Driving Under the Influence (of Love)

Love influence

Last year I wrote some blog posts about the intoxicating power of love, describing some of my friends who’ve recently entered the hazardous world of dating.

In the right setting, romantic love is a very good thing—something designed by God Himself. If you doubt me on this, just spend some time reading the Song of Solomon…

However, like all intoxicants, romantic love is also quite dangerous. It can impair our judgment and slow our reaction time. Those under the influence of romantic love may feel invincible, when actually they’ve never been more vulnerable.

So what can a person do to minimize the dangers of this powerful intoxicant? Picture a guy named Joe who drove to an uptown bar and had far too much to drink. Finally, it’s 1 a.m., and he’s in no condition to drive home. Here are Joe’s main options:

  1. STOP. Don’t go anywhere until the intoxication has worn off. When it comes to a relationship, you need to assess whether it’s fundamentally healthy and life-giving or toxic and detrimental. If it’s toxic, the only sane option is to immediately end it. If you’re not sure, you may need to back away until some of the intoxication has worn off.
  2. CALL UBER. If you’re wise enough to recognize your impaired condition, you’ll call Uber, a taxi, or a “designated driver” to get you home safely. If you’re experiencing an intoxicating relationship, you may need to call in some trusted friends who are still sober. Recognizing that your own judgment is questionable, you must surround yourself with sound-minded advisers who can offer you objective feedback.
  3. GO EXTREMELY SLOW. Here the analogy breaks down a little, because you shouldn’t be driving at all if you’ve been drinking. But although you shouldn’t throw away a promising relationship because of fear, you should proceed with caution…i.e., slowly. If your judgment is clouded by the exhilaration of romantic love, you are putting yourself in real danger if you trying driving down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. Your chances of a collision are much less if you travel at a mere 25 mph.

If you are single and seeking a mate, my prayers are with you. May God direct your paths, as He’s promised to do when you trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Bible teaches that “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). God is the ultimate Matchmaker, after all.

If you are married, maybe you can’t relate to this blog post at all. Perhaps it’s been many years since you’ve experienced the joys and perils of intoxicating love. How sad! Yet it’s not too late for God to restore some of the “first love” intoxication you experienced in your earlier days. Will you open your heart today—both to Him and to your spouse—allowing His amazing love to rekindle your original passion?

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Lessons from a Woman Who Got Set Free

Freedom

Many people think of Christianity as just another religion—a set rules and regulations, basically telling people just to “try harder.” But those who pursue a relationship with God on that basis will inevitably end up even more burdened and bound up than when they started.

In stark contrast, a true relationship with Christ will increasingly remove our burdens and set us free from our hang-ups. That’s why we’re told, Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

It’s not an exaggeration to say that you can measure how far you’ve come in the life of faith by measuring the degree to which you’re truly walking in freedom—not held back by destructive forces such as sin, unbelief, toxic emotions, or the negative opinions of other people. Yet this is an ongoing process, for we’ve all experienced encumbrances that must be cast off so we can run life’s marathon with endurance (Hebrews 12:1).

What area of your life is still holding you back from the freedom you need to fulfill your God-given destiny?

One Sabbath day, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, and the Bible says, “A woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years” (Luke 13:10-13 NIV). Can you imagine how hopeless this woman must have felt? For 18 long years, she had endured this debilitating condition.

Perhaps you are struggling with some issue in your life today that has persisted for a long time. You feel as though you’ve tried everything, but to no avail. Like the woman in this story, you still find yourself “crippled” by something out of your control.

It’s no fun being “stuck,” but it’s something we’ve all faced from time to time. Sometimes it’s a medical condition the doctors can’t remedy. At other times, the bills are coming in faster than the income. And many of us have found ourselves stuck in an unhealthy relationship we seem powerless to change.

Thankfully, the Bible says, “With God ALL things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). When you’re unable to help yourself and no human has a solution to your problem, GOD can break through your troubling circumstances and set you free!

The story goes on to say that this woman was bent over and could not straighten up at all.” This is such an apt picture of what it’s like to be burdened down with sins, sicknesses, or other situations that seem overwhelming. Sometimes the cares of life are simply too much for us to handle, and all we can do is cast our burdens on the Lord (Psalm 55:22).

Notice that the woman was unable to straighten up “at all.” Sometimes we still have hopes that we can straighten things out by our own strength and ingenuity. But this woman had come to the end of her own devices. She needed a miracle—something only God could do!

However, despite years of suffering, everything was about to change for her in mere moments. Verse 12 says “Jesus saw her” and “called her forward.”  Friend, I don’t know what you are going through today, but I do know this: Jesus SEES what you are going through. He CARES about you. And He’s calling you FORWARD to draw near to Him and receive His healing touch.

After 18 years of suffering, this distressed woman heard Jesus tell her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity”  (v. 12). The Greek word for “infirmity” is astheneia, which means to be feeble or have a lack of strength. Perhaps you can relate!

