When I was 12 years old in 1973, I bought my first phonograph record. For those of you that are too young to remember, music back in those days was reproduced by engraving the song in grooves on a plastic disc which was then played on a phonograph player with a swing arm containing a needle placed in the outer groove to pick up, reproduce, and amplify the song over your speakers. At the time, there were two sizes of discs, a 10-inch disc played at 78 rates per minute (rpm), containing entire albums, and a 7-inch disc played at 45 rpm’s which contained only one song, a single which was normally released to produce buzz for the rest of the album. There was always a “B-side” song on these short discs, some throw-away song basically, that the record producers didn’t have much faith in but hoped might get more exposure by being linked to the hit song on the “A side.” Anyway, all that history aside, the record I first bought was Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” from his album “Don’t Shoot me, I’m Only the Piano Player.” Both the song and the album exemplified Elton John’s flamboyant personality, but the first time I heard this song, I was instantly hooked. The astonishing sounds, the rhythm, and the lyrics all just left me in amazement. I had never heard such music and couldn’t believe such sounds could be produced.
Of course, I was young and didn’t have much experience of the world, but these were electrifying sounds that were coming out of so many artists and record companies, being played over the air on AM radio or the fledgling FM radio networks. The experts always try to point to a single person or group to determine who was the progenitor or who shaped rock, pop, R&B, country, or whatever genre of music. But if you trace back to these people, then there are influences on them that trace back further, and those influences had influences that trace back even further. For instance, many rock bands today might name their influences as the old bands that broke out during the 60’s and 70’s such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc. But if you have heard or read these bands’ attribution of influence, you would know that most or all of those early bands were influenced by the old blues players like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, or B.B. King, etc. And in turn those old blues players would cite influences from gospel songs in African-American churches or the work songs that these people sang in the fields while working.
Although no one is completely sure of the exact origin of the phrase, it has often been said that we “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Everything that we do and have in life is built upon something else that went before or something else someone invented or discovered. We take what they have done and try to make it better or put our own unique imprint on it. From these previous influences, forces, and people, we reap the benefits of so many modern comforts, the wisdom of history, etc. All of us owe a debt to the influences and help that we have received. Whether they were teachers, coaches, parents, pastors, friends, whomever, we all were shaped in some way by these people. This is one of God’s biggest blessings to us, the people that have touched our lives and influenced us in whatever way small or large. Each of us is a walking miracle of God’s creation with amazing capabilities given to us by our loving Lord. Each of us has so much to give, and we receive so much in return. So we should always be thankful for the people that God brings into our lives.
Who has been the most influential person on you?
One of the most famous opening lines for a novel is the first sentence in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I’m not sure that I would agree with this statement because there are always differences in each family, whether they are happy or not. I believe that all families are infinitely variable in their dynamics (the way they interact), their rules, the way they handle disagreements, and the amount of love that they have for each other. Those families that are unhappy are no more unique and variable than happy families. Regardless of their variability, there is certainly an infinite variety of ways that families can stray into dysfunction. I have known families over the years that harbor grudges, challenge each other viciously, argue at the drop of a hat, and are generally always in the ebb and flow of power struggles whether over significant issues or mundane issues. In such situations, the issue is not important, really. The important thing among such families is to win and thereby gain an edge over the other family member.
It is sad to think that families would be like this. You would expect the family to be the place where people are most kind, nurturing, forgiving, etc., doing all things in love. But many families stray into legalism where the rules are not bound to a base of sound morality such as you’d find in the Bible and thus become constricting and unnatural. And, since parents often set the tone of how the family will operate, overly controlling, abusive, or neglectful parents can have such a tremendous impact of causation for dysfunction. Moreover, many families are set up like a medieval feudal system where the father is the king of the castle, at the top of the hierarchy of power. Older siblings are allowed to assert power over the younger ones as they manifest the feudal hierarchy. Such a system usually produces power struggles between the husband and the wife, with frequent arguments, and the children follow suit, emulating the example set for them, thus struggling for power among themselves with arguments and fights. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily have to be set up like a feudal system in order for the power struggles to dominate the family dynamics. If God and love are not the central focus and driving force of the family, these power struggles become inevitable.
