Thursday, September 30, 2010

Home Cooking

You are not the same as those who do not believe. So do not join yourselves to them. Good and bad do not belong together. Light and darkness cannot share together.

-- 2 Corinthians 6:14

Do you watch any of those TV shows where gourmet chefs compete against other kitchen maestros to fix that perfect dish for a panel of merciless food critics – and all while the clock is running and the camera is rolling? One recent contestant on Chopped succumbed to the pressure when he mistook a cup of salt for a cup of sugar. It could have happened to anyone. After all, they’re two common kitchen ingredients that look the same. But because the chef chose the wrong one in the heat of the moment, the result (his dessert) was a disaster. And the judges were totally unforgiving.

The careless cook might have gone on to win the entire contest had he prepared by organizing his key ingredients and utensils. But his good intentions weren’t enough to take him to the winner’s circle. Likewise, the same principles apply to successful, long-lasting marriages. Good preparation and technique pay off in the end. But if one or two ingredients are missing or switched, the results (an unhappy marriage between resentful spouses) are often disastrous.

What’s does God have to say about all of this? To continue with the kitchen analogies, He’s supplied Christ-followers with a simple blue ribbon recipe for serving up a masterpiece.

It starts with selecting a God-honoring spouse before you ever walk down the aisle. Is he or she a committed Believer who has entrusted his or her life and salvation to Jesus? And more importantly, have you asked God in prayer about what He thinks of your choice?

These aren’t throw-away questions. Marrying a non-Believer can actually pull you away from God – or at a minimum prevent you from experiencing God’s intended level of intimacy for your union. And of course, there’s that final critical ingredient: a lifelong covenant between husband and wife that places Jesus at the center of the marriage. Yes, a Christ-centered marriage actually involves three parties. As the wise writer of Ecclesiastes observed centuries ago:

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
That's the secret sauce for making marriage work. It's not particularly complicated. But don't be deceived: marriage is never easy -- even under the best circumstances. It takes work, perseverance and plenty of shared faith. But as with everything that follows His will, He'll bless and honor your marriage when you both reach out and honor Him.

Are you both committed to putting Jesus at the center of your marriage? Now you’re cooking!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Great Expectations

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

-- Genesis 2:24

Call it buyer’s remorse.

You watched the slick commercials, visited several showrooms and did plenty of research on the Internet. After all, it's not every day that you spend thousands - or maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars - on an expensive purchase that will literally change your life. Maybe you bought a new computer, a car or even a house. And maybe it even lived up to your expectations. At least for a while. But in most cases, the glitz and glamour wear thin. You see newer models with even better features in the stores. And you can't help but wonder if you should have waited. Or even if you made a mistake.

That's a natural human response. But what happens when your life-changing transaction is a marriage? You don't trade in your spouse for a better model after the 50,000-mile warranty expires (regardless of what popular culture says).

Brides and grooms bring plenty of expectations to the altar. And some of them are even realistic. But most aren't. The fact is that the stresses of everyday living tend to quickly put reality into sharp focus. Monthly bills, vacillating careers, family issues and mortgage payments can bring out the side of spouses that never emerged during those fun dinner dates and nights at the movies.

(Enter the "for better or for worse" part of your vows!)

So what's the secret for returning to the "for better" part of marriage? The first and most important step is to make sure both you and your spouse are on the same spiritual wavelength. That means making God - through your shared faith in Jesus Christ - the third trusted partner in your marriage. After all, every marriage faces difficulties because life is so full of pitfalls and hairpin turns. It takes plenty of prayer and trust when a family member is ill, you lose your job or someone wrecks into your new car.

The second critical step is to manage your expectations and understand that no matter how hard you try, you can't - and shouldn't - change your spouse. And then understand that your spouse will evolve over time through the experiences and challenges God introduces along his or her life-journey. This might sound a bit unsettling. But would you really want your spouse to act and think like a 25-year-old when he or she is 50?

A solid, growing faith in Jesus is one thing that should remain constant in a strong marriage between Christ-followers. But even in the best of circumstances, husbands and wives often fail to meet their spouses' expectations. When that happens - and it always will - remain faithful, forgive your spouse and trust God. Christ-followers are only human. And that means marriage will never fully complete us. But God can if we only ask Him.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Absent Without Leave

In the same way, a husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself. A husband who loves his wife shows that he loves himself.

-- Ephesians 5:28

Employees call it playing hooky, taking a mental hygiene break or simply calling in sick. Their employers, however, call it absenteeism: those occasions when employees don’t show up at work because of illness, injury, scheduled time away or any other reason. But whatever you call it, absenteeism is costly. Studies from the Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics say direct annual losses exceed $40 billion.

That’s an eye-opener. But human resources professionals actually face a problem with a much higher price tag. Presenteeism occurs when employees come to work when they’re sick or otherwise unable to perform to their usual standards. They’re technically on the job. But they really shouldn’t be. After all, sick employees can compound the issue by infecting their co-workers, customers and even clients. Annual loss estimates from presenteeism in the United States reach $250 billion!

These losses are astounding. But did you know there’s another type of presenteeism that’s even more devastating? It’s not an illness spread through a corporate office building or passed behind the counters of a fast food restaurant. Instead, it’s a common affliction found in homes across America that damages and destroys relationships and tempts families to turn away from God.

