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11/15/17

I Gave In and Went...For Her...

This past weekend I went to a marriage conference. OK, so that's not my idea of a good time. Don't misunderstand me, I love my wife. I even want to have a better marriage. But, sitting in a hotel ballroom for three days is not my idea of a good time. It's one of those..."I know this is a good thing... I know this is a needed thing... I know I will be better off for doing it... I know, I know, I know... I'm doing it... just don't ask me to get excited about it. It's the weekend. It's a 4-hour ride. It's expensive (conference, hotel, meals, gas, books I KNOW my wife is destined to buy) AND, could it be a better college football weekend. Finally, good games. (Played while I'm in a hotel ballroom). UGH...

But, I said, "Sure, let's go" (fake smile required). And, we did. She's worth it, right? The 4-hour drive, honestly, seemed like 6. Then, we finally got there. I think more of Dallas is under construction that Houston. (is that even possible?) But, we got there and went to check in. (Dramatic pause) Thirty minutes later it was completely confirmed that they had NO RESERVATION ANYWHERE under our names. "But, don't worry folks...we have a room for you. No more King rooms...they're all sold out. (Yes, by people who actually made REAL reservations) But, we can put you in a room with 2 double beds." Of course you can. Nothing screams Marriage Weekend and getting really close like each of us having our own bed! This is going great. I have an excellent attitude. (read with sarcasm AND the fake smile) This is going to accomplish everything we'd hoped! (additional sarcasm).

It's not like I'd never been to one of these things. The conference we attended was A WEEKEND TO REMEMBER. (When we heard we had "no room in the inn" I turned to Susan and said, "OK, this is definitely going to be a weekend to remember") We'd attended one before, so, I pretty much got this stuff down anyway. (Never mind that was about 25 years ago... I got it...We're good... I'm pretty sure if the presenter comes down with something, I can jump right in and not skip a beat... and, with more comic relief!)

FIRST SESSION: After putting our things away in our room and choosing which bed each of us would sleep in, (I kind of felt like an old episode of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in "I Love Lucy"), we attended the first session. Mostly introductory stuff. Bald guy. I like him. Relatively painless. Then a break and heading into the first REAL session (Where you actually learn stuff). Guess what? Another bald guy. He's from Tennessee. From the accent, kind of sounds like the hills of Tennessee...deep in the hills of Tennessee. Possibly married to his first cousin...but, otherwise, a good guy. He will keep my interest. Played football at East Carolina. Football stories have got me. This should be painless. I got this.

He was rolling along, talking about marriage and listing all the things that cause marriages to fail. This could be good preaching material for future use. I should take notes. Someone will need this stuff. We're cruising now.

Then, he said something, and my ears perked up. Threat #2: Our culture's pattern
     *Our culture's pattern is a 50/50 PERFORMANCE relationship.
     *Acceptance is based on performance.
     *Giving is based on MERIT...affection is given when one feels it is deserved.
     *Motivation is based on how one FEELS.
     *Our culture's pattern is destined to SELF-DESTRUCT because of...
          ...my tendency to focus on weaknesses in my spouse.
          ...my disappointment in my spouse, which paralyzes my performance.

OK, I could write on and on, but this bald guy who I thought I liked a few minutes earlier had just read my mail. I was busted. (Is this new material... or did it take me the last 25 years to get to the point of actually being honest with myself? Probably the latter.) Suddenly, I wasn't thinking about the room reservation or the personalized beds or the ballroom or the football I'd be missing. I sunk in my chair a little. I wiped the smirk off my face (and the egg) and listened like I meant it.

THE RESULT OF THREAT #2: ISOLATION
I don't think either of us had a name for it...we just knew there was something missing. We'd signed up for this 37 years ago. We were still signed up for this. But, to be honest, neither of us thought it was what we'd signed up for. It definitely wasn't BAD. I talk with people about BAD all the time. The problem wasn't that it was BAD. It was more that it just wasn't GREAT. I signed up for GREAT. So did Susan. But, we agreed to for BETTER or for WORSE. So, what was this?


Back to the conference...this is one of those conferences that actually wants you to do something with the stuff they give you. (What?) They gave us assignments after every session. So, that night we did what we were told to do. One of those questions we asked each other was, "Circle and share the threat that has had the biggest impact on your marriage". My answer: Our Culture's Pattern. Let me break it down for you like I did for Susan. Bottom Line: I have loved my wife...CONDITIONALLY.  My love goes up when she gets a reservation at the hotel with a King-size bed. Down when we have no reservation (and there are 10 people in line behind us trying to check-in and wondering why these people can't get their stuff straight). It goes up when she loses 10 lbs, down when she gains 10 lbs, it goes up when she calls the plumber like I asked her to and down when she says, "Aw shoot, I meant to do that". The love is always there...but the volume is very, very volatile.

