderness. Let’s press into Him and bring our loneliness, anger, and frustration to the cross. Let’s pick up our Bibles and ask Him to speak to our hearts.

One day very soon we will come out of this season changed by the tenderness of God. It will be said of you: “Who is this coming out of the wilderness leaning on her Beloved?” (Song of Songs 8:5)

Posted in Ecclesiastes, Proverbs

Our Need for One Another

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

There’s an African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” The above text is the Bible’s way of stating this same truth. You may go fast for awhile, but if you’re unwilling to do the work of friendship, eventually you will fall and won’t be able to get back up because God created us to need Him, and to need each other.

A few years ago a friend was telling me about his cousin who along with his wife adopted three children from Russia. They couldn’t have any children of their own so decided to bring these children into their home. Well, it turned out to be much harder than either of them thought it would be and it led them to the point of despair many times.

The husband told my friend something like this, “We both said ‘I’m done,’ many times through the years, but as God arranged it, we were never saying it at the same time. When one of us was ready to give up, it just happened that the other one somehow had found encouragement, so we kept going.” He said, “I don’t know what would have happened if we had both been in the place of despair at the same time.”

It’s funny that the way we get really close to people is by walking with them through their low times and by letting them walk with us through our low times. “A friend,” the Proverb says, “loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) We can’t even know how good of a friend we are, or how good of friends we have until we’ve seen them, or they’ve seen us, at our worst. “All times,” means good and bad.

Have you been hurt or betrayed by a friend or by a church? Are you living in isolation because you don’t feel like the work of living in community is worth it? I want to encourage you to reconsider because God wants us to walk with Him and with His other children. It’s His plan and no other will work.

Posted in John, Luke

Staying in the Right Spirit

“‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But He (Jesus) turned and rebuked them (James and John), and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:54-56

James and John were very familiar with the message of grace that Jesus brought. He had said on a number of occasions that He did not come to judge, but to save. (See John 3:17 & John 12:47) Jews of that time had established a tradition of traveling around Samaria because they considered Samaritans to be heretics and didn’t want to be defiled by them. 

Yet Jesus had asked James and John to make arrangements in Samaria for a place to stay on their way to Jerusalem. They went in a spirit of grace most likely, but when they were rejected; when they felt judgment from others; they shifted to a retaliatory spirit. They had even convinced themselves that this was probably what God wanted them to do until Jesus rebuked them and said they were in the wrong spirit. When we feel judged it’s easy to respond in judgment toward others.

I was sitting in the sauna at a health club chatting with a man about a number of things including the remodeling being done on the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Because male workers were doing the remodeling, the women’s bathroom had to be the men’s bathroom for a while which meant the usual men’s bathroom was now the women’s bathroom. There were signs clearly letting everyone know about the change.

This man left the sauna before me but when I came out a few minutes later I saw him going into the women’s bathroom. It was too late to give a warning. A few minutes later he came bursting out of the door and announced to all in hearing range, “it’s hard to break old habits.” He wasn’t trying to go in the women’s bathroom, he had just reverted back to his usual pattern without even thinking about it.

It’s not enough to show mercy once in a while.  We need to stay in the right spirit all the time to reveal God’s love to a fallen world.

Posted in Revelation

Coming to the Table

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Revelation 3:20

I want you to think about a housewife who loves her husband and knows her husband loves her but feels emotionally disconnected. Her husband works hard, long hours and is usually exhausted when he gets home. Even when they do get a chance to be alone together, there’s so much family business to discuss that they rarely get beyond the mundane. They still have sex, so it’s not like there’s an unmet physical need; she’s just looking for a renewal of intimacy that transcends living together. She longs for first love again.

So she plans a night for just the two of them, and her husband agrees to come home at six for “something special.” She arranges babysitting for the kids, makes his favorite meal, puts on her best dress, gets the lighting and the music just right, and then… comes the phone call. He can’t make it – something’s come up and he’s sorry. She packs the food up in the refrigerator, blows out the candles, turns off the music and can’t help being disappointed. Something has been lost and that particular moment will never be regained. All he had to do was come home and take his place at the table.  She had done all the work to make it happen, but he missed the appointment.

The church at Laodicea had stopped coming to the table. They were saved and had correct doctrine but they had decided in their hearts that they now had all they needed from God. (Revelation 3:17) Jesus had set the table with everything they liked and needed; eye salve, garments of white, gold refined by fire.  They were all ready for Him to serve, but they had stopped keeping their appointments.

But it’s not just about their loss. Jesus Himself says that He wants to dine with them.  Why does He want to be with us so much? I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t want to disappoint Him.