Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Do Nothing Day

Scripture Texts: Hebrews 3:7-19; Hebrews 4:1-16

A day of nothing. It seems almost impossible to imagine. A day when the list of places to go and things to do are pushed aside and the agenda of the day is nothing. This is a major component of sabbath. Each person is to set aside a day where the agenda is to rest from our labor so that we might keep our lives from being overcome by all that we try to cram into it.

The practice of sabbath is as old as creation. In fact that is where we first learn of sabbath. After God finishes the work of creating all of the cosmos, a day of rest is declared. To be certain there was still work to be done in all that God had created, however a day was set aside before the work continued to rest and reset the focus.

Throughout history people have struggled with Sabbath. Some fail to practice a day or rhythm of Sabbath, while others run the risk of being so legalistic about sabbath they forget the God connection to sabbath. We must remember Jesus took times of rest, as appropriate and needed. At the same time Jesus was often found doing the work of God on the sabbath. Perhaps it is less about a set aside day and more about a set aside heart.

Marriage requires days of nothing. Days when there are no lists of things to get done around the house. No activities to race between. No alarm clock. A day that is set aside for a married couple to simply be together and remember the God who has joined them together.

For us this often means getting away from the house and our family. Sometimes it is an overnight away, other times it is as easy as an evening out. This is not something we do weekly as is a common pattern of sabbath, rather we work it into the ebb and flow of life. We find ways to have a day of nothing that we can spend together.

Like God used a sabbath day after creation, we too need to find ways to rest to have a day of nothing. It is important to find days where we do this as individuals, and as couples. These days are not so we can do nothing for the sake of nothing. No, the do nothing days are so that we can do nothing and remember that God is God of our life not all the other stuff we fill our days and marriage with. There is only one God and sometimes we need a do nothing day to remember that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Letting God be The Builder

Scripture Texts: Hebrews 2:5-18; Hebrews 3:1-6; Psalm 95

A few years ago we purchased a house. In the process of dealing with all of the paper work that comes with buying a house we came across the abstract. An abstract for a house is the history of the house, tracing the line of ownership to the very start of the parcel of land. Along the way there were several people who owned the property, and eventually a house was built on the property in 1930.

There is plenty of evidence of additions and other changes to the house. We have continued in the tradition of making adaptations to the house as we have remodeled some areas and added other areas. All along the way doing the work needed to make our house into our home. No matter what changes we make to the house, it will always be traced back to the people who built it.

When we look at our lives, we are continuing to build our lives each day. The decisions and situations of our life are the building materials used to construct our lives. Looking across our lives we can find times when we have made a real mess of our lives, and times of great triumph and success. However we must remember who is the ultimate builder of our lives.

God is the creator of all life, and this includes our life. Regardless of what we make of our lives we will never be greater than the one who has created our life. Likewise the image and imprint of the Creator will always be a part of our lives. Ultimately the best way to build a life is to be a co-laborer with God allowing God's love and grace to constantly mold and shape our life.

This is no different for a marriage. During our time dating we began to build a foundation for our marriage. This foundation gave way to the first glimpses of what our marriage might look like as we journeyed through our engagement. On the day of our wedding the basic frame of our marriage was established. Ever since we have continued to build and develop the house that is our marriage.

Through it all it can be easy to think we are the ones building our marriage. In many ways we are the ones charged with the effort to build. However, we must remember our marriage is never greater than the God who knit us together. If we build our marriage without leaving room for God, we will find all sorts of extra challenges and struggles.

Even better than leaving room for God, is allowing God to be the architect and builder of our marriage. This means we remain open to the leading of God, who will show us the way to build the best marriage we can. When we stay in tune with what God is doing, God's creative imprint on our marriage will be seen long before any other aspect of our marriage is seen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Sting of Betrayal

Scripture Texts: Matthew 26:69-75; Matthew 27:1-10; Psalm 92

Betrayal is one of those expereiences that carries a painful sting to it. Not just for the person being betrayed, also for the person who has engaged in betrayal and comes to realize the fullness of what they have done. For Peter it was remembering the words of Jesus as the rooster crows. For Judas it was found more in a realization that he had handed over the Savior of the world to be executed.

The accounts of Peter and Judas are only two of the many people who betrayed Jesus in the last hours of his life and the hours directly after his death. Throughout history people continue to betray Jesus, in fact if we get honest with ourselves, we betray Jesus. For the most part it is not in major and blatant ways. We betray Jesus through our actions, thoughts and unfulfilled intentions.

In the midst of our betrayal Jesus is constant in faith, love, and grace for us. That is where the sting of betrayal comes to us. We know that we have not been faithful to Christ, yet Christ continues to be faithful to us. We have transgressed while Jesus has loved.

On the list of things that can disrupt a marriage in major ways, betrayal in near the top of the list. Most do not have the ability of Jesus to continue in faithful trust once betrayal has entered a relationship. The question will always remain as to whether betrayal will happen again. Here we find the sting of betrayal for both the betrayed and the betrayer.

Once betrayed trust is a constant struggle, and therefore cultivating a full and healthy marriage is a constant struggle. Likewise, the person committing the betrayal comes to know the pain they have caused, along with the ongoing consequences of betray for their marriage.

Whether it is in our relationship with Jesus, or with our spouse, betrayal is a character issue. Unhealthy pride is the root of betrayal. So one of the best ways to keep away from betrayal is to keep ourselves grounded with an accurate picture of who we are. When we overestimate our worth, we fool ourselves into thinking our betrayal is either justified or we will never be caught. On the other side, when we underestimate our worth, we quickly use betrayal as a mode of preservation. Either way, the two most important relationships in our lives will experience great pain.

Making every effort to keep betrayal out of our relationships is of high importance. Once betrayal enters the relationship the impact almost never leaves.

Monday, October 19, 2015

To Be a Servant

Scripture Text: Matthew 23

For some being a servant to others comes naturally. For a vast majority of people being a servant to others requires choice and intention. Some of this has to do with humans being selfish when left to our own devices. There is a great tendency toward wanting to make sure things work out best for us, rather than best for someone else.

Jesus warns his followers to not give into this tendency, like the religious leaders of the day. According to the teaching of Jesus what matters most is not how important you appear to other people, it is how willing you are to be a servant to another person.

This is not a question of our actions as much as it is a question of our heart. More specifically, whether our heart is tied more to God than to ourselves. The religious leaders, as Jesus points out regularly, were more interested in the form of God but not a relationship with God. They wanted to look the part and appear to be close to God, while in reality they were far from God. This was seen best in how they treat other people.

Cultivating a healthy marriage means being on a relentless pursuit to serve our spouse more than we are served by our spouse. The foundation of being a servant to our spouse is found in our relationship with God. Keeping God first allows us to set an order to our relationships that produces a marriage of servanthood. Setting the priority order of our relationships helps us to prioritize our servanthood. First we serve God, second we serve our spouse, third our children, next our extended family.

This order has enabled us to keep our marriage focused on the things that matter most. It has helped us to approach each other with the heart of a servant rather than seeking to be served. When we are struggling to be a servant to each other it is because we have gotten the priorities messed up.  In fact when we get the first priority wrong, all the others fall apart as well. The most common reason for the misguided priority is self-importance.These are the times when we need to spend the time making sure that God is first in our lives.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Never Too Late

Scripture Text: Matthew 20:1-19

Looking back on our lives it might be easy to see all the times we have not gotten things quite right. Some might even start to think it is too late to get back on track. It is clear from the parable Jesus tells that it is never too late to experience the love and grace that God has offered to us in Jesus. Sure there might be some who grumble about who gets grace when but that is not how God approaches grace.

