Thursday, September 14, 2017

5 disciplines every marriage needs to grow

Most books about spiritual disciplines tend to focus on your personal relationship with God. Nothing wrong with that. 
But what about your relationship with your spouse? 
How might a couple develop spiritual practices that they joyfully share with each other?
Most couples admit that they share intimacy, financial planning, vacation, leisure plans, doing household chores, and hobbies. 
But when it comes to sharing in practices that will deepen their life together and with God, many admit a stunning lack of ability to develop these practices. 
In the style of a fable, this book journeys with a fictionalized couple as they work through their issues and demonstrate five key disciplines that can help you develop a spiritually dynamic relationship:
  • Prayer: This life-sustaining discipline may seem awkward at first, but it’s critical if your marriage is to weather life’s storms.
  • Worship: This communal discipline will help you tear down idols of the heart and reminds you who sits on the throne.
  • Simplicity: This underrated discipline encourages you to value having less and focus on what’s essential; eliminating distractions will strengthen your commitment to your marriage.
  • Study: This transformative discipline will help you dive into the timelessness of God’s word—the blueprint for living a godly life and keeping your marriage on track.
  • Perseverance: This discipline will help couples run the race with patience, remembering that loving one another and following Christ fly in the face of inborn selfishness.
The sweet reward of an enduring marriage is worth the work. Internalize these five disciplines, put them into action, and get ready for the inevitable blessings that will come your way!
Get copies here.

Are there other disciplines you would recommend for growing your marriage? Share them in the comments box. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Christianity: Good or Evil?

Dome of the Rock next to Jewish Wailing Wall 

You have no doubt heard this canard: “Religion is the major source of violence. Therefore, if we seek a more peaceful world we should abolish religion.” This of course is music to the ears of those who inherently loathe religion and Christianity in particular.

This seeming connection between religion and violence is fueled by ancient and modern conflicts: From the bloody Crusades of 1095 to graphic be-headings by Isis, suicide bombings and mass shootings in places like France and San Bernardino. So the answer? Get rid of religion if you want to see peace in the world.

This of course is not true. In fact, it is rather simplistic. Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, authors of Encyclopedia of Wars, surveyed 1800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent involved religion at all.

Also, a “God and War” survey commissioned by the BBC found that religion played some part in 40 per cent of conflicts but usually a minor one.

What Jesus taught
Those who follow Jesus are called to be peacemakers. Granted, not everyone who claims to be Christian lives in complete submission to Him.

For example, on the night that Jesus was arrested, Simon Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Jesus’ response shows that he never asked his followers to kill in his name: Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52).

How does Jesus command his followers to live? In essence, Jesus came to bring life, abundant life. Even a cursory examination of his teachings reveal this fact:
-Love one another
-Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
-Do not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good.
-Forgive, even as God has forgiven you.
-If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him to drink.

So for those who think all religions promote death and destruction, look again at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what he taught his followers. This is in stark contrast to the nightmarish ambitions of Isis.
I am curious: how do you see followers of Jesus as a force for good in the world?

Friday, August 18, 2017

How racism induces fear

When I moved to America in 1981, I landed first in Miami, cleared customs, and then flew to New York to be with my family. I remember coming to the United States, not with relief, but with fear that I was coming to a country where race was a divisive topic.
At 21 years old, I was inquisitive, loved to read, and knew many things about the USA even before setting foot on its soil. I knew that there was an abundance of opportunities for educational advancement. But I still had this gnawing fear of being labeled and judged for being black, and for being from a small island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
Before going off to college in Indiana, I worked in Manhattan for about a year, and I remember being afraid that I would be arrested and put in a police line-up. Someone would then finger me for a crime that I did not commit. So, I made sure not to walk the streets at night or place myself in situations that would compromise my safety. To this day, I don’t walk into stores unless I plan to purchase something, for fear that people might see me as a potential shoplifter.
Some of you reading this may not agree with me, or even understand me. But this is my story. These were – and are – my experiences coming to a United States in the early 1980s where race was a defining factor of how its citizens were treated.
This past weekend’s sad events in Charlottesville, Va., have resurrected my dormant fears.
Here we are in 2017, in a post-Obama America, watching hundreds of young white men, marching uniformly, their torches held high, shouting, “You will not replace us; Jews will not replace us; these are our streets.”
Scientifically, race is a myth. I remember reaching this conclusion after reading Francis Collins’ book The Language of God. He said, “At the DNA level, we are all 99.9 percent identical. That similarity applies regardless of which two individuals from around the world you choose to compare. Thus, by genetic analysis, we humans are truly part of one family.
Judging, weighing, or determining someone’s worth or dignity on the basis of race needs to stop. As Christians, deeply shaped by the gospel, we know there is only one true judge who sees human beings not from the outside in, but from the inside out. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).
Yes, I still feel levels of fear when travelling across our beautiful country. But I feel safe with God. When God sees me, I am called beloved child of God. I swim in the wide ocean of God’s love and grace. I also feel safe in our church and with you, the members of our congregation. We live by the politics of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ kingdom politics teach inclusion, forgiveness of enemies, acceptance, dignity for children, women, the elderly, and all human beings.
The politics of Jesus is the hope of America. Christians need to shed the narrow political labels of this world. Don’t allow yourself to be defined as Democrat, Republican, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Libertarian, or Green Party.
Define yourself as one who follows Jesus.
The hope for this country rests not in the White House, but in the church of Jesus. What can you do as a Jesus follower to show the love and justice of Jesus to people this week? If Francis Collins is correct — that at the biological level we are 99.9 percent identical — then it is time we stop judging people and instead, focus on loving people.
How is the current racially divisive climate affecting you? 

Monday, January 30, 2017

The sin that holds you back

Our greatest struggle is with ourselves and our attitude.

Not other people, or lack of money, or opportunity, or your family of origin — not with birth order, race, gender, or where you live. None of these things can hold us back from living a life of purpose.

What holds us back is ourselves. Our habits, our negative thinking, our excuses, our fears, our whining, our lack of discipline, our fear of failure, our refusal to let go of the past, our unwillingness to forgive, our loss of hope and our lack of enthusiasm, our cup-half-empty view of the world… All these obstacles and more rest within us, not outside of us. They conspire against our dreams and our hopes for a future filled with God’s blessings.

There is an often-overlooked story in Mark 6, where Jesus goes back to his hometown of Nazareth. Now, I like going back to my hometown — people are excited to see me, and I, them. But when Jesus returned to his hometown, the people were rather cool and hands-off with him. Standing off in the distance, they gossiped about him: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him (Mark 6:3).

Jesus came to bless them, and they missed their blessing because of one thing: a failure to humble themselves and believe in the person of Jesus. They were unwilling to embrace the gift he was offering. What was the result? “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6). This same chill, disaffected attitude can infect churches, families, marriages — people in general.

We get so fixated on the tired old world as we know it, we’re blinded to the Kingdom and the Life that God keeps trying to show us. We literally cannot see the Light.

As we continue to walk through these early days of 2017, let’s bring a new attitude of faith in God. Let’s practice gratitude to God for all the many ways we are blessed. Let’s stop the negative thinking, the negative talking, and let us be thankful that the Lord is with us. God has great things in store for you through the gift of Christ our Lord.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

Absolutely confident that our God is greater!

Pastor Ray Hylton