Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Vision

Throughout scripture, God casts vision. Like any good leader, he shows his followers where his plan is going, and the benefits they will reap from being part of that plan. In the big picture sense, His vision gives us a glimpse of what the reconciliation of creation and Creator will look like. God has the long view in mind at all times, since he sees the whole of existence, past present and future. As humans we struggle with grasping that of course, finite and flawed as we are, so God also casts smaller visions throughout his Word.

In Ezekiel 12, God has the prophet pack up all his belongings and live in a tent, physically acting out the exile that Israel is about to be stricken by. God is trying to impress upon his people the need for repentance and change, trying to scare them straight with the consequences of their continued disobedience.

In marriage, as in life, having a clear vision is critical! It lays out a plan, it sets forth goals and identifies potential problems so that strategies for success can be formulated. Vision by itself however, will not result in victory. Those strategies must be carried out. Those goals must be worked for. The book of James lays this out quite clearly with its theme of “faith without works is dead.” At the end of Ezekiel 12 (22-25), God also echoes this sentiment.

What is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: ‘The days go by and every vision comes to nothing’? Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel.’ The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled. For there will be no more false visions or flattering divinations among the people of Israel. But I the Lord will speak what I will, and fulfill it without delay.

Through studying of the Bible, a couple can come to understand God’s plan for their union. They can read Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages,” go through the twelve weeks of Tommy nelson’s “Song of Solomon” series, and fill out the whole workbook from Kevin Leman’s “Making the Most of Marriage.” They can read blogs and listen to podcasts from a multitude of solid Christian writers and speakers. None of it will matter though if they don’t commit to action on the lessons they learn. As we go into summer, promise each other that you will do the work necessary to achieve the things God has called you to as a couple. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Courage V: Pronounce

John Maxwell’s exposition of courage as it relates to 2 Timothy 2 and 3, mentions five points within a mission or purpose that leaders can derive courage from, allowing them to take a stand and do the right things even when the going gets tough or uncomfortable.

We’ve looked at “things to prevent,” “things to pursue,” “things to portray” and “things to perceive.”
Last on the list is “There are things to pronounce.”

After the officiant pronounces you man and wife, then it is your turn to start pronouncing!

In word and deed, you should always strive to pronounce (or declare) to the world your love for your spouse. You just vowed to love them and cherish them as long as you both shall live… now is time to do just that. The way you live your life together should declare the nature of the vows you made on your wedding day. Deeds of course are louder than words. A friend told me his grandfather’s saying was “Your walk should be so loud they can’t hear what you’re saying.” The world should see our pronouncement in how we, as Christians “do” marriage. If we’re doing it right, they should be impressed enough to be curious, and ask us how we manage to love our spouses so well in this day and age. When they do, we can testify. Consider Psalm 9:11

Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion. Declare his deeds among the peoples.

Besides our love for our spouse, what we are also pronouncing is the goodness of God, and the blessings and mercies that are attendant with living by his decrees. How we live and love pronounces our belief in God and his word, his plan for marriages in general, and his plan for our marriage in particular. When we receive God’s blessings through our marriage, we need to recognize that and be grateful. Jesus pronounces the proper response to this after he drove Legion, the many demons out of the tomb-dwelling man and into the herd of swine. From Luke 8, 38-39 

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

The psalmist too, knew this truth. Psalm 92:1-2:

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,  and your faithfulness by night,

I think many of the relational issues that our society faces, specifically in terms of sex and marriage are at least in part due to the church as a whole abdicating its voice on the subject. By limiting the narrative to the negative “don’t have sex until your married” and the reasoning to “because it’s sin” a great opportunity has been missed to declare, to PRONOUCE how awesome God’s plan is. Until more pastors start going over the Song of Solomon in pre-marriage counselling, until they start preaching on 1 Corinthians 7:5 from the pulpit, it is our job as the body of Christ to be that picture the world sees of a future when God is reconciled to His creation. It is our duty with our marriages to be the analogy of Christ the bridegroom and the church, his bride so that the world can see and understand. We all have that opportunity to lead the discussion with the world around us about the wisdom of God’s design for relationships.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Courage IV: Perceive

John Maxwell’s exposition of courage as it relates to 2 Timothy 2 and 3, mentions five points within a mission or purpose that leaders can derive courage from, allowing them to take a stand and do the right things even when the going gets tough or uncomfortable. We’ve looked at “things to prevent,” “things to pursue,” and “things to portray.” Next on the list is “There are things to perceive.”

