Monday, December 28, 2009

Unhappy in Bed

By Lynn North

Before I got married, I assumed sex would be great. Most people do. My parents were very affectionate with one another and did a good job of explaining the gift of married sex. Now that I'm married, however, I hear from friends that not all couples feel that way.

When he's not in the mood
Lisa, a friend from college, got married in her 30s. Though sexually active in her late teens, she spent the better part of a decade abstaining from sex and presumed her "secondary virginity" would pay off in a healthy sex life with her husband. Marrying a virgin made it seem even more likely.

But to hear her talk, it's far from ideal. "I have so much more of a sex drive than he does, and it's really tough. He's reluctant to talk about it, and I'm just frustrated and lonely." Married for three years, things haven't improved and their challenges have grown.

By their first anniversary, Lisa and Brad were expecting. Once the baby arrived, Lisa could honestly say, "Brad's a very loving husband and wonderful father." But their sexual disconnect continued. Despite their overall struggles with intimacy, Lisa got pregnant again when their newborn was just two months old. After his arrival — and two back-to-back pregnancies — she was eager to express herself physically. "Though my body's not back to what it was, I'm so ready to be intimate with Brad," she admitted. "But he's just not interested. I don't know what to do."

Though doing her best to find help, the dearth of information about low libido in men simply adds to her frustration. "Everything I read points to the woman as the sexual non-aggressor, the one with the headache, the one who's too tired. What's wrong with us?"

The past gets in the way
Another friend has the opposite problem. Meg's dissatisfaction is more typical: Her husband wants a lot of sex and she wants little. "I really love my husband," she says, "but sometimes I hate it when he kisses me; sometimes I actually hate it when he touches me."

Part of her struggle is hormonal. "Just three months after we were married, I got pregnant and my hormones started raging." After 4 years of marriage, she and Justin have two toddlers and are expecting number three. Add to that one miscarriage, and there have been only four months since their wedding when she was neither pregnant nor nursing.

Now that the kids are here, Meg gives the bulk of her affection to them. "I give so much to the kids physically and emotionally that a lot of times I don't have anything left for Justin at the end of the day. Often, I can't see sex as a need because I don't need it, or not that much. I'll think to myself, I don't believe you. How can you need it so much?"

The hardest thing for Meg to overcome, however, is her past. She grew up in a conservative Catholic home, but that didn't stop her brothers from displaying pornographic pictures on their walls and "reading" Playboy magazines.

Worse, her parents knew and didn't stop it. When Meg started dating, her mom encouraged her to come on to guys "or they won't like you." "That got me into trouble," says Meg. Not the least of which was being raped by a guy she dated — a police officer.

Like Lisa, Meg would like to fix her problem. "I feel like I'm a failure as a wife; it affects Justin's mood. When it's been too long since our last encounter, he gets grumpy and irritable, almost like having PMS. But when we have sex, he's a different person, he's content.

"I'm tempted to believe sex is all guys care about and I think it's way too important to them. I don't like to see that it makes Justin go from grumpy to elated. But I know his needs aren't just physical. When I'm sexually available to him, he feels accepted. It fills up his love bank. I really have to keep in mind that my love for him needs to be expressed this way because this is important to him."

Thankfully, sexual dissatisfaction does not necessarily mean a relationship is doomed. Meg says, "This issue can be so divisive in marriage and I am blessed that it is not in mine. Justin and I rarely get angry at each other, but sex has probably been the one issue that has caused the most tension. I think we cope with it well because, despite my own insecurities about sexual image issues, I can always trust that Justin will take me seriously, respect me and place my best interests before his own."

The courage to face it
My friend Kathryn didn't realize she needed help till her husband brought it up. He mentioned that her idea of what was permissible in the marriage bed seemed to be shrinking. He was right. "It had gotten to the point that what I thought was OK was little more than the missionary position," she recalls.

He suggested counseling. "I didn't want to go," she admits. "I dreaded it because I knew I would have to deal with issues in my past. But we both knew we were struggling. Neither one of us was happy with our sex life."

She agreed to go, but it wasn't easy. Not only did they address painful issues, but their counselor suggested an unconventional course of treatment: sexual abstinence. "At the time, I thought Tim would be horrified. But he wasn't, he simply said, OK, we'll do what we've got to do.'

"Our counselor explained that the purpose of abstinence is to remove the possibility of sex and therefore the tension so you can focus on other issues in the relationship. I was able to stop thinking, He's just after sex. It removed the suspicion of why he acted a certain way. It also helped me realize that suspicion only exists in an unhealthy relationship.

"In a healthy relationship, having sex is just as natural as reaching out and holding hands when you're in the mall. It's an extension of your love. It flows out of you naturally. That flow for us was blocked by a lot of issues we both needed to deal with."

