Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Getting to The Feet of Jesus

Scripture Text: Mark 2

From time to time we all need help getting to the feet of Jesus. The paralytic man in Mark 2 was blessed enough to have four people around him that would not stop until he was at the feet of Jesus. There were many in the house who were able to get to Jesus' feet, and others who were content to simply be in ear shot of Jesus that day. But it was clear this man needed to get to the feet of Jesus.

Have you ever had a time when the only place you would find healing for what was hurting was by being at the feet of Jesus? It is amazing to find in those moments we almost always require someone to help us get there. The four men in this passage went the extra mile to get their friend to the place he needed to be.

When we exchanged vows at our wedding we used the traditional vows that include; for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.... Not included in the list but certainly part of it is that we will carry one another when the need arises. When a marriage is working well we can always count on the other person to help us get to the feet of Jesus. Through the challenges and opportunities of life it is more often than not our spouse who is uniquely positioned to help get us to the feet of Jesus.

Approaching the feet of Jesus requires two types of willingness. First is the willingness to carry another person there. If we are not willing to carry our spouse to the feet of Jesus there are some serious issues in the marriage. The second willingness is found in being willing to be carried to the feet of Jesus. Often we are very willing to help another person, especially our spouse. On the flip side we can be very reluctant to allow ourselves to be helped, especially by our spouse. Cultivating a whole marriage requires that we are willing on both accounts.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

First Followers

Scripture Text: Mark 1:1-20

In this passage we read about the beginning of Jesus' ministry and the first followers. Often we look at Peter, Andrew, James and John as the first followers. These four fishermen were going about their daily life until they received an invitation from Jesus to follow him. They left their nets and their homes to follow Jesus.

Another person that needs to be included in the first follower group, but often is not, is John the Baptist. Before Jesus invites the four fisherman John the Baptist is announcing the coming of the Messiah, and when Jesus shows up to be baptized, John makes it clear to the crowd that it is Jesus that should be in charge and everyone else that should be a follower.

The first place role anyone can be is a follower of Jesus. In fact before we can be a godly spouse to our partner. Before we can be godly parents to our children. Before we can do or be anything to another person we must first and foremost be a follower of Jesus.

In the life of marriage this changes the dynamics of a marriage in a hurry. If we first live our call to be a follower of Jesus, then live our call to be a spouse that honors God with our marriage relationship, the capacity for our marriage goes way up. If each person in the marriage is living in such a way that they are a first follower, like the four fisherman and John, it makes it more likely that both partners will live as first followers.

Our marriage is the most important earthly relationship we have, however it is not the most important relationship we have. Our relationship to God through Jesus Christ is the most important relationship we have. When we are not living as followers of Jesus and honoring the most important relationship, then we are sacrificing the fullness of the marriage relationship that is available to us. This all hinges on us joining the list of those who are first followers of Jesus.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Strength Through Contentment

Scripture Texts: Philippians 4; Psalm 3

One of the most commonly quoted passages among Christians is Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who give me strength. These words bring great encouragement when we are going through challenging times. At the same time it is important to look at the couple of verses before these words of encouragement.

Paul reminds the church and us, that he has learned how to be content in every situation. Whether he is in a time of plenty or a time of want, he knows how to be content with the circumstance he finds himself in. This is the backdrop of the statement that he can do all things through Christ who give him strength.

Is it possible there is a connection between finding strength in Christ and being content no matter the situation? Perhaps it is easier to connect with the strength of Christ when we are content because we stop striving in our own ability but rely on Christ. The declaration of Christ's strenght is as much about our ability to stop trusting our own strength and striving so that we are available to trust in Christ's strength.

Marriage goes through ups and downs. There are times of plenty and times of want. There are times when our relationship seems to be easy and requiring little effort and there are times with greater challenge and effort. In it all, however, can we learn to be like Paul and be content in our marriage in all circumstances? This does not mean that we are complacent in all circumstances, but that we are content, at peace with a deep trust in the power and ability of Christ in our marriage.

No matter what we face in marriage, or as individuals, we can be sure the words of Paul are true, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. We can also be sure our ability to rest in that strength is tied to our ability to be content with the situations of our lives. It is not a promise everything will be easy and effortless. The promise is the strength of Christ will bring us through, and that is the reason to be content.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pressing On

Scripture Text: Philippians 3

Paul had every reason to boast about his earthly success and his religious accomplishments. It is shocking then to hear him say that he counts them all as rubbish compared to knowing Christ. The shock continues when he calls us to join him in pressing on toward the goal to which Christ has called us.

Someone like Paul could have easily determined that he had this God thing all figured out and that he could simply cost his way through life. Instead he commits himself to pressing on, to continue to work toward the perfection of Christ. Being very clear that he has not already attained all this.

When we look at our marriage, it is safe to say that we have a really good marriage. There are many things we have learned through the years that help us maintain a good marriage. It is tempting to think we have figured it out and not can cost our way through the rest of the journey. Paul's words are extremely important here, not that we have already attained all this but we press on.

