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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Where Does Your Path Lead?

CHRISTIANITY:  
BELIEF OR PRACTICE?



I was reading my daily devotional the other day, and the scripture passage was one of many in which the appearance or action of God resulted in great fear and wonder by the individuals in the story.  What really struck me was the incredible difference between the reaction of biblical individuals like the ones in the story I read, and the kind of attitude I perceive in people who claim to be believers now.  

What I often see now is a rather lackadaisical approach to righteous living, as if it doesn’t really matter.  It is as if modern day American Christians have decided that the Christian faith is about what you believe, and not about how you live.  But such an understanding is opposed to the clear teachings of scripture.

Perhaps this attitude has arisen in reaction to people who act “holier than thou,” earning the church the reputation of hypocrites over the last half century.  

Perhaps it is that our churches have so focused on the grace of God and forgiveness through Christ.  

Whatever the reason, the result is that it would appear many Christians answer yes to Paul’s question in Romans 6:1  “Should we continue to sin that grace may abound?”  They fail to read on to verse two that begins, “by no means!” 

What do I mean?  Well, for instance, the ubiquitous OMG, spouted from the mouths of even Christians with no sense of fear or reverence for the God whose name is being invoked.  Many, and maybe you are one, think that even raising this issue is picayunish and ridiculous.  But when God’s name is to be hallowed, such usage simply is out of line.  In one youth group we used to work with, we had a policy that whenever anyone said, “Oh my God,” we required them to finish the prayer!  It served to remind them of the meaning of the words they had used.

But that is only one small instance.  There are far too many Christians whose behavior cannot be distinguished from the actions of non-believers, in terms not only of language, but even topics of discussion, use of alcohol, sexual practices, handling of finances, and attitudes about almost everything.  One example that bothered me was when I heard a famous Christian teacher claim she believed God has blessed her, and so she has no problem living an extravagant lifestyle, including her $500 suits.  This lies in contrast to the scripture’s teachings, such as having our hearts set on our treasure in heaven, not on earth. Whatever happened to being light and salt for the world? 

In the New Testament, the scripture says that the kinds of things non-Christians do shouldn’t even be mentioned among Christians and our speech is never to include immorality or impurity or coarse jesting, for example.  That though we once were children of darkness, we now are to walk as children of light.   Every deed we do and every word we utter demonstrates to the world the truth or untruth of what we say we believe.

This distinction also applies to the world of marriage and divorce.  We are to take our marriage vows as a sacred covenant, and do everything we can to uphold them as such.  We simply are not to be turning to divorce for the kinds of trivial reasons that often occur.  We are to see divorce truly as a last resort that God has allowed only because of the fallen state of the world and our sinful condition.  Even then, the way a Christian goes through a divorce ought to be clearly distinct from the behavior of non-believers, most visible, perhaps, in the realm of honesty about finances and the honoring of one’s obligations in terms of visitation or child support.

Now I will grant that in our quest for righteous living, it is important to avoid the traps of legalism, salvation by works and of self-righteousness.  But avoiding those traps does not relieve us of the responsibility to pursue the holiness that God requires and the recognition that we, too, will give account for our careless words and thoughtless deeds.  

The call of Christianity is not merely to believe the appropriate list of doctrines.  

The call of Christianity is to follow Christ in a life transformed that reflects the very holiness of God.  

The sin in our lives should break our hearts and be wrestled against, not treated lightly as if nobody cares.  God does care, for our words and our actions reflect on the reputation of God. 

Whatever your station in life, I want to encourage you to consider how well the way you live your life reflects the Christ you say you believe in.  

If you are in a position of teaching others, does your teaching appropriately challenge those who hear you to pursue godliness and not excuse sinful behavior in their lives?  

Do your words honor God, or embarrass him?  

Do your actions draw others closer to Christ, or cast stumbling blocks that hinder them?  

Do you live life with a healthy fear of God?  

Would you change anything about your life if Jesus were standing right beside you?  

