Monday, September 12, 2016

One Another - UNITY I

Among the “one another” statements in the Bible, several speak to the theme of unity.

Unity is important in a church congregation, but between spouses it is vital for a marriage to be healthy. In Genesis 2:24 it says “A man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Word says “they become” but in reality, it takes work from both husband and wife to maintain a constant state of “becoming.” It is a lifelong commitment, not a one-time event.

This idea of one flesh is confusing; spouses are still two separate people, with their own thoughts, feelings, tendencies, quirks and personalities. How then do we live out the oneness that God states is the nature of marriage? Romans 15:6, 2 Corinthians 13:11 and Phillipians 2:2 all use the phrase “of one mind.” This is of course not suggesting that two people will think exactly the same. What it is suggesting though is for people - for our purpose, spouses - to put their heads together. Communication is key, especially in times of crisis or important decisions. Husband and wife must discuss priorities, goals, and values. Each spouse must bare their soul (Phil 2:2 also says “one in spirit”) to the other sharing their dreams and desires, and in the spirit of unity come to consensus. This is easier when additional “one another” commands are adhered to, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “strive to do what is good for each other” or Romans 12:9 “Honor one another above yourself.” 1 Corinthians 13 says that love is not self serving or proud, and it is when both spouses are thinking not of themselves but of their partner, of their union, that oneness is strived for and achieved

Too often spouses try to “win” against each other. In marriage, if one spouse wins, both lose. Husband and wife must approach all obstacles as a team, not as adversaries. James writes “Don’t complain against one another” (4:11) and “Don’t grumble amongst one another” (6:43) and Paul implores the Galatians “Don’t challenge or envy one another” (5:26) and more dramatically “ Don’t bite, devour or consume one another (5:15) All these verses come from the same place, advocating for the idea that we are in this TOGETHER. As spouses it our imperative that we act like it. As Lincoln said, “A house divided cannot stand.”

Instead of fighting, embrace each other. Be each other’s greatest fan, biggest supporter and staunchest ally. As Jesus says to his disciples in Mark 9:50

Be at peace with one another

It makes facing obstacles much easier when you are locked arm in arm, moving forward together.

One Another - UNITY II

Now that we are focused on being of one mind, concentrating on being on the same time, working on living out the edict that husband and wife are one flesh, scripture give us practical steps we can take to help accomplish those goals.

Paul tells the Ephesians (4:2) “Gently and patiently tolerate one another.”

That doesn’t sound very romantic; “tolerate” seems a pretty low bar to hurdle in the context of marriage. One of its definitions though is “accept,” and that is key. Romans 15:7 says explicitly “Accept one another.” Too often we expect the other person to change when things aren’t going smoothly. There is an old adage “Women enter marriage expecting their husband to change, and they don’t. Men enter marriage expecting their wife to stay the same… and they don’t.” It is critical that we accept the person our spouse IS at any given point in time. We can’t pine for who they were, and yearn for who they could be. Our job is not to change them, mold them or shape them, but to encourage them and love them. When a person is set on changing another, disappointment is almost guaranteed. The vows we took were not stated with conditions; they were absolutes. We promised to love, to keep, to cherish. When acceptance is the goal, peace is much more often the outcome. As for the rest of this verse, gentleness and patience are both fruits of the spirit, and are qualities to be sought as we deal with all people. How much more so should we seek them when dealing with the person we have chosen to go through life with?

Gentleness and patience are important since none of us are perfect. We are all finite and fallible. James 3:2 says “we all stumble in many ways” and Paul in Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Knowing that we are just as guilty, just as imperfect, we are called to show the grace that we know we receive from on high. Colossians 3:13 says “Bear with and forgive one another.” and Ephesians 4:32 implores “Be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving.” Knowing we are in this together, we must strive to minimize the strife that can divide us and weaken us, sap our strength and lead to selfishness, distance, and sin. In the midst of conflict, “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1)

Even when our partners falter, we are called to be like Christ. The natural human reaction is to seek retribution, to punish the one at fault but again, that is not our job. 1 Thessalonians 5:15 says we are “not to repay evil with evil” but instead we should “seek good for one another.” This is not easy when we are hurting, but if we can look beyond the behavior we may see the other person is hurting too. Or scared, stressed or anxious. We must focus on forgiveness, on healing, on wholeness.