Kathryn also discovered a physical hurdle to sexual freedom. "After reading about low libido, I decided to get a doctor's opinion. It turns out I had a testosterone deficiency." This may come as a surprise to many women who don't realize they have testosterone, too. "So many women think testosterone is a man's hormone," Kathryn says, "but men and women both have it and my body wasn't producing enough."

After analyzing the results of a blood test, the doctor diagnosed a daily application of testosterone gel. "It's a simple process. I just rub a measured amount of the gel into my skin as part of my morning routine. And it doesn't cause any weird side effects. I don't have a mustache or huge biceps. I'm still feminine.

"Our healing came through both treating my testosterone deficiency and being willing to look at deeper causes." After eight months of weekly sessions, Kathryn can say, "Counseling gave me freedom. We still have to work through occasional struggles like every couple, but now I'm free.

"I just want other women to know, you don't have to settle. If your sex life isn't good, don't be satisfied. Get help."

A secret problem
By now, you may have guessed that the names in this story are pseudonyms — even mine — because none of my friends wanted to be identified. Sexual dissatisfaction is too painful and too personal. It's not something you want others to know about. But it's also a very common problem and one that can improve, as Kathryn's story shows. My friends have learned and are learning that through counseling, and in some cases, medical intervention, healing is possible. Because sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage, it's worth doing the work to get well.

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Silent Night, Renewed

By Timothy Shriver

"Silent Night" may be the words to our most popular Christmas song, but they don't describe our Christmas season. The days leading up to our most action-packed holiday are dominated by a frenzy of gift-giving and the stress of travel, family and merrymaking. Living through Christmas is enough to make an entire country long, like Tiger Woods, for an "indefinite break."

If Christmas is to be meaningful today, it needs a spiritual makeover. It needs an inward turn.
First, hold the eggnog. We need some inner silence to hear transcendence calling. To reach inward is first to listen with all one's being -- to quiet the noise and distraction of the world and to open one's self at the simplest level to the presence of the divine. It is to let go of words and concepts. The mystic Teillard de Chardin wrote, "God needs to hollow us out, to empty us in order to make room for himself."

And in the empty lies the possibility of feeling full to overflowing--full of love, full of being. From stillness, one learns to see with the eyes of love. At the center, one discovers that God's first gift is within us and more, it is us.

There lies the message of a Christmas of the heart. It is among the most universal of all religious mysteries: it is an invitation to live in the presence of God. The traditional story announces what we are asked to experience: Good news! God is among us. Emmanuel.

The newborn baby may be insignificant and poor in the eyes of world, but with the inner eye of a love-drenched heart, the baby is a shower of light and eternity. He is Christianity's unbridled love letter to all humanity-- an invitation to all creation to live in the precious joy of transcendence in the here and now.

To welcome God as a gift is the beginning of welcoming every gift. To experience God as joy is the beginning of experiencing a joy that can last a lifetime. To sense God as love is to begin to see a universe bathed in love itself. To say "yes" to that indescribable, unnameable, absolute of creation is the first step in faith -- an existential "yes" to life itself -- restless, suffering, beautiful, awesome life. God, by whatever name, is God. And God is here.

So this year, I wish everyone, whether they be Christian or another religion or no religion at all, a silent night--or at least a few silent moments. Perhaps that silence will help create an opening where the joy of the divine presence will spring forth in song and celebration, maybe through hearing the soaring chords of a gospel choir or the speckled crackling of a dried wood fire.

What joy to hear the angels from within singing, "I bring you good news!" What joy to look anew at the life all around us and be able to say to each person we meet from the depths of our being, "Peace on earth. Good will to all."

A silent night is a holy night. Emmanuel. God is here.

Merry Christmas.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's Ok to Ask God Why

By Bob Scorge

Trusting God isn’t easy when tragedy strikes. How do you respond when you face death, suffering or a life-crippling crisis?

War. Genocide. Suicide bombings. Divorce. Rape. Sex slaves in cages. Toddlers in refugee camps. Orphans on streets. Debilitating handicaps. Premature deaths. Natural disasters. Car accidents. Mental illness. AIDS. Cancer.

Our planet is a ball of pain.

We’ve been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14, NKJV). Wonderfully, in that we have an exhilarating capacity for glory; fearfully, in that we have a terrifying capacity for pain.

Nothing is more horrific than suffering devoid of purpose. Hell is so hellish because its torment does nothing to make the sufferer a better person or produce anything positive. Tragically, millions today live in their own “hell on earth,” coping miserably under the crush of senseless suffering.

Jesus, moved by man’s plight, came to change that. Now when we submit our wretched woes to Christ, He infuses all of life with divine purpose—hellish suffering included—and extends to us the promise of His redeeming power.

What Went Wrong?
The suffering all around us tells us there’s something terribly wrong with our world. How did things get this way?

