Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ups and Downs

by Tim Howard

My wife and I were in Ogden Utah last week doing a leadership seminar when we celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary. The people who know me think my wife must be a Saint for putting up with me for so long. I agree!

If you ask me how long I have been married I would say: “Not long enough!” Donna is the greatest gift anyone could receive.

It was February 16, 1973 when I spoke these words to my wife.  “ I, Tim Howard take you Donna to be my wife – to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse.  I promise to love you the same way Jesus loves me.  I promise to support you, cherish you, respect you, and be faithful to only you for as long as we both shall live.”

I was 22 at the time and didn’t fully understand the meaning of that phrase ‘for better or for worse’.  After all these years, however, I now have a clue.

We’ve had our share of bad times!  We have both thought about quitting.  The word divorce has crossed our minds and when we thought it couldn’t get much worse, it did!

It’s laughable now but it was painful then.  Maybe you have had some bad times in your marriage or possibly you are in a difficult season right now.  I want you to know, your bad times don’t have to destroy you. When God is allowed to work – They can develop you.

Life is not just about growing up!  To succeed in life you must grow down as well.  Trees that grow high will not stand against the winds of time unless they have deep roots.  God uses the ‘worse’ times – the ‘down’ times to develop a deep root system in your life.  These roots will keep you from crumbling under adversity. 

Paul the Apostle conveys this truth in the New Testament.  Romans 5:3-5, “We can rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure.  And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.  And this expectation will not disappoint us…”

Here are five decisions that can change a ‘down’ into an ‘up.’

1.  Never Quit!  When things get tough, don’t stop doing the little things that made your marriage wonderful.  Remember, long before a divorce is ever finalized, someone quit doing the right things.

2.  Look for the gold in each other and don’t focus on the dirt. No one finds gold without going through some dirt and no one finds gold if they focus on the dirt.

3.  Love from your heart and not only from the emotions. In the ‘worse’ times, you need to decide to love your mate even though you may not like them.  Love is a decision. 

4.  Don’t hide things from each other. Psalm 32 tells how devastating this is.

5.  Make God and His desire your first priority.  When He is first, things fall into place.  Check out Matthew 6:33 and discover God’s promise to you. 

I am very thankful we have experienced far more of the ‘up’ years than ‘down.’ When God is involved the ‘Ups’ make the ‘Downs – worth it.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Cursing the Darkness

by Andrew Cromwell
Recently I was reminded at how frequently I default into “cursing” mode. No, not the hammer your thumb, four-letter kind of cursing mode, but rather the kind where you look around at the state of the world and can see only what is bad and broken and start complaining. If you’re at all like me, it doesn’t take much to put you there. Fifteen minutes of TV news will do it. So will virtually any conversation about politics and the state of our political system. Of course, there is the tried and true conversation about the same old things at work that still don’t work the way they should.

Whenever we are confronted with the brokenness of the world, it is so easy to just start to moan and groan. We complain that it should be different. We lament how things just seem to be getting worse and worse. We repeat the same old phrases about how it used to be better in the good old days. We blame society. We blame kids. We blame the teachers. We blame the system.

They call this cursing the darkness. The last time I checked, cursing the darkness doesn’t do much good. If every time I walk into my garage I stub my toe, and then spend all the time I’m in the garage (and out of the garage), talking about how it should be different, what good will that do? I need to turn on a light (or move the toe-stubbing object somewhere else!).

If you’re unhappy with your marriage, don’t complain about it, do something. If you’re unhappy with your political leaders, don’t complain about it, do something! And if you’re unhappy with the school system, the kids today, or the situation in the city or county, do something! And contrary to popular opinion, complaining is not doing something.

Turn on a light! And if there’s not a light to turn on, install one! Carry one with you. Determine to be the kind of person that adds light to every situation, instead of just cursing the darkness.

Jesus said, “let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” Light-people are lifters – they lift situations out of the muck and mire and make them beautiful.

What kind of person are you? Are you a complainer or are you a light-giver? Are you shining light or are you cursing the darkness? We need some more light-people up in here!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Place to Rest

by Tim Howard

Insomnia is defined as habitual sleeplessness, according to the dictionary. 

A person experiencing this condition is incapable of finding true rest. 

The reasons for restlessness abound!  The threat of global recession, continuing wars, famines, natural disasters, incurable diseases, personal crisis, family challenges and future uncertainty are all contributing factors.

When this happens, certain consequences ensue: People may start arguing with others, do sub-par work, be less loving and more irritable with children and friends.  It’s hard to live in peace when you have no rest.

