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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris 3 - Questions About Judging

            Ask Pastor Chris has been a fun and interesting message series fro me to preach. I have enjoyed receiving questions and talking with people about them over the last month. You can find some of the answers on my blog— Today I will address a few questions dealing with accountability, discernment, and being judgmental. This will be my last official message in this series, but you can always ask questions. I like to know your questions as it helps me know what to preach and teach about. Plus, I may write about some of the other questions on my blog, in our church newsletter, or in the bulletin. 

Matthew 7:1-61 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

Understanding the Texts
            Boy, that Jesus has a way with words! Doesn’t he? “Why worry about the speck of dust in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own eye?”  Jesus warns us not to judge others. Or does he?  He does say you will be judged by the same measure you judge others. Which seems to mean, “Don’t judge, at all.” However, that also means you can judge, just that God will judge you by the same standard.  Jesus also says you can help your friend remove the spec his eye, but only after you remove the log from your own. So there is still the possibility of dealing with your friend’s problem.
            Jesus also goes on to say don’t waste what is holy on unholy people.  Jesus says “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs.” Well how do you know they are pigs unless you judge them to be pigs? Isn’t that judging?  I think about his advice whenever I am faced with a drunk person who wants me to give them advice or who wants to discuss deep topics like religion or philosophy.  Have you ever tried to give advice to a drunk person?  It's pointless.  Even if you can get them to understand, they'll likely to forget what you said once they sober up!   

Judging Believers vs. Judging Non-believers
            The Apostle Paul had something interesting to say to the Corinthian church about judging people. Listen to what he said in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 – “12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”
            Are Christians supposed to have a double standard? Well, actually, yes!  Christians should hold each other to higher standards than people who do not believe in Christ. The problem within the church often is we expect non-Christians to live up to Christian standards. So we like to complain about the moral depravity of the people around us who don’t live the way Jesus says we should. Well, if they don’t believe in Jesus, why should we expect them to live the way Jesus teaches?
            Paul says we should focus on holding believers accountable and leave the judgment of unbelievers to God.  Christians need to hold one another accountable. It is a basic need of spiritual growth. A Christian friend recently asked me to hold him accountable for his foul language. He is a Christian and also a leader who people look up to. Yet, he has always struggled with using vulgar language. He recognized this and decided to make a change. He also recognized change would come easier if he had a Christian brother holding him accountable. He asked me and I have and he is getting better.
            Who is holding you accountable? Do you have a Christian brother or sister that needs you to hold them accountable?

Judgment vs. Being Judmental
           We need to recognize there is a big difference between what Jesus said about exercising judgment and being judgmental. People today love to quote Jesus and say, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” Usually, they says this when they or someone they care about is feeling judged or self-conscious. A lady once came to my churches seeking money early in my ministry.  We were a small church and had no funds to help pay her $500 rent as she requested.  I told her this and started to explain how the Salvation Army in town could help her, but I didn't get the chance.  She stormed out of my office yelling "Well, the Bible says judge not lest ye be judged."  I was certainly not judging her; I was trying to help her.  Unfortunately, she was too self-conscious of her situation or had been rejected too many times and angry and stormed out misjudging my intentions.
            Jesus never meant we aren’t supposed to have good judgment. Quite the contrary, he taught we should be careful to judge people correctly—especially in a world full of liars, hypocrites, deceivers, and false teachers. In Matthew 7:15-17, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.” Jesus taught how to make good judgments about people.  And he said this in the same passage where he warned us to be careful about judging people.  So we need discernment. Don’t let people guilt you into abandoning good judgment by their misguided admonition: “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”  
            Jesus warned us not to be judgmental. Having a judgmental attitude is different from exercising good judgment. Being judgmental is “having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.” It is the self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude we sometimes have when we think we are better than someone else.  It can be as unintentional as judging a book by a cover. A friend of mine related how he sometimes wrongly pre-judged his soldiers when he was an infantry officer in the Vietnam War. He said, “The most unassuming guys turned out to be the best warriors, the most determined fighters and did their work without complaining.”
            You may not be a soldier, but you might misjudge your employees or co-workers or potential friends based on your preconceived notions. You might miss out on a very good relationship because you “judged a book by its cover” without really finding out who a person is.
            Another type of judging is when we think we are better than someone else. In a sick way, it makes you feel better about yourself when look down on someone else. However, you are only lying to yourself when you do this. The fact is, you are not better than anyone else. Thinking you are is unhealthy, mean, and simply evil. Furthermore, it is ludicrous. It is like pointing at someone derisively because they have a hole in their pants while you are walking around naked! This kind of judgmentalism blinds us to our own faults, while tearing down other people that God deeply loves and wants us to love.
            There is another kind of judgmentalism that is so ridiculous and yet so prevalent we almost all
do it. I call it “National Enquirer Judgmentalism.” Here, we are judge people we’ve probably never even met and know nothing about.  It is the politician or celebrity we gossip and speculate about. I’m not talking about trying to make an educated decision about who to vote for. I’m talking about the way we “entertain” ourselves with so-called “news” speculating about the politics, motives, and lifestyles of famous people.  We even make judgments about the character of more ordinary people who make the news. A police officer in Missouri allegedly shoots an unarmed black man and suddenly everyone has an opinion. You don’t know the officer or the black man or the community or anything at all about the situation (except what the “news” is telling you) and suddenly you are an expert with an opinion. Or maybe a woman allegedly poisons her husband in California and suddenly it’s a national gossip story and everyone’s talking about if she did it and why.  What business do we have passing judgment on these things?  Does it make any real difference to our lives here in Dalton, GA?  Is it up to us to make a judgment? Don’t we have enough to worry about already?  Perhaps we would all be better off not to stand in judgment of people we’ve never met, about things that don’t concern us, in places we’ve never been.

