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 More and more, society views marriage as a quaint institution at best, a completely outdated construct at worst.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. 

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