James 4:1-4 explains where conflict originates: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
So, conflict starts with our pride, putting ourselves and our desires above everything and everyone else, which then allows these other sins such as lust and violence to dominate our thoughts and actions. Pride opens the door, telling us that we deserve such things or that it won’t really matter if we give in to them – it won’t really hurt anything. But the Bible explicitly warns that we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). Additionally, while we are in such a sinful state, we become friends with the world’s systems and sinful ways and thus are enemies of God, the only one who can point out and help us correct our errors, keeping our families on the right path. It is all too easy to fall into these traps. It is the most natural thing in the world to follow our sin nature that is in our flesh. But those of us who are saved by Jesus have a chance for a better way. With the Holy Spirit within us, we have a fighting chance to win out over sin. But we must feed our spirit rather than our flesh (Gal. 6:8) in order for the good to prevail within each of us and ultimately within our families. This means that the parents must be seeking God daily in prayer and meditation on His word, and when they set the example by putting God first and doing all things in love, and when they teach their children diligently about God’s ways (Deut. 6:5-7), always modeling the principles themselves, the family has a chance to become much more than just another unhappy family.
What was your family life like growing up? Was it a model of Christian principles and love? If not, have you been able to make your own family dynamics operate differently?
As a younger Christian, I often succumbed to the legalistic belief that God wanted perfection of behavior from me, with the result being that I would beat myself up mentally and emotionally and feel guilty when I failed to maintain perfect behavior. But it is not perfection of behavior that God is looking for in us. So, if we sometimes fail, it is not the end of the world. God knows that we will fail from time to time because we are not yet perfected until we see our Lord, either after our own death or when He comes again in glory. So while we walk this earth, we will always have this “treasure in earthen vessels.” The treasure this verse refers to is God’s Holy Spirit within us, and the earthen vessel (or clay pot) is the frail flesh that houses our spirit and is prone to error. God could have perfected our bodies at the moment of salvation if He had wanted to so that we would not be prone to error, but He left us in this state in order that “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” In other words, our weakness keeps us relying on Him, and all the glory goes to Him. This is as it should be because there is nothing good in us that God did not put there, and He continues to work on us because He loves us with a tremendous love that we will never be able to fully comprehend.
So, God knows we are weak and He knows that we will fail. The main things that He is looking for in us are obedience (1 Sam. 15:22), humility (Philippians 2:5-8), loving service of others (Mark 10:42-45), love of Him (Deut. 6:5) as we spend daily time with Him in prayer and meditation on His word, and putting to death all the sins of our flesh as God convicts us, pointing out the errors in us, teaching us the right way, and building His Power within us to fight these things (Colossians 3:5). We are all different, so some may struggle in areas which are no challenge to others, while we may be challenged or tried in areas that others handle easily. Moreover, some days, you may find that these things are harder to accomplish than other days. But the continual battle to be more like Him in all our ways and thoughts will be a lifelong battle. The spirit within us and the flesh housing our soul will always be at war with each other for the duration of our life. The one that wins each day will be the one that we feed. If we feed our flesh, feed our appetites and indulge our selfishness and pride, for example, then the flesh will win out. If we feed our spirit by Bible reading and meditation on His Scripture, by prayer, by fellowshipping with fellow believers, fighting against sinful thoughts and actions, then, over time, our spirit will win out over the flesh, bit by bit as God builds up His Spirit in us (sanctification).