The problem, in a nutshell, is sin. Mankind became subject to death through Adam’s initial sin (see Rom. 5:17). When Adam bowed to Satan’s temptation, Satan became “‘the ruler of this world’” (John 12:31). Things haven’t been working right ever since.

There’s a direct link between death and pain. Most forms of pain are expressions of incipient death; that is, taken to their ultimate potential, most forms of pain culminate in death.

No one appreciates the power of sin and death more than Satan. His No. 1 strategy is to tempt us to sin because he knows that sin produces death (see James 1:15). When we sin, we bring suffering and death upon our own heads.

When we ask the question, “Why does God allow suffering in the world?” we must first acknowledge that sin is our fault, not God’s. We brought all this pain on ourselves. God didn’t want Adam to sin or design him to do so. Sin was man’s choice, not God’s.

“How, then,” someone might ask, “could a God of love allow us to bring such horror upon ourselves?”

The answer, actually, is found in His great love for us. God wanted to give His Son a bride who would love Him with extravagant abandonment. For her love to be authentic, however, it had to be voluntary. And for her decision to be voluntary, her power to choose between her options had to be real.

Not even God would violate her right to choose death or life. It’s the fact that the bride chooses Jesus over her other options that makes her love so dazzling and stunning. The whole thing has to do with love.

God knew that the pearl of love He desired could be fashioned only in the war zone of cosmic struggle against the forces of darkness. A valuable pearl is the product of an oyster’s distress; similarly, God is using the pain of the world to produce a pearl of great price—a glorious bride who is lovesick for Jesus Christ.

We’re not the only ones in this war who are hurting. God Himself is hurting. Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” According to this verse, from the very beginning God knew that if He created man, He Himself would endure unimaginable suffering. After pondering the cost of creating man, God concluded that the final glory was worth the price tag of the suffering. The destination would be glorious, but the journey would be a killer.

The Wisdom of the Cross
All the anguish of our world would seem utterly futile were it not for the cross—the one momentous event in history that revolutionized how we view suffering.

The cross changed everything.

The cross gives significance to the sufferings of the world. When we gaze at the cross, we don’t see a detached Creator who watches us writhe from afar; we see a God who has stepped into our struggle and hurts with us. No one has suffered as God has.

Now, no one can look at God and say: “You don’t understand. You have no idea what I’m going through.” On the contrary, He empathizes with our sufferings from firsthand experience. He who suffered in the body cares for all who suffer in their bodies, since He Himself is still in the body as well.

The cross demonstrates that it’s not sinful to be in pain.

It’s the cross that makes our gospel universally relevant. You can take it anywhere in the world. Take the gospel to the worst hellhole on the planet, and you have a message to lift the lowest life. Find the most destitute, sin-scarred, addiction-bound, demon-possessed, filthy human specimen you can possibly find, and you’ll find someone whom the gospel can take up in its arms.

Why? Because the One who suffered on the tree sank lower than any other person that He might raise up the chiefest of sinners and seat him at His table.

When man sinned, God lost the home-court advantage. In the cross, however, God was saying to the adversary, “I’ll meet you on your own terms, play by your rules, honor both your free will and that of man, and use the very suffering you have masterminded to defeat you on your own turf.” Truly, the cross is the wisdom of God!

Beholding Christ Crucified
I myself am writing this article from a place of suffering. I’ve been enduring chronic pain ever since an injury 17 years ago. The cross has been my mainstay. The cross both empowers me to endure in the crucible and assures me of God’s design to deliver me.

I expected to be healed years ago. I have only limited understanding about why I’ve suffered for so long. Often my emotions are like a roller coaster. When the going gets difficult, though, I have found strength in beholding the crucified Christ.

When I can’t make sense of my journey, I go back to the cross. When I don’t know how to process my pain levels, I go back to the cross. When it seems as if He’s withholding from me, I go back to the cross.

The accuser likes to hit me with that ancient accusation: “God’s withholding from you. He could deliver you right now, but He’s holding out on you.” But the cross nails that accusation.

When I look at the cross, I see a God with nails in His hands, a nail in His feet, a crown of thorns on His brow and stripes on His back. As He hangs there with arms spread wide, He says to me: “I give you My mind. I give you My soul. I give you My heart. I give you My flesh. I give you My strength. I give you My last breath. I give you My last drop of blood.”

The cross assures me that my God withholds nothing from me! He has given me His best. He has given me His all. It’s here, as I behold His outstretched hands, that I spread my arms and say, “I am Yours, and You are mine.”

Why You Can Ask ‘Why?’
The cross gives me permission to ask why, because even Jesus asked His Father, “‘Why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matt. 27:46). If Jesus can ask why, I can, too.

The cross not only allows us to ask why; it compels us to ask. Because when we’re asking why, we’re peering into purpose. It’s absolutely essential, in “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword,” that we discover and cooperate with divine purpose so that we might be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35,37).

