Immunize Your Marriage/ Energize Your Life

Immunize Your Marriage

We have all heard that the divorce rate amongst Christians and non-Christians alike is around fifty percent. There is some evidence that this number may be falling — not because more people are staying married, but because fewer people are bothering to get married in the first place. If you include couples who live together for a few years and then separate, the numbers go right back to that unfortunate baseline.

The one thing that has been shown to protect marriages better than anything else is prayer. Couples who pray together regularly have a divorce rate of less than one percent. Sadly, only about four percent of Christian couples actually do this (pray together regularly). If you happen to be a pastor, then that number goes up to six percent!

It seems that if we want to protect marriages, we need to teach couples to pray together. We read books, attend seminars, go to counseling, and do a myriad of other things of unknown benefit to those trying to stay married. Yet,we don’t do the one thing that is virtually guaranteed to work.

If you contracted Ebola and had a fifty-fifty chance of dying, but your doctor offered you a vaccine that would give you a greater than ninety-nine percent chance of surviving, would you take the vaccine? Your marriage has a fifty-fifty chance of survival, but a vaccine exists called prayer. Only a small percentage of married couples have actually taken this vaccine. Are you one of them? Should you be? Is today the day to start?

Of course, marriage is just one facet of the Christian experience. Perhaps the reason we lack spiritual power in other areas of our lives is because we aren’t plugging into the spiritual power Source through prayer. Churches aren’t lacking in plans or programs — just in prayer.

In Colossians 4:2, Paul urges Christians to “devote yourselves to prayer.” In fact, he encourages prayer over and over throughout all of his letters to the churches. If someone is sick, pray. If someone is in jail, pray. If someone is suffering persecution, pray. His answer to virtually every problem is the same: prayer. Even in the Old Testament, people would “call upon the name of the Lord” or “cry out to God” in times of trouble.

Prayer is a central theme of Scripture, yet it seems to be less central with modern believers and modern churches. Perhaps that is why today’s Church appears so anemic. We’re trying to do things in our own limited power, when what we need — now as desperately as ever — is God’s supernatural power.

Could it be that modern affluence and technology has tricked us into believing we can do things on our own that we actually cannot? Maybe we have all been busy building a gigantic spiritual supercomputer, but no one has bothered to plug it in.

  • Is prayer a central component of your personal life?
  • Is prayer a central component of your family life (spouse and children)?
  • Is prayer a central component of your church’s life?
  • If you are not relying on God’s power through prayer, what are you relying on? At work? At home? At church? Can you change?
  • Consider your ability to lead the lost to Christ. Has God used you to lead anyone to Christ recently? Ever?
  • Is it a lack of knowledge that is limiting your witness — or a lack of power?
  • Is it a lack of opportunity or a lack of perception that is holding you back?
  • Are you willing to pray that God opens your eyes to the needs around you and that He gives you the power to meet those needs?

Power and perception are only a part of the equation. Wisdom, in both conduct and speech, is the other part of the equation. Paul addresses them both in the second portion of this passage.

  • If a nation has empowered someone to be an ambassador to a foreign country, how is that person expected to behave while serving abroad?
  • When that person speaks on behalf of his home country, should he be rude or diplomatic?
  • Whom are we representing in our conduct and speech? Are we representing Him well, as good ambassadors?
  • Paul uses the phrase “seasoned with salt” concerning our speech. Is salt sugary sweet? Is it bitter and offensive?
  • In addition to adding flavor, salt also acts as a preservative. Could Paul be communicating the idea that we are trying to preserve relationships in the way we speak?
  • Is this always possible? (See John 15:18 or Matthew 10:22)
  • Should we try anyway? (See Romans 12:18)

Those who name the name of Christ are ambassadors for Jesus wherever we are. We don’t get to take off the uniform and just “be ourselves.” We have been purchased with His blood and we are no longer our own.

Our goal is to represent Him well in all that we do or say. This is a daunting task, one for which we have not the strength. God, however, does have such strength and is willing to give it to us, if only we will ask. Isn’t it time to stop trying to do so much in your own power?