It has been said that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy, but to make us holy. Our selfish, me-first culture recoils at this suggestion, but that makes it no less true. Marriage is a crucible in which we place ourselves to be refined, like gold or silver over a fire. As the metal turns molten, all the imperfections are burned away, so that when it cools only the pure metal remains. The process is sometimes uncomfortable, but it is necessary if we desire the gleaming, final product. By living day in and day out with another person, (even - or especially - one we love) we are put to the test. After the initial lovefest there is bound to be some disillusionment or disappointment, and it is in how we learn to respond to these times that our character should change for the better. All of us are flawed, after all, and bound to make mistakes, to hurt the ones we love. How do we react to our spouse when this happens? What do we learn? If we look closely, we can perceive the will of God for our lives, and grow accordingly.

A sign on a local business currently reads “Smooth sailing never made a skillful sailor.” Through the challenges of living with another person, we are to find ways to emulate Jesus in our relationships. As Morgan Freeman portraying God in the movie “Evan Almighty” said “If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?” This is one reason that God’s plan for marriage is forever. When two people have to live with each other, and not just coexist but live happily, when they are supposed to help each other to grow and thrive for life, then they have to learn to treat each other with grace. Mercy and the ability to forgive are essential, since your partner will screw up. Humility is a must for the same reason; we will have to ask that forgiveness when we are in the wrong. There will be times when we have to put aside our own wants and desires for the good of our spouse and the union. We must tolerate our spouse’s shortcomings if we expect the same forbearance from them for our own. Me must strive to be able to communicate with each other and understand one another. We must seek to serve even as we put aside our need to be served.

To do marriage successfully, we must learn to be more like Jesus.

Proverbs 12:6 says:

the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.

In an interview, a silversmith was asked how he knew how long to leave the silver in the fire. “I know it’s done,” he said “when I can see my face reflected in it.” If God were to look at how you and your husband or wife treat each other, how you live together, how you love each other, would he see his Word reflected? If God held up your marriage, would he be able to see his face? God’s love for us is unconditional and absolute, and he asks that we love each other the same. It is not easy - indeed, it is impossible in our own strength. In marriage though we are constantly reminded of that need, and given an environment to develop our ability to lean on him and love as we should.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Courage III: Portray

John Maxwell’s exposition of courage as it relates to 2 Timothy 2 and 3, mentions five points within a mission or purpose that leaders can derive courage from, allowing them to take a stand and do the right things even when the going gets tough or uncomfortable. We’ve looked at “things to prevent.” and “things to pursue.” The third is “there are things to portray.”

In today’s world, everyone is watching everyone else. Via social media, everything is on display. Even in our real life circles, we see what our friends are up to as they see how we live our lives. For those of us who are married, how we manage that relationship is visible to those around us to some degree. Our work acquaintances see us some, our close friends and family even more, and our kids are keenly aware of how we “do” marriage. It is important that we model a healthy and holy way of going about it. As it relates to our kids, the need for modeling is clear; our sons and daughters must see from us Godly examples of how to treat their spouses, and be treated in return. Historically the church hasn’t talked enough about the verses in the bible that directly relate to marriage, so it is up to us to impart those lessons, to our own kids and even the other kids around us. They are sponges, soaking in information from their parents, their parent’s friends, their youth group leaders and Sunday school teachers. Who else will they learn about marriage from if not from us?