The Bible tells us in Hebrews chapter 4 that there is a way to find true rest.  This rest is defined as a ‘peace from God’ that will allow you to sleep all night long and have pleasant dreams.  Check out what Paul the Apostle says in Philippians 4:7.  He tells us that this peace defies logic because it’s not connected to external things.  You can be in the middle of a raging storm and still sleep like a baby.  Mark 4:38 records a time when Jesus did it and so can you.

To enter and experience this rest, however, some key decisions must be made regarding your past and future.  Worrying about your past and fretting about your future will contribute greatly to sleeplessness.  This happens because you were not created to live in the past or the future but in the PRESENT.  Rest and peace are available only to those who live in the present and seek God NOW!

Many people, however, choose to live in the past.  They will not leave the past hurts, the slights, the pain, the problems, the misunderstandings, the grudges, and the resentments. They choose to rehearse the past rather than release it.  They have pretty much identified themselves as victims.  Their past begins to infect their present rather than affect it in a positive way. May I suggest that you cannot change the past!  It is gone forever, so why focus on that which cannot be changed?   Jesus wants you to focus on what can be changed.  It’s no surprise that Isaiah 43:18 tells us: “Do not be obsessed with the former things or continually focus on the things of the past.”

Regarding the future, Jesus said these words in Matthew 6:34 …do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Worry will rob you of rest today and catapult you into the uncertainty of the future. What you do today is extremely important. Your decisions will actually shape your tomorrows and release God’s peace. You can determine right now that – the rest of your days will be the best of your days.

Whether you are struggling with the past or the future, God wants to give you rest. Trusting Him for a bright tomorrow is the antidote to worry. He can use your past to strengthen your future and bless your present. Let’s get rid of our yesterdays and make room for our tomorrows by finding a place of rest as you put your trust in God.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Dr. Spouse

by Andrew Cromwell

According to the statistics, most people will marry at some point in their life and the vast majority of people prefer being paired up with someone else versus living single. Of course, what is often ironic about that fact is that one of the more frequent questions we ask ourselves once we do get married is, “what was I thinking?” The old adage, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them” seems to apply all too frequently.

We are wired for relationships -- God built it into our DNA. We can’t get around it. And there is something deeply satisfying when we find that sweet spot in a marriage relationship where we are able to love and be loved and do life together. Almost all of us look at those marriages that have stood the test of time -- people married for 40, 50, and even 60 years -- and want to know, “How did they do it?”

And while there are exceptions, most of these long term marriages seem to have figured out a secret and all of us who would desire that kind of success, desperately want to know what that secret is. How do we make it through the ups and downs of life and still find the other person fascinating?

The answer, or at least one of the answers, to this question, as is often the case, is incredibly simple to understand but will take a lifetime to master. If you want to make it work with your spouse in a way that is magical, then you have to be willing to be a lifetime learner. You have to become a student of your spouse. You have to be willing to study them so well, that you become a Ph.D. in the subject of that singular person that you are married to.

More often than not, marriages fail, not because two people are incompatible, but because they are unwilling. They are unwilling to do the difficult work of figuring each other out. And what is worse, they assume that once they have “figured out their spouse”, they can rest easy. This is a problem because people keep changing throughout the course of their life -- they are not fixed subjects that can be put under glass and studied with a microscope. Rather, they are living, breathing entities that are constantly changing and adjusting. Becoming an expert in this kind of subject takes a lot of time, energy, and effort.

I enjoy watching nature documentaries about exotic animals that are difficult to find. Creatures that only come out at night or live in the remotest of places. Animals that are so rare that sometimes they are thought to be extinct. To capture footage of such creatures is an incredible feat. The camera crew, often just a single individual, must be willing to put in hours of patient study, frequently in extremely difficult conditions, just to get a few seconds of material. And yet they are pleased to wait because they consider the animal worth it.

If only we would be so patient with our spouses! All too often, we are unwilling to wait, unwilling to put in the time, unwilling to go through the difficult conditions to capture the opportunity to truly “see” them. People don’t reveal their inner secrets easily. Real intimacy comes at a price, but often we are unwilling to pay. But for those that pay the price, they get understanding. And with understanding comes great benefits.

So the next time you are frustrated with your spouse and are contemplating throwing in the towel, maybe first you need to ask yourself, “have I really put in the time and effort?” Do I really have a Ph.D. in this subject or have I settled for something less? Am I still a student and a lifetime learner or have I become bored and complacent?

It might be time to pick up the books again! Your spouse is one of the most fascinating people on the planet -- or have you forgotten?