When it comes to your marriage, your chances of success on your own are the same as the flip of a coin. When it comes to leading others to faith, your chance of success apart from God’s empowering grace drops to zero.

Isn’t it time to stop treating life-like a Vegas casino with the odds so heavily stacked against you and to call out to the only One Who is a sure thing?

Life's Big Questions: Colossians Study Guide. Great for families!This post was excerpted from my book, Life’s Big Questions: Colossians, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and through fine booksellers everywhere.

Strength through Weakness

His power is made perfect in weakness... When it comes to raising children, we’ve been told, “Affluence is a handicap you must work to overcome.” Kids who have everything are hard to motivate, so as parents we’ve chosen to consciously withhold some things we could easily provide.

Our children buy their own toys and, once they hit the teen years, most of their clothes, as well. We send them to serve the poor via mission trips and community service projects. We expect them to do chores.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then wealth can sometimes have the opposite effect: It can stifle creativity and resourcefulness.

The same is true of talent. It is easy to rely too heavily on our own abilities, to become overconfident, to say, “I got this.”

But talent only goes so far. Heads will nod in agreement at sermons, feet will tap along to songs, but heart change requires a supernatural act that God alone can accomplish.

My pastor sent me a link this afternoon to the following article by J.D. Greear. It was so good that I wanted to share it:

Are You Weak Enough for God to Use You?

“There aren’t many societies that praise weakness. Ours is no different. Whether you’re a pastor or a police officer, an on-the-go salesman or a stay-at-home mother, weakness is seen as a liability. Nobody wants to be weak. Strong is the name of the game.

“Sadly, our obsession with strength blinds us to a key biblical truth: God uses the weak. It’s so pervasive that you’d be hard-pressed to find a book of the Bible that can’t be summarized this way. And yet despite being hard-wired into the very DNA of Scripture, we don’t really believe it. We still clamor after strength. But God doesn’t need our strength to deliver us. In fact, our strength is actually more of a liability than an asset…” [continue reading at]

Christmas: A Season for Receiving

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. 
And His name will be called
 Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

From the time we are little, we are taught the importance of giving. What is seldom emphasized is the importance of receiving...

The Reason for the Season

We all know that Christmas is the season for giving. That giving is, of course, a reflection of the greatest gift of all, God’s Son, who was announced in the prophecy above, fulfilled in the Gospels (“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”John 3:16, NASB), and then explained in the Epistles (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”Ephesians 2:8, NIV).

The idea of gifts and giving is woven throughout Scripture, where Paul, quoting Jesus, admonishes us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”Acts 20:35, NASB.

Furthermore, our society reinforces the importance of giving with tales of stingy givers such as Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch who stole Christmas.

From the time we are little, we are taught the importance of giving. What is seldom emphasized is the importance of receiving!

The Opposite of Receiving is Rejecting

In sports we say, “The only thing worse than a poor loser, is a poor winner.” In the arena of giving, the only thing worse than a poor giver, is a poor receiver.

Consider the story of Jesus washing His disciples feet. At first, Peter attempts to reject Jesus’ act of service: “‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’”John 13:8, NIV.

Oh, how true that is for all of us! How many lives are there yet, where Jesus stands at the ready, towel in hand, waiting to wash them whiter than snow, only to be rebuffed by the prideful claim, “You shall never wash me!”

To gain a glimpse of the sorrow this must bring to our Lord, reflect on a time when you have had a gift rejected by someone you cared about:

  • Was it a physical gift?
  • Was it an act of service that was rejected?
  • What about unreturned friendship or affection?

But lest we become too prideful reminiscing about others, let us think of a time when we have rejected a gift ourselves:

  • Did we have “a good reason” at the time?
  • Does that reason hold up under the lens of hindsight?
  • How big a role did pride play?
  • Are the American ideals (idols?) of self-sufficiency and independence God- honoring? Can they be God honoring in the right context? Where do we draw the line?

Becoming a Good Receiver

We all know that a good giver gives generously, cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7), and often until it hurts (Mark 12:41-44). But what does it mean to be a good receiver?

There are FOUR things that are essential:

  1. A good receiver is HUMBLE.
  2. It is a humbling thing to freely receive something from someone else, whether that someone else is a fellow human being or God Himself. It sometimes feels like weakness or neediness, but humility is always the starting point.

