Monday, December 10, 2012


John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The Bible is full of verses that let us know that God loves us. The various authors take pains to make sure we know not only that we are loved, but also how much; to what lengths God goes to express that love - despite our flaws!. It is clear throughout scripture that we have not earned God’s love; indeed we can not earn it. It is a gift, undeserved but given freely. Why does God, through the prophets and apostles, continually point out the breadth and depth of his love for us? Because knowing that you are loved unconditionally, knowing that we are valued and desired, knowing that someone would go to extremes to prove their love has a transformative power on us. We who are married have a similar power. We have the privilege to love our spouse in ways that affirm them, strengthen them and act as a catalyst for God to “finish the good work He has begun in them.” (Phillipians 1:6) I read a story that recounted an old tale from the island of Kiniwata. A custom on this island was for a prospective husband to pay a price to the father of his would be bride, traditionally two or three cows. The story tells of how Johnny Lingo, the island’s most eligible bachelor paid eight cows for his wife, who at the time of the marriage was plain of looks, meek and shy in demeanor. A writer for Woman’s Day heard this story and went to interview the couple. Upon meeting Johnny’s wife, the author remarked that she was the most beautiful women she had ever seen. When asked about his actions, Johnny himself said this: “Many things can change a woman... But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands ... I wanted an eight-cow wife.” Read more here: I have long believed that confidence is the most important factor to physical attractiveness. Nothing boosts confidence more than knowing that you are cherished by another, just for being you. You may be already married, but brainstorm ideas of how you can let your spouse know they are worth more to you than anyone else. Love them such that there is no doubt in their mind what they mean to you, even at those times when they don’t deserve it... because that’s how God loves us - and there is nothing more powerfully able to transform us into what he has created us to be.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 13

The finish line!

As others have said, I have enjoyed this challenge immensely, but I - like others - doubt that I am cut out for everyday blogging. If God tells me differently, I’ll listen, but in my own strength, it probably won’t happen. I will also echo others’ sentiments that the real joy of this challenge has been discovering all the other voices out there, shouting in our cultural wilderness about God’s love and his design for holy matrimony. It is encouraging to know that although I am still waiting to hear a Sunday morning sermon on 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, so many voices are unafraid to tackle the tough topics that come along with making Godly marriages work in our fallen world. I look forward to going back and reading all the posts I missed. Kudos to you all, and amen!

I will end this challenge with a prayer.

God in Heaven, merciful Lord and creator of all things, giver of all gifts
I pray for the marriages represented by all the writers and readers that took part in the last two weeks. Be with us all, blessing us that we might be blessings to our spouses, and that our marriages might serve you, ushering in your kingdom as examples of what you intended. Let us be pictures of your love and grace on us all.

God bless every husband and wife with a heart to serve their spouse. Open their eyes, ears and hearts to one another, grant them discernment to see how they can better love and cherish one another, and thus honor and glorify you with that love.

God I pray for those marriages that are struggling. Wrap them in your arms and let them draw upon your strength to shore up where necessary or rebuild if that is what is needed. Be a force in their lives and relationships, tangible and irresistible, working towards reconciliation and unconditional love.

God you are the giver of all gifts, including marriage, including our spouses. Help us to accept the blessings you shower on us with humility and gratitude. Help us to make the most of what we’ve been given, according to your will.

In your son’s precious name I pray.


Friday, October 12, 2012

1/2 marathon Challenge, Day 12

A wise man, filling in for our regular pastor while he was on vacation one year, made a brilliant point that I will herein seek to paraphrase and expound upon. In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

There are nine fruits listed there, all excellent traits for a person to seek to nurture and develop within themselves. One is different though, the first. Love. It is the greatest of the “trinity” of faith, hope and Love, we are told, and indeed, it is used as a descriptor - or rather, the very essence of - God. 1 John 4:16b says without ambiguity “God is love.” I’m sure that is why love was listed first among the fruits. Taking that a step further, you can even say that all the others are intrinsically rooted in love, and impossible to find or receive without it. Love is that powerful. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he talked of nothing but love. Love for God with one’s whole being above all, immediately followed by love for others. (Matthew 22:34-40) Of course, the latter is impossible without the former and those two, Jesus said, sum up the entire law.

So, what happens when we let God work through us? When we let God’s love wash over us and fill us, it spills out, like the stream of living water Christ talked about at the feast. (John 7:38) When it spills from us and goes forth, it affects those around us, and we see as their manifestations the other eight fruits - LOVE being worked out in our lives. Paul documents these in the most famous verses about love, 1 Corinthians 13:

Joy. “Love rejoices with the truth.” (v. 6) Love, true agape love from God cannot help but to produce joy.
Peace. “Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (v. 5) These behaviors and traits do not foster peace, but only division and hard feelings.
Patience and kindness. “Love is patient, love is kind.” (v. 4)
Goodness. “Love keeps no record of wrongs, and does not delight in evil.” (v. 5-6) Does any act show goodness more than we we forgive? And of course we are implored to run from every evil.
Faithfulness. “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (v. 7-8) As God’s love for us is faithful, unending and unconditional, so should we strive to have the same love for others.
Gentleness. “Love is not self seeking, or quick to anger.” (v. 5)
Self-control. “Love never fails.” (v. 8) If we were to let our humanity rule, our love would fail. It is  only through the discipline of constantly being in the Word that we keep the conduit clear, and God's love can continue to flow through us.