I may not be good, but I am dangerously honest. "I love you conditionally. That's our problem. I'm our problem. I want to make you the problem, or at least part of it...you know, 50/50... but, you're not. I am the problem and my problem is my love fluctuates from day to day. Actually, from hour to hour would be more precise.

And the result is a very, very slow... almost undetectable... drift. No one can notice it. No one can put their finger on it. No one knows when it started or how it started or why it started... but it did. It's like laying in an inner tube just off the shore, just, apparently, bobbing along going nowhere. Until you look... and you can't see the shore... and you're bewildered as to how you got here. So, is the drift of marriage. Undetectable. Unnoticed. Almost non-existent...till you do notice it one day and have no clue where you are or how you got there.

Here's my take-away: If, in marriage, you are not moving closer to one another, then you are moving further apart from one another. Period. The end of that journey is what, ultimately, destroys every marriage that fails...ISOLATION. 

I went to a Marriage Conference. I went smiling on the outside and kicking and screaming a little bit on the inside... but I was open just enough for God to speak and me to hear. And He spoke. And I heard. I called her today and asked, "Were you at home when I left? I was in a hurry. Did I forget to kiss you goodbye?" She said, "No, I was walking when you left."

 I don't know how many more years we'll both be around, but I do know 2 things. We'll be married. And, I will try with God's help to just love her...100%... Period... NO CONDITIONS. I wanna drift in her direction.

9/14/17

Make God Smile

In the very last book of the Bible, we’re told something unbelievably intimate about who we are and why we exist.

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased.”
Revelation 4:11 (NLT)

We exist to please God. Did you catch that? We have the capability of pleasing God. We were planned for God’s pleasure. You exist for His glory, His honor, His purpose and His delight. Bringing enjoyment to God, living for His pleasure, is the first and foremost purpose of your life.

The Bible has a word it uses to express how we bring pleasure to God. It’s the word WORSHIP. But, worship is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language…especially in the Church.
Worship comes from two words: Worth and ship. When and what we worship, we literally attribute worth to something. Worship is an expression of how much something or someone is worth to us. When we worship God, we are assigning worth to Him in our eyes and our hearts.

But, when we think of worship, we immediately think of singing. Singing to God is definitely one way of worshipping Him, but it’s definitely not the only way.

Let me share with you 3 truths about worship:

1.    Worship is anything that makes God SMILE.
“The Lord is pleased only with those who worship him and trust his love.”   Psalm 147:11 (CEV)
“Smile on me, your servant; teach me the right way to live" Psalm 119:135 (CEV) 
The key word here is “anything”. Anything that you do to and for the Lord is considered worship and makes Him smile. 
Paul even puts it this way, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT)

2.    Worship is not part of your life, it IS your life.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him." Romans 12:1 (MSG)

3.    Worship becomes our sole PURPOSE to exist.
“Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.” Ephesians 5:10 (MSG)    

When Jesus becomes the center of your life, life gets a lot easier. Just figure out what will please Jesus and do it! Period! It takes out all of the guesswork.  Why don’t you think of what would please Jesus right now? Yep, right now. Got it? OK, now do it! Go ahead…do it! There you go…you just worshipped God. Can you see it? God’s smiling.


Sweet!

9/13/17

Life is All About Showing Up

In the book of Acts, Jesus has resurrected from the dead and now is leaving this world to return to his home in Heaven. Right after that, the Holy Spirit comes and Peter stands up and preaches his first sermon…and his best. That day, 3,000 people choose to follow Jesus.
So, what do you do with 3,000 new Christ followers? Well, you have to help them grow in their faith. So, here’s what they did. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
They devoted themselves to 4 things. Three of those things were done in small groups that collected in homes.
  1. They fellowshipped.  That word fellowship comes from Greek word koinonia. It simply means to share. They spent time with one another to the point that they trusted each other enough to share their lives with each other.
  2. They ate. Interesting thing, food. When you share a meal with others, you tend to share more than just food.
  3. They prayed. We’ve talked about how important that is. I trust you’re doing that already.
    (The fourth thing they did was done at the temple, where they all gathered together…kind of like on Sundays when we gather for church.)
  4. They were taught God’s Word by their leaders. It’s important to read God’s Word for yourself, but it’s also important to have someone to teach it to you. That’s what I and the other pastor’s of our church do every Sunday. Being devoted to gathering on Sunday to be taught God’s Word is imperative for growing in your faith.
Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on…” Hebrews 10:25 (MSG)
Here’s the Tom Allen translation: “If you’re really serious about growing in your faith, you won’t show up and be fed God’s Word on Sundays when it’s convenient, but out of a commitment you’ve made to grow in your faith. One that simply requires showing up so that you can be filled up with God’s Word.”
I guess I’ll see you Sunday....

