The Balanced Life & The Christian Life

August 31, 2007

alex-borras.jpgAlex was the August presenter at our monthly businessmen’s luncheon. He is usually clear and thought provoking and this was not exception. Questions: “What is the Christian Life?” and “What is a balanced life?” and “What factors should we keep in balance?” My thinking was challenged by Alex to try to answer these questions backwards. He proposed that we keep seven factors in balance: (1) Financial, (2) Family, (3) Mental, (4) Work, (5) Social, (6) Physical and (7) Spiritual. I thought of how round the rim of my wheel would be if these seven factors were the spokes. There are clearly times in my life when my wheel would have given me a pretty bumpy ride. I tend to let the social facet of my life get short changed. Lately, I’ve been trying to pump up the physical. You know how it goes. Alex challenged us to think of three goals in each category that would, if achieved, even things out.

That discussion led me to another question: “What is the difference between a balanced Christian life and a balanced non-Christian life?” So I put myself under the microscope to examine what makes each one of these seven categories uniquely Christian? I guess I’m talking about my world view of my inner world. So here are my thoughts. I’d be interested in yours.


balance-financial.jpg(1) Financial: The Christian view of money is that all money is God’s money (I Chronicles 29:10-18 & Deuteronomy 8:17-18) and God gives us the responsibility to manage this money as a steward. I’m glad I went through the Crown Ministries course on personal financial management at my church several years ago. They have a wealth of resources and articles to develop this Christian view of money and wealth.

balance-family.jpg(2) Family: The Christian sees children as having the basic characteristics of the Kingdom of Heaven and as a unique gift or heritage from God. Psalm 78 speaks of our duty to our children is to preserve the continuance of God’s glory for generations by training them to put their confidence in God. How different this view is from those who see children as a burden. How tragic is the way we take abortions in stride giving very little consideration to God’s view of children. The family unit is so important to God that a man’s management of it qualifies or disqualifies him to exercise leadership in the church.

balance-mental.jpg(3) Mental: On the high end, our minds have the capacity to understand the things of God. On the low end, our mind can be so depraved that it disqualifies us from the faith. Wherever we are on this continuum, our minds are in continual need of renewal, away from the natural way of thinking and toward a supernatural way of thinking.

balance-work.jpg(4) Work: God intended us to work and for our work to be productive. It is God who makes the work of our hands effective because it is God who works in and through us for His good pleasure. In our church service a few weeks ago, Pastor Patrick Lafferty defined “good works” as “human expressions of God’s character and purpose that display the worth of God to those who do them and to those who receive them.” I like that.

(5) Social: I think the Christian view of people is that some are followers of Christ and others are not. Jesus is the historical watershed that separates everyone into two camps. To be balance-social.jpgcounted as a follower of Christ our goodness must surpass the levels that our own efforts can manage. As individual followers of Christ live out His character, their families become uniquely Christian, then their communities, and their countries. This is how entire societies can be blessed — or not. My job is to love and encourage people, not to judge them. God does the judging. He doesn’t need any more help with that. Jesus is no longer the incarnation of God walking the earth loving people. He does need help with that. So my role, as I see it, is to be an incarnation of God’s character of love and reconciliation.

balance-physical.jpg(6) Physical: My Christian view of my body follows the metaphor of a “temple of the Holy Spirit”. Therefore, I should take good care of it and not abuse it in any way. Wow, can I think of a lot of ways I can neglect or abuse my body (too much sugar, not enough exercise, etc.) Although our bodies are decaying, those who are “in Christ” will at the resurrection from the dead be given a new imperishable body. That’s something to look forward to.

(7) Spiritual: This is probably the most important piece of all, because unlike a “piece” or a “slice of the pie” it the ingredient that makes all the facets of this model unique. The spiritual dibalance-spiritual.jpgmension of life is not something I strive to develop and improve. It results from entrusting myself to God’s care by responding to His provision of forgiveness on the cross. I am born-again by His power. I am made alive spiritually by His grace. I have a resulting relationship with God that the Bible refers to as “abiding.” And so what I do, I do as a result of what He does in and through me, like the sap of a vine producing fruit. That’s my incentive to live my life consistently with His example. So the spiritual life is not striving to be like Jesus, not trying to win God’s favor, not trying to be good, but rather abiding in a relationship with God, getting to know Him more intimately, and as a result, coming to be like Him for his glory and my blessing.

