Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Clean Slate

My favorite thing about January is the feeling that everything is new… reborn, if you will. In our house the Christmas decorations often come down on January first or second. After the months-long slog of all the year-end spectacles, with the holiday chaos, parties and recitals, travel and general running around, I am always ready for a fresh start. It’s a new year! With everything clean, the air crisp and clear, the  possibilities seem endless!

Some people suffer from depression after December’s gone, and that’s understandable. People are often left so spent when it’s over that their defenses are down, and they feel they have nothing to look forward to. The build up to Christmas is so overblown that it’s inevitable to feel let down and sad when it’s over..

Instead, rejoice in the opportunities offered by the new year. It’s a chance to think on what has gone before; that is the point of the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne. "For auld lang syne", as it appears in the first line of the chorus, can be translated as "for the sake of old times". By reflecting on everything that has gotten you to where you are, you are ready then to look forward, and plot a course to where you want to go. Whether related to work, spirituality or relationships, health and fitness or artistic pursuits, the beginning of the year is a time when we can hit the reset button. We can pick up things we had put down, or start from scratch as needed. We can rededicate ourselves to the things that matter in our lives.

During the holiday season, it’s easy to let things slip, thinking that it’s too hectic to maintain our regular habits, routines AND "do Christmas." Things like eating right, devoting time to prayer, volunteering or spending regular time with our spouse can all fall by the wayside. The problem is that “the holidays” seem to get longer each year. As Loudon Wainwright III sang, “Christmas comes but once a year -
and goes on for two months.” That is long enough for these omissions to become (bad) habits. That makes it much harder to get back on the right path(s) come January; harder, but not impossible.

As we put away the decorations, and throw away the tree, now dry, sharp and painful to the touch, lets think about what behaviors, what attitudes, what untruths need also be disposed of. As Paul writes in Romans 12:2 transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Use the new year as a reason to take stock of your life, and your marriage. Where are you now in your relationship with your spouse? What got you to this point? Where do you want to be? Use this time to return your marriage to a strong foundation, and then talk with your spouse about where you want to go, what you want your marriage to be. Make plans together to build each other up and grow closer to each other, and to God. It is in Him that the best plans will be found. Proverbs 3:6 says

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.

Where will you be next year at this time? The answer will come from how you plan, how hard you work, and how attentive you are to the will of God in your life. The slate is clean though, so you can choose the answers to all these questions. Right now (and with God; Luke 1:37) nothing is impossible!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

First Fruits

The world we live in is hectic, and we are all pulled in many directions. Work and school, kids, church functions, hobbies and other responsibilities - we all have (too many) things clamoring for our attention, and thus our time. Jim Rohn said “Rich people have 24 hours a day and poor people have 24 hours a day. The difference between the rich and the poor is in the management of that time.” Time is a God-given resource that, like money, we must be a good steward of.

When it comes to your marriage, is your spouse getting nothing but your leftover time? Too many people wake up, hit the ground running, and don’t stop until they fall, exhausted, back into their bed, leaving little time for the person they have vowed to spend the rest of their life with. What time there is left is low quality, with both spouses spent from the day’s activities. In Proverbs 3:9-10 we are told:

Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Other than your relationship with God, your marriage is the most important one in your life. The challenge for this month then, is to give your spouse the 'first fruits' of your time!  Doesn’t your spouse deserve the best of what you have to offer? Dustin Riechmann, who runs the Christian marriage site ‘Engaged Marriage’ puts it this way: "Your marriage is more important than your children or your career, so you need to start nourishing it." Notice in the above scripture, that when your first fruits are given, God promises abundance and blessing. Marriage works the same way.

Instead of your only "couple" time coming at night when both partners are exhausted, find time during the day to give yourself to your spouse when you are alert, happy, energetic. Wake up a few minutes early and have a cup of coffee or tea together. Meet for lunch if possible every now and then. My maternal grandparents had a tradition: their kitchen had doors, allowing it to be closed off from the rest of the house. When my grandpa got home from work, he and my grandma would go into the kitchen, ‘banish’ the kids and - well, no one knows what they did. It was THEIR time, and they guarded it zealously. My mom and her siblings knew that there was almost nothing that warranted them intruding on that time; it was sacred. Where can you and your spouse carve out a slice of your day to be a couple? The good news is that meaningful change can happen in as little as 15 minutes. That’s only 1.042% or your day!

