More Than I Ever Imagined

Prayer (2)I was blessed to grow up in a home with two parents who’s love for each other was a beautiful picture of Biblical love. Because of their love, I couldn’t wait to have a family of my own, so in 1980 at the age of sixteen I started praying for my wife. At first, my prayers were as shallow as most boys my age, you know, I wanted her to be pretty, have blonde hair, blue eyes, and be head over heals in love with me. As the years began to add up and I was still single, my prayers began to change. Oh, I still prayed for everything as before but I added that she needed to love Jesus, have a wonderful testimony, want to be on mission for the Lord, and once again be crazy about me.

I would love to say I patiently waited for the woman who perfectly matched up to my prayers, unfortunately my fear of being alone was greater than my trust in God’s timing, so I was in and out of a lot of relationships. In spite of my impatience, God was faithful and continued to prepare the perfect wife for me. I had to wait thirteen years to finally meet her, but it was well worth the previous heart-break, loneliness, sadness, and seemingly unanswered prayers.

Because we were both college students and poorer than a church mouse, img_0018our first date was at Subway where I could only afford a soft-drink and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. We spent several hours talking about our life’s journey and how we became Christians. As she shared about her life before and after meeting Jesus I was stunned at how she was listing off all that I had prayed for over the last thirteen years. She had already been on two mission trips, one to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the other to Trinidad and Tobago. It was quite clear that night just how in love she was with Jesus.  It was so clear I convinced her to marry me six months later.

Over the last twenty-three years of marriage, she has taught me so much about God’s love.  Shirley loves me unconditionally in spite of all my idiosyncrasies (a nice way of saying I have a lot of hang ups). I don’t have to perform, serve, or love her in any special way to earn or keep her love. She just loves me unconditionally. And yet, without a doubt I am the second man in her life, the first being Jesus, which is exactly what I was praying for all the way back in 1980. You see, it is her love relationship with Jesus that taught her how to love me.

So, today on our twenty-third wedding anniversary I am especially thankful toFebruary 2015 Almighty God for the way He answered the prayer of a sixteen year old boy by giving me so much more than I ever asked for in a wife. She is truly more than I ever imagined or deserved!

I love you Shirley!

It’s Just a Wedding Ring!

This Saturday Shirley and I will celebrate twenty-three years of marriage. I remember back in 2004 when we were celebrating our ten-year anniversary. Over the previous few months she had been trying to convince me that I needed to buy her a ten-year wedding ring to mark this special occasion. My reply had been consistently the same during the six months leading up to our anniversary, “I gave you a ring when we were married so I don’t think you need another one.” I know that may seem mean to some of you, but that ring had special meaning to me. As the months went on, I kept up my resolve to not buy her a ring, well, at least in front of her. Secretly, I had been putting money away so that I could get her the anniversary present she wanted. Shirley had no idea what was coming that special night.

I remember we were sitting in the restaurant talking about how wonderful the past ten years had been together. We made it through college; we were serving God at a wonderful church; we had a nice house; two dependable cars; we were healthy, happy, and deeply in love with each other. To make things even better, Shirley was pregnant. Doctors had told us just a few years before we wouldn’t be able to have children and yet here we sat on our ten-year anniversary just months away from our first child’s birth. Life was great!

After dinner we continued to talk about all the wonderful things we had experienced together, and I slid the box with the ring across the table and told Shirley how much I loved her.  She immediately started crying, put the ring on, jumped up from the table, and started hugging and kissing me right there in front of everyone! She was overjoyed.

For her the ring was a symbol of my love for her. She didn’t love the ring but was grateful for what the ring stood for—my unconditional love and commitment to her. The rest of the week she was showing off her new ring. She never said to people, “I am so in love with this ring” or “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this ring” or even “This ring has made me the happiest person in the world.” Instead, she was saying things like, “I am so in love with Bob and look forward to spending the rest of my life with Him. Being married to him has made me the happiest person in the world.” She understood the ring was a token of my love. It is a constant reminder that regardless of what comes our way I will always be by her side until death do us part.

I share this story because it taught me a wonderful truth about God and heaven. I often hear people talk about how great it will be to go to heaven. They talk about its beauty and splendor and about how there will be no more pain, suffering, sickness, separation, or sorrow. They eagerly anticipate seeing their loved ones once again. They go on and on talking about heaven when the truth is it is just the wedding ring!

Heaven is going to be great not because of the streets of gold, the pearly gates, or getting to spend forever with our loved ones. Heaven will be unbelievably satisfying because we will be in the presence of God forever. We will be able to behold our Savior. We will be holy and righteous before Him. We will spend eternity with our one true love. Heaven will be great because we get God!

