Fight for Your Marriage (1)

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“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Ps 127:1 NKJV

It’s easy to remember where and when you got married, but sometimes what escapes you is why. God created Eve because He knew Adam was lonely and incomplete. So if the purpose of marriage is closeness, the enemy of marriage is distance. But problems arise when you expect your spouse to meet every need you’ve got. Only God can do that! A guy asked his buddy, “How come you never got married?” He replied, “Because I was looking for the ideal woman.” “And you never found her?” his friend asked. “Oh, sure, but just my luck—she was looking for the ideal man.” Hello! The Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph 5:25 NKJV). Can a marriage ever be perfect? No, but when two people make up their minds to give themselves fully to one another they can come pretty close. In a survey of thousands of married couples, here are ten reasons why people said they were unhappy: (1) They didn’t think alike in many areas. (2) They had little insight into each other’s feelings. (3) They said hurtful things to one other. (4) They felt unloved. (5) They felt taken for granted. (6) They lacked someone to confide in. (7) Each spouse felt he or she was giving more than the other. (8) They rarely complimented each another. (9) They desired more affection. (10) They couldn’t talk to each other. Now, since God performed the first marriage, talking to Him about yours would be a good place to start.

When God Feels Distant

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“The Lord has hidden himself…but I trust him.” Isa 8:17 GNT

Does God feel distant? Floyd McClung writes: “You wake up one morning and all your ‘spiritual feelings’ are gone. You pray, but nothing happens. You rebuke the Devil, but it doesn’t change anything. You go through spiritual exercises, have your friends pray for you, confess every sin you can imagine, then go around asking forgiveness of everyone you know. You fast; still nothing. You begin to wonder how long this spiritual gloom will last. It feels like your prayers bounce off the ceiling. In utter frustration you cry out: ‘What’s the matter with me?’ This is a normal part of the testing and maturing of your friendship with God. We all go through it. It’s painful, but it’s absolutely vital to developing your faith. You see, God is always present, even when you are unaware of Him. His presence is too profound to be measured by intellect or emotion. He’s more concerned that you trust Him than that you feel Him. Faith, not feelings, is what pleases God” (Heb 11:6). You ask, “So what can I do?” Isaiah answers, “The Lord has hidden himself…but I trust him.” Focus on God’s unchanging love and faithfulness. Cling to His promises. During times of spiritual dryness, rest on His Word, not your feelings. Realize that He’s taking you to a deeper level of maturity. Any friendship based strictly on emotion is shallow indeed. So don’t be troubled by trouble—God’s grace is still in full force! He’s with you even when you don’t feel Him. His word to you today is, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5 NIV).

Christlikeness

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“We share in his sufferings…that we may also share in his glory.” Ro 8:17 NIV

God’s number-one goal for you isn’t comfort, it’s Christlikeness! And to reach it you’ll have to undergo some of the same experiences that Jesus went through—like being misunderstood by your family, ridiculed by church folks, rejected by the world, and disappointed by the people who say they love you. The Bible says we’ve been called to “share in his sufferings…that we may also share in his glory.” So how do we do this? In three ways: (1) Stay focused on God’s plan, not your pain. “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Heb 12:1-2 NLT). Corrie ten Boom said, “If you look within you’ll feel depressed, if you look without you’ll be distressed, but if you look to Christ you’ll be at rest.” (2) Don’t give in to short-term thinking.Look at Jesus, “Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross” (v. 2 NLT). Keep your eye on the end game. You don’t get the trophy until the race is over, so make up your mind to “stay the course” and finish strong. (3) Start praying the right way. When you understand that God’s objective is to make you more like Christ, you’ll start praying fewer “comfort me” prayers and more “conform me” ones. Instead of asking, “Why me, Lord?” you’ll ask, “What do You want me to learn, Lord?” James writes, “Let the process go on until…you have become men [and women] of mature character” (Jas 1:4 PHPS). That’s how you become more Christlike

Inner Beauty

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“He will bring justice if you will only wait.” Job 35:14 NLT