Actually, the Bible teaches that we ALL were “without strength”  before Christ came into our lives. However, when we were powerless to save ourselves, Jesus demonstrated His love and rescued us (Romans 5:6-10). And just as He forgave us and rescued us from sin at our conversion, He’s ready to deliver us TODAY from whatever situation is still hindering us from our calling.

How long does it take to be set free? It doesn’t have to take long at all! In this story in Luke 13, Jesus put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God”  (v. 13).

Isn’t that beautiful? Can you imagine the joy and amazement she felt? After being bound for 18 years, this woman received an instantaneous deliverance when Jesus touched her. He straightened up her life in a mere moment, just as He can do for you and me when we come to Him in faith.

You may have endured some illness, addiction, financial lack, or other problems for a long time. But remember: Jesus specializes in miraculous turnarounds. He is speaking His Word to you and reaching out His hand to give you the breakthrough you need. This may be your moment to rise up and praise God for loosing you from some infirmity.

I encourage you to pause and insert your own name into this powerful statement Jesus made to the crippled woman: “[Your Name], you are set free from your infirmity.” As you allow those words to sink deeply into your heart, faith will rise. Troubles that have persisted for years will melt away quicker than you can imagine as you’re set free in Jesus’ mighty name!

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Escaping from Your Personal Groundhog Day

groundhog-day 3

Lately I’ve met lots of people who seem to be perpetually stuck in Groundhog Day. You’ve probably seen the classic 1993 movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Murray plays a weatherman named Phil who’s assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He finds himself stuck in a time loop, forcing him to reexamine his life and priorities.

Day after day, Phil wakes up to the same Groundhog Day reality, with a chance to make better choices this time. It soon becomes clear that he won’t escape until he gets things right.

When I first saw the film, I didn’t realize how significant its message was. Just another mindless comedy, it seemed to me. Yet in 2006 the movie was added to the United States National Film Registry, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Now that I look back, my perspective on the movie has changed. I think it became popular because many of us can relate to the experiences faced by Bill Murray’s character. Even though we may not be caught in a time loop, we find ourselves stuck in some area of our life.

What about you? Do you currently find yourself trapped in some kind of Groundhog Day experience? Perhaps you are…

  • Having the same relationship struggles over and over.
  • Repeatedly making the same financial mistakes.
  • Dealing with recurring health problems that you’re unable to shake.
  • Battling cyclical addictions.
  • Experiencing periodic bouts of negative emotions, such as depression, loneliness, or anger.

Many people in the Bible experienced Groundhog Day of one kind or another. Jacob frequently had a problem with lying. Joseph faced recurring episodes of injustice. The Israelites spent 40 years traveling in circles in the desert. David and many of the prophets had some pretty severe mood swings at times.

Thankfully, though, the Bible provides numerous tips for escaping from Groundhog Day. Someday I’m going to write an entire book on how to get UNSTUCK…but for now I’ll just share a few brief insights. It’s interesting that many of these were eventually discovered by Bill Murray’s character in the movie.

  1. Face the truth about your present condition. Jesus promised that the truth will set us free if we’re willing to fully embrace it (John 8:32). But this means we must drop our excuses and rationalizations. You see, it’s not just a coincidence that we find ourselves dealing with the same problems again and again.
  2. Quit blaming others. We all have a tendency to blame-shift, but that’s a sure way to remain stuck. It’s time to stop saying all your failed relationships are simply because the other people are so dysfunctional. And if you’ve never been able to keep a job for more than a few months, it’s probably not the fault of all your employers.
  3. Get some help. Perhaps this means you should hire a good counselor, but that’s not necessarily what I mean here. It’s often even better to have at least one or two real friends who will love you enough to tell you the truth and hold you accountable for the needed changes.
  4. Don’t give up. When you’re stuck in Groundhog Day, it’s tempting to give up hope. You feel like simply resigning yourself to the belief that things will never  change. But take some time to let these words from the apostle Paul change your perspective: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Look at what this is saying…

Now… You must have a sense of urgency if you truly want to change. Don’t procrastinate!

…the God of hope… Unless God is involved, difficult circumstances frequently look hopeless. But when you recognize that He’s with you and is available to help, there’s always hope.

…all joy and peace in believing. Your joy and peace will return as soon as you put your eyes back on the Lord and begin to believe His promises again.

…abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. You may have already tried 1,000 times to escape Groundhog Day in your own strength. But everything changes when you allow yourself to be filled with the power of God’s Spirit. The secret is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), and that’s the only way lasting change will come.

You don’t have to wait for me to complete my book on how to get unstuck. Today can be the day you face the truth about your circumstances and believe God’s promises for better days ahead. Then you can wake up tomorrow morning with fresh appreciation for the One who is able to make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5).

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Whatever Happened to My Inner Child?

Jim touched up

I once read a book by a psychologist who said we all need to get in touch with our “inner child.” I never really understood what he meant by that. But I thought it might help to hang this picture of me on my office wall.

Although that solution hasn’t helped me much yet, I haven’t given up the search for my inner child…

As you can see by this picture, I was a free-spirited hell-raiser as a child. You probably were too, if you’ll be honest.