So I challenge myself to live my life in light of these “spokes of the wheel” in a way that is consistently Christian and over the course of my life, with all its twists and contortions, to end up with a balanced benefit of each. But my concern is not so much balance as much as surrender to Him, yieldedness and abiding. I’d be interested in your thoughts on these issues.

Why I Don’t Like Beauty Contests

August 28, 2007

Three Reforms that Could Save Marriages

August 20, 2007

marriage-wedding.jpgEvery once in a while I hear about someone who seems to speak my mind. Mike McManus is such a person. While he takes more of a political angle where I would prefer to take a spiritual one, he ends with a challenge to the churches in our country that I think we need to heed. Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers. He writes on issues of Ethics and Religion. He wrote the following e-mail to SmartMarriages, an organization to which I keep a close ear:

“I just received an advance on a Barna Poll to be released Tomorrow, Monday, August 20, 2007 which reports that:

With the 2008 presidential election campaign well underway, a new survey suggests that the biggest issue of them all may well be one that leaders do not seem to be focused upon: the well-being of America‘s children. When asked to indicate which of eleven changes were *absolutely necessary* for the US to address in the next ten years, the issues that emerged as the front runners were *the overall care and resources devoted to children* registered by 82% of the adult population.”

This wasn’t released in time to use it in my speech, but it would have made a great intro. If you share my speech with the list you might also include this new survey finding.”

— Mike McManus

A Presidential candidate ought to consider saying . . .

The following remarks were made at Lincoln Memorial on August 19, 2007

I am Mike McManus, who co-founded, with my wife, Harriet, Marriage Savers, a national non-profit organization. We have worked with 10,000 pastors and priests in 220 cities to create Community Marriage Policies that have reduced the divorce and cohabitation rates, and raised the marriage rate. I also write a nationally syndicated newspaper column, Ethics & Religion which suggests answers to America‘s moral problems. It is an honor to speak here at America‘s first “Family Preservation Day.”

1. All of us have one thing in common. We care about the future of our children. All kids need a mother and father who love them. However, children are the product of choices by parents.

a. Millions choose either to not get married or to divorce.

b. Some 1.5 million innocent children are born annually to unwed parents. Often Dad disappears.

c. Another million children a year see their parents divorce.

d. Children often lose regular access to both parents, especially their dads.

2. The law encourages divorce, because one person can file for divorce when their spouse wants to save the marriage.

a. What was entered into by two people can be ended by one unilaterally.

b. This is called “No Fault Divorce,” because a spouse wanting divorce does not have to identify a major fault, such as adultery or abuse.

c. No Fault Divorce should be called UNILATERAL DIVORCE.

d. Courts have taken away the children of millions of parents. A father can lose his family, his home, and have to pay high child support.

3. This is a profound moral issue. Yet church leaders were either silent or ineffectual in fighting No Fault when it swept America in the 1970’s. Nor have they attempted to reform the law in the 30 years since.

4. The result: America has the world’s highest divorce rate: * Half of marriages end in divorce. There has been one divorce for every two marriages every year since 1973.

a. Many are needless, and are later regretted.

b. Another 30 million children have been born to unwed parents since 1970.

c. A third of these children are expelled from school or become pregnant as teenagers. They are five times as likely as those from intact homes to grow up in poverty, to commit suicide and are 12 times as apt to be jailed.

5. The cost to taxpayers is staggering. – $150 billion a year, according to the Heritage Foundation.

a. Nearly half of mothers and children on welfare had a failed marriage.

b. The rest came from non-marriages, such as cohabitation.

c. The government has provided welfare, food stamps, housing subsidies, an Earned Income Tax Credit and day care subsidies as a result.

d. They do not equal the value to a child of growing up with Mom and Dad Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Differences in Peru

August 17, 2007

In light of the recent earthquakes in Peru, my reflections on some of my experiences there two weeks ago seem insignificant. But I do want to make note of several cultural differences that are worth remembering.

