Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Choice

There’s a saying that states “Don’t mock your wife’s choices… you’re one of them.” Tongue in cheek, sure, but there is truth in that. You and your spouse (presumably) chose each other. You made a choice to get married, to share a home, a bed, your lives. You chose, and then vowed before God and witnesses, to forego all others, to love, honor and cherish one another, not for a while but “until death,” or “as long as you both shall live” depending on your officiant. It is important to remember this fact, so that whenever there is disagreement over some issue - large or small - if there is friction, you can remember the bigger picture. Amos 3:3 asks: "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" You agreed! How is it then that so often couples seem to so easily forget that they are together by choice, that being married was on purpose, that they chose to be part of something bigger than themselves? That they chose to put another’s needs above their own, that they chose a life of service to another instead of one of being served? The answers to that question are varied, and as numerous as married people, but it comes down to a question of attitude. As married people we should choose to be married… daily. A wedding is an event that happens once, in the past, but marriage, being married, is a state of mind, a state of being that needs to be constantly renewed. It is a choice that we make each day when we rise and see our spouse lying there next to us. In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells those who would be his disciples that they must deny themselves, and take up their cross daily and follow me As in every aspect of life, Christ is our example, our model of how we should live. This verse is not specifically about marriage, but since the relationship of Jesus with the church is often talked about with marriage as a metaphor, it applies. It resonates. Colloquially a “cross to bear” has come to mean a burden, and we should not take this to mean that marriage is a chore, but it is work. And to work the way God intended, it must be undertaken every day. While a formal ceremony to mark renewal of vows is not necessary, the choice is. Every morning, tell your spouse not only would you marry them again, but you are. You are promising to love them, honor them, cherish them, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, as long as you both shall live. Then tell them again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Scales

In all aspects of our life we have goals, or at least intentions, and the movement towards them often meets with resistance from the world. For example, many people start a new year with the intention to lose weight. We all know what that entails: eat better, and exercise. Despite the plan of action being so simple - at least in theory - year after year come February first, gyms return to near empty and comfort foods are once again the norm in many kitchens. Why is this? We have habits, and bad ones develop into ruts that over time grow increasingly resistant to change.

Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest tends to remain at rest, (and an object in motion remains in motion) unless acted upon by an unknown force. This can apply to human habits as well as objects. For anything to change, the “outside force “ needs to be greater than our resistance to that change. Ironically, this “outside force” comes from within; we must decide that the result we are after is worth the work, to the point we are willing to face the discomfort caused by working to overcome the resistance.

Writing about Elijah confronting the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:1-40), John Maxwell points out three reasons the prophet was able to succeed, despite so many factors being against him.
He was greatly outnumbered, but his love for the one, true God meant that Baal had to be confronted. His resolution outweighed his reservations.
It was risky by human standards; the crowd could easily have gotten out of hand. More than anything though, Elijah sought to honor God. His desire outweighed his desperation.
Some might ask why he even bothered. The people had made their choice and turned their backs on God. Remember how Jonah sat and waited for punishment to rain down on Nineveh? So too could Elijah had waited for God’s wrath to make Israel see their error, but no. His compassion outweighed his complaints.
All these reasons put together gave Elijah the courage to do what had to be done.

In marriage, as in all of life, there will be trouble. Schedules may spiral out of control with work, activities, and children all chipping away at a couple’s alone time. A spouse may become hard-hearted, falling for the world’s lie that falling “out of love” is a thing. There could be illness or injury, or a host of other forces that rob a couple of intimacy with one another. It is up to us to work to overcome those things, and they will resist. We must be like Elijah, and not give in or give up until our union is strengthened and restored!

Darren Hardy writes in “The Entrepreneurship Roller Coaster” that no matter the job, WHAT you do will suck 90% of the time. Even the paragons of success he holds up as examples - Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk - have daily schedules full of boring meetings, tedious paperwork, and long hours travelling away from family and friends. The key to success, writes Hardy, is that your WHY must be greater than your WHAT. You have to love why you do what you do, what you are working FOR - the goal, the big picture - to get through the work itself.

You have to believe that a healthy marriage that honors God is worth the discomfort, the blood sweat and tears, the hard work of making it happen. You also have to believe that God wants the same thing for you. Elijah had faith that God would respond to his efforts to turn the hearts of the people of Israel back to their God. So too must we have faith that God will bless our efforts to improve our marriage, that even though loving our spouse is risky, leaving us open and vulnerable, that if we dive into that work with passion and conviction, it will be rewarded.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Abundance vs Deficiency - III

Instead of offense versus defense, one can look at the deficiency / abundance mindset difference as the need to ‘maintain’ in contrast to the desire to ‘create.’ Fearful of loss, a deficiency mindset is unwilling to take a risk that could result in losing what he or she has, no matter what the upside might be. Even if the potential gain is spectacular, the risk seems too great, not worth taking the chance. In a relationship this leads to stagnation instead of what God intends - growth. Rev. Tommy Nelson, in his Song of Solomon study states that there is no static relationship; they are either growing and improving, or they are degrading. What may seem motionless is really backsliding, The deficiency mindset is not of God. The devil wants us to think that no risk is worth taking so that our relationships degrade over time. Brokenness is the buffet that sin feeds at.

