Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama’s Speech

I saw Obama’s acceptance speech last night at Mile High Stadium, and there was little in it that anybody could dispute. He skirted some of the tough issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, but on most issues I agree with what he said. This country is facing severe problems, and they must be effectively dealt with.

However, we have to realize that is was a typical campaign or state of the union address, well done, but typical. He addressed most of the major issues and said he would fix them. All I have to say is, “Good luck.”

Congress has to pass the bills the President presents to them, and we have had do-nothing congresses for the past 30 years or so. We had 12 years of a do-nothing Republican-dominated congress, and while some major problems were solved, there were not as many as should have been. We had the Democrats, let by Daschle, to thank for some of that lack of progress, because they obstructed many bills. They did so either because they ideologically didn’t agree or they didn’t want the Republicans to get credit.

Now we have a Democrat-controlled congress, and nothing of substance has happened. What I’m getting at is that Obama and McCain can talk and talk and talk, but nothing’s gonna happen unless we hold our congressmen and senators accountable. We voted out the Republicans, and we should vote out the Democrats if they don’t deliver.

While Obama talks motherhood and apple pie, look deeper at the specifics. He’s still a liberal, and he isn’t going to change. If that’s what you want, vote for him by all means. If you want someone less on the extreme, and leaning conservative, then vote for McCain. This is a critical election, on which the future of our country depends. Please study the candidates and vote. Please be an informed voter.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Married for Life Part VIII

This is the concluding post of my series about marriage. I hope these posts have helped you in your relationships. If you have children, especially teenagers or young adults, you might want to have them read this series of posts to help them in their future marriage.

In one of the facts I mentioned in an earlier post, those who have a strong faith and are part of a church typically have a stronger marriage. As I tell the bride and groom at every wedding at which I officiate, that a marriage consists of three persons: the husband, the wife, and God. If any of these persons is missing, the marriage is incomplete.

There is an old saying, “The family that prays together stays together.” How can you stay mad at each other when you pray together every day? Give your spouse to God. Give your children to God. Give yourself to God. Give your marriage to God. When God is an important part of your life and your marriage, your relationship with each other will be enhanced.

Without God in the marriage and in your lives, it will be much more difficult to have a strong unconditional self-sacrificing love. This kind of love really comes from God, and his a reflection of God’s unconditional love for us.

It is God’s plan that men and women should get married, live together until death, be faithful to one another, and bring up godly children. Jesus quoted Genesis when he affirmed God’s plan:

“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

We should also understand that not everybody is called into marriage, and the Apostle Paul made that very clear. But for those who are called to the married life, God has certain standards of behavior. I also want to mention that sometimes divorce is inevitable, particularly in situations of abandonment and abuse. Therefore, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you are forced out of a marriage because of circumstances beyond your control.

Unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church has made divorce the unforgivable sin, excluding divorced people from participating in the sacraments. Protestant churches, while differing somewhat on the subject, almost always welcome divorced people and allow them to receive communion. If you happen to be one of those rejected Catholics, please don’t give up but visit a Protestant church in your area. God wants his people in fellowship with one another, so don’t let your experience with the RC church sour you on church in general. Remember, God loves you and wants to have a close relationship with you. This relationship is facilitated, nurtured and developed within the local church.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Married for Life Part VII

This is the next in my series about marriage. First of all, I want to discuss how retirement affects marriage, and then look at some facts and statements about marriage.

Retirement involves significant changes, and can put pressure on even a strong marriage. All of a sudden the two of you are spending a lot more time together, after 30-40 years of only seeing each other in the evening and on weekends. While it can be nice to have more time for each other, it is also a good idea to have some other interests that keep both of you occupied. Otherwise, minor disagreements can get blown out of proportion because you don’t have anything else as a diversion. Moreover, things that used to be mildly annoying become intolerable.

Now I want to give you some facts about marriage and relationships. This is what Sociologist David Popenoe, professor of sociology at Rutgers University, has to say about the family:

“If the family of recent decades is extended into the future, the result will be not only growing uncertainty within marriage, but the gradual elimination of marriage in favor of casual liaisons oriented to adult expressiveness and self-fulfillment. The problem with this scenario is that children will be harmed, adults will probably be no happier, and the social order could collapse.”

Some other facts and statements about marriage and the family:

· Today sociologists are reporting that no-fault divorce laws have been a failure by every measure, causing one researcher to report, “seldom in U.S. history have laws been enacted with higher hopes and poorer results than the no-fault divorce statutes.”