If we do not show them an example of holy matrimony, the world will be happy to give them one. More and more, society views marriage as a quaint institution at best, a completely outdated construct at worst. There are articles out there positing that we as humans are not even meant to be monogamous, biologically speaking, especially given our lengthening lifespans. As followers of Jesus though, we are called to be more than mere animals, more than the sum of our physical parts. We are called to be vessels for the Holy Spirit here on earth, that God’s kingdom would come. It is imperative that we be God’s calling cards, showing glimpses of what his love is like. Jesus says as much in John 13:35:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Often in the Bible, a wedding is used as a metaphor for the reconciliation between God and creation, and the picture of a bride and a groom is used to illustrate Jesus’ love for the church. In Revelation, when God is reconciled to creation it is described as a grand, wedding banquet. Doing marriage God’s way provides that picture to the world around us. How we live our married lives should hold other believers accountable to the Word, as well as show the non-believers around us that we have a better way, God’s way - and that it is for our benefit! As the prophet Samuel writes (2 Sam 22:31)

As for God, his way is perfect. He shields all who take refuge in Him.

A friend gave this advice to his daughter, (maybe half jokingly) as a way of illustrating how to behave in this increasingly scary and dangerous world: “Always act like I’m in the room, looking over your shoulder.” Shouldn’t we all take that advice? Especially in marriage, should we not treat our spouses as if our heavenly father were right there, watching? Even more than that we should love each other in ways that honor him and thank him for the gifts that we have been given.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Getting Right for Giving

(note: this is not part of the Courage series. It came upon my heart and I felt it couldn’t wait to be shared)

Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus is saying here that our human relationships are vital; and of course they are. We can't follow any of the "one another" commands (love one another, pray for one another, bear one another's burdens, etc.) given in the New Testament if we are not part of a living, breathing community. For those of us who have spoken wedding vows, our relationship with our spouse is primary among these relationships. So, whenever we give, we should consider the state of our marriage.

In our church's mission statement we say that we are to support St. Paul's by giving of our time and our talents, as well as of our treasures. All can be seen as gifts to God and his church. Clearly, we need to consider our earthly relationships - including our marriages - not only when we are putting our envelopes in the offering basket, but also when we serve, giving of our time and talent... when we lead a bible study, when we sit on a board or committee, when we volunteer in the kitchen, or serve communion, or usher.

Jesus says that if we remember another person has something against us, we are to leave our gifts at the altar and make the relationship right first. For those who are married our spouse is the one we must think of first! If there is anything wrong in our marriage, that should be addressed and reconciled before we undertake any duties or service. When things aren't going well, it's easy to stay busy doing church things, much easier than putting in the time and effort to fix or rebuild our relationships. Going through the motions of religion is comfortable, but if we are neglecting our relationships, our marriages, it is not biblical. Religion can not be a focus of our lives when Christ is not at the center of our marriages.

In the introduction to his book Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferriss says "Success can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations we are willing to have, and the number of uncomfortable actions we are willing to take."

Regardless of comfort, do what is necessary to reconcile with your spouse before spending that time on things that may be good, but are not vital. In God's eyes your marriage is vital.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Courage II: Pursue

John Maxwell’s exposition of courage as it relates to 2 Timothy 2 and 3, mentions five points within a mission or purpose that leaders can derive courage from, allowing them to take a stand and do the right things even when the going gets tough or uncomfortable. The first point was “there are things to prevent.” The second point is “There are things to pursue.”

In the context of marriage the first application is obvious: we need to continually pursue our spouse! It is too easy once married to take each other for granted, to assume that we no longer need to put forth effort to “win” the heart of our beloved. After all, they are already right there! They took the same vows we did, made the same promises. We made those vows to love, honor and cherish, and as married life rushes by, schedules get hectic, work gets in the way, we can get complacent and stop loving, honoring, and cherishing. We stop doing the things we did while dating that made the other person fall in love with us. We stop asking about their feelings, plans, fears, hopes and dreams. We stop checking in daily to see how they’re doing. We stop trying to do little things to serve them. We stop going out of our way to find things to do for no other reason than to make them smile. It is critical in marriage to continue to do these things! It lets our spouse know we are still engaged, that we still care, that we still love - and that we desire for our union to thrive. When we stop seeking to win our spouses love, we risk losing it. In a recent interview, the actor Mark Wahlberg gave his secret for career success. He said “The only way to be the best is to work like you have nothing.” Think about how that mindset could radically transform your marriage.

