Category Archives: Loving and Serving

A Husband’s Prayer Life

We men would like to think that our prayers are heard by God and that He will answer them. We would like to think that our prayers are effective and unhindered. But would it surprise you to learn that Scripture specifically tells men – husbands in particular – that the effectiveness of our prayer life is directly tied to the way in which we treat our wives? It’s true. Read this:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

So if God made this important enough to include in the Scriptures, we should probably take some time to understand it. Let me go through it phrase by phrase.

“Live with your wives in an understanding way”

It is not enough to co-habitat the same space. It is not enough to simply take up space in our houses. We need to be physically and emotionally present. Not smothering or underfoot, but available and engaged. Our wives need to know that we are in this life together with her, and in an “understanding way”. “Understanding” means we take the time to know what makes our wives tick. We take the time and make the effort to know the core of who this woman is. What is she passionate about? What is her biggest fear? What is her favorite movie or restaurant? All the big and little things that make her…”her.” And while it may sound daunting, it isn’t. It simply takes the time to be engaged in her life. I will guarantee the effort is worth it and what you learn may surprise you.

“Showing honor to the woman”

Here is where things really get serious, so let me bring in a parallel passage from Ephesians.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)

 Here is the greatest challenge to us husbands – Love as Christ loved! How did He love? By sacrificing Himself for her. By doing whatever He had to in order to ensure that she (The Church) might become what she was intendant to become. That is what Paul is calling husbands to do, seek for and work for the splendor of your wife.

Paul continues,

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself (Eph 5:28-33)

 So it goes even deeper. The word “wife” in this passage is actually “the feminine.” It harkens back to the Garden when Adam called Eve “wo-man.” Adam was actually honoring Eve as part of himself. When we honor our wives as a part of us, we are honoring God’s creative purpose in creating woman from us and then giving her back to us to complete us.

“as the weaker vessel”

I don’t think this means our wives are dumber, inferior, less important or subordinate. To me it means that we must look to see how we can protect her physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is not condescending but a way in which we show her respect, honor. It doesn’t mean she IS weaker, only that we must honor her as weaker.

“since they are heirs with you of the grace of life”

We honor our wives because God honored her with salvation, with His blood. She has the same access to the Father in prayer and righteousness. She has the same calling to proclaim Christ and His saving work. She has the same in-filling of the Holy Spirit to operate in Kingdom power. As a joint-heir of salvation, I value and seek out my wife’s contribution to our joint life in Christ. If she is worthy of so great a sacrifice as Christ’s death, then surely I can honor her and sacrifice a little of my life for her also. This is what Christ did for the Church.

“so that your prayers may not be hindered “

Understand that God is making the effectiveness of our prayer life – and our relationship with Him – contingent on how we treat our wives! That is how important God thinks this is! Why? It doesn’t seem hardly fair! Here is why I think God has linked the two.  Our wives are mirrors of our soul. They have a way of revealing who we are – if we are wise enough to look and listen. If we are arrogant, selfish, prideful, angry men, it will come out in the way we treat our wives. Our hearts are laid bare. How can that kind of man hope to offer pure and righteous prayers to our God? – NOT going to happen.

So men consider it God’s grace and goodness to us to give us a woman who can thus make us better men, wiser men and more godly men as we learn to love as Christ loved and make our prayer life a powerhouse in Kingdom effectiveness.

Customized Christianity

As we chatted around the table at a restaurant the server came to take our order. One of my dinner companions began to order from the menu but then started making substitutions. “Can I have this instead of that? And can you leave this off but add that?” You get the picture; she wanted her meal customized to her particular taste. The server took the order without flinching and the food came out just as we had ordered. We had a very nice evening.

That’s how it should be, isn’t it? We can customize our food, get our tailor made clothes, order a car with our options, custom build our house. We customize our phones and create our very own music playlists. We watch the TV shows we want on our schedule. And why not? We should be able to get what we want the way we want it, and for the most part, that isn’t a problem. The problem is when we apply that same mind-set to our spiritual life. We want a customized Christianity that is designed around us.

