Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Marriage Versus Being Married

Scripture Text: Romans 3:1-20

Paul is helping the followers in Rome wrestle with an aspect of theology that people have wrestled with ever since the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the relationship between The Law and grace. Before the time of Christ the Jewish people followed the law as their path to being in relationship with God. These prescribed ways of living showed the way to have a faithful and full relationship with God. The big problem was that no one seemed to be able to keep the totality of the law.

Enter Christ. Jesus became the fulfillment of the law, not by keeping all the rules and regulations, rather by providing the pathway by which people could have a faithful and full relationship with God. Once the grace of God was made available through Jesus the law then served to highlight our need for Jesus if we are to have a faithful and full relationship with God. Notice, the law does not disappear or become negated.

If we are to have a faithful and full relationship with our spouse there is a lot to learn from Paul's teaching here in Romans 3. We can navigate life together keeping all the pieces of being married on track. Every effort can be made to make sure we do all the right things, remember all the important dates and always have just the right balance of problem solving and presence. We could do all the things married people are "supposed" to do and still not have a marriage.

The goal of a marriage is not to be married, rather it is to have a faithful and full relationship with our spouse build on love, grace and forgiveness. To experience a marriage means we move beyond using the lists to measure our relationship because in all reality no marriage will pass that test. We must allow the grace of God to move through our relationship, and then we will find the fullness and faithfulness.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More Than a Ritual

Scripture Texts: Romans 2; Psalms 16

Just because someone has gone through the ritual does not mean they have been changed. That is what Paul is teaching the followers in Roman. At that time there was a huge confrontation about those who were circumcised and those who were not. A popular notion was that a person must first become a Jew before they could become a follower of Jesus.

To become a Jew, a man must go through the ritual of circumcision. The completion of this ritual would be an outward sign of being part of the people of God. Paul was teaching that a persons relationship to God did not have to do with being Jew or Gentile, circumcised or not, it was about the desire to follow God. The ritual only pointed to a deeper belief.

We both wear wedding bands as an outward and visible sign of the covenant we made before God and to each other. Millions of people wear wedding rings and have made the same covenant before God and to each other. For some there is a profound difference, they have gone through the ritual and have the visible sign but have not allowed their lives to be transformed.

When we made our covenant and exchanged our rings, our lives were forever changed. Two lives became one. No longer is it about the individual, rather it is about us. So many marriages do not survive because the ritual is done with our the transformation. The true measure of a marriage is not found in the elaborate wedding, or the ornate rings, it is found in the character and depth of the union of two souls.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Whose Will be Done?

Scripture Text: Romans 1:16-32

For some this is one of the more challenging passages in Romans. As Paul is writing there is little doubt about the actions that are not part of how God desires humans to participate in. Lists like this can be a very dangerous thing as we can get hyper-focused on one or two items. The other danger is to think the list is an exhaustive list. A third danger is to think the passage is about the list of things not to do.

The real issue presented by Paul is our relationship to God. God has clearly outlined how to experience fullness of relationship. It begins not with our actions but with a heart that is open to God. Further, our willingness to let God lead our lives is the root of our behaviors.

C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, says that there are two types of people those who say to God thy will be done and those to whom God says, thy will be done. This passage in Romans illustrates what it looks like when someone accepts God's offer of our will be done. Broken lives and relationships result.

When we only pursue our desires, not God's desires or our spouses desires, failure is a high bet for a marriage. Along the way God attempts to show us the best way to live in a marital relationship, however if we run through enough stop signs, God will eventually give us over to our own desires. This is when the lists of Romans come into play.

A marriage that has been given over to its own desires is filled with strife, contention, gossip and mistreatment of each other. Some of the greatest pleasures of marriage like sex are even corrupted and no longer the gift God intended. All of this because we no longer lived for God's desires but our own.

To cultivate a healthy marriage we must constantly be checking on whose will we are pursuing. God will lead us if we allow, this is the idea as God as Lord. On the flip side, God will also leave us to our own desires if we are not willing to live for God. In a culture that seems intent on following its own desire, following God will stand out. You will possibly be ridiculed for it. Yet, you will experience the fullness that God desires for your marriage.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Day Everything Changed

Scripture Texts: Mark 15:16-47; Psalms 15

It is the day that changed everything. Jesus had talked about it throughout his ministry. The day of his death on the cross had taken place, and because of that death everyone had access to God, and the possibility of a whole and full relationship with God.

We can get fixated on the violent details of the death, to be sure it was extremely violent. We can get fixated on the actions of the religious leaders, Pilate, or others gathered around. However, we must not miss that on that day, God who stepped out of eternity and into our reality died on the cross for each and every person in all creation.

Without the death of Jesus, the reconciliation of humanity with God would not be possible. In other words, it is not possible to have a full relationship with God outside of the death of Jesus Christ. When we begin to look at our earthly relationships in light of our relationship with God we find that it is impossible to have the fullness of relationship with another person if we do not have the fullness of relationship with God.