Regardless of where life has taken us. Regardless of the path we have walked. Whether we grabbed a hold of God's grace early, in the middle, later, or possibly are still considering, it is never too late. We can start now, this very moment to live in the grace shower God has offered to us in Jesus Christ.

To experience the fullness of this grace we first must realize our need for grace. Each of us must own up to our past failings and misguided steps on the path. Next we seek the forgiveness offered through Christ on the cross where we were reconciled to God. Then we begin the journey of living and learning the life of grace. It is never to late to change the path you are on, and today is a great day to walk the path of God's grace.

For some in their marriage it might feel like it is too late. That there have been too many harsh words, and too many harsh actions to repair and rebuild. The message of Jesus in the parable is still true, it is never too late. Reconciliation is always a possibility, if we are willing to pursue it. Like the journey of experiencing God's grace we start with owning our past failings and misguided steps. We own the harsh words and actions that have originated with us. Next we seek forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed. Then we begin the journey of cultivating a marriage that is healthy and full.

It is never too late to embrace the grace of God at work in our lives and world. It is also never too late to cultivate a marriage that is beyond our wildest imagination. As long as there is still light in the day, God, the owner of this vineyard, is searching and seeking those who would enter the vineyard. Regardless of when we start in the vineyard we all receive the same amount of grace, the full amount God has to give.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hearts Joined Together

Scripture Texts: Matthew 19; Proverbs 17

Marriage being a hot button topic is not something new to our current age. As we can see from the Gospel of Matthew, even since the days of Moses has there been a struggle with understanding marriage. Jesus offers what seems to be a clear teaching on the subject, the couple will leave their families to be joined together to create a new family. Because it is God who has put this new family together, no one should try to take it apart.

Jesus does offer one exception to this, sexual immorality. In all other situations, the intention of God is that the couple would remain together. Before moving on too quickly we have to at least acknowledge the challenge of the term sexual immorality. There are few terms in all of scripture as loaded as this term, especially as it applies to our current day. We find no shortage of people willing to generate lists of what constitutes sexual immorality, and usually the list is focused on behavior. While our actions matter, it seems the point of origin for sexual immorality is our heart.

When we allow our heart to be joined to something other than our spouse, this is sexual immorality. This means sexual immorality shows up not only in the actions we take, it also shows up in the thoughts we carry, the images we allow into our lives, the emotions we can give away. Rarely does the physical act of sex with someone who is not your spouse start out as a quest for a sexual encounter. It starts when we start allowing our hearts to be joined to something that is not God, and is not our spouse. We give away our heart.

Obviously there are many situations and interactions we need to avoid to keep from giving our hearts away. Possibly more important than what we need to keep away from are the things we need to be about so that our heart is only given to God and to our spouse. The most important things we can do is to daily offer our heart, our whole heart, to the one to whom we are joined. This is done through conversation, mundane and important. Your spouse should not find out about what is happening in your life or heart as secondhand information.

It is not clear what Jesus meant by sexual immorality. If we are honest about it, no greater clarity comes from the other Scripture writers. Still, Jesus and others are clear we are to avoid it as it will derail the relationships of our life. It will cause us to give our heart to someone or something that is not appropriate or deserving of our heart. For those that are married, it is the express lane to putting asunder what God has joined together.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Glasses We Wear

Scripture Text: Matthew 17

Jesus viewed the world around him through a different lens than everyone else. This makes sense due to the fact that Jesus was fully human and fully God. Still, it is profound the number of times Jesus faces this tension between living in a culture without being co-opted by the culture. The earliest followers of Jesus seemed to struggle with this as much as we do today even with being eyewitnesses.

Peter, James and John try to process the moment we now call the transfiguration through their lens and experience of the culture by which they were surrounded. Their response to the amazing moment was one hopelessly based on a worldly lens rather than a Kingdom of God lens. Who could blame them they were still developing their Kingdom lens.

When we become followers of Jesus we do not simply take on a new belief system complete with a list of things we do and a list of things we do not do. We take on a new way of being, a new way of viewing the world. We put on a new lens by which we see everything around us, and the lens is often in opposition to the world around is.

We both wear glasses, and without them we do not see the world around us quite right. Every couple of years we go to the doctor to get our eyes checked and make sure our lenses help us to see as clearly as possible. When we get a new prescription it takes some time to get use to seeing the world through the new lenses. The same is true with our new Kingdom of God lenses, it takes time and practice before we can see clearly as the Creator sees. Some would argue it takes a lifetime.

When we get married we add a new lens to the way we view the world. No longer are we viewing the world as one person, rather the two have become one. The days of making decisions that only impact one person are gone. Not to mention the things, people and places that were once important to us change in their importance. We begin to view the world in different ways.

As followers of Jesus who are also married we have both lenses before us, and both change the way we view the world. This changed view of the world should result in us living different with our marriage and our day-to-day life. Our marriage should seem unusual to the world around us as we have chosen to live with the Kingdom of God view as our primary view.

It is okay if the world around us does not understand or even like the way we live, it is not for their approval that we strive. What matters most is that we view the world as God views the world. Further that we would live in our marriage in such a way that through us people might catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. That there would be moments when we can be the lens by which others can see God's Kingdom at work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Small Things Create a Big Impact

Scripture Texts: Matthew 15:29-39; Matthew 16:1-12

There are few aromas as wonderful as fresh baked bread. The simple concoction of flour, water and yeast yield an unmistakable aroma. Jesus reminds the disciples and us the reader, that only a small amount of yeast is needed to cause dough to rise many times its size. There is great power in small things.

From this lesson we can understand of paying attention to the small things in life as they can have great impact. It is not all the small things we need to pay attention to. Our attention needs to be give to the small things that have the greatest impact. All too often we are very focused on the small things, only it is the wrong small things.

Time and energy are given to small and inconsequential things at the expense of small, very important things. Rather than focus on honoring God with the small day-to-day acts of devotion and obedience, we can get stuck on small things like someone not liking our clothing or hairstyle. Regardless of the small thing we focus on, the things we commit our focus to will grow in size and influence in our lives.

Marriage is driven by the small things. From the mundane, toilet paper roll installation, toothpaste squeezing, and other items, to the more significant like flowers, words of encouragement, and simple presence. Sure the major things of marriage matter, however it is in the small things that a healthy marriage is cultivated.

Getting the small things right will add so much more to the major things in a marriage. When we take time on a daily basis to be present, and supportive for our spouse in the mundane, this will bloom into presence and support that is even more significant in the times of trial. Likewise if we get stuck on the mundane and cause strife and division, this too will grow and impact the way we encounter the trials of life and marriage. Remember, that which we focus on grows, so let us make sure we are focused on the small things that will produce the impact that honors our spouse and delights our God.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Remember Your Role

Scripture Texts: Matthew 15:10-28; Psalm 83

Have you ever asked God to do something to another person because of how they treated you? While it is not a part of our humanity that we like to broadcast to others, chances are most people have wanted God to get someone else. The Psalmist is writing for this very purpose, for God to get the enemy.

Interestingly it is the writer who is speaking in the Psalm not God. There are other parts of the Bible we find God speaking through the prophets and other teachers. Here we have a human asking God to take action in a particular way. God does not answer the request, at least we do not have the answer.

This passage shows us how easy it is for us as humans to confuse our role with the role of God. It is easy for us to think God does not see what is happening and therefore we must help out by notifying God. Further, once we offer the notification we are quick to offer the plan by which God should act. In this we find revealed the primary struggle of humanity, we get confused and think we are God.

There is only one God, and one Father who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6). Part of God being God is that it is God that knows all things and how best to be at work in all situations. If we are not careful we can even tell God how to best be at work in our spouse. As if God is not the one who created our spouse and knows our spouse's inmost being.

