Pastor's Corner

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Fading Flowers and Living Life

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We imagine our pursuits to be worthy of all our efforts and sacrifices, otherwise why would we give so much of ourselves to them? We pursue education, romance, financial success, popularity, positions of power, properties and so on. Most of which has some value in this life. Even positions of power can be good if pursued for good and to accomplish good. We imagine all of these worthy pursuits as so lasting and enduring, so – concrete and permanent.

Psalm 103:14-16 “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.”

We are but dust the psalmist writes, like grass or flower which flourishes and then quickly fades away. We labor, we strive in this life, but we pass so quickly. You want so much to tell the teenager who is so caught up in the drama of life with friends – those friends you believe are so important today and are building your life around will mean very little in ten years… you will probably not see much of each other after you graduate from high school. We know, we have already passed down that road. Yet we as adults are no different, we lack the foresight of the consequences and effects of our choices because we have not seen them yet. We build our lives around people and things that will mean so little in a very short time.

This is why Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, we pursue so much which in the end means so little after all is said and done. “Vanity” he says repeatedly because from his own personal efforts he had learned that most pursuits in this life mean nothing. What matters, Solomon says, is to serve God. (Eccl 12:13) This involves eternal matters, not fleeting priorities. Our relationship with God matters above all else and will go with us out of this life into the next – dictating meaning and end.

So today, love your wife or husband, and care for your children. Go to your job or to your classroom, and do your very best. Maintain your integrity and live honorably. But every day, make the time for your relationship with God because ultimately He is all that matters. Seek Him on the pages of your Bible as you read. Seek His face when you hit your knees in prayer. 

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The Spirit of Christ

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I have a friend who has been a Christian for a number of years. To meet him today you would never imagine that he could hurt anyone. But the truth is he used to be very violent, and he hurt a number of people in his life before he came to follow Christ. He had friends, but there was always a certain level of fear among them because they were unsure of what my friend might do at times. He changed, radically.

How did this change happen? Christ. Pure and simple, it was the power of Christ at work in his life. Among the disciples of Jesus we see this same thing at work.

Luke 8:53-55But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. 54 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of…”

John was angry at this city they were approaching because they did not want Jesus there, they told the group to keep on going. How dare they shun Jesus, and turn from the truth! And Jesus, who was normally pretty patient with the twelve, turns and rebukes John for his attitude and ideas of killing the people of the city with fire from heaven. The problem? The spirit John was displaying was not the one Jesus was displaying. God, in an incredible act of humility lowered Himself and took on human flesh. This same God not only took on human flesh, He assumed the role of servant – even serving to the point of death. This is the spirit Jesus is of; self-abandonment, selflessness, and love such that everyone was on His mind as He moved forward to the cross. It was mercy and compassion that drove Jesus to the cross, not anger with humanity – God is not angry with us, He loves us. Not some gushy love, but a powerful love that acts on behalf of those He loves!

John changed though. It was this same John who was rebuked in the gospels who later penned the words,

1 John 4:7-8Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

John learned something from Jesus, and over the years he had been transformed and was no longer a “son of thunder”, a nickname he and his brother had. He was a humble man, a man who knew love, and who knew what it meant to live like Jesus. Do you know what spirit you are supposed to be of? Are you ready to call down fire from heaven on people or lay your life down for them? Paul wrote, “be transformed…” (Romans 12:2) not conformed to this world’s pattern.

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Emotional

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If you were to have the opportunity to enter into the heads of other people, you would more easily understand what type of thinking and emotions are causing them to behave the way they do. We would be able to get a glance into their history, experiences both good and bad, as well as having a glimpse at what causes those knee-jerk reactions of theirs. Unfortunately we cannot do this and we are left to decipher why other people are feeling what they are feeling and why there is the behavior which follows those emotions.

Another unfortunate thing is many people have either downplayed our emotions or have spoken of them as something to be ignored. Emotions are seen as at best unreliable, and at worst wicked. My father’s generation was taught to hide emotions, push them back and not allow them to be exposed. That generation of men knew little about appropriate touch or how to say words like “I love you.”

Yes, there are always exceptions to statements like I just made. Nevertheless, in general, this is the way it was for them. But the exceptions come along because within a gender there are varying personalities. Men and women of course generally have an extremely different emotional make-up, any man who is married knows this as a daily reality – as does his wife. Everyone has varying abilities to feel, to endure troubles, or to enjoy happiness. We cannot judge another person’s emotions, or demand they feel life situations the way we do.

But feelings can't be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

God has given us several different sensory receptors like sight, touch, smell, and taste. It is important to understand that God also gave us emotions. What is generally an issue about emotions is we are not always emotionally intelligent. Like an illusionist can use your senses to get you to believe you saw something, so certain situations can deceive us emotionally as well. There is a delicate balance to feeling emotions and knowing whether those emotions are valid. Emotions cannot be ignored, they are real and they are necessary for living, even Jesus felt various emotions. (John 11:35)

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart― Helen Keller

In order to be emotionally intelligent we must consider some of the factors attached to the emotions we are feeling.

  1. Is what I am feeling an appropriate emotion for this situation?
  2. What is it I am feeling? (anger, hatred, happy, sad, etc)
  3. Am I feeling this way because of what just happened, or am I feeling this because of something deeper the situation is bringing up emotionally?