Marriage that stands the test of time is a marriage that invests in the effort of pressing on. Cultivating a fulfilling marriage takes work and effort. As mentioned before we have a really good marriage. At the same time we are not done in the journey, a great marriage, the best marriage, is still out ahead of us if we are willing to press on.

So what does it look like to press on? This blog is part of our pressing on. After nearly sixteen years of marriage are are being the most intentional we have ever been about connecting with the Scriptures, and with each other on a nightly basis. This has moved a good marriage to the stage of very good and on our way to a great marriage. There is the balance of being content in marriage with our becoming complacent in marriage. Content is being focused on Christ no matter the circumstance. Complacent is thinking we have it good enough and do not need to to any more.

If we settle for good enough because we have already attained all this, the we are sacrificing the perfection to which Jesus has called us. If we settle we are missing out on living the most fulfilling marriage possible. I pray that we would be people who would press on, not to figure it all out, rather press on so that we would experience all that God has in mind for us.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shining Light

Scripture Texts: Philippians 2:12-30; Psalms 2

Paul writes, "Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you." Upon reading this it sure makes sense, however there is a struggle. The struggle is that complaining can feel really good in the moment. Offering up complaints allows us to air our feelings, or at least that's what it seems to be. In reality, complaining is often a tool used to either avoid something about ourselves, or tear someone down so we look better.

Something else happens when you are prone to criticize, other people are more willing to criticize you. Perhaps that is why Paul follows up that statement with the encouragement, "Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people." When we engage in complaining our lives are not being lived as clean and innocent, rather we match more with the crooked and perverse of the world.

Turning the lens to marriage, it seems for some complaining about their spouse is done as frequent as breathing. Others have turned complaining into a sport or an art form. Once it begins the complaining usually knows no bounds. Not only do people complain to their spouse, they also complain about their spouse to others. All the while the complaining begets complaining. When one spouse only hears complaints they tend to return the complaint, and the cycle is born.

The complaint cycle can very easily spiral out of control to the point where the only form of communication between spouses is complaining. What would happen if we began to break the cycle? What if we decided to make God honoring marriages that focused on living clean and innocent lives that are a shining light to the world?

One of the best ways to make this change is to step out of the spiral. This does not mean we simply dismiss all of the things that cause friction in a relationship. Instead we have conversations that point to a mutual working with the friction rather than a list of complaints. This certainly means a conversation between spouses only and not anyone who happens to be in earshot.

You will be amazed what happens when a marriage is lived without complaining about your spouse. At first people might not notice. Eventually people will notice there is something different about your marriage. It will be noticed that there is not complaining about your spouse but a focus on living well the life that God calls us to. This will make a shining light in a crooked and perverse world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Attitude is Everything

Scripture Texts: Philippians 1:19-30; Philippians 2:1-11

That's a pretty tall order, to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. Yet that is exactly the instruction from Paul to the church in Philippi, and to us. This statement is made after a list of how to conduct yourself, "don't be selfish, don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don't look out only for your own interests but the interests of others too." (Phil. 2:3-4)

The attitude of Christ is the embodiment of this conduct. Ironically, Christ was the one person in all history that had the right be selfish, impress others, and think of self more than others. Christ took the posture of a servant even though he was God. When we put on the same attitude of Christ we are willing to submit to the call of God and walk with the people around us in different ways.

A marriage is a totally different experience when the two people take on the attitude of Christ. A total submission to the call and will of God by each person results in a life lived to the fullness of Christ. Without both partners taking on the attitude of Christ there will be a constant struggle in the marriage. A difference in values and importance will invade every conversation and situation. This can be even more challenging if one partner has attempted to take on the attitude of Christ and the other has not.

The attitude of Christ is not a natural leaning for humanity, and it certainly is not found in a marriage by happenstance. Good news is found in that if both people in a marriage are working to take on the attitude of Christ there is a partner in the effort. Additional good news is the reward for a Christlike attitude is quickly experienced. No, not everything in life will be easy or even good. The difference will be experienced in how we respond to the situations we find. Taking on the attitude of Christ makes all the difference. Not to mention the difference it will make in the relationship you have with your spouse.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Bottom Line

Scripture Texts: Philippians 1:1-18; Psalm 1

Paul writing from prison makes it clear the bottom line is Jesus. Whether we are in good times or bad we are to remain focused on Jesus. Even more Paul goes on to say that even if motives for preaching Jesus are not pure, there is value because Jesus is being proclaimed. However, we can be sure Paul's preference would be for the motives to be pure. Regardless the concern is that people get to hear the Good News of Jesus' life death and resurrection.

Our redemption through Christ is especially Good News when we read Psalm 1. God has very little tolerance for sin and is looking to separate the righteous from the sinful. For the Psalmist the key to righteousness is to focus on God's word and meditate on it. Then we will be like a tree with deep roots able to withstand the trials and drought that make us prone to sin.

All of this begs the question, what is the bottom line in your marriage? When all of the things of marriage are peeled away what is left? Since before we were dating the bottom line has been Christ. Through the years many things have changed, we now live at our seventh address after 16 years of marriage. One thing that has not changed is we do everything within our capacity to stay focused on Jesus.

