Tuesday, June 14, 2016

One Another

http://overviewbible.com/one-another-infographic/

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

Need


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

Guardrails

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

Fire

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:

Time:
> 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.

Treasure:
> 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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Invest (part I)

In his book Divine Fingerprint, author and pastor Keith Craft writes about the miracle of loaves and fishes that took place during the sermon on the mount. His interesting take on the story regards who the hero is. Sure, the disciples start the conversation and point out the problem.
The disciples came to him and said "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food"  -Matthew 14:15

and Jesus (of course) thanks God and performs the miracle…
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples  -Mark 6:41

but in John 6:8 is where Craft finds the hero.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.

“There is a boy here.”

We don’t even know his name, but a boy, one of the multitude that had come to see Jesus, had with him five loaves and two fish. When asked, he gave all he had to God, in the person of the Son, so that a miracle could happen. God steps in to perform miracles only when what needs to happen is beyond our reach, our ability, our strength. That means we have to have exhausted our human potential towards a goal and be open to God’s will. We must give all we have, in this case, to our marriage. When we do, then we become eligible for the miraculous.

I’ve heard marriage described as something that is “built” with talk of strong foundations, but perhaps it is more like something that is grown. It must be cultivated, watered, cared for and fed if it is to flourish. These activities are most effective when undertaken daily, and by both parties. Husband and wife must both bring all they have to the process, since both will bring different qualities, different skills, different gifts. It is very easy in this day and age to take your marriage for granted. Life is hectic, everyone is busy, a multitude of other activities and responsibilities - work, school, kids, church - are constantly clamoring for your attention. It can be tempting to think that since you are already married, loving your spouse can slip down on the list of priorities. Nothing could be further from the truth! That would not be giving all we have.

When that happens, the union can live up to its potential, can be a picture of God’s love for the world. A marriage thus nurtured becomes healthy and thriving, it will bear fruit; it will be a place where miracles happen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Transaction vs. Transformation

For many, all the relationships they maintain in their life are transactional. That is, they put time and energy into the relationship to get something from it in return. When one enters into marriage with this mindset, problems ensue. Many enter into marriage this way because of how they approached dating. Even before the advent of online dating, where one gets to create a digital profile, dating could be described as the attempt to “get” a husband or wife. To that end one presents the most attractive parts of his- or herself, and possibly even modifies their behavior to be more attractive. Like fishing, one tries to offer an enticing bait to trigger a bite. This can lead to disillusionment when, after the wedding day, a person no longer exhibits those same behaviors or traits. It could also lead to compromising one’s values or losing one’s self if they try and maintain the facade, constantly feeling the need to “sell themselves” or keep their spouse “hooked” - or simply to get their own wants and needs met in return. This is the world’s standard.

In Romans 12:2 though we are commanded:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We are called to transform, not conform. Marriage done right is transformational. The vows we take to love, honor and cherish the other person for as long as life shall last require us to go outside our comfort zones, beyond our skill sets in an ongoing effort to love and serve our spouses, and in the process become more like God than we would have ever become on our own. We are created in his image after all, but it takes work on our part to fulfill the awesome potential that fact entails.

Take a serious look at how you are behaving towards your spouse.
Are you regularly asking (nagging, begging) for them to do things? Is your relationship marked by bargaining or negotiating? I’ll do this if you do that? Do you do things expecting them to do other  things in return? Or say they “owe” you since they did something that hurt you? 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love “does not seek its own way” and “does not keep a record of being wronged.”

A transformational marriage mindset is this: that you do things to bless and serve your spouse, expecting nothing back - just because you vowed to love, honor and cherish. With a transformational mindset you seek to become the partner that your spouse needs you to be. In the movie Fireproof, when Kirk Cameron’s character begins performing the daily love dares, he is initially upset that his wife is not reacting how he thinks she should. He is hurt that he is putting in the effort and being spurned, and even scorned. “Why bother?” he asks himself. It is when he starts acting without expectation - other than that he will become a better person - that the wife notices. She sees the change in him that is behind his actions, and the marriage is renewed, saved from the brink.

Seek to transform yourself, by the renewing of your mind. Seek God’s will for yourself and your marriage. Seek to be the person he created you to be. And watch as your relationships are transformed and renewed as well.