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We need to stand up and be counted (Sons and Daughters of Thunder)​

I’m not sure Jesus was given to nicknames for his closest circle. There is no indication that James was “Jimmy the Jew” or that Matthew was “The Scribe” or that Luke was “Doc.” But two disciples did get a nickname, Mark 3:17 is part of a list of the disciple’s names and it says among them are “James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder.”

The name never appears again and there is no further explanation. Still, the name had to stick.
However, Jesus has a purpose for everything He does, so He must have had a good reason for dubbing James and John as “Sons of Thunder.” He knew their personalities. He knew their destinies. He called them “Boanerges” and they certainly filled that nickname.

A misplaced zeal​

On one occasion, Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and they stopped in Samaria. They were met with nothing short of naked prejudice, as they were denied short-term housing Jesus was met with prejudice, as the Samaritans told them to “move along.” The Sons of Thunder, rather than turn the other cheek, suggested something a little harsher. “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” (Luke 9:54). Jesus rebuked the brothers, and they simply moved on to another village.

“Thanks for the passion, Boanerges, but that’s counterproductive.” The Sons of Thunder had struck!
Later on, the mother of these two wondered aloud which brother would sit on the left and which brother would sit on Jesus’ right in the next kingdom. Not only were the brothers bold, but so was mom.

Balance the passion with love​

With discipleship, training, and maturity, Jesus nurtured this passion into action and competency.
They were among Jesus’ closest friends. James was the first apostle to be killed a martyr’s death. (Acts 12:2). John would later die on Patmos, his Revelations his final word to the coming days.
John also wrote the book of 1 John which is known as the ultimate book of love, with more than 40 mentions. But also in the book are strong denunciations of deceivers and apostates. He had the Fire. But he had the Love. This is a true Son of Thunder.

What if John walked among us?​

I recently saw a great little movie called, “Translated” which transported the Apostle Paul from the Roman Empire directly into Rome, Oregon in the 20th century. Once Paul figured out where he was, he continued to preach his message in the Epistles, encouraging the church to operate with a singular goal and message.
I wonder what would happen if John, the son of Zebedee, the Son of Thunder walked the earth today. I believe he would set the pace for Righteous Zeal, balanced by the Love of the Savior. You can do both.
John would not be compassionate with th
e Deconstruction and Exvancelical movements. He would simply call them apostates, and those who are profiting off their departure from the church as deceivers. In days past, people would leave the faith and pursue their own path. Today, you get a book deal and a podcast and actually charge people to help them leave the faith.
He would not stand by to see girl’s privacy exploited by open bathrooms, unfair sports programs and pornography. He would unleash the Thunder and the Lightning.
He would not stand by to see the church slouch toward Gomorrah, ditching 2000 years of church teaching simply to appease social media. You cannot change the teachings of Christ simply because they are no longer popular in society.
Let the Rumble begin.

Will you take a stand?​

We need Sons (and Daughters) of Thunder today like never before. The freedom of religion that the West has come to embrace and has become enshrined in society is under assault. Using the cloak of a pandemic, churches in Canada and Australia are closing. Pastors are being imprisoned. Freedom is being chipped away.
Those who embrace God must embrace freedom. Freedom is an essential Gospel imperative that frees us from the bondage of a sinful life. but also frees us from despots. There is a reason authoritarians hate Christianity because we are above all an empowered people who answer to a Higher Call. We are a threat to their own petty tyrant rule. They despise people who are given a free choice and encouraged to think and to act according to their conscience.
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
Throughout the book .of Acts, we see ordinary men and women, who empowered by the Holy Spirit, “Go out boldly speaking.” That needs to be us, people who stand for righteousness, who oppose evil, who never give in to the Lies of the Age.
God is calling you to the Thunder. To stand up and push back. This is no time for small talk, for engaging behind the scenes, for nighttime prayer. The freedom of our culture is at stake. We’re watching schools, workplaces, courts, and legislative ruling bodies leaning toward the Samaritan way of minimizing and denying Jesus and his followers even a place to lay our head.
Can we do it in love? Of course. Jesus demonstrated that. My problem isn’t in embracing Love. My problem is to find the courage to embrace the Power of Truth.
Give me the courage to stand and to be a Son of Thunder.


Prepare for Battle

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it—Matthew 16:18

We’re designed for battle by our Father God; we’re led into battle by our King, Jesus Christ; we’re aided in battle by God the Holy Spirit. These battles are waged “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The places where we meet our enemies have names like “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). Though perhaps less dramatic than battles fought on the ground or in the air or on the sea, their outcomes are more momentous. They determine not only how we spend our lives, but our eternities too (Galatians 5:21).

We have enemies. They’re real. They’re powerful. They’re cunning, relentless, scheming always against us—scheming right now. We too, brother, must be cunning and relentless. We too must be prepared.
Okay, so what do we do?

Create a battle plan. Resist any “this isn’t necessary” or “do it later” tendencies. Create a plan to bring the fight to our enemies. They’ve brought it to you long enough. Write it out today. Make it explicit. Make it practical.

1. Definition of Battle . . . what problem would you like to finally overcome?
2. Definition of Victory . . . what’ll victory look like?
3. Lay of the Land . . . what external factors contribute to the problem?
4. Points of Weakness . . . what aspects of your lifestyle contribute too?
5. Plan of Attack . . . how will you counter or minimize or eliminatethe external factors and contributing aspects of your lifestyle?
6. Sources of Strength . . . how’ll you stay connected to God and community?
7. Brothers-in-Arms . . . whom will you tell about this plan and keep updated, as to victories and defeats?​



Clinging to Scripture Sustains Us Through Suffering​

In times of crisis we try to make sense of life. We crave perspective for our minds and relief for our hearts. We need our worldview realigned by God’s inspired Word: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). God promises that His Word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

A woman self-consciously told one of our pastors that before going to sleep each night she reads her Bible, then hugs it as she falls asleep. “Is that weird?” she asked. While it may be unusual, it’s not weird. This woman has known suffering, and as she clings to His promises, she clings to God. Any father would be moved to hear that his daughter falls asleep with his written words held close to her. Surely God treasures such an act of childlike love.

In a time of dark suffering and dread, David affirmed, “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident…. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me…. I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:1, 3, 10, 13–14).

Notice how David talks to himself about God’s faithfulness and goodness, encouraging himself to wait on God. It’s worth listening to self-talk if it involves speaking God’s Word.
Years ago I turned off talk radio when I drive, to listen to the Bible instead. Scripture on audio accompanies me as I travel. I never regret investing my time this way—why listen to one more human voice when you can listen to God’s? It prepares me to face whatever lies ahead. “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).


With Friends Like These . . .

[ 1 min read ★ ]

My brothers, show no partiality
as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ—James 2:1

We men tend toward partiality. Sometimes with forethought, many times with no thought, we give or withhold based upon characteristics of the potential recipients. We can, therefore, find ourselves directing all our time and attention, our kindness and generosity, toward only those who live, look, sound, spend, sin . . . like we do. This plays out in many areas of life and, therefore, many areas of faith—in service, giving, worship, and certainly in brotherhood.