Can We Talk?

Years ago, I met with a couple who were on the verge of divorce. Obviously, I wanted to do everything possible to help save their marriage. The first time we met, I spent several hours with them and gave them a homework assignment. It was obvious to me that these were two strangers simply living under the same roof. My assignment to them was to have a “Marriage Staff Meeting”. In most any business, staff meetings are weekly occurrence. You just can’t run a business without communication and getting “on the same page”. So, what would make anyone think you can run a marriage and a family without good lines of communication?

One week later, they returned and I asked about their assignment. They simply said they couldn’t find the time. They couldn’t find one hour to communicate with one another, even though their marriage hung in the balance. I knew they were done. Not because it was irreparable, but because they weren’t willing to even try.

Every healthy relationship requires healthy, intimate, meaningful communication. That not only goes for marriage relationships, but for our relationship with our Heavenly Father as well. God wants to talk with us. He wants to hear everything on our hearts…our dreams, our fears, our doubts, our stresses, our successes and our failures. He wants to hear it all. He even wants to hear our questions. He doesn’t just allow us to ask help from Him, He asks us to ask! In fact, He even tells us that sometimes “we don’t have because we don’t ask” (James 4:2). He tells us to not just come to into the throne room of the King of the Universe…He tells us to “come boldly before His throne” (Hebrews 4:16).

The Bible has a word for when we talk to God. He calls is prayer. Jesus didn’t say, ”If you pray”…instead, He said, “When you pray”. It’s an expectation that if we love Him and know he loves us, that we’ll want to communicate with Him. We’ll understand that it’s absolutely essential that we talk…because, every healthy relationship requires healthy communication.

You may be saying, “But, I don’t know how to pray”. Well, actually, you do. You know how to have a conversation. So, just have one with God.  If you have a problem with the fact that this is a little different because you can’t see Him or hear him audibly…then I’ll give you three suggestions.
  1. If you like, put a chair and think of Jesus sitting right there…because He is…and talk to him as if He’s right there in the room with you.
  2. Tell Him exactly what’s on your heart. There’s nothing “off-limits”. Everything you tell Him, He already knows anyway! But, He loves it when you trust Him enough to tell Him.
  3. Find a place where you can pray out loud. I find that really helps me concentrate and keep my mind on Him and me and our conversation.

Here’s the most important thing about prayer… JUST DO IT! The best way to develop a great prayer life is to start. And, the best time to start is today. How about right now?

9/11/17

The Greatest Love Letter Ever Written

I’m not sure what your father is or was like, but play along with me for just a moment. What if you found out that your dad had spent most of his life writing a letter to you. Actually, a series of letters. Enough letters to make a BOOK!

In these letters, these love letters to you, you shared his heart with you. He wrote everything you could ever want to know about him…what he loved, what he hated, what he loved best about you, unbelievably wise advice for you that would serve you for the rest of your life for every occasion. He told you about the prices he had paid for you throughout your life, and even before, that you never knew about. He’d write how to be a great man/woman in this world, how to have a great marriage, how to be a great parent, a great employee, a great boss. He’d share with you how to be financially responsible and wise with money. He would tell you how to leave a permanent mark on this world. He’d warn you of traps that awaited you and how to avoid them. I could go on and on…because he went on and on. I’m certain that it would be a treasury for life. A series of love letters written to you, the one he loved.

So, what would you do with something like that? Would you just put it away for safe- keeping? Would you display it in a case to call people’s attention to it?  Would you just frame it up high to just show everyone the pride you have in knowing someone loved you that much to write such a thing, just for you? I would hope not. I would hope you would devour it… reading it again and again and again. I’d hope you would memorize parts of it to remember in tough times to remind yourself of the help and hope your father had provided for you.

OK, no more imagining. The fact is, you do have a Father who loves you that much and who did exactly what I just talked about. He wrote you a series of LOVE LETTERS that covered everything. We call it the BIBLE….God’s Word…God’s love letters to his kids…US.