· The number of cohabiting couples has increased 865 percent since 1960, a number that recently topped the 4 million mark.

· Increasing evidence suggests that commitment to a nurturing faith community enhances family life and marital stability.

In a survey of 4,487 married couples, results showed that when spouses attend church or synagogue together regularly, they had the lowest risk of divorce among all married groups. This study also showed that shared participation in a faith community gives couples a sense of mutual values that increases family commitment and enhances an integrated social network of relatives and friends.

More on the topic of marriage in a future post.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Married for Life Part VI

This is the next in my series of posts on marriage. This addresses how one partner in a marriage can better meet the needs of the other, especially if you better understand the needs of your partner (this post barely scratches the surface).

A significant problem in marriage is that men don’t understand women, and women don’t understand men. That’s why there’s a booming business in marriage books – anything to help us figure out the opposite sex! Reading a few of those books will help you understand how your spouse thinks.

Not only are we different as individuals, but men and women really do differ in how each views the world, how each communicates, and how each perceives and responds to different things.

It may not make sense to you, but that’s how he or she thinks and perceives things, which can be quite different from the way you do. Learning about these differences is definitely worth the investment in time. Two good books on the subject of the differences between men and women are “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” and “Men are like Waffles and Women are like Spaghetti.”

Along those lines, I want to discuss is what women really want from their husbands, and what men really want from their wives.

1. Needs of a Woman

The two biggest needs for women are love and security. They sort of go hand in hand, because if a woman feels genuinely loved, she will also feel secure. In the passages in the Bible concerning marriage, what are men told to do? “Love your wife.”

Ephesians 5:25a:
Husbands, love your wives… NRSV

1 Peter 3:7a:
Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together… NRSV

Colossians 3:19:
Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. NRSV

Women are naturally more loving, but the husbands need to be told to love their wives. This means that the men, while willing to die for their families if necessary, must also demonstrate their love in ways that are meaningful to women.

These include self-sacrificing acts (like devoting more time to the family), giving up some of the things you used to do for the good of the marriage, frequent outward signs of affection (and not just when you want something), remembering her birthday, your anniversary, and other important dates, surprising her with something thoughtful on occasion, and buying her an expensive diamond (OK, we can skip the diamond – besides, it is meaningless if your heart isn’t in it, and they can tell).

2. Needs of a Man

What do men want? Besides the obvious, the other thing that men want most is respect. Women want respect too, of course, but it is a very high priority for men, even though they might not even realize it. You may love a man, but if you act as if you don’t respect him, the relationship is in serious trouble.

Nowhere in the Bible does it tell wives to love their husbands. Women love – that’s what they do. But they don’t always respect. I just read three verses from those sections of the New Testament having to do with marriage and family relationships. The corresponding commands for wives in those sections have to do with respect. God, our Creator, knows that men need respect, because that’s how God made them. As I read these three verses, look beyond the words, and see what is really behind them:

Ephesians 5:22a:
Wives, be subject to your husbands… NRSV

1 Peter 3:1a:
Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands… NRSV

Colossians 3:18:
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. NRSV

Looking behind the words of these verses, what are they really saying? We can see that respect is at the heart of the matter. While husbands today don’t have the same kind of authority over the family that men had in the times of the Roman Empire (when these verses were written), they still need to be respected. Yet our culture puts down men and many wives often disrespect their husbands. Maybe if men were respected more, they would rise to the occasion and be more deserving of that respect.

More on the topic of love and marriage in a future post.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Married for Life Part V

Here’s more reasons why marriages get into trouble:

4. Poor Choices

Often poor choices are made, including the choice of a spouse, getting married too young, or not taking the time to get to know each other better. One comment on getting to know each other better. Co-habitation is thought of as a “trial run” but statistics have shown that it doesn’t work that way. Co-habiting couples who eventually do get married have no better success rate than those who didn’t live together before marriage.

Another poor choice is that some people get married out of habit. They’ve been going together for a while, seem to get along, and so they end up getting married. The problem is, they really aren’t that compatible, and they don’t have that deep love that is necessary for a successful marriage. Such a marriage is a disaster waiting to happen! Either the marriage won’t last, or they’ll be miserable in the marriage.