But James, brother of our King, Jesus Christ, cautioned us to oppose this tendency:

“For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4).

So, what’s wrong with partiality? Well, intending to or not, we harm people. We harm them by disregarding them, those whom God wants us to impact or serve or befriend, but who don’t quite make our cut (Proverbs 28:21). God put us here for one another (Matthew 22:39). Partiality means we forsake people who need us. And if that’s not bad enough, we harm ourselves. We cut ourselves off from relationships—and often the weightiest. You see, those we’re meant to impact are meant to impact us, right back.
Okay, so what do we do?

How’re you doing with this, brother? The test is simple—look around. Who are you spending time with? Whom are you serving? There should be people in your life who’re nothing like you. Are there?​



The Effects Of Unconfessed Sin On A Heart For God​


Do you remember the first time you lied and got away with it? I do. I was in first grade. And thus began my life of crime, lying when it benefited me!

All of us are tempted to lie from time to time about our sin. When we are younger it is lesser offenses, when we are older it becomes more severe. One of the worst things that can ever happen to you is lying and getting away with your sin. It teaches you a habit that gets very difficult to break with age.

King David, lied, and got away with it too, almost.

2 Samuel 11:1 tells us King David was supposed to be at war but instead he stayed home.
He was dislodged from his position and disengaged from his purpose.
This is a recipe for disaster!

The Enemy waits until we dislodge ourselves from our position and disengage from our purpose, and then he offers an alternative. It always appeals to our flesh. He can’t position us for a fall, we have to do that, but once we put ourselves in a compromising position, he offers us the most delightful temptation to our flesh. This is how the enemy worked in David’s life and this is how the enemy works in our lives.
Right after this 2 Samuel 11:2 says, “It happened.” David walked out and saw a beautiful naked woman bathing.

The Enemy knew beautiful naked women were King David’s kryptonite. Do you know what your kryptonite is?
Once we dislodge ourselves from our relational position in life, husband/wife, father/mother, friend, truth-teller, follower of Jesus, then the Enemy serves up the appetizer our flesh craves.

David sent and inquired who the woman was. The servant he inquired from told him Bathsheba was married, but that boundary didn’t stop David. He sent for her and lay with her. She sends word she is pregnant.
Now what do you do? The fun is over, and she has a message for you, “I am pregnant.” Now what?

The famous Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, would often times say, “Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, cost you more than you would ever want to pay.”
Sadly, we know now, Ravi knew this personally, because he was living this story in his life.
So, sin has taken David further than he wants to go.
David sends for Uriah.
We have hope for King David. He is going to confess to Uriah, “I slept with you wife.”

Here is David’s moment to continue to be a man after God’s own heart. Instead, 2 David sends Uriah to his house with a present from him. David tried to use money to solve his problem. Whenever we use money to cover up sin, we always make it worse in the end.
Once we have sinned and we don’t immediately confess, sin encourages us to avoid the truth by covering up the truth.
Like David, when we don’t immediately confess sin, we then create shadows that appear true.

Instead of confessing to Uriah, David created a scenario where Uriah was to sleep with his wife, He was going to let an innocent man believe he had a child. And he was going to expect Bathsheba to live a lie with her husband.
He shows by his actions he cares only for himself.
Cover up makes us myopic.
What is myopic?
Myopia is a condition in which visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye, resulting in defective vision of distant objects, also known as nearsighted.

Unconfessed sin makes us myopic; it makes us nearsighted to the consequences of our sin, because of this our judgment worsens with time.

David’s judgement worsens and he tries to get Uriah to sleep with his wife so he will think the child is his, but Uriah doesn’t, and David becomes more desperate. He tells Uriah to remain a few more days before going back to battle so he can come up with a better lie.
Unconfessed sin makes better liars of us with time.

Because David refused to confess his sin, he is now going to step off into a world he never dreamed he would enter. He gets Uriah drunk to sleep with his wife.
David is now influencing others to sin to cover up his sin.
David’s plan didn’t work, God didn’t allow it. Uriah refused to sleep with his wife even drunk.
Uriah was a better man drunk than David was sober.

Here is another chance for David to confess. Instead, he devises a plan to have Uriah murdered.
His plan worked and when it worked, he justified it to those who knew.
David had convinced himself that what he was doing was in the best interest of everyone. Sin had taken him further than he would ever imagine he would have gone.
Once Uriah is dead, David brought Bathsheba to his house, and she became his wife and she bore him a son. David was now living a lie as if it was the truth. And they lived happily ever after, right?

2 Samuel 11:27 says, “it displeased the Lord.” This is the final effect of unconfessed sin covered up.
To sin is human, to cover it up is evil. God does not forgive sin unconfessed. If we don’t expose sin, it eats our hearts for God like a bacterium eats away at one’s flesh. Recently I read an article by Apple that said they are creating software to detect child pornography on internet devices. Even the world knows hidden sin is not good, how about the church and Christians who follow Jesus?

Don’t let sin take you any further down the dark whole of its effects and eat more of your heart for God, confess it and forsake it today.

Pastor Kelly



How Not To Be A Discouragement To Others​

How Not To Be A Discouragement To Others


Sometimes I get discouraged. How about you?

When I get discouraged, sometimes, I become a discouragement to others around me.

It is one thing to be discouraged. It is an entirely different thing to be a discouragement to others. But I find that my discouragement often times spills over into the lives of others and my discouragement becomes their discouragement. I lose sight of what matters, and I become a detriment to what God is doing in the lives of others. My circumstances cause me to want to project my discouragement on to other’s lives.

The Apostle Paul got discouraged from time to time. That gives me hope to know someone as spiritual as the Apostle Paul was discouraged from time to time. It is human to get discouraged. It is normal and expected. He told the Philippians in 2:19 that the best way to deal with discouragement is to hope in the Lord Jesus.

All of our aspirations come down to God’s sovereign grace over our lives. We hope in Jesus and thus we are encouraged because He cares about the details of our lives, all of them. He wants to hear about them. He wants you to share them with him. He wants you to acknowledge to others and remind them that your hope is in Christ and thus theirs should be too.
It doesn’t matter how small a detail you are dealing with. He wants you to hope in Him and encourage others to do the same.
The Philippians were very discouraged. Paul couldn’t come and see them because He himself was in prison. However, he writes this letter to remind them of his hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to them so they and He can be encouraged by mutual relationships and news they share with one another.

Don’t give up on relationships.
They may be your greatest source of discouragement from time to time, but they will also be the greatest source of encouragement for you.
Paul reminds the Philippians in 2:20 that he is sending Timothy who has relationship with them and there is no one like him who genuinely cares about their welfare. It is good to be reminded that others care, and we are not in this alone.

Recently I got a text message from someone in our church, it said, “I understand that you receive a FedEx load of prayer requests. A gentleman that I know was recently killed. He was not a believer and actually identified himself as a Satanist. His young son has been having a very hard time with his death. Would you be willing to join my prayers for him?”