So we should not fret unnecessarily when we fail. God’s work continues on and is much, much larger than any one of us. In fact, God’s plans for each individual human, and His plans for humanity which have continued from the beginning of time, are so large and complicated that is difficult for us to even begin to grasp. We are usually not aware of His plans or His intervention for all of humanity until something big and unexplainable happens that is too strange to attribute to anything but God. One of the great events in history that has always baffled historians that believe in the “great people” theory of historical causation is the disintegration of Napoleon’s army once he reached Moscow in what would have been his greatest military triumph. I, like Leo Tolstoy, am skeptical of the idea that great men and women drive history. They are more likely just riding the waves of forces or movements that have already been put into play, and these forces are, in turn, driven by the Will of God as He directs human history to His desired ends. If Napoleon had been such a great man, able to shape history itself, he would have been able to control his army, he would have foreseen the difficulties in managing an army in an urban terrain, etc., and he would have developed contingencies or control measures to keep his forces under control. But like many men and women who rise to greatness, he started believing in himself, believing in the force of his personality, thinking that somehow his mere presence caused things to happen (only God has such power that things simply happen because of His presence). And he found out during his colossal failure as a military leader just how ordinary he really was.
I pray today that you will not be bothered by guilt in your failures but rather that you would take all your concerns to Him and ask for His help to become what you desire to be and what He desires for you to be.
What is or has been your greatest struggle in trying to live right or trying to become like Him and How have you handled this struggle? I would love to hear your stories of God's work in your life.
From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “perspective” is defined as “the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed,” also known as “point of view.” In a related definition in the same entry, perspective is defined as “the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.” Perspective is the lens through which we view the world and the values and beliefs through which we process what we see. This perspective or worldview makes all the difference in the world as to how we react to the world. Those of us who are saved by Jesus tend more and more over a lifetime to take on the perspective or mind of Christ. Philippians 2:5-11 explains the mind of Christ. This passage notes that Jesus was God and knew He was God, yet he humbled himself in His first coming, even making himself obedient to the death that He knew would pay the price for our sins.
It is this perspective of utter and complete humility that we should all strive for, putting to death our pride whenever God convicts us of it. It will most likely be a lifelong process. I was never what the world would call a prideful man. I’ve always tried to put others first. I’ve never been a braggart. I’ve always rejected the spotlight, preferring to let others shine instead of me. Yet, there was still pride in me that God has revealed to me over the years, and I’m sure that God is not done with me yet. We usually don’t see our own faults because our perspective is so limited when it comes to self-assessment and because most of us turn a blind eye to our faults, not wanting to know that we are flawed. It usually takes God or even someone else to point out our shortcomings.
Despite our flaws and the very necessary process of sanctification, we are still very different from the world. If we observe the people of the world around us and see their attitudes, we will often be amazed at just how self-centered, vicious, deceitful, etc., that they can be and are. This realization should not, of course, be cause for our own pride because all the work and changes in us are due to the Holy Spirit and not due to our own brilliance. But our very different perspective and different actions are very important since we are all ambassadors for Christ. For the spiritually dead people of the world, we may be all of Christ that they may ever see. So we should be ever mindful of what we do and the example that we set for others every minute of every day. All of our actions at work, out in our neighborhood, in our family, and even while we are driving. Everything that we do should exemplify the humble, loving Lord that we serve. But we do not do these things only because someone might be looking, but rather we do them because they are right. When we walk in love and humility in all areas of our life, we are most like our Lord and most pleasing to our Lord.What victories or challenges have you had either in changed perspective as the Lord has enlightened you to certain truths or as the Lord has used you to show the world an example of how different Christians are? I would love to hear from you. I pray that you all will have a blessed day, walking in Fellowship with Our Lord.
I recently watched the 2012 movie What to Expect When You’re Expecting. From the IMDB website, the plot is: “A look at love through the eyes of five interconnected couples experiencing the thrills and surprises of having a baby, and ultimately coming to understand the universal truth that no matter what you plan for, life doesn't always deliver what's expected.” The movie was a little more than that, though. Despite some of the challenges that these couples go through, the overwhelming message is that parenting is an amazing adventure but well worth the experience. In fact, one of the best dialogues of the movie is when a group of fathers, which included Chris Rock, set a worried expecting father straight.