If what you believe as a Christian does not impact how you behave, then either you don’t truly believe, or you have never learned enough to even understand what it means to believe in Christ.  In either case, that is a dangerous place to live.

For those of us who are believers in Christ, our very lives are the witness that convinces others of the truths we believe and the reality of our faith.  I want to encourage you today to do your best to make sure that in all you undertake, God will be glorified because of YOU. 


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advice for the Holidays

FOR THE HOLIDAYS: 
THE GOLDEN RULE IN DIVORCE


If you are a person who grew up attending church, there is a good chance you will have heard of the passage called, “The Golden Rule.”  And even if you didn’t, I suspect the paraphrased words will probably still be familiar to you:  

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  

The actual references are found in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12.  The Jewish rabbi Hillel said something very similar when asked to summarize the law, he instructed his disciples to not do to others the things they did not want done to them.  

Holidays are times when individuals caught in divorce or its aftermath could be well served to keep this little rule in mind.  Sometimes you hear individuals twist the passage into something like, “Do unto others BEFORE they can do unto you,” or. “Do unto others as THEY HAVE DONE unto you.”  

Sadly, these reflect the behavior many of us choose to use toward those we don’t get along with, including our ex-spouses.  

Far too often, ex-spouses choose to make plans for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even the birthdays of children, in ways that are in opposition to the Golden Rule, rather than in accordance with it.  Individuals sometimes refuse to cooperate to make it possible for their children to be with the other parent during holidays - disregarding any court ordered plans or prior verbal agreements they made with their ex-spouses.  

Other times, individuals choose to use the holidays as a way to demonstrate one upmanship by intentionally outdoing or overdoing in the gifts and attention they lavish on their children.  Some find ways to subtly undermine the plans and opportunities of their exes.   

Time and time again I have listened to stories regarding this topic.  It is all very sad.

If you have been on the receiving end of such actions by a vindictive or insensitive ex, then you know how painful and difficult such an experience can be.  

The temptation often is to respond in kind, and to find ways to pay back the ex for such shabby treatment by doing something that will create the same hardship for the ex to make that person know what it feels like.  

Others choose to pre-empt their ex-spouses by arranging holiday plans in a way that will be self-serving so that the plans are already locked down with the children and with no consideration of the other parent.  The result is that when the other parent starts to make plans, the planning process is quickly frustrated by the inflexibility of the ex.

But the Golden Rule is to treat others…even our exes…the way you want to be treated by them.  

Not the same way they treat you.  

Not before they treat you.  

Not even treating them by keeping to the letter of the court ordered arrangement.  

No.

The idea is to treat them the way you WANT them to treat you. 

Whether they treat you that way or not is irrelevant. 

Do you want respect?  Treat your ex with respect, even if he/she ridicules you for it. 

Do you want some consideration?  Find ways to be considerate of your ex this holiday season, even if he/she takes extreme advantage of your kindness.  

Do you want plenty of time with your children?  Make sure your ex has plenty of time with them, even if he/she robs you of yours.  

WHY???  

Because this principle has nothing to do with how your ex behaves.  

Instead, it is about what kind of person you are, and what kind of person God wants you to become.  Your ex may never notice or appreciate all the little kindnesses and considerations you send his/her way.  It is most likely that your ex will not. 

But you are not really doing these things for them anyway.  You do them so that YOU can become a better person.  

You do them to please God.  

God notices every single time.  

God will honor you for your choice to live by this principle…even if your ex does not.

Isn't God’s approval what really matters anyway?


So make your celebration plans, taking into consideration how your choices affect others, and letting go of past hurts and resentments.  

Celebrate the upcoming holidays in ways that will make your Heavenly Father proud!



Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Real Meaning of Christmas

THE MAD DASH IS ON…
  
Black Friday, the largest shopping day for Christmas - which now begins relatively early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Cyber Monday, the online holiday bargain hunt, begins in just a few hours. Calendar counting now shifts from the traditional daily number to a countdown of remaining shopping days.  All of this giving us the indication that the Christmas holiday will soon be upon us.

