Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Excited to be Featured on TheologyMix.com

Hi, everyone!

This week, I'm very honored and excited to have my article, "Depression and the Holidays" featured on TheologyMix.com

They have just recently launched their brand new website and it looks fantastic. The three grown daughters of a fellow author, John I. Snyder, are the administrators and are very talented at what they do. Please check it out!

And, I want to wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving holiday!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Working Together as Christians can be Rewarding

Recently, our congregation was involved in a community service project, called “Community Care.” 

It was a very hands-on type of effort which included such things as cleaning out people’s gutters, fixing exterior doors and windows, replacing fascia boards, pulling weeds, installing shutters, pressure washing home-siding, and a large amount of scraping and painting. It was a lot of hard work, but definitely well worth the effort.

On the Friday, a few of us, primarily retirees, did quite a lot of prep-work to get ready for the big painting job on the Saturday. I’ve got to be honest with you – I was more than a little concerned that we had bitten off more than we could chew. 

If you’ve every tried to scrape loose paint off an older home to prepare a good and paintable surface, then you know from first-hand experience that it’s hard to know when to quit. The more you scrape, the bigger the job seemingly becomes. So I just wasn’t sure that we would have the time and/or manpower to complete the work in time.

But, I’ve got to say—it’s amazing what 35 or more energetic and focused Christians can do when they set their minds to a common task! The sky’s the limit!

We started on our big painting job Saturday morning at around 8:45am, after a hearty breakfast together, which was prepared by some of our sweet ladies in the church fellowship hall. By 11:45am, most of the house had received not only one but two coats. I couldn’t believe my eyes. 

Things went so smoothly, except for when I got stung on my left ear by an aggressive wasp. OUCH! It stung like fire, but a combination of ice and a copper penny did the trick to draw out the bad stuff—though my ear did start to swell up.

We took a break for a delicious taco salad lunch at the noon hour, got back on the jobsite by 1pm and were cleaning our brushes and picking up trash and debris by 3:00pm. It was astounding to me how quickly things went. I really couldn’t believe it. But, then I suppose that the group was able to cumulatively accomplish hundreds of hours of work in a relatively short timeframe. 

That’s how it’s supposed be in the body of Christ, each member doing their part and using their gifts and talents to the glory of God.

Some of the skilled older men from the congregation had helped with setting up scaffolds and accomplishing some of the more technical carpentry work, for which I was grateful. The younger ones, primarily college students put their efforts into the painting dimension of the work and property cleanup.

Working side by side, sharing a unified goal and spiritual purpose between us, and everyone being willing to do their share of the work produced success. Of course, God had provided some wonderful, sunny weather to allow us to accomplish the work we set out to do.

After the work was complete, I thought to myself, “Oh, ye of little faith!” I had significantly underestimated what was possible when dedicated disciples are willing to work together in peace and harmony, and give sacrificially of their time and energy. It was truly inspiring for me to see this dynamic at work.

There was a sort of synergy present, whereby we each encouraged one another to keep on working when we grew tired, balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and whereby each person unleashed their own respective know-how, skills and talents to contribute to the work. It was a beautiful thing to behold. And it was such an honor and privilege to be just a small part of the work.

I love projects like this because it allows individuals in the church to personally participate who may be shy, those who may possess special hidden talents to shine, or who are starving for good Christian fellowship.

When we work for the Lord and not for men, and with all our hearts, God will bless our efforts to his glory. That’s what it’s all about!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Kids of the Kingdom

Children are precious to God and they should be to us too!

It’s always a joy and delight to see our children learning about God and growing up in the Lord. In a different kind of context, the apostle John writes (in 3 John 1:4), “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

The Bible has a lot to say about children, and their unique place in the kingdom of God. Within God’s household, we are all (no matter our age) his beloved adopted children (John 1:12; Rom. 8:16).

Jesus loved children and was always deeply concerned for their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. He always made time for little ones—to speak to them, hug them, and hold them, even when his own disciples thought they were a nuisance (Matt. 19:13-15).

God is protective of his little ones (See Matt. 18:1-6). He has assigned them guardian angels for their special care (vss. 10, 14). God does, however, have certain expectations of children.

Recently, I asked the sweet children of our congregation to think of various qualities that children ought to possess, and for them to use the word “KIDS” as an acronym. They far exceeded my expectations. While there were a few duplicate ideas, I think their insights were amazing.

