“…In Good Times and in Bad”

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Today’s blog is lovingly dedicated to a special couple as they enter into a life of matrimony in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The intended couple may never read these words, but this would be my sentiment and advice if they did.

As we enter the Fall wedding season many couples will choose to marry their partners or soul mates in ceremonies as simple as a backyard wedding or as grand as a private island with all the trimmings money can buy. Regardless of the size of the party attending or the price shelled out for the event, it is likely some sort of vows will be exchanged during the ceremony, especially if the marriage is religious in nature and performed by clergy.  A vow is a solemn oath or promise made declaring your commitment to remain faithful and at all times to be “all in” the relationship.  Some couples will choose to write their own vows while others will exchange the more common traditional vows.  But as people evolve during the course of their life, and all of us do to some extent,  those vows often become difficult to honor, especially in a world where lifelong commitment common to our parents generation have become somewhat relevant to more progressive ways of thinking.  So here is my humble advice to safeguard your marriage against the forces that would fight to it’s demise.

First, a wise Proverb cites that we should love the wife of our youth.  The gem of advise is priceless as it encourages us to at all times, and in all situations, good and bad,  remember the qualities that compelled us to enter into this marital commitment to begin with.  Our bodies age and we quickly lose our youthful attitude and appearace, but the mind is sharp and fully capable of recalling things like the first kiss, the first dance, that first flirting glance and the first “I love you”.  Like photos in an album, these mental images and recollections will serve as a constant reminder of the reasons you fell for, became engaged to and eventually married this special person.  Use these images at all times to strengthen your relationship when times and waters become troubled.

Second, always see you mate with a wide-angled lens.  If I were sitting on the beach of Oahu but had a telescope focused on a dead palm tree at the base of Mt. Mauna Kea or a dead fish floating on the surface of Hamana Bay, I might ask myself what why all the fuss over such a dead island.  But yet sometimes in a long relationship that same wide-angled lens is often exchanged for a 10 power telescope and instead of seeing a person for all they are and including all their traits as a whole, one simply focuses in on the dead wood, the floating fish, losing sight of all else so that their mate is suddenly defined by the limited view within their magnified sights.  When this happens and is not quickly caught, a terminal cancer takes hold and the usual result is not good.  Never lose sight of your mate as the whole and beautiful person you first fell for and be quick to overlook faults when the tendency is to magnify them.

The third piece of advice would be to make every ocassion a memory.  Life can’t always be comprised of festive parties or grand vacations.  A marriage is made of days with a cold, nights too tired to venture out and sometime limited options due to limited funds.  The magic happens when a night on the sofa watching a favorite movie brings as much contentment as an all-night club-hopping adventure, or times when a walk in a nearby park can do when a walk on the beach is not possible.  These little moments are the first things that a person recalls when life suddenly and cruely takes one of them-the simple dinners at home, the family events for no real reason, the cuddling at the end of a long day with agenda thn just to be present.  These “little” things are the big things that make a marriage and fill in all the gaps of a fulfilled life together.  Take none of them for granted because once gone, they can not be recaptured.

And lastly, throw away the old marital playbook that suggests that marriage is a 50/50 proposition.  What foolishness!  If you want a succesful and long-lasting marriage, be 100% All In.  If truly in love, deeds and sentiments won’t be exchanged expecting something in return.  Love is expressed just because!  You are compelled to show your affections because it is now instinctive to everything in your nature to do so because of this special person in your life. Give them your all.  From the Message translation of 1 Corinthians 13, the Love chapter;

Love never gives up. Love cares for others more than self. Love doesn’t demand what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut orhave a big head. Love isn’t “me first”. Love doesn’t keep track of wrong doings. Love puts up with anything.

At all times continually ask God to show you how to love your spouse.  Do everything within yyour power and capbility to water, to fertilize and to protect your marriage from any and all forces that would oppose it. Don’t wait for symptoms before considering treatment options when the relationship shows sign of illness but be proactive in diagnosing and administering the proper remedy to assure complete restoration and health.  The alternative is not pretty.  God bless all couples embarking on what is still a grand institution.

 

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I’m Truly Sorry

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A famous Pop artist once wrote a hit song entitled Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. When offered up in genuine humility and remorse it can be a difficult word to cough up.  When withheld due to pride it can be the cancer that costs us the very things or people we hold most dear.  And if pondered too long it won’t bring the onlyremedy that will heal us.