How Do We Stop Being Judgmental?
            Here now, Jesus’ warning judging starts to make sense: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” But how do you stop being judgmental? Here are four tips that can help you stop judging others.
            First be aware you have a problem.  Here are some clues you might be judgmental:
  • Do you put most people you meet in some category? (Young, old, religious, heathen, rough, liberal, conservative, etc.)  Labeling people is a good indication you have a judgmental attitude.
  • Do you make judgments about people based on their appearance?  ("That guys got a lot of tattoos; he must be a rough character."  "She's too quiet.  She must be shy or stuck up."  "He's dressed up in a nice suit.  He must be rich."  "She's too fat.  She must be lazy.")  It's not a good idea to judge people on their appearance before you have a chance to get to know them.  And it's an indication you are being judgmental.
  • Do you gossip about others?  Judgmental people often derive pleasure from gossiping about others.
  • Do you form opinions based on what others say about someone?  This is another way we are judgmental.
  • Do you have contempt for people who disagree with you?  This is something we struggle with greatly in our divisive world.  "Those liberals/conservatives/republicans/democrats are idiots!"  If this is you, you are being judgmental.
  • Do you have a negative or distrustful outlook of people in general?  This is a common characteristic of judgmental people.
            Second, love yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. One of the biggest causes of being judgmental is our need to feel good about ourselves.  We put other people down--either to others or in our own mind--and it makes us feel superior.  This isn't much different from what a kindergarten bully does on the playground when they beat up or belittle a weaker person in order to make themselves feel better.  We don't need to compare ourselves to anyone else.  We are not better than anyone else, but no one else is better than us either.  We are all unique, special, people with great value and each of us is loved by God.  Find your worth in God's love and don't seek to bolster yourself by judging others.
            Third, try to understand and empathize.  Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It's so much easier to judge people who are “not like us.” That’s why it’s easier to gossip about and judge celebrities, politicians, and athletes. We don’t see them as regular people like us. However, when we see someone as our brother or sister, we get less pleasure from putting them down. Try to understand people and feel what they feel and you will be less likely to judge them unnecessarily.
            Fourth, stop gossiping.  Gossip is a way we derive pleasure from our judgmentalism.  Don't indulge in the pleasure reward and you will have less reason to judge people.  It just wont be as fun.

            We all have our struggles.  Maybe some of you struggle with being judgmental.  Ask God to help you get rid of your judgmental attitude.  Recognize you have a problem.   Love yourself and stop comparing yourself to others.  Ask God to help you empathize more and judge less.  And stop gossiping.
            Perhaps you need someone to hold you accountable.  Tell someone you trust you are trying to be less judgmental and ask them to pray for you, encourage you, and hold you accountable (just like my friend asked me to hold him accountable for his language).
            Maybe as you're reading this, you realize you need to use better judgment.  God gave you a brain and intuition.  He wants you to use it.  Pray for discernment.  Get advice from trusted people.  And make a proper judgment about someone or some situation in your life.  Seek to make better judgments about your family, your job, or an important decision you need to make.  Don’t be afraid.  Ask God to help you and He will be your guide.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris (a short, quick answer to a question about incest)

Here's a quick answer to a question I received this month:

The Question:  What does the Bible say about incest?  If we are all created from Adam and Eve, then we all commit incest, right?

