Archive for May, 2008

Supporting the troops

Whenever I see one of those yellow “Support Our Troops” car decals, it gets me wondering about the best way to act in the interest of those in the military.  And I always come up with the same answer – “it depends.”

If war is the right measure to meet some present threat, troops should be supported one way.  But if war is not the answer, the troops should be supported in a different way altogether.

There are, unfortunately, occasions when war is necessary.  When sin entered this world, God sent forth a curse of enmity that includes the sad reality of war (Gen.3:15).

In those cases when war is justified, and declared by the right authority (like Congress, as indicated by the Constitution), the troops need to be given all that is necessary to finish their work quickly and return to lives of peace.

But something else must be remembered.

Although God has ordained that there would be war in this world, the presence of war should not be viewed as normal and it should not continue unchanged.  God does not favor the violent (Pr.11:5), and He prefers wisdom to the weapons of war (Ecc.9:18).

Also, the Bible anticipates a time when animosity and the wars it leads to will be no more.  “And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war” (Is.2:4).

This may seem like an impossible dream, but it is a reality that will be progressively achieved through the reign of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  As the ethnic barriers that so often lead to war fall away (Eph.2:11), there will be an advancing shift from violence to grace.

At the forefront of this shift is the church, who has been charged to bring the kingdom of God to this world (Mt.28:18-20).  As this kingdom emerges, the dying kingdoms of this world will still encounter conflict.  But ultimately, God’s kingdom will advance – by spiritual means.

And this is something followers of Christ must especially remember.  The weapons of the believer’s warfare are not of the flesh, but of the Spirit (2 Cor.10:4).

In this regard, being in a state of perpetual war needs to be viewed as the failure that it is.  When a nation finds itself in frequent wars (as ours does), it reflects a failure to discern underlying spiritual realities.

The war in Iraq is a case in point.  As noble as bringing freedom to the Iraqi people may sound, this can only come about by the Spirit – not the State.  “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor.3:17).

So, in this case, how do we best support the troops? We cease using them to do something that can only be accomplished by the Spirit.  To continue to use them in this way only brings needless death, a growing State, and the loss of liberty at home.

At the same time, we encourage the work of the Church.  Because it’s only as more learn to follow the Prince of Peace that we will see the wars of this world diminish.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest

Your Family

Yesterday I read a report on the high cost of family breakdown. After noting that the cost of family breakdown in Michigan is $1.5 billion annually, the report went on to present three important conclusions.

“First, marriage is more than a personal, private relationship – it is also an important public good – which has a profound impact on both our personal and public life. Second, there is an undeniably strong correlation between unmarried households and poverty. Finally, it is proper for government leaders to seek ways to encourage healthy marriages and discourage family fragmentation.”

From my own experience as a pastor, I could not agree more with these conclusions. But the question is, “How do we respond?”

When you read reports like this one, there’s a temptation to despair. It’s as though the crumbling of the family seems inevitable, and that we should just plan on building more prisons and providing more welfare to account for it.

But the ruin of the family (and all its negative consequences) is not inevitable. With encouragement, instruction, help, and much grace from God, stronger families are possible. The place to begin is with your own.

While government policies and cultural influences play significant roles in the direction of the family, far more important are the choices made by individual families themselves. This means you should not despair over the current plight of the family, but take direct action to strengthen your own household.

Here are three steps that you can take to get your own family headed in a better direction . . .

First, repent. Everyone is aware of failings within their family. But those failings don’t have to keep you down. You can make changes. Repent of your failings, seek God’s forgiveness, and resolve to move forward.

Second, start where you are. When you think about making changes in your family, it can seem overwhelming – especially if you know your family should be in much better shape than it is. But remember, the grace of God picks you up where you are, not where you should be. Ask God to show you a few changes you can make right away, and He will direct you without fail.

Third, get help. While the family is the most basic institution of society, it is not meant to function alone. So, don’t try and improve your family in isolation, but get help from others. The ideal place for help is a local church. Here you’ll not only learn more about God’s design for the family, but you’ll get encouragement and help from others who are also seeking to apply His principles.

The decline of the family and its impact on society is one of the most serious trends we face today. But recognizing the significance of the family also brings hope, because it shows you that there are steps you can take to improve the world around you – by starting with your own family first.

