Saturday, January 31, 2015

Persevering to the Promise

Scripture Texts: Genesis 26; 1 Chronicles 16:14-22; Galatians 4:28

The people of God are the people of the promise of God. First Abraham was promised to be blessed so that he would be a blessing to all the nations. This promise came with a promise to inhabit the land set aside. The promise culminated in the chosen people being the people of God. Throughout history people have struggled to hold onto the promise because it is not instant in its fulfillment.

Perseverance is necessary for the journey to the promise. When we think about the decedents of Abraham it was several generations before the promise of the land became a reality. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to Moses, eventually under the leadership of Joshua the promise became reality. The story of the promise was told over and over so that the people would remember the promise of God. They were invited to be faithful and persist until the promise was delivered.

We know that God continues to offer us the promise today. The promise for today is not as much about a land that we will inhabit as much as it is a life that we will live. The gap between the promise and the realization of the promise can feel huge, this is where we too must persevere. In marriage we have received the promise of God  that if we live the teachings of God, and commit our lives to living faithfully the commands of God, then God will bless our marriage and our home.

In so many ways we have already tasted this promise becoming a reality. At the same time we know there is much more ahead if we can stay the course, if we can persevere. It is not always easy, in fact there are times when shortcuts look very appealing. We could decide to not live the ways that God has called us and try to fulfill all that God has offered on our own. Be sure however, that this would result in a continued longing. Only through persevering to the promise will we find the wholeness God has set aside for us.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Taking the Long View

Scripture Texts: Genesis 25; Romans 9:10-12; Hebrews 12:14-17

Esau knew what he wanted, immediate gratification. He had just been out hunting and was starving according to Genesis. Jacob uses Esau's situation to earn something far greater than stew, the birthright. The first born son was the son that inherited everything from the father. Esau was the first born but was willing to give that up for a bowl of stew.

Even more astounding than what Esau receives in exchange for the birth right is how easily he gave it up. Jacob simply asks and Esau hands over all the rights and privileges that come with being the first born. It didn't seem to matter at the time because all Esau wanted was satisfaction in the moment.

Taking the long approach is essential in marriage. The temptation is always present to give up something now so we can have immediate reward. We have to work hard to remember that we are engaged in something that is a lifetime long and that means we will have to delay satisfaction sometimes. 

Author and radio host Dave Ramsey has a saying that fits here, "Live like no one else now so that we can live like no one else later." Through the early years of our marriage we have made choices about our time and money that have meant the delay of satisfaction. There were vacations we decided not to take. There have been purchases we have delayed or not made at all. We made the decision for Sarah to say home with our children until they began school, this meant the short-term delay for long-term gain.

In order to cultivate a strong marriage we must resist the temptation that Esau could not. We must not exchange the future God has in store for us so that we can have temporary satisfaction today. The stew that Esau exchanged his future was only going to satisfy for a moment, later in the day he would be hungry again. We hope and pray that others will join us in choosing to live marriage with the long haul in view, and not forfeit the future for something temporary.   

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lean on The Right Understanding

Scripture Texts: Genesis 24; Psalms 37:3-8; Proverbs 3:5-6

It must have seemed like an odd thing for Abraham to request of his servant. Do not let my son marry any of the local women, but travel all the way back to my homeland and find one of my relatives. The trip from where they were back to the homeland was not merely an afternoon stroll. The trip there and back would have taken several days. Surely the servant would have thought it easier and better to find a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanite women.

Yet the plan was clear, put in the investment of time and effort so that the wife of Isaac can be found. All along the way the servant remains connected with God, and each step of the way God provides clarity. The servant was in a situation of complete trust of God and the plan of God, and he had to push back his own plan.

Proverbs 3:5-6 is one the favorite passages of Scripture. You can find it on posters, plaques, and a whole assortment of Christian junk. However, do we realize what the passage is instructing us to do. We are being invited to trust God more than ourselves and to trust the plan of God even if it does not make sense to us. We are being confronted with the truth that God knows better than we do how to live our lives.

Walking the journey of marriage provides no shortage of decisions to make. More than once we have had to look at all the options in front of us and choose which way to go. There have even been times when we have made a choice, thought that it was the right choice only to have doors close and discouragement set in.

When we were moving a few years back we began the process of looking at houses to buy. After hours of looking at online sites we found a house that we visited. After the visit we decided to put an offer in, and soon the offer was accepted. We thought we had found the right house, and that we were making the right decision. The bank however had a different opinion. We were unable to secure the funding for the house, and the deal fell through. In addition to leaving only weeks to find a place to live, we were confused and upset about the path not working out.

A place was found for us to rent for a year, then we were able to find a house in the community we truly wanted to live. Everything worked out and we purchased the house and have called it home ever since. This would not have been possible if we would have purchased the first house. It is not that God caused the bank to not finance the first house, it is clear that God needed to find a way to get us on another path because the one we were about to follow was not the best for us. We were leaning on our own understanding of needing a house to buy at that moment. When all along God had a better house in the community we longed to be in waiting for us.

Leaning on God's understanding is not always easy but it is always best. There will be times of waiting when we want to go, and times of going when we want to wait. Time will come when more effort than we want to expend or have will be required of us. Still we strive to lean more on God's understanding of how to live our life than we lean on our own.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Steadfast Love

Scripture Texts: Genesis 22; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 11:17-19

He waited for over a century. There must have been repeated attempts met with only failure. The drive to get what he wanted was so great that he even went outside the bounds of his marriage. Yet God finally gave a son to Abraham. Then a little over a decade later God makes an audacious request, give the son back to me as an offering. Even more outrageous is that Abraham puts into motion a plan to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. In the end we see that God did not have Abraham sacrifice Isaac but that it was even a possibility seems too much.