In addition, the stores I have been in the last few days are playing music related to Christmas, usually warning that I better watch out and better not cry.  

I also know the holiday time has begun because as I drove home from the store this evening, I passed plenty of homes with Christmas decorations shining away.  I have none up yet…my time has been occupied with other more pressing activities.  

One house I passed seemed to have every inch of their yard and porch roof covered with lighted figures of Santa, elves, snowmen, reindeer and similar characters.  Missing were any angels, wise men, shepherds, nativity or religious decorations of any sort, which reminded me of something that recently occurred to me.

Have you ever noticed how many people like to get in on the celebration of Christmas…despite those who protest and get perturbed whenever they hear a Christmas carol or see a nativity scene.  When I was in college, even one of my Jewish friends loved to put up her Christmas tree right alongside her Hannukah menorah.  So the other day I got to thinking about why people, who have no interest in Jesus, have adopted the celebration of Christmas as their own, albeit with a focus not on Jesus, but on St. Nicholas (about whom they also know very little in reality).  I didn’t research it, but I have a theory, and I thought I’d share it as we enter this season of celebration and obsessive compulsive shopping into debt.

 Most of the time, when I do something that I see somebody else doing, it is because I think it looks like fun, or looks interesting, or is something that brings great benefit.  So I wonder if over the years people have seen Christians celebrating Christmas and seen the joy, the sharing, the love that is integral to the meaning of the holiday.  

Maybe sometime way back when, people saw smiling Christians, filled with happiness and overflowing with charity and love, and then decided that was something they would like to have in their lives, too.  Or maybe their children came home one day asking how come little Johnny down the street received special presents last week when his birthday isn't until August, and why they didn't get any presents at all.  Child-driven-hope-I’m-a-good-enough-parent-guilt is a manipulation card children learn how to use early in their lives.

However it occurred, and for whatever reason, it seems likely to me that non-Christian individuals saw something they wanted as they observed Christians celebrating a remembrance of the birth of the Savior.  Perhaps that is how the various trappings began to be added.  The Saint Nicholas turned into Santa Claus who inherited a reindeer with a red nose, snowmen began to sing before they melted away, and toys became the dominant theme because everybody knew that somehow, Christmas has something to do with children.  Thus the celebration spread around the globe and toy manufacturers were very, very happy.

However, it seems to me that what has happened is that people have tried to capture the wonder and joy of Christmas by manufacturing their own, in hopes that they could experience the joy Christians experience with the Incarnation.  

They have adopted the forms, but neglected the substance.  

We Christians aren't filled with joy at this time of year because we get to share in Christmas presents and old familiar songs, rather we celebrate the gift given by God that we could never attain ourselves, and the songs sung by a young virgin named Mary, her relative Elizabeth, and the angels who sang to shepherds.  Pretty lights and trees that remain green don’t remind us of Christmas, they remind us of the Light of the World and the promise of eternal life. 


Oh sure, we Christians get caught up in all the trappings of the celebration, too, and sometimes can forget what the core meaning of Christmas truly is, but for many of us, as we sit in a chapel on Christmas Eve, holding candles, taking communion and singing carols, we are reminded again the it is the gift of the Christ child that makes the holiday truly wondrous. 

I invite you this year to find out in a deep and fresh way what the holiday really means, and why it began to be celebrated, because the joy of Christmas is only truly known by those who also know the Christ of Christmas personally.  


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

MSN is Wrong


THANKSGIVING---TO WHOM?

I had an interesting experience the other day.  My browser usually lands on one or two of the standard web addresses for the homepage.  That day, it landed on MSN, on which there was their little picture blurb titled:  “13 Things to Never Discuss at Thanksgiving Dinner.”  Of course, most of us can easily guess some of the things that were listed, but I was particularly struck when I saw that the first entry in the list was this:

“Religion:  Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, so why start in on an argument no one can win when you’re supposed to be giving thanks.”