The reconciling work of God in our lives opens the door so we can be in relationship with each other as much as being in relationship with God. A marriage can be successful and even good without having a full relationship with God through Jesus Christ. At the same time, you cannot experience the best and most full marriage possible outside of Christ. We must find reconciliation with God before we can live the fullness of life with other people.

So the day in the Middle East over 2000 years ago changed everything. Included in the change is the door was opened so that we can experience fullness of relationship with each other. That day brought about reconciliation between people and God, and made a way for us to experience the best possible marriage. The key is we must accept the gift of grace in Jesus, and live the reconciliation that is found through that grace.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Power of The Group

Scripture Texts: Mark 14:66-72; Mark 15:1-15

Imagine you are in the crowd gathered outside of the palace. You are given the choice of which prisoner you want released and which one you want executed. It might seem like the choice is easy, set Jesus free and keep the other. The crowd sure seems to get that one wrong, and we become convinced that we would have gotten it right.

In reality we might not want to explore too closely what we might have done because there is a pretty good chance we would have gotten caught up in the crowd as well. There is a powerful force in a large group that sociologists call group think. This concept says that when one person mentions an idea and another person repeats it, the group begins to simply repeat the thought no matter what their true thoughts are. In other words our best and true intentions can get hijacked by the group.

This is why it is so important to think about the groups you are spending time with. As a married couple it is important to spend time with other married couples, however we must be careful in selecting the other couples. Group think can happen in ways that are helpful as well as ways that are harmful for a marriage. It all depends on the messages of the group.

Obviously to cultivate a healthy marriage we need to spend time with people who lift up messages that strengthen our marriage. Think about when you spend time around people who are always critical of their spouse, and there is a high rate of tension between the couple. Chances are it would be real easy to slip into the same narrative about your own relationship.

We must be on guard for the pull of group think in our marriage. The results of not paying attention could result in us crying crucify about the very one that is meant to bring about our wholeness, and it might result in doing harm to the most important earthly relationship we have.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Crushed and Rebuilt

Scripture Texts: Mark 14:43-65; Psalm 14

Jesus is on trial before the religious leaders and they are having trouble getting their story straight. One of the accusations against him is about destroying the temple and then rebuilding it in three days. This was something Jesus actually said, but they could not get their witnesses to agree.

It is fascinating they were not even able to convict him with the words that he used. Those words are important for us to remember. Many that day thought he was talking about the physical building, however we have the advantage of looking back and realizing Jesus was talking about himself. He would be crushed by death and then be rebuilt to new life after three days.

Have you ever had that feeling of being crushed and rebuilt? If so you are in good company. If not, you just might not have noticed it. There are times, seasons, in our lives when it seems like everything is falling apart. As the season passes we begin to realize for as much as we felt crushed by that season, we now have been rebuilt.

Marriages can go through the same process. Not that every marriage should or needs to go through a difficult season, it simply seems like that happens. We certainly have had some challenging seasons. Time could be spent telling of the difficulties we have encountered, from one of us struggling to keep everything together, to how we have simply struggled because of the events that have happened around our lives. Regardless, we have had times when our marriage had some struggles.

On the other side of those struggles we have felt rebuilt. Not only rebuilt but stronger than before. When Jesus, the temple, was rebuilt he was stronger as death no longer had victory. The same is true of a marriage when it is rebuilt with the very Spirit and hands of God. The challenge is our willingness to go through the struggle and not give up. The only way we experience being rebuilt is if we persevere through the struggle.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Clash of Wills

Scripture Text: Mark 14:12-42

These are some of the final moments Jesus has with his disciples before his death. First they celebrate at the festival of Unleavened Bread, also known as Passover. From there they are off to the garden for Jesus to pray.

Even though the disciples are not clear, Jesus is clear the events of the next 24 hours of their lives. In a very vulnerable and candid way, Jesus cries out to God to find another way to bring about the reconciliation of all people. Yet, Jesus shows us it is not about what we want. Rather is is about what has to happen so that all of creation can find restoration.

From birth on humans want life to happen on their terms. When things do not go as we see fit, we often pitch a fit. Complaints start to fly and we begin to wonder if God really loves us because things are not working out the way we think they should. After all isn't the journey of a Christ follower suppose to be easy and carefree, always working just as planned? What about when our plans and the hopes and desires of God are in conflict?

One of the greatest challenges in marriage is that it is the joining together of two selfish people. In some regard all people have a degree of selfishness, and at different times in our lives this selfishness shows up in greater degrees. When you are married it is only a matter of time before there is a clash of the selfishness of two people who want things to be their way.

This can be seen in a humorous way, really it is funny and does not matter, by asking what is the right way to put on a new roll of toilet paper. Is it proper to have it roll off the top or bottom? Often we have a preference and might not know it until someone does it wrong, especially if it is our spouse. By the way, the correct way is to simply replace to roll when it is empty.