Have you ever wanted something more than you wanted God? At first this is a crazy question, once you dig into the question the answer might be more revealing than we like. Most of the time we do not outright say that we want something more than we want God, yet our choices and actions reveal something different. Is it possible that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to see if he desired God more than his beloved son?

The love relationship we have with God is not a one way street. It is not only about our love for God but God's love for us as well. If Paul is correct, and it is safe to say he is, there is nothing that we can do that would cause God to cut us off from being loved. Tragically there are times when our love for God is not as steadfast, these are the times when we love, or desire something other than God the most.

In marriage steadfast love is required to cultivate a strong marriage. This is love for God as well as each other. It is important to remember the order, our first love is God, our second love is our spouse. That seems strange to write, however that is the correct order. In fact to fully love our spouse we must first fully love God and know that we are loved by God. Often the love we feel for our spouse can be shaken because the love we feel with God can be shaken, This usually comes in the form of us wondering if God could love us. Here we claim the promise of God that nothing can separate us from the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus.

Through it all love is what holds life together. The love of God and the love of our spouse. While it would be great to say this love is always experienced as perfect we know a different reality. Still we can have confidence in knowing the love of God is steadfast even if we are not, and that God longs for us to desire God more than anything else.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fully Surrendered

Scripture Texts: Genesis 21:1-7; Romans 9:6-9; Hebrews 11:11-16

Sarah laughed when she heard God's plan for her to be pregnant and give birth to a son with Abraham. The circumstances were all wrong by human standards. She was not able to have children, and even if she could she was well passed childbearing years. Abraham was no spring chicken either at nearly 100 years old. Yet just like God had promised Isaac was born to them. The son was given when they had resigned themselves to something different because they only saw human limitation.

Interestingly enough the way history reports Abraham and Sarah is to remember their great faith. Both in the book of Romans and in the book of Hebrews we hear how the birth of Isaac was a testament to their faith. Perhaps it is possible the greatest faith we see is not from Abraham and Sarah but from God who continued with the promise even though Sarah laughed. God was not deterred by the fact that Abraham and Sarah had decided their lives were not going to include a child of their own.

It was late fall of 1997 and we had been exchanging hand written letters. I, Aaron, was working at a camp and retreat center and Sarah was home working on the family dairy farm. About once a week we would exchange letters talking about life and complaining about the lack of qualified people to date or consider for marriage. As we were sharing the letters I had determined that if God wanted me to that I would live my life as a single person, and was truly okay with that. I had always felt God had someone in mind for me to marry but I was sure that was not a reality that I would experience. So much so that I was ready to sell all my earthly possessions with the exception of my backpack, sleeping bag and a few other camping related items, and head for Colorado to camp and live off the land in the summer and be a ski instructor in the winter. I had resigned myself to something other than marriage.

Well God had another plan. The letters between us became more regular, every couple of days, and it seemed what we were describing as our hopeful mate was each other. So with what felt like great risk we decided to chance the great friendship we had and explore dating. The rest of the story is as they say history.

In our journey from friends writing letters to married couple we have experienced the fulfillment of God's promise. When we were resigned to a life different than we thought possible is exactly when God brought the promise to reality. It is almost as if God was waiting until we were fully surrendered before the promise was brought to fruition.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Giving the Best Everyday

Scripture Texts: Genesis 19; Luke 17: 28-36; 2 Peter 2:6-9

For most of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah it was a day like any other day. They were going about their day and doing the things they had always done. Then the fire and brimstone came raining down destroying the cities and all that was in it.

Later in the Gospel of Luke we learn from Jesus that there will come another day like that. A day when people are going about business as usual and then all of a sudden the Day of Judgement will be upon us. Over the years many people have offered predictions about when the world would end, and so far they have all been wrong. Jesus is clear in other places of Scripture that the only one who knows the day and time is God the Father.

So why even talk about it? We do not know when it is going to happen but we know that at some point it will happen. Further we know that it will be an all of a sudden kind of thing. It could be tomorrow for all we know. This is not meant to get us all preoccupied with predicting the day, rather it is meant to invite us to live our lives today like this could be the last day. Not that we need to complete our bucket list today but that we need to make sure we are living the life that God has called us to live. The life that Christ died and rose from the grave to give us. We should give our best everyday to being the people of God.

This might seem relentless as tomorrow is always coming. It is relentless, you do not get to take a break from living this life. Likewise we do not get to take a break from being married. There is not an option to take a timeout or a day off. So, everyday we are to give our very best to our marriage. To honor God and our spouse in a way that if the Day of Judgement comes tomorrow we are prepared by the way we have lived. To get the most out of our marriage we must give ourselves completely and totally to the marriage. This means that we are willing to lose our lives that we might gain all that God has for us.

This is no easy task and takes practice, patience and mountains of forgiveness. It might seem like we have time to wait to give ourselves to the work of God and to our marriage, however we do not know how much time we have. So, let us give ourselves completely today, and when tomorrow comes do it again.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Faith and Trust

Scripture Texts: Genesis 18; Isaiah 3:8-11; Hebrews 13:1-2

The way we live our lives has consequences. Abraham and Sarah lived their lives in such a way that God could use them for the initiation of the promise. Further God was able to use them to bring a child into the world even though by earthly understandings the time had passed.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah faced the consequences of how the people there lived their lives. In an amazing interaction between Abraham and God, Abraham does an impressive job of debating God from 50 to 10 righteous people and the cities will be spared. This shows the heart of grace and love that God has toward people not wanting any to perish. With that said in the next chapter in Genesis we find the destruction of the cities.