The end result of this is our roots have grown deep. Trials have come to our lives over the years. Having Christ as the bottom line has not resulted in the easy life where everything works out just fine. What has happened is that as life ebbs and flows we have been able to weather the changes because of our focus on Christ.

Some of the ways we have found it helpful to keep Christ as the bottom line are:

  • Regular devotional time as a couple and as individuals. 
  • Attending worship weekly. 
  • Making sure there is a regular missional outlet to our lives. 
  • Praying for each other and those around us.
  • Being intentional about Christ being our center
  • Ruthlessly pursuing Christ as the bottom line in our lives and marriage

Sunday, March 22, 2015

From I Do to Ever After

Scripture Texts: Numbers 21:1-9; John 3:14-17; 1 Corinthians 10:5-12

Despite the fact that the people of God continue to grumble and complain God continues to be present with them. Even when the complaining brings consequences, the remedy is relatively simple. In this case the people needed to look at a bronze replica of a snake and they would be healed. That is it, just looking at the bronze replica and be rescued.

Fast forward to the days of Jesus walking the earth and the cycle of complaining and unfaithful people was still underway. Likewise the remedy is not complicated, believe in Jesus as Messiah and you will be rescued from sin and death. No complicated system of rituals and hoops to jump through. Plain and simple believe Jesus was who he says he was and you are rescued.

The challenge comes in what happens after that. Deciding to follow Jesus is not the end of the journey, in fact it is the beginning. The rescue is simple, life after the rescue is where the real work is found. We are called to live a life that is constantly transforming to reflect the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is a lifetime of work that is often more challenging than it seems like it should be.

We have been to many weddings in our time. Some are more complicated than others, however the actual consecration of a marriage is a simple process. The real challenge comes after the wedding and all the celebration. Cultivating a fulfilling marriage goes way beyond the ceremony and into the daily life everafter. Even with all the forces that can make the wedding day a challenge, the real work of marriage is done throughout the rest of our lives as we fulfill the vows we pledged on that day.

Like our relationship with Jesus, our marriage is a daily investment. Our time, talent, treasure and effort will need to be invested in the development of our marriage into the marriage God is leading us toward. That day nearly 16 April's ago was a glorious and wonderful day. That day was also just a moment that began the rest of our lives. The real work of our marriage was not the wedding but everyday since.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak, Slow to Anger

Scripture Texts: Numbers 20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; James 1:19-20

It is good to see that even Moses lets his anger get the best of him. Numbers 20 is not the first time we see Moses getting angry, however this is a rare glimpse where the anger that brewed in Moses was expressed in sinful action and not a crying out to God. The problem was not the anger, rather what Moses did with the anger.

The incident at Meribah resulted in Moses and Aaron joining the ranks of those who would not enter in the the land God had promised the people. As a result of letting his anger get the best of him, Moses does not get to experience the fullness of the promise that was given by God in the land of Egypt.

Anger is not the issue, it is what happens when anger shows up. Perhaps this is why we are given the instructions in James to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. When we are quick to get angry we run the risk of our anger leading us into actions of sin. Maybe the time at Meribah would have been very different if Moses would followed the teaching we find in James.

Certainly the words from James are good words to live by. They become even more important in marriage. Having an ear ready to listen to our spouse whenever it is needed will change the way that we are available to our spouse, and help us to understand what is happening for our spouse. Being slow to speak helps us to not use words carelessly and in ways that cause harm. Words matter so much and we often use them with such little care. In our marriage we must be mindful of the words we speak.

Being slow to anger is not always easy, however it is essential to marriage. If every little thing our spouse does sets us off in anger, our marriage in not on the track to being fulfilling. Note, we are not prohibited from anger but we are told to listen first, talk less second and then move slowly to anger. It is easy to do this in the reverse order, get angry, talk much and listen little. Cultivating a deep marriage means keeping the order correct.

So, next time we are moving toward anger, stop and consider the words of James. First listen to what your spouse is saying, not only the words, the meaning also. Second, respond with your own words only after considering the words carefully. Last move toward anger slowly and with caution as much harm can happen in anger. We do not want to be like Moses and Aaron and forfeit our chance to live into God's promise because anger got the best of us.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

An Available Heart

Scripture Texts: Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 14:22-29; Malachi 3:8-12

For as long as there have been people, they have struggled with what to offer God. Likewise God has been very clear about what people are called to give to God. It started as animals and grain and then grew to be all inclusive. Early on in the lives of the Israelites God introduced the tithe, the first and best ten percent of everything.

Over the centuries people have been in the practice of withholding the full tithe, usually claiming they did not have enough to give. In Malachi, God challenges the people to offer the tithe and trust that God will open the windows of heaven in response to our trust in God. This is well beyond a proclamation of financial wealth and includes wholeness of being.

All too often we make this only about money. While money is certainly part of the equation, the focus is on the condition of our hearts. God does not need anything from us, rather we need to make an offering so that there is generosity flowing out of our hearts. Making an offering to God in any form is more about our need to make the offering. Our offering shows we trust God to provide and that our hearts are tuned to a whole and deep relationship with God.