It’s a sin called passivity. Not to be confused with laziness, passivity often appears in men who come home from the office each day and use the TV, Internet or computer games to tune out their spouse and children. They’re at home. But they’re not really there when their loved ones need them the most.

It’s easy to see how this activity (or lack thereof) can corrode personal relationships. But to God, it’s even worse. That’s because He calls Christ-following men to lead their households, love their wives and raise their children in His holy ways.

Domestic passivity is hardly a benign problem. And make no mistake: the devil is behind it. Satan knows that he can take over the home if he can take out the husband. And when husbands abdicate their responsibilities and abandon their families, the lasting societal damage is enormous.

It’s a serious illness that calls for strong spiritual medicine. First, men must recognize their sin and repent of it. And then through prayer – preferably with their spouse – they must seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus and the strength to once again lead their households in His ways.

The Old Testament hero Joshua addressed the issue this way:

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living, he told the Israelites. “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Missing In Action

I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.

-- Song of Songs 3:2

It’s probably safe to say that electricity – particularly electric lighting – is the one convenience that we most take for granted in 21st Century America. We simply flick a switch, and there it is… until a storm rumbles through town and plunges us back into utter darkness.

We can thank Thomas Edison for showing us the light. But contrary to popular belief, he didn’t invent the light bulb in 1879. What he did was discover an economical, long-lasting filament that made electric lighting practical.

And it wasn’t easy. The famous inventor tried literally thousands of different materials before he finally found one that wouldn’t burn out in seconds. Edison eventually solved the dilemma by placing a carbon filament in an airless bulb. And a few months later, he improved his design by using a bamboo-derived filament that could last more than 1,200 hours. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thomas Edison’s tireless quest for the perfect light bulb filament is much like our search for the perfect marriage. A man and a woman might seem to be compatible, share the same interests and have even dispositions. But if they’re missing certain vital elements (like Edison’s long-lasting filament and airless bulb), the relationship can burn out too soon… or fail to ignite at all.

So what are they? When it comes to God’s plan for marriage, those elements are a shared spiritual awareness and the concept of total exclusivity.

Maybe it’s a cliché. But the Christ-following husbands and wives who pray together really DO stay together. For them, their wedding vows weren’t just pleasant-sounding words repeated in a church sanctuary on some Saturday afternoon. “Until death do us part” meant just that. Plain and simple. And their life-long marriages reflect it.

Total exclusivity points to God’s desire that we never compare our spouse with another. And unfortunately, this is easier said done. We live in a society that worships celebrity – the “beautiful people” we follow on TV, the movies, gossip magazines and the Internet. We also fall for their Hollywood-produced, Photoshopped images of perfection. Their reality, however, may be much closer to the ravages of drugs, alcohol and abuse. But we prefer to accept only the illusions. And when our spouses can’t live up to them, disappointment grows. And our marriages suffer.

Is your marriage missing…something…but you’re not sure what? The first place for you and your spouse to find it is at the foot of the Cross – that quiet place where Jesus paid for your failures and mine. As the author of Hebrews reminds us:

“We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

In the Long Run

I am coming soon. So hold firmly to what you have, and no one will take away the crown that you will be given as your reward.

-- Revelation 3:11

Our faith journeys as Christ-followers are marathons, not sprints. But as with any expedition over winding roads and rugged terrain, weariness is bound to set in. Long distance runners call it The Wall. It’s the barrier of mental and physical fatigue that successful athletes train for years to overcome. If successful, they’ll reach the finish line with power left to spare. Others meanwhile will drop out of the race in defeat and exhaustion.

As Christ-followers, we face our own wall each day as we try to live up to God’s calling. We begin to tire as we battle against our natural tendencies to do what’s wrong (“sin”). Instead of following Jesus’ example of loving our neighbors, helping the disadvantaged and honoring God, we’re often tempted to go back to the old “Me First” lifestyle. It’s a real struggle: the selfish stuff we know we shouldn’t do versus the ultimately world-changing things we can and should do. And as with any ongoing struggle, fatigue eventually overcomes us.

Of course, giving up is never a viable option. We read in John’s Gospel that because of Jesus’ disheartening words, many of his followers began to turn their backs on Him and head home. Christ then asked his 12 disciples if they were also going to leave him. To this Simon Peter replied, "Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life.”

So what can we do when we hit our spiritual wall? First, we should lighten our load by shedding the excess possessions and unnecessary distractions that hold us back. For instance, do any of us really need the burden of more credit card debt when we probably have more than we need of just about everything? And like successful marathoners, we must always keep our eyes on the finish line. Yes, there are plenty of hills and rough road ahead. But every step we take gets us closer to victory!

Finally – and most importantly – we must always pray for strength. And we get this much-needed vitality through the Holy Spirit: the Power that all Christ-followers receive when they ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is literally God residing in every Believer. It’s that Force that enables us to do or say the things we never could before, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and generally do the impossible. In fact, the Bible tells us it’s the same Power that raised Jesus from the dead that first Easter morning. And it’s our Power to keep on the journey.

James, the step brother of Jesus, gives us these words of encouragement:

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Do you have the power you need to make it to the finish line in this long distance race called life? You can persevere. And all you have to do is ask.