The book of Job—the oldest book in the Bible—is the story of a man who sought desperately to find divine purpose in catastrophic suffering. As the cornerstone of Scripture, the book of Job demonstrates how God redeems suffering to vanquish the very perpetrator of suffering.

But if the book of Job left any room for controversy, the cross unequivocally confirms Job’s message: God redeems suffering in order to produce champions who perform exploits against the kingdom of darkness.

Jesus was one such champion. Referring to the cross, God said, “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many” (Is. 53:11, emphasis added).

Jesus was able to endure the cross because He knew something. What did He know? Divine purpose.

God’s purpose in the cross was that Jesus prevail. As the apostle John wrote, “But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals’” (Rev. 5:5).

Jesus came to earth with a divine mandate to overcome sin, to overcome temptation, to overcome the flesh, to overcome Satan and to overcome the world. But His greatest challenge was to overcome the sufferings of the cross.

Jesus knew that if He prevailed over the cross, He would qualify to unlock the Father’s destiny for His life as King of heaven and earth.

The cross carries the same promise for us today. As we endure and overcome the cross, we qualify to unlock the scroll of our eternal destiny in the age to come. “‘To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne’” (Rev. 3:21).

Jesus did not prevail until He was resurrected from the grave. In the same way, we have not prevailed over our crosses until we have been raised up by God. It’s not enough to suffer and be buried; we must be raised up if we are to qualify as overcomers. This is why I cannot live with the cross as the final chapter in my story; it must end with resurrection!

Those of us who suffer will never relent until we see the release of kingdom power and authority that looses the captives and establishes them in the freedom for which Christ died.

An Eternal Perspective
The Gospels give us an up-close visual on the horror of the cross. In Genesis, however, we can step back and gain something of an eternal vantage. It’s here, in God’s first reference to the cross, that we survey it from a panoramic, bird’s-eye view.

I’m referring to Genesis 3:15, which records God’s words to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He [Jesus] shall bruise your [Satan’s] head, and you [Satan] shall bruise His [Jesus’] heel.’”

God was contrasting what the cross would do to Jesus versus what it would do to Satan. True, the cross wounded Christ’s heel; but it absolutely crushed Satan’s head. By the time the warfare of the cross was over, Jesus came away with scars but Satan was completely destroyed (see Heb. 2:14). For as bloody a spectacle as the cross was, Satan was more bloodied by the cross than Christ.

When He hung on the cross, however, Jesus wrestled to maintain that perspective. His entire being was racked with untold agony. I promise you that it didn’t feel, in that moment, like a mere bruising of His heel; it felt as if every atom of His being was being crushed.

The same is true for you in your sufferings. When you’re in the vortex of your trial, you may feel as if you’re being utterly crushed. The pain makes it difficult to gain heaven’s view.

As you wait upon the Lord, however, you begin to mount up with eagle’s wings (see Is. 40:31) and gain God’s eternal perspective on your trial. By the time the battle is finished, God will have raised you up with a testimony that will empower multiple generations. Your cross thus becomes an invitation to a conflict that will do more damage to the kingdom of darkness than if your life were tranquil and comfortable.

Fight the good fight! Press into God’s purposes! Give yourself to fasting and prayer and abiding in the Word. Never relent until you have qualified to loose the seals on your eternal destiny. If you’ll endure, one day you’ll look back on your suffering and say, “I certainly did take it in the heel, but my adversary took it in the head!”

Bob Sorge, author of 16 books, addresses the topics of suffering and intimacy with God from the crucible of his own trial. His works include The Fire of Delayed Answers and Pain, Perplexity & Promotion: A Prophetic Interpretation of the Book of Job (see Bob and his wife, Marci, are associated with the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why Christians S**k

By Tom Davis

Each Sunday, millions of Christians in America gather to worship the God who commands us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We belt out praises to the God who tells us that “pure and undefiled religion is caring for widows and orphans in their distress.” We kneel in pious prayer before the Almighty God of the universe who describes Himself as loving, gracious, merciful, and generous.

Then, we walk out the back door of the church, step into a world in need, and proceed to withhold the love, grace, and mercy that’s extended to us.

We might as well give God the middle finger. Outside of a tiny minority of Christians, we have become a self-centered group of priggish snobs.

In short, we s**k.

Before you pick up a rock and throw it at me, think about this: I could have used other words that aren’t as nice as “s**k.” Like “white-washed tombs,” “brood of vipers,” “fools,” or the ever ego-inflating, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus used all of these choice phrases to describe religious leaders and some of his closest of followers.

But calling someone a white-washed tomb just doesn’t cut it anymore. "We s**k" is a much better choice for our cultural context. Poverty s**ks. Divorce s**ks. And, unfortunately, some Christians s**k, too.