One of the leading points of conflict in a marriage is money. The arguments are about how much is had, how much is needed and how the money is spent. We are not financially wealthy people, yet we are very comfortable in our lifestyle. This has not always been the case for us many were the times when things were very lean and hard choices were in front of us. Yet one thing has been constant, whether in plent
y or in want, we have tithed our money, time, talent and effort.

All that we have and all that we are is a gift from God, and God asks in return that we offer ten percent back as an acknowledgment of God's provision. What really happens in giving a tithe is not about the exchange of money, it is the exchange of a heart. A heart fixated on money has very little room for anything else. A marriage fixated on money has very little room for anything else. It is impossible to be fixated on money and God at the same time.

The practice of giving to God the tithe is about keeping room clear in our hearts for God and others. When we offer ourselves and our gifts we become available to God, and our life becomes accessible to others. This is why God makes such a big deal about the tithe, not out of God's need but out of making our heart available. Perhaps this is why when money rules a marriage, the relationship is what suffers most. May we be people who live with available hearts.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Center of it All

Scripture Texts: Numbers 17; Numbers 1:47-54; Luke 6:43-45

It is likely you have heard the saying home is where the heart is. For the Israelites it would be more appropriate to say home is where the tabernacle is. The tabernacle, also called the tent of meeting, is the place where God met with the people. There were very specific instructions about the building and care of the tabernacle because it was the place where God spoke to people.

No matter where the Israelities camped, the tabernacle was with them and was the center of the camp. The placement of the tabernacle reminded the people that God is the center of their life and being. God would pronounce judgment against the people as well as receive their sacrifices at the tabernacle. This made the tabernacle a place where the people connected with God's love and correction.

When looking at our marriage we must ask if God is the center of our life on a regular basis. This is the best way to ensure that God remains in the proper place in our marriage. With God at the center we are able to experience more of God's love and grace. We can also experience transformation our our lives so that we can live the life God calls us to live. Through God at the center we begin to fashion a good life.

Keeping God at the center of our marriage allows us to develop a treasury of a good heart. As we are reminded in Luke, out of the treasury of a good heart we produce good things. A well cultivated marriage produces good things because it keeps God at the center.

Key to keeping God at the center of our marriage is being intentional about our relationship with God. If we only connect with God in moments of crisis, that will have implications for our relationship. If we cultivate a relationship with God that daily finds ways to have our lives centered on God, that will have implications for our relationship. In it all the ideal is to have our heart be the tabernacle of God. The center of our being and marriage, where we can meet God to find love and grace. The place where we grow a treasury of a good heart.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Standing in the Gap

Scripture Texts: Numbers 16; Psalm 106:9-18; Jude 1:10-11

Moses and Aaron fulfill many roles for the people of Israel. One of the roles they often fulfill is that of standing in the gap. Repeatedly the people fan the flames of God's anger and Moses and Aaron cry out to God to spare the people. They cry out on behalf of the same people who grumble and complain about them, and that make them exceedingly angry.

Still, we find Moses and Aaron falling on their face before God begging for the life of the people. This is an incredible act of service to the people who rarely return a thank you. Standing in the gap and interceding for other people is a primary function of leadership.

We do not find record in the scriptures of someone standing in the gap for Moses because the Lord was ready to kill him. however I think it is safe to day there were people interceding for Moses. No matter who the person is, there will be times when we need someone else standing in the gap.

A crucial role of a spouse is standing in the gap for their partner. It would be impossible to fulfill all that God has in mind for us if there was not support and intercession. One day your spouse will be feeling weak and burdened, the next day it will be you. There are many people who can stand in the gap, yet there is an amazing bond when a husband and wife are willing to stand for each other.

There does not have to be a crisis for gap standing to take place. Spending time daily, multiple times a day, lifting your spouse before the Lord will bring about two things. First, you will be standing in the gap for your spouse. Second, your heart will find whole new levels of connection with your spouse. In it all the depth and health of a marriage is increased significantly when we are willing to stand in the gap for our spouse.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Right Message

Scripture Texts: Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 1:29-46; Hebrews 3

The spies come back from surveying the promised land and not only give a negative report they begin to spread messages around the camp that are negative. Before long the people begin to believe the negative messages and complain to Moses and declaring to go back to Egypt. This round of complaining goes to a new level and the people begin to look for a new leader who will do what they want, go back to Egypt.

The entire community began to buy into the negative message and joined in the complaining to Moses. It is easy to wonder if there were some that were complaining but did not really believe what they were complaining about. That is to say, they got caught up in the negative message and taken for the ride of complaining and demanding new leadership.

Being drawn into false messages has a way of capturing us. Further, it has a way of causing us to do things that we could not imagine. For the Israelites this meant complaining and losing their chance to enter the promised land. It also breeds disobedience. After the people felt bad about their complaining they decided they were ready to enter the land, except now God told them not to go. They went anyway and many were killed. All of this began by believing the false message.