Because you are feeling something, it does not mean you must react in any certain way. You must learn to react in healthy ways to your feelings. Just because you are feeling anger does not mean you should react by lashing out at someone. Understand what you are feeling, determine what should be a healthy feeling for the situation, and determine what should be the healthy response to the situation. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling, there is nothing wrong with this. But learn how to move toward healthier feelings and life habits. God gave us emotions to help us enjoy this life. Feel your feelings, but be emotionally intelligent. 

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How to Radically Change Your Marriage

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One of the earliest signs of toddlerhood is when a baby is now capable of individual movement, and they go scooting around without the need of mom and dad. Whether it is crawling or toddling about, they are independent. Free to pursue everything in sight and within reach. Free to reach for everything they can, grab a hold of it and cling to it for dear life, because it is theirs!! You see, it is not independence alone that becomes apparent, selfishness is enabled by the independent status. What I have in my hands is mine, what was in my hands a few minutes ago is also mine, if I see it in your hands and I want it is also mine.

Like lying and other sinful behaviors, selfishness is not something taught to a child, the child seems to know to do this without instruction. As parents we try to train it out of our children, as adults we learn to control selfishness as a human urge to some degree. Nevertheless, I think selfishness is something we generally only tame for social reasons. It lays hidden below the surface of every human being and is a major force in everyone’s life to some degree or another. Like the toddler, we want, we take, and we hold on for dear life – until the next thing, including the one in someone else’s hands we want.

In Christ though, we have another example, an example of true selflessness which we are encouraged to follow.

Philippians 2:1-8 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not {merely} look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

This selflessness is not driven by social reasons, it is a commitment of the heart to pursue Christ and walk in the way Jesus walked. Listen to the apostle’s list of what this looks like in a life:

  • Seeking to see the world the same way as believers.
  • Seeking to be united by the Holy Spirit.
  • Maintaining the same unconditional love toward one another.
  • Holding the same goals in life.
  • Doing nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.
  • In humility, regarding everyone else as more important than ourselves.
  • Be like Christ, who emptied himself and served.

What a powerful force for good this could make us! What an incredible difference this would make in a world that is increasingly narcissistic or self-focused. Our marriages – all of our relationships would be transformed!

Nobody knows you as well as your spouse. And that means no one will be quicker to recognize a change when you deliberately start sacrificing your wants and wishes to make sure his or her needs are met. ” ― Stephen Kendrick, The Love Dare

I know it may seem to some folks that not seeking your own desires and those things you believe will bring satisfaction to your life is contrary to how things work. But ask yourself, have you ever had lasting joy in your life as a result of selfishness? Hasn’t selfishness always ended in pain and ruined relationships? “Have this same attitude in you which was in Christ” the apostle tells us. That is a place of servanthood, and servanthood is a place of power in the kingdom! Not power for your benefit, but power that brings glory to God. 

 

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National Leaders Who Want to "Help You"

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We are at a critical time when it comes to national leaders. And unfortunately we are also at a time when far too many people are ignorant of history at the same time. As always, what you don’t know can be quite destructive to your life – ignorance is not bliss.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised or the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under the robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” – C. S. Lewis, The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment (1949)

Lewis fought in the Great War, and had witnessed the cruelties of war and of the foul stench of the likes of Hitler and Stalin as well. He knew what it meant to see a national leader doing what was “good for the nation.” Under the guise of helping people up or levelling the socio-economic playing field, many governments and national leaders have ruined their own countries because they were the center of their universe – no one else really mattered.

Always be cautious of the national leader who tells you he is in it for you, especially when he speaks of taking from another group to “help” you. His lack of concern for the “other” he is taking from, will soon turn on you as well. It is always a matter of time, not whether it will happen or not. They are already demonstrating their view of superiority when they are determining who should be taken from and who should receive. Everyone else is the “little people” in their mind, everyone else is too stupid to know better, so he or she must step in for their own good.

Proverbs 16:12It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness.”

Watch as they use public funds to benefit themselves. Notice how much money is backing them and propelling them forward. Listen as they speak of the need for sacrifice, while never doing so themselves. Watch as they tear down everything around them to rebuild in their own image. Speak out against them, vote against them, encourage others to join against the corrupt leadership you see. And in your daily lives, pray and trust in the God who stands with us – never give way to fear. God is with us.

Psalm 9:9The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” 

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Doing Kindness

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There are a lot of ways in which people determine or gauge maturity. For some it is knowledge; they believe that if they know more than others they are more mature. But knowledge can easily lead to arrogance (1 Corinthians 8:1), as opposed to love which causes us to build up others around us. Knowledge is important, but without self-control it tends to be an unwieldy companion. Other people believe age guarantees maturity. Yet, I constantly run into people who are very immature for their age. Age guarantees nothing regarding maturity.

Years ago I remember someone asking Josh McDowell how you could know if you were mature enough to get married. Josh’s replay was, “When you are mature enough to think about someone else besides yourself, then you are mature enough to get married.” I thought, that is a great answer, no age limits or outward elements – this is an important inward factor.