Romans 12:6 says

We all have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

The enemy wants us to hoard those gifts, keep them locked up. He wants us to think that our gifts our only ours. A spirit of lack does not inspire us to share what we have been given. God gives gifts so that we can bless others. Someone with an abundance mindset is free to release those gifts, give them freely. Someone who feels blessed is able to be a blessing to those in their life. A deficiency mindset results in a closed heart and a narrow vision of what is possible. A spirit of abundance opens a heart up wide, and allows one to see many possibilities for both one’s self and for others.

The starkest difference in the two mindsets is this:
Someone afflicted with a sense of lacking, sees all conflicts in terms of winning and losing, with loss being something to avoid at all costs. Their creativity is stifled by this dichotomy. In a relationship, especially a marriage, this is particularly damaging. When you strive to win and believe that to do so the other must lose, it causes an adversarial atmosphere. In marriage if only one person wins, then both partners lose. Someone who believes in the goodness of God’s gifts, who is assured of His provision in their lives and is not averse to taking a risk so that things can get even better will always seek a “win - win” scenario. They strive for things to improve on both sides of the equation. They are willing to give knowing the other will get, and they themselves will be blessed by the process. When our spouse wins, the marriage gets better, and we win too!

This month, examine your mindset. Do you believe that God blesses your marriage abundantly? Are you seeking to share your gifts for mutual benefit? Amidst the struggles we all go through, are you worried about losing what you have, or are you striving to strengthen and improve your union? Sit down with your spouse and open up to each other about your hopes, your dreams and also your worries and fears. Remind each other that you are a team, that God has joined you for a purpose. Recommit to work together as one to make your marriage what God has intended.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Abundance vs Deficiency - II

The differences in a deficiency mindset versus an abundance mindset are many, and all can manifest for good or ill in a marriage relationship. Someone with a deficiency mindset is always “on defense.” He or she is worried about lack, and loss. They think that even if it is not happy or fulfilling, what they have must be better than what would result if things changed. Fear paralyzes them from action… they walk on eggshells trying desperately to preserve the status quo at all costs. Unable to act, all they can do is react to what goes on around them. In contrast, a person with an abundance mindset can go ‘on the offensive.’ (attacking problems - not their spouse!) An abundance mindset frees the mind from fear - of loss, of change - allowing dynamic action, allowing risks to be undertaken seeking the rewards of growth and increased love and intimacy. When both partners are secure in what they have, and yet still know there is room for improvement they can be proactive, knowing that whatever steps they take in faith can be blessed by God, and increased. Unafraid to upset the apple cart, both spouses can communicate and come to a unified, shared vision for their marriage that they can work toward. This is not to say that the abundance mindset makes everything perfect. It does however, allow for regular course corrections when things go awry. When either spouse feels that something is off, wrong, or missing, the right mindset fosters an atmosphere of trust that allows honest communication. Both people know that they are on the same team. The resultant comfort and openness eliminates so much stress from the equation. Life is stressful enough without your primary earthly relationship adding to it! Key to developing an abundance mindset is recognizing blessings for what they are. Take time to reflect - alone and with your spouse - on all the ways you have blessed each other, and how God has blessed you both. Make a list. It helps to have something to refer to when things are shaky. A reminder that God has been with you before can be reassuring, helping you to believe that He is still there and will not abandon you. My wife and I often look back on when our son was born. He came three months early after a difficult pregnancy. The medical costs that accrued during that time could have bankrupted us - and would have, had they occurred at any other time. That was the one year - in our entire married life - we had insurance that covered everything! Now, when things take a bad turn, financial or otherwise, we can say “Remember when God had our backs then? He still does.” Loving fully is risky business. It is counter-cultural, and against human nature to love without pretense, unconditionally. That same act IS God’s nature though, and that is what we are called to emulate. It is only when we lean on His strength that we can begin to love this way. It is a step of faith to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable. When we believe that God will take what we offer and multiply it, it becomes easier to take those risks. The status quo ceases to have a hold on us when we believe that God has so much more in store for us.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Abundance or Deficiency

Is the emotional atmosphere in your marriage borne from a mindset of abundance, or deficiency? Are your actions and attitudes coming from a place of want or plenty?