A lady flew across the nation to tell a talk show host how her husband had left her for another woman. The lady, who was young, vibrant, and beautiful, pulled out a photograph and said, “Just look at her. He left me for that!” The host concluded, “Sadly, we’ve been conditioned to think that ‘looks’ are all-important, when, in fact, they’re not.” Nevertheless we keep measuring, comparing, and beating ourselves up because we fall short. If you can’t enjoy who you are because of what you’re not, you’ll never be happy. Advertisers spend billions of dollars getting us to decorate a shell that’s in a losing battle with Mother Nature and Father Time—all in an effort to create what we think will attract others. And when it doesn’t work, we get depressed and wonder what went wrong. Sure, it’s important to look your best, but when you’re obsessed with your appearance you become superficial. And others lose respect for you because they discover that although the box is beautifully wrapped, it’s empty. If you want to know what ultimately wins hearts and attracts the right people, read these words: “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love…And may you have the power to understand…how long, how high, and how deep his love [for you] is…Then you will be made complete” (vv. 16-19 NLT). That’s the secret to inner beauty!

Choose the Right Friends (2)

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“Two people are better off than one.” Ecc 4:9 NLT

Take the initiative. Don’t wait to be introduced. Say hello and get the other person’s name. If you’re naturally shy, it can be hard taking the first step. But the chances are that the other person feels the same, and when you start talking you’ll find things in common. Take a risk. If you like somebody, go a little deeper and mention a small struggle, fear, or disappointment you’ve experienced. It’s called “manageable risk,” and it lets you gauge how the other person responds. If they’re caring and identify with what you’re saying, that’s a good sign. If they shut down, try to fix you, or act critical, it may be time to move on. Invite them to join you. If everything else works out, exchange phone numbers and invite the other person for coffee or lunch. Then go for a second meeting and give it a little time; that way you’ll know if it’s a friendship worth developing. Go where people hang out. There are lots of places to connect, like church, the gym, school, a play group, or volunteer service. Be willing to leave your comfort zone and try new situations. Remember that God uses all kinds of friendships to fulfill His purpose. One prominent preacher says: “There are friends who were instrumental in my blessing, although they never embraced or affirmed me. These are the ‘Judas sector’ that exists in the life of every child of God… the ones who cause you the most pain. They wound…and betray you, but through their betrayal God’s will can be executed in your life.” Ask God for a friend, then go out and make one!

Choose the Right Friends (1)

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“Friends sharpen the minds of each other.” Pr 27:17 CEV

Author Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years…except for the people with whom you associate and the books you read.” When it comes to choosing friends, Dr. Charles Townsend says look for: (1) People who influence you to be the person God intended. “As iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other” (Pr 27:17 CEV). Relationships are the tools God uses to do this. When you’re with somebody, ask yourself, “Do I like who I am when I’m around this person? Am I more open, loving and honest? Or do I not like what I see in myself?” Choose people who make you a better person. (2) People who provide grace for the energy drain. When you’re empty you need to be refueled physically, spiritually, and relationally. So surround yourself with friends who will listen, encourage, and be there for you. (3) People who let you be real. “A friend loveth at all times” (Pr 17:17). The best relationships are those where you know you’re loved, you’re free to be yourself, and you can take off the cheerleading uniform and be real about the difficult aspects of life. There’s comfort and normalcy in friendships where you can be authentic. (4) People who help you grow in faith. You need friends who encourage you to pray, read the Bible, and help you to see the “big picture” concerning what’s important in your life. Ephesians 4:16 talks about operating as a body: “All the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to help the whole body grow and be strong with love” (NCV). Don’t try to do it alone. Reach out to friends who’ll reach back.

Seize the Present

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“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” Jnh 3:1 NIV

We spend too much of our lives in the junkyard of regret. We focus on what might have been, could have been, and should have been. Maybe we think that by replaying it enough we can change the outcome. But we can’t. The only thing you can control is what you do in the present. The more you replay yesterday, the further you get from today’s opportunities. And the further you move from today’s opportunities, the tougher the road back becomes. Opportunities never look as good coming as they do going. And they wait for no one, so you need to be attentive and grab them. They come in many forms, and they can come from any direction. But one thing’s for certain: they can be seen and seized only in the present. Whatever has happened in your life, has happened. And since you can’t undo it no matter how hard you try, wipe the slate clean and go on to what’s next. We all make mistakes. Jonah’s mistake caused a storm that threatened the lives of everybody around him, and ended up taking him all the way to the bottom. But that’s not the end of his story: “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to…God…And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (Jnh 2:1 & 10-3:1 NIV). He’s a God of second chances—and third, fourth, and fifth ones too! “They are new every morning” (La 3:23). Today is a gift—that’s why it’s called “the present.” So repent of the past, seize the present, and start living again!