Ask God to show you what changes your family needs to make for the better. As He shows you, He will surely give the grace you need to implement them.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest

Marriage Problems

Marriage problems often seem very complicated, especially to those in the midst of them. But most marriage problems are simpler than they appear, and once this is realized it gives much hope for an improved marriage.

Of course, all marriage problems can be traced in some way to pride and selfishness. With virtually all marriage problems, somebody is putting himself or herself first (maybe both), and this sends ripples through the relationship.

Simply identifying selfishness as the source of marriage problems, however, is not enough. We must go further to identify how such selfishness works itself out in practice in order to see how to overcome it.

Let’s start with husbands. God designed husbands to lead the marriage relationship. Specifically, He refers to a husband as the “head” of his wife, and in this capacity he is to provide loving leadership (Eph.5:23).

Because of his own sin, however, a husband can easily fall short in his leadership in one of two ways.

First, he can abuse his position, treating his wife as though he were a petty dictator, showing little respect for her as a person. In this case “the wife” (as she is often condescendingly called) is little more than a servant, expected to do her husband’s bidding.

The second way a husband commonly falls short in his leadership is by abdicating. That is, he doesn’t effectively lead at all. He’s passive when it comes to giving direction, not wanting to take responsibility for anything, but still frequently blames his wife for whatever problems the two of them face.

Not surprisingly, the woman who finds herself in this situation is not happy, and will typically try and deal with it in a couple of ways.

One way is to escape. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she will flee the marriage. She may escape in other less direct ways, like spending lots of time shopping or away with her friends.

Another common way a wife may respond is to try and rule over her husband (Gen.3:16b). This is especially common when a husband abdicates his leadership. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when a husband creates a leadership vacuum, his wife will quickly fill the void and begin to “wear the pants.”

When this occurs, the situation worsens because the husband perceives that his wife wants to run things, which he, of course, resents. What he doesn’t see is that his own neglect contributed to the situation in the first place.

So, what’s the solution? Both husbands and wives must constantly be aware of the unique temptations that face them in their marriage.

Husbands must avoid abusing or abdicating their position, and must lovingly lead their wives. Wives must be cautious not to rule over their husbands, and respect them as they seek to be capable helpmates.

For both husbands and wives, enjoying God’s design for a fulfilling marriage requires much grace. And God supplies this grace in abundance to all who humbly turn to Him.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest

The King and His Kingdom

A popular theme you’ll find in many stories is that of a king and his kingdom.  Typically, in these stories the king establishes a glorious kingdom, then a renegade force intrudes to take over the kingdom, and after that the king takes action to recover the kingdom and make it more glorious than it had been.

A familiar example of this theme is the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Have you ever wondered why this kind of story is so common?

It’s because it’s a take off from the story of this world.

The Lord God made this world to be His kingdom.  But Satan rebelled, spoiling the kingdom and enslaving its subjects.  In order to reclaim the world and restore it, God sent forth His Son as His anointed prince.

One of the most important ways that the Bible speaks of God is as a King.  “The Lord shall reign forever and ever,” the Bible tells us (Ex.15:18). And His rule is comprehensive, extending over all things.  “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps.103:19).

When Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, He was exalted to be this King over all.  From this position He rules over every power and authority (Eph.1:20,21).  It may not appear that way to us as we look at the state of the world, but the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil.2:9-11).

Of course, no king would be a king without a kingdom – and Jesus has His.   Jesus proclaimed this kingdom throughout His ministry, and urged His hearers to enter into it.  And how is it that one enters His kingdom?  Not by birthright, or by the will of any man, but by the grace of God.  We must humble ourselves and become like receptive children to become citizens of His kingdom.

In that same state of humility we are to grow in faithfulness and service to Him.  And it’s in this way His kingdom is built.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt.3:2), and the kingdoms of this world already to belong to the Lord and His Christ (Rev.11:15).

With the kingdom underway, it is now to advance.  This is why the Bible tells us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt.6:10).

This is also why the Bible  tells us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Mt.6:33).  Because as we seek the way of the kingdom it becomes established in our world.

The problems so common to our day have arisen because we have rejected the Lord from being king over us (1 Sam.8:7).  Our hope is in returning to Him as our rightful king.

And this is something each of us can do wherever God has called us.  More than anything else, what we need now is a people who seek to live the way of the kingdom in the place God has put them.

Categories: Seed for the Harvest