Speaking purely from a man’s perspective-well, we can be pig headed at times and downright oblivious at others. We are often given way too much credit for being clairvoyant or all knowing.  Sometimes the pain we cause is immediately apparent but sometimes we simply have no clue until it’s too late. And while a sincere apology goes a long way in eventual forgiveness, the damage done is sometimes irreversible.

The best grandpas often times were not the best dads, as was the case with me.  It took years of mistakes and miscues as a father to learn how to be a beloved Papa.  The years spent in error as a dad can not be recaptured.  Grandchildren become the benefactors of a life long learning process full of blunders they never know of. Smart men take full advantage of this second chance and relish in the perceived image that we know is not always fully disclosed.

The best spouses were not born that way. It comes with years of trial and many errors, grace and forgiveness, humility and servanthood and selflessness that few possess, least of all me. The simple words “I’m Sorry” spoken in sincerity are the best remedies for damage control in any committed relationship, as well as a good sense of timing. Great men master this process quickly in their relationships-good men take a little longer but eventually get it right before it’s too late. Foolish men sadly never acquire the skill before differences become irreconcilable, and only after they are left alone with their thoughts do they realize that indeed, they are truly sorry.

The Apostle Paul showed us that even he, the author of the majority of our New Testament, didn’t always get things right.  He openly confessed that he didn’t do the things he knew he should do, and often did the things he knew he shouldn’t, referring to his acts as despicable. Sometimes we are held to such unattainable standards that failure is eminent. In Christ there is grace, patience and forgiveness but in life we are sometimes left sitting in the ashes. The sooner we can grasp the concept of humility and remorse the sooner we can reduce the collateral damage left behind otherwise.

Jesus taught us in His prayer that asking for forgiveness should be a part of every prayer.  The notion that our grace covering eliminates our need to have a humble and contrite spirit when approaching Him is simply bad teaching.  This same principle of humility and self-awareness of our actions will also serve us well in every day life.  You can stand on false principle and withhold your apologies when they are deeply needed the most, or, you can spend the rest of your life apologizing to people who are no longer around to hear.  It’s your choice-choose wisely.

 

The Progressive Evolution of the Church

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I have spent the last couple days configuring a new notebook computer.  May I insert here that Patience is not one of my spiritual gifts. I do not embrace advanced technological change. When everyone was singing the praises o this new phone called the IPhone I was perfectly happy with my antiquated Blackberry. When personal music media evolved I was still humming away with my Walkman. As people gather to worship with their electronic tablets I still like the look and feel and smell of my old leather bound Bible with its scribbles, crumpled pages and stretched cover.  I don’t consider myself as old fashioned necessarily but I am not eager to change things that work for me just because I’m told there are better ways of doing things. This new touch screen laptop with Windows 8.1 and Outlook 2013 is replacing my old desktop with Windows XP and Outlook 2003-you can see what I mean when I say I don’t embrace change.

We live in a progressive world. Everything around us is changing-faster, greener, leaner, smarter. Gadgets not in existence twenty years ago are now staples to our lifestyle that we can’t imagine living without. When is the last time you used a corded phone or played your favorite cassette? Can you even find a store that still accepts paper checks? Does anyone still own or use a phonebook or dictionary? Some change can be good even when it is forced upon us through advanced technology.  Some forced change however should not be so quickly embraced.

The face and identity of the twenty-first century church as we know it has certainly been caught up in change. Prayer chapels are now bookstores-greeting areas are being replaced with bistros. The only church organ you might here is an effect on the more modern Korg keyboard.  But more has changed than just the cosmetics.  Our theology and ideology has “evolved” to better fit into a more tolerant society that frowns upon uncomfortable Biblical tenets, rigid commandments and outdated creed. In many churches this more modern ideology has been incorporated to keep attendance numbers and giving in place.  In others the thought is to be more open and nonjudgmental for fear of being targeted as hateful or pious. The mega-churches in our country preach happiness, prosperity, kingdom privilege and favor over discipline, humility, sacrifice and suffering. After all, who wants to go to a church that teaches that following after Christ requires submission to the same sufferings as our Savior when just down the road we can hear the secrets to getting the best parking spot or that job promotion we are not qualified for. And Worship should make us feel good and sermons should be motivational speeches, not disciplinary lessons of faith.