Hey, it must be true, right, after all, I read it on the internet, right???   I contrast MSN’s words with the words of Abraham Lincoln when he set the date for the holiday on October 3, 1863:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. 

 (I encourage you to read the whole text, the text can be found online at abrahamlincolnonline.org)

Call me stupid, but that sure sounds religious to ME.  Wait, I know what you are thinking, how can a PRESIDENT of our GOVERNMENT establish a holiday that has anything to do with RELIGION…doesn't the constitution require the government to never acknowledge the existence of any religion or God, never ever ever ever?   Some people want you to believe that, and they are very vocal these days.  But they apparently never went to history class.  

It was not by accident that there is an image of Moses with the Ten Commandments at the Supreme Court.  

It is not by accident that sessions of congress are opened by prayer, and there is a paid chaplain of the legislature. 

And it is not by accident that this holiday established through the agency of the government IS RELIGIOUS!!  

Notice, the day was set aside for giving thanks to God, without any stipulation as to which church or synagogue one has to attend, if any, to do so!  Lincoln did not establish any religion, only a day set aside for people to practice their own through the giving of thanks.  What President Lincoln DID do was to acknowledge the importance of religion even in a pluralistic society and used government authority to set aside time for individuals to participate in that important part of their lives.

The very name of the day proudly proclaims the religious origin of the celebration: Thanksgiving.  

How can you be celebrating Thanksgiving if you don’t even stop to give thanks?  And to whom is it that YOU give thanks?  Wall Street?  Yourself?  Macy’s?  The NFL?  Abraham Lincoln said it was to be to “our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”  If you don’t do that, you missed the central point of the holiday, plain and simple.  (Even the word holiday originated from Holy Day…so maybe we need to give thanks TWICE on Thanksgiving!)

Oh, I know, for many the holiday has descended into nothing more than gluttony, parades, football, family gatherings and the greed of Black Friday (which is becoming Black Thursday since they can’t even wait until Friday anymore!).  Maybe President Lincoln should have asked us to set apart five seconds for thanksgiving and praise…just before we start to eat.  In many homes this holiday, that is what you would deduce by observing their celebration of Thanksgiving.  It seems to me that the little article on the MSN site tells us more about the writer than about the holiday.

So does any of this have anything to do with divorce at all?  Well, I don’t know about you, but there have been a lot of hard things in my life this year, but even so I have a lot of things for which to be thankful this year.  The same has been true every single year of my life, when I have stopped to think about it, there are always challenges to struggle with and joys to celebrate.  Even in the throes of divorce, or in the aftermath of it, there can be found something for which to be thankful, if you are willing to look for it. 


Don’t let the experience of a divorce rob you of the opportunity to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday, even if the fallout of divorce has affected the manner or time available for the celebration.  When Thursday rolls around, I think I will try to give serious consideration to what the day was intended to be, a RELIGIOUS break from the hubbub of life to remember there is One who has blessed our lives and deserves to be praised, thanked and acknowledged.  

Sorry MSN, you are just plain wrong, and ought to be embarrassed and ashamed that you ran such a clear misrepresentation.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

25% of All Women

HAVE YOU QUIT BEATING YOUR WIFE?

I was visiting with a friend the other day about that question.  It was a question used in a philosophy class I used to teach, that illustrates faulty logic.  If you answered yes, the implication is that you used to beat your wife.  If your answer was no, then the implication is that not only did you used to beat your wife, but you still are doing that.

None of which is the point of this blog.

 What IS the point? In recent months there have been a number of instances in the news of women whose husbands have beat them - news stories because the husbands have been professional sports players.  

Of all the divorces I have known, I have been most sympathetic to those women who have divorced over this very issue.  I understand that everyone experiences anger at times.  I understand that in a marriage, there can come times when our mates say or do things that frustrate us or anger us.  

To allow that anger to turn in to physical violence against a woman is crossing a very significant line.  

