Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Commitment Level


At the end of the gospel of Luke, we see the disciple, Simon Peter falter. Jesus is inside on trial, while Peter is out in the courtyard. In his humanity he recoils from responsibility and commitment, and even association with Jesus, despite having just vowed to never do so. John Maxwell in his Leadership Bible lays out four steps to his wilting resolve: he becomes distant, (“He followed at a distance” Luke 22:54) he is divided, (“He sat down with them” [the bystanders in the courtyard] 22:55 ) he attempts to delude (“Woman, I don’t know him.” 22:57) and then fervently denies. (“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” 22:60) Seeking only to save himself any pain, he denied his Lord and savior. Facing people who weren’t even a threat to him, Peter’s resolve withered in the face of what was happening.

Peter at this stage is no role model. In marriage our commitment can likewise fail, and we can unwittingly follow this same pattern in our relationship with our spouse. We can become distant, choosing to spend our time with work, hobbies or social media instead of our partner. Our loyalties can become divided as we seek out friends or family members to hang out with, knowing they will take our side when we complain about the state of things. We can cheat, emotionally, spiritually and physically, and then lie about it when confronted directly with evidence.

Jesus, of course, is the model of commitment we should seek to emulate. In the same account in Luke’s gospel, during his trial he is beaten and mocked and spit upon, Regardless of what indignity is being heaped upon him, he remains steadfast… of course he does; he is God, and we are told the God is eternal and unchanging. In our own strength we can never be as strong - but with God, all things are possible! We can look to Jesus’ ministry and learn vital information about how to remain committed to our marriage. In discussing Jesus’ earthly ministry Maxwell again makes four points, four levels of commitment: Come and see, come and follow, come and surrender, and come and multiply. These levels can also be seen as stages of development in a romantic relationship.

“Come and see” is analogous to the dating and courtship phase of a romance. Think of when Jesus spoke to some of John’s disciples in John 1:35 “Rabbi, where are you staying?” “Come, Jesus replied. “And you will see.” Jesus is allowing people to get to know him at this point, and dating couples do the same. While dating, shared experiences and  long discussions are the norm. People seek to find “chemistry” with another person, and seek to discover the other’s character to determine compatibility. This stage is enjoyable, but shallow. We, and the relationship, must grow.

“Come and follow” Jesus says to those who are ready (though not everyone made the cut: the rich young ruler and the man freed from the host of demons were sent away) There is a step up in commitment when two choose to be exclusive in their relationship. Desire marks this stage and each must be willing to learn not just how this other person can benefit us, but how we can be a blessing to them.

Marriage can be seen as the “come and surrender” stage. We vow to forsake all others. The command for husbands and wives is to “Submit to one another as to Christ” (Ephesians 5:21) Each must rely on the trust that has been built to this point and take initiative. Love is a choice that is made daily at this stage.

The last stage is “come and multiply.” The literal reading could refer to children and starting a family, but beyond that this is when a marriage truly becomes more than the sum of two people. When done right this is when the union starts to hint at God’s love for his creation, and work for his kingdom is accomplished through the couple.

Each stage is in addition to the one before it. As the relationship grows we still must strive to nurture and develop the skills inherent to each one. Even when we have surrendered, it is the curiosity of “come and see” that will keep a romance fresh and new. We must choose to follow the path we walk with our spouse over and over, choose to be faithful each morning. We must commit to serve and to bless the one we have chosen with each morning.

Reflect on where your marriage is at; what stage are you in?

Never Too Late

Recently in a conversation I was consoling somebody who was going through a tough time, and wondering aloud if she had missed her opportunity to be happy and successful. I responded with an old adage: “If you’re still breathing, it’s not too late.”
I have often expressed similar sentiments about God’s plan for our lives… basically stating that if you are still alive, God isn’t done working on you yet - or you still have an important role in his kingdom to fulfill.

The ministry of Jesus is full of this same sentiment, that it is never too late. The prodigal son is welcomed back home by his loving father. The woman at the well is told to sin no more, that her sins are forgiven. The woman caught in adultery is not condemned by her accusers. “Nor do I condemn you” Jesus says. “Go and sin no more.” We can learn from this. In marriage how often do we hold grudges? How many divorces occur because one spouse does something the other deems “unforgivable?”

Perhaps we can apply the same logic to our marriages. If we are still married, there is still hope. We are not done yet being molded and shaped. We are not done growing or learning. Most important we should never be done forgiving. God through the death of Jesus has forgiven us all our wrongdoing; even the stuff we haven’t done yet! We are human, and thus finite and imperfect, and will continue to fail. That same fallibility makes it hard to forgive… at least when we rely on our own strength to do so.

Lean in to God. Tap in to his power, his grace and his mercy. Strive in all things to show that to your spouse, whatever they have done or not done, whatever stage - or state - your marriage is in. I am in no way advocating a person stay in a situation where there is any kind of abuse happening, and no one is meant to be a ‘doormat’ just allowing bad things to be done to them. Most of us though could stand to be more forgiving. It’s not too late. If we’re still breathing, God’s not done with us.

Monday, June 11, 2018

FIGHT

Regarded as Winston Churchill’s finest oratorical moment is a speech given to the House of Commons of the British Parliament on June 4, 1940. France had essentially fallen to the Nazis that May, and he had to instill hope in the British people while acknowledging the dire turn the war had taken with the defeat of not only an ally, but a neighbor - which meant the Germans were one step closer to English shores. He had to be honest about the situation, and yet make his country believe victory was not only possible, but still somehow assured. I first became aware of the most famous part of this speech, indeed the part by which it is now known, because a heavy metal band I love used it is the intro to one of their songs. To wit: “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...” In my head, the guitars come crashing in at this point, but it goes on. Churchill said that even if the island (England) were to fall, the empire beyond the seas would continue to fight. Moving words to be sure! Are we willing to fight for marriage? The attacks that marriages are subject to are more subtle than the blitzkrieg, but no less real. The enemy is not as blatant but no less set on destruction. Our resolution to fight must therefore be no less. Satan brings many weapons to bear on Godly marriages in the world today. Our society is practically built on lust. It’s easy to demonize - and avoid - the gratuitous nudity on Game of Thrones, or the glorification of S&M in the Fifty Shades books and movies, but temptation is all around us, from beer ads to magazine covers to the waitresses at Hooters. Broadcast media constantly mocks and degrades marriage, making it seem outdated, sad, and dysfunctional. TV shows and movies offer up various alternatives as hipper, cooler, more fun and more reasonable. In the face of all that the enemy brings to bear on marriage in general, and our marriages in particular, are we willing to fight? Are we ready to struggle to overcome the messages of this fallen world? Are we determined to dig in our heels and do the work necessary to make out marriages pictures of God’s love, to build unions that honor Him and the gifts we’;ve been given. Are we able to fulfill the vows we made when breaking them and starting over with someone else would be so much “easier.”? Scripture offers encouragement throughout. Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called Galatians 6:9 Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. Be encouraged! In any hard situation, the easy path is rarely the right one. It is in our struggles that we learn and grow. When we choose grace and forgiveness, when we choose selflessness and humility we become more Christlike. Those things go against our fallible human nature, and often living them out will feel like a fight. Those are outcomes though that are worth fighting for - at all costs.

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.