I responded back and said I would be honored to pray for him to find hope and encouragement in Jesus. The world needs Jesus! We need to stay focused on being faithful prayer warriors and faithful servants for Christ.
When I get discouraged or burdened by the sorrow of this world, I think about the people of my life who are faithful servants of Christ and I think about the sacrifices they are making for him. I ask the Lord to remove my focus from those who have made it fully about them and are absorbed in their selfishness.

Who in your life do you think of when you need to remember to be a faithful servant of Christ?
Who in your life gives you encouragement when you think of them? Let them know, but also, keep thinking about them.
While Paul was being an encouragement to the Philippians, he didn’t know how his trial in Rome was going to go. He was uncertain and that uncertainty produced an anxiety in him like it would in you and me. He says in Philippians 2:24, “I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also,”
He is uncertain, but He is trusting in the Lord.

What in your life are you uncertain about that is causing you anxiety right now?
The Book of Acts doesn’t record Paul’s release from his Roman imprisonment, nor does it record his execution at the end of it. But evidence furnished by the pastoral epistles supports the hypothesis of a release during which Paul did additional traveling in Crete, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia. There is good reason, therefore, to believe that Paul’s hope was realized.
You don’t have to solve all the tension of other people’s lives by trying to convince them you don’t have any in yours. Nor do you need to wallow in it, in order for people to be able to relate to you.

In order for people to be encouraged by you, people need to know you understand real life, yet you trust in the Lord for your future despite the uncertainties.

Who in your life shows care to you and seeks to encourage you in the Lord? Paul reminded the Philippians in 2:26 that Epaphroditus was that kind of friend to them. He had a love and a care for the Philippians that gave them renewed peace and encouragement. Are you that kind of person in other’s lives?
We all need people like this in our lives and we all need to be people like this in other people’s lives.

Whether it is a godly dad or mom, or pastor, or Sunday school teacher, or youth worker, friend, accountability partner, ministry director, mentor, care giver, or so forth and so on. Sometimes it is easy to fixate on what people have done wrong and feel sorry for ourselves and lose sight of what others have done for us because of what other have done to us.

When I come across people who have lost sight of what others have done for them, I remind them. I want to encourage them to honor those who have served them faithfully. It will bring huge encouragement into a person’s life when they turn and honor, bless, and remember the sacrificial things others have done for them.

It is easy to bog down in what people aren’t or haven’t done for you, but what about focusing on what others have done for you. It will bring a spirit of hope and encouragement back to your life and then you in turn can give that same hope and encouragement to others.

When each of us do this, it changes the world one relationship at a time from a world of unrest and discouragement to a world of peace and encouragement. We all have a part to play in this through the relationships of our lives.

It is so very important to be encouraged in life and to be an encouragement in life to others. As I near the age of fifty, I realize more each day how much I need encouragement and how much I need to be a reminder of encouragement to others. It is easy to lose hope. It is easy to give up. It is easy to see what isn’t. It takes courage to see what it is and can be. And when we declare these reminders to others, it not only gives others a chance to be encouraged but reminds us to be encouraged as well.

May the peace of Christ rule in your heart today as you seek to be an encouragement to others that brings peace to the storms of their lives.



The Bible Begins and Ends with a Marriage!​

Here’s another excerpt of my book: Love Me, Love My Wife: 10 Reasons Every Christian Should Join a Local Church (available on Amazon)

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding!
In the beginning (Genesis 1), the first wedding is that of God and man. But there’s also a human marriage at the beginning of the Bible: the marriage of Adam and Eve. When God created Adam, he said of Adam: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” And so, God created Eve for Adam.

Moses, the divinely inspired author of Genesis, says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).

In other words, from the beginning, God created men and women to come together and become one flesh. Two people become one person, or relationship, in marriage. A husband and his wife are no longer to live for themselves but for the other: they do this through self-giving love.

Maleness and femaleness in general, and a husband and wife in particular, picture who God is for us. Who is God? He is three Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – but one God.

For this reason, it is men and women together, and especially husbands and wives, who picture God for us. God has imprinted His very nature on our bodies!

St. Paul explains the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church in terms of a marriage. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes about how the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that Jesus is the head of the Church. Women are to submit to their husbands, and husbands are to love their wives. Husbands and wives are to love each other as they love their own bodies.

But it turns out that Paul is talking about more than husbands and wives. He says He’s talking about Christ and the Church! In verses 31-32 he says, “’For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

I told you that the Bible also ends with a marriage, which we find in Revelation 21:1-3, where St. John refers to the Church as the New Jerusalem. He says:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”

This is where eternal life is going: to a marriage between Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church.
John also refers to this as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).


Building New Gauges

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Do not be conformed to this world—Romans 12:2

We men love to measure things. And we have, at our disposal, highly accurate gauges for measuring just about anything, including the progress of our lives. I mean, we never have to wonder which careers are most prestigious; which jobs are most coveted; which neighborhoods are most exclusive; which vacations are most glamorous; which cars are most luxurious. Our culture makes sure its gauges remain well calibrated.

“Listen carefully . . . and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world . . .” (Mark 4:24 MSG).

The problem is, such things are not proper for measuring the progress of any life. There’s nothing wrong with careers or communities or cars, in-and-of themselves. They’re just not appropriate gauges in this context. Using them is like using a thermometer to measure the weight of a steel beam. It doesn’t work. Likewise, improper gauges won’t work for us, for measuring our lives as men. We must create and calibrate new gauges, ones that can properly measure our lives, because they measure the right stuff—like how we’re doing as husbands, as fathers, as friends, as neighbors; and how we’re doing toward becoming the men God intends us to become.
Okay, so what do we do?

Build new gauges for yourself, brother, ones that measure things like . . . how many nights you are home for dinner; or how often you sit down and pray with your wife or girlfriend; or how often you have conversations with your sons or daughters about their dreams or their fears; or how often you meet with brothers in community; or how often you drop what you’re doing to spend time with friends in need. Get practical. Build a simple spreadsheet, for example. Or create a calendar. Do what makes sense for you, but start measuring, today.​


Restoring Connections

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . build up the ancient ruins
. . . repair the ruined cities—Isaiah 61:4

Three relationships broke when man fell, so long ago: the relationship between man and God, the relationship between man and himself, and the relationship between man and other men (and women). Our jobs now, brother, are to repair and rebuild those relationships, in our own unique ways, as much as we can during our lifetimes . . . and to encourage and assist others in doing likewise. Our King, Jesus Christ, gave us our instructions—love “God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and love “your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). His two-part directive covers all three relationships: love God more than anything else; love yourself sufficiently; and love other people at least as much as you love yourself. It’s all there.

So how do we begin? Well, we restore relationships with God when we soften our hearts, decide to trust him more than we trust ourselves, and bend ourselves toward obedience. We restore relationships with ourselves when we soften our hearts and decide to care for ourselves as God intends, finally dealing with self-condemnation or idolatry or addiction (to work, to food, to alcohol, to pornography, or anything else). And, we restore relationships with others when we soften our hearts, decide to look around for people who need us, and bend our lives toward loving and serving and forgiving them.
Okay, so what do we do?