On unity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

One Another

In the New Testament there are 100 uses of the Greek word “allélón” (or ἀλλήλων ) pronounced “ah-LAY-loan” which we translate in English into the two words “one another. These 100 instances are contained in 94 verses, 60% of which were written down by the apostle Paul. 47 of these verses are instructions for the followers of Christ. The website above lists many of them, breaking them into categories such as Unity, Love, and Humility. I’ve used these verses as a counterpoint when friends of mine have tried the argument “I’m spiritual, but my faith is a private thing… I don’t need a church.” It’s impossible to carry out the “one another” instructions by yourself! We are designed to live in community, doing life with like-minded people whom we can love and support and encourage, and look to for the same.

At first glance, only two speak directly to married couples:

Ephesians 5:21 prefaces the familiar submission and love instructions for wives and husbands stating: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

1 Corinthians 7:5 is the most marriage-centric, imploring spouses do not deprive one other of physical intimacy, except by mutual agreement for a time to devote yourselves to prayer.

What about the rest though? What can they tell us about how to behave in a married relationship? A few times in Jesus’ ministry, he holds up an example of God’s goodness in some minor matter, and then compares it to God’s goodness to us, saying “If God does this, then how much more should we expect, being his children?”

(See Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! or Luke 12:28
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!)

Marriage is a holy institution, designed by God to be picture to the world of his love for all of us. The church is described as Christ’s bride, and in Revelation it is the image of a wedding feast that heralds the reconciliation of God and creation. With that in mind, if the “one another” commands are how we are to act towards all our neighbors, than how much more should we who are married display those behaviors towards our spouses?

In the fall I’ll begin a series looking at many of these commands in detail. Consider these verses over the summer, with regard to how you and your spouse treat each other.

Remember that four of the one another verses are about kissing.

And work on living out that one from 1 Corinthians.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


In our human frailty, in security is all too common. The world beats us down, telling us we’re not good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, fit enough. Endless commercials tell us we need this product or that product to improve ourselves physically or otherwise, that this thing or that thing will fulfill us, make us happy. Being in a relationship sometimes acts as a salve to this condition; being loved by another person validates who we are, reminds us we are worthy of love. Problems always occur though, since the other person is also finite and imperfect, just like we are. When we seek validation from other people, we are bound to be disappointed or hurt eventually.

Also, neediness is never attractive. The more we seek acceptance and from outside sources, even our spouse, the less we are likely to receive it. We must look first - and indeed, only - to God for our validation. We must look also to God for the love that is required to successfully do marriage. God’s love is “agape” love, eternal, unconditional, without strings. We as humans are incapable of this on our own, but with God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

A wise friend of mine once used the analogy that we must be like a compartment in an ice cube tray. When we position ourselves to receive God’s love we get filled up, but since God’s love is endless, we soon overflow, and that love spills out from us, into those who are nearest to us. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, God’s love flows through as, an everlasting spring providing eternal life. When we are secure in our identity in God, confident in who God made us to be we are free to love others not transactionally (expecting love in return) but from a position of joy. We are free to receive love with true gratitude instead of nervous relief that our needs were met.

In her book Counsel from The Cross, Elyse Fitzpatrick writes:

“When spouses begin to grasp the depth of God’s love for them in Christ, the need for romance, respect, and attention will rapidly diminish.  Rather than seeing themselves as needy sponges, trying to soak up every drop of earthly, human love, they will see themselves as wells supplied by a divine Spring, overflowing with living water that is meant to satisfy, cheer, and serve those around them.”

Accepting God’s love for us is akin to building our house on the rock (Matthew 7:25). It becomes the foundation of our identity, a place from which we are able to go forth and do the work God has intended for us. For married folks, that work begins at home: loving your spouse in a way that honors God and provides the picture of his love to the world.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Last time I went bowling, the family in the lane next to me had a small child, maybe six years old, bowling with them. When it was the child turn, the bumper rose into place in the gutters, (nearly) guaranteeing that wherever the child propelled his ball down the lane, he would hit some pins. No one likes throwing gutter balls, so for a small child the possibility of one being removed makes for a more enjoyable experience. It makes the game too easy for adults though. We need the to be more precise, more accurate to push ourselves, to make the game challenging.