Heaven, like my wife’s anniversary ring, is simply an expression of God’s love for us. We won’t fall in love with heaven, we won’t develop a relationship with heaven, nor will we worship and glorify heaven. We will love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will develop an ever-deepening relationship with our Lord. And we will worship and glorify Him without end!

I am thankful that Jesus is preparing such a special place for me to spend eternity; however, I am overwhelmed at the promise of spending eternity with the one who gave everything so that I will get eternity with Him!

Seven Things to Pray for Your Children

Prayer (2)I first began to pray for my children in 1980 at the age of sixteen. At first I wasn’t sure what to pray, but over time my prayers became progressively more focused; especially after my son was born. Thirty-two years later I can clearly see the abundant return of all those hours spent on my knees praying for him. I am still praying today that God will continue working in him until he attains “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4.13).

I would encourage you today to begin praying for your children, even if you are years away from starting a family. Here is a post by Jon Bloom that will assist you in beginning to pray for your children. Please remember, your prayers are most effective when they are an overflow of your lifestyle. The greatest witness to your children is you, so live out your prayers for them to see and follow.

Bloom writes:

So, here are seven helpful, specific things to pray for your children:

1. That Jesus will call them and no one will hinder them from coming.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13–15)

2. That they will respond in faith to Jesus’s faithful, persistent call.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

3. That they will experience sanctification through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and will increasingly desire to fulfill the greatest commandments.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

4. That they will not be unequally yoked in intimate relationships, especially marriage.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

5. That their thoughts will be pure.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

6. That their hearts will be stirred to give generously to the Lord’s work.

All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. (Exodus 35:29)

7. That when the time is right, they will GO!

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No, I Won’t Bless the Food

PrayerDo  you pray before you begin eating a meal? I don’t mean “God is great, God is good, thank You for this food, Amen.” I mean a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for God’s provision. I once heard of a family who prayed over their grocery sacks before unpacking them so they didn’t have to pray at each meal. I don’t think this is the right motive or means for giving thanks for the nourishment God provides through our daily bread.

In his post “No, I Won’t Bless the FoodDonald Whitney gives some great instruction on why and how we should pray before we begin each meal.

Whitney writes:

In my travels, at the start of a meal with Christian brothers and sisters, I’m often asked, “Will you bless the food?”

“No.”

My hosts sit there in stunned silence for a moment. Then, with everyone staring at me with awkward, “What do we do now?” looks, I’ll add, “But I’ll be happy to ask the Lord to bless the food.”

Maybe it reflects the limits of my own experience, but it’s been my observation that nowadays fewer followers of Jesus pause like this at the beginning of a meal to give thanks for what they are about to eat.

This seems to be true for individuals and for families, at home and in public.

Why the decline? As with all Christian practices and disciplines, unless each successive generation is taught the reason for something, it soon devolves into mere a routine, then an empty tradition, and then disuse.

Biblical origins of mealtime prayers

Have you ever been taught the biblical reasons for the Christian tradition of praying before a meal? To continue reading follow this link: No, I Won’t Bless the Food.

It is More Blessed to Give than to Receive!

heart of fireSince 2009 Living Oaks Baptist Church has been working with McAuliffe Elementary School for their meet the teacher night. We provide a snack supper and drinks for the students, teachers, and parents. We also donate bicycles, skateboards, razor scooters, footballs, basketballs, and soccer balls as door prizes for the kids that show up and register. We have also been able to provide every student in the school with a brand new backpack to start the new year. It is always a wonderful night at the school and they are so kind to allow us to work with them.

I share this because I just received several hand-made “Thank You” cards from the students. They are so appreciative that someone would generously give them a special gift. As a church we decided years ago that we wanted to give ourselves away and expect nothing in return. That is how we started this ministry at McAuliffe. Little did I know how much I would personally get from giving without expecting anything in return. But today when I read through the children’s beautiful expressions of gratitude  I understood more clearly what Jesus meant when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The Joy of Family

Church FamilyBy Bob Pittenger

Wherever you go as a disciple of Jesus you will find family. Regardless of whether life leads you to a new city, state, or country you will always find a Christian family waiting for you at the nearest Bible believing church.

Yesterday, we closed out our study of Philippians with the sermon “The Joy of Family.” In the sermon we looked at several of the reason why Paul’s Christian family gave him such great joy. Paul found those who served with him indispensable because they were a vital part of his Christian family.

To listen to the sermon and learn more about how you can experience the joy of family please follow this link: The Joy of Family.

Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants?

If you struggle with depression and wonder “Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants” then this article by Dr. Russell Moore should be a source of encouragement for you.

Dr. Moore writes:

Dear Dr. Moore,

Not long ago, my doctor prescribed me as having a (relatively) mild form of depression. He put me on an anti-depressant. I hate the side effects, and I don’t like the way it makes me feel, but maybe I’ll get used to it. My biggest struggle is whether it is right to be on these at all. If I have the Holy Spirit, why do I need this drug? Is it ethical for a Christian to take drugs like this?

Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed,

First of all, you are right to seek medical help. Depression is not just unpleasant; it can be debilitating and dangerous, and it signals that something has gone wrong somewhere. Here are some things to think about.

God created us as whole persons, with body and psyche together. The body affects the psyche. Going without food, for example, or sleep will change the way one thinks or feels dramatically. And the psyche affects the body. We don’t “have” bodies or “have” psyches. We are psychosomatic whole persons, made in the image of God.

It makes sense to me that biological and physiological factors often play a role in persons not seeing reality correctly. Some drugs can “fix” something that’s gone wrong. For example, a malfunctioning thyroid can be corrected by synthetic drugs that prompt the body to do what it’s designed to do. Most of the anti-depressants you see advertised on television don’t “fix” something, as much as they alleviate symptoms. They rework levels of serotonin or dopamine reception, for instance, so that a person doesn’t experience the same levels of sadness or dullness or hopelessness.

Often, even when depression or anxiety is rooted in non-physiological reasons, the person is so far gone that medication is necessary to start working on the root issues. But, remember, for most people, there is no drug that will bring about psychic flourishing. What the drug is meant to do is to “numb” the person to the pain of depression and anxiety.

Numbing, as part of an overall plan, can be a good thing. When I have a toothache, I want my dentist to give me an anesthetic so that I don’t feel that throbbing anymore. Before my tooth can be fixed, someone must “shut down” the agony I’m in, temporarily. But a dentist who simply “treats” my infected tooth with an anesthetic isn’t helping me. Ultimately, the tooth must be fixed.

It could be that your depression and anxiety is caused by something physiological. If so, continue your medical treatment and have that looked at. But it could be that there’s a reason for the sadness or the anxiety. Maybe you’ve recently lost a spouse or a job or a friend. If so, grieve over that loss. Maybe you’re anxious about a guilty conscience or about an uncertain future. Don’t just medicalize that anxiety. Rehearse the gospel you’ve embraced, and pray, alone and with others, and seek the kind of counsel that can bring about the necessary life-change to cope with whatever seems so hopeless right now.

Whether your depression is ultimately chemical or circumstantial, it is also important, I think, to start with a realistic picture of what “normal” is, what your end goal should look like. I know I have trouble seeing this clearly sometimes.

The “normal” human life isn’t what is marketed to us by the pharmaceutical industry or by the lives we see projected on movie screens, or, frankly, by a lot of Christian sermons and praise songs. The normal human life is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who sums up in himself everything it means to be human (Eph. 1:10). And the life of Christ presented to us in the Gospels is a life of joy, of fellowship, of celebration, but also of loneliness, of profound sadness, of lament, of grief, of anger, of suffering, all without sin.

As the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ, we don’t become giddy, or, much less, emotionally vacant. Instead, the Bible tells us we “groan” along with the persecuted creation around us (Rom. 8:23). We cry out with Jesus himself, experiencing with him often the agony of Gethsemane (Gal. 4:6; Mk. 14:36). And, paradoxically, along the way, we join Jesus in joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). A human emotional life is complicated, and a regenerated human emotional life is complicated too.

If your doctors are trying to get you to this kind of emotional holism, good. But if what you’re expecting is a kind of all-the-time emotional tranquility, you just might be passing up something that is part of the human condition itself.

There are some Christians who believe any psychiatric drug is a spiritual rejection of the Bible’s authority. I’m not one of them. But there are other Christians who seem to think, with the culture around us, that everything is material and can be solved by material means. I don’t think that’s right either.

Keep working with your doctors to treat your depression. If you’re not happy with the treatment or with the side-effects, seek some additional medical opinion, and listen for wisdom in a multitude of counselors. As you note in your question, sometimes the side-effects of these drugs are awful. Communicate with your doctor, and read up to ask the right kinds of questions.

But spend time too with those who know you and love you, and ask if there’s more behind this than simply serotonin reception. God doesn’t want you to be simply, in the words of one observer of the current pharmacological utopianism, “comfortably numb.” He wants you to be whole.