Here are the facts:

Eighty-five percent of young people outside the church who have had connection to Christians believe present-day Christianity is hypocritical. Inside the church, forty-seven percent of young people believe the same thing.

And why wouldn't they?

- 80 percent of the world’s evangelical wealth is in North America.

And let's take a peek in on our neighbors:

- More than 1 billion people live in absolute poverty.

- 500 million people are at the edge of starvation.

- 200 million children are being exploited as laborers.

- Half of the human beings on the planet live on less than $2/day.

- 1.5 billion people do not have enough money to buy food.

This is information that anyone can collect from the Internet, just as I did. Any reasonable person could make this simple conclusion: Most American Christians do not care about what God says in the Bible. We pick out the scriptures we like, as if we were dining at a five-star buffet. We conveniently ignore the scriptures that talk about caring for the poor, giving away material possessions, and loving money. Scriptures like:

"Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (James 1:26-27)

"Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?" (James 2:15-17)

"If you have two coats, give one away," [Jesus] said. "Do the same with your food." (Luke 3:11)

When Christians care about their political views, what sexual preference someone has, or their bank account more than they care about the millions of people who die in the world because they don’t have five dollars to buy the medicine that would cure them, something has gone drastically wrong.

These kinds of Christians s**k.

What can we do to stop s**king? I think the answer is relatively simple. It's found in the Bible:

“Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

Give away material possessions to those in need, love the unlovely, take care of the widow and orphan. This is not rocket science. It just takes a heart committed to doing the things God said to do.

Want ten simple steps? You got it.

Christians, listen up: People are tired of being criticized, judged, and listening to the lip service we are so great at giving. Instead, why don’t we commit to making the changes we can make?

Christianity needs a renewal of the principles that made it great. It needs to be more like Jesus—compassionate, self-sacrificial, unconditionally loving, and caring for those who are most in need. That kind of lifestyle allowed twelve men to change the world. It will help you change yours, too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is Christmas the Only Season for Giving?

By Wess Stafford

The last two months of the year have traditionally been known as "the season of giving." Whether it is the good cheer of the holidays or the appeal of potential tax deductions, the year's end seems to prompt charitable giving. Nonprofit organizations are keenly aware of the opportunity presented by the holiday season. This year, I expect that end-of-year appeals will feature a double plea for generosity. Not only will they rely on the tried and true annual "season of giving" sentiment, but they will also likely include some version of the nearly ubiquitous theme:

In these tough economic times...

Now more than ever...

In today's climate...

In no way am I disparaging organizations that are using these appeals. My own organization has been long blessed by end-of-year giving and, especially "in these tough economic times," we are particularly humbled by the generosity of our donors. But what are we really saying? If we are saying that this is the season for giving or that current economic conditions merit increased generosity, aren't we implying that giving is unnecessary at other times of the year or when the American economy is strong? It is as though we live under the delusion that if things are going smoothly for us--either as individuals or as a nation--then surely things are going smoothly for everyone else.

The need is not greater because of the Christmas tree in the living room or the wreath on the front door. When the stockings are put away and the ornaments stowed in the attic, will starving children somehow be less hungry? Will the homeless suddenly have shelter?

Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that even during the Christmas season people are needlessly suffering and dying from things like starvation, HIV/AIDS, malaria and a lack of basic medical care. In good economic times, children are still sold into prostitution, abused and abandoned. Even when the stock market is up, there are still millions of children who face an uncertain future due to a lack of education or the uphill battle of caring for a family ravaged by AIDS.

My heart breaks for the struggles that so many Americans are facing this Christmas. It is absolutely right that we be concerned about the families who are struggling to keep their homes, the mothers who are desperately trying to make ends meet each month, the fathers who feel the frustration of being downsized and unable to provide for their families. We should all do what we can to help our neighbors in need. But we can't forget those for whom poverty isn't part of an economic downturn but rather endemic generation after generation. And when things improve in our own nation--and God willing, this will happen soon--we can't forget those still suffering.

There is no wrong time to be generous. In these tough economic times and in the good times to come, it is important to do what we can to ease the burden for those less fortunate than ourselves. During the holiday season, and in every season, we can bring help and hope to those in need.

Wess Stafford is the President and CEO of Compassion International, the world's largest Christian child development organization that releases children from poverty through one-to-one child sponsorship.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Calvary's Road....the Ultimate Journey

By David Jeremiah

One Sunday years ago as I was preaching about the Christmas story, I suggested that if we want a true picture of Christmas in our minds, we have to envision a cradle with the shadow of the cross looming over it. One of the ladies in the choir came up to me afterward and told me she was an illustrator who, during the previous Christmas, had put together a Christmas card like that. She had drawn a picture of the manger, and spreading over it was the shadow of a cross. Some people think this takes the romance out of Christmas. No, it puts the truth into it.