In our marriages we must be careful what messages we allow to take root in our lives. This is true from the stand point of each person, and from the stand point of our lives as a couple. In our present age we live in the midst of constant information and a constant bombardment of messages. We must be discerning which messages we give space to in our lives.

We must also take care in the messages we send our spouse. Remember that messages come in verbal and non-verbal forms. The way we talk to, or talk about our spouse sends a message. The ways we pay attention to our spouse sends a message. Even, and especially, the little things we do send a message to our spouse. As we see with the Israelites and many others since it is easy to get captured by the wrong message. Therefore, we must make every effort to send good and positive messages to our spouses, and help them get captured by them.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Beyond Our Heart's Desire

Scripture Texts: Numbers 13; Deuteronomy 1:19-28; Joshua 14:6-9

God had promised the people they would possess the land. Further God had not given the people any reason to think the promise would not be followed through on. Yet when the spies went and visited the land their report came back saying they should not go into the land.

Even more strange is before saying they cannot go into the land the spies describe the land as an ideal place. It is flowing with milk and honey, the grapes were of huge size and everything was exactly as God had promised them. Yet their fear kept them from experiencing the promise of God. Only two of the spies who explored the land would ever call that land home, Caleb and Joshua.

Caleb and Joshua saw all the same things the others saw, even the giants. However, they also knew that the God of the universe had promised the land to them and would be the one who would lead them in settling the land. They were ready to claim the promise but the others were not ready. Years later God honors Caleb and Joshua by letting them be the only ones from the community to make it to the land, and they are given the portion of land that they desired most. So not only does God bless them for their faithfulness by fulfilling the promise, God also gave them the desire of their hearts.

When we stood in front of the congregation and God to exchange our marriage vows on our wedding day there was a very important promise made as part of those vows. It came before the part where we shared our vows to each other when we accepted the promise of how God would be active in our marriage. We were charged by the pastor to live our lives in accordance with the Scriptures and to pursue a marriage based on the teaching of God. The promise was that if we were faithful to God with our marriage that God would establish and bless our household.

Along the way in our marriage there have been times when we have had to choose between living in our marriage the way God calls us to or to go our own way. We have had to choose whether to hold to the promise or to act in fear. To this point we have chosen to hold to the promise of God and not only have we found the fulfilling marriage promised, God has blessed us with so much more.

We are blessed to be in a marriage with devoted love for each other. We get to serve God with our lives at home and at work. Our three children have a love for God, each other and other people. We are blessed to the point of our heart's desire, all because we choose to hold to the promise of God more than any other option.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Value of a Helpmate

Scripture Texts: Numbers 11; Numbers 12; Philippians 2:14-16

Moses was trying his best to do everything on his own. All the major decisions were his. All the teaching was his. All the work of speaking the words of God to the people was his. The most tiring was receiving all the complaints and whining from the people. Receiving all the complaints must have been what pushed him too far and Moses began to cry out to God for help.

God provided help in the form of seventy elders to share in the work. God took some of the spirit which rested on Moses and shared it with the others. The result of this is the workload was spread out to many in the camp. Two of the people who continued to complain to God and to Moses were the first two people raised up to help, Aaron and Miriam. Their grumbling caused more stress and concern for Moses rather than helping him.

The value of a good helpmate should never be underestimated. Before we were married, before we were even dating, we had conversations about how important it was to each of us that our spouse be a helpmate in the work of God. Too often in marriage rather than being support and helper to each other it seems couples almost work against each other. Life can be challenging enough, only to add not having the support and help of a spouse.

The ability to be a good helpmate begins with having a shared desire to serve God with every aspect of our lives. This does not mean that our service to God has to be exactly the same as our spouse, only that the desire is to serve God. Aaron and Miriam began to worry about themselves more than serving God and they were not able to be effective helpmates to Moses. In the end not only is there stress to the relationship but the work of God gets slowed down.

The second most important part of being a good helpmate is to not be concerned over who gets credit for what God is doing. When God consecrates the seventy elders there are two who miss the ceremony but begin to fulfill their role as elder in their tents. Concern comes about this and Moses reminds the people the goal is that everyone would be so focused on God and not worried about who was doing what. This is the model for being a good helpmate.

When a marriage is built on the premise that we will serve God above all else and not care who get
s credit for what happens, God can do amazing things. This also lays the ground for spouses to be helpmates to each other so that the challenges of life are not faced alone.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Guard Your Heart

Scripture Texts: Numbers 9:15-23; Numbers 10:29-36; Isaiah 48:17-19

God always has a preference toward obedience. When we are obedient to God our life simply works better. The results of disobedience are not always as clear. When we do not follow the lead and call of God the result is violence. Or as Isaiah puts it, your destruction or cutting off your family name.

This might seem like a drastic way to put it, words like destruction and cutting off, are harsh words. Yet, they are intended to be harsh to demonstrate the consequences of disobedience. Whenever the people of God are not obedient to the lead of God, violence is experienced by the people or toward others.

Disobedience at its core is not about actions as much as it is about the condition of our heart. When our heart is more set on following our own desires it becomes more difficult to see where God is leading and to follow. Also, when our heart is not set on God, anything or anyone who stands in the way of us following our own desire becomes a threat and violence is the result.