I know also from working with folks in counseling, when you can get them to get outside of themselves and their problems, they will become healthier quicker. When folks start looking at others, empathizing, and thinking about how they can help others, this is one of the steps down the road to healing. Turning this direction gets people away from the victim mentality and gets them believing in their ability to make a difference. You will probably not be great at this if you are not already acting on behalf of others. But consider this,

I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.” ― Mother Teresa, A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations

And the apostle Paul tells us,

Ephesians 4:31-32Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

The list of directions regarding how we are to treat others is huge in the New Testament letters, Paul has much to say about this issue. But consider this one last one.

Romans 12:9-11Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord

Someone who is mature is not so narcissistic, they can think beyond themselves and about the needs of others. When your life is not consumed with you, you realize the world is needing someone just like you to come along and make a difference in your little part of the world.  The world is waiting…

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Are All Religions Equally Valid and True?

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In a world like ours you have to be careful about what you hear, and what you are agreeing to. Words have unique meanings, but too often in our society there are double meanings or alternate meanings which are implied by what is said. For example, the politically correct call to “respect all religions because all religions are equally valid,” can be and is easily turned into something else we commonly see.

Equally valid = equally worthless

While being politically correct and sounding respectful, this type of thinking [equally valid and true] ignores the reality of the major differences between all religions. It is those folks who do not understand religion who say such things, it is those who lump them all into the same pile who demonstrate they genuinely do not recognize the differences in them. In the whole host of religions, the common denominators of them being a religion and having something to do with God is right about where the similarities end. Hinduism has thousands of deities. Buddhism has no personal deity at all, unless you have chosen one of the multitude of variations contained in the name. Judaism and Christianity hold to only one God, a personal God who loves and engages with humanity. Islam believes in a single deity, but it rejects both Judaism and Christianity.

No one who understands their chosen faith system would believe that all religions are the same, nor would they agree to the idea that all faiths are equally valid. Yes, we should show respect to all people and their faith. But this does not mean we believe they are equally valid.

Buddhism is built upon the life and teachings of a single man, Buddha, who sought to abandon all of self. Hinduism is intrinsically attached to the caste system of India, which treats various classes of citizens as less than human. Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a belief system built upon the claims of individual men whose assertions of visitations from God are all unverifiable, and whose lifestyles were horrible. Or in the 70s there was a man named Jim Jones who created a fairly large following as a cult leader, but whose actions resulted in the deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children because of poisoning, You see, not all the same, and not all equally valid.

Turn your focus on the right elements and you can find something wrong with any religious system. Turn your focus on the right elements and you can imagine that all religions are the same. But in order to do either of these things you must ignore reality, the beliefs of those groups, and history. Turn your attention to what is true, what is valid, and what matches reality. There you will discover that Christianity alone stands the test. And Jesus, He is unique and glorious among all of the figures of world religions.

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Taking God Out of that Box

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In the midst of our day to day living, we don’t generally think about God in more technical ways. I mean, we don’t carry around a noticeable systematic theology [an organized set of beliefs developed from our study of God]. We simply live and expect God will be, and will work in certain ways. But when life hits us hard, or we encounter troubling situations in our lives, it is then we turn to our theology and wonder why God did not act in accordance with how we think He should have. It is when we are hurting we ask the why questions; Why me? Why did God allow this to happen?

We are not questioning whether there is a God, we are questioning why He did not do what we expected Him to do. In the book of Job, you discover he never accuses God of wrong doing. But, Job in his confusion cannot understand how things ended up so bad when he was doing everything so right.

The complications come for us about God when we imagine God in ways which conform to our culture, our education, our personal biases, or our life experiences up till now. We expect God conforms to our limited understanding about life, the creation, and God’s eternal qualities.  As Americans we tend to imagine God in American ways, for the person in China it is a Chinese idea of God, and so on. Even among those who study God and the Bible more intensely, there can be a tendency to hold to some particular view like Calvinism rather than letting the Bible simply say what it wants to say. We imagine God to be like us, which is a terrible mistake. (Psalm 50:21) We try to put God in a box.

In the best case scenario, we are putting limits on what God can and will do in our lives when we treat Him like this, and at its worst – we are idolaters creating their idol.

How we view God should have consistency and not be contradicting, should be reasonable because God is reasonable, and should be rational and coherent rather than foolish and random. But when we start trying to force God into our box, we are making a huge mistake that will affect our relationship with Him. One way of avoiding mistakes about God, is to turn to the Bible because the Bible is how God has chosen to reveal some of the more intimate details of who He is. When we read the Bible, we are being presented with the proper view of God because it is His chosen instrument of revelation about Himself.

God is wondrous, God is beyond our imagination, and God is limitless. He will never fit into that box you have, nor will He fit into anyone else’s box. He is God and He is totally awesome! Open your Bible and read, see how glorious God truly is!

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Mother's Day 2015 - Hang in There Single Moms!

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Mother’s Day is upon us once again, and for a few weeks now I have been thinking about moms a lot, especially single moms. And those thoughts have made me feel like saying,

“Hang in there single moms!”

I know you have more days than you would like to admit when you are so exhausted you would almost take any out made available. You were never made to fill in for two parents. I know you often have to work twice as hard and carry twice the responsibility as other parents. I know your children don’t understand your decisions and don’t appreciate everything you are doing for them. Like every other parent your job is almost without exception, never appreciated and often criticized, because somehow, you just could not do it all today.