The young man was married to Jennifer Lopez’ character, and the two were planning on adopting a baby from Ethiopia since they were unable to have children themselves. Throughout most of the movie, he was worried about and very insecure about his readiness to have a young child in the house and about his capability to be a father. The group of friends led by Chris Rock explained to the worried prospective father that you are never really ready for the adventure of being a parent, so it is best to just jump on and hang on for dear life. Then they went on to explain that being fathers was the best experience of their lives and that, despite their occasional complaints that they loved being fathers and dearly loved their children. Perhaps the best line of the movie was when Chris Rock’s character explained that he thought he was happy before being a father, but now that he had children, he knew he was happy for the first time in his life.
This is definitely a must see movie for all parents, expecting or otherwise. The scenes are very realistic. They pull no punches in showing both the good and the bad that goes with parenting, especially with the entire experience of bringing children into the world for the first time. But they do a great job of showing the wonder, the amazing wonder of birth.
This is an experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I was blessed to be present and in the delivery room for the births of all four of my precious children. At the moment when they were finally delivered, I got tears in my eyes, knowing that I was witnessing a great miracle. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Moreover, I have never experienced anything greater than marriage and being father to my four children. This is certainly one thing that the movie got right.
If you have children, I pray that you would remember to thank God every day for this great blessing. I pray also that you would be filled with God’s Wisdom and Power in raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
I gave some money in the last presidential election and am now on several phone lists for groups soliciting money. It seems that I get at least one phone call a day from these people. Sometimes, their identity shows up on our caller id and we simply don’t answer the call. Other times, we answer, and I simply tell them that I am unable to give since I am out of work. For some of them, my statement of my work status is enough to stop them from bombarding me with their standard script. Other times, this does not faze them, and they bowl ahead with their script trying to get me to give anyway. Most try to guilt trip me into giving some way or another, trying to tug on my heart strings. But what they don’t know is that I am a pretty stubborn person when I get an idea in my mind, so the guilt trip is useless against me.
This is not to say that I don’t believe in giving at all to certain causes, but I have serious doubts about some of these groups and their effectiveness in addressing the problems facing our nation. There are so many hundreds of such groups at the least, and they seldom seem to work together with other groups, so there’s a lot of redundancy in their actions. Moreover, many of them exist to exist, constantly raising money no matter what the political situation. They’re sort of like taxes. Once a tax gets enacted, it never seems to go away, even if it is no longer used for the purpose in which it was originally started. Politicians have a way of forgetting such things and simply direct these taxes into whatever new cause they dream up, expecting the public’s memory to be short-lived; thus, no one is likely to notice and complain when the new tax is diverted. And just like taxes, these political groups start for a certain purpose but seem to morph into other things later, existing just to exist.
This is not to say that I do not believe in supporting such groups at all, but I am somewhat skeptical about these groups’ effectiveness in solving all the problems that they supposedly exist to solve. I have become increasingly skeptical, as well, about any political solution solving the tremendous problems facing our nation right now. If a political solution in one of these political groups was the answer, it seems that these groups would have had some effect so far. Instead, our country seems to slide deeper and deeper into sin each day. This continuous slide tells me that our real solutions lie not in politics but rather in turning back to God as a nation and seeking Him out once more, and not just some of us seeking God, but all of us seeking Him.
It is at times when I look at the state of our nation, I remember Psalm 11:3: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Indeed, when a nation like ours has slid so far into sin, I cannot imagine any political solution that would do us any good. There is only God and the spiritual solution of nation-wide repentance.
I pray that you will seek Him out and seek revival in your own life. If there is to be any hope of our nation turning back to God, repentance must start with us, with me and with you.