Many in the faith are concerned with the modern day evolution of the church.  Even as I write this the courts of our country have made a decision on what was once a sacred cow to the church.  But we as believers must share the responsibility for the face of our church.  We have stepped away from sound doctrine. We have set up sermon courses like a TCBY bar-just pick those toppings you prefer. We have turned a blind eye to things going on right under our noses because we don’t want the world to see our imperfections. When I was a teen it was common knowledge that you go to church camp to lose your virginity. Famed televangelists are caught up in adultery, fraud and solicitation but reconciled back to their pulpits at the speed of the best computer processors. Fear of God, or more precisely fear of our individual actions before God has been MIA for decades and the fruits of our blindness are being seen today.

We should not be surprised at these events as Christ told us in the Word, that Book that many are trying to change to make more palatable, that there would be false teachers, bad teaching and a falling away from the Body, the church. I’m not an alarmist by nature but we were warned. But if the great apostasy that was foretold is a result of the lukewarm stance and disregard of traditional and Biblical church tenets by the church, then we are going to have some explaining to do before Christ when He will judge us all for how we handled, divided, represented and lived His words in our lives, our churches and our communities.

As an imperfect follow of Christ I have to conduct my thoughts, beliefs and affairs according to absolute, relevant and eternal truths, specifically those I find in scripture:

Psalm 33:4; For the Word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.

Hebrews 4:12; The Word of the Lord is alive and active.

2 Timothy 316; All scripture is God breathed and to be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Psalm 119:105; Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Isaiah 40:8; Grass dies and flowers fall but the Word of God lasts forever.

Psalm 18:30; Gods ways are perfect; The Lord’s word is flawless.

As a church we must united on the uncompromising Word, careful not to disregard the heart of the commands it contains for us in an effort to me more appealing to the world.  Yes we are to go out to the highways and biways to invite them all to come just as they are and we are to love them as Christ loved us and to show them the same mercy and compassion, allowing the Spirit of Christ to make the change.  But in doing so, the church still needs to be reflective of the true character of Christ, not the twenty-first century version we are presenting to them. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, we must forgive so that we may be forgiven, we must acknowledge injustice and take a stand-we must strive for peace whenever it is possible without compromising the very words and nature of our God.  The enemies and forces of this world are ramping up the intensity of the attack.  The weak will fall and the careless will be trapped. The unchanging, still relevant, unpopular Word of God is our only defense and our best offense. It should not be up for debate within the church but held as our eternal banner and standard for living a loving, caring and disciplined Christian life even in the twenty-first century.

Disclaimer; the thoughts above are my opinion and not directed toward any specific faith or denomination. Any resemblance to these allegations are coincidental (and should probably be addressed).

 

 

 

The Twice a Year Husband

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I must say I’ve been blessed with a pretty amazing, forgiving, gracious and still attractive wife. Ours may not be the perfect relationship. We have weathered some storms that few know of and can only boast that we survived. But I can’t imagine sharing my earthly life with anyone else.  She keeps me grounded, motivated, inspired and loved, and I strive to do the same for her.  To quote an old song, Me and Mrs. Hill got a Thing Going On.

As important a role she plays in my life, I’ve tried to imagine what our relationship would look like if I only acknowledged her two or three times per year, maybe on her birthday or our anniversary or Valentines Day. What kind of a marriage would we have if I only spoke to her, wrapped my arms around her, acknowledged her or in any other way interacted with her only on certain annual occasions? What would the state of our marital bliss be if she waited for me to come home from work so we could be together but I completely ignored her as I headed for the dinner table or to my room to relax?  And heaven forbid, what if she tried talking to me each day but I only responded to her communication attempts twice each year?  I think I can say with all certainty that we would be just another divorce statistic.

Last week most of us celebrated Easter. Churches cleaned up and put their best foot forward in anticipating the larger than normal attendance of biannual visitors.  Facebook and social media was lit up with memes and images and the traditional posts that go along with the Easter reflections. Retailers offered sale prices for those who would buy that once a year dress or suit for church.  Television offered up the usual King of Kings, Ten Commandments, The Robe, The Passion and other Easter themed programming. Even CNN got in on the act with their series on Jesus.  And oh the goodies and specials given at Easter at the local eateries, knowing there would be long lines waiting to dine after the Easter services. Don’t get me wrong-I am grateful anytime Christ is glorified and acknowledged-He is surely worthy of our accolades and so much more.