To keep violence, physical, verbal or emotional out of a marriage we must tend to our hearts. First, our heart in relationship to God. Second, our heart in relationship to our spouse. If we have allowed anything other than God to have first place in our heart we will begin to move toward disobedience. If we allow another person to have a greater place in our heart than our spouse we move toward disobedience.

In order to accomplish this requires us to train and guard our hearts. When we feel something replacing God or our spouse in our heart we must train ourselves to refocus. We also must make sure that we are not exposing ourselves to people or things that would cause us to shift the priorities of our heart. Taking time to stay connected with God, and with our spouse on a daily basis is the primary way to train and guard our hearts. May we be people who invest this time so that we do not find ourselves in the midst of violence.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Loving People is Messy

Scripture Texts: Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-37

Out of these passages we have what is commonly called the Great Commandment. Jesus sums up the entire law with two phrases, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." Even after the religious people try to justify themselves, Jesus is clear that out neighbor is anyone we come across that is in need.

These are encouraging and challenging passages all at the same time. Encouraging because of their clarity. Want to know what it means to live like Jesus and follow after God, live the Great Commandment. Challenging because of how difficult this often is to do. Perhaps it would be easier to do if Jesus would have made some wiggle room. Do your level best to love God, do your best to love your neighbor. Or perhaps Jesus could have said to like God when God does what we want and like other people that are just like us. But no, that is not what Jesus taught.

Love is a big part of marriage. Many people have 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding as it outlines a teaching about love. A marriage without love is not a marriage at all. Our first love is to love God more than anything else in all creation and to do so with all of our being. Out of that love we can begin to show love for other people.

Loving other people is when things get real messy because people are messy. The temptation is to work hard so that we can avoid the messiness of people. This is where we prefer to use our own definition of who our neighbor is rather than the one that Jesus gives us. Even more challenging can be to realize that loving our spouse can be part of the mess as we are married to people and people are messy.

Perhaps the words of Jesus were about all the people we encounter, not just those who are in need. Jesus is instructing us to love everyone we encounter with the same love that God has shown for us and that we show for God. This type of love begins right at home, right in the context of a marriage. More than a romantic or glamorous love, this is the love of journeying day-to-day through the fullness of life. This is living in love as children are shuttled off to activities, work deadlines loom and all the messiness of dealing with people is very real. Love that binds two people together as God is bound to humanity.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Giving Your Best

Scripture Texts: Leviticus 9; Leviticus 10:1-7; Revelation 1:5-6

Death because of the wrong fire in the incense burner seems drastic. It seems like the punishment does not even remotely fit the crime. Perhaps the death penalty speaks to the level of importance God placed on the moment as opposed to the level of importance it appears to have. It is also possible the issue was not about the wrong type of fire at all.

This section of Scripture is telling us about the start of the work of the priests of God. Their ministry is to be the people who go before God on behalf of the people to atone for the sins of the people. The priests were supposed to be the most holy and obedient people in all of Israel, they were the example everyone was living toward. On their first day on the job, Aaron's sons blow it.

Is God overreacting? At first glance perhaps, however upon further review we find that God has been sharing through Moses in amazing detail how all of this was supposed to work. Not a single detail was left out, and there was great clarity about the importance of getting each detail right. We have an intense desire to let the sons of Aaron off the hook with the thought, "They are only human and are bound to mess up, there is no way they can be perfect." This desire to let them off the hook and see God as harsh might have more to do with us than with God. It opens the door for us to offer to God less than the absolute best we can offer.

Giving the absolute best we have to offer is not limited to God. To cultivate a fulfilling marriage we need to give the very best we can to our spouse. This means the best we have to offer in terms of our time, attention, effort and energy. When the times arrive that we fall short of our best we do not have to fear death like Aaron's sons because of the grace and love of God as seen is Jesus Christ. However, we can still offer our very best through owning our falling short and making the effort to improve.

Part of this equation is the person offering their best. Another part is the person receiving the best from another person. The person receiving would do well to remember the times when they have come up short. Giving and receiving the best we have to offer is about giving and receiving grace and forgiveness. So, when a detail if forgotten, rather than levy a death sentence, offer grace, forgiveness and understanding. We have the example in this in that God no longer hands out the death sentence because of the work and ministry of Jesus on the cross. Offering our very best is not about being perfect in our actions, it is about being hopelessly dependent on the love and grace of Jesus Christ and our spouse.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sacrifice Cures Pride

Scripture Texts: Exodus 40; Hebrews 8:1-10; Hebrews 9:1-15

High Priests, Holy Places, the Holy of Holies, these are not terms that are used often in the church much less outside of the church. So when we read these passages of Scripture it is easy to tune out until we get to the parts about Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate High Priest, and because of Jesus we have access the the Most Holy Place in all creation.