So, do you want to know God…because He really wants you to know Him? If so, the first way is to read His love letters to you. Every day of your life, you need to read something He has to say to you.
You’re probably asking where do I start? There’s really not a right place or a wrong place to start. However, let me make a suggestion to get you going. I might start in the book of John. It tells us about Jesus…who he was, what he came to earth for and why he is so important in our lives. 

If you’re reading this, then you have some kind of smart device or computer. Personally, that’s the place I like to read God’s Word. I use the YouVersion Bible App. It has more reading plans than one can imagine. Whether you want to read through the Bible or you want a 4-week plan on what God’s Word has to say about any subject, you can find it there. 

Here’s the link to the YouVersion Bible App. I hope you download it. I hope you start using it daily. Whatever you choose to do, please read God’s Word daily. It’s one of the main ways you get to KNOW HIM.

God's Best,

Tom

6/29/17

TITHING...So Many Questions

You want some questions asked? Just bring up the subject of TITHING! It seems like everyone has both a question and an opinion...and they're willing to share both. OK, so let me take a crack at answering some of the most often asked questions as best and as biblically as I can.

Q: Wasn't tithing under the Law, and aren't we freed from the Law and now under Grace. Therefore, shouldn't tithing be a thing of the past?


A: Yes, tithing was a commandment under the Law. But, does that mean it should go away? Let's look at a few other commandments that were under the Law and see if you feel the same way about them? You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not lie. I guess I'd have to answer your question with one of my own. Do you think those are things of the past and should go away as well? Probably not. At least, I hope not.


The Law was set up as man's means of acquiring his "rightness" before God, but basically served as a means to prove to each of us our inability to earn our own "rightness" or salvation. Jesus' intention was never to do away with the "moral law" that God gave as a way of life. He simply fulfilled it because we couldn't. He never said, "OK, now feel free to commit adultery. Grace has made it OK!". Quite the contrary. In fact, let's look at Jesus' opinions of the Law now that we are under Grace.


Here's what Jesus said about the Law now that we're under Grace...“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21) He actually said that under Grace he was raising the bar, not lowering it.


One more time...“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28)


Man kept the Law to try to earn his own salvation. Under Grace we obey out of a heart of gratitude for what God has done for us. I guess if anything is different, we should be willing to GIVE MORE!


Q: Do I tithe on the gross or on the net?


A: Pastors love this question. The answer I hear most often is "Do you want to be blessed on the gross or on the net?" Sounds great. Can't find it anywhere in scripture...but it sounds great.


I think the problem here is that we're missing the point. God's not looking for us to get the right amount nearly as much as he's wanting us to have a right heart. 


Bottom Line: I don't know the answer. I haven't found anything in scripture that absolutely answers the question unequivocally. So, being a simple guy, I look for the simplest solution. I MOVE. THE. DECIMAL. If I make $200, I give $20. If I make $5000, I give $500. Sometimes I round up. Sometimes I give 12%. My wife recently decided she'd give 15%.  Why? She just has a generous heart. And, that's all God is looking for. You figure it out and let me know. But, show me in the scripture.


Q    Why should my tithe go to the local church? Why shouldn't it go to other ministries? Isn't it all God's Kingdom? 


A: The best answer is because that's where scripture says it should go.  In the Old Testament it was the Temple or the local Synagogue.  In the New Testament, it was the local church.  Paul tells the believers that he appreciated them supporting his ministry, but he also tells them to bring their gifts to God when they gather on the first day of the week (Sunday) (1 Cor. 16:2). Jesus talked about people supporting His ministry as well, but always told them to give God what was God's and even exemplified it by taking his tithes to the Temple (Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 22:21-22).

The bible talks about tithes (which go to the local church) and offerings (that are above and beyond the tithe and support other great work that's done in Jesus' name). This one's not hard to answer. It's pretty clear-cut in scripture. It kind of goes along with the next question. 

Q: Can I designate where I want my tithe to go?

A: Do you get to designate where your neighbor's money goes? Do you get to designate where your friend's money goes? How about your boss...do you get to designate where his money goes? You probably answered "no" to all. That give you two reasons why you cannot designate where your tithe goes.

1. God is your boss.
2. You only get to designate where money goes if it's yours. The tithe isn't yours.  Get your stinking hands off of His money!

Q: Do I need to go into debt to tithe?

A: No.

Q: Let me answer one more that no one asked, but I think they should have. What should my motivation be to tithe?