Here’s some of what they came up with: K = Kind, Kindness; I = Innocent, Inquisitive, Incredible; D = Discipline, Delight, Determined; S = Self-control, Sinless, Sincere, Sacred.

What follows are the qualities that I thought of prior to receiving the children’s input. Kids of the kingdom need to be the following things:

Kind. In a world full of bullies, children within the church need to learn how to be kind and considerate, compassionate, merciful and loving to others. Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Children need to learn to share their toys with others. Be nice to children whom others mistreat. Stick up for the underdog. Be friendly to kids who look or behave different to them or their your friends because they either lack social skills or have a mental disability.

Involved. God expects children to be integrally involved in the life and ministry of the church. This means that their parents need to participate in church work so that their kids learn how important the church is. Parents need to set the right example when it comes to prioritizing their time, resources, and efforts for the sake of God. The powerful story of the boy with the 5 loaves and 2 fish comes to my mind (John 6:1-14). The boy was following Jesus, listening and personally involved. Because of him, one of the greatest and most memorable miracles of Jesus’ ministry was performed—the feeding of the five thousand. Our children can get involved in various church-related activities and service projects.

Disciplined. Parents must appropriately and lovingly discipline their children so that they ultimately learn self-discipline, respect for authority, and obedience to God (Hebrews 12:5-11). Godly discipline produces the fruit of righteousness. Prov. 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Children are taught to honor, respect, and obey their parents in Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20-21.

Servants of God. When God called to the boy Samuel in the tabernacle at night for the third time, Samuel replied, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10). Kids need to learn the responsibility of serving others and need to discover the joy that comes from selfless and humble service in God’s kingdom. Jesus fleshed this out for us in his earthly ministry (Philip. 2:5-8). In a self-absorbed world, let our children learn the meaning of Christian service.

God loves and blesses kids and calls them to love and serve him in return.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Laughter is Good Medicine

I love hanging out with my wife. She always knows how to tickle my funny bone with her corny jokes, like this one:

“What’s the difference between a guitar and a fish? You can’t tuna fish!” LOL.

Laughter is good medicine. No, seriously!

Have you ever wondered if God has a sense of humor? Since we’re all made in God’s image, I believe it’s safe to say that he does, and a great one at that. Humor is part of our divinely created nature. Even infants are able to smile and laugh when barely a few months old.

Check out some of the funny and bizarre looking creatures God made for his and our enjoyment. Ever seen a Proboscis monkey, Mantis shrimp, hooded seal, Komondor dog, Angora rabbit, Emperor Tamarin, Pink Fairy Armadillo, Axolotl (or ajolote), Aye-aye, Tarsier, Frill-necked lizard, or one of my personal favorites—the Blobfish? 

Or what about the more familiar hippopotamus, sloth, or ostrich? They are absolutely hilarious animals. God apparently had tons of fun designing and creating each of them.

I can just hear it now—God hollering, “Hey guys, you’re not gonna believe this one!” Just then the angels in heaven all spontaneously erupt in laughter.

Proverbs 15:13 (ESV) says, “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” Then Proverbs 17:22 (ESV) asserts, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up
the bones.”

Of all the people in the world, Christians ought to exhibit the most joy and laughter. After all, we have so much to be thankful for. However, I could swear that some believers were weaned on lemons, or at least dill pickles! They are veritable sourpusses who can be a real bummer to be around. It’s almost as if they’re afraid that if they dare to smile—never mind crack a joke—their face might just shatter in pieces. That’s sad. Whatever happened to the abundant life?

According to www.helpguide.org, there are several noteworthy benefits to developing a healthy sense of humor and learning to laugh more often. Humor is infectious and the sound of roaring laughter often contagious. Shared laughter draws people closer together and increases their collective and individual sense of well-being.

Humor and laughter hold the power to bolster your immune system, boost your energy, reduce pain, and buffer you from the negative effects of stress? Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D. says “Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.” A good laugh works wonders toward bringing your mind and body back into balance. Humor eases internal and interpersonal tension, lightens your burdens, fosters hope, and builds bonds between people, all the while keeping us grounded.