Ever been to a circus and seen a tightrope act? If it was a lower tier sort of affair, chances are there was a net beneath them as they performed their feat. A higher end act, truly professional performers might work without a net, because then the threat level goes way up. The possibility of catastrophe drives up the drama of the act, making the experience more intense, more memorable.

When we drive on roads through mountains, as the road nears areas where the terrain falls away, there are usually guardrails. There might also be large reflective signs to alert drivers of the danger. Unlike a game or a performance, when our safety is on the line we can forego the challenge and the drama. It’s a matter of priorities.

In the old testament, there are 613 rules that Jewish people were to follow. Some of these (most notably the ten commandments) were instituted by God. Many of the other ones though, the priests came up with. These rules acted like bumpers, or safety nets, or guardrails. They were there to help people stay on course and not break the big rules.

The problem with this was the potential to move towards legalism, and in the process, lose sight of the reasons for the rules to begin with: to maintain a healthy relationship with God. Of course as Christians, with Jesus having written for us a new covenant in his blood, we are no longer under the law, and are free to focus on and seek that relationship, to nurture it, to develop it and grow in our spiritual walk towards Christ.

That is not to say though that the idea of guardrails is always a bad one.
I think each of us must continually search our hearts and know our own strengths and weaknesses. If you are aware of areas in your life that might tempt you to sin and damage your relationship with God, it is up to you to avoid those areas. In Matthew 5:29 the Lord says

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Since Jesus was wont to speak in parables, i think we can safely guess he wasn’t calling for self mutilation, but for responsibility.

A friend told me of his co-worker who when out at work related dinners or away from his home on business trips, always stops at two beers. When asked why, he said “Nothing good ever happens after two beers.” This man had identified an area that potentially could cause him to stumble, so he built a guardrail into his life. Whether it be setting blocks on your computer to prevent viewing certain websites, or choosing not to watch particular shows or movies that cause you to falter, there are many ways to go about setting up your own safety measures. For every person they will be different. Examine your life, your marriage, and your spiritual walk. Where are your trouble spots? How can you protect yourself from them.

What bumpers, safety nets or guardrails to you need in your life to ensure you keep healthy your relationship with your spouse and God?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


From Springsteen - "When we kiss.... ooh oooh, fire" to Johnny Cash - "got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout" and "I fell into a burning ring of fire" love has always been described with metaphors based on fire, burning with heat and light. Even God, via Solomon's pen in Song of Songs 8:6-7 says: [Love] burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. Fire is a powerful force of nature, with equal potential to give life and take it, so it is fitting that love and passion are described as having a similar nature. In James 3:5 it says: Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. Fire must be taken seriously, and respected lest it grow and rage out of control. Over and over in the Song of Songs Solomon writes "Do not awaken love until it pleases." Depending on the translation it could also be read "until it desires" or "until the time is right." In this context marriage is like a fireplace: an environment where fire can be safely lit, tended and stoked until it gives off warmth and light. Especially after some time has passed, marriage relationships that have "gone cold" are said to need to be “spiced up,” that the “spark” needs to be rediscovered and rekindled. So how do we do that? Tony and Alisa DiLorenzo of the One Extraordinary Marriage podcast and blog recently made this observation: a fire needs three things to burn - oxygen, fuel and heat. In a relationship these equate to time, emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy. Just as a fire needs all three of the former, so a marriage needs all three of the latter. If your marriage is not as hot as you'd like, if it isn't giving off the life-giving warmth and light it was designed to, look close and see which ingredient(s) you might be missing. Are you both working crazy hours, or is your schedule over-booked with kids' activities or other obligations? Without spending quality time together, a marriage is like a fire starved of oxygen, where the wood frustratingly won't catch. Maybe some smoke is produced, but there cannot be a blaze under these conditions. Maybe you are spending time together, but that time is spent watching TV, or with both of you surfing the web on phones or tablets. If conversation is not happening - and I mean more than "how was work?" or "here's what the kids did today" or "where do we have to be this weekend" - than your emotional intimacy is not growing. You need to discuss deeper topics. Memories good and bad, problems looming, or ones that have been overcome, fears, goals and dreams can all be great topics to strengthen emotional bonds. Spiritual intimacy too, can be like fuel to a relationship. Praying for and with each other, attending church together, or doing a couples’ devotional can inspire conversations that dig beneath surface issues. Without meaningful discussion, a marriage is like a fire lit on nothing but kindling. It might get bright - but only briefly. It will soon fizzle out, and never produce any heat. Friction between two objects that are touching produce heat. It is physical contact that causes a match to ignite. You rub your hands together to warm them up on a cold day, All the air and fuel in the world will just sit there, inert, unless heat is introduced. Two people who intentionally spend time together, seeking out each other’s company and talking with each other are just friends. Friendship is a component of marriage, but there needs to be more. Touch each other! Hold hands, give back rubs, snuggle on the couch. Tickle each other. Give long hugs before work and upon returning. Kiss often. See if that doesn’t heat things up. If the first two ingredients are also present, you’ll have a "fire" in no time!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Invest (part II)