This type of love is impossible for human strength to accomplish, impossible for human hearts to live out. But we know that “With God, all things are possible.” Jesus said just that in Matthew 19:26. We must trust in the love of God for us, his children. We must trust in his grace. When we do, we can love and forgive ourselves as well, and extend that love and forgiveness to those around us.

Marriage is a holy institution of God, above all other relationships between people. We can start with our spouses when we rest in God’s love for us. Who doesn’t desire the fruits of the spirit to be abundant in their home? Abide in God’s love, and he will abide in you, blessing you that you might be a blessing to others - to your spouse and family, and as an example to those outside your walls.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

1/2 marathon Challenge, Day 11

In a secular world that increasingly sees marriage as quaint at best, or irrelevant at worst, we as Christians must provide the counter argument: that marriages are important to the ushering in of God’s kingdom, because they act as a snapshot of His love for us, and all of his creation. That marriage gives us an idea of Christ’s love and devotion, his sacrifice and commitment to the church, his people. With that said, we as married Christians need to look at how we do marriage, and ask ourselves if our unions are presenting the right picture. Part of our purpose is to honor and glorify God as we go forth and spread the good news, making disciples of all nations. I don’t think these are jobs to take lightly, or do without serious effort. indeed we are implored in Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” and not for ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are told “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Are you doing marriage that way? Are you loving your spouse in such a way as someone observing you would see a picture of God’s love, or agape? Unconditional, and sacrificial? Are you working at making your marriage to the absolute best of your ability, sparing no effort and withholding nothing? Obviously this is not easy. Indeed, relying solely on human strength it would be impossible. We must constantly remind ourselves of God’s grace and forgiveness towards us, of Christ’s love and sacrifice on our behalf if we are going to show those same attitudes to our spouses. It is only through his love that we can love others. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:12: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. We must be devoted to the task at hand, disciplined as we develop love and grace as habits, until they are second nature in how we deal with our spouses. Stay humble in the task at hand, and be grateful for all the blessings God has given you and your spouse, and even be thankful for the trials that have made you stronger. Colossians 3:17 says: Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Do marriage with that Spirit, with all your might, and see how God blesses you both as a result.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 10

So how exactly do we keep God at the center of our marriages?. First, of course, each spouse must focus on God’s will for them individually. I love the image of the triangle with God at the apex, and husband and wife at the two bottom corners. The illustration is that as each spouse moves closer to God, they also get closer to each other.

In Tommy Nelson’s video series on the Song of Solomon (one of - if not THE - greatest marriage-centric bible studies we have EVER done, by the way) he talks about how best to find someone worthy of marrying. He says run toward God, and look side to side. Pick someone who is running the same speed as you. Stay in the Word through Bible study, daily devotionals or a small group, and keep running with endurance the race put before you. (Hebrews 12:1) It is also important to pray, for each other and with each other. Openly and honestly pour out your hearts to God before each other. Not only does this give each spouse invaluable insight into their partner, but it also will lead to discussions that will in the end make sure you are both on the same page, spiritually. Paul knew that prayer was just as important as sex in a marriage, thus his words in 1 Corinthians 7:5: “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer .“ (Of course he finished that verse with “and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” So ‘do it’ again after praying, you know, so neither of you is tempted...) Ahem. Back on topic. I have come to realize as of late that prayer is not just us asking God for stuff. Prayer needs to be a dialogue between ourselves and God. That means we need to listen at least as much as we talk, if not more. Or LOTS more. To do that though we need quiet, calm serenity, which at least in my life is a rare and precious commodity. That makes seeking it out that much more important. In Psalm 37:7 it says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him,” and I have always loved the verse in 1 Kings 19:11-12 that reads: And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire was a still small voice. I read somewhere that God rarely yells, but he never mumbles. Is your life such that you can hear God’s still, small voice? Is your marriage an environment that fosters quiet time and allows you to be receptive, heart and mind to what God has to say for you and your spouse? If not, try and make it so. Have some time every week, or every day if you can where the TV is off, cell phones are put away and the computer is not on. Allow for some time of quiet, where you can meditate on the Word of God and be open to his will.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 9

Being part of a community is vital, for keeping one another accountable, for bearing each other’s burdens, for loving one another. Even more important though is having God at the center. I am an sometime artist as well as a writer, and I have taken to drawing what I call “nuptial knots” where I wind together different lines for a married couple’s initials... one line each for the husband and wife’s first names, and a bigger line for the couple’s last name. Around the twining letters I always write my favorite biblical verse about marriage. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says

A three-fold cord is not easily broken

I don’t know if Solomon had marriages specifically in mind when he penned this line, but given that he also wrote the Song of Songs, i’ll bet he at least thought about it. I take a three-fold cord to mean “man, woman, and God” and that is a union that indeed, is not easily broken. Pastor T.D Jakes produced a movie with that name, on that very topic. When both husband and wife are focused on God’s will for their life, individually and as a couple, the chances for failure plummet, and the chances for wild success go through the roof! When both spouses take to heart all the Biblical commands of how they are to act within marriage, and embrace them... I’ll be bold and say that marriage will. not. fail. Is the wife submitting to her husbands lead? is she respecting him? Is the husband continually dying to himself, and sacrificing his own needs so that his wife’s needs are fulfilled? Are they both challenging each other to confess sin and repent? Are they praying for each other more than for themselves?