My Answer:  No.  Although everyone is distantly related through Adam and Eve, we do not commit incest.  The definition of incest is: “sexual relations between people classed as being too closely related to marry each other.”  In the Bible, Leviticus 18:6-18 and 20:11-21 name some of the family relationships considered too close for sexual relations.  These include your parents, step-parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, aunts, uncles, and a few other close relatives.  More distant relatives are not off limits.  Today, most states follow similar regulations as the Bible in regards to marriage between relatives.  Typically in the United States, relatives cannot marry unless they are no more closely related than second cousins. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris 2 - Questions About Forgiveness

            I want to thank everyone who has sent in questions over the past few weeks.  They've been thought provoking.  I will try to post comments about each one.  If you have a question, you can still post it in a comments section at the bottom of this blog.
            Today I will address a few questions about forgiveness.  And I will end with a challenge to consider two important questions, so be thinking about them as you read.  The first question is: what is something for which you need to be forgiven?  The second question is: what is something you need to forgive?  I hope God will speak to you about both of these as you read. 

 Luke 17:3-4
So watch yourselves!  “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.

Matthew 18:21-22 21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”

What Did Jesus Mean?
Here we have two texts where Jesus shares wisdom about forgiveness.  We are to forgive generously—extravagantly and recklessly.  Jesus says even if you have to forgive the same person seven times in one day, do it!  So does that mean we should forgive just seven times?  No!   70 X 7 times!  (Some versions say 7 X 7 or 77 times)  Sooooo… Are we supposed to forgive people 49 times, 77 times, or 490 times?  The point is not the number.  Jesus means you should never stop forgiving people.  Just keep forgiving as many times as it takes.  

What is Forgiveness?
Have you ever tried to define forgiveness.  It's harder than you think.  So I looked it up online.  According to Wikipedia: Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.  Let me highlight a few elements in this definition.  
·       Forgiveness is intentional – The first step in forgiveness, is recognizing that you have been offended.  This might seem obvious, but you can't skip this.  Sometimes people who grow up in the church skip this step because we've been told to forgive so much we almost think we don't have a right to be offended.  When someone does wrong to us, we immediately say, "Oh, it's alright.  Don't worry about it."  The Bible does say we should be quick to forgive, but we also need to recognize--especially if the offence is serious--that someone has mistreated us.  You cannot truly forgive if you don't recognize a mistreatment and glossing over it may lead to problems like passive/aggressive behavior.

·       Forgiveness is voluntary – It must be your choice to forgive.  It is not coerced.  No one can force you to forgive.  You must be the one who decides.

·       Forgiveness is releasing – Forgiveness let’s go of the debt.  Forgiveness releases the offender from the need to repay the debt.  More importantly though, forgiveness releases the victim from expecting repayment.  Some debts simply cannot be repaid.  When you keep expecting to be paid when a debt can or never will be repaid, you only keep yourself locked in a prison.

·       Forgiveness is increasing love toward the offender.  That doesn't mean you will necessarily like the offender (that is not love).  Remember, love is not a warm fuzzy feeling about someone because they make you feel good.  Love is sacrificial.  Love is what Jesus did for us on the cross. 

A Financial Illustration:
            Let me run through a simple example of forgiveness using a financial illustration.  Suppose you loan your son $1 million dollars.  He spends all the money and then you realize he cannot repay the $1 million and he never will.  You could:  get angry about it and cling to your anger, hate him for it, hold a grudge, and throw a fit.  You could sue your son for the money (in which case, you may get some money, but nothing close to the full amount; he simply can't repay what he doesn't have).  You could plot to ruin his life to make him pay for his mistake, but what good would that do?  None of these will things you could do will actually do anything to collect on the debt.  It is uncollectable.
            So instead of seeking revenge, you intentionally decide to forgive the debt.  This is voluntary, not forced.  You release your son from the debt.  He no longer owes you and you do not resent him for it.  The debt and any negative emotions related to it are erased.  In this case, you don’t get your money, but you are free from fretting about it; you are free from the need to plot and strategize, and worry about it or from making trouble for your son.  You don't get repaid, but you can move on from the pain of the broken trust.  You can have a new relationship with your son, so you forgive him and then you love your son, genuinely wanting what’s best for him, despite his failure to repay you.
            Well, you may never have a million dollars to loan, but we all know of real life debts that cannot be repaid.  How do you repay someone for a public humiliation?  What are you going to say?  "Ok, you humiliated me last week so I get to humiliate you this week and then we will be even."  is that really going to make things even?  What about a burglary?  A burglar might replace things they stole and go to jail, but how do they repay the psychological damage done to a family?  Can a drunk driver ever pay off a debt for someone they’ve killed in an accident?  What about their family?  What about murder?  Well, we have the death penalty, but even the death penalty cannot erase the debt.  Your loved one who has been murdered can never be brought back--even by the death of the murder.