Thomas Jefferson very famously took a Bible, cut out all the verses he liked and glued them into another book. That way he could read the Bible he liked and agreed with but didn’t have to deal with the parts he didn’t like. Now most of us would not be so bold as to take scissors to our Bibles, but we still do the same thing. We like the part that says we share in the “power of the resurrection” but we skip over the “fellowship of his suffering” (Philippians 3:10). We like that Jesus invites us to come to Him to rest (Matthew 11:28) , but we don’t like that He calls us to “take up our cross” (Matthew 16:24).  We like that “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), but we don’t like that “the wrath of God is poured out against all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).  Some of the things God says are uncomfortable, a bit difficult to swallow and simply don’t fit with how we want to live our Christianity. Unfortunately, we don’t have the option to pick and choose what we want to hear and ignore what we don’t. God gave us His Word as a united whole from beginning to end.

But let’s step back a moment and look at why we want to customize our Christianity, our relationship with God. I think that all those Scriptures that we don’t like and would rather ignore are precisely those Scriptures that challenge our own autonomy and self-determination. They grate against our still sinful self wanting to maintain some measure of independence. It is precisely because we DON’T want to be challenged that we say, “I don’t think God really meant THAT. He must have meant THIS instead.” And we go merrily on our way comforted by our re-interpretation of His words.

And yet we miss so much when we do this. We miss so much of His character. We miss so much of His multi-faceted greatness and wisdom. We miss so much of His boundless love when we constrict Him to be or act in a certain way. “God, you can only reveal Yourself in THIS way!” we say to Him, and yet there is so much more to explore. We have customized Him into a boring, two-dimensional caricature of who He really is.   You see, if I start with the premise that He is good and loving and faithful, then I can look at those seemingly hard words and look for the good and love in them. I can let myself and my assumptions be challenged because I know I will get a greater and deeper revelation of who He is. And that only leads me further into love with Him and deepens my worship.

I don’t want a customized Christianity – one of my own design.   I would gladly have my neat, comfortable world be disrupted if it means knowing Him better.

Scripture Download

I downloaded a Scripture reading app to my smartphone. The goal was to get through the Letters of Paul in 60 days. I’m 58 days behind schedule – sigh! Nevertheless, on day 2, I read the second chapter of Acts – the story of Pentecost. You remember, the fire, the wind – BOOM – empowerment! Then Peter gets up to address the gathered crowd. Here is where I pick up the story.

“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:” (Acts 2:14-16)

As many times as I have read this before, this time I saw something totally new. Something I found profoundly fascinating – OK, besides the fire, wind and BOOM – and challenging. As Peter stood to preach to the crowd, he recited a long passage from the book of Joel. Later in the same sermon, he quoted from the Psalms. He did this from memory! He didn’t have a bible with him. He didn’t pull out his Galaxy tablet to look up the passages. He knew them. He had spent a lifetime reading, studying, hearing and memorizing the Scriptures and these became a treasure chest which the Holy Spirit could pull from at the right time.

A few years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time, the Lord brought back to me a verse I had memorized when I first became a Christian. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-24). During that dark time, I would read and say this verse daily. It became to me a source of hope and encouragement. I knew He still loved me and would take care of me. I even wrote that verse on a piece of paper and kept it in my pocket. Every time I reached into that pocket and felt that paper I was reminded of God’s goodness. My point is that by memorizing that verse so many years ago, the Spirit had a deposit from which to speak directly to my heart. Over the years, He has also used other passages to enable me to help, pray for and encourage others.

You see, I think we need to make every effort to build a reservoir of Scripture in our hearts, a treasure chest for the Holy Spirit’s use. It would be honoring to Him to spend time reading, studying and, yes, even memorizing portions of Scripture for Him to have at the ready. Not that we are going to go around spouting Bible verses at people or use them as a hammer to beat people, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Scripture “pop to mind” as we are talking to a friend and our own words fail? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a little boost in our life when we hit a low spot? It’s not likely that we will spontaneously have to address thousands of people like Peter did, but if it happened wouldn’t it be great to be ready.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you or create another “must do” rule for your life. I’m simply suggesting that we give the Spirit as many tools as possible to mold us into the image of Christ and make us more effective in our Kingdom calling. And what better way to do that than by depositing in our hearts the very words He wrote.

The Successful Christian Life

How do we define “success” when it comes to Christian ministry? For some it might be by the size of the church congregation or by being an internationally known conference speaker or by the number of music albums recorded. Perhaps we should count the number of healings attributed to our ministry or responses to our altar call. But these measures only apply to the professional ministry, what about the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Christians? How do we define a successful Christian ministry for the stay-at-home mom or the single dad who only sees his kids every other weekend or the college student trying to resist the pull of the world around them? What does success mean to them? What does “ministry’ even mean to them? We look up from our corner and think, “if I was a really good Christian, then I should be doing more.” And the full-time pastor looks at the bigger church down the street and thinks, “If I were more spiritual, I could have a bigger church.” We’ve based our value and idea of success on some vague concept of accomplishment that has more to do with the world’s values than Christ’s values.