Someday, like every other parent, your children will be old enough to finally get it. They will understand more clearly how much you sacrificed, how much you suffered, and how hard the work of caring for them was. Someday every child comes face to face with the reality of what it takes to raise a child, but not usually until they have children of their own. It will be when they are facing a child of their own who is doing similar things to them, which they did to you. Then a lot of things will finally be clear.

You are a single parent, so give yourself permission to be a single parent. You cannot do the job of two people, so don’t try. You will only wear yourself out and not successfully pull it off. Look at who you are, and move forward realistically. You are stronger than you may think, but you are not superwoman.

Give yourself permission to be tired and do something about it. Sit and relax, the house will still be there tomorrow. Enjoy your child rather than maintaining appearances. Give yourself permission to have friends and find ways of enjoying each other’s company. If you want to date, that’s good, but be careful. Don’t waste your time with someone who will never be a good parent to your child. Yes, you want a good husband, but if they cannot be a good parent then you will not let them have their proper place in your heart, your home, or in your relationship together. They need to be someone you can safely allow to take a place of priority over your child because this is what marriage is supposed to be like. And if you cannot do that, then you are in the wrong relationship. Be picky, a bad marriage will forever and always be worse than whatever loneliness you may feel. Never forget this.

We both know this parenting thing is a lot of work. As a single parent it is even more work. Nevertheless, you and Christ are an unstoppable team!! You can and will do this, and you and your children will even look back with good memories. No, it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Someday, your child will wake up to what life is about. And on that day, they will thank you. You will smile, and God will smile with you.

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Losing Your Life

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John 12:24-26 “"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. 26 "If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

Losing our lives sounds like self-abandonment, which is exactly what Jesus is calling for from those who would follow Him. Lose your life in exchange for what He has for you. But we want those goals, ambitions, priorities and dreams. We imagine that what we can conjure up is better than what God has for us. And it is statements like this which cause some to turn away from Jesus because they want their life, as they have imagined it, and how they long for it to be. And in some ways, it seems to us if we are honest, it is unfair of God to ask such a thing of us.

But God is not wicked, we are wicked. And we have bought into the lies of culture and modern media all around us telling us who we really need to be. We need to be beautiful, we need to be rich, we need to be wanted, we need to be… whatever it is rather than what God would have us to be. And Satan would lie to you and cause you to imagine God is asking too much. But C. S. Lewis says something in one of his books that really speaks to this as he records a conversation between Screwtape the head tempter, to his nephew and jr. tempter Wormwood.

We [the devils] want cattle, who can finally become food; whereas God wants servants who can finally become sons.” – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

It is only in giving ourselves to God that we discover our true selves. And the opposite has a consequence which is this; the further down the road to hell we go as we seek out our own will, we lose our true selves. In our arrogance and self-will, all we will discover in the end is the loss of who we really are. Satan would have you pursue selfish ambition, chase self-gratification, and long for everything this world has to offer because he knows in the end you will ruin yourself. And all the while you will imagine yourself above it all, able to control it – but you will be controlled, and you will be lost. Your humanity will be lost.

In Christ, the longing of your heart in the depths of who you are will surface and find fulfillment. All along the way we will be finding all we are truly capable of, and all that God had hoped for us. And in that last day of this life, we will discover the glorious nature of those who are the sons and daughters of God manifested in ourselves as we enter into His glorious presence. Lose your life? No loss, only gain. 

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Why do you give to your church?

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Perhaps this seems like an odd question, but from where I am sitting, it is about to become a really important question for a lot of people. But we will talk about this more in a minute. So, why do you give to your church?

Tradition:  Some folks give to their church because it is what they have always done, it is something they do like any other tradition in their lives. They don’t think about it much, there is some inherent goodness or a sense of satisfaction that makes them feel good that is attached to giving, so they give.

Obligation:  Some folks have sense of moral obligation to giving to their church. They don’t particularly like it, or feel as though anything good comes of it, but they give because they think they need to due to some internal view of the world.

Tax benefits:  Then there are the folks who give because there are tax benefits attached to giving to their church. Some ministries play off of this reason, and you hear end of the year pleas for donations – knowing folks give because there is a tax benefit.

Those who give for these reasons, generally they struggle with consistent giving because there is more of a self-driven reason for giving. So when giving becomes inconvenient or problematic, they cut back or stop giving altogether. I could name more reasons for why people give, but you get the point. Still, there is one other reason people give to consider.

Conviction before God:  Some folks give because they understand scripture and know what God has said about giving.

1 Corinthians 16:2On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” (NIV)

Note that the offering was set aside on the first day of the week. When we are willing to offer the first portion of our prosperity back to him, then God knows he has our hearts. He knows—and we also know—that we are submitted completely to trust and obey to the Lord. This is not done because you have to, it is because you want to. (Proverbs 11:24) Paul even tells us that if you are not giving with a joyful heart, don’t give. (2 Corinthians 9:7) There is a desire for generosity in these people’s lives and they are doing what they are doing for God, not for others to know. These folks also feel a part of their church community, and because they desire to see the church continue, they give to help pay the bills every month.

Now, about that other issue I mentioned earlier. Whether you are giving for the right reasons or for other than perfect reasons, and who has all of their priorities in the perfect settled?