Other poor choices almost guarantee there will be financial difficulties, stress, and conflict. For example, some couples spend huge amounts of money on a wedding and honeymoon. Then they buy an expensive house, fill the house with expensive furniture, have two costly vehicles in the driveway, and still have student loans to pay off. While it’s a good idea to build equity in a house as soon as possible, buying an enormous house you really can’t afford is going to cause financial strains (as we’ve seen with the recent mortgage crisis). How can anybody get a marriage off to a good start when they are up to their eyeballs in debt?

5. Wedding More Important Than Marriage

Along those same lines, I think some women are so focused on the wedding that the marriage suffers. I may be wrong, but I’ve sensed that some women are in a hurry to get married just to have that Big Day. So much effort is expended on that day of days, when she is “Queen for a Day” that there is a tremendous letdown once the wedding is all over and you settle into a routine. Again, the debt that is built up to pay for this extravaganza is staggering, and immediately puts a strain on the couple. The wedding day should be special, but must be kept in perspective.

More on marriage in a future post.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Married for Life Part IV

This is the next in my series about marriage. In this post I want to explore some of the causes of marital problems.

If we have an understanding of some of the reasons why marriages sometimes fail, we can be better equipped to resolve these issues. Of course some marriages dissolve because of abuse, and nobody should stay in an abusive relationship of any kind.

Some marriages fail because of adultery, and in such cases, trust is betrayed and terrible emotional wounds are inflicted. The couple must then decide if healing is possible, and determine if both of them are truly committed to trying to get past this and rebuilding their relationship. Rebuilding the relationship after trust has been betrayed is a long process, but it can be done if both parties are committed and willing to work hard at it.

Let’s look at some other reasons why marriages get into trouble.

1. Concept of Love

People have this romantic concept of love, which is really infatuation, not the self-sacrificing agape love referenced in the Bible. First Corinthians 13 describes what this self-sacrificing agape love is:
patient, kind, doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, is not proud. It is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs [there’s a big one!]. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Once the infatuation wears off, some people believe they have “fallen out of love” and prefer to move on or have an affair. True love is an act of the will, and goes much deeper than infatuation and physical attraction. As the years go by, love should grow, not diminish, as you have more and more shared experiences and memories. Often love grows stronger because of the adversities you have faced together, and overcome as a team.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Along with a wrong concept of love are unrealistic expectations. For example, some people enter into a marriage with expectations that their mate will meet all of their needs. No human being can possibly do that.

There’s an old saying that women marry a man expecting him to change, and men marry a woman expecting her never to change. Those are unrealistic expectations.

3. Lack of Commitment

In many churches the marriage ceremony is called a marriage covenant. “Covenant” means a promise or a commitment, so the couple getting married is encouraged to realize that this is a lifetime commitment they are making.

Yet it seems to me that many people today are not serious about making a lifetime commitment. Whether they consciously realize it or not, I suspect many people enter into a marriage thinking that if it stops working for them, they’ll bail out. Obviously that’s not commitment – it’s self-centeredness.

Self-centeredness will destroy any kind of relationship faster than anything else. That’s why the love in a marriage must be the self-sacrificing kind, the kind of love that is more interested in the other person’s welfare than in your own. Whenever you hear the word “love” in the New Testament, such as in First Corinthians 13, it is referring to the self-sacrificing agape love, not the self-centered eros. Agape is true love, not the dreamy-eyed, schmaltzy kind of emotion that passes for love these days.

More on reasons why marriages get into trouble in a future post.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Married for Life Part III

I wrote about dealing with problems in marriage in two earlier posts. Here’s more on the topic.

In addition to unrealistic expectations, there are the inevitable misunderstandings that occur in marriage. You are each individuals, different in many ways. No matter how much in love you are, misunderstandings will occur, especially given the hectic and stressful lives we lead. Unfortunately, stress, pressure, and unresolved disagreements can cause a married couple to slowly drift apart. If they don’t take action to correct the situation, they can drift so far apart that the marriage becomes empty and the relationship cold.

Therefore, somebody has to take action to bring them back together in relationship, even if it means swallowing some pride and having a difficult discussion. Sue and I have stayed married for 40 years because when we did drift apart, we didn’t like it and took action to resolve our differences. Many times it was a matter of wrong perceptions, and taking time to discuss the situation ultimately resolved the issue or issues. Usually we both agreed to make changes that would strengthen the relationship and get us back on track to where we should be.

Such discussions can be painful and you make yourself vulnerable, so it is essential that both sides respect what the other is saying, even if you don’t agree. You may feel the other person’s perception is totally wrong, but it is absolutely real to him or her. Therefore it must be addressed constructively. If things have gotten to the point where such a discussion is impossible or unproductive, then I recommend you seek competent help to aid in the process. Your marriage is worth the time and effort.