What Forgiveness is Not: Now that we know what forgiveness is, let's take a look at what forgiveness is not. 
·       Forgiveness is not condoning – Condoning is failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness.  Many people struggle to forgive, because they think it somehow condones what the offender has done.  Not so.  Forgiveness does not in any way condone evil actions.  To the contrary, it recognizes that evil was committed, and chooses to fogive it.

·       Forgiveness is not excusing Excusing is saying the offender is not responsible for their action.  (Excusing is like saying a person had a terrible childhood and so they aren't responsible for what they did...)  You can forgive someone and still hold them accountable for their actions.  If someone robs you, you can forgive them and still prosecute them. Your forgiveness does not necessarily cancel the consequences of their actions.  It simply means, you have let go of the anger and hurt about the offence in your own heart.  Love may actually require you to hold people accountable for their sake and/or for the sake of society.

·       Forgiveness is not forgetting – The expression “forgive and forget” is not biblical.  I have searched the Scriptures and I cannot find it.  Jesus wants us to forgive, but Jesus did not teach us, nor does he expect us, to forget.  In many cases, it is not wise to forget an offence.  You should forgive someone who cheats you, but it would not be wise to forget what they did.  Don’t hold a grudge, but be aware that they may try to cheat you again.

·       Forgiveness is not reconciliationReconciliation is the restoration of a relationship.  You can forgive someone without reconciling or putting yourself back in harm’s way.  In some cases, reconciliation would not be wise or healthy. 
            One question that came in was: “Does forgiving someone mean you let them continually repeat offenses against you?” The answer is: No, because forgiveness is not reconciliation. 
            Reconciliation may not be necessary if the person is a stranger because there is no relationship to rebuild. You can’t reconcile a relationship you didn’t have in the first place.  One of my members at a previous church was a very sweet, prayerful, and godly women.  However, Suzy had a terrible accident.  She wrecked her car into a motorcyclist.  It was an accident, but it was Suzy's fault and the motorcyclist was nearly killed.  Suzy felt terrible about it and asked if I would visit the family in the ICU.  I did and expressed Suzy's remorse and prayed for the family.  Thankfully, they were Christians and understood forgiveness.  They forgave Suzy, but they didn't need to reconcile with her because there was no relationship to rebuild.  Furthermore, I believe they even went on to sue Suzy (really her insurance company) to try and recoup the money they needed for medical expenses (as they should have).  So we seen in this a few elements we've discussed.  First, that reconciliation is not always necessary as apart of forgiveness.  And second, you can forgive and still hold people accountable.
            Sometime, reconciliation is not advisable.  Reconciliation is not wise or healthy if it would be dangerous or result in abuse.  Reconciliation may not be wise or healthy if the person is unrepentant, otherwise they may feel it is ok to do the same thing again and they are likely to hurt you again (and again and again…). 
            There is also such a thing as partial or limited reconciliation. That means you re-establish a limited relationship with someone.   We find examples of this frequently after a divorce where children are involved.  You may never fully reconcile with your ex (and there are circumstances where full reconciliation may not be wise), but if you have children together and share custody, you probably need to reconcile to some degree just to cooperate as parents with joint custody.