The Supreme Court is about to rule on same-sex marriage. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, I can almost guarantee that the federal government will use this as a reason to take away tax-exempt status from churches as a means of trying to force compliance. And when this happens, any tax benefit to you as a person giving to your local church will be taken away as well. When this happens, like I said, suddenly whether you will give to your local church is going to become a financial issue for everyone. I would recommend deciding before you find yourself forced to decide about why you are giving and what would really keep you from it. If you are giving as an offering to God, no tax laws will stop you. The world is changing, and we are facing a new challenge. Time to meet the challenge. 

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Follow Me

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Follow Me.” This is what Jesus said to the twelve disciples. A tax collector, a political radical, blue collar workers, they all heard this. This is what the larger group of folks beyond the twelve who also followed understood as well. It was the folks outside their numbers who thought what Jesus wanted was a crowd, like choosing up sides in a basketball game. Nothing serious, just hanging out for a while. They thought He was interesting, He did some pretty amazing things, and He even occasionally fed them. It wasn’t all bad, besides, this would not be forever would it? The disciple on the other hand, knew he had the privilege of walking with His master, learning from His master, and serving alongside His master. While others admired Him from a distance, the disciple took in everything He did… every word, every action, even the expression on His face so they would know how He was reacting to something.

To follow was a privilege and a responsibility. At some point the disciples knew they would be expected to think like the Master, teach like the Master, act in ways the Master acted, and live like the Master did – always. There was never a wrong idea of going his own way, or of taking what his Master was doing and making changes. The disciple had purposed to follow his Master because he knew the Master to be true; to be speaking what was true, and to be acting upon truth – so there were no changes to be made. The disciple was expected to give all he had to follow the Master because there was nowhere else to go to discover truth. The apostle Peter knew this, and said so.

John 6:67-69So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" 68 Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 "We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God."

Eventually the crowds thinned out because Jesus said some things which were hard to hear and acted in ways they were not prepared to attach themselves to. As Jesus became less and less popular, those who had followed along for the wrong reasons all fell away. Some would reject Jesus altogether, others would arrogantly attempt to blend Jesus’ sayings with their own views because they believed themselves to be more in line with the times. This is the crowd lifestyle, not the disciple.

So, have you heard Jesus call out, “Follow Me.” in your life? It was not converts Jesus was looking for, people who would agree He was pretty cool, but who did not see Him as little more than an occasional source of comfort. Jesus called out for disciples and told His disciples to go and make more disciples.

Matthew 28:18-20And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

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Striving to Rest

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As an athlete, the constant battle cry is “Strive harder, give it all you have!” The only athletes who achieve great success are those who give all they have to their sport; they eat, drink, and breathe their sport. It’s all they ever think about. And it is the same in many different areas of life, whether it is becoming an accomplished musician, or an accomplished artist, you have to give yourself fully to it or you will never likely see the results of great success.

For athletes with whom the sport comes easy to them, there is a laziness that can settle in. They can do the sport without really pushing as hard as others might think they should. But when they move to the next level and they discover a large number of other athletes who are as good as and better than they are, everything changes. Many do not make the necessary changes, and survive the cut.

Many people carry this mentality into the rest of life as well. For example, there are businessmen who want to rise to the top of the company ladder, so they push hard to succeed and surpass their colleagues. Or, there are people in the academic world who push hard and reach for top positions as professors at the finest universities. The apostle Paul spoke of how he lived this way as a rabbi, he surpassed his colleagues. Having a mind to achieve greatness can be a really good thing in many areas of life. But what is necessary and productive in one area of life, is not always so in other areas of life. Striving to be the best in one area of life can be a great tool to reach for something better, but in another area of life it can become a severe demoralizing element instead.

The parent trying to be the best parent they can be, may find themselves frustrated and depressed because they never seem to do everything right and continue to not measure up to what they believe is the standard. [You should check your standards to be sure they are realistic.] The Christian striving to be the best believer they can be, can also find frustration and anxiety because they have their eyes set on a goal God never set. The person striving to be their spiritual best, if they are motivated by feelings of the need for God’s approval, will find themselves discouraged and hurt. While God would have us not be lazy about how we live this life (Hebrews 12:1-2), we already have God’s approval because of Jesus Christ. It is interesting that God addresses this issue.

Hebrews 4:10-11For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.”

There is a rest for the follower of Christ, something we are told to strive to enter into. Isn’t that an interesting turn of phrase. Jesus, on the cross accomplished what was necessary for us to be redeemed back to God. It is in this accomplishment we all need to find rest. Every day I seek to do what is right in God’s eyes, but not because I think it will make God love me more, God already loves me all He possibly can. I am going to rest in that, like sitting on the deck with a warm cup of coffee while I enjoy the morning sunrise. How about you?

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Moral Courage

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Sometimes Mark Twain was simply funny, and other times, his brilliant social observations and comments were great. The need for moral courage, which is courage to take a moral stand against what is wrong in the face of opposition, is absolutely necessary today. Moral courage is what is required to take action when we have doubts or fears about the consequences we may face because we take a stand. Moral courage therefore involves reflection or careful thought. The reactionary behavior or dogmatic fanaticism of extremists does not involve moral courage because such impulsive actions are not based upon moral reasoning. They react, they do not think. Moral courage is also the courage necessary to do what is right personally when everything would oppose it. Moral courage is what is necessary when we are tempted to do what we know to be wrong, whatever that is.