The road to Bethlehem ended up at Calvary. Jesus’ ultimate purpose in coming was to die for our sins and to be our Redeemer. I’m afraid we get so caught up in the external things of the season that we forget that the Babe of Bethlehem came into the world to be your Savior and mine. He was born in humanity and in humility so that He might ultimately become the sin bearer of the world on the cross. The prickly straw of the manger prefigured the nails that would one day pierce His skin.

Jesus was very aware of this, and one of the things we discover as we read the Gospels is that He wanted the entire world to know His mission. He repeatedly used a phrase that, it seems to me, is very significant. He kept saying, “I have come. . . .” I have come to do this, and to do this, and to do this. On thirteen occasions in the Gospels, Jesus used that phrase I have come . . .

This phrase presupposes our Lord’s preexistence. Jesus Christ is unlike any other person who has ever lived, in that He possesses a double nature. He is both God and man, fully divine and fully human. In Isaiah 9 the Messiah is called the Mighty God. John’s Gospel opens by saying, “The Word was God,” and it closes with Thomas declaring, “My Lord and my God.”

As God, Jesus has always existed and always will exist. He is eternal in the heavens. The prophet Micah told us that His comings and goings are from old, even from everlasting. But on that remarkable night in Bethlehem, God the Son took upon himself a second nature and became a human being. The Word became flesh.

Now, if Jesus Christ is the eternal God who intentionally became a man, that means His coming to earth was pre-planned. He himself designed His mission before His virgin birth. He was able to look down on this planet, see a great need, and say, “I am going to be born in order to meet that critical need.” And, having done so, we would expect Him to tell us the reason for such an indescribable wonder as this. Thus the importance of those three words that He repeatedly used: I have come. . . . He planned his trip in advance, chose the route, and deliberately took the Calvary Road.

He Came to Manifest the Father
First, Jesus came to manifest the Father. Jesus said in John 5:43, “I have come in My Father’s name.” As John 1:18 explains, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” The Calvary Road is the greatest revelation of our heavenly Father’s love. He demonstrated His love for us in that though we are hell-bound sinners, Christ died for us that through Him we might be reconciled to the God whom He manifests.

The Presbyterian preacher, Clarence Macartney, once said that when he was growing up, his family and his church didn’t sing hymns; they only sang the Psalms of David. “But,” he added, “whenever my father was in a particularly good humor—when his work in the study was over or things had gone well at the college—he used to whistle the tune of a hymn. It was always the same tune, ‘There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.’”

Jesus came to represent the Father’s love by dying on Calvary’s Cross, giving us a song in our hearts so that our very souls want to whistle about it, for there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins. Christ is heaven’s great ambassador who came to manifest the Father and reconcile us to God.

He Came to Preach a Message
Second, Jesus came to preach a message. We read in Mark’s Gospel that one day in Capernaum, Jesus rose early in the morning and hiked into the nearby mountains to pray. When the disciples found Him, they wanted Him to return with them to the village, but Jesus replied, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth” (1:38).

For this purpose I have come—to preach, to proclaim a message. It’s the message of the Calvary Road. It’s the Gospel, and the word “Gospel” literally means the Good News, the Good Tidings. This is one of the Bible’s best and most wonderful terms, yet it still seems like an understatement to me.

If you were trapped in a collapsed cave, running out of air, shut in claustrophobic darkness, only minutes away from death and you heard workmen breaking through the rubble to rescue you, would you say, “Well, that’s good news”?

If you were struggling to pay your bills, wondering how you were going to make ends meet, and an attorney informed you that an unknown relative left you twenty million dollars, would you call that “good news”?

If you were on a hospital bed, connected to tubes and monitors dying of a terrible, loathsome disease, and the doctor came in and said, “We’ve just discovered a little pill. Swallow this and you’ll be healed.” Would that be “good news”?

Here we are, poverty-stricken sinners, separated from God by our imperfections, trapped on a doomed planet, dying, facing death and judgment and hell. Yet because He loved us, God himself became a man who willingly traveled the Calvary Road in our place that we might be forgiven of our sins and receive eternal life.

Is that Good News?

It’s more than good news, but we don’t have a word in our vocabulary adequate to describe it. The angels just put it like this: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (emphasis added).

He Came to Enrich Our Lives
Finally, He came to enrich our lives. John 10:10 says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

In New York State, there are two cities that draw water from nearby mountains. One of the cities depends on a lake which tends to dry up in times of drought, forcing the city to issue water emergencies and pass all sorts of laws about water usage. But the other city gets its water supply from a lake in the Catskills that never goes dry. It is fed by underground streams, and that city never worries about having enough water. They could never exhaust the lake.

So many of us, even as Christians, forget that we have an endless supply of grace. We have an endless supply of joy. We have an endless supply of peace. We don’t have to worry about our spiritual reserves, but we’ve got to tap into them by faith. If we’re committed to Christ and walking in the Spirit, we have an ocean of God’s blessing to draw from every day. We have life in abundance because of the Calvary Road.