With God at the center of a marriage, there can be no “irreconcilable differences” that are so often listed as the reason for a divorce.

That's the "D" "B" and "C" I did for my own marriage. (Diane and Brian Collis) You can view others here:

Monday, October 8, 2012

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 8

I quoted the book of Ephesians yesterday. Verse 4:14-16 says: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. I love this verse. I love Paul’s exhortation to “speak the truth in love,” but I fear that this is not done near enough in our churches and small groups. I will admit to being guilty in this. It is not always easy to speak the truth, especially in love, and especially on the topic of relationships and marriage! It is way to easy to tell ourselves “that’s their business” when we see someone close to us struggling in this area. It’s way too easy to choose to not get involved because of fear that a situation will get emotionally messy or complicated. In regards to close friends, it’s easy to just take their side and validate whatever they are feeling, even if we know that biblically, they are making mistakes. We are not called to stand by and watch others suffer, but nor are we called to support each other in sin. We are called to “comfort one another” when we see a friend suffering, but also to “edify them.” (Thessalonians 5:11) To edify means to teach and encourage. Let me go on a tangent here, and say how important I think small groups are. Relationships in an ongoing small group bible study can grow far deeper than those that occur when our only fellowship with other believers happens on Sunday mornings. As these relationships grow, I feel, it is more likely that problems can be shared, prayers can be offered and asked for, and members can both encourage each other as well as hold each other accountable. In James 5:16 we are extolled to “confess our sins to one another.” A tight knit small group is an invaluable tool for Christians to use for mutual accountability. Not only can we support each other more effectively in small groups, but we can become so much greater than the sum of our parts. There are things we can do for the Kingdom that we could not do on our own. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to “spur one another on towards love and good deeds.” Having strong vibrant marriages fills and equips us such that we are more able to help others, and our relationships can shine into the lives of those around us, radiating God’s light and love. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world Form a small group. Build a community that supports each other, encourages and edifies each other. One that fosters and nurtures powerful marriages that glorify God, and goes forth to do the work of the kingdom. Get out there and shine!

1/2 marathon Challenge, Day 7

As I’ve said, when I was going through counseling I did a lot of research and reading on marriage in general and Christian marriage in particular. I studied just about anything I could get my hands on about relationships. Of course, book knowledge was not going to help me or truly change my heart. The experience brought me closer to God though, and by his grace my heart did change and my marriage did improve. With hope on the horizon, I looked forward but I still had all this information I collected. As I’ve said it was my counselor who suggested I make use of it, not for my benefit but for that of others. That led me to start writing a marriage article for our monthly church bulletin. Seeking to get the word out to a wider audience, I started posting the articles in a facebook group, and created this blog as well. I think it is extremely important for couples who have “been around the marriage block” to share their experiences and what they have learned with younger couples, and act as marriage mentors. Throughout the new testament we are called to be in community with one another as the only real way God can be experienced; his love that he extends to us is to be shared with others, our brothers and sisters in Christ especially so. We are called to ‘be devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10) “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and to “teach and admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16). Parents by and large have let school curriculums teach “the birds and the bees.” Churches have in the past tended to shy away from frank open discussions about sex and marriage. Where are young people, newlyweds, or ANYone for that matter supposed to find out what God’s plan is for them in relationships or as a married couple? Reticence by those people and institutions in our society on these subjects has left our culture in control of what our young people learn, on what is deemed acceptable and we wonder why we are in the mess we are in. The greatest thing about taking part in this bloggers challenge for me has been see so many people writing about God’s plans for relationships, sex, and marriage. I hope that everyone who is writing and reading is also taking the time to nurture real world relationships with couples in their churches and communities in which the love of God and the Word of God is being shared. That is the source of course... God’s word, his love, the good news! With that as our ammunition, may we all help foster Godly marriages in our homes, our neighborhoods, our churches and our towns. Ephesians 4:14-16 says: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Since Christ’s love for the church is compared to a marriage, and the reconciliation of God with Creation is described as a wedding, it is vitally important that we as his people do our best to make our marriages and the marriages around us Godly, to be that picture of His love.

Friday, October 5, 2012

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 6

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that anything good can come out of a miserable situation you are in. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to believe that God can work all things for good if you just believe. A very wise man once told me though, that you can’t see God’s fingerprints when you are in a bad spot in your life but only afterwards, looking back, can you see the way He held you, strengthened you and steered you through the troubled times.

Likewise, Satan loves to try and make us believe that if we have screwed up, then our worth is gone. Clearly God won’t love us any more if we’ve done *that* - whatever it is. God’s vision is bigger than Satan’s lies though, and his power knows no bounds. As Jesus said in Matthew 19:26:

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible

I have seen this in my own marriage. Our relationship started out, well, completely wrong. I had grown up Catholic, but after my confirmation I had no use for organized religion. too much hypocrisy in the church I was raised in, too little teaching how any of the dogma related to actual life. My wife was raised Methodist, but drifted away from the church after high school. When we met in college, we were both living according  to the worldly view of sex, and relationships in general. Our first “date” was a one-night stand. We essentially lived together for the last half of our senior year and then moved to Arizona together, living together for 5 years before we finally made it “official.” We are both first borns, and even most astrology charts say we are incompatible. By all accounts, we shouldn’t have lasted. 