The people of the cities lived however they wanted. They had very little to no regard for God or the ways of God. It was not that the people had little faith in God, they had no faith in God, or they thought they were gods themselves. Their lifestyle was brought before God, and judgment was rendered.

In our individual and our married life the way we live has consequences, we cannot simply live however we see fit. God has called us to live a life of faith and trust, and our marriage must be built on faith and trust. We cannot simply disregard the call to live in accordance with God and expect there will not come a time when we are called to account for our actions. In our marriage, if we live outside of how God calls us to in marriage, the consequence is a difficult marriage. Usually a marriage that is lacking or void of faith and trust in the other person.

It sounds almost too simple or even trite to say that if we are faithful to God in our relationship with God and with our spouse then our lives will work out better. Well it may be simple and trite but it is true. The relationship we have with God and our spouse is a direct result of whether we are following after God or our own understandings of life. Having faith and trust in God results in a life that is better lived.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A New Name

Scripture Texts: Genesis 17; Romans 4:7-13; Colossians 2:11-13

To celebrate the faith God had seen in Abram and Sarai a new name was given to each of them. Their new names were given because they were now new people, they were people of the promise. This is not the last time in the Scriptures that God gives someone a new name. Jacob becomes Israel. Simon becomes Peter. Saul becomes Paul. For each of the people who had their name changed it was in connection with establishing faith in God in a new and deeper way.

It is not as often that we change our names here in the United States when we become a follower of Jesus. There are places in our world where that happens still today. We should say that we do not change our birth names for the most part. What is changed is our name as God sees it. When we place our faith in God and accept the loving grace of Jesus Christ through the forgiveness of the cross, we get a new name. No longer are we called sinner but we are called redeemed. We are called forgiven, free and whole. No matter what our past holds when we come to Jesus we are given the name beloved child of God.

Before we were married there were several conversations about our past. Much of the discussion about the past was not new as we had shared many of the stories before. There were a few stories or moments from our past that we approached with some fear and anxiety. We jumped in and had the conversations in full, and began our marriage with a clear understanding of the past that brought us to that point. Let's just say that not everything in our pasts was something that we were always proud of. We can also say that our past was not what defined us then and it is not what defines us now. We both had received a new name from God.

Standing at the altar it seemed that Sarah was the one who was getting a new name. We had hours of standing in lines and forms that were completed to prove that a name change was taking place. What might not have been as readily apparent was the fact that we were both getting a new name. From that day forward we were taking on the name of married. At that point we stood as beloved of God and of each other for all eternity.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Freedom and Grace

Scripture Texts: Genesis 16; Genesis 21:8-21; Galatians 4:21-31

There are times when we think God needs a little help from us humans. The times when the timing of God does not fit our timetable, or when God solves our problems in ways different than we wanted them solved. In our humanness we take charge and fulfill what God promised using our own ability.

Abram and Sarai were promised by God they would have children but it was not happening so they devised another plan. From the moment Abram and Sarai's plan was put into effect struggle and strife followed. Hagar and Ishmael, the human attempt to solve the problem of no children become more of a challenge.

Paul reminds the Galatian church what happens when we choose a human solution rather than trust the promise of God. The result is being enslaved to human built law rather than living free though grace. Whenever humans try to deliver on God's promise ahead of God the result is captivity of themselves or others. When we wait on God's timing and action we find grace and freedom.

In our marriage we have clearly felt the call and promise of God in big things and small things. It would be great to share that we have always waited for God's timing to fulfill the promise. That is not the case. There have been times when we have run ahead and given God a little help accomplishing the promise. The result was a time when we were trapped in a situation or to a commitment for longer than we needed to be.

It is not just with God that we try to force the agenda, this can happen with our partner as well. In marriage we cannot force our partner to do things according to our plan. Sure we can manipulate or deceive but when we do that we are creating captivity, anger and more strife. Increased conversation and trust of the other person usually ends in greater fulfillment and freedom in a marriage. It seems better to be in a marriage because you desire to be married to the other person, rather than to feel trapped, like you have to be married. More simply said it is the difference of getting to be married to the other person or having to be married to the other person.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Right Foundation and the Protection of God

Scripture Texts: Genesis 15; Jeremiah 34:18-20; Romans 4

God gives a promise to Abram before the promise of being the father of a great nation. God tells Abram to not be afraid because God will protect Abram and his reward will be great. For many of us that would be enough of a promise but not for Abram. Right away Abram complains to God that he does not have an heir and that all the Lord has bestowed upon him will be handed off to a servant.

It is hard to realize what a big deal this was because we do not seem to think about this as much as people did in the days of Abram. We can just know this was a really big deal and Abram was really fretting over not having an heir. God responds very quickly, "No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir." (v. 4) God has just told Abram to not worry, and Abram worries. Then God tells Abram why he should not worry, because God has the plan well at hand.

It was credited righteousness to Abram that he decided to submit to God's plan at that point and the full promise of not just one son, but of many nations and descendants was given. We have to wonder how the promise of God would have come to reality if Abram would have chosen a different course.

In our marriage we have not received the promise that we will be the parents of many nations and people, in fact we are fairly confident that three is our number. Yet, we do have the same promise that God gave to Abram before the big promise. We do not need to be afraid of the days ahead because God will protect us. Not because we have cut up animals for sacrifice like Abram, and not because we have perfectly kept the Law of Moses all the days of our lives. The promise of God is ours because we belong to God. Long before we went on our first date and certainly before we even entertained the idea of being together each of us made a decision that changed everything.