In marriage we must learn to help each other listen for what God has in mind, and trust that God knows better than we do. We are not in the business of telling God how to be God, and we are not in the business of telling our spouse how to live their life. What we are about is listening together and then being the chief encourager in the life of our spouse.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Heart and Words

Scripture Texts: Matthew 14:22-36; Matthew 15:1-9

It is real easy to give something lip service without much connection behind it. That is what Jesus is accusing the religious leaders of his day of doing in regard to God. They had their big elaborate worship services complete with fancy robes, fancy songs and high sounding rites and rituals. All the while their hearts were more connected with their rituals and rites than with God.

Nearly every night we have taken time to dig through the scriptures to see what God might have for us. As we do this it would be easy to fall into our act of devotion becoming empty and void of connection to God. Daily reading the scripture is not intended to give a list to check off, rather we are to meet the living God.

Any of our beloved and important practices can fall prey to losing its connection to the heart of God. Times of worship, mission, service, prayer and study can all be done while missing the very reason we do all these things. Before we are too hard on the religious leaders we must come to terms with the fact that it could just as easily be us, and probably has been.

It is not only our relationship with God that we run the danger of having a disconnect between our words, actions, and our heart. In our marriage we might say all the right things and do all the right things while leaving our heart out of the equation. Utter the words I love you to our spouse without the connection of our heart behind it ring empty.

When our words do not match our heart falsehood is allowed to enter into our marriage. At the outset this might not seem too bad, in fact we might justify it by thinking we need to say it until it is true, even when we do not feel it. Reality is rather than say something to our spouse that is not connected with our heart, we need to search our own heart to see where the disconnect is.

Empty words left uninspected grow separation in a marriage. Once the separation begins it becomes easier to offer empty words. Then the vicious spiral has begun and the ending is usually not real pretty. Over time it becomes impossible to trust the words shared between spouses and communication becomes superficial and insignificant.

The best way to prevent this disconnect is to ruthlessly pursue a life-giving connection with our spouse. Tending the condition of our hearts, and relationship is top priority if we are to cultivate a healthy marriage. This requires time together, both quantity and quality. Time to talk, laugh, cry and live life deeply together. All of the time invested will allow us to offer our heart and our words to our spouse creating a marriage that is full and healthy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Our Unity Matters

Scripture Texts: Matthew 12:22-42; Proverbs 16

Jesus is accused by the religious leaders of obtaining his power from Satan rather than God. When you are the Son of God this is a pretty significant charge and challenge to who you are. This is one of the more direct responses Jesus gives to the religious leaders, "Any Kingdom divided against itself will fall..."

Throughout history we find earthly kingdoms that learned this the hard way. Our own country, the United States, went through a time when it was divided and the Civil War was the result an attempt to preserve the union of the nation.Abraham Lincoln knew that if the country was allowed to remain divided that both sides of the conflict would be destroyed.

It is popular in history to point out winners and losers in war and conflict. The Civil War is not immune to this, and it becomes east to think the North won and the South lost. In reality it was not either side that won or lost, in fact the union of our nation was the victor and destruction of our nation was the loser. It might not always seem like it but everyone won the civil war because the union was preserved.

The union of marriage faces the same truth. If the union of a marriage is divided against itself, it stands no chance of persevering. This does not mean that we always agree with our spouse. What it means is the unity of our lives is more important that either individual. Take a look at a marriage that has fallen apart. In every single case at least one of the partners in the marriage decided to seek after their own importance and desires more than the unity of the marriage.

This is the divided house that cannot stand. Cultivating a healthy marriage means that we are willing to put our individual drives, desires and dreams on hold so that we can keep our house from being divided. This also means that we are the biggest advocate and champion of our spouse. If the whole world is against us, our spouse is for us when our marriage is healthy and unified.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

That Which Matters Most

Scripture Text: Matthew 12:1-21

The religious leaders of Jesus' day get a lesson about what matters most in the Kingdom of God from Jesus himself. The Pharisees had a very elaborate set of rules and regulations they wanted people to follow. The goal of these rules and regulations was to keep people from even coming close to sinful living. In the midst of their quest they began to value their rules and regulations more than the people they were trying to protect.

The issue with the Pharisees was never their desire to see people have a relationship with God, or to see people live in such a way as to honor God with their life. What was at issue was the fact that the rules and regulations meant more to them than the actual relationship with God. Pharisees had lost sight of that which matters most, and that caused them to have the right intention with the wrong application.

Before we are too hard on the Pharisees, we have to recognize our own ability to have the same problem. In our desire to see others live the fullness of life that God calls us to, we can get hung up on the rules and regulations designed to protect people. We can miss keeping our focus on that which matters most.

This missed focus can happen in a marriage as well. We can become expert in doing all the right things. We can meet all the rules and regulations for a healthy marriage, and still not have a healthy marriage. Why? Because we did not keep the relationship with our spouse as the primary focus. It can become more important to keep the rules than to keep our relationship.

Sure all the things we do are in an honest and well-meaning attempt. They are filled with wonderful and good intention. The problem becomes our application. Doing the right things that will cultivate a healthy marriage only matter if we will focus on that which matters most, our relationship with our spouse. When our primary goal is to have the most amazing marriage possible, the steps become a tool to achieve the goal, not a the goal themselves.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New and Old Together

Scripture Texts: Matthew 9:1-17; Psalm 78

Without special care, new things and old things struggle to exist in the same space. Sometimes it is impossible for the new and old to be in the same place and time. Jesus was talking about this when he challenged the crowd regarding wineskins. He reminds, "You cannot put new wine in old wineskins, or they will burst."

It was not that Jesus had no value for the things of old, instead Jesus wanted to make sure that which has been is preserved while something new comes into being. To be clear something new is always coming and we have to pay attention how we balance the new and the old. The way of relating to God as found in the Old Testament did not go away when Jesus came. Yet, there was something new in our relationship with God emerging.

Holding too tightly to that which has been creates all kinds of problems in our relationship with God. We must make room for God to continue to create anew, alongside that which has always been. To use the image Jesus used, new wine in new wineskins, along side of old wine in old wineskins.

There is a profound moment in a wedding celebration that can be easily missed. It is the presentation of the bride by the family. The person officiating the service will ask something akin to, who gives this person to this other person in marriage? Shortly after the ceremony in a Christian tradition speaks of leaving one family and starting a new one.

This does not mean the families the couple grew up in no longer exist. Further it does not mean the new couple will never again have interaction with their families. What is happening at the wedding is the new family is forged and the existing family is no longer the primary family for the couple. This has classically been called, leaving and cleaving. We leave one family and cleave to our spouse, our new family.

In marriages where there is not a leaving and cleaving great struggle is often found. Trying to fit a new family into the mold of existing families will cause a lot of hurt, pain and anguish. A new family cannot be forced into the existing families mold, something new has come. The family that we grew up in will always be important, and always be a part of who we are. Once we are married however, the family we have with our spouse becomes the most important family, our primary family.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Works and Wonders

Scripture Text:  Matthew 8:18-38

As followers of Jesus it can be hard to fully comprehend what it means to follow Jesus, and to come to terms with the works and wonder of Jesus. This is nothing new as since he walked on earth people have struggled. As a result we can simplify the call to follow Jesus while we also remove the supernatural power of Jesus.

To be a follower of Jesus when he walked the earth was not a matter of attending a few church services and toting a Bible around. The call to follow Jesus was a call to fundamentally change the way we live our lives. We are invited to exchange living from a perspective of society, for living the life that Jesus modeled and taught. We are called to be countercultural. Whether it was the first century, or today, this is not an easy task.

Part of being a follower of Jesus is to recognize the supernatural of Jesus. Jesus is able to do things that science and reason have tried to explain but cannot. Calming the sea with a mere command, is not "normal" climate behavior. Casting demons into pigs after a conversation about it, is not average day-to-day behavior. Yet, that is exactly the work and wonder Jesus was about.

