Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Togetherness

There are lots of romantic Christmas songs. Many a pop artist has penned an ode to love during the holidays. Mariah Carey sang “All I want for Christmas is you.” Kelly Clarkson warbled “It just wasn’t the same / Alone on Christmas day / Presents, what a beautiful sight / Don’t mean a thing if you ain’t holding me tight / You’re all that I need / Underneath the tree.” Even rock stars get in on the act; Cheap Trick modified the lyrics of their own “I want you to want me” changing the chorus to be “Didn’t I didn’t I say I want you for Christmas.”

There’s a bunch of romantic standards too, from Earth Kitt purring “Santa Baby” to the various duets singing “Baby it’s cold outside.” (ok, that song can be a little creepy) There are even some holiday standards that have some great lines about being together with the one you love among the verses, hiding right there in plain sight. There are the pair “snuggled up together like two birds of a feather” in Sleigh Ride and in Let it Snow, the line goes “But if you'll really hold me tight, all the way home I'll be warm."

As the weather gets colder, what better way to stave off the seasonal chill than by snuggling with your spouse in a sleigh, under a blanket, or in front of a fire. Songwriters have been mining this emotional vein forever. So this December, go out of your way to carve out time in the hectic holiday hustle and bustle for some quiet time with your spouse. Hold each other. Just BE, putting aside the to do list of errands, chores, and plans just for a little while. Revel in the togetherness and closeness. Think on Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 4:11

If two lie down together, they will keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?

In this season of gifts, remember the one the God has given you, the one you vowed to love and cherish as long as life shall last, the one that shares your bed. Treat each other as precious. Read the compliments Solomon and his bride give each other in the Song of Songs. To her, “His arms are rounded gold, set with jewels. His body is ivory, encrusted with sapphires. His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold.” (Song 5:14-15) To him, her “lips are like a crimson thread, her mouth is lovely. Her cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate. Her neck is like the tower of David,built in courses, hung with a thousand shields… She is altogether beautiful, without flaw.” (Song 4:3-4, 7) This is a couple that truly cherishes each other. These two rightly see each other as a blessing direct from God in their lives.

Make time during the holidays to be together. Put all else aside for a time and strive to see your spouse in this light.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lessons from Job

Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.  -Job 1:8

Satan doubts God’s appraisal of the man Job, contending that he is only blameless and upright because he has received abundant blessings, and God has “made a hedge about him” to protect him. God first give Satan permission to take away his material possessions, his relatives, and even his health. In what has to rank as one of - if not the - worst day ever, everything that Job holds dear is taken from him. Some of his servants are killed and his oxen and donkeys are stolen. “Fire from heaven” rains down on his herd of sheep, killing them and his shepherds, leaving him bereft of his sources of income. Then, his children all die in a freak accident when the wind blows down his son’s house wherein they were feasting together. In a final blow to his well being, he is stricken with a disease leaving him covered in sores.

Satan, given free reign to afflict God’s servant takes just about everything from him… and leaves his wife alone, right there at his side. How can this be?

Was the marriage of Job and his wife not a happy one? In the midst of material success and physical comfort was there still some bitterness or consternation? Despite their fruitfulness (seven sons and three daughters) was there marital strife between the two? Had they just become complacent, drifting apart as so many do in the later days of marriage? Did the devil not hear correctly when God said  “Only spare his LIFE”?

Or, did Satan simply know that when the chips were down and everything taken away that she would become a stumbling block to him? That when life went from “better” to “worse” that she in her anger and frustration would seek to turn her husband away from God, that she would push him to abandon his faith? When even Job’s health was stricken, and his heart remained steadfast for God, she asks derisively “Do you still maintain your integrity?” and spits her advice: “Just curse God, and die.”

Maybe we’re a little hard on Job’s wife. After all, she just lost her children too. And in a culture where women couldn’t just go out and earn a living, the loss of Job’s livelihood (his livestock) probably left her terrified for their future. But still, their relationship was such that Satan knew that Job did not hold her dear, that taking her from him would not increase his misery, but indeed that leaving her with him would be a further thorn in his side.