lima-pastor.jpgWhile the Peruvians don’t seem to take time as seriously as we Americans do, they certainly take greetings and good-byes very seriously. They don’t just say “hola’ superficially each day, but they interrupt their direction of walk, come right up to you with solid eye contact, a firm handshake or abraso (hug) and extend erest warm greetings. They never leave without seeking you out and extending their gratitude for your contribution to their lives and how happy they are for having been in your company. I want to bring this back to Dallas and to my home.





lima-class.jpgIn a workshop, I was shocked at the first answer I got to my question, “What are some names of endearment that husbands call their wives?” Several chimed in simultaneously, “Gordita” (Fattie)! They all agreed that within their culture it was not offensive and that even children called their mommies “Gordita.” I promised not to attempt to bring this tradition home.




lima-translator-julio.jpg I knew I was a city boy when I returned from a small zoo adjacent to our conference facility. I shared my wide-eyed excitement with Julio, my translator. I marveled at the beautiful birds, the unusual monkeys and other exotic animals. He did not share my excitement but said politely, “Yes, I’m from the jungle. They are all around us. Sometimes we eat them.” Jungle gentleman provided realistic perspective for this city boy.


lima-lunch-with-bill.jpgEating presents challenges and delights. They love potatoes in Peru. They grow hundreds of different kinds of them and they never run out of creative ways to prepare them. They also have three different kinds corn from which they are able to make a purple dessert which is like Jello but a little more jelatinous. Not bad. I must say, seafood is tastier and more varied than anywhere I’ve been. A RREACH worker from Indiana, Bill, and I discovered a restaurant from our first lunch. What I thought would be a simple fish dish turned out to be a juge bowl of soup with a whole fish at the botttom covered with a whole crab, every kind of shell fish imaginable, a touch of octipus and some other things that I didn’t want to ask about. All for $6. They are very proud of their fish and understandably so.

There were some frustrating negative things too. Reservations are not honored, driving on almost any road puts your life in danger, and the winter haze makes 60-degree weather seem cold. Now, I suppose I must add earthquakes as another negative aspect of Peru. But the overarching memory from the visit is the warmth of the people and their zeal for serving the Lord Jesus. I now have more “hermanos y hermanas” that I care about and I pray for their recovery from the earthquake.

Peru Earthquake with Heartful Connections

August 16, 2007

valentin-rosa.jpgTragedy seems to strike home with more force when you know someone who is directly involved. A week and a half ago, I was in Lima with a team from RREACH and met a wonderful couple. We were there to train pastors how to preach expository sermons from the Bible. Valentin, a Romanian pastor who married a lovely Peruvian lady, Rosa, helped coordinate our conference. Rosa helped me pick out jewelry for my wife and daughters. Because I met Valentin and Rosa as well as many other Peruvians, I can’t just react with curiosity about an earthquake. Instead I want to know, “How is Daniel? . . . and Julio? . . . and Santiago? Perhaps if I were more spiritual, I could feel this concerned about all the people who are suffering there, even the ones I haven’t met.

Valentin and Rosa wrote back to our coordinator with the following message

. . . yes like u know in Lima was happen a very strong earthquake (7.9 ). I was alone at the 3 floor alone and for 2 minuts i was ready to jump if the house go down. Rosa and her mother run out. I am so sure that God protect Peru because in 1970 here alot of people died and alot of buildings fall down. In Romania in 1977 a earthquake (7.2) kill many thousand people. Now in Peru , at this hour are 48 dead people and 350 people on the hospitals. God protect Peru and us. Thank u for be in touch with us. Rosa and Valentin

The small earthquake we experienced there a couple of weeks ago was only 3.1 on the Richter Scale. I slept through it. This one is major. Here’s a picture of what it was like in Ica.

This is part of my prayer this morning: “God protect Peru”

Secrecy as Bondage and Transparency as Liberation

August 14, 2007

secrecy.jpegtransparency-still-life-2.jpgAaron Ott is an unusually gifted student. He usually has fresh insights into common experiences and articulates them with a keen-edged intellect. I’m glad he has a blog now, so even when I don’t have the opportunity to sit down at lunch for a chat, I can see what he’s thinking about. One of his recent blog posts deals with the “bondage of secrecy” and the “liberation of transparency” through confession. He integrates psychological as well as theological thinking to recommend the resurrection of this effective method of healing. Give it a read.