A common question in the United States is why we do not see the miraculous today like we read about in the Bible? Some assume it is because God does not act like that anymore. Another would reason the miracles never really took place, they are only written about. Lots of answers are given that remove supernatural ability from Jesus. Perhaps we do not see it as often in our culture because we have determined Jesus not capable.

Living a Christ-centered marriage has never been an easy thing. The values by which we live when we are following Christ come into conflict with the world around us. Marriage is not immune to this. In fact we live in a time when holding to Christ-centered values in marriage is not only hard to do, it is hard to define. Still the call is clear, live a life, a marriage with Christ as the measure of our values not the culture around us.

When it comes to our relationship with the supernatural works and wonders of Jesus, marriage can often be a visible sign of the miraculous. The idea the two people could commit to living the rest of their lives together, through sickness and health, for richer, for poorer, till death do us part requires the supernatural work of God. Perhaps as we have tried to do it on our own, rendering Jesus impotent, marriage has fallen prey to the disposable nature of so many things in our culture.

Marriage gets viewed as disposable because it is thought to be only the work of humans. The works and wonders of Jesus are cut out of the equation. Couple this with the challenge of married life in a culture that struggles to have clear value of marriage, and the trap is set for poor quality marriage. To cultivate a healthy marriage we must first be willing to follow Jesus, even when it is not culturally valued. Second, we must keep space for the supernatural works and wonders of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Jesus is Willing, Are You?

Scripture Texts: Matthew 8:1-17; Psalm 77

Can you imagine asking Jesus to do something, and adding the phrase if you are willing? Most of us do not have to imagine, at some point in our journey with Christ we have wondered or asked if God is willing to do what we would like. For the man in Matthew 8, he asks if Jesus is willing, and finds himself healed.

Never was the question whether Jesus was able, it was a question of willingness. From time to time we get those two things confused. We wonder if Jesus is willing to do something in our lives when we really are wondering if Jesus is able to do something in our lives. Too often we seek after Jesus hoping he will be able to accomplish what it is we want.

Jesus is able to do all things, exceedingly, abundantly more than we can imagine. There are things Jesus is not willing to do in our lives. Not because we are unloved by Jesus, rather it is because of the great love Jesus has for us that there is a limit in the willingness. What we are asking for might not be the best for us or our relationship with Jesus.

There is another possibility in the willingness question. Perhaps we ask willingness of Jesus when we are really wondering if we want something to really happen. It might be fitting for Jesus to declare he is willing and ask if we are willing. The greatest limit to what Jesus can do in our lives is not the ability or willingness of Jesus, it is our willingness.

Since before the day of our wedding, our desire has been to have God use our marriage for great things. In fact we asked God to use our marriage, if willing, to help others experience the blessing of marriage, and ultimately to experience love and grace in Jesus Christ by becoming a follower of Jesus. While we have asked it, the question has never been the willingness of God, it has been our willingness.

Are we willing to live our lives in such a way that God can fully use our marriage? There are lots of understandings about what marriage is in this day and age. This is not about gender, and same gender marriage, it is about the ideals people have of marriage and what a good marriage is. It has become commonplace to settle for something less than the fullness of God because we are not willing to live in such a way that God can fully use.

Many marriages settle for good enough, when God is willing, able and hoping that we will strive for fullness. That we will be willing to live following after Jesus with our whole hearts, that our marriages will be different than the ideals of society, that we will cultivate a marriage that will do whatever it takes, to be used by God, for the Kingdom of love and grace to be experienced here and now.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Foundations Matter

Scripture Text: Matthew 7

Recently our children along with some of their friends were building a human pyramid. All of the children were of different heights and builds so the way they arranged themselves in the pyramid mattered. Somewhere along the way a few of the smallest in the group wanted to be part of the base while the biggest of the group wanted to be on the top. You can only guess how this worked out.

The foundation of any structure determines how the rest is build and what can sit at the top. Jesus is clear how this relates to our lives. We must have a foundation built on bedrock otherwise everything else is suspect to being destroyed in the storms. This teaching comes at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, and particularly in a section where Jesus makes clear his role in the life of people.

To build a solid foundation we must invite God to be the center of our lives. The way we do this is by making the decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ. A life without God can look good, and appear to have everything in place. Yet, when the storms come and the torrents crash against the foundation of our life, it will be washed away. Any foundation that leaves God out of the mix will reach a crumbling point.

There are many ingredients that go into a healthy marriage. Love and romance, honor and respect, humility and submission, the list could go on and on. All of these are important and need attention, however all of these things without God as the foundation of your marriage and it will crumble when the storms come.

Before we were married we spend several months writing back and forth, handwritten letters, in which we would complain to each other that we could not find a person to date who met the standards we were using to measure potential spouses. Through this we each generated a list, sending to each other for review. Keep in mind we were not dating at this point, we were two friends who were sharing our hearts.

When we reviewed the separate lists it became clear we were looking for the same things. It did not take too long for us to realize that in each other we had found what we were looking for in a potential spouse. At the top of the list was they must be a follower of Jesus, and God must have the top spot in their life. We began our relationship and our marriage with this value at the very center of our lives together.

Over the years we have faced storms, financial challenges, death of a parent and grandparents, moving several times, and life situations we simply did not want to be in. Through it all we have been able to cling to the foundation of Christ in our lives and marriage. Each time we have held on, it has made it easier the next time.

Before you read this and think how easy that sounds, know that we have had to work hard at keeping Christ at the center of our lives and marriage. It is not something that happens just because it is on a list of priorities. We have needed to and will continue to invest the time and energy in keeping Christ as the foundation. This means keeping in the Scriptures, together and individually. It means time in prayer with each other and for each other. Time in worship and service keep us tuned into God's abundant grace. We have to be intentional about cultivating a Christ-centered life, so that we can cultivate a Christ-centered marriage. It takes investment, and the return is worth every bit of it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Power of our Thoughts

Scripture Texts: Matthew 5: 17-37; Proverbs 15

Actions speak louder than words, and our thoughts drive them both. In fact our thoughts can be more dangerous, or life-giving then either actions or words. Jesus is really pushing us to understand this through this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Our thought life is powerful enough for our thinking to be equal to the actions and words, even to the point of murder.

The way we think about another person often becomes how we treat them. If we think of someone and pity them, we tend to treat them accordingly. When we think about someone in anger, we tend to treat that person in an angry way. If we are to think about another person filled with hope, we treat them with hope. On and on the list goes, yet the point easily eludes us. The way we think drives the way we act.

Many people have heard and given the advice to a young couple with the ink on the marriage certificate still drying, do not go to bed angry. In light of what Jesus reminds us about the connection between our thinking and our actions, this advise looms large. If we are angry with our spouse and we do not resolve it, the angry thoughts will grow as will our treatment of our spouse poorly. This is not about peace in the home before sleep, it is about not allowing negative thoughts to flourish.

Here is a little test/challenge. For the next ten days keep track of your thoughts regarding you spouse. When negative thoughts begin to creep in, push them away as quickly as possible. Then replace the negative with positive. As the positive thoughts about your spouse enter, find ways to hold on to them. Devote the next ten days to thinking only positive about your spouse.

Cultivating a healthy marriage is about keeping our thought life on track. Interestingly enough the way we think about our spouse will impact the emotions we experience about our spouse. The emotions will directly impact the way we treat our spouse. We pray that we can all be people who think about the amazing person we call our spouse.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Blessed Marriage

Scripture Text: Matthew 5:1-16

In these verses we find the opening statements of Jesus' longest recorded sermon. Through these words we get a glimpse of what it means to live our lives according to the Kingdom of God as opposed to any other kingdom. This section, also called the beatitudes, share with us how to live the kind of life that God blesses.