It was well into our marriage when the lies started, Satan whispering in my ear about things that happened decades ago, some things before my wife and I had even met. Surely, the whispers said, you can’t love this woman. Surely there is nothing redeemable in this relationship. Wouldn’t it be easier, less painful to move on, start over somewhere new? Thank God though, we had a strong church family, a tight group of Christian friends to lean on, and Godly counselors.

While in that situation, I could not see the way out. I ‘felt’ that there was no hope. I would not let go though. I kept on reading books and blogs on Christian marriage - and the Bible. the verses I mentioned yesterday, from Phillipians 4 and Romans 8 became my touchstones, my mantras that I’d tell myself every night, asking God for forgiveness and healing and peace. Of course he answered.

Obstacles that felt insurmountable suddenly seemed inconsequential. Differences that could have been irreconcilable now felt trivial, at best. The experiences I gained during this time, the knowledge I came across through all my reading and searching became the foundation for the articles I started writing for our church newsletter, which became this blog. After the heartache and the pain, looking back, it was easy to see God’s hand in my situation, working things for good, redeeming what had started off so wrong in so many ways.

There was a time early in our relationship where we could have ended it; friends at the time say we should have. I felt though, that I did not want to live my life without her, despite what had happened. I loved her. Another verse I leaned heavily on during the my rough stretch was the exposition of love in 1 Corinthians 13. When standing on the promises of God...

Love never fails

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 5

To be thankful when things are hard, it is imperative we have faith that God knows what he is doing. We don’t need to be able to see fully the big picture - as finite and flawed beings, God’s plans, at least in their entirety, are beyond our comprehension. As God says in Isaiah 55:9

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Who can fathom the breadth and depth of what God does? Not us, and God tells us as much. In Job 41:1 he asks “Can you raise leviathan with a fish hook?” Nope; me either. Don’t let that take away what you CAN know though - that God has a plan, and it is for your benefit. To the prophet in Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans i have for you” says the lord. “Plans to prosper you, not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.

If you are married, then that future most certainly includes your spouse, and you can rejoice in that fact. What you cannot do is to sit back and just wait for good things to happen, or expect it to be easy. Things are going to be hard sometimes, and those times are when the most dramatic spiritual growth happens. As it says in James 1:2-3

Consider it nothing but joy when you face trials of any kind, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance

or in Romans 8:28

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Catch that last part? “For those who love him, those called according to his purpose.” You and your spouse must be seeking God’s will for your lives, individually and as a couple. When you are, you can rest assured that blessings will come as a result. Marriage is work, hard work at times, but there is no work you can do that has a higher purpose. Jesus’ love for the church is constantly illustrated with marriage metaphors, and in Revelation the reconciliation of creation to its Creator is described like a wedding. Our own marriages are supposed point to that relationship, to serve as pictures of God’s love for the world. There is also little you can do that has a bigger upside. When the blessings of God are on your marriage, you get to share in that joy! Live your life, work for your marriage in ways that honor and glorify God, and claim the future God has prepared for you.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

1/2 marathon Challenge, Day 4

Yesterday I used Phillipians 4:6-8 to illustrate our need to lay our concerns at the feet of God, and not rely on our own strength or wisdom to enact change in our lives and our marriages. I will point out another aspect to that scripture today: Worry about nothing, but in everything with thanksgiving and supplication give your concerns to God Thanksgiving. We have a national holiday dedicated to the idea. When we say grace over our dinner tables we express it. I have been known to exclaim “Thank GOD’ when i get a piece of unexpected good news. The idea of giving thanks is bandied about so much I think that often, it is nothing more than window dressing instead of a substantial part of our lives. We say thanks or express it so we don’t seem ungrateful, or because we know in our heads that we should be thankful, but we don’t feel it in our hearts. We are extolled throughout the old and new testaments to give thanks to our Creator, but do we? Good things we have are often taken for granted, and our society seems Hell bent to make sure we are focused on what we lack. Ads blare at us about what’s new, bigger and better. And the things that go wrong, our problems, people in our lives that annoy us? We gripe and complain and moan, praying to God to deliver us from it all, as if he were a genie granting us wishes. In terms of marriage, we overlook the things our spouses do well, telling ourselves that that’s what they are supposed to do, and we nag and prod them about all the ways they could improve or treat us better. We subtle barbs and knifing stares and lay on guilt to get our way... but what if, instead, we thanked God for our spouses, and our lives, JUST AS THEY ARE? There’s an old Jewish anecdote. A man goes to his rabbi, and says “Rabbi, what would God have me do? How would he have me act?” The older man says “When things are bad, pray. When things are good, give thanks.” The younger man thinks and then asks “How am I to know what is good, and what is bad?” The rabbi answers, “Excellent question. In that case, give thanks always.” God knows what He has created us for. He knows what we are supposed to be, and what job to further his kingdom we are to do. It stands to reason that he also knows how to equip us for that job, how to prepare us. The hard times we go through in our lives, the difficulties we face are there to prepare us uniquely for the tasks he has set out for us. Our marriages are no different - except perhaps more so. Marriage is a crucible we are placed in with the goal not to make us happy (though done right, that is a wonderful side effect!) but to make us holy. As we deal with our spouses, we must act with grace and forgiveness if we want the same treatment, and we wind up acting more and more like Christ as we do so. So give thanks for all you have. Give thanks for the troubles you are facing and the hardships you endure. And give thanks for your spouse - just as they are - for they are the stone upon which you are being sharpened.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 3

