Speaking at Peoples Church

Tomorrow morning, Sunday February 10, Linda and I are speaking at People’s Church, 3800 Recker Highway in Winter Haven, FL. There are two morning sessions, 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and we’ll be at both.

Woven Together Image

The theme for the morning is “Created for Unity” and focuses on the importance of developing and maintaining unity as husband and wife. What can you do to get unity? What prevents it? What are the results if you do maintain unity? And what happens when you don’t?

This is the second of a four-part series on relationships called “Woven Together.” Pastor Mike Spivey started the series last week. Linda and I have the second session tomorrow and the third session next week on the 17th. Then Pastor Mike will conclude with the fourth part on February 24. The principles we’re talking about are relevant to all relationships, by the way. So if you’re not married, it’ll still be helpful. If you’re able to come, it’d be great to see you.

When the Ship Sinks

Dorchester 1Fifty-five minutes past midnight on February 3, 1943 the USS Dorchester was on its way to Greenland with more than nine hundred men on board. Captain Hans Danielsen, aware that German U-boats were in the area, had ordered the men to stay ready and keep their life jackets on, but many of them disobeyed the order because the life jackets were uncomfortable and impossible to sleep in.

Four Army chaplains were on the ship: a Methodist minister, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Reformed Church pastor. All four had been Boy Scouts. All four were brand new lieutenants in the Army. All four were ready to serve their Soldiers, their country, and their God. All four were prepared to give their lives if necessary.

When the torpedo hit the ship, the lights went out. A lot of people died instantly; more died in the water. Others were injured. Men who were trapped below began to panic, looking for their life jacket, trying to find a way to the top deck so they could abandon ship.

As soon as the chaos began, the four chaplains sprang into action. They encouraged panic-stricken young men, guided Soldiers towards the upper deck and to the lifeboats, and helped them find life jackets. When there were no more life preservers to be found, they took off their own and gave them away in order to save the lives of a few more men, knowing that it certainly meant they themselves would die.

Dorchester 3Two hundred thirty men made it into the rescue boats that night. As they looked back at the sinking ship, they saw the four chaplains standing on deck, arms linked, praying and singing in Hebrew, Latin, and English.

What do you do when your ship sinks? How do you respond when your world is at its darkest and there seems to be no way of escape? Or when the future holds no promise and there seems to be no hope?

If Ecclesiastes 3:1 is true and there is an appropriate time and season for every purpose under heaven, and if different times and seasons call for different actions, then how we live, how we behave, what is appropriate, or what is best, may be more a matter of discernment than following rules. There is a time to shout and a time to whisper, a time to drop the bomb and a time to lay down the weapon, a time to wear the life jacket, and a time to give it away so another may live.

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An immoral man behaves inappropriately for selfish reasons. A moral man does what is right because of legal, humanitarian, or religious obligations. A hero rejects selfishness, takes his moral obligations into account, then discerns with artistic altruism a course of action that will benefit another human being, even when that act may bring harm to himself. That’s what love does. That’s what genuine spirituality aims for. That’s what Jesus had in mind when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Most societies pay tribute to their heroes, and the four chaplains of the Dorchester are heroes who deserve that honor. They could have lived longer, ministering for many more years, making a difference, perhaps for thousands of people. Yet, discerning the time and the season, they chose to whisper, “I love you.” They decided to take off their life jackets. “Here, take mine.” They loved the men they ministered to, knowing it certainly meant they would die, and in making that decision, they painted a magnificent work of art.

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People’s Church Winter Haven, FL

people's church logoOn two consecutive Sunday mornings, February 10 and 17, Linda and I will be speaking on the Biblical Principles of Marriage at a church in Winter Haven, FL. We’re getting real close to the book being available, and are looking forward to speaking at churches and other organizations from time to time. You’re welcome to join us. Or, you might consider watching on the church’s website when the session’s are posted.

Click on this link for directions, starting times, or to stream the sessions. People’s Church

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Attitude Check

los-angeles-2679490_1920I used to drive more than fifty miles to work, and the same distance home in the evening. The traffic was usually pretty bad, often rainy, and as you’ve probably experienced, other drivers are sometimes not very nice. When I started despising drivers who made stupid decisions, I developed a bad attitude and realized I needed to do something about it.