Why Forgive?   
            Why should we forgive? I mean, if it is so complicated and hard, why should we even bother?  We forgive because Jesus forgave us and he asks us to forgive others.  Psalm 65:3, "Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all."  Often, the thing that keeps us from forgiving someone is thinking we are better than them. We say, "How could you do that? I would never do that!" And so we feel they don't deserve to be forgiven. If you think you have not sinned, or if you think you are better than someone else, you need to rethink. All of us are guilty of sin. And all sins are equally evil in God’s sight. Therefore, you are no better than anyone else. 
            Your sins--regardless of how small you feel they are--led to Jesus horrible death.  Though he was completely innocent, he was arrested, abused, tortured, and crucified to atone for your sin.  Yet, despite this, Jesus willingly died on the cross to forgive your sin.  If Jesus went through all that for you, how can you refuse to forgive others when Jesus asks you to? 
            We forgive because it is the only way we can be healed.  Holding on to a grudge is like you drinking poison and expecting it to hurt the other person. It’s ludicrous.  Refusing to forgive creates bitterness in your heart that will poison everything you do.  It will make you a bitter, angry person--even with people you love.  It will hinder your ability to trust others—even people who haven’t done anything wrong.  It will hurt your relationship with God.  Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
            We forgive because it frees us.  Proverbs 17:9, "Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends."  We are happier when we let go of our grudges.  It enables us to have better relationships with God and with people.

Forgiveness is Hard
             In just a moment, I’m going to ask you to pray about one thing for which you need to be forgiven and one thing you need to forgive.  But before I do, I want to share my two things.  First of all, one thing I need to forgive are church members who have disappointed me.  I have been a minister for 17 years and it is always very hurtful to be betrayed by a church member.  You would think a minister would have the whole forgiveness thing down after 17 years, but it can be very difficult.  I can still think back to a time in 2004 when some church members went behind my back and tried to have me replaced as the church's youth pastor.  It was very hurtful and the pain of their betrayal still lingers in my heart.  I need to let that go, as I forgive other betrayals. 
            Sometimes, though, it is not a blatant betrayal that I need to forgive.  You know, I pour my heart and soul into a church and it really hurts when a member of my church leaves to attend another church.  It is especially hurtful when I hear things like:  they didn't feel like they were being fed or they liked the music over there better or they had friends at that other church.  And I need to let go of my disappointment and just forgive, because I know I'm not perfect either.
            I realize I need to be forgiven because I have made mistakes as a minister.  I have not always been the pastor people needed me to be.  I have not always visited like I should--either because I didn't know or I was not able or (sometime) because I didn't want to.  And people have been so gracious to me.  People have forgiven my mistakes.  Often, I'm sure, I have hurt people and they have forgiven me and I wasn't even aware of it.  And I'm so thankful God has forgiven me and that people have been gracious and forgiven me.  And so I think if God and people have been so gracious with me, I should be gracious and forgive others too.

            So now I would like to challenge you to take a moment pray about your own situation.  What is one thing for which you need to be forgiven and what is one thing you need to forgive?  Pray about it. I invite you to go even further and write it down on a slip of paper.  Then, after you've prayed to God about it, burn that slip of paper as a symbol of letting it go forever.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris (a short, quick answer to a question about being single or married)

Here's a quick answer to a question I received Sunday.  The question: "Does God ask us to get married and raise a family?"

My answer:  Not necessarily.  American society puts a lot of pressure on people to find their "true love" and get married and raise a family.  Unfortunately, churches usually follows society's lead on this without really thinking what God wants.  God has a better plan.  Both remaining single and getting married are equally acceptable to God.  Marriage and children are the more usual path people follow and can be a beautiful expression of God's love.  Furthermore, a healthy marriage can help with spiritual growth, is God's plan for enjoying the gift of sex, and provides the best means for conceiving and raising children.  On the other hand, remaining single is also a valid and helpful expression of the human experience.  Jesus remained single and said, "...some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 19:12).  The Apostle Paul reasoned that a married person has to divide their attention between their spouse and serving God; however, a single person can focus all their attention on the Lord's work (see 1 Corinthians 7:32-35).  Whether or not to have children can follow a similar line of reasoning.  A couple can be married and not have children. This could be by choice or because they are unable.  Raising children can be a wonderful blessing.  It is a great honor to love your children unconditionally and it is perhaps the greatest way to evangelize the world, as we teach our children to have faith in Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, raising kids is difficult and requires a lot of time, energy, and resources.  A couple without children can devote more to each other and to God's work.  Christians must understand life with more clarity than the unbelieving world around us.  We should take the lead in accepting, valuing, and supporting people in the variety of ways life is lived--single, married, with and without children.  Each is a beautiful gift from God to be embraced (not merely endured until we become like everybody else says we should be). 