This means that we do not have to collect in all the animals needed for sacrifices. We do not have an elaborate system of grain, oil and wine offerings that need to be made. No, we have a High Priest, Jesus, who became the sacrifice required by God, once and for all. The only thing we must do to experience the atonement of Christ is offer our lives through confession and forgiveness of sin. The sacrifice is not ours, rather it is Christ offering himself as our sacrifice.

Sacrifice is a primary element of marriage. We must be willing to give up ourselves for the sake of our spouse. Amazing things happen in a marriage when both spouses are willing to sacrifice for the other. Selfish ambition is cast aside. The desire to be right every time seems to disappear. Even the need to be the center of attention fades into the back ground.

The opposite of sacrifice is pride. In the marriage relationship pride is one of the most destructive forces out there. When we put our needs and desires ahead of the needs and desires of our spouse pride begins to enter in. Selfishness rises up. We demand that we are right in every situation, and everything becomes centered around me. Pride will quickly steal the joy of a relationship, and ultimately steal the relationship if we let it.

The antidote for pride is sacrifice. We humans can learn about being a sacrifice for another person by paying attention to Jesus, our High Priest. Jesus, unlike us, had every reason to be prideful. He was perfect in every way, never sinning, and always making the best choice. Jesus always loved perfectly and did not consider himself better than another person. All of this when Jesus is the one person to ever walk the planet that had the right to pride. Yet, that is not the route he took, Jesus chose sacrifice. We can chose sacrifice with our spouse because Jesus chose sacrifice with us. Not only did Jesus choose it, Jesus showed us how to live it. May we fight pride with sacrifice everyday of our life and marriage.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sustaining Presence of God

Scripture Texts: Exodus 33; Exodus 34; 2 Corinthians 3

God is clear with Moses about how he and the people are to live their lives. The Feasts and festivals are all laid out and the commandments are written in stone. Moses is the one person that is allowed to have audience with God and as a result the face of Moses shines bright as a reflection of the glory of God. The people of God reflect God's glory in the ways they live their lives according to the law.

When we get to the New Testament the account of Moses is not lost. What changes is the power that it holds for the people of God. The glory of God is no longer known only because of the law written in the stone tablets or in the shining face of a prophet. God's glory is found in the movement of the Holy Spirit and the grace given by Jesus Christ.

Like most people when they get married we had what felt like hours of pictures taken. There were the pictures taken before the ceremony, then the ones taken after the ceremony. Of course there are the pictures from the reception complete with cake eating. With the exception of one or two of the pictures you will find our smiling faces showing the glory and wonder of our wedding day.

Not everyday since then have we been able to maintain the glow and glory on our faces from that day. There are times when we are able to recapture it however the overall reflection of our faces ebbs and flows. It is a good thing that it is not our wedding day which sustains the lifetime of marriage.

No, what sustains our marriage now is the ever-present and ever-moving Holy Spirit. While our affect changes with each circumstance we face, the presence of God is constant. The grace of God as found in Jesus moves throughout our marriage and provides the sustaining presence of God. Each evening as we read the scriptures, share this blog and pray together, we take time to walk in the footsteps of Moses. Moses would visit the Tent of Meeting, to be renewed in the glory of God. We visit the presence of God nightly so that the power and presence that sustains our marriage remains at the center.

We are not dependent on the ceremony years ago. We are not dependent on the piece of paper in our safe that shows our legal marriage. What we are dependent on is the presence of God in every moment of our lives.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Keeping Focus

Scripture Texts: Exodus 32; Psalm 106:19-23; Acts 7:37-43

The capacity of the Israelites to wander from God is staggering. Throughout the book of Exodus we find a vicious cycle of faithfulness, brokenness, and restoration by the people. Even more staggering is the rate at which the change can happen. The people seem to be able to go from faithful to broken in mere moments.

In this chapter of Exodus the people are gathered at the base of the mountain while Moses is at the top of mountain meeting with God. They are gathered there because that is what God called them to do. It was an act of faithfulness. However, it quickly turns when Moses is taking longer than they expected on the top of the mountain. With great pace the people move from a faithful gathering to asking for false gods for them to worship. This is not the end of the fall from faithfulness. By the end of the golden calf incident, the people go as far to give credit to the human made god for bringing them out of Egypt.

This April we will celebrate 16 years of marriage. During that time we have had many adventures, challenges and victories along the way. There is a temptation to give credit for the victories to ourselves more than to God. We could look back at the challenges overcome and declare that it was something we did that brought us out of the trouble.

The reality is that God is the one who leads us through life. Sure we must do our part but our part is always the role of follower of Jesus first. Even when things seem to take longer than we think they should. When following God seems to take longer than we want just like the Israelites we tend to create other gods to worship.

We have never taken our gold, melted it down and had a calf emerge. There have been times when we have begun the work of creating our own god because the way that God was working in our lives was not to our liking. Key to overcoming the god creating process is to remain connected to the true God. When Moses was on the mountain the people only thought about themselves and their situation, not about the God whom they served and who rescued them from Egypt.