In our own marriages, we need to strive to be our spouse’s greatest blessing, each other’s most steadfast supporter and cheerleader. “Encourage one another, and build each other up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Speak of each other like Solomon and his wife do throughout the Song of Songs. “Him whom my soul loves” (1:7, 3:1-4) “Most beautiful among women” (1:8) “You are altogether beautiful, my darling, without blemish…” (4:7)

In magazines, blogs and other outlets, relationships experts trumpet millions of ideas on how to keep a marriage together, how to reignite the spark, how to increase passion. It’s actually pretty simple: are you seeking to be a blessing to your spouse? Are you seeking to be a treasure to them that would bereave them if you were taken away. Christ says in Luke 12;34

Where your heart is, there your treasure is also.

Strive to be a "treasure," precious in your spouse’s sight, and you will have their heart.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Surrender

John Maxwell, when writing about the apostle Paul in the context of his letter to the Phillipians, said this: “He realized that a leader can either surrender to his circumstances, or surrender to a cause so great that his circumstances won’t matter.” Paul had a strong sense of his purpose, proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Because of that he was able to remain positive regardless of his surrounding or circumstances. Whether from prison, while being beaten or surviving shipwrecks, despite any trial or tribulation he did the work of God’s kingdom to which he was called with passion and zeal.

As married couples we need to have this same attitude, realizing that maintaining a marriage that honors God, one that portrays a picture of Christ’s love for the church and even God’s love for the world, is part of the kingdom work to which WE are called. It is all too easy to surrender to circumstances. Mounting bills, overly busy calendars filled with kids’ activities, work, church and other commitments, lack of or mis-communication between husband and wife, all these can add stress to a relationship, and if left unchecked can foster resentment, bitterness, and anger. This negativity will manifest in what the world sees of us as we ‘do’ marriage. Daily we must meet these struggles head on, and not surrender to them.

Like Paul, our commitment to the work that God has given us must be undertaken with zeal. Our nuptial unions are part of that work! The relationship between husband and wife is to be our most important earthly bond. “A man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife” it says in Genesis 2:24. Even when kids arrive on the scene, the spousal relationship must remain the first priority. When it is strong, it provides a foundation for the family, and peace for the home.

More and more our society devalues the primacy of this relationship and the vows upon which it is based. One spouse pours all his or her effort into work. Another focuses predominantly on the kids. Divorce rates have skyrocketed, even among church goers. Daily, we surrender to circumstances. How many of us see marriage as a higher calling, as kingdom work, as a cause so great that our circumstances become irrelevant as we fight for it?

Attitude and purpose are inextricably linked. Lacking purpose, the situations we find ourselves in determine our outlook. Good days or bad are defined by what we’re dealing with, and greatly affect how we deal with them. Having a clear sense of purpose though gives you strength to fight through tribulations, and fuels a positive attitude. Likewise, when your attitude is right, your purpose is furthered.

Marriage is a cause worth fighting for, and is part of our divine calling for we who are married. We must fight for our spouses and our families. We must put in the work so our unions become beacons for those around us. They should see our marriages and ask how we are able to do them so well in this day and age. Our answer is God.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.   -Phillipians 4:13

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Guardrails (redux)

I’ve written before about “guardrails” in the context of marriage. Quoting Matthew 5:29, I wrote that it is up to us to know ourselves, to identify where our problem areas are, the things in life that may cause us to stray or stumble. It is up to us to build our own guardrails into our lives that keep us safe. This is best done when one is in communion with God, and aware of the plans he has for your life. I contrasted this with the religious leaders of ancient Israel. They took it upon themselves to make up some 613 rules to keep the people from breaking the commandments of God. In their case it was not self awareness, but moral superiority, a ‘holier-than-thou’ elite class setting up hoops for the masses to jump through. Well intentioned or not, it led to legalism and a narrow view of holiness. In terms of God’s commandments, it is always best to let God lead.

In terms of marriage, and especially sex there are endless discussions about what is and isn’t permissible. Reading Christian marriage blogs, the same questions come up over and over and over, people seeking guidance on where to put up the guardrails. I think this lack of clarity is due - at least in part - to the church being largely silent on the subject of sex. How often do we hear sermons on the love poetry of the Song of Solomon? Unless they are admonitions that the book is strictly allegorical, alluding to Christ and the church, never. But what if the book means exactly what it says? (There are experts that hold that it does; reverend Tommy Nelson has a 12 week study on it, breaking down the metaphors verse by verse.