Very often, I think what truly hinders us is our belief that we can fix our own problems. Whether we pridefully think that we don’t need God, or in our lack of self-esteem we feel God has better things to do than worry about wretches like us the effect is the same. We are on our own, adrift, sans paddle or rudder. Needless to say, that stream we float on rarely takes us anywhere good. We need both the humility to admit we need God’s help, and the faith that he will respond when we ask. It shouldn’t be so hard... he tells us as much over and over again.. In Psalm 55:22: Leave your troubles with the Lord, and he will defend you In Phillipians 4:6-8: Worry about nothing, but in everything with thanksgiving and supplication give your concerns to God, and the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding will protect your heart and mind in Christ Jesus Despite this, we think we have our situations under control, even as we lose our grip and they spiral away from us. This can be especially damaging in the context of marriage. So often we get caught up in thinking about what our spouse could be, and thinking about how we can “help” them change, we overlook the fact that that is NOT. OUR. JOB. That task is solely the provenance of God. Only he knows what he has designed them to be, and he will work whatever changes are necessary to accomplish that. Our job is to love our spouses -as they are, knowing full well they are imperfect and flawed... just like us. If we desire grace to cover our flaws, we had better be givers of that same grace. Jesus gave us the model of how we are to live. We can pray for them of course, and lovingly hold them accountable. Concerning the circumstances we face - financial, relational, parental or otherwise - it is crucial to pray, to stay in the Word and discern God’s will for our lives and our marriages and not rely on our own ‘wisdom’ and means. When both spouses look to God first, and as one lay issues at his feet together, blessings will follow. God’s got our backs; He says so. Are you willing to take him at his word?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

1/2 Marathon Challenge, Day 2

A while back I was having a hard time with life in general, and my perception of my marriage in particular, so I went to a counselor who worked at a Christian counselling center. I had read a lot of relationship books on my own, but was just having trouble putting it all together. My counselor was amazing, and really helped me, in so many ways. So there’s message one of this post: don’t be afraid to get help! We are called to be in community, so there is no shame in that. we are called to confess our sins to one another, to bear each other’s burdens and to encourage one another. If you do not have a Christian community - be it a church family, or even better a small group - to lean on, getting professional help can be a real blessing. it was for me.

Here’s the real point though: my favorite thing about the help I got was that they intentionally pointed out how scientific discoveries in the realm of psychology - over and over again - confirmed scriptural truth. My counselor pointed out how the commandments of God on how to live our lives are completely in line with what she called “healthy choices.”

It is great to know, in our lack of faith and disbelief, that God is not leading us astray, that he truly does have our best interests at heart - even if sometimes it leaves us like sulky teenagers having to admit our father is right! It calls to mind the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 18:30

As for God, his way is perfect; the Lord's word is flawless, and he shields all he take refuge in Him.

I will lastly use this post as a thank you to my counselor. It was she who suggested that I make use of the knowledge I gained in my own research and soul-searching during that dark time in my life for the good of others. It was she who inspired me to start writing the pieces that became this blog! 

So thank you, Amanda Berger-Semko, and all the staff at Wellspring Christian Counseling.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What credit is it to you?

In Ephesians 5, husbands and wives are given very different - yet complimentary - instructions on how to act in marriage. Wives are called to submit and respect their husbands, and husbands are implored to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, giving himself up for her. Why does God direct each spouse differently? Each spouse is commanded to do what does NOT come naturally. Speaking generally, women are more nurturing, more loving. They are more proficient at fostering relationships. Men on the other hand, their world is built on respect and appreciation for accomplishments and achievements. God tells each of us to walk a mile in the other spouse’s shoes, to see your relationship through their eyes. We are called to understand what makes him or her tick, and to encourage them in the way they need to be spiritually and emotionally fed. Consider Luke 6:32-34: If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. What God is saying here is that there is no credit given for what is easy! Loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, and giving generously not expecting repayment is hard. Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 take the same concept and apply it to marriage. When we attempt to see things from our spouse’s point of view and meet their unique needs we gain empathy, and become more compassionate. God gives us these directives because he knows that when we stretch, when we go outside our comfort zone is when we grow spiritually and emotionally. John F. Kennedy understood this when he declared we were ramping up our space program to go to the moon:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Are you willing to accept the challenge? Are you unwilling to postpone taking it on? Do you intend to win, to love your spouse in all the ways they need to be fulfilled? Obviously communication is key, but so is the motivation, the WANT to keep learning. So, use the best of your energies and skills, and dig deep, never assuming you know your spouse well enough; there is always more to learn. The other reason God commands us to do what is not in our nature, is that it is humbling, and God likes nothing more than a humble heart. Swallow your pride and accept that your way is not always the way, and remember Jesus’ words in John 14:6: I am the way How do we walk His way in terms of our marriages? Be more loving, generous, compassionate and forgiving! And be grateful; give thanks that God has put your spouse in your life to challenge you, to help you grow... and to help you become more like His son Jesus.

Monday, September 10, 2012

For worse... or better?

In marriage we must be ready to face “poorer” and “worse” if the union is to survive and thrive when bad times happen - but are we ready to handle “richer” and “better” when we join to become one flesh? If half of this new entity finds success, whether it be a promotion or new job, recognition for an ability or skill, or anything else how does that affect the relationship? We are called in Romans 12:15-16 to:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind with one another, and do not be haughty.