    “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves…” begins 2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV.

    Likewise, it is only in humbly recognizing that “all have sinned and fall short” (Romans 3:23, NET) that we acknowledge our need for a Savior.

    Atheists will say, “God is for the weak.” To which we may respond, “Yes. Yes, He is, and thankfully so!”

    • Do you know non-Christians who think that they are “good people?”
    • Do they think that being good is “good enough?”
    • As Christians, do our actions and attitudes sometimes reveal similar beliefs about ourselves as good people relying on good behavior for what is actually freely given Grace?

  3. A good receiver is THANKFUL.
  4. The natural response to a gift should be gratitude.

    • Have you ever seen a child or adult act ungratefully?
    • Have we ever been guilty of doing the same?
    • What about the gifts God bestows, are they simply taken for granted?
    • What about the hard times that come our way, but cause us to grow? Are we thankful for our trials as well? (James 1:2-3)

  5. A good receiver actually USES the gift.
  6. Nothing makes us happier than seeing our gifts to someone else being put to use. No doubt God feels the same way!

    • Ever give a child a toy they just couldn’t stop playing with?
    • Ever find last year’s gifts unused in a drawer?
    • Are we using the gifts God has given us, or are they tucked away?

  7. A good receiver PAYS IT FORWARD.
  8. When we have been blessed, it naturally makes us want to bless others. Even the most ruthless businessmen find themselves turning to philanthropy, as they grow older. Which takes us full circle, back to giving.

    After Jesus finished washing the disciples feet, He told them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”John 13:14, NIV.

    • What are some ways we have been blessed?
    • What are some ways we can bless others?
    • How can we creatively introduce others to the “fount of every blessing,” who stands at the ready, towel in hand, waiting to wash them whiter than snow?

As we celebrate Christmas again this week, we need to remember that this season isn’t all about giving. It’s about receiving, too. God’s priceless gift will profit you nothing until you accept it.

What about you? Have you received the best gift of all?

“Mystery Meat” vs. the Bread of Life

"Mystery Meat" vs. the pure, unadulterated gospel | All Truth is God's TruthI ate a wonderful Salisbury steak the other day with a thick brown gravy. The gravy made me think of all the mystery meat I’ve eaten over the years both in the public school system and then later in the military. I realized that a nice gravy can make just about anything taste good.

I have always viewed denominational differences within Christianity as a case of “same meat, different gravy.” A person from an academic background might better relate to the intellectual aspects of God’s nature and seek out a church that emphasizes those facets. An artist might better relate to God’s beauty, and so forth.

Growing up, my father was pastor of a small Baptist church. Because it was the only church in town, our music leader was Methodist, our piano player Assemblies of God, our church secretary Catholic, and our membership a variety of other denominations. It was wonderful seeing so many Christians from such varied backgrounds united in worship and service to the same Lord and Savior!

I view this unity as ideal and get to experience it a little bit today through the homeschooling community, which tends to be predominately Christian, but of varied denominational backgrounds. Nonetheless, I think God does make provision for our unique personalities and needs by providing a variety of ways to worship and serve Him.

There are, however, a number of ways in which our uniqueness can become problematic:

  • First is when the gravy is so thick and rich and nuanced that any flavor from the meat itself is completely lost.
  • We get so caught up in the methods and style of worship that we get distracted from the One who is the object of our worship! (John 4:24)

    I’ve heard that gourmet chefs are offended when patrons at their restaurants call for steak sauce. How much more the God of the universe, when we think we can dress up the gospel message with our own personal flair! Our job is simply to lift Christ up and He will draw all men unto himself.(John 12:32; John 6:44)

  • Second is when we add to the gospel message.
  • Have you ever bitten into some “mystery meat” and wondered what exactly you were eating?

    The simple idea of “grace, through faith” needs no additives, and it needs no intermediary other than Christ alone. (Ephesians 2:8) If we find ourselves enthralled by someone or something other than Christ, we have drifted into idolatry and must repent and return to Him! (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

  • Third is when we take away from the gospel message.
  • We want to cut away the tough parts that are hard to chew.