By the way, this is the same process that happens when things in a marriage are not working out quite the way we thought they would. Rather than stay focused on the health and wholeness of our relationship, we begin to focus on ourselves. When we focus too much on ourselves and not enough on our spouse, we begin the god creating process. Keeping our focus on our spouse and on our God is the best preventative to creating our own god.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Love God, Love Your Spouse

Scripture Texts: Exodus 21; Matthew 22:34-40; Galatians 3:19-26

Few things  make a blog about marriage fun like the passage in Exodus. Stories about slaves and oxen and what happens if there is a premature birth. Rather than focus in on any one of those it is important to see the chapter in Exodus as part of the entire law that was given by God through Moses to the people. The law was established so that people would have a way to live their lives in holiness.

As Paul later writes in Galatians, the law was given as a guardian until Christ came. In Christ the law was made perfect and our guardian for holiness was no longer the law but Jesus. In fact it is Jesus who sums up the law with what is most commonly called the Great Commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself." The first part of this is taken right from the law, repeatedly God reminds the people to love the Lord your God. The second is the summary of what happens when we love God with our whole self.

If we rephrase things a little for marriage, perhaps we would say, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and the second is like it, Love your spouse as yourself." The love we have for our spouse is incomplete without the first part. Said another way, it is not possible to love our spouse as we love ourselves without loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. When we are out of sorts with our love for God, our love for others gets out of sorts as well.

Early in our marriage, even before we were married, we talked about the priorities in our lives in terms of relationships. God is the most important relationship we have. Second is our spouse. Third our children, Fourth our extended family. If the first relationship was not in a good place then none of the others would be either. The way that we have our relationship with God right is not through the keeping of the laws we read about in Exodus, rather it is about the grace of Jesus Christ which demonstrates God's love for us. Without the love of God found in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to love our spouse, or anyone else, a fully as possible.

May God be the first love of our lives, and may that love be the foundation for the love we have for our spouses. May it be true, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your spouse as you love yourself.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Grace Required

Scripture Texts: Exodus 20; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8-11

What if we approached the ten commandments as a radical minimum standard rather than a lofty set of goals? God gives the law, the ten commandments, as the standards for living a holy life. These are not offered to us as standards that are always out of our reach. In fact the commandments are offered to us as guidelines that if followed will lead to a life of holiness and fulfilment in our relationship with God.

It is easy today to look at the ten commandments as something locked in the past, or as something that we do not have to pay attention to because of the grace of Jesus Christ. Reality is living by the ten commandments is still the call of God, the difference is what happens when we fall short. Before Christ when a person fell short of living the law they had make atonement through a series of prescribed sacrifices. There was a perpetual human effort required to make up for falling short. After the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, grace and the atonement offered through Christ is all that is needed.

Just because we live in grace does not mean we ignore the law. We depend on the grace of God to live the law, not as a lofty goal rather as a radical minimum standard. More accurately stated, it is only through the ongoing grace of God that we are able to live the standards of the law.

When we shift the lens to marriage we can fall prey to the same thinking. We desire a marriage that is filled with love, caring and connection with our spouse. We set the goal of achieving a whole and full marital relationship as something that can only be achieved if we happen to get everything just right. The grace of God is not only for living the ten commandments, it is also for living the marriage that we desire. A marriage filled with love, caring and connection is not a lofty goal, it is the product of the grace of God as found in Jesus Christ.

There will be days when a marriage is less than everything we have hoped and dreamed for. Days will come when the feelings of love, care and connection are harder to find. These are the days we need God's grace to live the marriage we desire. It is possible to experience marriage in this fullness now, not only someday in the future. It can only be done through the grace of God, and the commitment of the couple to live in this moment a marriage of love, care and connection.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Chief Cornerstone

Scripture Texts: Exodus 19; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; 1 Peter 2:4-12

Quite possibly the most important stone in a building is the cornerstone. The cornerstone serves two purposes. First it is the stone that ties everything together and keeps everything together. Especially in older buildings, if the cornerstone falls out of the building, soon the rest of the building would begin to crumble.

The second purpose was to indicate who the building belonged to. People could look at a building and by looking at the cornerstone it was clear who was the builder and owner of the building. It was not always because of what was written on the stone, rather it was often because of the style and placement of the stone.

It is easy to see that selecting the stone that would become the cornerstone is an important job. The builder would examine several stones looking for the best one so that the building would be strong. If a stone was rejected as the cornerstone it would either be put into the building somewhere else, or simply discarded. This brings a whole new light to the idea of the chief cornerstone, Jesus, being the stone that the builder rejected.

What is the cornerstone of your marriage? If others were to watch your marriage to observe the way you lived and interacted with each other, would it be clear who your marriage belongs to? Jesus is the chief cornerstone of all life, this means Jesus is the chief cornerstone of a marriage. We can live in a way that discards the chief cornerstone and another in its place.

The reality is anything other than Jesus as a chief cornerstone will result in a building that is in danger of crumbling. Having Jesus as the chief cornerstone requires vigilance on our part. We must invest the time and effort of keeping Christ as the key to a marriage. Just like it takes care and maintenance for the cornerstone of a building to stay in place for the long haul. It is not by accident or happenstance, it is by being intentional in seeking Christ in our lives and our marriage.