Both of us made the decision to put Jesus Christ first in our life. This changed everything because no matter what happened with the rest of our lives we could know that God was with us, and we were with God. When we finally caught up to God's plan for us to date and marry our relationship had a solid footing to start on. The foundation was not from the flowers exchanged or the meals shared together, although those things are important. Our foundation was in Christ Jesus. Over the years this has made all the difference, and no matter what situation we have found ourselves in we have been able to be confident of God's promise of protection.

This has not always meant that we have been safe, or that we have not worried. It means that we have been able to cling to the promise of God in Christ and to each other. To this day we make every effort to continue to follow the plan that God puts before us and trust in the protection and hope we find in Jesus.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trust the Promises

Scripture Texts: Genesis 13; Nehemiah 9:6-8; Acts 7:2-5

"And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your word." --Nehemiah 9:8
These are the words of Nehemiah regarding how God treated Abraham. Long before Abraham was even Abraham. Long before the first item was packed and they left Ur, God promised Abram that God would provide a promised place. Eventually through many years of travel Abram settles into the land that would eventually be the home for Israel.

Before leaving his childhood home Abram must have already had a relationship of great trust in God to pull up stakes and move to a place to be named later. When they set out they knew the direction they were headed but not the exact location. Still, Abram journeyed on trusting the promise of God.

Years later Nehemiah and even more years later Stephen, recognize the faithfulness of Abraham, and the trust Abraham showed in God. This trust lives on today, when God promises we can count on it happening.

When we stood in front of a pastor and a congregation and committed to our wedding vows there was a very important portion to the service. Early on in the ceremony the pastor shared that if we would faithfully keep the vows we were making that day and if we were faithful to God's word, we could count on a blessed and holy marriage. Now nearly 16 years after that day we are experiencing the promise of God in reality.

This does not mean that everything is always easy, or that everything always works out as planned. What it means is that we can see how God has been and is being faithful to the promise as we journey through marriage together. Especially when it has been more difficult to see what God was up to.

Claiming the promise of God is a good start. Before we claim the promise we must first believe the promise is real and at work in our lives. We must trust the words Nehemiah shared, that God is always true to his word. In our marriage we often need each other to remind us of that.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Love and Trust

Scripture Texts: Genesis 12:10-20; Genesis 20; 1 Peter 3:1-6

The two passages in Genesis present situations that are not the first thoughts we have of Abraham. The same person that God uses to begin the people called Israel is now practicing deception. It can be said Abraham was trying to protect his wife in both situations, however deception is not the best avenue to accomplish the protection.

In the end Abraham brings the possibility of curse to whole groups of people rather than bringing blessing. At the root of Abraham's actions is a failure to trust in God. Abraham thought he needed to plot and scheme to keep himself and Sarah safe from the foreign kings. In reality Abraham needed only to trust God.

In the middle of all this is Sarah. She is faithfully following the directions of her husband. We do not
know if she asked any questions, or protested in any way. What we do know is that she followed Abraham's lead. When Peter writes his letter to a church, Sarah is lifted up as being obedient to God and to her husband. Her beauty is not only because of outward appearance but it is from her relationship with God.

The relationship between a husband and wife is the most essential earthly relationship. The scriptures have some clear and often unpopular views on the dynamics of this relationship. Peter writes, "In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands." In many circles today this is not popular or practiced.

We decided long ago to live in our marriage using the words of Peter and the words of Paul in Ephesians 5 as a recipe for a healthy marriage. Over the years we have been criticized for this as well as being praised for this. However, what matters most to us is whether we are being faithful to what God calls us, and living in accordance with the Scriptures. We have to trust God more than the values of the world around us.

Before closing today's entry it is important to note how we live this out in our marriage. Yes Sarah accepts my authority, or as Paul says it she submits. However, I then am responsible to lead and love my wife in the same way that Christ leads and loves the church. This is not a life of oppression rather one of love, trust and faithfulness that neither of us would trade for anything.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Faith and Blessing

Scripture Texts: Genesis 12:1-9; Hebrews 11:8-10; Galatians 3:7-14

It was not because of anything Abram did, or anything that Abram offered to God. It was because of Abram's faith in God that he was considered righteous. The faith of Abram brought him from his home to a place that God revealed at the time he arrived there. In other words, Abram packed up all of his household and everyone traveled until God made it clear they had arrived at the right place.

This would be like us loading up a moving truck and starting to drive without a sense of where we would stop. Every step of the way we would simply ask God if this is the right place. Not until God showed us would we set up our new home.

All of this instigated God making a covenant with Abram, who would become Abraham. In the covenant the land is promised to Abram and his descendants as well as God blessing Abram. Important in the blessing is that Abram was blessed by God so that he could be a blessing to all the world. Faith and blessing were not simply for the prosperity of Abram and his family, it was so that the whole world would know the blessing God.

In the first year of our marriage we moved from our first home to an apartment several hours away. We loaded up the moving van and headed out. At the time of our departure we knew what city we were headed to, and we had an address but we had never seen the apartment that would become home. Work schedules and distance did not allow for us to tour the apartment so we depended on the insights of another person and went.

The reason we made the move was so that Aaron could start seminary and follow the calling God had placed on his life. We had no idea where life would take us from there but we knew that God was calling us to that place. Since then we have moved several times, each time not sure about where God would take us but being sure that God was calling us.