For more information about what the Bible says on the subjects of singleness, marriage, and raising children, see:  Genesis 2:18-25, Matthew 19:1-12, Hebrews 13:4, Mark 10:1-12, and 1 Corinthians 7.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

10 Things Important for Marriage (and Life)

10 Things Important for Marriage (and Life)
Adapted from Advice Given by Ron and Marianne Snyder
1.    Put God First – There are only 2 ways to live your life, with God and without God.  Living life without God will not work.  You are not God and you do not have all the answers.  You have limited strength and resources and at some point they will run out.  You need someone bigger, smarter, and stronger; and the only one who can do that is God.

2.    Embrace your real identity and the fact that you have a perfect heavenly father – Your earthly father is likely to have failed you at some point—even if they were a good father,  That’s because our earthly father is not designed to be everything for us.  No one is—not your parents, friends, or your spouse.  You may have an earthly father that you see as less than perfect, but remember you have a perfect heavenly father who loves you and is always there to provide for you.  Remember who God says you are as His child, a Prince of the King of kings.  Everything He has is yours.  Seek to know Him better and those riches will be your blessings.

3.    Love one another – From Ephesians 5, we learn:  Man is the head of the marriage as Christ is the head of the church.  Man is to love his wife, the way Christ loves you unconditionally—putting her first in all things.  Loving your wife unconditionally, it is the greatest gift and lesson you could ever give your children. 

Marriage is a covenant, in Hebrew that covenant is called a berit.  It means fused together like superglue.  When you get married, you and your wife become one—together forever.  You are the same in that you have 3 basic, God-given needs:  love, acceptance, and worth.  But keep this in mind:  even though you together, you are still different and have different needs.  A man’s #1 need is respect.  A woman’s #1 need is security.  Men tend to see things in black and white.  Women see everything in the middle.  Those are just a couple of differences that are important to recognize.

One more thing:  You don’t need to solve everything.  Sometimes, just be a good listener.  But if you do need to say something—as Ephesians 4:15 says—speak the truth in love.

4.    Never go to bed mad – Ephesians 4:26, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  Women (and men) can be difficult when they’re upset.  They can say things they don’t really mean.  Words are weapons, especially for someone who feels helpless.    There will be many times you’ll have to take the high road and overlook the emotions that are going on and not play into them. Being the one that stays calm and reassures that everything is ok can go a long way in keeping the peace.

5.    Put away the past – Make sure your baggage stays as empty as possible.  Learn to forgive.  You know they say “harboring forgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person t die.”  Address any issues you may have and heal them before you start out together.  You have heard it said, “Time heals all wounds…”  Not so.  Time only heals clean wounds.

6.    Divorce is not an option – Pledge that to each other from the beginning.  It’s important.  God’s desire is for husband and wife to stay married for life.  And accept for extreme circumstances—such as adultery and abuse—a couple should do everything possible to keep the marriage together.  There will be times that are tough, but the grass is never greener and someday you’ll look back and see that it was the storms you conquered in uor marriage that made it stronger. 

7.    Live within your means – This is big!  Money problems are the biggest reason for divorce.  If you can’t pay for it, don’t buy it.

8.    Guard your heart – Satan will always be after you and your marriage.  He will work hard to tear you apart.  One fo the ways he does it is by getting you to compare yourself to others.  Your marriage will be unique to you.  Don’t compare yourself or your marriage to anyone else.  Guys, guarding your heart also means don’t look at other women or pornography.

9.    Compliment and show each other love – There are 5 main love languages.  They are:  words of affirmation, spending time together, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts.  Know what yours are and those of the people you care about (including your kids).  That way you’ll know how to speak love to them.  If you concentrate on giving gifts but your spouse’s language is acts of service, you will miscommunicate and they might not hear you telling them how much you love them.  Make sure you know and are speaking their love language.

10. Have fun – Your spouse should also be your best friend.  Spend time together going to concerts, hiking and traveling, the movies, bowling, cooking together, whatever… 

Ask Pastor Chris 1 - Questions About Sin

            Today, I begin a new series of blogs based on questions people have asked about religion, the Bible, etc.  Several people asked questions related to sin. So today I will address the topic of sin.
            In Genesis we read how a man named Joseph became the most powerful man in ancient Egypt besides Pharaoh.  But then that Pharaoh died, Joseph died, and 400 years passed.  There was a drastic change of attitudes of Egyptians toward the Israelites (the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). The Egyptians loathed the Israelites who had grown numerous in the land. The Egyptians tried to wipe them out with slavery, hard labor, and genocide. 
            God raised up a prophet named Moses to deliver the people. Through a series of plagues, God forced the mighty Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. And by many miracles—such as parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk across on dry ground—God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Furthermore, God gave Moses divine laws to order the life of His people and keep them pure and holy.  Yet the sin of Adam and Eve still corrupted the hearts of these people; and as God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments up on a holy mountain, sin led the Israelites into trouble again.