Revelation 5:12-  And they sang in a mighty chorus: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered–to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

In considering the implied ramifications of being a twice per year husband as it relates to the marital relationship, how can we defend biannual reflections on our faith or expect any different results if we choose to be twice per year believers?  Are we just as guilty of acknowledging the divine work of redemption and the ultimate sacrifice of our Savior at Christmas and Easter?  Are we too engrossed in our lives to take a few minutes to converse with God each day?  Do we forego the opportunity to unite with our brothers and sisters in corporate worship each week? Do we boast of the various Bible translations we have on our shelves but rarely spend time in devotion of scripture?  If we tended to our wives or husbands the way we tend to church would our relationships be stronger, or much weaker?  And if we tended to our faith in the same manner we do our mates, would we be weaker or much stronger?

Being engaged in your faith and in the universal and local church is critical to the health of your spiritual walk. The Bible is not shy about church attendance and involvement:

Hebrews 10:25-Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near

Matthew 18:20-For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them

Colossians 3:16-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

Psalm 92:12-The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I can’t imagine how I would get by if I only interacted with my beautiful wife twice each year. I am so grateful for the knowledge that even on less than perfect days, she is there and I can approach her, speak to her, spend time alone with her and enjoy the fruits of the relationship we have with each other. There is no greater joy in my earthly life than pleasing her and being in her company.  How much more, given the world we live in and the continuing martyrdom that we hear of daily, am I grateful in knowing that I can commune with God daily, and that He cherishes the time I devote to Him.  My faith, though still weak at times is strengthened through engagement and my soul is nourished in corporate worship.  What a mess I would be if I only met with God at Christmas and Easter.

Love Stories-God’s Gift for the Heart

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It was a warm and sunny day as always in Las Vegas on September 15th, 1996. I was heading to our newly opened motor speedway for the inaugural race with an extra ticket in hand. As I pulled away from the apartment, there she was, getting out of her car. Her short shorts revealed the most beautiful long legs I’d ever seen. Her blonde hair blowing in the light breeze served as the perfect frame for her crystal blue eyes that were captivating even from many yards away. It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed her-she lived in the apartment across the lot from mine. But even in my arrogance I would never have had the courage to approach her-she was from heaven and I a mere mortal. Only in fairy tales and Hollywood movies do such unlikely unions take place. Ah, but I did have an extra race ticket-a reasonable excuse to at least see her up close and say hello. So I did-she was even more breath-taking standing just a few feet away. I offered her the ticket assuming she would have some friend who would enjoy the race.  She graciously accepted and thanked me and I drove off, forgetting for a moment where it was I was heading and grateful to God for my brief brush with one of His angels.

Just a few minutes before the drop of the green flag a shadow was converging on my seat but the background of the bright sun prohibited me from identifying the figure, until the figure took the vacant seat next to mine-it was her, the angel. Her friends had dropped her off and left her in my custody for the race and the balance of the day. Wondering if this was a cruel trick from God or if not, how I came to deserve to spend the afternoon with this creature, I just went with it. We enjoyed getting to know each other over the roar of the open wheel engines and as the race ended, I was pleasantly surprised as she asked if she could ride with me back to our apartments.  As luck or fate or divine providence would have it, the 20 minute trip took over two hours due to the unexpected attendance and the city’s clueless efforts to direct traffic from such a large event, an amount of time that gives ample opportunity to become intimately acquainted. When we finally returned we met at the pool, ordered pizza and spent the rest of the evening together.  As it turns out she had previously and secretly noticed my legs as well-who would have guessed!  On September 27th of the following year I married my angel and have been blessed of God to spend the last 18 years with her as we shared life together.