Take a moment to survey your life. Which type of relationship is most broken? If none is obvious, take time for listening prayer. Ask your counselor, God the Holy Spirit, to guide you. Once you’ve focused-in on what’s most in need of rebuilding, what’s most in need of repair, you’ve got your own, individualized blueprint for “what’s next.” Begin working on it this week. Start with something practical.​



7 Things You Need to Quit For a Happier Marriage​

Everyone says they want a happier, healthier, more loving relationship with their spouse, and who could blame them? That idea of happily ever after sounds pretty good, right? Here’s the thing however – too often it’s not always our partner that creates the rifts that allow us to drift apart. Many times? We’re the ones getting in the way. Here are seven things to quit right now if you want to create and sustain a healthy, happy marriage.

Quit Thinking Love is Enough​

Love is powerful, but not usually enough to carry you through the long haul. Through the rough spots. Through the big decisions. And the inevitable mistakes. Most happy couples who stay together have a big common denominator. They truly like one another. They are friends who see each other realistically and still say, “Yep – that’s the one for me.” Liking someone for all the right reasons is a far better relationship foundation than loving someone for the wrong reasons. Is this a person you’d choose as your friend even if you weren’t married? Look for what you like in your partner, not just what you love.

Quit Expecting Them to Make You Happy​

Happiness is an inside job. We can’t do it for someone else, nor can they do it for us. We can share happy experiences, but real happiness comes from within. It’s our own journey. And frankly? Our own responsibility. Expecting someone else to make you happy is an impossible task to ask someone to take on, and it’s a very heavy load to bear. And that? Is not fair. In fact, it can hurt a relationship to the core. The best marriage is between two people who know how to find their own joy and choose to share their lives with another person who does the same.

Quit Arguing Unfairly​

Manipulation. Yelling. Hitting below the belt. And the king of unfair techniques, the silent treatment. How can any relationship survive all that? That kind of drama is what you see in high school. It doesn’t belong there and it certainly has zero place in the real world of adult relationships. Do want a long marriage that is based in mutual respect, love, and responsibility? Don’t play games. Stop attacking one another and start being accountable for your own part. Quit interrupting and start listening. Quit letting your need to be right interfere with what’s real. Then work towards solutions together that you can both live with.

Quit Thinking Your Partner Can be Everything to You​

What a huge responsibility that would be. And a heck of a lot of unnecessary pressure on your relationship. You need other friends. Interests. Activities. No one person can solve your all your problems. Laugh at all your jokes. Understand all your issues. Enjoy all your hobbies. A relationship shouldn’t be the only thing in your life (except for the first few months when the rest of the works doesn’t exist). Branch out. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin and with your own company. Then you can both bring those experiences, feelings, and excitement back home to share.

Quit Expecting Them to Read Your Mind​

Want or need something? Ask. Speak your mind. Share (without blame). Just because your partner knows you doesn’t mean they are mind readers. Nor should they be. You are adults in an adult relationship. Part of being an adult is taking responsibility to use your voice when you need to be heard. To have real discussions about needs, wants and expectations. About fears and frustrations. About joy and celebrations. Being open and honest is the only real way you can get to truly know each other on a deeper level and learn how to respond better to each other throughout your lives.

Quit Making Assumptions​

Stop placing intent on your partner’s actions. Forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning may not mean they don’t love you anymore. Going to sleep while you are talking may not mean they aren’t interested in you sexually ever again. Taking time to wind down after a tough day may not mean they are shutting you out. Placing intent on their actions is asking for trouble. Sometimes a lot of trouble. It’s unfair, unrealistic, and usually ends badly. Rarely will you be right. Instead, talk things out. Ask for clarification. Put yourself in their shoes. Because the truth? Is it’s usually not at all what you assumed it to be.

Quit Keeping Score​

This is a serious relationship killer. Here’s how it goes: Our partner says or does something we don’t like. But we don’t tell them what’s wrong, or discuss the problem. Instead we choose to ignore it. Or do we? Ignoring means never thinking about it again. That’s not what happens. Instead we’re keeping a tally in our heads of all the infractions. Grow up! If you don’t like something deal with it. If it’s not important enough to deal with – then forget it forever. Keeping score creates tension. And the kind of unhealthy competitive spirit that will tear a relationship apart.



How to Win Marital Arguments​

It happens in every marriage. Two people who live together can’t help but grate on each other at some point. Two different backgrounds. Two different priorities and sets of values. Two entirely different people trying to live as one. Marital arguments are an age-old reality. One side trying to make their point and get their way. Both sides fighting to be heard and valued.

The argument is nature’s way of deciphering a winner. It is relational survival-of-the-fittest. And you may have clicked on this blog a little sheepishly, but we all want to win. We all want to get our way. How do we do so without destroying our marriages? In those tense situations when our values are at odds, how do we win and make sure we get our way?

Define a Winner

In every argument, the rules determine the winner. Marital spats are the same. What is out of bounds? What is the point? He (or she) who defines the rules gets the prize.
We instinctively get this. Defining a winner is exactly why we shift from arguing about toilet paper to dysfunctional family backgrounds to personal wounds. We’re trying to change the rules, the parameters of the fight, so that we are more likely to win.
Here is the essential key you might not want to hear: in marriage, winners come in pairs. There is no one or the other. You might get your way, but that is far from winning.

Establish Teams

When we argue, we forget the most important truth about marriage: we are on the same team. My wife and I literally say that to one another when we start to drift apart.
An argument arises, our diverse opinions manifest, and our emotions start to boil. It can feel like it is a one-on-one boxing match. What it really is is the two of us verses ourselves. There is always a third party in the marital argument. It is the true enemy, the divider.
Some arguments require compromise, some require one side to give in to the other, and still others require a simple letting go. But no argument is won unless the end is a solidification and edification of the entire team. Your spouse is not your enemy. Disunity is the enemy. It is the dragon at the gate. Turn your swords away from each other and take it to the true enemy if you ever want a chance of winning (or surviving) in your marriage.

The Aftermath

There are only two trophies in marital arguments. One is labeled unity and the other is labeled vision. If you come out of an argument united and in line with the vision for your marriage, you have won. No matter how you feel or what the outcomes are. Those are the only measures of success.

Too often we leave feeling great because we got our way or made a cutting remark that shifted the last word into our camp. We leave behind a wounded spouse and a mark in the loss column.
Arguments are inevitable in marriage. We are allowed diverse opinions and emotions, just like any basketball player is allowed to have diverse, individualized skills. What is important is to not lose sight of the goal. The goal is not to be the best player. The goal is to win the game.
Believe it or not, arguments can be productive. They can be clarifying, encouraging vulnerability, and showing care. This is NOT weakness or giving in or caving or loosing yourself. It is expressing yourself in the context of the team.