Someone once said that in Great Britain, all roads lead to London. For Christ, all roads led to Calvary. From Bethlehem’s Road to Egypt’s Road to the route through Galilee and on to Jerusalem, He set His face like a flint to tread the Calvary Road. That was His ultimate mission, and He never forgot His purpose. He repeatedly said, “I have come . . . I have come . . . I have come . . .” He was ever about His Father’s business.

And because Jesus said, I have come . . . , we can sing: Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive Her king . . . Let every heart prepare Him room.

Has your heart prepared Him room? Is there room in your heart for Jesus? He invites us to take the straight and narrow road, the way of the Cross, and to follow Him with all our hearts. Will you do that this Christmas?
Dr. David Jeremiah, is the founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, San Diego Carlifornia

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Watch Your Tongue

By Deborah Smith Pegues

Most of us are unaware of how often we displease God with our words. Here’s an idea: Try fasting from gossip, complaining and negative words until you overcome.

"Sorry I’m late for the meeting. Traffic!” Half-truths such as this one were becoming easier and easier for me to tell.

Of course, there had been some traffic on the freeway, but nothing that would have delayed my arrival if I had left on time. The real truth was that I had overslept because I had stayed up to watch the late-night edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Notice I didn’t actually say that traffic was extremely heavy or that it was the traffic that had delayed me. I just implied it so that my team members would conclude my tardiness was outside my control.

For some time prior to this incident my husband had been trying to convince me that any intent to deceive is a lie. My conscience had also been faithful to remind me of Proverbs 12:22: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight” (NKJV).

I had to acknowledge that whether the misrepresentation takes the form of a half-truth, flattery, an exaggeration or blatant deceitfulness, it is still a lie—plain and simple.

I’ve been challenged with sins of the mouth for as long as I’ve been able to talk. However, a few years ago, I reached the height of frustration with my tongue after some unguarded words I spoke wreaked havoc in a valued relationship. The moment I uttered the words, I regretted them. I knew that trying to get them back was as impossible as recapturing a pillowcase of feathers released in the wind.

I decided then that it was time to bring my tongue, that unruly member the apostle James talks about, under control. I began my journey by researching every negative use of the tongue I could find in the Bible. I ultimately identified 30. I’m sure there are more but I knew that if I could conquer even half of them, I would have gained a major victory.

I made a commitment to go on a 30-day “tongue fast,” a period of verbal abstinence from all ungodly speaking. With my arsenal of Scriptures, I embarked upon my quest for a wholesome tongue that would be a wellspring of life in every situation.

I knew the task would be impossible without God’s help. I was well aware of James’ warning: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

Nevertheless, I took courage from the words of our Savior, “‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God’ ” (Luke 18:27). Each time I caught a negative talker in the act, I drafted her to join my mission.

My strategy when faced with the temptation to dishonor God in any way with negative speech was to catch myself, stop midsentence and exclaim, “Tongue fast!” It seemed that I had to restart the fast a zillion times during the first few days.

I would succumb to some of the tongue temptations even though the Holy Spirit was flashing a yellow caution light, warning me to stop. Sometimes I deliberately ran the red light and said the wrong thing; other times I stopped and won the battle.

It was eye-opening as well as disappointing to find out I wasn’t the only one suffering from tongue trouble. During my fast I realized that this is a big problem throughout the body of Christ.

Many people seem to be oblivious to the power of their words to build up or tear down, motivate or discourage, heal or hurt, spread or squash rumors, and delight or deceive. Perhaps you can identify with my struggles and triumphs in the following instances.

Complaining. “Why don’t they just get more tellers?” whined the woman standing in line behind me at the bank. In my desire to relate to her misery, I chimed in and agreed. What else was I supposed to do? Isn’t commiserating how you instantly bond with people?

Was I going to risk alienating myself from her by disagreeing? Heaven’s no!

This incident seems like eons ago. I now have a new strategy. When faced with a long wait, I pull out some reading material, intercede for the salvation of each person around me or try to get the complainer to see the bright side of the situation.

I have not forgotten that it was murmuring and complaining that caused most of the Israelites to die in the wilderness and miss the Promised Land.

I frequently challenge myself to note the number of times I am tempted to complain within a 24-hour period. My goal is to resist the temptation to express displeasure with any person or situation.

I once expanded the no-complaints challenge to seven days when I took an exciting trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Before I boarded the plane, I had to resist murmuring about the traffic at the airport, security procedures, the lack of meals on the plane, the length of the flight and a host of other unimportant issues—all before we arrived in Maui.

I am making every effort these days to “pour out my complaint before Him” alone (Ps. 142:2). Sure, it’s OK to solicit a friend’s input on a problem, but constant complaining is a contagious and God-dishonoring pastime. I’m trying to make gratitude a lifelong attitude.