In it all we have felt blessed by God. Not all the moves have been easy or even sought after. Still as we have moved we have found God leading us to the place we needed to be. Our role has been to be faithful to where God has called. Through that we have experienced the blessing of God, not just for ourselves but so that others may experience the blessing as well. Most days it is easy for us to feel blessed to be a blessing, and on the days it is not as easy to feel that way, we try to be a blessing anyway.

Friday, January 16, 2015

God Knows More

Scripture Texts: Job 38; Job 42; James 5: 9-11

God asks Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" This seems like a question that has a pretty obvious answer. Its power however is not in the answer but in the meaning behind the question and answer. For most of the book of Job we find Job demanding some answers from God, and not until the end of the book does God answer.

Using an impressive litany of questions God makes it clear that Job, or us for that matter, has tread into waters that are way over his head. The maker of all the universe does not have to field questions from humanity, nor is God under obligation to answer our demands. Yet, God does, and in this particular case God does with great clarity. The answer God offers is to remind Job that there is more to the universe and to God's power than Job can ever fathom.

We have never faced anything like Job faced. Sure we have had struggles along the journey but nothing like Job. Still there are times in our marriage when we wonder what God is doing. There have even been times when we have demanded some answers from God. We have not experienced God asking the litany of questions that Job faced, however it has been clear that God is bigger and more powerful than we can often imagine.

Stop and think about it. Two people who are going along in life just fine decide to make the journey together. There are plenty of similarities sure, but there are also some differences. Then we factor in the fact that both of us felt like the other one was out of their league. In all of that God has brought us together. Along the way we have found that God provides a way for our relationship to continue to grow, even as we are different people with different personalities. We are not really sure how God has done it but we are really glad God has.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Power of Encouragement

Scripture Texts: Job 16, Job 32; Matthew 26:62-68

The company we keep is important to how we walk through life. This is especially evident in the times we face trials. Job is sitting with his friends and they are trying to help him come to terms with all that has happened. Each of them takes a turn at diagnosing and offering advice about the situation in which Job finds himself. None of their words seem to change what is happening for Job and it does not seem like their words bring comfort or understanding.

In the beginning of Job 16, Job even tells them that what he was looking for is encouragement, yet they have offered none. Many words were used to try and prove that Job had obviously done something wrong but no words are used to encourage him. Even when the fourth, and youngest friend, offers his words there is no source of encouragement only more words about what is wrong with the situation.

It is not only Job that faces difficult days. Every person has had challenging days or seasons in their lives. Often we find friends to talk to about what is happening in hopes of finding encouragement. The frustration and struggle increase when we find more challenges rather than encouragement.

In a marriage relationship encouragement is essential. When our partner is having a challenging day, we must be a person of encouragement for them, not always a problem solver. Even when things are going great for our partner it is important to offer words of encouragement for the events and actions of their life. Practicing encouragement in the normal day-to-day will help us to offer encouragement in the days and seasons of challenge.

Perhaps what Job needed most is what our marriages need a significant amount of, encouragement. So may we be people who offer encouragement before we offer advice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Preparing for Troubles Ahead

Scripture Text: Job 3; Job 4; Ezekiel 14:12-14

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right? You know those days when you think it would have been better to just stay in bed? Well Job was having one of those days times 1000. He laments that he was ever born, that the day of his birth even existed.

To that one of his friends responds with a message that basically says, suck it up Job we all have bad things happen to us. Bad things do not only happen to the wicked, they happen to all people. The measure of the moment is not the bad that happens but the response we have to it.

As we shared in our last entry we have had some hard days. Never have we gotten to the point of wishing our wedding day never happened. I wish there would never again be a difficult day for our marriage but that does not seem like reality. There will be days when those we love die. There will be days when things are just difficult. Still there will be days when hurt and disappointment are at every turn. We cannot control what the days of the future will bring.

What we can control is how we will respond to the challenges that lie ahead. Our preparation for those days is the journey we are on now. Can you imagine how Job would have responded if he had not tied his heart to the heart of God? Investing in our marriage through time together is essential to being prepared to weather the storm. Taking the time to study the scriptures together, to pray together, and to simply be in conversation about our day-to-day life as well as the major parts of life. All of these are the work of preparation for the challenging days.

As God reminds us through the prophet Ezekiel, no one else can do this preparation. No one else can do the work of righteousness in our lives, it is work that we must invest in ourselves. It is our hope in sharing this journey through the Scriptures with all of you, that we can be a part of your preparation for whatever the days ahead hold. Of great value is that it is helping us to prepare for whatever the days ahead bring.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

When Marriage Gets Hard

Scripture Texts: Job 1; Job 2; James 5:9-11

It was the most difficult year of our marriage. For six years we had shared ministry in a place that we loved, and that we loved being. Our hope was to stay in that place for a long time and journey through life with the people there. The plan was going well until the day the phone rang sharing that things were about to change. After a very brief time to pray about the change we concluded that it was God that was calling us to the new venture, even if we were not sure if we liked what was ahead.

Over the following months, as the time of transition drew closer, the tension and stress in our marriage was at its all time high. Both of us were grieving the change, and we were both struggling to to keep our eyes fixed on Christ. Over and over there was one thought that kept coming to the surface, "Why is it so difficult to do what God is calling us to do?"

Throughout our marriage we have worked very hard to follow where God has called us. All along the way as change was part of the equation it seemed easy to make the transition and the stress to our marriage was relatively low. Staying faithful had not been difficult until this particular change. Now the thought made the shift to, "Why are we suffering if we are following what God wants for us?"