There is no such thing as a win-lose marital argument. The whole thing is win-win or lose-lose. You’ve signed up for a partnership, and you’re playing on a team.



How to Avoid Being Defensive with Your Partner​

During my first interview with Helena and Dan, an attractive couple in their late-thirties, I was impressed with their enthusiasm and commitment to each other. Married less than ten years, they were referred to me for marriage counseling. They have two children, ages 6 and 8 who are well adjusted but have both complained to Helena and Dan that they are tired of listening to them bicker.

Dan told me when he called to set up the interview that they were eager to learn tips to improve their marriage and they shared the goal of avoiding divorce at all cost. Engaging and articulate, Helena, age 38, explains how identifying her part in communication breakdowns with her husband, Dan, 39, helped save her marriage. “In the past, I used to focus on what Dan was doing wrong until a good friend reminded me that I may want to try harder to communicate my feelings to him without blaming him.”
Helena and Dan are a busy couple who are raising two children with full-time work schedules. Most of their arguments revolve around household chores, projects, and financial stress. Dan believes that Helena spends money excessively, and she often complains that he procrastinates with house projects and tends to be perfectionistic.

Helena realized that she didn’t learn healthy ways of resolving conflicts from her parents who had loud, abusive arguments in front of her and her two younger siblings. Likewise, her former boyfriend was openly critical of her and they had gotten into the habit of competing for the prize of who could win the argument – usually causing her to retreat to the mall for a shopping trip or to a friend’s house. Dan’s behavior triggered Helena’s response, then fueled his anger (and so on). Their attack-defensive pattern became a vicious cycle.

As a result, Helena had developed anger and defensiveness when Dan made comments about her spending behavior. She’d been conditioned to protect herself and put up a shield which prevented her from being vulnerable and intimate with Dan. Over time, Helena realized that she could lay down her armor and no longer needed to prove she was competent in Dan’s eyes because he truly accepted her for who she was.

Like all smart women, Helena came to understand that every relationship goes through rough patches and that it takes two people to contribute to the difficulties. But because she enjoys being married overall, Helena attempts to focus more on Dan’s positive qualities – such as being affectionate – rather than negative ones.
Helena reflects: “When I stopped being defensive, that’s when I noticed things improving with how Dan and I got along. I expected him to read my mind and did not bother to tell him what I needed. When he failed, I would go into a shell or let him have it. But when I let go of my efforts to fix him, and started working on myself, things began to get better.”

In Helena’s case, once she began to focus on her part of the problem, she was less likely to point her finger at Dan or take things personally. Over time, Dan began to notice that Helena was more receptive to his influence and they were able to regain the love and passion they enjoyed in their early years together.
In Peoplemaking, Virginia Satir writes, “Shadows from the past are very real and must be dealt with by the new marital pair.” As an author and psychotherapist, Satire made many references to how common it is for remarried partners to bring emotional baggage to their union and how the past can contaminate new and potentially positive relationships if it isn’t possessed and handled properly.



How Do We Best Help the Poor and Needy in Our Communities?​


I think the most important principle is you can’t effectively help needy people you don’t know. Now, there are exceptions. You might say, “I know the people who work with them, and I financially support their ministry.” But the principle still stands that someone has to actually know the people being ministered to.

We’ll never have a heart for people we don’t see and spend time with. If we don’t know anyone who’s poor—if we don’t go out in our communities to meet people, strike up conversations, and get to know them—we can’t see what we can do for them. We need to take the initiative of volunteering at a soup kitchen, doing downtown ministry, or participating in some other outreach to those in need.

We can also encourage our churches to support these ministries, and then start volunteering ourselves. Churches often get involved in a ministry when some members are invested in giving of their time and developing relationships.

Nanci and I have experience that in our home church, Good Shepherd Community Church. One of our members walked away from his very profitable medical practice and set up what’s called The Good News Clinic in one of the poorest areas of our community. Churches support them. People volunteer, including physicians and nurses, as well as trained therapists and people with counseling skills because the clinic’s patients need more than physical care—they need emotional and mental care too, and most importantly they need to hear the Good News of Christ.

But you’ve got to get out there and actually connect. Certainly, missions trips to poor parts of the world are important, though they don’t involve the poor in our own community. But there are truly poor people around us. We need to meet these people and see what’s being done for them, instead of writing them all off as drug addicts and people who are just trying to bleed the system. Many of these people have very complex stories that involve abuse, hurt, and pain, and some of them are veterans. You just don’t know until you get close enough to meet them and minister to them, as God’s Word calls us to do.

For some of us it’s a question of walking down the block and getting to know the poor. For others it’s driving twenty miles to find a homeless person. Perhaps I must take regular trips away from the cozy suburbs to the inner city. Whole churches have become involved in projects of helping the poor. Some youth groups take regular trips to Mexico. Others put on camps and evangelistic Bible clubs for inner-city children. Churches can go to the ghettos, the jails, the hospitals, and rest homes—wherever there is need.

God links our efforts for the poor directly to our relationship with Him. May he one day say of us what he said of King Josiah: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” (Jeremiah 22:16).


Who Are Your Heroes?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Worship the Lord your God, and only him.
Serve him with absolute single-heartedness—Matthew 4:10

We men like heroes. We like to look upward. We start early, as boys, looking up to men and women who do amazing things on grass and turf and hardwood and ice. As we get older, we shift our "looking up" to those who do amazing things in classrooms, board rooms, laboratories, legislatures . . . to those who speak and create and negotiate, to those who research and discover and write.

There’s nothing wrong with honoring and admiring other people. Something is wrong, though, when honoring or admiration becomes worship—when we devote our lives to becoming just like our heroes. You see, heroic images are false. They are false because they’re incomplete. Heroic images portray the good and obscure the bad. We think, "he’s got it together"—"great job, great wife, great bank account, great house" . . . "must be nice." What we don’t see is what’s broken. Something always is: "For we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). Maybe it’s what was sacrificed in order to achieve the heroic image. Not realizing we’re misled, though, we decide to chase their images, to model our lives after theirs. Not realizing we’re misled, we end up imitating their brokenness.

When we worship heroes, we do like the ancient pagans who "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). The truth is, no person, past or present, is worthy of our worship . . . except one.

Okay, so what do we do?

Who are your heroes? Have you ever walked the line between admiration and hero worship? Have you ever held another (broken) person in too high esteem? If you’ve crossed that line, simply confess it to God in prayer. And commit to worshiping no man but our worthy King, Jesus Christ.



We will dance again: This viral video shows why we don’t believe death is the end​


This week my social media was saturated with a beautiful video featuring a former prima ballerina in a wheelchair. In this viral clip Marta C. González Saldaña, who has Alzheimer’s, was filmed listening to music from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Remarkably, when Saldaña hears the music she is able to remember and relive the choreography of the ballet she once performed. Seated in her wheelchair at a senior residential facility in Spain, she moves her arms to the music with a look of pure joy on her face.
Going viral
The video, which was shared by numerous celebrities, intersperses footage of Saldaña with a young ballerina dancing on a stage. Although their ease of movement is somewhat juxtaposed, both women display the same passion for dancing.