Love Stories-most of us have them.  Some may be epic and worthy of Hollywood screen plays and others more simple but no less cherished.  I’ve heard many people argue that there is no such thing as love at first sight, or that two people don’t “fall” in love but grow slowly and comfortably into a relationship like breaking in a new pair of jeans.  I couldn’t disagree more. Countless are the stories retold of eyes meeting from across a crowded room or chance encounters on a busy street or mall when the individuals knew from first glance that there was something special in the gaze worthy of investigation and closer review. God creates each of us with a special set of interests and features that form a uniquely shaped profile, and only He knows for sure who He created with the complimenting and opposite profile that when joined with ours, fits perfectly together like two pieces of a puzzle.  God’s cool like that!

The concept of two souls joining together for a lifetime has certainly been subjected to the modern day devaluation of eternal commitment. Some seem more sure of the longevity of a tattoo than the covenant of marriage. To be willing to stand before friends, family and God and vow to each other and to God to remain loyal and joined to this one person for the balance of your life causes fear and trepidation with many young couples, while others take the vows flippantly, knowing if they get bored or “fall out of love” they can always proceed with divorce and find another. Just this past weekend I was privileged to be among the witnesses as my niece married.  In her tradition, Greek Orthodox, the words “til death do us part” are never used because they believe that marriage does not end with death but rather transitions to our ultimate marriage to Christ as His bride. In the ceremony two crowns, one each for the bride and groom, are placed on their heads and blessed by the priest.  These crowns are connected by one ribbon and guarded throughout their marriage.  Upon the death of one of the partners the ribbon is cut and the departed is buried with his or her crown while the survivor retains theirs and is then buried with it upon their own death.  What blessed symbolism of eternal love, of lifelong commitment and of honoring the sacred vows made to each other in the presence of their Lord and eventual groom Jesus Christ!

And if you think for one moment that God did not establish and ordain the beauty and rapture of romantic love between two people, consider the words from the fourth chapter of the Old Testament Book, The Song of Solomon, taken from The Message translation:

1-5 You’re so beautiful, my darling, so beautiful, and your dove eyes are veiled
By your hair as it flows and shimmers, like a flock of goats in the distance
    streaming down a hillside in the sunshine. Your smile is generous and full—
    expressive and strong and clean. Your lips are jewel red,
    your mouth elegant and inviting, your veiled cheeks soft and radiant.
The smooth, lithe lines of your neck command notice—all heads turn in awe and admiration!
Your breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle, grazing among the first spring flowers.

6-7 The sweet, fragrant curves of your body, the soft, spiced contours of your flesh
Invite me, and I come. I stay until dawn breathes its light and night slips away.
You’re beautiful from head to toe, my dear love, beautiful beyond compare, absolutely flawless.

You have captured my heart, dear friend. You looked at me, and I fell in love.
    One look my way and I was hopelessly in love! How beautiful your love, dear, dear friend—
    far more pleasing than a fine, rare wine, your fragrance more exotic than select spices.
The kisses of your lips are honey, my love,  every syllable you speak a delicacy to savor.

God saw that it wasn’t good for His created man to be alone and created from his own flesh the perfect compliment, woman. His ideal from the beginning was for these two newly created beings to enjoy and be filled and fulfilled with each other and to share a long and happy life together, learning new things, blazing new paths and being one in life and in worship to their creator. You can tell that a woman loves her husband by looking into her eyes and seeing her expression; you can tell how much a man loves God by how much he loves and dotes over his wife!

A word to the men-we are not naturally gifted in all things romantic and some of us lack the art of expression or sentiment.  There is a day approaching, you know, the Hallmark holiday, that as cheesy as you may think it to be, provides an inexcusable opportunity to shower your beloved with love and attention, and to thank God for the beauty and grace of such women who put up with us when we are at our worst. DON”T BLOW IT-MAN UP-LOVE YOUR WIFE AND MAKE IT KNOWN LIKE A MEDAL OF HONOR OR A TROPHY PROUDLY DISPLAYED IN YOUR CASE. BY HONORING HER WE ARE HONORING GOD HIMSELF!

As I close this week’s blog, I think it would be an amazing tribute to your spouse and God’s greatest gift to reply or comment and share your love stories. Let’s exchange each others epic tales  and glorify our creator in reliving those moments when you just knew that God shined his light of favor on you and His spirit slapped you on the back and said “go get ’em”.  “God, thank you for the gift of romantic love, the blessing of eternal union and the hope of our ultimate heavenly marriage to the Lamb of God, your son and gift to us, Jesus Christ”.