Here Comes the Bride

A wedding day is such a special and magical celebration, one that is filled with love and anticipation.  For the bride, it’s an especially exciting time, a day that’s been dreamt about for years.  From a young age watching Disney princess movies and playing dress up, little girls long for the day when they too will be able to wear a beautiful, flowing gown and walk down that aisle on their perfect wedding day.

A bride spends a tremendous amount of time, even a year or two before, preparing everything for the ceremony.  She wants every detail to be just so.  She desires to walk down that aisle a picture of perfection for her husband.  Hair, makeup, dress, shoes, everything must be carefully attended to.

I paint this picture of a woman’s perfect wedding ceremony to prove a point.  There is a huge amount of time and effort getting ready for that big day.  How much more should we anticipate the day that we are joined together with our bridegroom Jesus?  Even though we don’t know the exact day of his return, we should prepare for that day nonetheless.  But how do we do that?  How do we get ready for our own special wedding day?

  • Purity- There’s a reason why brides wear white on their wedding day.  It’s a clean, pure color that is meant to represent the chastity and purity that a bride brings to the relationship.  Christians also have the responsibility to present ourselves in a holy, pure way before Go.  He made the ultimate sacrifice of his Son Jesus to cleanse us of our impurity (1 John 1:9), and it’s the least we can do to live a life worthy of that sacrifice (Ephesians 4:1).
  • Knowledge- When a man and woman are dating or engaged, they go to great lengths to spend time with one another and get to know each other better.  Their relationship becomes more intimate, not from a sexual union, but from quality time spent with each other.  Likewise, time spent with God helps us learn more about him, his character, his wisdom, and his love (John 15:1-5).  God desires a deep, personal relationship with his bride, but we have to put forth the effort to grow closer in that manner.
  • Clothing- Probably the biggest decision a bride faces is her choice of wedding dress.  My male brain simply cannot comprehend why a woman would need to try on a hundred different dresses just to find the right one, but she does so because she has to look just right on her big day.  While we won’t be worrying about physical clothing at our own spiritual wedding, we still must clothe ourselves in a proper manner.  The Bible tells us that our clothing will be our righteous acts (Revelation 19:7-8), and while some will teach that our works don’t matter to God, the truth is, they are very important (James 2:14-26).  What better way to thank God for the blessings he provides than to clothe ourselves with good deeds that come from a grateful heart.

There’s a great day coming, a day when Jesus will return to bring us home with him to Heaven.  He has already gone and prepared a place for us there (John 14:2-3), and all we have to do is be ready for when he comes.  What are you doing as the bride of Christ to be ready for your big wedding day?

-Joe

Love Letter

I have two large shoeboxes in the top of my closet that, by all appearances, look old and worn out.  In fact, they are pretty old.  These two boxes hold all the letters and cards that my wife has given me over the years that we’ve known each other.  We met in our junior year of high school, and it’s pretty funny to go back and read of our innocent love for one another and how we longed to be in each other’s company.

Later, when I was in bootcamp with the United States Air Force, she would send me letters of love and encouragement that helped me get through our time of separation.  I keep those mementos to this day as a reminder of our feelings for one another and the bond of commitment that we share.  It reminds me to never take her for granted and to always recall the innocence and purity of when we first fell in love.

There’s another such love letter that we all have access to and its message has always stood the test of time.  The Bible is the most beautiful love letter ever written, and we have it preserved for us so that we may never forget that we are truly and wholly loved.  The story of God and his love for us is a remarkable one, one in which we see what real love and commitment look like.  All that he has done to redeem us to himself is, by far, the most amazing act of love of all time.  God himself, Christ in the flesh, bought us back, his adulterous bride, with his own blood, and the Bible is testament to that glorious gospel message.  We simply can’t miss it…God loves us more than we could ever imagine.

One of the best ways to understand this is by studying all of the analogies between human marriage and the marriage of Christ and the church that are spoken of in the Bible.  Books like Hosea and Ephesians tell of the sacrificial love that one should have for their spouse and it’s the same kind of love that Jesus has for us.  It’s a love that looks at the faults of the other and chooses to still love anyway.  It’s a love that strives for perfection for the one who is chosen.  And God tells us of this ideal union all throughout his word.  It’s a love letter that’s there for us to read and to relish every day.