After praying, I decided to come up with a phrase I could say whenever another driver irked me. Here’s what I ended up with.

You are a fabulous human being,

fashioned in the indelible image of the Creator.

After I memorized the sentence, I started saying it whenever a driver did something dumb or dangerous: ten, eleven, a dozen times a day. Nobody else knew what I was doing. I’m the only one who heard me, even though I said it out loud. It helped me remember that every man and every woman has the divine image, even those who are not living for the Lord. Even those who are terrible drivers.

world-549425_1920Being in God’s image and likeness is an important part of the Judeo-Christian world view. We’re not merely the product of a godless evolutionary process. While we may have many similarities with the animals, what distinguishes us from the rest of creation is the image of God. The very first page of the Bible says, “God created man in His own image; male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism poses the question, “How did God create man?” And then provides the answer, “God created man male and female after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”

To be in God’s image has two meanings. First, it means we are like him. Second, it means we represent him.

How we are like God refers to his activity and character and the ways we are like him. God communicates. He creates. He relates. He loves. He keeps his word. He is loyal. He is compassionate. He has knowledge. We can make these same statements of human beings, because we are fashioned in his image. We have the ability to create, to communicate, to relate, and to love. We have moral capabilities such as loyalty and honesty. We have an ability to show compassion. We have the capacity for knowledge. And like our creator, we have the ability to make our world a better place.

The fact that we represent God has a different focus and a different starting point for how we think and live. The emphasis is not on how we are like God, but that we represent the Lord. We represent God and his values to the planet and to other people. We represent him in matters of social justice and spirituality, which is why Christians should be involved in the community, setting an example of alleviating pain in the world, and caring for the needy.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 the apostle writes, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ.” Not only do we have the divine image, we have the Holy Spirit in us, another powerful reason for understanding we are to represent the Lord at all times, even when driving on the freeway.

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Why We Write

Pen 100A friend of mine ministers to college students at a state university. Much of his work is meeting with people one-on-one, leading small group discussions, teaching bible studies, and preaching in local churches. But, a couple of years ago, he believed the Lord was leading him to start writing.

So, he did. Soon, he had written a short book about what it means to encounter God and live life on a higher level.

No agent or publisher wanted the book, but that was OK, because he didn’t write with the hope of “being published.” He wrote out of obedience to the Lord, and that was enough. He self-published the little book and made it available via Print-on-Demand and as an ebook.

About four months later, he got a call from a missionary/evangelist overseas. The guy on the phone had met several men who converted to Christ because of an ebook they found on the internet, and he wanted to let the writer know of the impact he was making on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

scroll-1410168_1920There may be any number of reasons why people write. Some do it as a form of personal therapy; it’s one way they work through their own issues. Some people write to entertain their audience; they have a gift for storytelling, and people respond to them. Still others write because it’s their job, and they have to make a living. This man writes simply because God told him to.

In Colossians 3:17 the apostle says, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (HCSB).

Whatever your reason for writing, do it faithfully and joyfully as unto the Lord. The issue isn’t whether you get a big contract from a major publisher, or post your work on a blog, or make it available as an ebook. If the Lord called you to write, then write, and trust Him for the outcomes.

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Watering the Pinapple

pineapple-627290_1920Three or four years ago, a friend gave me the top of a pineapple his family had eaten. He told me, “Plant this in dirt and it’ll grow. It sometimes takes a few years, and doesn’t even need a whole lot of water.”

So I put the thing in a plastic grocery bag, put it in the garage, and forgot about it. A year-and-a-half later while cleaning the garage, I found the parched pineapple top and assumed it was dead. But then I thought, “Why not put it in a pot with some soil and see what happens?” I started watering my experiment once in a while, and after a few months, new life sprouted. When it got to about 20 inches tall, I transplanted it in the back yard. Within another few months there was a pineapple growing in the center of the plant.

There are times when it seems like your marriage is dried up or dead. It might have been months or even years since you’ve paid attention or invested in the relationship with the one you used to love and care about the most.

But it’s not necessarily over. It’s not too late to plant new seeds of love and kindness, to offer a timely word of encouragement, or to start “watering the pineapple.”

If you decide to start fresh, you’ll need to be patient. My pineapple had been dried up and discarded for over a year, and when finally planted, it took months to begin to sprout, and then another year or more before the fruit appeared. It just takes time. Sometimes a lot of time.