This brings us to Job. One of the most challenging books of the Bible Job seemed to have it all going in the right direction. It was in fact God who made the claim that Job was the most righteous person on the face of the planet. Job was living directly in the center of the will of God, and was following God completely. When the trials and tribulations show us everyone around him is telling him to curse God and die, to give up. Not even an option for Job, in fact his reply to his wife is, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?"

What we went through a few years back was not even close to the struggle that Job faced, yet it was still very real. Even more challenging is all that happened to Job was truly bad stuff. What was happening to us was only bad because it forced us to change from a situation we loved. The struggle we faced was not tied to our faithfulness, nor was it tied to whether or not God loved us. The stress on our marriage at that time was not a sign that we had a bad marriage or that we did not love each other anymore. All of it meant that we were having a hard time, and hard times are part of the journey, especially when you are following Jesus.

Here we are three years later. Our marriage is in a much better place. We still miss the ministry we shared for those six years. Still, we are beginning to experience the blessings from enduring the struggle. Never did we consider giving up on God or on our marriage but we did wonder if we would always feel the hurt. The sting is still a part of life for us, however that sting is not a part of our marriage anymore. The pain is over not having what was, something we treasured. Through time and investing in each other our marriage has experienced healing from the most challenging year we have had. It would be great if that meant all the challenges were behind us, and that never again would we face the stress of that year. Safe to say there will be more struggles in the journey ahead. A big difference when they come around again will be the experience of the last time.

In the end, marriage is going to have struggles, even the best marriages. Stress and struggle are not a sign of a poor marriage, or that you are not being faithful to God. During those times we would do well to remember Job, and his reply to struggle, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

With Heart and Words

Scripture Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalms 19:1-4; Acts 2:1-21

Language is an amazing things. It is possible to be talking about the exact same thing as another person yet not use the same words. It is also possible to use the same exact words and not be talking about the same thing. Then there is the whole portion of communication that happens without words.

It seems that humans are nearly unstoppable when they begin to use language well. That is the story
we get from Genesis as the people of Babel use their common language to begin building a tower to the heavens. God becomes concerned about the ability that humanity has when it speaks the same language. This concern is not one of fear that people will become too powerful, rather the concern is that people will begin to think they can do it on their own and do not need God. They have the right ability with the wrong heart.

When we read the words of the Psalmist we find there are times when there is the right heart and words are not needed to be understood, "They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world."(v3-4)

Then we get to the story of Pentecost, at that moment the heart and mouth are working together, right heart and right words. God is then able to use the words of humanity to tell of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Without communication it is impossible to cultivate a thriving marriage. We can use words to develop our own power and control over another person. There is also the opportunity to use our words to create something of beauty and grace that God can use to tell the Good News of redemption in Jesus Christ. Like with those who have gone before us the key is to have the right words and the right heart with those words. For our heart and words to match the work of the Holy Spirit is essential. It is through the Holy Spirit that our desires are made pure and our words are made true. When our hearts and words are working in concert through the Holy Spirit the words are often communicated without sound like noted in Psalms.

One of the tests of communication for our marriage is setting up for our family camping trips. For several years we owned a screen tent that was challenging to set up on a good day, nearly impossible on a day when we were not communicating well. Screen tent set up became a litmus test for how well we were doing with communication. If it was going poorly there was a large number of frustrated, or angry glances and almost grunts in the process, and the tent took three times as long to set up. If we were doing well, then we were able to laugh at ourselves and continue toward setting up the tent, usually in a normal amount of time. Everything about the tent was more challenging when we were not communicating well.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Faithful Endurance

Scripture Text: Genesis 8; Genesis 9; Matthew 24:36-44

Faithfulness to God and the plan of God often takes endurance. For Noah and his family the time in the ark was far more than just 40 days. Instead it was closer to a year they shared the boat with every creature in all creation. Can you imagine the stench that was inescapable? Day after day all they could see when the looked out the windows was water.

After they left the boat God used Noah and his family for the great purpose of starting over in creation. After the endurance of following through on the call of God, the reward was being used by God for one of the most important do overs in all human history. What would have happened if Noah had simply given up after the first three months?

Whether it was Noah or a follower of Jesus Christ as we read about in Matthew, following after the call of God requires us to have keen focus and a strong resolve. There has never been a promise that this was going to be an easy journey. The temptation will be high to give up at some point but we must resist and move through the struggles so that we might someday enjoy being used by God for a great purpose.

Anyone who tells you that marriage is always easy is not really paying attention. Struggle lurks at many turns. There is the challenge of two people sharing life together with a willingness to subordinate their desires for the sake of the other. Then there is just all the real world "stuff" that comes up as we journey. Work struggles, financial challenges, loss of loved ones, and many other points of struggle that impact the marriage journey. There will be times when giving up seems like a possibility.

We decided before we were married that divorce was not an option for us. We recognize there are situations and circumstances that divorce is the best road forward, however that is rare and something we will do all we can to avoid. The decision to remove divorce from the equation means that we have to have faithful endurance through the challenges. We need to trust that God is working something that is greater than we can see or understand.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Following God not the World

Scripture Texts: Genesis 6; Genesis 7; Hebrews 11:7

The story of Noah is one of the most recognizable stories of the Scriptures. How can you miss a story about a guy who builds a boat, loads all the animals and survives a worldwide flood? As we read these passages some basic math revealed that there was not a lot of room for that many animals. Then it struck us, what if the story is not about the animals and the big boat.

Noah was asked to do something that was absurd at best. Living in the middle of a dry mountainous climate, he was asked to build a boat, and not just a little boat, one that was over 101,000 square feet. Why is it that God trusted Noah with such an outrageous task? Faith. Noah was the only person God could find that had enough faith to be trusted with such a big task.