God wants you to know him just as a husband and wife know each other physically (Ephesians 5:31-32).  But the intimacy of the sexual union between marriage partners pales in comparison to the closeness that God desires with each of his children.  He longs for you to fall into his arms, into his rest, into his grace and mercy.  He wishes for you to reciprocate that love and give yourself freely and completely to him.  He hopes that you will continually read his love letter to you and know, in the deepest part of your heart and soul, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

-Joe

Beauty on Parade

I went to a car show recently and boy, there were some beautiful rides.  Perfect paint jobs were shining, chrome was clean and polished, and high-horsepower engines were on display.  It was easy to walk around and gape at all those beautifully restored mid-century cruisers and 60’s and 70’s muscle cars.  But the cars weren’t the only things on display.

While my wife and I were taking a picture of a car, a very scantily-clad young woman and her husband walked in front of us and our mouths dropped open for entirely the wrong reason.  She was wearing cutoff jeans that exposed pretty much her entire backside and her breasts were completely spilling out of her top.  The two of them strutted on by, and it was obvious that the woman was enjoying all the attention she was generating.  Our first impression was that she was dressed like a prostitute, and while that may not have been true, there was no doubt that her choice of clothing was meant to garner sexual attention.

I guess what struck me the most was the fact that her husband couldn’t care less that people were staring at his wife in such a derogatory manner, most likely viewing her in some inappropriate, sexual way.  Basically, this woman put her beauty on parade and was very openly revealing what only her husband had the right to see.  And I had to ask myself, should a man who truly loves his wife encourage her to present herself in such a manner, to essentially encourage her to be objectified by what she wears?

I’m sure I may already be stoking the ire of some who view me as trying to step on your right to wear whatever you want.  Some may be thinking that it’s my responsibility not to look, and in that sense you would be right.  But believe it or not, it was my wife who noticed this situation first, and we found ourselves disheartened that this is not just some passing fad at a weekend car show.  In fact, it’s not just a problem with the world anymore, but also amongst some Christian women as well.  Women who are commanded by God to reserve their bodies for just their husbands to see are no longer seen as respectable, gentle spirits.  Instead, they are being seen for their sexuality and what they are revealing.

A very similar situation such as this is recorded for us in the Bible and it’s an example of how a dedicated wife should carry herself in a public setting.  King Xerxes had just finished a six month party displaying to his kingdom how awesome he was and he decided to hold a weeks long banquet, again in his own honor (Esther 1:4-5).  It was at the end of this banquet that he called for his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself in front of him and his drunk friends because she was apparently quite a looker (Esther 1:10-12).  It was the Queen’s response that showed the honor befitting of a respectable woman and the response that should be shown by any woman who claims to be a Christian.

The Queen knew full well that she was being paraded around for the sexual enjoyment of men who were not her husband.  She had enough respect for herself and enough bravery to deny the request, even though it would most assuredly anger the king.  This wasn’t some prudish act or a display of arrogance.  It was knowing how to respectfully present ourselves to those who are not our spouse.  For the Christian, it’s knowing that God calls us to a higher standard than the rest of the world wants to abide by.

Of course, in our society today, this problem is not only confined to women.  It has become acceptable to flaunt our bodies to feel proud or gain attention.  I live in Florida, so you can imagine I’ve seen my fair share of this out in public.  But this isn’t what God wants us to do.  First, we must remember who made us and who we belong to.  God has undoubtedly made creation very beautiful, and that definitely includes the human form.  But we Christians are the home of God, the Holy Spirit, and have been bought back from the slavery of sin at a very great price.  We should, therefore, honor God with the way we carry ourselves physically (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Finally, when we marry, we hand over the rights to our body to our spouse.  The two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24) and agree to fulfill their marital duties with only each other (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).  Our bodies are not meant to be put on display for the sexual satisfaction of others.  We are to present ourselves sexually to only our spouse lest we be led into temptation and possibly the sin of adultery.

To all the husbands and wives…by all means, be proud of who God made you to be.  Enjoy one another sexually, for God made you compatible for that very reason.  But keep those things sacred and private, within the confines of the marriage, so that one day you may not be judged harshly (Hebrews 13:4).

-Joe

Absence of the Mind

imageI can see it on their face.  It’s a look of distance, a sure sign that although they are physically right in front of me, their mind is a million miles away.  I can’t be too judgmental though.  We all do it at times.  We all, in our busy lives, fail to live in the moment, to give our undivided attention to the task at hand or the person in front of us.  We excuse it as using our time wisely or that we can’t help it.  But truthfully, it’s an absence of the mind that hurts relationships and stifles contentment.