You’re a “Priest” at Work (3)

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“His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” Isa 28:26 NIV

Lottery winners often make the same comment: “Winning all that money isn’t going to change my life.” But it seldom works out that way. Six months later they have quit their job and bought a new house. A survey of one state’s lottery winners confirmed these two things: (1) The majority were more unhappy after they won than before. Why? Unfulfilled demands and unmet expectations on the part of family and friends led to disappointment and resentment. (2) None of them would give up the money they’d won. When you’ve had more money, you tend to be miserable with less. But having more money doesn’t give you more self-worth. It’s notable that the song “Take This Job and Shove It” was recorded by a man named Johnny Paycheck! Isaiah wrote: “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?…Does he not plant wheat in its place?…God instructs him and teaches him the right way…All this…comes from the Lord” (vv. 24-29 NIV). That means whether you’re a farmer or a fireman—God gave you your job! It’s your “calling,” and it was designed to do more than simply provide financial security. It was designed to give you dignity and worth, and to fulfill God’s purposes in the earth. Theologian Miroslav Volf says: “All human work, however complicated or simple, is made possible by the operation of the Spirit of God in the working person; and all work whose nature and results reflect the values of the new creation is accomplished under the instruction and inspiration of the Spirit of God.” So, “Whatever you do, work…with all your heart…for the Lord” (Col 3:23 NIV).

You’re a “Priest” at Work (2)

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“You are a…priesthood.” 1Pe 2:9 NIV

In his book Habits of the Heart, sociologist Robert N. Bellah describes three attitudes people have toward their work. The first group treats it as a job. When you do this, you see it strictly as a way to make money and pay the bills. Like the bumper sticker says, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” But if your main focus is on what you receive from your work, you’ll most likely come to resent it. The second group approaches work as a career. Here your motivation will be higher, but your focus is on advancement and prestige. That means, however, when your career isn’t going well it can feel like your self-worth is on the line. The third group sees their job as their calling. Now, logically speaking, if there’s a “calling” there must be someone making the call, right? That someone is God. You’re not the “caller,” you’re the “call-ee,” and any work that has meaning, that can be a blessing to people, and fulfills His purposes, is a calling. A doctor or pastor might get sucked into treating work solely as a means of making a good income, therefore they see it as just a job. On the other hand, a garbage collector may view what he does—making the world a cleaner place—as a calling. We’re not downgrading the importance of those who stand in pulpits and preach; we’re upgrading the importance of those who serve God forty hours a week in other jobs. Bottom line: when the job’s done well, both will hear the commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:23).

Getting Them Through the Teen Years

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“Use wisdom and understanding to establish your home.” Pr 24:3 CEV

When you’re the parent of a “teen in transition” it’s important to find the right blend of correction, instruction, motivation, and praise. Instead of focusing on behavior you don’t want, praise and reward behavior you want more of. If your child feels like you’re always “on their back” instead of “on their team” about how they dress, their friends, their music, etc., they’ll resist you at every turn. The Bible says about parenting: (1) “Children, obey your parents” (Eph 6:1 NKJV). (2) “Don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them” (Eph 6:4 TM). Use the carrot and stick approach. If you’re all “stick” and no “carrot” you’ll provoke them into rebelling, going undercover, and cutting off communication. And if you grew up in a home where you were never praised or rewarded, you’ll have to work harder to break the cycle. Exploding at your teen just teaches them to handle their own anger explosively. Expect to be shocked, and be prepared to respond constructively. If you take their mood swings and inconsistencies personally, you’ll end up reacting in ways you regret. Do you remember your own adolescence, and how you felt about your parents’ opinions, tastes, and rules? Mark Twain said: “When I was fourteen my dad was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. But when I got to be twenty-one I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years!” If you’re raising a teen, here are two Scriptures worth remembering: “Love never fails” (1Co 13:8 NKJV). “Use wisdom and understanding to establish your home.”