More on the topic of problems in marriage in a future post.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Married for Life Part II

In an earlier post I discussed why marriages fail. Here’s more on the topic.

I believe another reason for problems in marriage are unrealistic expectations coupled with a “me first” attitude. I suspect many people today get married expecting their spouse to make them happy all the time, meet all their needs, always be romantic, and they will never have problems. Guess what? That isn’t reality, as we all should know.

Yet when these expectations are not met, the spouse is often dumped, or the relationship becomes distant. The fact is, no human being can possibly meet all of someone’s needs and desires, and the pressure to do so can ruin a marriage as well.

Throughout most of history, many needs were met outside of the marriage. For men, fraternal organizations, guilds, and other predominantly male gatherings satisfied many of their social, ego, and relationship needs. You still see that in some societies today. However, in American society most men don’t belong to any organization, have few if any close friends, and rarely socialize with other men (except for business).

Women throughout history had their female relatives, who generally either lived in the same compound, or down the street. Women had mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and good friends to rely on, to support them, and to spend time with. Women worked together in doing chores, so that the younger woman had continual guidance, socialization, and support.

Today, women usually don’t have much in the way of female support or companionship, so they rely on their husbands, who often aren’t up to the task. While men need to listen to and support their wives, women also should develop some close female friends with whom they can safely share their feelings.

More on the topic of marriage in a future post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Married for Life

This weekend (August 17) my wife and I celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. I feel that is something special because of the high divorce rate in this country today. We managed to buck the trend and stay married, thanks to the grace of God and my wife’s patience. Why do so many marriages not survive today?

Marriage has worked reasonably well for thousands of years. What seems to be the problem now? Why is there a 50% divorce rate? I think one major factor is that life has changed significantly in the past 50 years. There seems to be a lot more stress and pressure, and it takes its toll on relationships. Some of that stress is self-inflicted: we work harder and harder for the “good things” in life, we try to do it all and have it all, getting into debt more than we should.

The number one reason for disagreements within a marriage is money problems. Many couples are seriously in debt immediately upon getting married, mainly because of the expensive wedding. Average cost is $30,000. Others get into debt very quickly because they have to have that expensive house, plus the big SUV and the BMW in the driveway.

Also, people are incredibly busy, either trying to make money, or seeking some sort of fulfillment. The kids are involved in a hundred different activities, all of which require you to drive them someplace. To keep our marriages on track, we must to try to reduce the stresses in life to whatever extent we can.

One way to do that might be to put off that new purchase so that we don’t become overextended financially. We should also look at our marriage as a safe sanctuary, where discussions can take place in a partnership environment rather than in a confrontational mode.

A good way to keep our marriages on track is to work to reduce the stresses in life by working as a team, realizing that there will have to be compromise. That means working together for the common long-term good of the family, maybe having to make some sacrifices, and relying on God for guidance.

More on the topic of marriage in a future post.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Communal Religion

The Jewish religion, from which Christianity originated (Christians believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish messianic prophecies and the prophesied Savior from Isaiah 53 and other passages) was primarily a communal relationship with the Lord God (Jehovah). You were born into it, and you were considered a part of that community which had a special relationship with the Creator of the universe. Individuals did not choose to be part of that community – they were part of it by virtue of their birth.

Christianity, on the other hand, is not something you are born into in the same was as you are born a Jew. You may be born into a Christian home, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian in the sense that you consider Jesus is your Lord and Savior (Jesus is your Lord when you have surrendered your will to his, following his guidance for your life and not your own. He is your Savior when you have trusted him for your eternal destiny). Many “Christians” are cultural Christians – born into a Christian household but have little more than a vague faith in God and little or no church involvement.

In Christianity (unlike Judaism), you choose consciously to be a devout follower of Jesus Christ. This can happen at your baptism (believer’s or adult baptism), at your confirmation, at your coming forward in answer to an “altar call”, or even in private (although eventually you should make a public confession of your faith). I believe that if you haven’t consciously made that decision, then you are a cultural Christian, not a devout follower of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, people today seem to forget that Christianity, similar to Judaism, is also a corporate or communal faith. We may make individual decisions regarding belief in Jesus, but once we have committed our lives to Christ, we have become part of a worldwide community of believers called “The Church.” The Church isn’t just a building, a hierarchy, the clergy, bishops, the pope, or an organization, but it is the community of believers throughout the world. Over the centuries we have created a Church of buildings, hierarchies, the clergy, bishops, the pope, and organizations, but those aren’t the heart of The Church. The heart of The Church is you and me, the people.