Mindlessness is not necessarily done on purpose.  In fact, it’s a fault of many busy people who have so overwhelmed their lives with stuff and activities and responsibilities that they fail to know what it’s like to live in the moment.  It’s a habit that’s developed and over time, it steals the joy you could experience if only we would delight in the here and now.  Instead, we plot and worry about things.  Decisions that have to be made.  Tasks that need completing.  Our minds are free and with freedom comes great responsibility.

Our minds have the freedom to wander while our bodies must operate in the present situation we are in.  It’s wonderful that our minds are capable of processing all the information that they do, but a wandering mind is an absent mind.  For the Christian, mindfulness is essential to live in the peace God so desperately wants us to have.  Our marriages are more rewarding when our mind is focused on our spouse.  Our work is more fruitful when we dedicate our minds to the task at hand.  Our ministry is more effective when our thoughts are centered on God.

All of this sounds wonderful, and indeed it is, but how exactly do we become more mindful?  With all the distractions in our complicated, busy lives, how do we learn to live in the present and find contentment with what is right in front of us?  The words of James ring especially true:

 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—  yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

(James 4:13-14)

It’s so easy to treat our lives as if they will last forever.  In reality, our life is very short.  We cannot make up for lost time later on when we’re not even promised a “later on.”  That conversation you’re having with your husband needs your undivided attention.  Your child actually needs you to pull your mind away from work and give them your focus and love.  The friend you’ve neglected needs to hear your voice and know you care about him or her.  Tomorrow is not promised and now may be your only time.

Living in the present requires that we trust God.

If we are worried about the future or regretful of the past, our present is stolen away from us before we ever have a chance to enjoy it.

Do not be anxious about your life.  Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25a, 27).  Being mindful means giving God the disappointment of our past, by trusting him with our future and by taking pleasure in Him, our loved ones, and our surroundings in the present.

We have the ultimate freedom to set our minds on what we want to think.  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a).  The world tells us our minds must be busy.  The world teaches that multitasking is the only way to accomplish things.  But God teaches a different way.  He wants us to control our minds, to delight in the blessings he has given us.  Doing so is a great way to show thanks for his goodness and provision.

-Joe

We Are His Hands and Feet

hands and feetJust about every day I’m reminded of how much I’m loved by God.  He always meets my needs through his blessings or the people He has put into my life.  This weekend was no exception.

My family and a large group of friends from our church all met up at a local state park to have a back to summer bash and celebrate the end of the school year.  It was a great day taking out kayaks, swimming and eating delicious food.  It was great, that is, until I decided to have a run on a wakeboard that one of our friends brought.  Long story short, I pulled something in my lower back and found myself barely able to move and quickly heading home.

My wife, bless her sweet heart, promptly began to take care of me.  She helped me unload the heavy stuff out of the car.  She helped me get settled in the shower, pulled back the bed, got me a heating pad and made sure I could rest comfortably.  Keri became my hands and feet, doing all the things I couldn’t and showing her love and concern for me.

Now I won’t argue that I’m well taken care of.  And in marriage, that’s the way it should be.  A husband and wife can and should constantly look for ways to serve one another and reinforce the lifelong commitment and love that they share.  That is why the Bible compares marriage with our relationship with God (Ephesians 5:22-33).  In the same way, we are to be on the lookout for ways we can serve and show love to God.  Those opportunities come every day during the many interactions we have with the people around us.  We are to be God’s hands and feet, using our resources to take care of the needs of others, his children, and using God’s word to bring them back to their Father.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 

(Romans 10:14-15)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

(Philippians 2:3-4)

I’m sure I won’t be laid up with a bad back for too long.  Right now, Keri is using this occasion to bless me with her tender love and care.  And every day, I will have the chance to repay the favor to both her and God.

-Joe

It’s a Privilege to Encourage

encouragement.jpgOne of the greatest roles of the church and its members is the act of encouragement we provide for one another.  I would really categorize it as a privilege that Christians are gifted with.  While some are more naturally or spiritually gifted to encourage, it is an important trait that all Christians should nurture.