Approximately 14% of abuse occurs to men, I believe we hear less about this abuse because it is so awkward for a man to admit such a thing.  (National Domestic Violence Hotline)

Child abuse falls in the same category (and I am not one who considers corporal punishment as evil, but there are boundaries).  

I heard an interview the other day in which the discussion was whether there was any causal relationship between such physical sports as football or basketball and domestic violence.  The sports personality in the discussion felt that there is a higher degree of physical contact in the sports these days, and stopped just short of suggesting that it may have played into the incidents we have heard so much about lately.  

Perhaps he was right, but I disagree, because I don’t believe any of us have the right to dismiss our irresponsible behavior by explaining it away as caused by some eternal force.  I believe a better view of reality is to admit we are responsible for the choices we make, and when those are poor choices, we need to take long hard looks in the mirror, not find something or someone else to blame.  

In what I have learned of the battered woman cycle, very often the abuser will claim the wife is at fault for infuriating them, while the woman will often convince herself that if she was just a little more perfect or a lot more patient or any number of ways she believes it is HER fault that he raised his fist to her.  

Now, as I said above, I suspect there are very few couples who don’t get frustrated or exasperated at our spouse, but I have yet to find any couple where the beaten woman got that way because she lifted his arm and hit herself.  It was his choice to strike instead of walking away.  I know, I know, somebody out there is saying, “Yes, but what if she just keeps pushing and pushing, and badgering and badgering and really won’t get out of his face?”   I would reply, “Well, she certainly didn’t make things easier.  But he still made the choice to move the encounter to physical violence.”  

This is true whether the abuser is a simple laborer, a husky linebacker, a white jacketed doctor or a ribbon chested soldier.  


I also know that abuse is not always physical, but can be insidiously invisible through emotional manipulation.  I also know that the relationships of divorcing couples can become even more abusive than when they were living under the same roof.  

None of these things come anywhere close to living up to Paul’s call to submit to Christ and to one another, or for a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church or as he loves himself, or for a wife to respect her husband.  

Certainly none of these were what God intended when he talked about the two becoming one flesh in marriage.  Sadly enough, abusive relationships are far too often tolerated in our society, and even in our churches.  

Somehow, I don’t think God will be nearly as tolerant when the final accounting comes.




Thursday, November 20, 2014

All Around the World!

IT’S A SMALL, SMALL WORLD!


 I have been to Disneyland (twice I think) and to Disney World (once and once to their MGM park, if that counts), but it wasn't until adulthood that I was first able to visit either one.  One time I even rode the little ride about the small, small world, which may be kind of hokey, but I wanted to see it since I had such vivid memories of that song from my childhood when the song first came out.  (I’m sorry if I got the song stuck in your head…maybe Disney would pay me some advertising fees?)  But it occurs to me that the world has shrunk incredibly since the day the Disney Park opened that ride.  

One evidence to that effect came to me the times I have visited the little report section of the blog, that describes where the people are located who have come to read the blog.  One recent report listed the following locations outside the United States:  

Ukraine
Germany
France
Israel
Romania
Bulgaria
Canada
China
United Kingdom

Other countries that I have noticed include Monte Negro (where someone I actually know resides), India, Zambia, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines and more.  I don’t generally know how or why they run across this blog (apart from the source reports that I don’t generally read anyway), but the fact that you individuals in these other countries find your way to this blog from a small Kansas town is proof that Disney was right:  it IS a small, small world.  

When someone is struggling with divorce, not only is it a small world, it can be a very lonely world.  I hope that seeing these countries listed will help point out that though divorce is a lonely experience, it is an experience shared by a great many people from one side of the globe to another.  As near as I can tell, there are very few places, if any, where divorce is not a big deal.  And I don’t believe there are many countries that would like to brag about their divorce rate as if fostering divorce was a great achievement.  I know some countries such as the Philippines do not officially allow divorce, as my friend Glenn Machlan mentioned in a blog a few months ago, so any divorce statistics from there would be skewed.  But it is worth noting that no matter where you are, if divorce has touched your life personally or through individuals in your family, there are others around who understand how hard that can be.