When people see this picture, with my hands lifted high, I tell them I was just worshiping the Lord. But I think you can see that something much different was going on—something mischievous and out of control. Cameras don’t lie, after all.

And when I was in preschool, the teacher sent a note home to my parents, saying, “Jimmy is too free with his hands.” Hmmm… I’ve always wondered what she meant by that.

Lately I’ve found myself wanting to regain some of the unshackled aspects of the Jimmy Buchan in this picture. Fun-loving. Carefree. Emotionally expressive. Outside the box.

Whatever happened to that inner child? I guess he “grew up” along the way. Aided by college and law school degrees, marriage, kids, car payments, mortgages, and job transitions, I became more serious and sophisticated. I learned to keep my spontaneous outbursts to a minimum and was no longer “too free with my hands.”

But this new maturity came at a price. The carefree Jimmy  was replaced by a burdened-down Jim—dealing with the cares of life, concerns about the future, and worries about what other people think of me.

And this grownup Jim became a lot more “religious” than Jimmy the toddler, and I don’t mean in a positive way. On my good days, I’m convinced that Jesus loves Jim. But sometimes I think He might like Jimmy even better.

The Gospels describe the Pharisees as people who thought they could enter into favor with God by being more circumspect, serious, and “under control.” It must have been quite shocking when Jesus told them the door into His kingdom was to become like little children again (Matthew 18:1-5, 19:13-14).

My daughter Abbie once had an experience that illustrates this. When she was four years old, she had a dream in which she was in heaven, “playing with Jesus.” Through the eyes of a child, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would be playful and fun-loving. But through the eyes of a religious person, that makes no sense at all.

So please pray for me to rediscover my childlike faith—the fun-loving, uninhibited inner child who delights in life and enjoys the simplicity of knowing Jesus.

And I’ll be praying for you too.

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Moon Walking (& Other Life-Changing Discoveries)

moonwalking 2

For those of you who feel like you’ve tried everything to lose weight, I have a solution I bet you’ve never considered: Move to the moon!

I’ll admit, it’s not a great environment there. Restaurants and other amenities are sorely lacking at this point.

However, because the gravity on the moon is only 16% of the earth’s gravity, you would immediately experience an amazing drop in your weight. No crash diet necessary. No personal trainer required. While maintaining the same strength, you would be carrying around far less weight.

Pretty awesome, right?

Perhaps you’ve seen the old videos of astronauts walking on the moon. They skip around like giddy gazelles, amazed by their suddenly lightness of being. Even saddled with their bulky spacesuits, they move around like little kids on the playground.

I’m convinced that a trip to the moon would do us all some good. We would soon conclude that we’ve been carrying around lots of unnecessary weight on earth.

And there’s a spiritual point to all of this…

I recently talked to a friend who said his girlfriend seemed to be “carrying around the weight of the world.” That’s a lot of weight!  I thought to myself.

But we’ve all done that at times, haven’t we? We shoulder concerns about our health…our finances…our spouse…our children…our career…our future. Little by little, these weights increase until they’re unbearable, even back-breaking.

Fortunately, God has a solution that doesn’t require migrating to the moon. He says we can cast the weight of the world upon Him! Why? Because He cares about us (1 Peter 5:7). And as the old song says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” No need for us  to carry it on our backs.

Jesus made a very important offer to those who are struggling under earth’s gravitational pull, “heavy laden” with the cares of this life:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

When I read these beautiful words, I feel like doing some moon walking, don’t you? I want to cast off life’s unnecessary burdens and concerns, learning to frolic again like a little child. And when I do, I know I’ll rediscover an astonishing fact: This is exactly what it feels like to experience the unencumbered joy of God’s kingdom (Matthew 19:13-14).

Moon walking will surely feel odd at first, especially when you’ve lived your whole life as an earthling. But I’m betting we could get used to it. Will you join me?

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Abraham Lincoln’s Prescription to Make America Great Again

As every student of history knows, America was in crisis in 1863. Despite Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in January of that year, the Civil War raged on, with no end in sight.

Today America is in crisis again, even though the symptoms aren’t yet as obvious. And while presidential candidates promise to “make America great again,” they offer solutions that fail to recognize what made America great in the first place. Their faulty premise is that greatness will return if we have better trade deals, more jobs, a more equitable tax structure, or a stronger military.

We can argue about whether such things are an improvement. But none of them will make America great again.

In stark contrast to what is being promised today, on March 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation “Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.” Calling the nation to repentance and a spiritual awakening, he pointed to our need for God’s grace and favor. In support of this, he paraphrased Psalm 33:12, saying, “Those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord”:

Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord…

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or follower of some other political philosophy, I hope you will grasp the power of Lincoln’s message. We need more than better politicians or better policies. We need a spiritual awakening that begins with you and me.

In addition to Abraham Lincoln’s diagnosis of our need for national repentance and revival, the words of nineteenth-century historian Alexis de Tocqueville are amazingly prophetic today: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Forgive us, Lord.

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