Laughter can relax the whole body. It boosts the immune system by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Thus it strengthens one’s resistance to disease. Furthermore, laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural “feel-good chemical” which can alleviate pain. It even protects the heart by improving the function of blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

Besides the many physical health benefits, laughter also has a number of mental health benefits. It adds joy and zest to life, lessens anxiety and fear, relieves emotional stress, improves mood, and increases resilience. Humor enables you to remain positive and maintain an optimistic outlook when confronted with tough situations, disappointment, and loss. It fuels your courage and sense of hope.

The social benefits of laughter include strengthening relationships through humor and playful communication, attracting others to us to forge positive bonds, enhancing teamwork, soothing conflict, and promoting group closeness. These qualities supply a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment.

We need to actively seek opportunities to laugh. Some avenues to do this include watching funny (and clean) movies or TV shows, reading the funny pages, spending time with good-humored and fun-loving people, sharing good jokes or humorous stories, hosting game nights with friends, letting your hair down and acting silly, and making time for various fun activities with others.

So stop taking yourself so seriously. Learn to joke and laugh more. Purchase tickets to see a Christian comedian perform like Chonda Pierce, Mark Lowry, or Tim Hawkins. It will be time and money well spent.

Isn’t it time to tickle your funny bone?

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Divine Dissatisfaction" points us back to God

I seem to find myself in a constant state of restlessness. It often feels nearly impossible to quiet my mind and still my spirit. 

Okay—I confess—it’s likely that I have way too much going on in my life all at once. Can you relate? I bet you can!

The Bible speaks volumes about our common experience of restlessness and dis-ease as human beings. 

Eve’s restlessness in the Garden of Eden was the byproduct of Satan’s diabolical scheme to sow seeds of doubt in her mind about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-7).

Abram and Sarai’s (later renamed Abraham and Sarah) impatience during their long wait for a promised son resulted in them taking things into their own hands. They foolishly decided to use their Egyptian servant Hagar as a surrogate mother to provide a child (Gen. 16, 21)—with grievous results.

Jacob’s dissatisfaction and power-hungry-pursuit in being the second-born led to his manipulative and deceptive behaviors in stealing both his older twin Esau’s birthright and first-born blessing (Gen. 25:29-34; Gen. 27).

Israel’s murmuring in the wilderness while impatiently waiting for Moses to descend from Mt. Sinai from his sacred summit with God resulted in their persuasion of Aaron to create for them the Golden Calf (Gen. 32), invoking God’s displeasure.

Samson’s impulsiveness led him to pursue idolatrous Philistine women as wives and lovers, resulting in his demise at the hands of Delilah (Judges 14-16), when he revealed to her the secret of his superhuman strength.

David’s boredom and lust caused him to become an adulterer when he allowed his passion to consume his attraction to Bathsheba, causing him to plot her husband Uriah’s murder (2 Sam. 11). David’s punishment was the tragic death of his baby boy (2 Sam. 12).

Solomon’s edginess, despite his unparalleled wisdom and wealth, resulted in him turning from the Lord through his ill-advised marriages with many non-Israelite, idolatrous women (1 Kings 11). His haunting, self-reflective words penned in his old age are eye-opening in Ecclesiastes as he recognized “all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.”

As finite beings, each one of us, remains in a state of incompleteness, of incessant searching. In fact, we are most vulnerable when we achieve some great desire and recognize its ultimate futility. 

We all struggle with “Divine Dissatisfaction,” a condition no carnal or temporal happiness can cure. The things we feverishly pursue are usually inadequate substitutions of the spiritual things which we actually desire beneath the surface. But as this-worldly material “things” they never fully satisfy our longings within our souls.

You see, human desire, the quest for something that will satisfy us, points beyond finite objects and imperfect persons. It points through these objects and persons towards their real goal in God himself. Education, qualifications, prestigious careers, relationships, money and stuff—none of these can ever fulfill that for which we ultimately search.

This is the paradox of hedonism—a view which holds that pursuit of pleasure is the ultimate good. But worldly pleasure is unable to satisfy the soul. This is the “Divine dissatisfaction” which points us back to God. 

To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said (in John 4:13-14), “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

Only God himself can satiate our spiritual hunger and quench our spiritual thirst.

St. Augustine prayed: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” 

We have been created by God and experience a deep sense of longing for Him which only he can satisfy. The Psalmist expressed this concept vividly: “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you” (Psalm 42:1).

We enter into the life of faith and discover God through belief in that which is beyond us. We can't build any worthwhile kind of life unless we have God at the core—as the very foundation of our existence.