We should also pursue growth. We should always be striving to grow our marriage and deepen our intimacy, strengthen our bond. A relationship that isn’t getting better is getting worse… there is no standing still. We must pursue what is best, even when things are going wrong. We need to resist the urge to jump to conclusions, to think we know our spouse’s heart and mind. It is vital that we try and communicate, to express our feelings and understand where they are coming from. We must pursue reconciliation when we are at odds, offering grace and forgiveness even as we are in need of it. If we set our minds to see the best in our partner, it becomes easier to give them the benefit of the doubt. Meditate on these words from the apostle Paul in Phillipians 4:8:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Dwelling on problems, on distance, on lack, on slights real or perceived is asking for trouble and inviting Satan in to steer your life whichever way he chooses - which is never for your good. Anyone going down that path is pursuing heartache, pain and strife.

Lastly, the most important thing to pursue is God’s purpose for ourselves, for our spouses and for our marriages. Consider (often) what God has put you here to do. Consider what purpose you and your spouse can only fulfill if you are working harmoniously together. Ask yourselves, Is there someone in your life to minister to? Is there an opportunity for you to serve together that would be more effective than either of you on your own? Are your lives running parallel, or at odds? Are your paths moving you closer to God and to each other, or farther and farther away?

Just as He designed you to do a specific work, he put you and your spouse together for a purpose. We must seek that purpose that we might fulfill it. It is our nature to pursue things that we want, or that we need. God knows what these are, and wants us to have them, not for self fulfillment though, but so that we will be effective at the jobs he created us for. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 6:33

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and these other things will be given you as well

Pursue the things that are on God’s heart, for he knows us better than we do ourselves. Have faith that the things he wants of us are the very things that will help us and our marriages prosper.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Courage I: Prevent

John Maxwell, when commenting on Paul’s mentorship of Timothy, talks about courage being an essential quality in leadership. He defines courage as the process of taking a stand. Courage is what allows you to do what is right in tough situations, even when no one stands with you, even when the right thing isn’t popular, and especially when the right thing isn’t easy. As he breaks down 2 Timothy 2 and 3, he notes five points within a mission or purpose that leaders can derive their courage from. I think these same five points apply to marriages, and from them we too can muster up the courage to take a stand when things are tough, or uncomfortable, or even when things are leaning towards hopelessness. From these we can draw strength to fight for our nuptial unions. The five points are:

There is something to prevent. There are some things to pursue. There are some things to portray. There are some things to perceive. There is something to pronounce.

Let’s look at the first of these. (next four coming in following months) In marriage there are of course things to prevent. In fact, marriage itself is described in scripture as something God designed to prevent us from being tempted by sexual impurity. In 1 Corinthians 7:9 Paul writes:

If they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Too often marriage is taken for granted as one spouse or the other succumbs to the temptation of other people, “greener grass” on the other side of the fence. However, as Neil Barringham (or Irma Bombeck, depending on your source material) famously said “The grass is greener where you water it.” It always seems easier to give up and start over than to do the work required to make what we already have into what God meant it to be. We need to be mindful once we have spoken wedding vows to see our spouse, and only our spouse, as our outlet for the passions, yearnings and energy that God has built into us. We need to never stop seeking to connect with our spouse. We need to come together often to nurture all forms of intimacy. In that closeness, that connection that we forge through regular contact our marriages are strengthened and our love for one another deepens. 

Paul knew this. He also knew it is in our nature to lose sight of the goal, to drift, to get distracted. This is why he wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:5

Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

To prevent a withered, dry, brown lawn, you water your grass. To prevent falling into temptation, to prevent sexual sin, to prevent shattered homes and broken families, look only to your spouse as your outlet to express the love and passion within you. As it says in Proverbs 5:18-19

May your fountain be blessed,
    and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
    may her breasts satisfy you always,
    may you ever be intoxicated with her love.