Judging. Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, once said, “I will speak ill of no man, not even in the matter of truth, but rather excuse the faults I hear, and, upon proper occasions, speak all the good I know of everybody.”

His philosophy paralleled my grandmother’s age-old advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Easier said than done.

During my tongue fast, I went on a mission to stamp out my tendency to judge people who speak too loudly, overexpose their bodies—particularly when they are going to church—smack their lips while eating, and engage in a host of other behaviors that caused me to silently reject them.

Whatever happened to love covering a multitude of faults? For sure, I needed more love, and I knew the source of it. I also knew that to the extent and in the way I judged others, God would also judge me (see Matt. 7:1-2).

Gossiping. “Deborah, we have to pray. I hear that John, the music director, might be having an affair with the sexy soprano who just joined the choir.”

We all know that such statements are an invitation to gossip—cloaked in a prayer request. And rare is the person who has not been a bearer or eager hearer of information about someone else’s personal affairs.

Because I have been the subject of a few “newsy” conversations myself, I have an aversion to such nonproductive exchanges. I found that the best way for me to resist gossip is to catch myself before I start.

I engage in a little self-interrogation: Why am I willing to use the temple of God as a “trash receptacle” by being a receiver of gossip? Is this my way of establishing a rapport with someone?

Do I need to be the center of attention? Does it make me feel superior to know something negative about someone that the hearer doesn’t know?

Am I envious of the subject’s good fortune? What do I plan to do with the information a gossip shares with me? Am I bored with my life and in need of more meaningful pursuits?

Of course, my best anti-gossip strategy is to heed Solomon’s admonition in Proverbs 20:19 (NIV): “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” Wherever I am, I declare it to be a gossip-free zone.

Retaliating. I have little respect for wimpy people because they remind me of a few significant people in my life who have allowed others to treat them as doormats. It stands to reason that I am adamant about setting a better example in my own life.

However, I found that I often failed to make the distinction between being assertive and setting healthy boundaries, and responding in kind to negative behavior directed my way. My motto was, “Whatever you say to me is what you’re going to get back.”

And then I stumbled upon 1 Peter 3:9, which states: “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you.

“Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it” (NLT).

This is still the area that I have to commit the most to prayer. I know that I make God sad when I take His job in avenging the verbal wrongs; however, I feel 10 feet tall in my spirit when I “pay them back with a blessing.” Often the best way to do that is to remain pleasantly silent.

Cursing. Cursing? Do you mean as in “profanity”? Christians? Yes, many of God’s children use profanity.

“Oh, that just slipped out,” some say. The truth is that it slipped out of the heart, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34, NKJV).

Though I was not given to a profane tongue, when I would stub my toe, break something, upset a stack of papers, spill a drink, have an encounter with an extremely difficult person or find myself in any other frustrating situation, I would silently use profanity. When I saw that this behavior was becoming the norm, I ran to God.

I prayed: “Lord, I understand according to Luke 6:45 that ‘a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good’; and I also understand that ‘an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.’

“Would you please take the four-letter words out of my heart and replace them with Your expressions? I thank You in advance for purging me of profanity and for allowing the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to be acceptable in Your sight.”

Every day presents us with an opportunity to respond or to speak in a manner that would dishonor or glorify our heavenly Father. Is it spiritual naiveté to think that we can always say the right thing, at the right time and in the right way?

How was the woman described in Proverbs 31 able to set a communication standard that raised the bar so high? “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26). Looks as if she was able to tame her tongue.

One of my spiritual mentors, Marlene Talley, held the secret. More than 25 years ago when she observed my tendency to speak without much forethought, she cautioned, “Stop, think and pray before you speak.”

When we stop, think and pray before we speak, we find ourselves blessing rather than blasting others, exhibiting patience rather than pushiness, sharing good rather than gossip and choosing caring rather than cutting words.
Otherwise, we find our tongue in drive while our brain is in neutral. It is then that our words become verbal shrapnel that lodges in another person’s emotions with disastrous results.

Here’s what I have concluded. Words are verbalized thoughts that emanate from our hearts. If we turn to Scripture and use Philippians 4:8 as our thought sifter, our communication will always go from negative to positive:

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

I find that memorizing “tongue” Scriptures such as this is essential to transforming my speech.

I store them in my spiritual war chest for use whenever a situation arises.

King David declared, “ ‘I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle’ ” (Ps. 39:1). Do you share his desire to honor God in your speech?

Then why not try a day-to-day tongue fast to get started? And don’t forget that the Holy Spirit, your Helper, is standing at attention ready to give you all the grace you need to succeed.
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Deborah Smith Pegues is a popular speaker and best-selling author of 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue. A certified behavioral consultant and certified public accountant, she has also written Financial Survival in Uncertain Times and Emergency Prayers. For more information, go to