Exodus 32:1-8
1When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

5 Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”

6 The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

7 The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”

Brief Exposition of Scripture
            It is almost unbelievable that the Israelites would turn their backs on God so quickly after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  It was God who brought ten plagues against Pharaoh, forcing him to let the Israelites go.  It was God who parted the Red Sea—a miracle so awesome no one could forget it.  It was God who provided for these former slaves as they journeyed through the dessert. 
            Sin is a terrible disease that darkens human hearts and minds. It caused the Israelites to turn their back on God, while He was still working to save them.  We still struggle with sin today.

What is Sin?
            Sin was originally an archery term. It meant missing the mark. But what is the the target for which we shoot?  God made us in His image. God intends us to be a reflection of His Holy Love. That Holy Love was lived out in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and each other.
            Jesus also explained the nature of Holy Love in the New Testament when he named the Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength...  And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
            When we think of sin, we usually think of all the bad things people do—lying, cheating, stealing, murder, etc. These are all sins, but they are sins (with a lower case "s") because they are only symptoms.
            Here's an illustration: When you are coughing, sneezing, and have a runny nose, you might say you have a cold. But the coughing and sneezing, and runny nose are just the symptoms. The common cold is actually cause by a virus—the rhinovirus. The virus is the core problem. The symptoms—the coughing, sneezing, and runny nose—are just the results.
            The core problem in the human heart is Sin (that’s Sin with a capital "S"). We don’t keep God at the center of our life. We don’t put Him first. We try to find in other things what only God can give.  That is the real Sin (with a capital "S").
            It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Remember, they chose to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Instead of trusting God who said not to eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve listened to the serpent who lied and told them the fruit would make them like God.
            The core Sin is we don’t love God above all else, we don’t trust God above all else, we don’t obey God above all else.  When this core Sin inhabits our hearts, it expresses itself through a multitude of little "s" sins—lying, cheating, stealing, murder, idolatry, lust… We forget about God who made us and saved us and we mistreat everyone. Ultimately, we destroy ourselves. As Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” 

Are All Sins Equal?
            One of the question submitted was "Are all sins equal?"  As I have said, the core Sin (with a capital "S") is not keeping God above all else. So there is only one Sin. But what people mean, I think, when they ask this question is “Are all the little "s" sins equal?” And the answer depends from whose perspective you are looking.  Are you viewing the problem from people's perspective or God's perspective.
            If you look at the problem from people's perspective, it is plain to see societies loathe some sins more than others.  Murder is almost universally detested—regardless in which part of the world you live (though some cultures even view murder in varying degrees).  Other sins are detestable in one region while hardly even noticed in another society.  I recently read about a missionary who discovered this as he was serving as a professor overseas.  He gave his foreign students a multiple choice test.  Each question had 4 choices, one of them being correct.  Multiple choice tests are usually considered easier in America because even if you don't know the answer, you can guess and have at least a 25% chance of getting the right answer.  So the missionary professor was surprised to see students turning in test without even taking a guess on many of the questions.  He asked one of the foreign students about it. 
            "Did you realize you didn't answer all of the questions?  You still have time left.  Why don't you try to answer them?"
            "No, because I don't know the answers to those questions," replied the student.
            "But why don't you at least take a guess at them?"  Inquired the professor.
            "Oh no!" exclaimed the student.  "I couldn't do that.  If I accidentally chose the correct answer, I would be lying because I do not know the answer."
            The professor realized, the students of that foreign land valued honesty more than students in America, even more than the professor.  They saw sin in a different way.  Who is to say they are not right?
            How society feels about a particular sin can change quite a bit over time.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, considered playing cards a terrible sin because it was a distraction that wasted time that could be used for spiritual growth and to serve God and one’s fellow man.  Now-a-days, playing cards is often done in the church and we wouldn't think a thing about it. Our views have changed.
            Currently, the big debate in America centers on issues of sexual sin—especially homosexuality. To some, it would seem engaging in homosexual acts is the worst possible sin anyone can commit. Yet, society has become so much more accepting of homosexuality and sexual sin in general.  So it is easy to see that people, societies, and cultures do not see all sins as equal and perceptions of sin can change a lot over time. But what about God?