So why has this video been so widely shared? The idea that we are more than just a body seems to be something that resonates with many people. I first came across this clip through the Facebook page of a British TV presenter. When Dan Walker shared the story, he said:
“It shows the power of music and is a beautiful reminder that there is a person behind the disease.”
We seem to inherently know there is more to a person than the surface-level brokenness we initially see at the beginning of this video. And I think this deep truth finds a home within a biblical worldview.
Why have so many people responded so strongly to a video of an elderly woman with dementia who suddenly recaptures a memory of her physical youth, beauty and grace? At a purely naturalistic level this video should leave us feeling sad. A glimpse of what was, but can never truly be again.

However, Dan Walker is a Christian and in sharing this video to his hundreds of thousands of followers, he has shared an important biblical truth: this is not the end of the story.
Broken beauty
Under normal circumstances our bodies, along with the entire universe, are subject to the second law of thermodynamics – everything deteriorates. Death (the “final enemy”) will one day overcome as all beauty, grace, love, truth, joy and meaning evaporate. Even this universe will forget us as it peters out into a cold sterile void where not even a memory will resurface.

Yet, we don’t live as though that depressing outcome is really the end of the story. We share videos on our social media that encourage us to “rage against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas). Could it be that we all have an echo within us of the biblical promise that death is not the end? That one day our bodies will be transformed? That one day we will dance again with more joy, youth and grace than we can possibly imagine?
2 Corinthians 5:1-5 says:
“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.
While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.”

A future hope
Saldaña still dances beautifully in this video clip, even though her mind and body are, in many ways, broken compared to what they used to be. The beauty of the past, however, is nothing compared to what the future will look like. We are promised “an eternal body made for us by God himself”. Imagine how beautifully that eternal body will dance!
Losing a loved one is utterly devastating and we rightly mourn their passing, but the Bible reminds us that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), or as the Message translation says:
“You must not carry on…like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”
In the midst of all the brokenness we see in the present – disease, injustice, divisiveness – we can be assured of a future hope. Our fragile bodies will be restored way beyond what they once were. Everything will be made new. As it says in Revelation 21:4:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”



6 Smart Ways To Deal With Jealous Feelings​

One of my clients, Carolyn, a 35 year old accountant, has difficulty trusting Bob, 38, because her parents’ marriage ended due to infidelity and broken promises. She started dating Bob after a brief courtship and often reacts with fear and suspicion when he gets home a little late or there’s even the slightest inconsistency in his story. If he receives a text or phone message from a female co-worker, she finds that jealousy rears its ugly head and she usually won’t give him a chance to explain his side of the story.

Carolyn has a tendency to blow things out of proportion when she says “You’re always running late and you it feels like you’re more interested in your co-workers than me.” In the past, Bob became angry at Carolyn’s jealous comments and accusations, but he has learned to pause and be empathetic. He’s also developed a new habit of calling when he’s delayed at work and reassuring her.

Rather than blaming Carolyn and accusing her of being insecure, Bob is showing Carolyn through consistency in his words and actions – showing her that he is there for her. Likewise, Carolyn is learning to take ownership of her feelings and reactions. She has begun to examine her thought processes. She’s learned to pause and reflect, asking herself: Is my self-doubt and mistrust grounded in reality or a fragment of her past? She must be willing to let go of self-defeating thoughts – to free herself from the shadows of her past.

Jealousy is the polar opposite of trusting someone. Taking ownership of your feelings will allow you to face them head on and reduce them. Tackling jealous feelings takes a commitment, practice and skill.
An inability to trust a partner may take on several forms – ranging from feeling they are dishonest or secretive; or doubting they are going to keep their promises or be dependable. Often people are jealous of a person who they feel will replace them. The bottom line is that insecurity and fear of loss are usually at the root of jealous feelings.
According to Jane Greer, Ph.D. author of How Could You Do This To Me? Learning to Trust After Betrayal, a confident person in a healthy relationship should be able to trust their partner without reservations. She writes “People feel jealous because they’re afraid, insecure, threatened, or scared to lose someone they love.”

Because of your past experience, you might approach relationships warily and come to expect the worst. It may seem at times as if you’re wired to recreate the past. For instance, if you grew up with one or more unfaithful parents, you might approach romantic relationships cautiously and being close to someone might bring out your insecurities.

Working through feelings of mistrust is likely to be an uphill battle if you’ve been cheated on in the past or experienced one of both of your parents’ infidelity.
Many relationships are sabotaged by self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe your partner will hurt you, you can unconsciously encourage hurts to emerge in your relationship. But day by day, if you learn to operate from a viewpoint that your partner loves you and wants the best for you, you can enjoy trust in your life.

Here are 6 smart ways to deal with jealous feelings toward your partner:
  • Gather information and be willing to take a leap of faith. Don’t assume the worst of your partner if you don’t have all the information.
  • Trust you intuition and instincts. Have confidence in your own perceptions and pay attention to red flags such as inconsistencies between your partner’s words and behavior.
  • Examine how many of your mistrustful feelings stem from your past or present relationships. When you become aware of your jealous or mistrustful feelings toward your partner, stop yourself and ask: “Is my mistrust coming from something that is actually happening in the present, or is it related to my past?”
  • Take responsibility for your own reactions and focus on changing your mistrustful mindset. Be vulnerable and let your partner know if you have insecurities based on your past and tell him or her that you’re ready to work on your trust issues.
  • Listen to your partner’s side of the story. Make sure your words and tone of voice are consistent with your goal of rebuilding trust and don’t issue ultimatums such as “I’m out of here” or “This relationship is over” before you’ve collected all of the facts.
  • Challenge mistrustful feelings and practice being more trusting in small steps. Learning to trust is a skill that can be nurtured over time. With courage and persistence, you can learn to extend trust to a partner who is deserving of it.

Ultimately, extending trust to a partner and dealing with jealous feelings in a constructive way can lead to a more satisfying relationship because trust is the foundation of deep, enduring love.
One of the hardest things about trusting someone is learning to have confidence in your own judgment. Trust is about much more than catching your partner in a truth or lie. It’s about believing that he or she has your best interests at heart.
You can learn to trust your instincts and judgment when you honestly deal with your fears. If you are able to come to a place of self-awareness and understand the decisions that were made that led up to trust being severed, you can start to approach others with faith and optimism.



3 things to do when you’re mad at your spouse.​

If you’ve been married longer than one day, chances are you’ve been mad at your spouse at least once and they’ve been mad at you too.

When two imperfect people are put in close quarters and regular contact with each other (which should be happening in any marriage), then there will be times you hurt each other. In some ways, marriage is like two blind people learning to dance with each other…you’re going to step on each other’s toes sometimes!