One critical ingredient is the recognition that we are flawed and the willingness to admit it to the other person. I fully confess that I was not so good at this part early in our marriage. As a young man, like most young men, my pride often got in the way, and I found it hard to humble myself. God has worked much of that pride out of me over time, often chastening me or allowing me to be broken completely or to have embarrassing, humbling things happen to me so that I would recognize my shortcomings and realize that I was no better than anyone else. I have taken the lessons to heart, though, and find it quite easy now to admit when I am wrong and to say I am sorry. The lessons I have learned about humility also make me cautious about thinking that I am beyond danger in this area. The Bible warns us that in those moments when we believe we are beyond sin that our pride will cause us to stumble (1 Cor. 10:12).
Another ingredient to a healthy marriage is a complete commitment to the marriage. You may remember the wedding vows that many people take: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” This vow represents a total commitment to your spouse for a lifetime, no matter what may come your way. Such a commitment requires control of your thoughts, not ever allowing you to even think about divorce. Once you start entertaining thoughts of divorce, you play into Satan’s hands who will then tempt you with worse thoughts and a deeper commitment to the idea of divorce, making you think that you’d be better off without the other person, which you certainly will not.
As an extension to this idea of keeping your thoughts about your marriage ever positive, you should also never entertain bad thoughts of your spouse. If you control your thoughts at the outset, not ever allowing yourself to entertain a negative thought about your spouse, always preferring to think of them in positive terms, you will never even get to the stage of entertaining thoughts of divorce. This positive mindset toward your spouse does not mean that your spouse has no faults, but you are no better than your spouse. Our pride often blinds us to our own faults, making us think that we are better than others, thus leading us to a judgmental attitude that overlooks our frailties and magnifies the faults of the other person. So it’s best to always have a positive, non-judgmental attitude toward your spouse for the health of your marriage.
I pray that you will be guided by God in your relationships, especially your marriage and that you would be open to the conviction of the Holy Spirit about your own faults so that God can then teach you out of them.
The kind of love that 1 Corinthians 13 refers to is a very high standard, yet it is something that we all must aspire to in our relationships. To aspire to such a love, marriage, especially, but also any kind of relationship, takes work. It’s a pretty tall order for anyone to love this way and to do so consistently. Our human flaws will inevitably cause us to stumble from time to time, resulting in our hurting others in our relationships. But we cannot accomplish any of this by ourselves. We most definitely need God’s help. Jesus warned us in John 15:4-6 we need to “abide” in Him. This means that we are living by Him daily, constantly getting our spiritual, emotional, and even intellectual nourishment from Him throughout the day. In this passage, though, He also warns that “without me you can do nothing.”
Indeed, we can do nothing of any merit in our own power. Without His power, we become merely like the people of the world that we sometimes marvel at in their spiritual ignorance and the resulting selfishness, hatred, violence, lust, etc., in their thoughts, motives, and actions. We must never forget that the only difference between them and us is that He has saved us with His Precious Blood, and He is at work in us to work out the error in our flesh, a work that will take a lifetime (Phillipians 1:6, Phillipians 2:13), but will not even be completed until we see Him face to face. But with Him at work in us, we “can do all things through Christ” whose power strengthens us and becomes perfected in our weakness.
Not only can He empower us to be what we need to be for the others in our relationships, but He can also convict us when we are wrong, when our motives are not as pure as we originally thought in our spiritual blindness and ignorance. And His truth convicting us sets us free to grow in maturity, and to become the kind of people that don’t wound others without thinking. Moreover, His power can heal our wounded hearts when we desire to forgive or ask forgiveness but can’t get beyond our own wounded feelings.
A healthy marriage relationship or any other kind of romantic relationship between a man and a woman may not always be balanced. I have found so many times in our own marriage that either I or my wife will be giving more than 100 percent in order to make up for the weaknesses or frailties in the other person. But again, with God’s help, so long as the two of us continue to seek Him out daily and often during the day, then He helps us through those times until the balance is restored, wisdom and healing are brought back to the relationship. Besides God’s help, I believe there have to be two more ingredients for a healthy relationship.
Still more on this tomorrow.
My apologies for the late posting, but we had some family issues that required my time and attention.