We have to change our mindsets from “spending more time together would be nice” to it being essential. Consider: in a recent Asbury Park Press, Anthony D’Ambrosio makes the argument that time you spend on anything non-essential (instead of on your spouse) can amount to cheating. He writes “Sex [with someone else] is cheating, and maybe the most hurtful cause, but have you ever stopped to think that you're being cheated out of your relationship everyday? Lack of communication, attention, passion, intimacy — even lack of love. “

Sobering. It becomes so easy to take our spouse for granted after we’re married and life gets busier and busier. There’s too much else to think about… but, we have a choice, and that choice makes our priorities clear. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:21

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What are your treasures? Where is your heart?
You’ll know by answering “On what do you spend your time?”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


The world we live in tries very hard to make us think solely about ourselves. Entire industries are based on marketing campaigns designed to make us think that if only our needs and desires were met, and completely fulfilled, then we would be happy and our lives complete. Ads across all media platforms declare that we need the latest phones, the biggest, highest definition TVs, the fastest internet speeds, the most channels. "You deserve it!" they blare. "You're worth it! You! It's all about you! Look out for number one!"

This self-centeredness can infect all aspects of our lives if we aren't careful to guard our hearts and minds against the constant pressure the world puts on us, both blatantly and subtly, insidiously. We hop from job to job, looking for one that provides us the best pay, the most vacation days, the sweetest benefits package. Not that its wrong in itself to weigh these factors as we make decisions, but are they most important? What about asking where God wants you right now? How about looking for where you can have the most impact, can do the most to usher in the kingdom?  People change churches, and even denominations, looking for one that feeds them, one that makes them feel good about themselves, one whose ministries serve them and their world view. Do they ask where they are being called to work, to affect the lives of those around them? DO they ask where they can start ministries for congregations that are in some way or another underserved?

I think this "me first" attitude is also a factor in the skyrocketing divorce rates in our society. People are quick to throw out a relationship when their needs aren't being met, when their expectations are not fulfilled. The grass being greener on the other side of the proverbial fence is one of Satan’s favorites. People are prone to falling for it because leaving sounds a whole lot easier than working to improve the relationship you're already in.

What if we adopted a modified version of John Kennedy's mantra for our marriages? "Don't ask what your marriage can do for you. Ask what you can do for your marriage." Paraphrasing Andy Stanley from a podcast a while back, "Our goal as husband or wife should be to constantly out-serve our spouse." Christ was speaking in more 'big picture' terms in Mark 9:35

He said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last, and servant of all”

but I think the message applies to marriage too. Want to have a great marriage? Want to be a great spouse? Choose - daily - to serve each other. I am not saying be a slave or a doormat. I am not saying completely neglect your own needs. I am saying you should put your spouse's needs first whenever possible. At a leadership conference I recently attended, Krish Dhanam said, "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself; just less often."

So there’s the challenge for this month. Find ways to out-serve your spouse. Not sure of how to do that? Don’t know what he or she might need done, or would really, really appreciate? Do what Kennedy said, and ASK (communication, as always, is key.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


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 a still small voice.     - 1 Kings 19:11-12

The world we live in is full of wind, and fire and earthquakes… both literal and figurative. Some are beyond our control, but far too many of them we willingly choose and accept in our lives. These are the things in our lives that prevent us from hearing God’s still, small voice.

The passage from 1 Kings is among my favorite scriptures. I love thinking about the fact that God, in all his omniscience could certainly yell to get our attention, and woe be to the one he’s raising his voice at. Instead though, he speaks quietly, forcing us to choose to listen if we want to hear. Think of all the times in the New Testament that Jesus says “Let those who have ears to hear, listen.”

Do we? Do we have ears to hear the words God has in store for us? He has plans for us all, plans for our benefit, plans for his kingdom, but if we don’t listen then we miss out. My challenge this month for everyone is work at developing “ears to hear.” The first step is to stop.

That’s the 180 to pull this month, the complete change from a behavior the world tells us is normal: if you are constantly on the go, running and doing, stop. I know the very thought of stopping causes some people alarm. The thought of being still, and just listening is not always comfortable. Do it anyway. We have grown far too comfortable with the busyness, the frantic running about. School has started, and kids have their multitude of activities, as do we all: work and clubs and sports and boards and associations all clamor for our time, our energy and our attention. Pick a time during the week where you can sit and do none of it, even just for a little while.

Make it a point to share this time with your spouse. The Lord has plans for you as a couple as well. If our marriages are supposed to show the world a picture of what God’s love is, then you have to be on the same page with what those plans are. Talk, pray, dream, and listen intently for His voice together. As it says in Jeremiah 29:13:

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Flip Flop

In a children’s message I did a while back, I quoted a page from “The Blue Day Book For Kids.” The book is a brilliant take on getting yourself out of a funk, those days when everything seems to be going wrong. One of the pages suggests standing on your head. It’s a great way, the book says, to see things differently. It goes on to say that more adults should try this.