While this verse is aimed at all people in body of Christ, the behavior should certainly start at home. There is no room for jealousy between husband and wife over each other’s success. As one flesh, when one succeeds both do, just as if one hurts, both do. We all should be our spouse’s number one fan, knowing that we share in whatever they accomplish, just as they do with us. To that end we need to support them in their efforts and cheer them on! Ephesians 5:28 - 29 reads in part:

He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it

Are you cherishing your spouse? Are you nourishing them in their pursuits? Success takes many forms, and each will affect a marriage differently. With more women in the workplace, traditional roles may have to be flexible to accommodate what “better” means. I have a friend whose wife got a job making significantly more than he was. He quit his own job and started a business he could run from home so that he could be with their children during the day. If he tied his worth as a husband to the notion of being the breadwinner, he’d be in trouble. If he loves his kids and his wife however, and is thankful for the opportunities his wife’s success provides to the family, then their chances for a strong, vibrant marriage dramatically increase.

The key is to always place the good of the family and the needs of your spouse above yourself, above your own wants and needs. And, if you are the one on whom the blessing falls remember to share it, acknowledge your spouse’s contributions to your success, and revel in it together. In 1 Corinthians 13 we are told that love is never envious, nor is it boastful.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

For better or for worse

Once, I was in a wedding party. It was a beautiful outdoor ceremony, and I stood there with the other groomsmen, sweating, feet blistering in the plastic rental shoes... and during the vows the bride laughed when the officiant said “for richer or for poorer.” I could understand her skepticism, since the flowers at her wedding cost a good deal more than my entire ceremony and reception, but still it made me wonder. Richer, poorer, better, worse, sickness, health... do we understand what those words mean when we say them?

Firm grasp of the possibilities, and having realistic expectations are crucial to the success of our marriages. Many people enter marriage with the misguided notion that it solves relationship problems, that once married we are somehow owed happiness. When poorer, sicker and worse are right there in the vows it should be clear that “happily ever after” is no guarantee. While this sounds bleak, the good news is that as part of a team, those things are easier to deal with then when we are alone. The secular world sees the team as two people, but as Christians, we know better. One of my favorite verses of scripture talks to this idea: Ecclesiastes 4:12 says:

A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Three strands; man and wife, and God. Assembled thusly, unions are best prepared to survive - and even thrive - when life’s troubles manifest. Of course marriage is deeper than “team.” The two become one flesh, one new entity where there used to be two people. As critical as realistic expectations are, so is commitment on the part of both people to keep the union paramount and sacred. Both spouses have to agree to always put the sanctity of the marriage above their own wants, needs and concerns. 1 Corinthians 13 speaks to this when it speaks about love:

It is patient and kind, not envious or arrogant, not rude or seeking its own way. It bears all, endures all and does not fail.

Husband and wife must be adamant that come what may, the team remains intact. Come what may, they will face it together and continue on. Practically though, how do we do that?

The wedding I mentioned above was a memorable party, but the marriage did not last. It ended within two years, and after one child. The couple had known each other for less than a year before the wedding so I’m guessing there was not much in the way of premarital counselling, honest discussion of expectations and goals, or efforts to get on the same page with one another on the big issues. The groom was an atheist and the bride was a casual Jew, after all. Couples tend to avoid the kind of discussions that will bring differences to light in an effort to not spoil the relationship, but this lack of communication doesn’t make the differences go away. It  delays the inevitable, and can lead to messy endings.

Before the wedding and after, both parties must grab that third strand, and put God at the heart of their union. He speaks to us in many ways: through his Word, through our faith communities, through prayer. It is up to us to engage God, always. If we do, when troubles occur - whether it be loss of a job, a disease, a difficult pregnancy - we have His strength and guidance to rely on. So, go to church together. Study the Bible together in a small group. Do daily devotionals together, and seek counsel from Godly friends and relatives when you are having issues. Most importantly, consider 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17:

Rejoice always, and pray without ceasing.

Pray for each other, and with each other. Pray in good times as well as bad, and thank God for all you have, including one another! Open your hearts in each other’s presence, and listen to God more than you speak or ask. What you say is not as important is keeping the dialogue open, so that God can speak into your life, and guide you to all your marriage can be.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Flesh

It says in Mark 10:8 - And the two shall become one flesh; no longer two, but one flesh. When two people marry, when they leave the homes of their parents and cleave to one another, everything each other has is then co-owned by the both of them. While it is true that we retain our own wants, needs and personalities within this two-part organism that is a marriage, those things are now part of the new whole. Every “my” must become an “ours.” It says in 1 Corinthians 7:3 - The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. These words are written about sexuality, about giving up the right to use your body as a bargaining chip or a weapon to get what you want, and instead submitting it to the other person. What if the concept were applied more broadly though? What if it were about money? Would separate bank accounts then work against the idea of deeper intimacy? How about if it were about kids from a previous relationship? What about career, or vacation time. Think of all the things you brought into your marriage, from physical stuff, to personality traits to emotional baggage. Are there things that you will not co-own with your spouse? Anything that you will not give up complete control of can lead to resentment and drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Pastor Jimmy Evans issues this warning: “Anything you will not co-own with your spouse has the power to harm, and even destroy your marriage.” Luckily, he also points out that “Mutual possession creates intimacy, and destroys jealousy.” There are analogies in the stories of people coming to follow Christ. Think of the rich man in Mark 10:21 who asked what he needed to do to get into heaven. “Give all you own to the poor,” Jesus said, knowing that the man’s love of money, his refusal to cede control of that aspect of his life was what would keep him from truly living out the Gospel. Think of the man in Matthew 8:22 who said he’d follow, as soon as he buried his father. “Let the dead bury their own” said Jesus, seeing that in the man it was an excuse for him to not move forward. Think of the things that remain a part of you from before you were married that you still cling to as solely “yours.” In Luke 9:62, Jesus tells a man: No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. This brings to mind also Lot’s wife, becoming a pillar of salt upon turning back towards Sodom for one last look at the past. Anything you won’t share becomes an anchor, preventing your marriage from growing into all it can be, all God has planned for it to be. Put both hands on the plow. Look forward. Accept shared authority of all you are, and fully embrace the union with your spouse, the idea of being 