Just like for the original audience, the teaching confronts the way our world today commonly thinks and acts through life. In fact in almost every instance living according the the Kingdom of God understanding is the opposite of living by other kingdoms. To be blessed we must realize we need God. To be blessed we must mourn with those who mourn. On and on the list goes turning upside down the most commonly taught ways to be blessed in life.

The life Jesus calls us to is filled with blessings, however it is not easy. We are told to expect persecution, strife, and mocking because we follow Jesus. All of this screams to us the way of Jesus is not the same as the dominate culture. Further we can see the danger of attempting to make the way of Jesus into something it is not, the dominate culture. In Christ we live a life not so that we can fit in, or get things the way we think they should be. We live our lives so that through us the world might see God.

As Jesus instructs how to live as people of the Kingdom of God, we should also apply the list to our marriage:

  • Our marriage will be blessed when we realize how much we need God, for others shall see the Kingdom of God in us.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we mourn with each other, and others, and God will be our comfort.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we treat each other with humility, for we will inherit all that God desires for us.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we hunger and thirst for for justice for our spouse.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we show mercy to our spouse, for we will experience mercy.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we keep our heart pure for our spouse, for we will experience the fullness of God.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we seek to live in peace with our spouse, for we both will be called children of God.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we are persecuted because of how we live in our marriage, for God is with us.
  • Our marriage is blessed when others mock and persecute us because of how we strive to live with Christ as the center of our marriage.

All of this is not for the glorification of our marriage, it is so that others will see God. We strive to live in such a way that we can be blessed by God to be a blessing to others. We live the life we do so that others might know the love and grace of Jesus Christ and decide to follow him either because of, or inspite of our lives.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Beating Temptation

Scripture Text: Matthew 4; Psalm 75

For as long as there have been people temptation has been part of the equation. We see this from Adam and Eve, to King David, to Jesus, and every person to walk the planet. It is not a question of whether or not we will face temptation, it is a matter of how we will respond in the face of temptation.

As we might guess Jesus gives a perfect model in Matthew 4. Each temptation was responded to with Scripture and evidence of a relationship with God. Satan does not hold back in the temptation offering Jesus everything that would be needed. Jesus knows all those things are only counterfeit versions of what his mission was.

Temptation offers to us a counterfeit version of what we think we need or what we are trying to accomplish. The danger is so high because it often comes in the form of a shortcut or making something that is a great challenge seem like it is easy. The first step in responding well to temptation is to have clarity about what you are called to. Second is clarity around the character traits you want to display as you achieve the goal. Lastly, responding well to temptation requires having connection with a solution that will endure.

Marriage is no stranger to temptation. In many ways it creates more opportunities to respond to temptation. There are the obvious temptations of entering into relationships with people other than your spouse in ways that are reserved for those who are our spouse. This can be of a physical or emotional nature.

We also find the less obvious temptation to take our relationship for granted. This shows up in leaving the little things of life undone such a chores around the house. It also shows up in no longer doing the small yet powerful romantic gestures of the courting or dating days. The great danger here is that it becomes easy to not even realize we have given into temptation.

Responding well to temptation in marriage is the same as in all arenas of life. First we must be clear of the call to live a healthy and great marriage, not to simply exist until we reach the till death do us part portion. Second we must have clarity that we want to make the journey filled with integrity, joy, compassion, passion and love. Third, we must remain connected with the God who loves us and teaches us how to live in such a way that we cultivate the best marriage possible.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It is a Simple Message

Scripture Text: Matthew 3

John the Baptist's message often gets only a passing treatment because he is leading the way for Jesus. Yet, the message being proclaimed is not to be missed, even if it is hard to come to terms with. Matthew tells us the simple message of John, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near."

Words like repent and sin are not real popular words in our day and age. This is nothing new, they were not all that popular in John's day either. For the most part people felt if they were generally good people, and claimed their heritage as people of God, everything would be just fine. All this talk of sin and repentance was too much.

Once Jesus is on the scene the message does not change a whole lot. Jesus continues to call people to step away from sinning and to turn to God. The main variation to the message was times when he would say the Kingdom of God is near, or say it was at hand. Whether it was the people of Jesus' day or people today we still struggle with the simple message. The struggle is so great that we make every attempt to clarify it on God's behalf. We make sure to nuance the message and make it more palatable reducing Jesus to a good moralistic teacher. In reality we need to come face to face with the simple message of God as seen in Christ.

The message of marriage is pretty simple as well. Do everything in your ability to remain centered in Christ, and keep fidelity with the one you are married to. Throughout the centuries we have nuanced this message as we continue to do so today. We are not saying there is never a situation where divorce is the best option, that was not even the message Jesus gave regarding marriage. What we are saying is while relationships are complicated the basic marriage is simple.

Another way to think about it has been shared with us by a close friend, "If you are married,there are two types of people in the world, those who you are married to and those who you are not. as long as you remember who is who things will go much better." Whenever one person in the marriage forgets this simple truth, everything gets much more complicated.

Still the message is very simple. When we do our best to keep our focus on the simple message and resist the temptation to make it more complicated than it is, we find we experience more of what it is like to live in the Kingdom of God, which is near. So, we must repent of our sin and turn to God, because the Kingdom is near, and we must remember to remain centered in Christ and in fidelity to our spouse.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Near Miss

Scripture Texts: Matthew 2; Psalms 74

Before Jesus would have been heading to Kindergarten in most US states there were three attempts to snuff out his light before it really shined. Each time there was an intervention to the plot which proved to preserve the life of the infant Savior. The interventions came in the form of visions and dreams.

First the magi were informed through a vision to not return to Herod informing him of the location of the child. Second was a dream warning Joseph to flee to Egypt. Third was after the time in Egypt Joseph was warned in a dream to settle in Galilee. These dreams were no small matter as they were not leading Joseph and the family into easy situations. It would have been very easy to dismiss the dreams to pursue that which was easiest and most comfortable.

It is possible one of the results of not following the instructions of the dream would have been the death of the infant Jesus. However, this is the Child of God, the one who is the redeemer of all the people of creation. It seems more plausible that God would have chosen another intervention, another route to preserve life. Only Joseph would have missed out on full participation in God's plan. The near miss of this account from Jesus life might not be about the life of an infant, it might be about participating in the Kingdom of God.

Imagine the moment when Joseph told Mary about the dream he had, and how they were to flee to Egypt. Mary was no stranger to the communication of God, yet the call to head to Egypt seemed crazy. They had no family in Egypt, God had often warned about not going back to Egypt. Still, this young couple had to make a decision that would have significant impact on their young family. God was calling them to continue this audacious ride they were already on, and they could have missed it.

God is in the business of calling people. Most often the calling of God is to go to a place we have not been, and a place that requires new things. A leap of faith is required also. This is true for individuals, it is also true for a married couple. God calls us to live in marriage in such a way that God is using our marriage for Kingdom purpose. Our ability to follow the calling of God does not ultimately change what God desires to accomplish. What changes is the experience we have as a married couple.

Mary and Joseph were both familiar with hearing God call them to outrageous things. Individually they could discern the voice of God from the midst of all the other voices. So, when God spoke to them as a couple they had practice hearing from God. If a married couple is going to hear the call of God for their marriage, they need to have invested the time and practice of hearing God as an individual. This practice applied to marriage, will help to manage the near miss of the visions and dreams God has for us.