Along the way I am sure Noah heard all the ridicule from those in his community. It is more than likely that Noah was the punchline on many of the jokes. Yet through it all Noah believed God and the plan of God more than the people around him. There may have been times when Noah believed God and God's plan more than he believed himself. Daily there was a struggle to remain faithful to what God was calling Noah to do. Remember a boat that size was not built in a day. It must have been attractive more than once to give up on the whole thing and live like the rest of the world. However that is not the course Noah chose. In the end creation was extended to the post flood world because of Noah's faith and willingness to follow.

The world around us today has some different ideas about relationships and marriage than we find in Scriptures. Looking around, it seems in some settings marriage is almost disposable. The values which drive a marriage are more about pop psychology or financial benefit more than faithfulness to the call of God. Choosing to live in a marriage that works to follow God's intention and call for marriage is not always an easy task. We are called to live in a different way than the other models of marriage we see around us. In our years together we have had times when people have questioned our marriage values. Some have called them old fashioned, while others have felt pity or shame because of the ways we choose to live into gender roles. We have never been tempted to abandon our values for marriage.

Like Noah, we are committed to living the call of God, even if culturally this does not sit well. God calls us to a marriage with Him at the center. Our focus and direction needs to always be focused on God more than anything else.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Walk With God

Scripture Texts: Genesis 5:18-24; Hebrews 11:5-6; Jude 14-19

Enoch is easily and often passed over when looking at the different people we find in the Bible. Yet he shows up throughout, including the accounts from Genesis, Hebrews and Jude. The two most notable features of his life were the way he lived and the way he was taken from creation. It is not since the days of Adam and Eve while still in the Garden that someone is noted as walking with God. Enoch appeared to live his life in the way that God was hoping that everyone would live. At the conclusion of his time on earth we find that instead of dying like all the others listed, God takes Enoch.

As the telling of Enoch's story goes through the ages what is held in regard by the people of God is
not that God took him, rather the example of faith found in Enoch. It is easy for us to focus on the whole disappearance, or taking of Enoch. The New Testament writers accept Enoch's being taken by God as a given and really do not question it. Perhaps we focus on the wrong thing in his story because it is easier to wrestle with the unknown of being taken than it is to compare the faith of Enoch with our faith.

The way our life ends is not nearly as important as the way we live it. Enoch had a very strange ending to his life. The strange ending was minimal compared to how he lived. According to Jude the people around Enoch were grumblers and complainers, let's throw in whiners just for fun as well. Their focus was satisfying their own desires and whatever stood in their way, even God, became an object of grumbling and complaining. Enoch lived different than that and the end of his life was profoundly different than the grumblers and complainers.

As we look at marriage grumbling and complaining can be one of the most damaging thing to the marital relationship. When the actions of our spouse are met with whining more than anything else, there is sure to be trouble ahead. More challenging is to look at the root of our grumbling and complaining. Usually we complain when we do not get our way, or when we have to put our desires on the back burner. In marriage the willingness to push our desires away without grumbling or complaining is a key to showing love and respect to our partner. It is also key to living in marriage in a way that creates unparalleled benefit in the end. When we live our marriage walking with God, like Enoch, the blessing God pours on to the marriage is beyond our wildest imagination.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Giving The Very Best

Scripture Text: Genesis 4; Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:10-15

First read through of the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel leaves a lot of questions. The least of which is how would either of the brothers know what to bring to God as a sacrifice. It is not a stretch to say that Cain and Abel had an ongoing relationship with God and this passage is a continuation of that relationship. It is possible this is not the first time the brothers brought a sacrifice to God.

Another question is, what made Cain's offering so unacceptable? Read closely and you will see Abel brought the best he had to offer and Cain seemed to offer a "whatever" portion of the crop. To put it another way, Cain was trying to do the minimum to meet the requirements and Abel was offering the very best that he had to meet the requirements.

Perhaps that is the the faith we see in Abel that Paul and the writer of 1 John, lift up. Abel was willing to trust God with the most prized portion, the most valuable. It is easy to slip into the place of offering God less than full effort or to simply offer the minimum required to get by. The challenge and work of faith is to give God the best, even when we do not really want to.

Turning to marriage. There is a great temptation to do the minimum to make it work. Shuttle the kids here and there, help out around the house, be for the most part physically present. Going through the motions of a relationship with out fully engaging. To get the most out of marriage both partners must be willing to move beyond the minimum required and strive to offer each other the very best. We need to move from a "whatever" portion of our lives and invest the most valuable and best. This means time, energy and effort, and a willingness to serve each other in ways that are wholehearted and sometimes at our own expense.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Undivided Devotion

Scripture Text: Genesis 3; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Romans 5:12-21

Sin. It takes many forms in our world, and it cannot be avoided. It began with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and has continued to the present day. If we learn from the exchange between the serpent and Eve, sin was birthed in deception. The serpent told Eve that God did not really mean what God had said. From that point forward sin has flourished because people have believed something or someone more than they have trusted in what God has said.

Looking at Paul's concern for the church in Corinth, the worry about being corrupted from pure and undivided devotion to Christ is rooted in deception. It is safe to say that Paul's concern for the church would accurately translate to our individual lives today. The thing that gets in the way of our pure and undivided devotion to Christ is our belief that someone or something knows better than God. This will lead us to continue to join the list of all humanity that have sinned.