Jesus dealt head on with this concept of “successful ministry” and totally flipped it on its head. The story is found in the Gospel of Luke. After sending seventy-two of his followers on a “ministry trip” they return ecstatic, flushed with success. Here’s what happens next.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  (Luke 10:17-20)

They had been out traveling throughout the area preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing and casting out demons. Even the demons had to do what they said. If that isn’t successful ministry I don’t know what is. But Jesus stops them short, “do NOT rejoice that the spirits are subject to you…” What? What could be better, more exciting than that? “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He goes on to say. For Jesus, it wasn’t about all our “doings” or even how well we did them. For Him, the most important thing is our “being.” Having our names written in heaven means that we are known, intimately, individually, personally, deeply; it means being included and accepted. Now THAT is a successful Christian life. And the most beautiful part is that the great book has the names of the little child who simply understands that “Jesus loves me this I know” and the mega-church pastor, both their names are written in the same column on page 127,284 in the same size font, not because they did something special but because they are equally loved. All the names are there because of His incomprehensible love for us, not because of any impressive deeds we think we have done.

So let me ask you a question. Is it enough? Is it enough for you simply to know that your name is in that book or do you still strive to “do something great for God?”   Are you delighting in being known or are you chasing some other measure of success? I honestly don’t know what the successful Christian life looks like, it will be different for each of us, but I do know that right now He is reading my name in His book and smiling. It doesn’t get better than that. This is me – rejoicing.

Husbands, Go Shopping with Your Wives

For Christmas this year I gave my wife rocks.  I don’t mean diamonds.  I mean actual rocks, pebbles, stones.  She was thrilled!  Now before I get an avalanche of hate mail, let me explain.  My wife has a small garden in our backyard.  Over the last few years, I’ve put chicken wire around her garden to keep groundhogs and rabbits out and a deer fence to keep… well, deer out.  I’ve placed paving blocks to create a path around her garden.   But to make it completed she needed some rocks to complete the path.  We didn’t have the money to do that the last few years so for Christmas this year, I gave her a gift card (and a small bag of pebbles) to buy what she needed.  As soon as she opened the box and saw the pebbles she knew exactly what it was for and she was thrilled – she could finish her garden!

I don’t tell you this story just to let you know what a wonderful husband I am – even though that is true, but to make the point that I knew what she wanted because I’ve spent the last 28 years listening to her and shopping with her (*gasp*!) and making mental notes of the things she likes and talks about and wishes about.  And why do I do that?  Because I love her and value her and I want to show her in a way she will understand.  I heard a couple of times this Christmas from friends who had no idea – NO idea – what to get their wives.  Here’s a thought, listen to her the other 364 days of the year and she will give you 700 ideas.  It just takes a little effort from us husbands to make her to make her the focus of our attention.

(Now wives, before you print out this post and throw it in your spouse’s face, take a moment and pray for him… OK, now go print it out).

But let me take a step back and make one more point.  What I am suggesting is nothing other than what Christ does in our lives.  He is our Bridegroom.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows what we need even before we ask.  He knows us intimately and He was willing to give everything – EVERYTHING – to show us how much he loves us and values us.  This is something that all of us, men and women, need to embrace.  He’s not clueless, distant, confounded or stymied by our lives.  He’s not scratching his head wondering what we’re up to or what to do next with us.  That is a great comfort to me.  I can rest in his love, trust him with my life and wait to open the gifts he has prepared for me.

I just might be a bag of rocks.  Wouldn’t that be great!

Human Beings or Human Rules

I know we need rules.  Rules help us navigate through life; they help us order our world and our behavior.  There is nothing really wrong with rules until they get in the way and become toxic to our relationships.  Rules have a way of twisting our perspective of others and distorting our priorities such that the rules become more important than the people in our lives.  This is the situation Jesus faces in this interaction with the Pharisees and a sick man.

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. (Luke 14:1-6 ESV)

You see, it seems that the Pharisees were setting Him up.  They had their rules, their human rules.  As far as I understand it wasn’t against the Law, the Mosaic Law, to rescue a person or an ox, but it was against their human rules and I see their unwillingness to answer Jesus confirmed that.  They knew that they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on, but the Pharisees wanted to see if Jesus was going to bend to their human imposed rules in dealing with this sick man.  For Jesus, this sick man was more important than some human created rule.  This sick man had more value than keeping silly rules.  And Jesus demonstrated that by healing this man right there in front of their judgmental, condemning eyes.  For Jesus, human beings will always be more important that human rules.