We all get angry sometimes, but we tend to make our worst decisions when we’re angry or frustrated. Below is a basic checklist of a few things to do and a few things not to do when you become angry with your husband or wife:
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1. Communicate openly and honestly.
Don’t be passive aggressive in your response. Don’t say, “Nothing is wrong” when something is clearly wrong. Don’t make your spouse guess why you’re mad. Talk about it. Communication is the first step towards healing.

2. Take responsibility for your part.
There might be a few rare occasions when the problem is 100% the fault of your spouse, but the vast majority of time, you will have some responsibility too. Take responsibility for your role in the mess and it will be easier for your spouse to own up to his or her part.
3. Work through it quickly.
Don’t let your grudge fester under the surface and then pull it out months later as ammunition in an argument about something completely different. Don’t blindside your spouse with old dirt. Work through issues right away.

1. Punish.
Your spouse is your partner; not your child. It’s your job to call them out sometimes, but it’s never your job to punish them. There are natural consequences for our actions, but they don’t need you beating them over the head or giving them the cold shoulder as a way to intensify their pain.
2. Vent to others.
When your spouse has done something to irritate or hurt you, there’s a natural tendency to complain about it, but it can be destructive when we do it. Don’t get on social media and talk negatively about your spouse and don’t get your friends together and complain about your spouse. That’s toxic!
3. Retaliate.
When your spouse makes a bad choice, it’s an opportunity for you to offer grace, not permission for you to make a bad choice in return. Be quick to forgive. Grace creates a healthy marriage.



How Vision Affects Movement​

There is an intimate and often overlooked relationship between our eyes and our feet. We go where we are looking. The connection is so second-nature, we don’t even realize it. The connection so aligned that our perspective tells us “straight” is not so much about walking in a consistent line but going where our eyes lead.

Our vision affects what we do. It informs our steps. It determines our behavior.

If we are not intentional about where we are looking, if not purposeful about our gaze, we will find ourselves walking toward trouble. Our feet will find the glitz and the glamour because our eyes are so easily distracted. Or, without intention, maybe it is better to say our eyes are easily persuaded.

On The Prize

Purpose and vision play a vital role in the stories we tell. A good narrative needs a clear vision. Frodo is looking to Mordor (to destroy the ring). Those Narnia kids are looking for Aslan.
Vision gives us a purpose for our lives. Fiction is so often a mirror of real human experience. We need a vision to motivate us, to move us. And when that vision is noble, good, and true, it creates a thrilling adventure.

We are so often driven by circumstantial visions. We focus one step at a time. Put out one fire at a time. Deal with one day at a time. While this can be a good practical approach to efficiency and not getting ahead of ourselves, it is a trap if it is not also accompanied by a greater vision.
Clarifying what we are focused on, what lies ahead, helps us to walk with more purpose and consistency. It gives us something meaningful to gaze at. And where we gaze, we tend to go.


If we are not looking somewhere consistent, what tends to happen?

In the lack of consistency, we find ourselves walking in circles. We go round and round, this direction and that, following today’s circumstances and then tomorrow’s. We are covering a lot of ground but not a lot of terrain.
We feel both busy and trapped, like rats in a cage. We are not going anywhere, but we are exhausted. The air around us feels small and stifling; it is, after all, recycled air.
A proper, meaningful, transcendent vision helps push us forward. It helps us from spinning back around into our same comfort zones. It drives initiative and healthy risk-taking. It helps us to make compounded progress rather than incremental progress that is dependent on a circumstance (which usually has an equal and opposite reaction).

Fractured Selves

A lack of consistency can also lead to a fractured self. Without being aware of it, we split ourselves into different personalities. One for home, one for work. Our different visions take us in different directions and we become a fractured self.
There is room for diverse expressions of a unified vision. That is what life is intended to be. We live toward a purpose in our work. We live toward that same purpose in our family life. And the same purpose again with our friendships.
When each of these manifestations becomes an end unto themselves rather than differing means toward the same end, we create confusion and trouble for ourselves. Our eyes aren’t sure where to look. And our feet aren’t sure where to go.

But if we are intentional about vision. If we are clear about it and commit ourselves to it, the way will become more illuminated, our steps more purpose-filled, and our journey more what we want it to be.


Too Busy? Hmmm . . .

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Look carefully then how you walk . . . making the best use of the time,
because the days are evil—Ephesians 5:15-16

When sacred opportunities come—opportunities to listen, to care, to encourage, to serve, to give, to tell others about our faith—we men often use a tactic called "too busy, right now." We say the words out loud, sometimes. More often, we say them to ourselves and just keep moving. We then rationalize the dodge by using a second tactic, one called "make up for it later." That is, we imagine ourselves jumping into other, similar opportunities, eventually—when things slow down a bit maybe.

God knows we’re busy. He sees how busy we are, right now. And he calls us still. You see, these sacred opportunities don’t come by chance. He places them carefully in front of us. He knows we’re busy . . . and he knows what he’s doing. He knew what he was doing when he called Simon and Andrew, when the brothers were busy fishing (Mark 1:16-18). He knew what he was doing when he called James and John, when those brothers were busy mending nets (Mark 1:19-20). He knew what he was doing when he called Levi, when Levi was busy collecting taxes (Mark 2:14). He knows what he’s doing when he calls us too, even when we’re busy. He doesn’t wait because he knows our time is scarce. He knows that we have none to waste.

"We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work" (John 9:4).

Okay, so what do we do?

Ask God to help you see those around you as he sees them. Look for how he’s working in and through them. And . . . then . . . tell . . . them. Tell them what you see. We men tend to struggle with the telling. We can be married for years, or in community with other men for years, and never simply tell those closest to us what we see in them. So, pick someone this week and tell them what you see. Honor them with a glimpse of his/her true worth.​



The Eucharistic Vision of Psalm 96​


By Matthew Allen
Joy and judgement, two themes tied up closely together in Psalm 96. But how can judgement, hardly an idea that instils positive emotions of any sort, let alone joy, be so fundamental to the redemptive message of the text?

If anything, judgement is fraught with connotations of hellfire and brimstone. In what seems, at first, a counterintuitive mixing of two barely compatible subjects within the psalm, the writer is, in reality, developing a cohesive theology of reconciliation.

A question older than Christianity itself takes the stage: How does God restore sinful humanity to a right standing before him? As with many a Bible passage, there is much in Psalm 96 that surprises.
But the progression to joy via judgement is perhaps, though it seems an unlikely progression on the face of things, less puzzling to those who belong within the ‘high church’ tradition of Christianity. For the Anglican, Lutheran or Catholic reader, God enacts his reconciliation of wayward mankind — his invitation, through judgement, into joy — through the Eucharist, or the Blessed Sacrament.

Whenever the faithful celebrate the sacred mysteries, as the body of Christ is broken and his blood poured out, an event of cosmic significance unfolds under the parish roof. No matter how many times a believer may participate over the course of a lifetime, the meaning of the Eucharist remains profound as on the day of their Confirmation.