For those of you who happen to read this from outside the United States, I would be interested in hearing anything you might want to share about the experience of divorce or rules about divorce in your country.  You can email me at seasonsofdivorce@gmail.com    And I also want to say for those of you in the throes of divorce or its aftermath, when you feel the stress and heartbreak, recognize that there are other all around the world seeking encouragement in the same blog that you are, others who understand how hard it can be and how much it can hurt.  It may not be a profound blog tonight, or maybe it is more profound than I realize, but I just thought I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize that worldwide community of those whose lives have been touched by the loss of divorce.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How Much Money Will Make You Happy?

BUT JUDGE, ONLY $1 BILLION???


So have you heard the report about the divorce settlement that will be appealed because the wife was awarded only one billion dollars?  Really!  I don’t know how anyone could be expected to live on such a paltry sum, do you?  

On the other hand, according to one article I read, the husband ended up keeping the other 8 billion or so.  Do you think she was just being greedy?  Or is he the greedy one by keeping more than half?  Or, maybe both are greedy for keeping that kind of money when so many in the world are starving (which isn't saying that they don’t also support good charities, I don’t know, but even if they do, there is still lots of money left to be fought over).  

Some people will decide one or the other is way out of line, but ultimately, the judges will make the final decision, and the attorneys will stop by the bank with a big smile on their way home.

John D. Rockefeller was once asked asked how much money it takes to make a person happy, shrewdly replied, “just a little bit more.”  Acquisition of money can become an all-consuming drive.  And there often comes a point at which it is hard to tell whether the person has the wealth or the wealth has the person. 

In a time of divorce, greed is but one of the many passions that can come screaming to the surface.  Sometimes the battles aren't really from greed so much as they are from a desire to inflict pain, to seek revenge or to just get even for all the grievances the individuals holds against their spouse.  Sometimes one spouse will fight tooth and nail to get a particular item for no other reason than to keep their ex from having it.  

They plan things for the children in such a way to make sure the other parent is excluded from the activity.  Within the circle of people I know, I cannot even begin to describe the kinds of things I know have been done in the process of divorce.  

This kind of vicious battling that can take place was probably best depicted in the old movie, The War of the Roses,” with Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito.  People will do amazingly mean things in the process of divorce, and some of those things are very, very ugly and nasty.  Other people, cut loose from their marriage bonds, will go out and live as if there’s no tomorrow and no consequences for their wild choices, sowing seeds of personal destruction without a second thought.  

Divorce is truly a sad experience with all sorts of complicating outcomes.  Even in the most amicable divorces individuals experience difficulties they did not anticipate would be part of the process, and often the battleground is in the realms of money, possessions and, sadly, children.

I am a person who likes to go to estate sales and auctions.  My wife likes to say that individuals spend their whole lives gathering things they love, and then when they die, the kids sell it for a quarter in a garage sale!  As I have seen people’s houses emptied and the items sold, it serves as a stark reminder of the fact that life is not made up of money and possessions, even if there are billions of dollars’ worth.  I have heard it said that Jesus taught more about the way we handle money than any other topic.  I haven’t tried to double check that, but it would make sense, as our earthly income is certainly one of the most absorbing issues we have to deal with.  An issue that can make us or break us in many ways.  It seems that the more we grab at to make our lives better, the less we actually end up benefiting as we get caught up in the rat race.  I have always appreciated something one of my professors, Maynard Hatch, used to say:  “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win it, you’re still a rat!”

Whether you are divorced or not, perhaps hearing about this couple battling over billions of dollars in their divorce could help you examine your own life to see what it is YOU value enough that you would go to battle for it.  The Bible is pretty clear that there are only a few things worth giving your life to, and earthly possessions do not make the list. 

Do the things you give your life to make the list?  

Perhaps the following quote might help you sort out your answer to that question: 

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

-----Matthew 16:25