Or, how many pastors dare to preach on 1 Corinthians 7:5? “Do not deprive one another except by agreement for a time to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” I’ve yet to hear a pastor expound upon this one from the pulpit, digging deep into what it means and how to live it out.

With the dearth of advice and guidance from the church, let’s look at the Word. God is actually pretty straightforward on the subject of what is and isn’t allowed. In Hebrews 13:4 Paul writes:

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

Here are the guardrails God puts around the marriage bed; no adultery (sex outside of marriage by married people) and no fornication (sex by unmarried people) That’s it. One could read this as “as long as the sex you are having is with your husband and wife, you’re good!” To reinforce this point, in Song of Solomon 7:13 the wife writes,

Over our doors are all choice fruits, Both new and old, which I have saved up for you, my beloved.”

Not some fruits. Not just those few fruits that some authority figure says are OK. All. Choice. Fruits. As I wrote at the outset, though we have a responsibility to set our own guardrails, so where do we turn?  In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul writes

All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.

How do we know then which things are beneficial? In marriage, with regards to what is and isn’t “OK,” it is up to each couple to make their own rules. With God’s word as the framework (no adultery or fornication) and the love verses from 1 Corinthians as a guide (patient and kind, not demanding it’s own way, not boastful, arrogant or resentful) each married couple can chart their own course towards intimacy - physical, spiritual and emotional. Likes and dislikes will change over time of course, which is why couples must keep lines of open, honest communication, and have the conversation continually - as long as both shall live.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Choice

There’s a saying that states “Don’t mock your wife’s choices… you’re one of them.” Tongue in cheek, sure, but there is truth in that. You and your spouse (presumably) chose each other. You made a choice to get married, to share a home, a bed, your lives. You chose, and then vowed before God and witnesses, to forego all others, to love, honor and cherish one another, not for a while but “until death,” or “as long as you both shall live” depending on your officiant. It is important to remember this fact, so that whenever there is disagreement over some issue - large or small - if there is friction, you can remember the bigger picture. Amos 3:3 asks: "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" You agreed! How is it then that so often couples seem to so easily forget that they are together by choice, that being married was on purpose, that they chose to be part of something bigger than themselves? That they chose to put another’s needs above their own, that they chose a life of service to another instead of one of being served? The answers to that question are varied, and as numerous as married people, but it comes down to a question of attitude. As married people we should choose to be married… daily. A wedding is an event that happens once, in the past, but marriage, being married, is a state of mind, a state of being that needs to be constantly renewed. It is a choice that we make each day when we rise and see our spouse lying there next to us. In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells those who would be his disciples that they must deny themselves, and take up their cross daily and follow me As in every aspect of life, Christ is our example, our model of how we should live. This verse is not specifically about marriage, but since the relationship of Jesus with the church is often talked about with marriage as a metaphor, it applies. It resonates. Colloquially a “cross to bear” has come to mean a burden, and we should not take this to mean that marriage is a chore, but it is work. And to work the way God intended, it must be undertaken every day. While a formal ceremony to mark renewal of vows is not necessary, the choice is. Every morning, tell your spouse not only would you marry them again, but you are. You are promising to love them, honor them, cherish them, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, as long as you both shall live. Then tell them again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Scales

In all aspects of our life we have goals, or at least intentions, and the movement towards them often meets with resistance from the world. For example, many people start a new year with the intention to lose weight. We all know what that entails: eat better, and exercise. Despite the plan of action being so simple - at least in theory - year after year come February first, gyms return to near empty and comfort foods are once again the norm in many kitchens. Why is this? We have habits, and bad ones develop into ruts that over time grow increasingly resistant to change.

Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest tends to remain at rest, (and an object in motion remains in motion) unless acted upon by an unknown force. This can apply to human habits as well as objects. For anything to change, the “outside force “ needs to be greater than our resistance to that change. Ironically, this “outside force” comes from within; we must decide that the result we are after is worth the work, to the point we are willing to face the discomfort caused by working to overcome the resistance.