To those in attendance, God unveils the heights of his powers to bring blessing out of weakness. More than this, God’s work of reconciliation is built into the rhythms of daily life, the simple act of showing up for Eucharist. ‘Shew forth his salvation from day to day,’ the Psalmist enjoins in verse 2. The dawn of salvation is in the ringing of church bells.

For the purpose of this article, ‘high church’ is an adjective. It embraces Anglicans (like myself), Lutherans and Catholics. In obedience to verse 8, ‘Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name,’ these traditions place great emphasis on the offering up to God the Father of Christ, ‘our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.’
And with Christ appearing in the holy gifts of bread and wine, we truly ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,’ as verse 9 commands. Because it incarnates great theological truth, indeed infuses the real presence of Christ himself, into the physical world, a service of Holy Eucharist is also an aesthetic experience. It immerses the believer in beauty itself.

Nothing compares to parish ministry for binding believers to the community on their doorstep. And the chance to receive God’s grace in a local setting, as in verse 6, is the wonder of church done within the parish model. ‘Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.’
Seldom do theologians remark on how contrary to prevailing political ideology an emphasis on the nearby parish really is. Whereas modern liberalism, the midwife of globalisation, is eroding our sense of place (Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed 77-82), the Eucharist is an invitation to witness miracles just around the corner.

John Wesley gave to Methodism his famous phrase, ‘The world is my parish.’ This, while noble, is at odds with genuine parochial ministry. Caring for the wider world, indeed maintaining dialogue with a global Communion, does not exclude the vital concept of local parishes as a special category.
Psalm 96, notably in verses 4 to 5, banishes cosmopolitan polytheism in favour of Israel’s national monotheism. But its aperture is narrower still. ‘Bring an offering, and come into his courts,’ verse 8 invites the reader. This imperative language insists that the reader draw near to God, specifying the place of encounter: God’s own house, be it cathedral or chapel.

The sacramental drama never was a travelling roadshow, communion for the housebound excepted. Rather, the joyful feast is the mainstay of the local parish. And so, settled in the pews, the first act of Eucharistic theatre begins.

Judgement: ‘Of things exactly as they are’​

Verse 13 portrays the coming of the Lord as an event unfolding in the present, ‘for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth.’ As if to emphasise the immediacy of God’s in-breaking, to drive home the absence of delay, ‘for he cometh’ occurs twice.
When it comes to the return of Christ, as understood in the popular imagination, Christian music has had a huge impact. Some evangelical minds — thanks to a 90s praise band favourite! — are captive to the rapturous vision of a glorified Christ, ‘riding on the clouds, shining like the sun, at the trumpet call,’ to take his place as the cosmic judge.

While the Nicene Creed certainly endorses this apocalyptic portrait, with all its attention-grabbing appeal to the senses — ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead’ — there is also much to be said for Flannery O’Connor’s pointed observation, ‘Every day is judgment day,’ which gets lost amid colourful prophecies, even doomsday predictions, of the Second Advent. What is overlooked, however, in painting judgement as a single day of reckoning?
Perhaps O’Connor’s intuition arises from the novelist’s Roman Catholic background and her attendant sacramental beliefs. There is a case to be made that for those whose regard for the sacraments is high, as O’Connor’s was, as an American cradle Catholic, the presence of God’s judgement is more easily discernible wherever it appears.

The whole point of a sacrament, after all, is to make visible the course of spiritual realities in the life of the believer, thereby making perceptible the abstract. One such truth is that of judgement, and nowhere else in Christian practice is the shock of God’s judgement — and the grace it releases — more palpable than in the Eucharist.
When a thing is judged, it is revealed utterly for what it is. Judgement brings a thing into the light in order to receive the appraisal of the same God who made it, leaving nothing concealed. And the focal point of God’s judgement here on earth, where matters of judgement are translated, is the altar of sacrifice.
From the lofty position of the chancel to the lifting of the chalice by the priest, Eucharistic practice crystallises attention onto the sacramental act. Indeed, sacrifice and visibility come as a pair in Hebrew scripture.

Transparency before God is a salient theme of Genesis 22, the perplexing narrative which narrates the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah. ‘In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.’ On the altar there can be no room for pretence. Bread is bread. Wine is wine.
Blessed are you Lord God of all creation:
Through your goodness we have this bread to set before you, which earth has given and human hands have made.
Blessed are you Lord God of all creation:

Through your goodness we have this wine to set before you, fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
Only then, having been judged, after the moment of true recognition, can anything be transformed:
It will become for us the bread of life.
Blessed be God for ever.

It will become for us the cup of salvation.
Blessed be God forever.
What is the standard by which God judges? In verse 13 lies the answer, ‘He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.’
Righteousness, the truth of how things are, the ordering logic that God has written into the fabric of the universe, is the balance in which the Creator weighs all things. And when the sinner sees the divine light, is revealed for who they are, and finds forgiveness, God shares the gift of his presence, by which all who repent are transformed.
From beginning to end, God is blessed: in creating and in restoring. ‘Behold, I make all things new.’

Joy Through Judgement​

For what aim does God remake his creation through judgement? What objective could be so important as to form the goal of God’s redemptive purpose?

Once more, Psalm 96 has the answer, though the passage is not a linear presentation of a logically reasoned argument. At the top of the psalm, oddly enough, is found the purpose towards which the judgement it envisions is directed.
O sing unto the Lord a new song:
Sing unto the Lord, all the earth.
Sing unto the Lord, bless his name;

Simply joy. Modern education preaches ‘critical thinking’ mistrust of straightforward answers, but even the most hardened cynic would scarcely deny the simple beauty of living in pursuit of divine joy. There is no higher purpose — in a world where the goalposts of success are constantly shifting — than to worship God ‘in spirit and truth.’

(On a side note, this verse, John 4:24, when poorly interpreted, gives the impression that God is demanding his people to bring something to the act of worship without having been assisted by grace. This is not the vision of the Eucharist. God supplies the Spirit and God reveals the Truth.)

Nothing is more exasperating, few things less fulfilling, than bending over backwards on the daily to fit whatever this week’s definition of success happens to be. But when the real purpose of life is rediscovered, happiness follows naturally.
Reformed theology expresses this in the Westminster Catechism’s first response, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’ In one short sentence, the Catechism has nailed the meaning of life!

But the same, as the Psalmist will show, applies to creation in its totality, as the world erupts in joyful song. With praises rising from every corner of the globe, verses 11 to 12 spirit us away for a bird’s-eye tour of all creation.
From the heights of the heavens, we plunge to the earth, sail the roaring seas, glide over fields, and alight in a leafy wood. A fizz of celebration bubbles up from every direction.

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein:
Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice.

Not a soul-destroying city scrubland in sight. Urban despair is nowhere to be seen. ‘The former things are passed away.’ While these vivid images of a natural world restored seem distant from a time-worn chapel on a rainy day, the Blessed Sacrament it accommodates, the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into spiritual gifts, brings the new creation within tantalising proximity.
‘Happy are those who are called to his supper,’ filled with joy to hear the song of a young creation, judged and reconciled, on the move towards its eternal destiny. This is the joy of the Eucharist.