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Knowledge = love

When we get married we become one flesh - but that one flesh always resides in two separate bodies. We retain our personalities, our unique wants, needs and hopes. It is within marriage that we should be able to express those without fear of being judged or condemned, even as we give ourselves fully to our spouse and love and serve them. That is the way God designed us; that we would be different, bringing our respective qualities together to work as a team. Over the course of a lifetime spent living, loving and working together, you get to know your spouse like no one else, has or even can. This knowledge doesn’t happen all at once; we are complex beings, with countless layers and nuances. Marriage is for life in the eyes of God precisely because it takes that long to truly “know” that other person. That is the height of intimacy, that complete knowing of another’s soul. There is an old saying that “love” happens between two people who don’t know each other, but “true love” happens when two people know each other completely. There are no secrets, and that increases love, not diminishes it. This relationship between knowledge and love is illustrated by the psalmist in Psalm 91:14-15

Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.

Does your marriage reflect that picture? Does your knowledge of each other foster that level of devotion?

In marriage we must draw a line between intimacy - which we all desire, and which should be the goal of a healthy, ever-developing relationship - and dependency, which is sure to kill intimacy. When a person is dependant on another for validation, they edit their behavior, limit what they say, what they disclose to their partner. Always wondering how their actions will resonate they become more and more subject to the whims of other people, wondering what other people will think, how they will react. This stifles true self-expression, and over time one can lose their sense of self. Your value comes from God, from his love for you. He made you, “fearfully and wonderfully.” Knowing that, no one should need or seek the approval of other people. As it says in Jude 1:21

Keep yourself in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus

God made you the way He did for a reason, and you should revel in that. There is no reason to hide who you are from your spouse; indeed, a strong sense of self is critical to be in a true loving relationship. We need to be able to express ourselves openly and honestly. Within the context of marriage, we should be able to be completely vulnerable and transparent. Our needs can’t be addressed by our spouses if they don’t know what they are! That said, this is often easier said than put into practice. As stated above, that is why we have a lifetime with our spouses to learn and grow, to mature and build the deep, abiding trust necessary to open ourselves completely - and welcome that openness in our partners.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Sin

What is the nature of sin? This might seem an odd start to a marriage moment article, but bear with me.

Let’s start with relationships, because the Bible is, at the core of every story, about relationships; between people and God, and between people and other people. Relationships are never static. They are either growing and getting better, or are regressing and getting worse. Stagnation is not a healthy state for a relationship, so I consider that in the latter category of getting worse.

Our relationship with God is no different. We are either growing in this relationship and getting closer to God, or we are getting farther away from Him. It is interesting in regard to sin to consider a word often used in conjunction: repentance. We are called to repent from sin. This is often taken to mean to ask forgiveness, but looking at the Greek word we translate as repent, it means at its root “to turn around.” Constantly doing things and asking forgiveness is not repenting. Turning towards God, and consciously walking towards Him is. If repenting then, is turning around, turning to God, sin could be taken to mean turning from God.

Let’s take this one step farther. If God is love (1 John 4:8) then sin is nothing more than choosing not to love. Whether it be your self, a family member, a spouse, a neighbor, a complete stranger or even the world God has given us to live in, if we choose not to love, we sin. When we regret that, and choose to love instead, that is the very heart of repentance.

Now, apply that thought to your marriage. How often do you choose not to love? If you consider your choice not to love your spouse as “sin” would that change how you interact with your spouse? And not just the big things. I’m not just talking about hitting, or infidelity or lying. What if every snide comment, every sarcastic response, every cold shoulder, every angry shout were all seen as the sin they are... as choosing not to love?

Sometimes it is hard to love. As imperfect beings all of us on occasion choose not to, and then become unlovable ourselves - by human standards. Yet God loved us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and sent Christ to die for us, cleanse us and redeem us. In so doing he set the example, and provided the motivation to act as he did, to love as He loved. We do not love to get a reward; it is not our actions by which we are saved. We are to love as a joyous response to what has already been done for us. Choosing to love when it is not deserved brings us closer to God, and can also drastically improve our earthly relationships as well. Next time your toes get stepped on, your feelings get hurt or your heart gets broken, choose to love. Turn, and move towards God, and see if you don’t pull your whole marriage in the same direction.

Spring "Cleaning"

This will come as no surprise to anybody, but marriage is work. It's hard, it's never ending, but when the work is done, the time invested it is of inestimable worth. It also is probably not a surprise, but the articles I write contain no information that is actually new. I research the topic of marriage all the time, through interviews and radio broadcasts, movies, online articles and books. I take the ideas that really resonate with me, in terms of things I see, people I know, and things that are going on in my own life, and I write about them. I try and give a Biblical perspective or grounding of the idea if it has none, but none of it makes a difference unless some married couple out there reads what I write - and decides to get to work!