Moral courage was exemplified in Martin Luther King Jr. who stood against a national plague of prejudice. And taking this stand without violence and without pandering to ugly accusations or hateful words against those he stood in opposition to, made it all the more powerful.

And regarding your personal moral courage, make up your mind to do what is right, commit to it at all costs. Your wife and children need you committed to not committing adultery, for all of your sakes. The people around you who count on you staying true to course, need someone who doesn’t take any excuse to do otherwise. Moral courage…

People will muster up the courage to accomplish great feats of physical accomplishment. It is amazing what humanity can accomplish when they put their mind to it. Sadly, political correctness has left this nation unable to speak what is necessary, unable to act against what is obviously wrong, because we are afraid to offend someone. There is a desperate need to have the moral courage to pick up that compass God has provided and recognize what direction is necessary to overcome the results of a confused and apathetic nation.

For some, it is time to figure out how to grow a moral backbone and take a stand. The fear of being stigmatized as a hater or fear of the loss which may come with having taken a stand must be overcome. For some, it is time to realize your moral compass is broken and you need to get back to God's view of right and wrong instead of going with the current social tides. And for some others, there is a need to curb your emotions and your tongue as you take your moral stands in the public forum. That hateful and ugly speech you keep spewing out is making it impossible for anyone to hear what is being said. Instead of helping people understand God’s view on a matter, your mean-spirited words are only divisive and corrupting to society.

That said, truth is the new hate speech, in our society someone who speaks the truth is going to be categorized, labeled, and cast aside.

2 Timothy 4:2-4preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Paul tells us this is to be expected. Stand for what is true, stand for what is right in the eyes of God in your personal life and in the community you live and move in. Do this in grace, extending a hand of grace. But do not remain silent, silence will only end badly. 

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Pain and Drawing Near to God

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None of us would ever sign up for pain and suffering, or trouble of any kind really. It is against all we want in this life. Yet, anyone who has been alive a while knows pain in some way or another. Probably if you attended middle school in the U.S. public schools system or Jr. High, you may carry memories of terrible things that happened to you – that is such a troubling age for many kids.

Nevertheless, that is the age of school when we all know what it is like to feel we are going to die, and yet, we live to tell about it. Being made fun of by other kids, left out of the in-crowd, or skipped over while picking teams in sports activities are some of the sad realities of school. But it is as adults we encounter real pain in this life. There is a sense of great loss as someone we care deeply for passes away for example, this is a common painful experience. Divorce, personal economic collapse, battling cancer; some know these personal tragedies. There are various situations like these some folks carry that not everyone can grasp; for example the parent raising a teenager knows certain types of pain other parents cannot understand, or the single-parent raising a child alone has their own types of pain they carry as well.

John 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

There is something about living in a world where for the most part, humanity, which is self-centered and self-serving, will simply make life miserable for others as they seek their own personal desires. We would like to imagine ourselves as better than this, but we are not. Every married couple is faced with what selfishness does to their relationship, and every new parent discovers levels of their own selfishness they never knew existed. Jesus simply warns us of this reality of life, but encourages us to find PEACE in HIM. Why, because He has overcome the world. Pain can force change in us that results in something worthwhile, consider this from Timothy Keller.

Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” – Timothy J. Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, page 30

If we let pain and suffering, let ourselves through it or because of it be drawn near to God, it is there we are able to find the PEACE Jesus tells us about. Pain and suffering can tear us up and tear us away from God as well if we do not allow ourselves to fall upon the heart of God Who weeps with us. (John 11:35) No, I would never have volunteered for the times of pain and suffering in my life had I known they were coming. But in every situation, I have found the heart of God and have come to know Him better as a result of the pain and suffering. I can honestly say I did not enjoy it more as I trusted, but as I trusted I came to know God and His great love more. 

 

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The Gospel and Modern Society

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William Carey, known as the “father of modern missions,” ministered in India from 1793 until his death in 1834. At a time when global missions was all but non-existent, Carey called upon the church he was a part of to launch out and reach the rest of the world with the gospel. Despite resistance, Carey himself went to the mission field and the work he did in India was transformative for the nation.

His mission work brought about the conversion of Hindus to Christianity, which posed new issues concerning whether converts should retain their caste. Carey led a movement to push against the caste system, which had tremendous effect upon India. In 1802, the daughter of Krishna Pal, a Sudra, married a Brahmin. This wedding was a public demonstration that the church repudiated the caste distinctions.

Carrey also sought to educate the people of India and help elevate them from their poor positions. And in 1801, the Governor-General founded Fort William, a college intended to educate civil servants. He offered Carey the position of professor of Bengali. Carey's colleagues at the college included experts, whom he could consult to correct his Bengali testament. He also wrote grammars of Bengali and Sanskrit, and began a translation of the Bible into Sanskrit.