There are countless times when we have experienced a near miss. Times when we almost went our way rather than God's way. The sense of relief was amazing. There have also been times when we did not follow God's leading and God had to use another way to get us to where we needed to be. The pain is double during these times. We had the pain of the struggle that resulted from a poor decision, and the pain of realizing we missed what God had for us. Through it all, we have learned, and attempt to practice, the best way to avoid the near miss is to spend the time individually and together, listening to God's call.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Inner Dialogue

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 10; Psalm 72

Each of us has an inner dialogue to our life known as thinking. Not sure if that is true, think about what is happening as you read these words. Not only are you reading the letters on the page, you are beginning to ponder how these words impact you. Chances are, it is almost as if you can hear your voice having the conversation.

This inner dialogue has the potential to help us to great and wonderful things. It also has the potential to take us down a road that leads to destruction. Our thoughts directly impact our actions. Because of this, Paul encourages us to take captive our thoughts. Specifically, the rebellious thoughts. or the thoughts that cause us to put distance between us and God.

Every relationship we are in comes complete with an inner dialogue, and our marriage is no exception. The content of our thoughts around our marriage, and our spouse directly impact the way we treat our spouse and the level to which we trust our spouse. For example, if our thoughts are focused on something negative about our spouse, we tend to treat our spouse in negative ways. Likewise if our thoughts are positive, thinking about the love and connection we have, our actions will tend to follow.

The way we think about our spouse and our marriage matters greatly. The words of Paul to take captive our thoughts applies to our marriage. Paying attention to the content of our inner dialogue about our spouse and marriage has the ability to change the way we behave in our marriage. If you are trapped in a negative dialogue, take those thoughts captive and do whatever is needed to change the content. If the thoughts are positive, take those thoughts captive and do whatever is needed to maintain the positive content.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Generous Heart Required

Scripture Text: 2 Corinthians 9

If we sow with a scarcity mindset, then we will never have enough. If we sow with a generous heart, then we will never go without. Notice the difference, scarcity is an understanding of the mind while generosity is a condition of the heart. Scarcity is figured by doing the math and thinking about what we have versus what we do not have. Generosity is about having an abundance of love and grace at work in our heart.

Paul is talking about money again, however this is a principle far greater than money. When it comes to generosity money is incidental. Being a generous person is about being willing to invest in the work of God and other people because of what God has done in your life and heart. A lack of generosity is not about a lack of funds, it is about a lack of depth in our relationship with God.

We can adopt a scarcity mentality with our spouse without even knowing it. The ways it creeps in are easy to miss. We can become controlling of our spouses time, not wanting anyone else to have more of it than us. The attention our spouse gives to a project can cause us to move into scarcity. There really are few limits to the things that cause us to feel like there is never enough, time, attention, and connection with our spouse. This becomes self-fulfilling as when we are in a scarcity mentality enough is never enough.

When we choose to have a generous heart we can be generous with our spouse. Allowance is made for time spent with other people, projects, and attention. There is an assurance and trust to a healthy marriage that keeps us confident we have an abundance. This is a product of a deep relationship with our spouse. Like with our relationship with God, if we do not have a deep and healthy relationship with our spouse it is almost impossible to be generous.

The key to this is trusting your partner. When the trust balance is zero we are locked into a scarcity mentality. Finding every possible way to develop and deepen the trust we have of our spouse will increase our ability to be generous toward our spouse. If you and your spouse are struggling with trust, there is no greater work that you must address. The best starting point is to talk about the areas of mistrust being sure to identify why the lack of trust is present. Then build a plan to increase the trust in your relationship. Out of this greater generosity will begin to find its way into your marriage.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Pursuit of Excellence

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 8; Psalm 71

Paul tells the church in Corinth he wants them to excel in all the areas of their faith. They have people who excel in faith, speaking, knowledge, enthusiasm and love for others. The desire of Paul is to add generosity to the list. This part of the second letter to the Corinthians is focused around the collection of money that was begun at an earlier time. It is also about giving God your best no matter what the subject matter is.

In Psalm 71, the writer is sharing how God brought the best out of them through challenge and struggle. At the core however, is God helping us to excel in our life. Understand this is not about being successful, or wealthy, or even comfortable. What God desires for all of us is to live fully the life God calls us to live. As the old US Army slogan says it, "To be all you can be."

All of the striving is not even for our own fame and notoriety. God wants us to be our very best so that we will remain connected with God, and bear witness to the greatness of God, not our own. When we excel in living our life fully, as God calls, others will be able to see the mighty work of God. Further, our excelling is not about being better than another person, or benefiting because of someone else's suffering. It all points back to what God has done, is doing, and is preparing us for in the future.

When looking at our marriage the same call to excel is present. There are not many people who strive after a mediocre marriage. Most of us want to excel in marriage and experience all that we can from our marriage. This does not happen without effort. We must cultivate the excellence we desire if we are going to experience the fruit of excellence.

All of the areas Paul wanted the Corinthian church to excel required effort, discipline, and constant learning. Cultivating a marriage that excels requires effort, discipline, and constant learning. This is a lifelong pursuit, and it is not done for our glory, it is for God's glory. Although, when we commit ourselves to seeking an excellent marriage, we experience a fullness of life that is in fact glorious.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Unequally Yoked

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; 2 Corinthians 7

Paul's admonishment to not yoke ourselves to unbelievers has long been cited as the reason a believer should not marry a person who does not believe. This certainly is important to the conversation of marriage, however marriage is not the only focus of this teaching. In every aspect of our lives we need to be careful about our interactions with those who have a different belief system than us.

Taken to the extreme, this has lead to people not having even friendships with people of other faiths, or even spending time in the same place. It is safe to say that is not what Paul intended when he shared this with the church in Corinth. Rather, Paul wanted the people, and us, to think about the partnerships and depth of relationships we have with other people.

When in a relationship with a person who has a different belief system there may be many points of commonality. At the same time, there are going to be places of profound difference. We must be certain to not make the differences about what is right or wrong. A difference is simply different, no value statement needed. Still the difference must be dealt with.

If you are a follower of Jesus and you are in a relationship with a person who is Hindu, there needs to be great respect for the belief and understanding of the other person. There must also be a recognition of a significant difference. These differences create a dissonance when it comes to the values at the core of our beings. Following Jesus, and being a resurrection person has some serious dissonance with the belief of reincarnation.

When we look at a marriage relationship, if there are two belief systems at work in the marriage there is a great challenge to the union of the Spirit God desires for marriage. This does not mean that each person must believe exactly the same. It does mean there has to be similarity on the core issues. Challenge is ahead for the follower of Jesus that marries someone who does not have Jesus as part of their faith Journey. Likewise for a person who follows Buddhism to marry someone who is Mormon, there will be some serious challenges to their life together due to the difference at the core of their belief and being.

If you are a follower of Jesus, cultivating a healthy marriage starts at having a common belief. We have encountered many people who are followers of Christ who married people who are not, and there is a constant struggle. It is easier for two people who do not follow Jesus, than to have a split household. This is true of any belief system. Being unequally yoked rarely results in a long-term, thriving relationship where each person feels they are all God has created them to be. Further, being unequally yoked rarely leads to a marriage of great depth and fulfillment.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Forgiveness, a Life and Death Matter

Scripture Text: 2 Corinthians 2

Forgiveness is something we offer to someone else not for their benefit but for ours. On the surface it might seem like the act of forgiveness is about the pardon we offer to another. Someone wrongs us and later we have the opportunity to forgive them. Forgiveness is not focused on what happens for the person we forgive.

Paul is clear about this when he is writing to the church in Corinth. Forgiveness and the schemes of Satan are put on opposite ends of the spectrum. When we do not extend forgiveness to other people, we make ourselves more open to the influence of Satan. Our inability to forgive another person does no damage to the other person, it is us that is damaged.