Writing about Elijah confronting the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:1-40), John Maxwell points out three reasons the prophet was able to succeed, despite so many factors being against him.
He was greatly outnumbered, but his love for the one, true God meant that Baal had to be confronted. His resolution outweighed his reservations.
It was risky by human standards; the crowd could easily have gotten out of hand. More than anything though, Elijah sought to honor God. His desire outweighed his desperation.
Some might ask why he even bothered. The people had made their choice and turned their backs on God. Remember how Jonah sat and waited for punishment to rain down on Nineveh? So too could Elijah had waited for God’s wrath to make Israel see their error, but no. His compassion outweighed his complaints.
All these reasons put together gave Elijah the courage to do what had to be done.

In marriage, as in all of life, there will be trouble. Schedules may spiral out of control with work, activities, and children all chipping away at a couple’s alone time. A spouse may become hard-hearted, falling for the world’s lie that falling “out of love” is a thing. There could be illness or injury, or a host of other forces that rob a couple of intimacy with one another. It is up to us to work to overcome those things, and they will resist. We must be like Elijah, and not give in or give up until our union is strengthened and restored!

Darren Hardy writes in “The Entrepreneurship Roller Coaster” that no matter the job, WHAT you do will suck 90% of the time. Even the paragons of success he holds up as examples - Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk - have daily schedules full of boring meetings, tedious paperwork, and long hours travelling away from family and friends. The key to success, writes Hardy, is that your WHY must be greater than your WHAT. You have to love why you do what you do, what you are working FOR - the goal, the big picture - to get through the work itself.

You have to believe that a healthy marriage that honors God is worth the discomfort, the blood sweat and tears, the hard work of making it happen. You also have to believe that God wants the same thing for you. Elijah had faith that God would respond to his efforts to turn the hearts of the people of Israel back to their God. So too must we have faith that God will bless our efforts to improve our marriage, that even though loving our spouse is risky, leaving us open and vulnerable, that if we dive into that work with passion and conviction, it will be rewarded.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Abundance vs Deficiency - III

Instead of offense versus defense, one can look at the deficiency / abundance mindset difference as the need to ‘maintain’ in contrast to the desire to ‘create.’ Fearful of loss, a deficiency mindset is unwilling to take a risk that could result in losing what he or she has, no matter what the upside might be. Even if the potential gain is spectacular, the risk seems too great, not worth taking the chance. In a relationship this leads to stagnation instead of what God intends - growth. Rev. Tommy Nelson, in his Song of Solomon study states that there is no static relationship; they are either growing and improving, or they are degrading. What may seem motionless is really backsliding, The deficiency mindset is not of God. The devil wants us to think that no risk is worth taking so that our relationships degrade over time. Brokenness is the buffet that sin feeds at.

Romans 12:6 says

We all have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

The enemy wants us to hoard those gifts, keep them locked up. He wants us to think that our gifts our only ours. A spirit of lack does not inspire us to share what we have been given. God gives gifts so that we can bless others. Someone with an abundance mindset is free to release those gifts, give them freely. Someone who feels blessed is able to be a blessing to those in their life. A deficiency mindset results in a closed heart and a narrow vision of what is possible. A spirit of abundance opens a heart up wide, and allows one to see many possibilities for both one’s self and for others.

The starkest difference in the two mindsets is this:
Someone afflicted with a sense of lacking, sees all conflicts in terms of winning and losing, with loss being something to avoid at all costs. Their creativity is stifled by this dichotomy. In a relationship, especially a marriage, this is particularly damaging. When you strive to win and believe that to do so the other must lose, it causes an adversarial atmosphere. In marriage if only one person wins, then both partners lose. Someone who believes in the goodness of God’s gifts, who is assured of His provision in their lives and is not averse to taking a risk so that things can get even better will always seek a “win - win” scenario. They strive for things to improve on both sides of the equation. They are willing to give knowing the other will get, and they themselves will be blessed by the process. When our spouse wins, the marriage gets better, and we win too!

This month, examine your mindset. Do you believe that God blesses your marriage abundantly? Are you seeking to share your gifts for mutual benefit? Amidst the struggles we all go through, are you worried about losing what you have, or are you striving to strengthen and improve your union? Sit down with your spouse and open up to each other about your hopes, your dreams and also your worries and fears. Remind each other that you are a team, that God has joined you for a purpose. Recommit to work together as one to make your marriage what God has intended.