A new year, a clean slate... as a follow up to last month’s moment, here’s a "greatest hits" list of ways to invest in your marriage in the new year. (with a new one or two) Just like supporting the church, you can give of your:

> Pray together. More than just at mealtimes, make a serious effort to regularly go before God together with humility and gratitude. Be transparent, honest and vulnerable.
> Do a marriage devotional together. There are tons of resources out there for couples who want to reconnect and foster deeper, stronger intimacy - in all it's forms.
> Schedule regular date nights. Put them on your calendar, and declare them non-negotiable. Declare them sacred! Make a plan that works for you both, and share responsibility for specifics. Take turns planning; arranging sitters for the kids, choosing a place, etc. How often? Monthly? Weekly? Up to you! Choose a timeframe that you will be able to maintain.
Note: Sex does not have to be part of the date, so...
> Schedule sex too! Don't fall off each other’s "to do" lists. Again, take turns initiating so that one partner doesn't always feel like they have to bring it up or else it won't happen. That's not healthy, and can lead to resentment and unfulfillment. Mix it up, so your romantic encounters don't always happen in the same ol' place, time or way.

> Date nights don't have to be extravagant or expensive. A walk in a park can be every bit as romantic, affirming and encouraging as a weekend getaway or fancy dinner. Sometimes though, splurging on a special night out is necessary. Getting out of your normal context will help you see each other in new ways, and it will foster conversation that is also out of the ordinary. Think outside the box though; dinner and a movie are cliche! Exercise together. Take a class together. Learn to cook a new recipe, dance a new step, or create a piece of art. Visit a museum. Take in a play or a concert. Heck, skydive! Shared (new) experiences are conducive to strengthening bonds.
> When you do decide to really "go out," buy some new date-night duds. Shop with each other - or if you're really brave, shop FOR each other. Again, breaking out of the same old routines will liven things up. Surprise and excitement are powerful aphrodisiacs!
> It may seem counter-intuitive, but invest in yourself. Whether it be a hobby that you've been neglecting, a book you want to read, or a something you've always wanted to do, doing something for yourself can make you feel happy and alive, and improve your attitude. Bringing that fresh outlook to your marriage can have far-reaching positive consequences.

Talents (and gifts):
What is unique about you?  What are those interests and hobbies? How have you been gifted by the Spirit, and what skills have you developed? What things do you know that would surprise someone to discover? How can you bring those to bear on improving your marriage?
>Play a trivia game with (or against!) each other. When they come up with an obscure answer that you never would have guessed, ask them how they know that.
>Take a spiritual gifts quiz. Volunteer together in areas of each others giftedness.
>As healthy as it is to have your own interests and pursue them, it can also be beneficial to share them with your spouse. I read recently about a couple that was on the verge of divorce until the wife asked to go hunting with her husband, a passion of his. The shared experience helped her to understand her husband better, and the conversations that ensued brought them closer, and eventually back together. Never stop learning about who your spouse is, and what makes them tick!

With St. Valentine's Day approaching, commit to passing on the cliché chocolates or expensive, crowded dinner and use this list as a starting point! Brainstorm with your spouse and come up with ways to invest in each other that are unique to you. DO those things to celebrate your love and strengthen your marriage.