Before going any further we should be clear about a definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is giving up a claim, rightful or otherwise, that we have against someone who has wronged us. When we forgive we are deciding to not live our lives holding a claim against someone else. No longer will what someone else has done to us take up rent space in our minds, lives and way of being. By the way, forgiveness does not mean we forget what the person has done, only we do not let that person have control in our lives any longer.

Unforgiveness is on the list of high-speed marriage killers. When we do not walk in forgiveness with our spouse, we can be sure only trouble and struggle are ahead for our marriage. Walking through marriage with a claim against our spouse will tear apart a relationship, and make it impossible to cultivate a healthy marriage.

Leaving the work of forgiveness undone leaves vast space for the work of Satan to influence our thoughts and actions. The evil schemes become captivating and we begin to exchange the reality of Christ for the fantasy of Satan. All of this rests on walking in forgiveness. That is why this matters so much. If there is any need to have extend or seek forgiveness in your marriage, do not delay, care for it before this day runs its course.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Confidence Promoting Practices

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 1:12-24; Psalm 69

The fist couple of lines in this letter to the church in Corinth are very bold words. Especially when Paul is claiming them to be true about himself. It is either extreme confidence or right on the border of spiritual pride to make the claim to have lived in God-given holiness.

At the same time, we should be able to look at our lives and see the way we have grown in living the life God has called us to live. A disciple of Jesus Christ is a person who is ever-growing in their holiness. There very well will come a point when we can make the similar claim as Paul. However, our confidence, and I assume Paul's, is not in our ability to live a life of holiness. Our confidence comes from the grace of God, not human wisdom.

Tasking a look at the life of Paul, or any other person who follows Jesus wholeheartedly, we find a person who has engaged in practices that promote holiness in their life. Regular communication with God through prayer and the Scriptures. Actively seeking the justice of God. Walking in mercy with those around us. All of these and some more are practices that promote holiness.

In our marriage we can engage in practices that promote having a marriage we can claim confidence in. These are practices beyond what we do individually. Ways in which we treat our spouse. How we talk about our spouse. Devoting time to our spouse and our relationship. These are the practices that give us the ability to say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived our marriage with God-given faithfulness and fruitfulness, not because of our wisdom but because of God's grace.

For us the practice of taking time to read the Scriptures together, write this blog, review the day that was and the day that is about to be, and then pray together is cultivating deeper confidence in what God is doing in and with our marriage. Our hope is you have been cultivating a similar practice in your marriage. We are honored that you make our words a regular part of your confidence promoting practice.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God Uses The Struggle

Scripture Text:  2 Corinthians 1:1-11

As a result of his suffering Paul says he stopped relying on himself and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. Paul was a talented guy. Above average intelligence, and a good model of faithfulness to his belief. No doubt that relying on himself would take him far in life. Yet he does not have the same skill and ability that God does, by name raising the dead.

We are people that can go far on our own ability. There is a certain amount of intelligence in our lives and we have skills to navigate life. Looking back there is even a track record of working through some difficult times. It is easy to see how we can begin to rely on ourselves more than we rely on God.

Relying on ourselves is woven into the fabric of the culture in the United States. Individualism is at an all time high. As a result self-reliance is at an all time high. This is a dangerous thing in our relationship with God and other people. In our relationship with God we begin to think we have the ability to make our own way through life without any connection to the creator of the universe, who is great in power, love and grace. In relationships with other people, it can become easy to think we do not need anyone else to get by.

While marriage is not focused on an individual, it is easy to rely more on our marriage than on God. The various trials and joys we face can easily feel like ours to work with and leave God out of the equation. From time to time God uses the struggles to remind and teach us of our need to rely on God alone. To be clear, God does not cause the struggle, rather God uses the struggle.

No matter how smart we are. No matter how strong the bond we have as a married couple. When we start to rely on ourselves more that we rely on God, trouble is ahead. Like Paul we should learn to rely on God alone, you know the one who raises the dead.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Marriage and Elephant Snacks

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 16; Psalm 68

Many people have used the African proverb about how to eat an elephant... one small bite at a time. When we face great challenges it is better to create small, relatively easy steps to accomplish all that is before us. Paul is using this line of thinking as he reminds the people of Corinth about the financial commitment they made to Jerusalem.

He reminds them it will be very difficult to wait until he comes to collect all the money, rather it would be best to set aside some money on the first day of each week. Creating a small step each week will make the significant task more likely to be accomplished.

When it comes to engaging our spiritual journey the distance between where we are and where we could be seems huge. Paul's advice to the Corinthian church about money applies. If we dedicate small steps in growing deeper in our relationship with God we will have greater success. Instead of trying to read the entire Bible in two weeks, commit to one chapter each day for two weeks, and build from there.

It is safe to say everyone would like to have a healthy and deep marriage. The effort required to attain this goal can seem overwhelming, especially if we try to do it all at once. Key to cultivating a great marriage is doing the small things with consistency. Setting aside time, five or ten minutes, for each other everyday. Never underestimate the power of a small gift, especially when it is not a birthday, anniversary or other special day.

One area that we have not been very good at over the 16 years we have been married is having a regular date night. We know some couples that have a date night each week, time for dinner and time out each week. Regardless of our efforts, we have not been able to establish the practice. What we have been able to do is create times through out the year when we share an overnight away together.

Someday we might find the right pattern to a regular date night. We might also find there to be another important small step to cultivating a healthy marriage. No matter what, we must keep in mind that the big work of a great marriage is accomplished by consistent small steps. Eating the elephant one bite at a time.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Responsible For One Another

Scripture Text: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

In this section Paul gets detailed about what should happen in worship. It would be easy to get lost in the details, however, that is not the intention of the passage. What Paul is trying to convey is worship should have order and intention. When the church gathers for worship it is not a free-for-all where each person does whatever they think is right.

Also in the passage is one of the more challenging things from Paul, his teaching about the role of women in worship. Have you ever had a scripture passage that you wish was simply not there? This is one of them. At the same time, it is included in our text. We could simply dismiss it on the grounds that the Bible was put together by a group of men who wanted to keep women down. While this might be true, it is too simple an answer.

Another argument that could be made is one of cultural context. Paul was writing to a particular church, addressing a particular pastoral concern of that church. Once again this may be true, and it is too simple an answer. The option always exists to write off Paul as wrong and dismiss this and all his teaching. Yet again too simple a solution. Perhaps we simply need to live with the tension of the words from Paul and our experience in the church. Many wonderful and powerful women proclaim the message and truth of God in the pulpit, classroom, office and every other room of the church. Perhaps there is not an easy answer.

Now we add another layer of marriage to this passage. According to Paul, if a woman has a question in church she should ask her husband at home. Never mind there is not conversation about whether the husband would know the answer, we can again get lost in the details. If we look at this passage in a literal way, there are many things missing from many of our worship services. If we look at the spirit of the passage we find there to be a mutual responsibility for each others faith.

An important aspect of this teaching from Paul helps us to realize the faith journey of our spouse is not independent of the marriage relationship. Husband and wife walk together through journey of growing deeper in living a life of transformation. If one spouse has questions the most logical place to engage the question is our marriage partner. From there the other resources of our faith can be engaged.

Before we are married the development of our life in Christ for the most part is our own responsibility. Once we are married, we are responsible for our own still, yet we are also responsible for the development of our spouse. Not just husband to wife, or wife to husband, but a mutual journey where we seek after God with intention and hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tell The Whole World

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25; Psalm 66

"Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth! Sing about the glory of his name! Tell the world how glorious he is." -- Psalm 66:1-2

It often seems easier to complain about the areas of our lives that do not meet our satisfaction. Grumbling and complaining seem to come naturally. The subject of our discontent rarely knows a boundary, and God easily becomes the recipient of our complaints.