God created us to be social, and Jesus wants his people to be in fellowship with one another for mutual encouragement, for training, for worship, for ministry and mission, and to enjoy one another’s company. In the first couple of centuries of Christianity, what we call Holy Communion consisted of the Love Feast in which the Christians gathered together for a full meal at which the Last Supper was remembered by the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup. Fellowship and socialization have been a part of the Christian faith since earliest times when groups met in people’s houses for the Love Feast and informal and spontaneous worship together.

Therefore, I encourage you to become part of a church. There should be no “Lone Ranger Christians” out there, but all should gather together at least weekly for worship, training, fellowship, and ministry.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Congress Goes Home

I have been disgusted with do-nothing Congresses for years. Now we are in an energy crisis, and what does Congress do? They go home without passing any legislation. Why? They couldn’t agree on what to do. So they just take a vacation, and we lose five or six weeks in which some sort of relief might have gotten started.

Politics is the art of compromise, something that recent Congresses have forgotten. Everybody is coming from a different position, so to get anything done you have to compromise. But today Washington is so ideologically polarized that it is paralyzed. Who suffers? We the people, whom Congress is supposed to be serving.

What should we do? Write your Senators and Congressperson and let them know how you feel. Remind them that they are not supposed to be driven by ideology but by what is the best compromise so that progress can be made. No piece of legislation is perfect, but it can be a start. Refinements can be made as time goes on.

Because of Congress’ inability to care for the best interests of the nation and their constituents, I suggest that when election time comes, vote them out. Eventually they’ll get the message. They must be made accountable to those whom they serve – the people, not the party, not special interests, not an ideology, but the people!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Joel Osteen

I read a news report the other day that said that Joel Osteen’s trophy wife, Victoria, went a little nuts on a flight in 2005 and roughed up a flight attendant. The FAA investigated and fined Victoria. Now the flight attendant is suing her because of the trauma.

I’m writing this post because I don’t particularly care for Joel Osteen’s preaching, if you can call it that. He is more of an advice-giver than a preacher. His advice is often good (he has books on the New York Times’ best seller list), but so is Dr. Phil’s. As a preacher of a mega-church, his focus should be on God and our dependence on the Almighty, not on the power of positive thinking and what we can do for ourselves. I’ve heard him a number of times and read one of his books, and spiritually he leaves me cold.

While Osteen’s preaching is rather benign compared to Benny Hinn and others who are more interested in your money than your soul, if he is your main or only source of spiritual nourishment, you are you subsisting on a diet of spiritual junk food – tastes good but doesn’t nourish you. I suggest that if you can get out, go to a church. Don’t depend on TV preachers and call that “church.” We are called to worship collectively, and to engage in fellowship with fellow believers.

I suspect there will be some sort of scandal coming out of Osteen’s church eventually. His lovely wife Victoria is co-pastor (kinda makes you wonder – I wonder if she’s ordained or has attended seminary). I believe his church is independent, not tied to a denomination which provides oversight and accountability. You heard it here first.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Boy Dies Needlessly

I was saddened when I read in the Poughkeepsie Journal that the little boy who was in an accident on the Saw Mill Parkway died. According to the news reports, somebody stopped in the passing lane of the southbound parkway, waiting to make an illegal U-turn. The guy waiting to make the turn was rear-ended by another car and pushed into the oncoming northbound lane. In being pushed into the oncoming traffic, it hit the vehicle the little boy was riding in. Sadly, they were coming from a Yankees game.

Two points on this tragedy:

(1) Given the severe head injuries the boy sustained, I suspect he wasn’t strapped in. Always wear your seat belts, even when riding in the back seat. Younger children should have age-appropriate children’s car seats.

(2) Before doing something illegal, reckless, stupid or otherwise dangerous, THINK before you act! Stopping in the passing lane of a parkway where people are going 50 mph or more is unbelievably stupid and dangerous. Although charges haven’t yet been pressed, I suspect the guy who stopped on the parkway will be charged with vehicular manslaughter or some similar charge that will probably put him in prison.

So you have three families whose lives have been ruined: the boy’s family, the family of the guy who will probably go to prison, and the family of the person who rear-ended him. Every day I see stupid and reckless acts on the road, and it’s a miracle there aren’t more accidents and tragedies. Don’t become a statistic.