The Good News is that deception and sin are not the end of the story. While it is through Adam and
Eve that sin enters the world, it is through one person Jesus Christ, that all the world can find redemption. In other words, because of Jesus we are not trapped in the deception and sin but we can experience the fullness of life that God offered pre-serpent in the Garden of Eden. We are not defined by our sin, rather we are defined by God's grace through Jesus Christ which covers our sin. Interestingly enough after sin entered the world it was God who sewed the garments covering the nakedness of Adam and Eve.

Turning to our marriage. God has made it pretty clear how to live in marriage in a way that leads to the fullness of marriage. This was a portion of the conversation yesterday in Two Become One. The greatest challenge to a marriage is the voice that tells us we know better than God. There are times when the voice of deception is loud and in our face, yet the most common tactic is to be subtle and sneaky. Over the years of our marriage we have both had times the voice of deception has reared its ugly head. To this point we have been able to quiet the voice by remaining focused on the voice that brings life, Jesus Christ. Like Paul teaches the Roman church, through Adam deception won but through Christ grace and love have taken the day. A marriage focused on Christ will still face attacks from the deceiver, this is true for all. However, keeping our ears tuned to Christ will allow us to remain pure and undivided in our devotion to Christ and each other.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Two Become One

Scripture Texts: Genesis 2; Matthew 19:3-6; Ephesians 5:28-33

Have you ever been working with duct tape and have it stick to itself? If you have then you know the challenge that exists in trying to separate the tape. If you are like many people you simply discard the current piece and get a new one. The other option is to go through the painstaking task of separating the two pieces. It can be done, however when the pieces are apart neither one of them is whole.

It is stated in Genesis, repeated by Jesus in Matthew, and Paul offers the reminder to the church in Ephesus, when a man and woman are joined in marriage they are no longer two but one, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." Ephesians 5:31. The two lives are joined together in a bond much stronger than even the strongest duct tape, and separating them is not only difficult and painful but neither person is whole afterward.

Some marriages seem to be lived in a way that is working to pull the tape apart rather than working to live in the oneness that God has blessed in their marriage. Ephesians offers some helpful ways to live a marriage in a way that celebrates the unity found in God. Step one, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). Next steps, wives submit to your husbands and husbands love your wife as Christ loves the church.

For those who are still reading, this is where many in the current American culture go a little squirrelly. The idea of submission is not one we really like. It requires that we go outside our own individual will and think about the other person more than ourselves. Even more challenging is to think that we might have to submit our hopes, dreams and desires to Christ who might have different hopes dreams and desires for us, and for our marriage. Yet that is the key, the two become one flesh that is joined together by God, and is submitted to God through Jesus Christ. Rather than thinking about "I" in marriage it is essential to always thing about "us".

Friday, January 2, 2015

Constant Faith

Scripture Texts: Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:1-3; Hebrews 1:10-12

God spoke and creation came into being. There is something profound and majestic about creation while at the same time there is something simple. God spoke and it happened, there does not seem to have been any heavy lifting, or major construction projects, it just happened.

Wouldn't it be great if that is how life worked for all of us? All we would need to do is speak something into being. No extraordinary effort, in fact no effort other than spoken word. This would mean for a great and faithful marriage all we would need to do is speak those words and it would happen. Just to be clear this is not how it works. Building the marriage that we desire requires work and effort, far more than simply speaking words of perfection. Along with this work we need to live in complete faith of the one who spoke creation into being with grace and ease.

Taking a look at the passages in Hebrews, we are reminded that God is the only constant in all of creation. Some have said that it is death and taxes, however God is clear that the only thing that remains constant is Him. At this point faith enters the equation. The things around us, material goods, people and the relationships we share are tangible. It is easier to hold and interact with them because they are visible. God on the other hand can be less tangible and more difficult to grab hold of. Faith, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we do not see. So, we are invited to hold as constant that which we cannot see visibly.

To live the marriage that we long for we must first hold onto the only thing in all of creation that is constant, God made known through Jesus Christ. Second we must have faith in God's ability to see us through the ups and downs of marriage. We must also have faith in our marriage as well as faith in each other. To pull this off requires more than a commonly spoken set of words. We need to take time to cultivate our reliance on God, and increase our ability to hold on to God and each other through it all.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

All Things…

Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1-5; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-19

Day one of a new year, a good day to start at the beginning. Genesis 1 reminds us of the creation, that God spoke into chaos and light emerged which lead to order. In the Gospel of John the reminder shows up again that God was the one who created, and that Jesus was present at the creation. Further that Jesus was now entering creation in a new way, making his dwelling among us. Once again God is bringing light into chaos with the promise of creating order.

We are not letting any major secret loose to say that marriage can get chaotic from time-to-time, especially when children are added to the mix of personalities and schedules. Couple the chaos that can be in a marriage with the chaos and drama which flourishes in our world and there is a recipe for great struggle in a marriage. This is where the words of Colossians are helpful, "Because all these things were created by him, both in the heavens and on the earth. The things that are visible and the things that are invisible, whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities all things were created through him and for him. He existed before all things and all things are held together in him." Colossians 1:16-17. God existed long before our marriage and long before our chaos. God has been bringing order to chaos way before God brings order to our chaos. As we read the passages it is not that God eliminates the chaos, rather that God shines through the chaos to show that there is order in the midst of the chaos.

When marriage is tough, and every marriage has tough times, God does not often simply make it better. What often happens is God reminds us that Jesus is in all things. More than just in all things, that Jesus was part of creating all things and that all things are directed toward Jesus. When we begin to ask the question, "Is our marriage being used for God?" the chaos takes on a different understanding. Better yet we take on a better understanding of the chaos.