While we are found complaining, the world around us sees the way we complain about God, the church and the people we journey with. The grumbling goes on and on while we seem clueless as to why people do not come to church, or want to have a relationship with God.

In the Psalms, we find a fair amount of complaining, we also find a balance of praise. If the time is taken to search through the Psalms more instances of praise are found than complaining. Praising God has an impact in many ways. First, our soul is lifted up as we celebrate the greatness of God and the ways in which God's grace is at work in our lives. Second, when we speak well of God, praise, others around us get more interested in God.

The Psalmist says tell the world how glorious God is. Sing praises and celebrate who God is and what God is up to. The same is true of marriage. It has become common to grumble about marriage and the struggles that present themselves. Turn the television on and you will not have to look hard to find examples of people lamenting marriage more the celebrating. No wonder so many people are uncertain about marriage, they have watched too many people complain and not celebrate.

Not only should we celebrate the joy of being married, we should tell the world how glorious the person we are married to is. There is no replacement for celebrating our spouse in a one-on-one way by sharing what we appreciate and value about them. This is taken to the next level when we tell others about how great our spouse is.

May we be people who celebrate how glorious God is, and tell the whole world. May those who are married celebrate how glorious it is to be married. May we tell the whole world how glorious our spouse is. Celebrate the God who creates, the marriage that unifies souls, and the person whom we journey through life with as our spouse.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

For More Than a Wedding

Scripture Text: 1 Corinthians 13

This passage of Scripture seems like an easy target for a marriage blog, and in many ways it is. By the same token, there is a challenge because of its familiarity. Not to mention the tired ways this passage has been applied to marriage over the years. There is so much more to this passage than kind words at a wedding.

If you have been to a wedding in the last 20 years there is a better than average chance this passage of Scripture has been read during the ceremony. A wedding is the ideal place to have a conversation about love. At the same time, Paul was not writing these words for a wedding, he was writing them to the church in Corinth as instruction for how they could best live their lives.

All the other great things in life are meaningless if we do not have love. This does not mean if no one loves us. It means if we do not live our lives based in the love Paul describes. These words are instructions for how we show love to others, including our spouse, if we want to reflect having a relationship with God.

The points Paul highlights about what love is and is not, are essential in a marriage. Their starting point is not found in the marriage relationship but in the lives of the two individuals making up the marriage. Long before the first date, long before the first thought of asking for the first date, we must fashion our lives in such a way that people experience love from us.

Love that Paul describes does not get initiated by a wedding. It is not the result of two people who love each other enough. The love Paul describes is found when two people commit their lives to the love God has shown humanity in Jesus Christ, and then commit to each other to be bearers of that love.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Uniquely Designed and Created

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 12; Proverbs 13

The passage from Corinthians is one of the more famous passages from the New Testament. Each person is given gifts from the Holy Spirit, and not everyone has the same gifts. This makes up the richness that is humanity. There is not one person who contains all of the gifts needed for the Body of Christ to be whole.

Yet our differences can often cause division and strife. It is easy to think everyone should live their faith the same way and fulfill the life of grace in the same way. Reality is each person is uniquely designed and created by God to be exactly who they are. That is the place we find our unity, not in function but in our connection to God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Further, as Paul points out, we need a diversity of gifts and people. Not all are called to lead, not all are called to preach, not all are called to administration. Some are called to utilize some of the more expressive gifts like tongues and prophecy. The differences found in people are not something to be managed or even tolerated, they are to be embraced as necessary for wholeness of the Body of Christ.

One of the relationships this should be the easiest to grasp yet is often forgotten is marriage. At some point in a marriage the thought has crossed the mind of each person, "I wish they would think or act like me." If we do not pay attention to the differences between us, our marriage relationships will be greatly harmed.

For some it can be scary to think about having another person complete them. It is after all the stuff of sappy romance movies. Still, it is important to recognize the work of God through the movement of the Spirit in bringing two very different people together as one. In our relationship, Aaron is often quick to move to a new idea or situation, while Sarah is more ready to be steadfast in the present moment. This difference has been a source of tension sometimes, however more often than not it has worked well together when we celebrate the difference.

We could fill the page with the ways God has created us different. Another page could be filled with the ways we are similar. Through the similarities and differences, God is working for our wholeness. The wholeness is not only for our benefit but for the benefit of the Body of Christ.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Journey Together

Scripture Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Some of the people in the Corinthian church were engaged in excess while others did not have enough. In the name of worship and celebrating God, some of the followers were having lavish parties where eating excessively and getting drunk were common. All the while, other people of the church were not getting any food. Paul points out this is a problem for the church.

It does not require a great stretch to our imagination to see we have the same struggle in the church today. Not that people are gathering to overeat, though that has happened, or to get drunk on the wine of communion and fellowship. There are people in our churches who live with great abundance while others are not even getting by with their daily bread. As a result there is a hierarchy in the church of those who have and those who have not.

To be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ this kind of disparity cannot exist. There should not be people celebrating excess while there are people without enough. This is not to say people cannot live in abundance. In fact one person may have an abundance to care for the people who are in need. Further we must remember that today's abundance can easily become tomorrows place of need.

In marriage this dynamic can happen. Often the division is not money or resources but in relationship with God. Everyone has a relationship with God that ebbs and flows. There are times of relative ease to the connection with God and there are times when it is challenging. During the challenging times it can be difficult to see someone else in a time of ease. This is even more difficult if that person is your spouse.

Therefore, it is essential in cultivating a healthy marriage to make sure there is a sharing of the journey. In marriage when one person struggles, the role of the spouse is not to highlight how they are experiencing excess. The role of the spouse is to join with the struggling partner so that both may experience God more deeply. In Christian Community, of which marriage is a primary experience, there should not be excess for one while the other struggles. We are to make every effort to share the journey God has us on.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

This is Not a Competition

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 4; Psalm 61

Contrary to the messages we find throughout our society, life is not a competition. Yet, we are so easily drawn into competition in almost every situation of our lives. This starts early on when we want more of the sandbox to play in than all the others who are playing with us. It continues on into most aspects of our lives including our relationship with God.

Though we do not often use the words, we want to be more spiritual than the people around us. So we begin to generate lists containing all the things we do as efforts of our devotion. The checklists of bible passages read and memorized, the time spent in church, the mission projects, and of course the classification of sins. All of this can be summed up as religion, the human pursuit to prove we are more godly than other people. This is competition at its finest.

As we read from Paul we are not the first people to struggle with competition in our relationship with God and others. The church in Corinth, which could be any of our churches today, created competition between Paul and Apollos, and between themselves and anyone who might teach them. We certainly do not face a new struggle with competition, and the struggle is real.

There are two main ways to deal with competition in our lives, humility and honoring. Neither of these mean we do not strive for excellence, rather as we strive we must do so with a proper attitude. Humility is remembering that everyone can be on the quest to be all of who God has called them to be and another person's excellence does not come at my expense. Our goal in life should not be to become better than anyone else. Honoring, is taking time to recognize we are not all the same person and therefore do not all see the world the same way. When we honor another person we do not attempt to win them to our point of view, rather we celebrate the variance between us.

As you might guess, competition can be destructive in marriage. If we are competing to be better than our spouse it becomes increasingly difficult to be humble and honoring toward or spouse. Likewise when we are more humble and honoring toward our spouse, we are less likely to be competitive. Marriage is not a competition, between spouses and in comparison to other marriages.

Cultivating a healthy marriage requires humility and honoring. We are not to be working to become the best this or that in the life of our marriage. In fact we are most helpful to our spouse and our marriage when we strive to see the other person become all of who God is calling them to be. Rather than pursue our own excellence, we find more joy and a healthier marriage when we participate in our spouses excellence. This will not work, however, if we are approaching our marriage as a competition.