Again, I know we need rules and I guess I am talking here about the rules that our churches have created over the years to control the members.  Rules that are meant to create boundaries around what is acceptable behavior and thought and what is not.  These are the rules that we make to define what God thinks is acceptable!  “If you obey these rules, God will love you.”  And after a while, these rules take on a life of their own.  They become the focus of our Christian life.  They determine our guilt or righteousness.  And we use these rules to pummel others.  Never mind that these rules are killing the soul, separating us from each other and worse, separating us from God.  We can never keep up with all our rules.

But that is not how I see Jesus.  Yes, there are commandments, rules that God has established.  The main one is “Love…”  His rules are about allowing us to approach Him and love others.  He creates intimacy and draws us closer.  His commandments value the human being.  So my challenge to you is what rules do you have in your life that have become more important than the people in your life?  Are you willing to bend, even change, the rules so that some else finds healing, wholeness and freedom?  Are the rules you live under separating you from God or drawing you towards Him?

But the most important question is, Does Jesus care more about you or your rules?

They’ll Know We Are Christians by our What?

As I’ve mentioned here before, I became a Christian during the 70’s.  1974 to be exact, in the midst of the Jesus People Revolution and the charismatic movement.  Those were heady times, and one way our new found faith was expressed was in new, “modern” worship songs.  I remember in our church youth group singing, “This is the day,” “Lord of the dance,” and yes, we actually sang “Kum ba Yah.”  We would even sing the English words to it.  Looking back, I realize those were really very corny songs, but we didn’t care, we were cool and radical!  One song in particular still stays with me (and not in a good way).  “They will know we are Christians by our love.  You can find it on YouTube – if you must.  Now it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the lyrics or the message behind the song, it was that the way it was sung – at least in our youth group – sounded like a funeral dirge.  You couldn’t find a group of young people sounding so desperately depressed while singing of loving each other.  To this day I cannot listen to this song without those sad feelings flooding back.

But let’s go back to the message of that song and fast forward to today.  The idea behind the song comes from Jesus’ words to the disciples in the Upper Room the night before the crucifixion.  They are found in the Gospel of John.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35  ESV)

Later in that Gospel, Jesus prays that through the expression of our unity with each other, the world would believe in Him.  In the history of the early church, the Christians had a reputation for being loving people.  The great theologian Tertullian (ad 160-220) claims that the Romans said, ‘See how [these Christians] love one another.’  In fact, many attribute the wildfire spread of Christianity to their love for each other and love for the pagan Romans around them.

It is appropriate and necessary that we fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love one another.  There is no greater evidence of God’s miraculous presence in the world than a group of disparate, unrelated, unalike people who normally would be hostile to each other living in respect, deference and love for each other.   This is not something that is birthed out of the human soul but out of the divine will.  It is when we love one another that we most closely reflect God’s nature. 

The problem, I think, is that we have so redefined “love” as to make it nearly unrecognizable.  We have turned “love” in acquiescence and “unity” into “uniformity.”  Love now means that we simply accept whatever beliefs or behavior you have because we don’t want to be judgmental regardless of whether those beliefs are consistent with Scripture.  It would not be loving, we think, to hold each other accountable for ungodly behavior.  Love means you can do pretty much whatever you want.  Christian unity now seems to mean that you have to agree with me or you are divisive.  We must all think alike, believe alike, act alike especially when it comes to political views or social agenda.  And what the world sees when in peeks into the church is very ugly and unattractive.  I really don’t think this is what Jesus meant.

I think there is a way to stand against ungodliness without being hateful.  There is a way to speak against unbiblical teaching without condemning.  Unless the Church recovers its ability to be separate from the world but united in Christ, we will simply be a bunch of clanging cymbals and obnoxious noisemakers.  We must find a way to reflect accurately God’s love for people AND His (not our) condemnation of sin in a way that is redemptive, not destructive.  Let’s stop pointing fingers at each other and instead point others upward. Yes, I know it is easier said than done and the Church has had a spotty record over the centuries.  Yet we must continue to pursue love with all our heart because that is what He commanded.

The question is, “Will they know we are Christians by our love or will they walk away disappointed and disillusioned?”