The Greek word normally translated to mean encourage is paraklesis.  According to Strong’s Concordance it means a calling to exhort, entreat, encourage or comfort.  We can see in those synonyms that the act of encouragement serves many roles that include motivating us to minister to others, serving those in need and passing along verbal inspiration to lift one another’s spirits.  We comfort and encourage because it is the example set by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

There are plenty of ways and opportunities in our daily lives to provide encouragement to others.  People should not have to beg for encouragement from us.  We should dole it out generously, especially to the household of faith.  Simple things like general compliments go a long way to fortify each other.  Gathering together for worship, fellowship, acts of service and fun times are great opportunities for our spiritual family to stimulate one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).  We can also be there during times of trial and temptation to assist our brothers and sisters through difficult times and help them find relief.

Following are some areas where encouragement is an important part of our ministry:

  1. Husbands/Wives: Wives… your husbands could definitely use your words and actions of encouragement.  Men are not as thick-skinned as they like to portray.  Your kindness goes a long way in helping us be better leaders for our family.  Husbands…wives do far more work than you’ll ever know.  I have yet to meet a wife who wouldn’t be thrilled to be rewarded with daily compliments and encouragement from their husband.
  2. Parents:  As a teacher, I see daily the struggles kids go through trying to fit in to this messed up world we live in.  Sometimes parents are so busy chasing career and personal success that they forget about the all important job of encouraging their children.  Every child deserves to have their parents as their biggest fans.
  3. Elders/Deacons:  One of the biggest hurdles in the church today is that elderships have the tendency to focus more on budgets and buildings and logistics instead of teaching, prayer and encouragement.  When you look at the criteria for being an elder in 1 Timothy and Titus, you can see that being an encourager is both implied and stated directly.  It’s important for elders to remember that people take precedence over projects.  A wise elder is one who pursues personal relationships with his flock in order that he may be ready when it is appropriate to lend a kind word or hand.
  4.  Everyone:  Although the Bible refers to encouraging as a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8), it is not something that we should pass off on others who are better suited.  All Christians have a responsibility to encourage if we are to be like Christ.

One of the biggest reasons I began this blog was to encourage others in their walk with Christ.  I hope that the posts, devotionals and words that are shared here in some small way give you encouragement and the desire to serve the Lord.  I pray that I glorify God who has given me the wonderful privilege to encourage you as we anxiously await the return of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Encourager.

-Joe

 

Heroes Behind the Scenes

heroesEvery avalanche begins with a snowflake.

A pretty powerful statement considering the size and strength of that one flake.  And yet, when it is combined with others like it, an entire mountainside of snow can come crashing down with amazing and destructive force and it all began with that first flake.

Heroes are like that.  Small deeds done over and over add up.  I see it every day and it is proof that your biggest heroes are found behind the scenes.  Let me tell you about some.

  • They get up early every day and go to work.  And not just work, but for them, a calling.  I join their ranks as well as we enter our classrooms and prepare to change the future.  You heard right.  They change the future because every day they stand in front of a classroom of inquiring minds and inspire their students to achieve greatness.  Every teacher I’ve ever had the privilege to work with is the same.  They love to teach, they love to encourage, they find joy in their student’s successes and sorrow in their struggles.  They are heroes behind the scenes.
  • She is a jack of all trades.  She’s a wife, a mother, a friend, a Christian, a counselor, an encourager, a rock.  She doesn’t know the meaning of “no” and will literally give you anything that you need.  Most of all, I’m proud to call her my wife.  Keri is the secretary of our church, the mother to not only our child but to other children who need one, and she’s the queen of her home.  She’s a friend to those in need, a cooker of great meals and the level head when times are tough.  She’s a hero behind the scenes.
  • He/She is out there right now working hard to make a difference.  He may spend his free time teaching the gospel to the lost.  She may work hard to raise her children on her own.  He plays ball with his son after a hard day’s work.  She lets her daughter in the kitchen to cook even though a mess is soon to follow.  He’s the police officer working late at night to keep us safe and she’s the ex-drug addict helping others to stay clean.  They don’t make it onto the 5 o’clock news.  Their stories don’t go viral.  But they are heroes behind the scenes.

Go take a good look in the mirror.  That’s right!  A long hard look in the mirror.  The hero is staring back at you.  Keep working hard.  Keep serving.  Keep challenging and encouraging.  Keep adding snowflakes to the mountainside and it will eventually start an avalanche.

-Joe