To that end, I challenge all you married couples - make a commitment to work together on your relationship this month. Watch a movie together, and discuss it afterward. Or read a marriage book together, and discuss each chapter, like a devotional. Here are some suggestions:

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Sheet Music by Kevin Lehman
The Kosher Sutra (nope. not even kidding) by Shmuley Boteach
Sex God by Rob Bell
Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch

You don't have to take my suggestions; go to a bookstore - make a date of it! - and browse the "Love and Relationships" section and choose one together. feeling adventurous? Browse the "Sexuality" shelves...

With movies there is fodder for a good couples' discussion everywhere. From obvious places like Fireproof, and Not Easily Broken, and even in "kids" films like Up, and The Incredibles. The key, of course is TO TALK. Let whatever you do together be a jumping off point for a discussion about your marriage. Be open and honest with each other. Listen intently, without judgement or defense.

When you start, reassure each other that anything that is said is because you want to make your union stronger, your love for each other deeper, and resolve to make it so.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Married (With Children) - Part II

The way you live your life has more impact on your children than you will ever know, more than anything you will tell them. Your presence in their lives as an example is critical. Your absence can be equally impactful; if you are not there to teach them, schools, the media, and their peers will fill the void. Children are naturally curious; they have questions. If you are not an integral part of your children’s lives, they will get their answers elsewhere. Since they will not always vocalize their questions (ask my parents about THAT?? ewww!) you need to be proactive. Proverbs 14:26 says: In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge. 

The example you set can be a refuge for your children. Of course, it’s easiest to be a positive example to your kids when you spend time with them. You need to include them in the things you do so they can see how you interact with your spouse and with others, see how you treat people and handle situations. They need to see that the way you act does not contradict the things they learn in church and Sunday school. Study the Bible, behave in a way that embodies God’s designs, seek his will for your life - and then talk to your kids. Tell them why you treat people the way you do, why you live the way you live. Explain to them - scripturally - why you act this way and do things like putting your spouse’s needs before your own, giving to charity, volunteering your time for worthy causes and treating the people you meet day in and day out with love and respect.

It’s also vital for you to give them some of your time. Dinners together are crucial, and family game- or movie nights and playing with them let them know that they are a valued part of the family. These are the times when you can talk to them; Involve them in family decisions, ask questions, engage them. Plus, If you are freely giving them attention they won’t have to act out to get it. Think hard about that.

Regarding Abraham in Genesis 18:19, God says:

For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.
How can you “command your children in the way of the Lord” if you are never with them? How can God bring about his plans and fulfil his promises if you aren’t leading them in the way they should go? The society we live in makes time our most valuable resource - and the most misused and squandered one. Time is often spent due to forces that seem beyond us. Military parents are deployed around the world, business trips take people away from their families, but we always have a choice. That said, when quantity is an issue, strive for quality; seek God’s guidance in how you spend your time. Invest yourself heavily in your family and especially in the lives of your children, knowing that few things - if any - matter more.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Married (With Children) - Part I

In one of the hand-made cards that I give my wife for our anniversary, for each year I wrote “I love you because...” or “I love you so...” and then gave a reason that was tied to that time in our relationship. Two examples:

* In the year our son was born, I wrote “I love you so our son will know how women are to be treated - always.”
* In the year our daughter was born I wrote “I love you so our daughter will know what to not settle for less than.”

If there are kids in your marriage, don’t ever forget that you are modeling what relationships are supposed to be to those kids. Are you modeling God’s design, or not? Wives, are you respecting your husbands? Husbands, are you loving your wife like Christ loved the church, giving yourself up for her? Putting her needs before your own? Parents are implored in Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.

It’s a given when raising kids that your actions are infinitely more influential on them then anything you will ever say - and if they see that what you say contradicts how you act, the message is instantly discarded or lost. This is a big responsibility; God chose you to raise and teach the kids in your care. Instead of seeing this as daunting though, look at it as an opportunity. It’s an chance to view your relationship objectively, and consider what message you’re sending.

I read somewhere that “the best gift you can give your children is to love your spouse.” Why is that? Because you and your spouse are the first couple your children see. In your home is where your children will develop their expectations, hopes and dreams for their own relationships long before they ever consciously think about it. What do you want for them when they start dating, or looking for a spouse? What kind of husband do you want for your daughter? What kind of woman do you want your son to marry? It is your responsibility as their parents to model those qualities and traits.

The Bible has plenty to say on what God wants our marriages to be. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 lists the characteristics of love. Paul speaks to the duties of husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-31. The Song of Solomon is a masterful love poem illustrating how two people build a relationship that can last as long as both shall live. Are your behavior, your actions, and the way you are handling conflict teaching your children God’s design for marriage? Study God’s word; learn what it is He wants for you and your spouse. Strive to build a Godly union for your own benefit, for that is how to live out His plans for you. As it says in Jeremiah 29:11 those plans:

...are for your welfare, not evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The bonus is that as your marriage gets better, your kids will notice. It will help shape their beliefs as to what a relationship should be. Once they notice, then talk to them. Teach them the scriptural foundations that you are basing your marriage on. The lesson will mean infinitely more when they can see the results - loving parents and a happy home!