In the movie Dead Poets’ Society, Robin Williams’ character, a teacher at a private all boys school gets his students to stand on their desks at the beginning of one class. Why? To see the world differently.

Ever notice how many times throughout the gospels Jesus is talking to people and says some version of: You think *this* but I say *THIS* In the sermon on the mount he says several times. “You have heard it said… but I tell you…” His whole ministry seemed to be set upon turning the world of his listeners on its ear, getting them to see things from a different perspective, in the words of Yoda, to “unlearn what they have learned,” which was vitally important if what they had learned was going to keep them out of Heaven!

For the next few articles, I’m going to suggest areas in which we should do a 180 in the way we think things are, as an experiment to see how they can change out marriages, and indeed our lives, for the better.

This month? In Jon Acuff’s book “Start,” he discusses a concept he calls “critic’s math.” It goes like this: 1 negative comment + 1000 compliments = 1 negative comment.

Harsh, but it it how we are wired. We tend to focus on the negative. Acuff points out that for his book prior to "Start" he had over a hundred “5 star” reviews on Amazon, versus three “1 star” reviews. His question: Which ones do you think he had memorized?

So here’s my challenge. Next time you get a compliment from your wife or husband, don’t brush it off. Don’t say - even in jest - “You’re just biased” or “you’re making it up," or "no I'm not." Memorize that compliment. Obsess over it. Write it down and think about the situation in which it was said. Think about why they said it, the nuances of their words, the inflection and tone of their voice. The point is to see yourself through their eyes, to get a different perspective. The point is to stop harping on the negatives, especially the self-imposed ones that AREN’T TRUE. Satan’s area of expertise is lies. He tells them, but it makes his job so much easier when we tell them to ourselves.

Here’s the flip side: if you are not in the habit of giving your spouse compliments, start. Don’t just say “you look pretty,” or “I appreciate you,” either. Get specific. Speak from your heart and let your partner know that you are happy, that you feel blessed that you get to spend the rest of your lives together. Tell them why. Over, and over, and over again.

And if you say these things in a way that inspires memorization, that's even better!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Temple Maintenance

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is well known. Paul tells us:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Verse 18 provides the context for this idea; it is talking specifically about sexual sin as using the body in ways that dishonor God instead of honoring him. What if we took the architectural metaphor further though? What if this idea of our bodies as temples had more far-reaching implications?

Instead of just focusing on the use of the building (in this case, our bodies) let’s think of its upkeep and maintenance; structures need to be taken care of. They need to be cleaned, re-painted and re-roofed. They will occasionally need new furnaces or air conditioning units, and have broken pipes fixed. Sometimes floor joists and roof rafters rot out and need to be replaced, or someone punches through wall board, and the resultant hole requires patching and refinishing. Plus, the utility bills must be paid, so there is fuel to keep all the systems running smoothly.

Our temples of the Holy Spirit, our bodies, are no different. Cleanliness is next to godliness, it is said. Keeping ourselves clean not only helps to maintain our physical attractiveness to our spouse, (and keeps us from offending other people we have to interact with!) but it can help keep us healthy too. Exercise is also “temple maintenance.” Like a building left vacant slowly erodes, so do muscles that go unused atrophy and weaken. Injuries must be tended to, and sometimes rehabilitation is necessary to restore full function to a body part or system. Food keeps all systems functioning, and making healthy choices can accomplish many things beyond simple refueling. It can help fight off disease, purge harmful substances and cleanse the body.

It our responsibility to keep our bodies in good working order. The better we function, the better we can do the kingdom work God has set aside for us to do. We don’t have to do it alone though; it can be a source of joy, and a way to foster deeper intimacy if we do things with our spouse. Tony and Alisa DiLorenzo (of the ONE Extraordinary Marriage podcast) list “recreational intimacy” among the six different types of intimacy that strengthen the bond between husband and wife. (In their book Stripped Down) Exercise together! Go for walks (or runs!) or take yoga, or a self-defense class. Challenge each other in tennis or squash, or work as a team and challenge other couples.