It is just as likely that when you begin to express loving, healing thoughts and words, it might take a while before you start to see new life in your marriage. So be patient. Keep on investing in your marriage. Continue loving. Be genuinely interested in your mate’s well-being. It’s going to be hard at first, but if you are willing to hang in there and continue treating each other right, your marriage can be restored.

Couple 3Several years ago, we went through a pretty rough time in our marriage. We didn’t like each other. We were pretty unhappy. Things weren’t going well. I came home from work one day and my wife asked me out of the blue, “Are we ever going to be happy again.”

“I don’t know, Sweet-heart,” I answered. And I really didn’t. “How ’bout if we just try to be nice to each other, don’t do anything that we’d come to regret, and see what happens.”

Six or seven months later, we could tell that the joy had returned to our lives. We could smile at each other. We could laugh together. We enjoyed being in the same room. But it didn’t happen automatically, and it didn’t happen fast. We had to invest in each other, and we had to be patient.

Perhaps you’ve discarded the idea that you can be happy, or that you can have a good marriage. That pineapple in my back yard is a good reminder that even when things look lifeless, there’s still hope. You can reignite the love and the joy in your marriage too.

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Let Go of the Past

suitcase 1When we say a person is carrying a lot of baggage, what we mean is there has been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it. We often have trouble letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

There’s a Biblical Principle of Marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Spiritually, in order to fully live in the present we have to let go of the past. If we want to enjoy the Christian life and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, we have to allow God’s grace to set us free from our past, and move forward in a new direction, with different habits and attitudes, forming a different lifestyle that is shaped by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. This might entail ending some relationships and forming new ones.

Relationally, if we want today’s marriage to succeed, we have to stop focusing on previous relationships, good or bad, and live the life we are currently called to live. We can’t afford to live in the past.

While Genesis states that it is the parents who must be left in order to form a new unity, there are others besides parents we must leave behind as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover or spouse. There may be a number of people and situations that have to be included in what we let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, sports, or any number of things.

Future Past

One couple lost a son in a boating accident. The woman drove her husband to divorce because she was unable to let go of the pain and loss, unable to heal, and unable to stop blaming him. She couldn’t let go of yesterday, so it ruined today.

But it’s not only the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes we have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, the perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth, fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete whose playing days have come to an end is often headed for emotional and relationship disaster. A business person or a Soldier whose career comes to an end might find it hard to stop living that life and transition to retirement. Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work can have a tough time accepting the new reality, and letting go of the previous physical ability.

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves and others from the pain and injustice of the past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. It can’t happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, the betrayal, and the injustice. When forgiveness finishes its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and liberated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We typically carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with the scars that might remain for a lifetime.

Heal the wound but leave the scar

A reminder of how merciful You are

I am broken, torn apart

Take the pieces of this heart

And heal the wound but leave the scar

RiverOne middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. They also felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor for guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. They also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness. They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They also asked each other for forgiveness. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.

Stranger in Boston

entering-boston

The station wagon with the third seat facing the rear pulled into Boston. My two younger brothers and I rode that seat from California to Massachusetts, watching where we’d been, rather than where we were going.

3,177 miles backwards. For a while I was dizzy, car sick, nauseous, but after a while I got used to it.

third-seatThe ’59 Dodge was a big car. It seemed like Mom and Dad, and whoever else was sitting up front with them, were in a different county. The actual dimensions of this monstrous car? Just over eighteen feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, weighing about 4,200 pounds. The advertised top speed was 120 MPH, but I never saw my parents drive faster than 115. Mom liked to drive fast. I remember my turn to sit up front and help her “stay awake” one night driving through the Arizona desert while Dad got some sleep. It was scary.

We got about nine miles per gallon if one or two people were in the car. Seven or eight miles a gallon when all ten of us went somewhere together, like we did on this cross-country trip. Nobody had seat belts back then.

As we pulled up to a traffic light in this strange city far from home, suddenly, my dad was yelling and talking excitedly. Someone outside was shouting and talking just as fast. From way back in the third row, I tried to see what was going on. Were my dad and the stranger mad at each other? Why were they yelling? I looked out the side window of our car and saw that the driver of the car next to us had dark skin and black curly hair. Why was he yelling at my dad? And why was my dad yelling back at him?