If you look through our movie collection at home, you would find a number of “relationship” movies or what some would disparagingly call “chick flicks” because presumably guys do not have feelings and do not think about such things. But the reality is that relationships are what make our world worthwhile, regardless of whether we are male or female. As God said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone.” We are inherently social creatures. Certainly, there is a spectrum of human sociability for all of us, from the most introverted person who only has one or two friends or acquaintances to the most gregarious, outgoing person. But it would be a rare find to discover anyone on the planet who has absolutely no connections to people and doesn’t want them. The importance of relationships is critical in the 2000 movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember from the plot that Hanks played a FedEx executive who was stranded on a deserted island following a plane crash. One of the biggest challenges he faced was the overwhelming loneliness of the island. At one point, he even created an imaginary friend named “Wilson” from a ball he found, pretending that the ball was a real person to talk to, as he desperately sought human contact. Relationships are certainly a critical human need. We all desire to love and be loved by others.
Probably the most beautiful words in the Bible concerning love are in 1 Corinthians 13, popularly known as the “love chapter.”
From verses 4-8: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not [easily] provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails….”
The love that these verses refer to is a completely unselfish love, an Agape Love, a Godly Love. This is love without condition and without demand. This is the kind of love that we should all aspire to, even knowing that, many times, we will fail.
More on this tomorrow.
As an extension of yesterday’s topic, it is interesting to consider the various portrayals of Jesus in movies, art, and literature.
When I was in graduate school in the late 90’s, I took a course in Old English Literature. Old English was spoken in what would become England and parts of Scotland by the Anglo-Saxons who settled the area from the 5th through the 12th centuries. In original texts, the language would hardly be recognized by modern English speakers since, in this early form, it was more akin to other Germanic languages. During my studies in this course, I learned about the macho warrior-centered culture of these early Anglo-Saxons, where heroism, courage, and strength were held in high regard. This is the main reason why, when Christianity was introduced to the Anglo-Saxons, that Jesus was portrayed in some of their literature more like a warrior hero going to the cross in the manner that an Anglo-Saxon warrior might go to battle boldly with courage and vigor, not fearing the possible death that might await him.
It may seem somewhat strange in our culture to think of Jesus in this way, a bold, manly warrior striding confidently to the cross. This is the same way we would view our various movie superheroes or even our various human heroes from action or western movies. But this is the inevitable influence of culture upon its people in interpreting all things, including who Jesus is. This is something that probably all of us do in some way, imagining Jesus in terms that we are familiar with or that appeal to us. It is certainly something that many have done in art, literature, and the movies, with so many varied portrayals of His appearance. But as to Jesus’ real appearance, the Bible is fairly silent about the subject. I believe the only reference to His appearance is in Isaiah 53:2: “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” In this sole reference to His appearance, the Scripture seems to suggest that He was not what we would call a handsome man, with no great beauty to His appearance that would attract people to Him for what they saw on the surface.
I would imagine that this appearance was deliberate that God formed Him this way while He walked the earth so that people would not flock to Him for reasons that typically make people popular, i.e. good looks, an engaging personality, etc. Instead, He was a plain looking man, perhaps so that people would focus on what He was saying and doing and would therefore seek Him out for deeper, more personal reasons of the heart. For modern readers who have never seen Him, perhaps the Bible does not make much mention of His appearance so that we might avoid worshipping His image rather than knowing Him personally and seeking a relationship with Him. Or perhaps it is deliberately silent so that we can all approach Him in our individual ways. In any case, the important thing is not how we view Him, but rather who we say He is. This critical question is the same one that Jesus asked of Peter in Matthew 16, and it is the same question we all must answer: “Who do you say that I am?”
The answer to this question determines whether we see Jesus simply as a good man, a great teacher, a prophet, or the Son of God that He said He was, capable of saving us from sin and capable of being our everyday savior in all problems big and small.
I pray that you would come to know Him as Savior and Lord, and if you are already walking in fellowship with Him that your walk with Him would be sweeter by the day.