           From God's perspective, all sins are equal. As the first part of Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death…”  Dead is dead; there's no such thing as a little bit dead. It doesn’t matter if the sin was a little white lie, a little gossip, homosexuality, or murder. All sins results in death and are equally evil in God’s sight.
            One of my childhood youth pastors explained it to me this way.  Suppose you have a crystal clear pane of glass.  It is perfectly clear except for one small smudge in the middle.  Even though 99% of the glass is clear, if you take a hammer and strike the small smudge, the whole pane of glass will break (not just the smudge).  The same is true of your life.  Even if you are 99% perfect, that 1% of you that is sin will shatter the other 99%.
            Romans 3:23 & 6:23a tells us the bad news.  Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of God's glorious standard."  And the first part of Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death..."  We all sin and are subject to death.  The Good News is that God does not give us what we deserve. Because of Jesus, we can be forgiven our sins, no matter how big or small they are.  As the second part of Romans 6:23 says, "the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
            When we repent and trust in Jesus, every sin we've ever committed is forgiven.  Every sin we will ever commit in the future is also forgiven by God.  Isn't that wonderful news?  It is very wonderful news indeed! 

Should We Keep Sinning?
            If God is just going to forgive us, why not just keep on sinning?  No! Because you have to repent in order to receive God’s forgiveness.  Repentance is choosing to turn away from your sin and turn to God—turning away from all those little sins like lying, cheating, stealing, etc.  Ultimately, repentance means you choose to put God above everything else.  It means loving God above all else, obeying God above all else, serving God above all else, and seeking God above all else.  If you decide to just keep on sinning, you are not really repenting.
            Now, we are still imperfect human beings. We may still make mistakes. We have a lot of healing to do before we actually reclaim the perfect image of God. And God is gracious. He understands and is patient. He forgives again and again and again. But don’t abuse His gracious gift by willfully and knowingly sinning just because you know He will forgive you. God knows your heart.

Dwelling on the Past
            One interesting question that came in was:  "If God forgave me, shouldn’t people forgive me too and not dwell on the past?"  The question came to me on Facebook last week, but I have heard the question in various forms from different people through 17 years on church ministry.
            When we sin, we often feel terrible.  We struggle with shame and guilt and often the awful consequences of our sin.  It can be very difficult for us personally as we struggle to repent, accept God’s forgiveness, and even forgive ourselves.  It is a painful journey; one we would like to just put behind us.  However, the consequences of our sins  often linger; often, those consequences effect other people.  For example:  If you commit adultery and it leads to divorce, the consequences will last a lifetime.  Even though God forgives you, you may always have to deal with the scars of a broken marriage.  Your spouse may never forgive you.  If there were children involved, it may take years of hard work to repair the relationships; and they may always remember what you did.  Sin has a terrible and lasting effect.
            In the Bible, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, God forgave him.  However, David suffered the consequences of his sin though out his life.  In the short term, just after the sin, David’s infant son got sick and died.  In the long term, David’s family was full of conflict.  One of his own sons eventually lead a rebellion to steal the Kingdom from David.  David retained his Kingdom, but only after his son was defeated and put to death.  As an old man, David still struggled with guilt from the brokenness he caused by his sin.
           When we sin, we are glad that God forgives us and we may feel as though everyone ought to forgive us and move on too.  However, don’t presume to think people owe you forgiveness.  Maybe they should forgive you, because it would be better for them if they did.  However, don’t resent someone because they haven’t forgiven you yet.  You don’t have that right.  Remember, you caused this problem; now you are dealing with the consequences.
            Instead of telling people to forgive you and move on, be patient with them.  Be gracious and show real love instead of resentment.  Give them time to heal and give God time to work on their heart.  Pray for them; pray that God would heal them—for their sake and not just so you can be free of the shame and guilt.  In the mean time, bear the cross you have to bear until God takes it away. 

What is God Saying to You Today?
            As we conclude, I invite to consider what God might be saying to you today.  Perhaps He is calling you to repent of your sin and turn to Him.  Perhaps He wants you to make a new commitment to put Him above everything else.  Maybe you need to ask God to help you see sin more like He does and less like the fickle people around you. All sins are equally evil. Ask God to help you hate the sin within you.  Maybe you need to pray for those who need to forgive; perhaps there is even someone who needs to forgive you. Ask God for patience while you wait.

Do you have a question you want me to address? Post it in the comments below or send me an email at