In the book of Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is trying to convince the young church to give generously to fellow Christians in Jerusalem, and he uses the metaphor of a farmer sowing seed. The message is that if you want to have a bountiful harvest, you must sow liberally. This is the mindset of abundance; a farmer with a deficiency mindset worries about the seed they have running out, and plants too carefully, too sparsely. As a result, the resulting harvest is also meager. But what does this have to do with marriage? In Proverbs 11:24 the writer takes this point and applies it to relationships.

Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.

Summed up, the more you give, the more you get. Withhold, and get less. In the presence of hurt though, or in cases of broken trust it is easy to become scared to give. A deficiency mindset sets in, and we withhold forgiveness, not wanting to appear to condone the actions that hurt us. We forget Jesus’ examples of mercy, of grace. We silently withhold affection, waiting for our partner to act the way we want them to. Or worse, we express that there are conditions for our attention. We forget the example that God sets for us of love that is unconditional. A deficiency mindset is at its core a lack of faith; we stress over what we lack instead of trusting God to provide.

In Malachi 3:10 God tells us to beware that our hearts are not hard and shuttered. When He says to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, he follows with

Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

He takes what we give with joy and multiplies it, so it becomes a blessing not only to us, but to others flowing out from us. I believe this applies not only to finances and material resources, but to emotional stores as well. Love freely and receive love in return. Forgive, and receive mercy. We must train ourselves to believe in the abundance of His provision, and not act out of perceived deficiency. In The Leadership Bible, John Maxwell lists ten differences in these two perspectives. In the coming months we will consider how these views apply to our marriages, and how our marriages can thrive when we love from an abundance mindset.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

One Another - LOVE

Of all the “one another” verses, the various ones that say “love one another” - there are ten such verses - should be the most obvious in how they relate to marriage. But how should this manifest? 1 Peter 5:14 says “Greet each other with a kiss of love” (three others say “greet one another with a kiss”) When you get home after a long day, do you and your spouse drop everything to make sure you follow this command? If not, do you think it would change things if you did? There are complex scientific reasons for why we kiss, and how it affects us; there’s even a book called the Science of Kissing. Kissing is the subject of poems and songs, and is cinematic shorthand for “happily ever after.” Think about it, it is the climax of many a movie love story. In the Song of Solomon 1:2, the bride says “Let him kiss me with the the kisses of his mouth.” In marriage, sometimes we take this important act of affection and bonding for granted, and stop giving it the attention it deserves. At our wedding, friends gave us the advice to kiss goodnight, every night, without fail. As Julia Roberts’ character in “Pretty Woman” famously inferred, kissing is even more intimate than sex, so the act requires you to lay aside all that may have gone wrong during the day, to intentionally overlook anything that has come between you, and in essence recommit to the union. Romans 12:10 says “Be devoted to one another in love.” Devoted is defined as “zealous or ardent in attachment, loyalty, or affection.” Are you zealous in your affection? Demonstrative, both publicly and privately? Willing to go to great lengths to let your spouse - and everyone else - know how you feel? This is what we are called to be! Again from Song of Solomon (2:4) “He brought me to the banquet house, and his banner over me was love.” Devotion and love is also manifest in truth, honesty and transparency. Ephesians 4:25 says “Speak truth to one another,” and Corinthians 3:9 implores us “Do not lie to one another.” Of course it’s also right there in the original commandments, “Do not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16) These must be followed completely if trust is to remain unbroken. There can be no lies of omission, no bending the truth. Honesty is not only the best policy, it is the basis, the foundation for all successful relationships.
We should also always be our spouse’s biggest fan, and they should be ours. We are in this thing called life together, as partners, as teammates. We need to be each other’s cheerleaders too! 1 Thessalonians 5:11 reads “Encourage and build up one another,” and Hebrews 1-:24 says “Stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” We are supposed to be better together than apart, capable of things that either spouse, alone, could not do. Our strengths should complement our partner’s weaknesses, as our own are covered by their strengths. Of course, none of this is ever easy. Life is difficult, and we are all finite and imperfect. There will be times when we are hurt by our spouse, or worn down by circumstances outside the home. There will be times when we feel unable to love as we are called to do. Our human ability to love will always fall short and let us down. We have vowed though, to do just that; to love our spouse, in all circumstances good or ill. Regardless of feeling, we must always choose to love, to keep our vows. Consider Psalm 15:1 and 4: Lord who may dwell in your sacred tent, who may live on your holy mountain? [he] who keeps an oath, even when it hurts and does not change his mind This is what we are called to, for the betterment of ourselves, our spouses, our communities and our world.

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.