At first, it seemed they were angry with each other. But no, they weren’t upset. Rather they were excited and happy. They were yelling for joy. But why?

As I kept on looking at the man in the car next to us, I glanced down to see the license plate on his car. We had played the license plate game all across the country: keep track of all the license plates, and see who gets the most states. There were a lot of variations to that game; you’ve probably played something similar.

Riding backwards made it easier if the cars catching up to us had front license plates, because looking backwards I could see them before my brothers and sisters in the middle seat could see them. But if we were passing the other cars, then they got to see the license plates first. The way my parents drove, nobody ever passed us, so I never won the game.

traffic-lights-686041_1920At the red light in Boston, the license plate on the car next to us looked familiar. Was it? Yes! It was orange and black, a California license plate! We hadn’t seen one of those since we left home. Was that why Dad and the other guy were hollering? Yep, sure was.

There we were, our first day in Boston. We didn’t know a single soul in the city, or in the entire state of Massachusetts. But that first traffic light we stopped at in Boston placed us right next to another human being from California. It was his first day in Boston too.

My first memory of encountering an African-American, and the thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else was the connection that he and my dad made with each other. It wasn’t age; my dad was forty-two and the other guy seemed to be younger. It wasn’t family circumstance; my dad had a wife and eight kids in the car, while the other guy was single. It wasn’t that they had similar careers; my dad was in the Navy, and the other guy worked in a factory. And it wasn’t that they looked alike; my dad was a balding white guy, and the other guy was black with a full afro.

No, the connection they made with each other was simply that they had something in common. They were both from California, and that was enough. They were both more than 3,000 miles from home, and friendless – until that moment. They found someone from home.

I often think about that experience. Why is it that people who are different despise each other? Why do people of different skin color or different nationality or different language or different gender or different religion or different political party or different socioeconomic standing hate each other? Why can’t we do what my dad and the stranger did in Boston that day in 1962?

I was seven years old when we drove into Boston. Over the past fifty-plus years, I’ve tried to focus on what I have in common with other people, instead of our differences: marriage, kids, jobs, sports, music, food, weather, fears, dreams, movies, faith, or our human-ness. There’s so much we share, it’s a shame people choose to fight over their differences.

Something powerful and amazing happens when we connect over something we have in common.

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Grab Your Scroll

I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:10-11, HCSB).

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Lloyd John Ogilvie is a tremendous communicator, an outstanding preacher who used his speaking skills in his Los Angeles congregation and on the radio. Because of his influence, in 1995 he was elected Chaplain of the United States Senate, where he served thirteen years. He considered the chaplaincy to be a non-political, non-partisan ministry. In his words, “I saw my role as Chaplain to be an intercessor for the members of the Senate family, a trusted prayer partner, and a faithful counselor to them as they sought to know and do God’s will in the monumental responsibilities entrusted to them.”

As effective as he is in person, perhaps through his writings he has reached more people than through his public speaking, publishing fifty-four books, and editing a commentary series.

According to Revelation chapter one, when the Lord wanted to communicate with his people, he chose a writer to do that. God still uses writers to speak to people, and not just writers who happen to be apostles. Those who have a calling to write, and a gift for communicating with words, can use any genre to communicate truth. This is just as true for writers of fiction and poetry as it is for nonfiction, just as applicable for bloggers and tweeters as it is for preachers, novelists, and playwrights.

If you have a vision for telling your story, communicating a message, or sharing hope with people in need, then you are like that apostle, except you have a laptop, a printer, and email instead of a quill and scroll. If your story rings true to your reader, the Lord can use you to inspire, enlighten, educate, and entertain.

It turns out that, in addition to being a great apostle, John was a really good writer. Similarly, Lloyd John Ogilvie was a great preacher, but also a fantastic writer. If you write with excellence, people will want what you have to offer. So, grab your scroll, and start writing.

Lord, we need your inspiration, so we may use the gifts you’ve given us to reach people with truth and hope. Encourage us when we’re feeling low, inspire us when we run dry, and restore us when we’ve fallen. In Christ’s name, amen.

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This devotional was published on December 10, 2018 on a website for Christian writers called Inkspirations. Every week, http://www.inkspirationsonline.com posts a new encouraging article for writers.