Why Do 70% of Youth Drop Out of Church after Age 18?

August 13, 2007


A recent article in USA Today by Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY revealed that 7  in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, according to the survey by LifeWay Research. And 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. That means about one in four Protestant young people have left the church.

Relevant Magazine examined the problem and suggests some solutions that some churches are trying.  

In my opinion, young people leave the church after high school because they have become too accustomed to everything around them (including church and God) fitting into their comforts and values rather than yielding and submitting to higher standards that might not be comfortable.  In addition, young Christians are not challenged to think, but rather to have fun and enjoy superficial relationships.  They are allowed to get away with a self-centered consumerism without being challenged.  Sadly, they don’t see many good examples of deep faith in the older generation.  Perhaps that’s why discipleship and training are lacking.  Young people are highly capable ofchurch-attendance.jpg sacrifice, dedication, deep thought and selfless devotion to ideals.  I think the local churches ought to be tapping those qualities and anchoring them in the timeless truths of scripture to unleash the zeal and dedication that is possible with young people.  Bottom line, however, is that godly zeal is a manifestation of the internal work of the Holy Spirit, so it’s not a matter of our striving but more what we allow the Spirit to do in and through us.  Ultimately, we all (old and young) need to work toward a yielded connectedness to the person of a living God.  

Risk for Christian Missionaries

August 13, 2007

pocock.jpgMike Pocock responded to questions set forth by an NPR interviewer in a clear and balanced manner. It’s well worth a listen. Click here to link to the article and then click the blue insert at the top of that site.

Lima — Hearts of the People in the Heart of Peru

August 12, 2007

lima-poor-neighborhood-2.jpgPeru is a different place. When you’re there, you know you are not just around the corner. You’re outside most everything familiar. There are obvious physical differences, like the season. It’s winter there while Dallas is baking in its 90-degree summer climate. During the winter it drizzles in an overcast atmosphere. Even though Lima is surrounded by low mountains, you can hardly see them because of the haze and dust. (The coastal area is dry). The first night was spent in the poorer section of Lima. Yet the people were very friendly and helpful. Lima is a city of contrasts. Here’s a picture of the area were we started the week.




And here’s what the center of the city looks like with the president’s palace on the left and the archbishop’s palace across the street, both adjacent to the main city square that centers on a fountain of grand proportions.









The President’s Palace is guarded with a lot of these very friendly sentinels carrying Russian made semi-automatic rifles.






And the other famous tourist spot is the San Martin Square surrounded by elegant hotels and buildings. San Martin is the guy who proclaimed Peru’s independence from Spain in July 1821.








For those who have more leisure time and disposable income, there’s the open air market on the sea coast. I will testify to the wonders of their tropical fruit ice cream.






With all the contrasts, however, the lingering pleasant memory after being home in Dallas for a week is the zeal of the pastors for the gospel of Jesus Christ to bless their land.


Dr. John Richard: A Man of Grace to be Honored

August 12, 2007

dr-john-richard.jpgI’m back from my trip to Peru, the pastoral training that I wrote about in a previous post. Peru was interesting but not inspiring. I was inspired by the people I met: the people on our team and the pastors from Peru. This post features one man, Dr. John Richard (father of Ramesh), who inspired me to become more of a man of grace. He is a quiet man who carries a powerful presence. He seems so saturated with the knowledge of God that the wisdom of God simply flows from him. For example, when we were at the airport in Lima, I asked him to remind me of the verse that he had quoted the previous evening in a prayer meeting (2 Corinthians 9:8) because I was looking instead at 8:9. He then graciously and without hesitation quoted my reference and commented about how that verse further clarifies God’s grace. I looked for every opportunity to pump him with questions and then soak in his responses. I asked him things like “How do you pray?” and “How do you think about your children’s spiritual growth?” and “How has the Lord sustained you since leaving the business world in India?” His responses were memorable,ramesh-dad.jpg not so much for the words themselves, but for their fullness of the Spirit that carried a message of gratitude to the Lord. So to quote his answers would miss the richness of the moment. This is a man of grace and a man of dignity who should be honored. I think of how a son like Ramesh brings honor to his father’s name. When I am 84 years old, I hope I am of such sound mind and depth of spirit that my son can look to me with similar honor.