A: First, let me tell you what it shouldn't be...GUILT. The mother of Guilt is Fear, and Fear is never, ever, ever supposed to be what controls or motivates the believer. We walk by FAITH, not by FEAR.

What should motivate us to tithe is a heart of gratitude, a longing to obey the one we call our Lord. (By the way, how do you call anyone Master and ever tell Him "NO" to ANYTHING? It's physically impossible. Might want to check who's REALLY Lord of your life.), a unquestioning sense of trust, and an overwhelming desire to have what only God can provide for you above and beyond anything you could ever provide for yourself. 

Got more questions? Bring them on!  I love questions.  Hope these answers helped.

6/14/17

It Wasn't Always Like This...

     Recently, I began a teaching series called, MAD MONEY.  It's a look at the insanity that has become the financial status of most Americans. It's little doubt why 95% of Americans say they fight over finances and the #1 cause of divorce in the US is financially related. But... it hasn't always been that way.
     This society on debt-overload has not always been such. In the 1930's and 40's, most people were severely scarred by the Great Depression. As a result, they seldom borrowed and lived well beneath their means. Little, if anything, was wasted. Debt was a totally foreign concept.
     In the 1950's and 60's people began the concept of borrowing for a home. The average mortgage for a home was $13,500. Then came the 1970's and 1980's. If borrowing for a home was a good idea, then how about borrowing for homes, cars and even large items such as appliances. This is when Credit Cards started to be popular and the concept of revolving debt came into practice...basically, the idea of getting people in debt and keeping them in debt. 
     Things can change quickly. In 1929 only 2% of homes had a mortgage. Fast-forward, only 40 years, to 1969 and now, suddenly, only 2% of homes don't have mortgages! That's quite a turnaround... Put another way, it took only 40 years for us to become a Debtor Nation. Not that all debt is bad, but staying in it is. When debt becomes just an expected part of life...all our life...something has gone terribly wrong.

     In their book, The Millionaire Next Door, authors Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko interviewed people from affluent neighborhoods and form middle-class neighborhoods. They findings were pretty astonishing. Much of what they found in the affluent neighborhoods were families with lots of "stuff", but little money. They were highly leveraged in debt, with little cash resources.
     On the other hand, those in middle-class neighborhoods tended to lived beneath their means, drive used cars, live in more modest homes, were wise shoppers (watch for those sales and clearance items), were systematic savers and had much less "stuff". However, they were less leveraged in indebtedness and had more cash reserves. 
     BOTTOM LINE: Many who seemed to live more affluent lifestyles were not necessarily more affluent. They tended to go into more debt to support their lifestyle...a lifestyle they were not necessarily able to afford. In other words, they were PRETENDERS. 
     The reality is, we have become a nation of PRETENDERS. We have adopted a "pretentious" lifestyle that says we have the capacity to afford things that, in reality, we cannot. We have gone from a nation with no debt to a nation that goes into debt for our homes, to a nation that commonly goes into debt for cars, appliances, vacations, home remodels, toys of a grand variety...basically, just about anything. It's just the way we do business. It's just the way we've chosen to live life.

It's the new normal.

     Listen to what God's Word says..."A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life." (Proverbs 13:7 MSG) And again, Solomon writes, "Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than to pretend to be somebody and have no food." (Proverbs 12:9 NIV) Is that a word we desperately need to hear today? I think so. It was written thousands of years ago, but sounds like something that was written for the 21st Century American. Let me take a few liberties with that scripture...Better to be a nobody (if by somebody you mean how many toys we possess and how many people we are trying to impress with what we have) than to pretend to be somebody and have no food (as in no reserves for the future, no plan to take us to 90 years old with an inheritance to leave our children, ruled by trying to keep up with the Jones'...when there's always a new crop of Jones' cropping up after we've finally managed to keep up with the last group). That's a horrible way to live, with no win to be found...ever!
     I know, this is not the popular view...but, it's God's view, so maybe that trumps popular.

A "plain and simple life is a full life". Do you believe that?

Or do you believe the world's theory...He who dies with the most toys wins? I think maybe it should read, He who dies with the most toys probably died much too young due to the stress of paying for all those toys...and now someone else gets to play with them cause you're dead!

     Years ago my wife put a large sign up in our kitchen that just read SIMPLIFY.  Maybe we should locate that sign once again and bring it back, read it daily and heed its message. I think God is on to something. I think a plain and simple life is a full life. Less stress. Less debt. Less payments. More LIFE. Think about it.