Carey stood against the socially accepted norms and traditions of the East Indian people which degraded and dehumanize others. He also used his influence with the Governor-General to help put a stop to the practices of infant sacrifice and suttee, which was having the wife of a dead husband be burned alive with him. One of my favorite authors once said,

 

"I have been told sometimes and have heard it said that the duty of the church is to catch the spirit of the age.  A thousand times, No!  The duty of the church is to correct the spirit of the age, and in proportion as a church becomes infected by the spirit of the age or the spirit of the city, she loses her power to do her work." – George Campbell Morgan, The Unfolding Message of the Bible, Revell, 1961, p. 391

 

And I have come to understand that in whatever direction society is going, it is likely against what God has said. The more degraded a culture becomes, the more this is true.

 

 

Ephesians 2:1-3And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest

 

There is something critical about standing against the spirit of the age, a world we all once lived in compliance with before coming to Christ. Jesus did not redeem us to remain a part of that, and He did not redeem us to do nothing about it either. We have been reconciled to God and have been given, all of us, a ministry of reconciliation with the goal of bringing all of humanity to Christ. (2 Cor 5:18) No, not everyone is going to like this, but that author I told you about earlier also said,

Organized Christianity that fails to make a disturbance is dead.” ― G. Campbell Morgan

I think it is a necessary time to stop seeking the approval of the world around us, and start doing what God has called us to do. Even if we have to make a disturbance. It is in us to be a transforming force in the culture rather than being transformed by the culture. 

 

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Pharaoh, Frogs, and Tomorrow

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I like frogs, maybe it is the little kid in me, but I think they are sort of cool. I would not want to keep one as a pet or anything, but if I were to see one along the path as I walk I would likely stop and look at it. But there is a scene in the book of Exodus where the second plague is dropped on the Egyptians, and it is a plague of frogs. Frogs everywhere. Frogs in the kitchen, frogs in your living room and bedroom, frogs in the bathroom… frogs everywhere. If it were just one frog in your home, it would be startling, a dozen or so and that would be a bit of an irritation. But a plague of frogs, that would be awful.

So Pharaoh, sickened by the frogs calls Moses in and asks for him to call upon God to have the frog plague stop. And Pharaoh is so sickened by the frogs he concedes to allow the children of Israel to leave and sacrifice to the Lord.

Exodus 8:8Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, "Entreat the LORD that He remove the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD." 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, "The honor is yours to tell me: when shall I entreat for you and your servants and your people, that the frogs be destroyed from you and your houses, {that} they may be left only in the Nile?" 10 Then he said, "Tomorrow." So he said, "{May it be} according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. 11 "The frogs will depart from you and your houses and your servants and your people; they will be left only in the Nile."

Moses then tells Pharaoh that he will leave the honor of when the plague will end in the hands of Pharaoh to decide. And then come the strangest words in the conversation, “Tomorrow.” Tomorrow? Are you kidding, tomorrow? How can you say tomorrow? How about “NOW!!” You could end this thing now and you say tomorrow? It probably took a few hours or days for Pharaoh to concede and allow the request to be made to Moses because it meant conceding to allowing the people to leave. But as the frogs continued to pile up, it became more and more apparent they needed to do something.

When it is on someone else, it is always easier to see the frogs. I look at Pharaoh and I cannot imagine waiting another day with the frogs. But when I look back at my own life – I can imagine waiting on going to the gym, even though my health is important to me. I can imagine waiting on an area of conflict with my wife, so I put it off until tomorrow. Bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and on it goes, all of those frogs of our own we put off. Is it pride that allowed Pharaoh to delay the ending of the plague? Is it pride for you? Or perhaps you have become accustomed to the frogs in your life, it is just how things are and you accept them instead of dealing with them.

You know, sometimes I think God allows those frogs in our lives to pile up. Sometimes I think He allows them to pile up until we have become really sick of them, sick enough to do something. And it isn’t until we are really ready and cry out that He will intervene. How much larger will the pile become before you do something? God is waiting and desires to work in your life. Cry out to Him, and He will hear. 

 

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Running With Horses

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Once again I find myself trying to get back on the treadmill and exercising now that the weather has become so pleasant. It is what is necessary for my heart, but there are other good results which come with all of this. I can think clearer, I feel better, I can sleep easier, and so on. Going bicycle riding is also enjoyable, and I do that as often as I can now. I will never compete with real cyclists, I am only doing this for my health.

Training for competition level sports is a whole different world than the one I am in. There is a whole different level of commitment and science to it. But at my age, I am just seeking to stay healthy… not take on world class athletes. My commitment is for health and not awards, staying alive as opposed to living for the sport. In life these are the types of commitments we are all making. And when it comes to our spiritual lives, it is the same thing, we are all making commitments.

Jeremiah 12:5 "If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”

Jeremiah is complaining about the condition of the nation and the impact this corruption is having upon him and his own personal lands. In the midst of his complaint comes this response from the Lord. “If you are having a hard time with what you are enduring now, how will you hold up when things get really tough? Things will get worse and you are complaining that you cannot endure this little?”

Like a limb withered from non-use, many people have spiritual lives which have for so long been side-lined, they have withered to little or nothing. Many people, with so much excess in their lives have become starved, emaciated spiritually because they have filled up on spiritual junk food instead of real food. There is so much to entertain us, to fill our every waking minute, we have lost sight of what is most important. Then, to hear the things some folks complain about – first-world complaints always are hard to hear. [I catch myself all of the time… ugh] Their coffee did not come out right at Starbucks and it may ruin their whole day, when someone in a third world nation would like to just have access to clean, safe water. Their food was not prepared right at the restaurant, but in third world nations, people would simply like to eat this week. The ease of our lives here has caused many to become complacent, weakened spiritually, and as a result winded by the slightest difficulties. Like a failed New Year’s resolution, they are doing nothing serious about their spiritual lives.