    We want everyone to like us, even when He tells us that we will be despised for His sake. (Matthew 5:10-12)

    We want to keep doing our own thing, even when He tells us that love of Him leads to obedience of Him. (John 14:15)

    We want lives of victory and affluence, even when He tells us that suffering and sacrifice await those that follow Him, yet joy and a deeper relationship with Him as a result. (2 Timothy 3:12)

If we can avoid these three errors, I think that there is a lot of “wiggle room” in how and when and where we serve and worship the One who uniquely created each of us in His own image.

Don’t Beat the Other Slaves: 6 Principles of Forgiveness

Don't Beat the Other Slaves: 6 Principles of Forgiveness | http://alltruthisgodstruth.comJesus tells the story of a slave who was forgiven a great debt by his master. The slave went out and almost immediately began beating a fellow slave in an attempt to extract a much smaller debt. Needless to say the master was not pleased to discover the first slave’s merciless behavior.

Yet, how often do we act just like that ungrateful slave when it comes to sin?

Invariably, we want mercy for ourselves, but justice for everyone else. The things that ensnare us always seem SO minor compared to the heinous crimes committed by our fellow-man.

Jesus’s message was clear: Stop beating the other slaves! Learn to forgive, just as you have been forgiven.

Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel and the heart of every healthy relationship. This is especially true of the marriage relationship. The sheer volume of time a husband and wife spend together — day after day, year after year — translates into ample opportunity both to offend and to take offense. Your marriage will not thrive, and it may not even survive, unless you learn to forgive.

A successful marriage, Ruth Bell Graham reminds us, “is the union of two good forgivers.” I believe that’s true.

What follows are six principles that have been helpful to me in seeking and extending forgiveness to both my wife and others:

  1. When requesting forgiveness of anybody, we should always begin with God.

    Ultimately, all sin is an affront to Him. We must go to Him first. The price has already been paid through Christ’s blood. We must repent of our sin and ask Him to help as we seek forgiveness from others. (Psalm 51:1-4; 1 John 1:9)

  2. When seeking forgiveness from others, we must be prepared to make restitution.

    Sometimes seeking forgiveness requires more than just saying I’m sorry. We should convey sincere remorse for the wrongs we have done, certainly, but we must also seek to make amends to the best of our abilities and to the degree that restitution is possible. (Numbers 5:7)

  3. When extending forgiveness to others, we should work towards restoration.

    Ideally, forgiveness is just the first step in restoring a broken relationship. When grudges are held, the relationship suffers or is non-existent. Forgiveness allows healing to begin. It is like draining an emotional abscess. The only true way to conquer an enemy is to make him a friend. (Luke 17:3-4; Galatians 6:1)

  4. When restoration is impossible, forgiveness is still important.

    Even if the person we need to forgive is dead or in jail, forgiveness still has its place. Learning to forgive others is as much for our own benefit as it is for theirs. Maybe even more. (Mark 11:25; Ephesians 4:31)

  5. When walking in God’s forgiveness, we need to also forgive ourselves.

    Sometimes this is the hardest thing to do. We may have asked God’s forgiveness and even made restitution, but we just can’t let it go. We must stop beating ourselves up! Self-flagellation is not only unhealthy on multiple levels, but it implies that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. (Romans 8:1; Psalm 103:12)

  6. To live a life of forgiveness, we must learn to forgive God.

    This may seem like a strange concept, but look around. The world is full of people who are angry with God.

    Perhaps they are angry about the way He made them: Too short or too tall, too skinny or too fat, ears too big or feet too small, no good at math or music or sports.

    Perhaps they’re angry about their life circumstances (often understandably so!): Why did I get laid off from that job I loved? Why did my spouse leave me after twenty years? Why did my sister die so young?

    They reason that if God is ultimately in control, then He is ultimately to blame. We may never have intellectually framed it in those terms, but emotionally we all need to forgive God for something.

