Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pledge of Support II: Presence

Incoming new members to our congregation pledge to support our church through their prayers, their presence, their gifts, and their service. What if we made that our mantra for our marriages as well? What would it mean to how we do marriage to pledge to support it in these four areas? More personally what could it mean if we vowed to bless our spouse in these ways? This one might seem obvious. As married couples we share the same space with each other; we are often in each other’s presence - but how often are we truly PRESENT? Our lives are full of things that can and do take up our time and demand our effort; kids, jobs, house- and yard work, church obligations, even hobbies and friends all demand our attention. That is why we must make the conscious choice to save some of our focus for our spouse. When we are together we should strive to be in that moment with them, unconcerned with the past and not worried about the future. Being present means right here, right now. We vowed at our weddings to forsake all other people. We must also regularly forsake other things in our lives and devote ourselves entirely to our spouse. When the woman with the alabaster jar was anointing Jesus, some of the disciples’ focus was on what could have been done with the expensive perfume. It could have been sold and the money given to charity! “You will always have the poor,” Jesus admonished. “You will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11) The woman was blessing Jesus with her presence. The future is not guaranteed. In another passage, Martha was running around preparing to host the disciples. Her sister sat at Jesus’ feet, basking in his presence. “Make her help me!” Martha implored the Lord. “Martha,” he replied. “You are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part.” Time together is precious. Who upon losing a loved one has ever said “I wish I had done more chores” or “I wish I had spent more time at work”? Carve out time to be together. Protect and cherish that time. Be mindful how you use that time! Being present means putting down the phone, turning off the computer and the TV, and making eye contact with each other as you talk. And as you talk, LISTEN. Listening to - and really hearing - our spouse as they talk is vital. Whether they are discussing their day or sharing a concern, telling you a hope or recounting a dream, listen. Don’t listen with the goal of simply coming up with a response; listen with the intent to understand. Repeat back what they said with a “is that right?” The biblical euphemism for sex is often the verb “to know,” but what if that isn’t just the authors being coy? What if intimacy really demands deep knowledge? How do we achieve that level of ‘knowing’ our partner? We start by listening to them when they speak. Being present with each other means more than just being in the same room, even if all the distractions are removed. Face each other as you talk. Hold hands. Embrace each other. Be aware of the physical contact. Be mindful of each other’s breathing, the temperature of their skin, how the light reflects in their eyes and defines their features, even how they smell. Read how Solomon and his wife describe each other on the Song of Songs; not one of the five senses is left out. “For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant” (Song 1:2-3) “When I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go” (Song 3:4) “Your lips are like a crimson thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.” (Song 4:3) “His speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable.” (Song 5:16) Being present, being in each other’s presence, means paying attention to the details of each other and savoring them. You chose to spend the rest of your life with your husband or wife. You are each other’s to have and hold, to love and cherish. You are each other’s to enjoy. Reflect on this gift you’ve been given, and choose to bless your spouse with your presence.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Pledge of Support I: Prayer

Incoming new members to our congregation pledge to support our church through their prayers, their presence, their gifts, and their service. What if we made that our mantra for our marriages as well? What would it mean to how we do marriage to pledge to support it in these four areas? More personally what could it mean if we vowed to bless our spouse in these ways? James 5:16 - Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so you may be healed. How often do you pray for your spouse? Whether out loud to them or silently when they are away, praying for God’s blessings for the person we’ve chosen to spend our life with is important for multiple reasons. To know what to pray for, we need to be aware of what is going on in their lives. Are they dreading a day at work this week? Do they have an important meeting with a boss or client, or a performance review coming up. Is a coworker going on vacation leaving extra work that someone else will have to do? Is a friend of theirs sick, or struggling with a relationship and leaning on them for counsel? Have they suffered a setback working towards a long time dream, or are they having a crisis of faith or identity? Staying tuned in to what your spouse is going through day in and day out not only helps you pray for them with purpose, but it keeps you involved, keeps you connected, and keeps you learning about them. The human heart is infinitely complex, and each one takes a lifetime to learn. This level of connection also helps you to love your spouse the way they need you too. Sometimes we don’t know what is bothering our partner, but even then we should pray. God knows all their situation and their heart, and the Spirit intercedes for us when necessary. Romans 8:26 - In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. It is also important to pray WITH our spouse, uniting in prayer for the good of our marriage. We are exhorted throughout scripture to pray without ceasing, in all circumstances, bringing all requests to God with thanksgiving. Praying together means being vulnerable, opening up to one another, and that transparency aids in honest communication and builds trust. Jesus promises to be wherever two or more are gathered in his name (Matthew 18:20) so to have him present in your marriage, come together in his name. Pray for your concerns, give them to God, and thank him often - and out loud - for the gifts he has given you, including each other! To hear someone voice their appreciation for you is powerful, especially when they are telling a third party (in this case, God) It lends weight to the feeling of gratitude they express, makes it even stronger. Paul even points out that prayer is the only reason to take a break from physical intimacy. 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) Think this month about how you can support your marriage, and bless your spouse, through prayer.

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.