How will you run with the horses? How will you do when life gets really difficult? How will you endure when the nation you live in, which is already turning against anything Christian, completely rejects all that we are as Christ-followers, and Christ Himself? We are only a few years behind Europe for abandoning Christianity, and we are clearly following their pattern.

It is time to stand up, take a close look at your life, repent for anything you need to repent for, and get back to running the race. It is time to commit to growing up, to become a mature believer who can run with the horses. Let’s run together!!

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Fear - Healthy and Unhealthy

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Americans love their horror flicks, it seems like those types of films always draw crowds. I have personally never liked them with all of the blood and overdone gore, but to each his own I guess. Some folks like a good scare. The films generally have a multitude of shock points meant to make you jump, its all a part of that genre. But in real life, folks deal with all sorts of fears which are different from the shock-scare thing happening in a horror flick. In this life, there are realistic fears and there are unrealistic fears.

Proverbs 26:13A sluggard says, "There's a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!"

This passage in Proverbs highlights an unrealistic fear which the sluggard holds to. Even in the time when this passage was written, lions were not likely to come into a city in the Middle East. There is nothing realistic about the threat, but the sluggard holds to it.

In the film “The Good Lie” there is a scene when three young men from the Sudan are living in America as refugees and they visit a farm. They see some cattle and they ask the owner if they can go and visit with his cattle. It was a familiar thing for them in a world they knew little about because they had owned their own cattle before the local guerrilla leaders had killed most of their village and had taken their cattle. But before they walk over to look at the cattle they ask the owner if there is anything they needed to be concerned about. The man looks at them and asks, “Like what?” “Oh, you know like lions and such...” was the reply. At first the cattle rancher laughs, but then he can see in their face it was an honest and real question for them. The owner reassures them there is nothing to fear and the three walk out to see the cattle.

For the three young men who had fought lions in the Sudan while trying to keep their cattle safe, it was a realistic fear that led to the question. One of the three men even bore the scars of a wrestling match with a lion from when he had tried to rescue his brother. But now in America, there was no threat on this farm – the realistic threat of home was now an unrealistic one they could let go of. Sometimes in our lives we are fortunate to have this happen, but not always.

Fear is healthy, never imagine otherwise. Fear can keep us out of dangerous situations and keep us from making foolish decisions. We can see the possible outcome and it is wise to listen to the realistic fear warning us. But fear can become unrealistic and unhealthy if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by anxiety and dread over things which are not possibly going to happen. We need to resist this, and place our trust in God. We need to examine the fear so we can determine if it is real or unreal so we do not fall prey to something which will unnecessarily oppress our hearts.

Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the LORD {leads} to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.

There is a healthy fear we should all hold to, the fear of the Lord. Not the shock-scare thing of a horror flick, but a reverent fear of the Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth and sustains it daily. A fear that leads us to living in a way that is pleasing to Him, following Christ, and loving God. In this place of relationship with God, we need not fear anything else or anyone else. We can trust that even in death, God still holds us in the palm of His mighty hand. 

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Love is Strong

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The man sat in the chair and said, “Well, I am not happy in this marriage. God wants me happy doesn’t he?” This was his justification for seeking a divorce, he was not happy. His reason for divorce was offensive enough, but he then tried to bring God into the equation to reinforce his view of things.

When marriage is reduced to two people getting married because they make each other happy, marriage is not long for this world. When marriage is redefined and recreated in the image of flawed humanity, marriage is in a downward spiral to reductionist waste. When marriage is viewed in a selfish and self-gratifying way – there can be no permanence. Rather than real love, a cheap substitute has arisen to pass itself off as love. This cheap substitute demands and demands, and when its desires are not met, the deal is broken and the relationship is cast off to seek another option. Broken relationships litter the landscape, and children pay the highest price.

Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community, but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are looking for a marriage partner who will 'fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.' And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to a deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry.” ― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Love, marriage, these are gifts given by God who did not create love and marriage to be viewed or used in such a flippant or useless way.

Song of Solomon 8:6Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.”

Love is powerful, “as strong as death” Solomon tells us. Death is permanent, and it is not something which is able to be overcome. God alone in Jesus Christ overcame death for our sakes – for the rest of us, it is permanent, enduring and lasting. Real love, the Bible says, is permanent and instinctively desires permanence. It is only those couples who commit to each other, commit to their marriage, and commit to working at loving each other long-term who make it. It is those couples who commit to the ideal, who reach it.

A good marriage takes time, it takes work. The ideal needs to come off of the shelf and be seen as obtainable. If you are not married right now, don’t settle. If you are married, commit to loving your spouse like never before and see what God does. The “hook up” generation is discovering that lifestyle is backfiring and leaving everyone hurting and unsatisfied. Because of this, a new generation is looking for the permanence of someone who will love them, really love them, and stay with them. While it is too bad so many are learning the hard way, I am so glad to see some people waking up to what God intended for humanity in the first place. 

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