    Such forgiveness springs from the knowledge that God has a purpose and plan for our life and that He is able to work even bad things together for our good and His glory. If we are harboring bitterness and resentment against God for perceived wrongs of any kind, the real problem lies not in His actions toward us, but in our attitude toward Him. (Romans 9:20; Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28)

And there we have come full circle. The list begins with God and ends with God, as all things do. (Revelation 1:8) The good news is that once we’ve learned to “forgive God,” we actually begin to trust Him. As our trust in Him grows, we one day find that we are learning to love Him just as He loves us. It is a love rooted in forgiveness, and that love and forgiveness can then spill over onto our fellow-man, so that these principles really start to become second-nature. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Spiritual Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called the “silent killer.” The one-third of adults who suffer from it don’t look or feel different than anyone else. Many don’t even realize they have it until it is too late and the damage has already been done — damage such as strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure to name a few.

As I was recently reading about the fall of Babylon in 539 BC and thinking about the pride that led to that fall, it struck me that pride is a sort of “spiritual hypertension.” Those who suffer from it look and feel roughly the same as everyone else around them; often, they are not even aware that they have it. Yet, just as high blood pressure silently erodes the body, so too pride quietly erodes our spiritual life. Specifically, it damages our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and eventually our relationship with ourselves.

James 4:6 indicates that “God opposes the proud.” He doesn’t just pity or tolerate the proud; He actively opposes them. Look at what happened to His top angel, Lucifer, when he became prideful. God cast him out of heaven, never to return. Apparently, God takes pride very seriously even when we do not. It is extremely difficult to have a positive relationship with God when He is opposing us!

Pride also limits our human relationships. In marriage, when one spouse views the other with contempt (of a lower station or class than themselves), the marriage is almost always doomed to failure. Friendships likewise depend on a sense of equality, not in wealth, talent, or intelligence, but in essence or kind. We must view each other as peers in our humanity, the details being entirely secondary. Pride wants to group others into categories not worthy of our attention, quickly limiting our pool of potential relationships. Pride is a lonely path.

Eventually, however, life bumps up against our pride. We then come face to face with the fact that we aren’t perfect, we aren’t always right, and we aren’t better than everyone else. Often it is a loss in our life — loss of a job, of our health, or a treasured relationship — that clues us in. This can be a great time of growth and self-awareness.

Unfortunately, pride has a tendency to become angry and fight back. It shouts, “It’s everyone else’s fault, not mine!” When this doesn’t work, it becomes depressed and moody. It whispers, “It really is everyone else’s fault” in the back of our mind. It makes us a miserable wretch, clinging to a falsehood we want so desperately to be true.

But, if somewhere amidst the crests and troughs of our turbulent sea of wretchedness, we can let go of pride and grab the lifeline of humility, we will find that God does indeed “give grace to the humble” just as His word promises. No longer opposing us, He begins to calm the seas around us. We discover we aren’t alone after all; the sea is full of others clinging to similar lifelines. And although each one is unique in many ways, each is still nothing more or less than we are — a simple human being in desperate need of God’s grace.

In Over Our Heads

At least two or three times a week someone says to me, “How do you manage with six children? I can barely handle one!” My answer to this question has evolved over time. My initial and somewhat prideful response was, “With firm but loving discipline.” Then with a shrug of my shoulders, the answer became a sheepish “I don’t know.”  Finally, I’ve had to admit with a spirit of dejection, “I can’t do it at all.”

The fact of the matter is, I never could “handle it” — not back when I had one child, not now that I have six. You see, no matter how many children God gives me, I am utterly dependent upon Him to raise them. Parenting requires a love, patience, discipline, endurance and selflessness that I cannot find within, no matter how deeply I search my own soul. I am forced to constantly look to God for grace and strength to meet the challenge. It has simply taken six children for me to realize this in more than a superficial, intellectual way. Now I feel it with every fiber of my being, every moment of my day.

This is precisely where God wants me: dependent on Him, not just for a little help with problem areas, but for the whole nine yards. God is not interested in making me a better parent, but rather in parenting through me. He wants to love my children through me. He seeks to lead them through me. This extends to every facet of my life. He wants to work through me, play through me, minister through me, live through me. He doesn’t just want me to be a better person. He wants to make me a new person. That is, in fact, his desire for each of us, including all six of my children.