Make it a goal to have fun, and the health benefits will come without it even seeming like work!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dreams, Part II

Dreams are vital… so much so that this is the third time I’ve written about them! A few years ago I pointed out that the dreams we have while sleeping help us to sift through all the information that we absorb over the course of a day, and it is when we are in this deep sleep that our brains recharge. The dreams we have while awake serve a similar function for our spirit, allowing us to process, to recharge. Both other times I’ve written on this topic, I’ve stressed that in marriage, sharing dreams with our spouse is critical. Dreams that don’t get shared wither… or worse, fester. Why then, would anybody not share their dreams with the person they have chose to spend the rest of their life with? If a marriage has not always been a place of safety, fear could be a reason; fear of what the other person will think, of rejection. When a marriage isn’t a place where transparency is valued, where openness is cultivated and honesty treasured a spouse could fear that his or her dream would not be taken seriously. Rather than risk the disappointment of their dream going unfulfilled they don’t share. A dream can’t be crushed if it is never set in motion, never released from the confines of one’s soul. Of course, it can’t ever be realized if not set free either. Maybe the intent is there to share, but we wait; for the right time, for our spouse to seem ‘receptive’ to new ideas, for when the various complications that life is throwing at us right now to get settled. We wait for when the kids are older, or out of the house. We wait for when we are more financially comfortable, for when we don’t have to work these long hours all the time. We wait. And the clock ticks, and days, months, years go by. Sometimes we forget we had that dream at all. Bruce Lee said "When you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." We must take action, or else our dreams will never come to fruition. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow, so waiting until things are perfect - or even just better - is eroding our chances of seeing our dreams realized. Make a pact with your spouse. Set aside time on a regular basis to share dreams. Little dreams, big dreams, practical dreams and absolutely outlandish dreams. Wholesome dreams and racy dreams, bedroom dreams and whole, wide world dreams. Speaking them aloud will make them real. Praying out loud has a profound effect on your soul; you must commit to a prayer to speak it. Talking about your dreams will have a similar impact. You must own it; speaking it aloud gives it a life it would never have attained if it remained only in your head or heart Not all dreams come true, but some will - if they are acted on! Every dream that remains just a dream will grow stale, and eventually die. We dream what we dream for a reason; it is part and parcel of who we are, of how we are made... fearfully and wonderfully. They are among the gifts that God has given us. We honor our creator by taking them seriously, by acting on them, by striving to make them real. Some may even be part of our very purpose for being placed on this earth. Treat them as that important, and see what happens.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dream a Little Dream

Did you dream about what your marriage would be like? As a child? On your wedding day? People dream about what their wedding will be like, but fewer dream about their marriage -at least not in great detail. Sure, there are probably vague notions, like “we’ll have lots of fun together” or “we’ll be best friends” but what about specifics? Maybe they’re not conscious thoughts, or maybe people aren’t even aware they have them, but they are there, and if they are not acknowledged, the only time they will come into play is when a spouse doesn’t meet one of them, or worse breaks one of the “rules.” It’s hard to play by the rules if you don’t know what the rules are - or even if there ARE rules at all!

It is essential therefore that we know what our ideas about marriage are, our needs and wants and desires, and also that we communicate these to our spouse. It is not at all fair to hold someone to a standard that is undefined, only penalizing them in some way when they run afoul of the nebulous list in our head.

We must search our own hearts, and in some way define what our “rules” are. We must know what we want and need out of our union, and then we must communicate it to our spouse… repeatedly. Politicians make yearly “state of the-” speeches to talk about what has gone in in the past year, and to set a course for the year ahead. Presidents make the talks about the union, governors about their state; why don’t we do the same with our marriages? I think that having these talks regularly will do good on multiple levels. They provide a reason for self-evaluation: have your needs changed? Your desires? Do you have new goals you want to accomplish as a person or a couple? These need to be shared. These talks also will provide an opportunity to address issues like mis-communications and misunderstandings, and help to make a plan on how to better work together going forward.

Setting the stage for these talks is important. They can’t be sprung on one another; there must be an atmosphere of openness, of honesty. Both sides should be able to speak knowing they will be listened to, and listen knowing that the goal is to increase understanding and love. The attitude of both should be centered in the words of 1 Corinthians 13:7-8, that love

...bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails

Tony and Alisa DiLorenzo of the ONE Extraordinary Marriage podcast have available multiple resources to help foster this type of communication, but it comes down to just talking to one another. Seek to really understand what your spouse is saying, and seek to make clear the things that are on your heart. God wants your union to be everything that each of you desire, for when you are loving each other fully, your marriage becomes the picture of what his love is to the world around you. It should be so good that people ask “What’s your secret?” and you can answer “God is good!”

So dream a little dream… dream a BIG dream! And then, together, make it come true.