More seriously, if marriage is about getting our will accomplished there is a good chance we will spend a lot of time frustrated and angry at our spouse. To cultivate a healthy marriage we have to be willing to push aside the way we want things to happen for the sake of what is best for our marriage. This is especially powerful when both partners in the marriage are willing to do this. In fact we can only fully submit to our partner if both spouses are willing to echo the words of Jesus, not my will but yours be done.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reading the Signs

Scripture Texts: Mark 13:24-37; Mark 14:1-11; Psalm 13

Understanding what is happening around you is an important skill. Jesus reminds the disciples to pay attention to their surroundings. All of this is pointing to what many call the end times. The time in history when Christ will return and all creation will be restored to its original state.

Being able to read the signs is not limited to the understanding when Jesus will return. When our dog begins to pace around the room it is a sign she needs to go outside. When laying in bed on a January morning and we hear the snowplow go by, it is a sign that some shoveling is in the future. All of us learn to read signs that tell us to be ready.

In a marriage there are signs it is time to pay attention to what is happening. If you and your spouse go several days in the same space and not talking, that is a sign. If everything each of you does irritates each other, that is a sign. When all the interactions are filled with anger and bitterness, that is a sign.

All of these signs let us know that if we do not pay attention to our marriage trouble is ahead. It is one thing to recognize the signs it is another to do something about it. The most common need is to take time to focus on building our marriage. Life is filled with many things demanding our attention and marriage can get lost in the midst. That is when the signs start to pop up.

When the signs begin to pop up, do not delay. Read the signs, and respond with some urgency. A neglected relationship never gets better with continued neglect. An ignored sign of trouble in a marriage will never go away by acting like it is not there. We must recognize the sign and then take actions accordingly.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our FIrst Neighbor

Scripture Texts: Mark 12:13-44; Psalm 12

People loved, especially the religious leaders, to challenge Jesus with questions. No matter how many times Jesus responded in ways that astounded the people, more questions came. This passage in Mark is no different.

First the question about taxes, then about marriage after death, and finally the most important commandment. All the questions are intended to trap Jesus so that he will say something that will hurt his standing among the people. Each answer only confirms the religious leaders were way off track.

In the end, Jesus reminds the crowd what matters most. We are to love God with all that we are, and all that we have. Second, that love of God is translated into love for those around us. We do not have to get hung up on taxes, give to the government what is government's and give to God what is God's. We don't have to get hung up on who will be given to who in marriage after death. Our focus is on loving God and showing love for our neighbor.

In another part of the Scripture the question comes up from the religious leaders who is my neighbor. Jesus then tells the parable of the Good Samaritan where we find our neighbor to be anyone we come across who is in need. So our neighbor is not about who lives next door.

For those who are married more often than not our first neighbor is our spouse. The first person that we show unconditional love to is our spouse. In order to love our spouse on the level that God desires for us, we must first love God. When we are married we must make sure that we are caring for the needs of our spouse.

This does not mean that we exclude others, for anyone we come across in need is our neighbor. Still the person we encounter most often, hopefully, is our spouse. Cultivating a healthy marriage is about recognizing the needs of our spouse and caring for those needs through the love that we have with them and with God.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

No Jockeying for Position

Scripture Text: Mark 10:32-52

Jesus has just laid out the plan for what will happen when they get to Jerusalem. In a matter of moments the disciples begin to jockey for position in the kingdom. In the Gospel of Mark it is James and John who come to Jesus, in another telling of the Gospel, it is their mother. Either way, they are trying to set themselves up for future glory.

No big surprise that when the other ten hear about James and John's play for position they get indignant. Could it be they were indignant because James and John got to Jesus before they did? The issue may not have been the two seeking glory, rather the issue was James and John beat them to it.

Whenever there are people living together, as the disciples did, competition shows up. There is something about the brokenness in people that makes us want to get ahead of the person next to us. This can create significant damage to a marriage. If we are constantly trying to position ourselves as better than our spouse, or gain something ahead of our spouse indignation, anger and eventually bitterness take root in the marriage.

Jesus offers a solution to the disciples that is the same solution for our marriages. If we want to be great among the group we must be willing to be the least and serve the others. The action of greatness that means the most is the act of serving one another.

In the end there is no such thing as first place and second place in a marriage. Jesus Christ is the center of our marriage, and we stand together at his feet. Neither of us is better than the other, neither is trying to gain greater favor with Jesus. We simply stand together, serving each other, serving Jesus and serving all those who we come across in need.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Condition of The Heart

Scripture Texts: Mark 10:1-31; Proverbs 2

Here in Mark 10 we find some of the "hard teachings" of Jesus. Hard because they are both difficult to live out and difficult to hear. Still we are left with these words and the opportunity to wrestle with them. While we find teachings about divorce, wealth and being childlike, it is possible the real hard teaching is much deeper.

In each of the areas Jesus lifts up the focus is on the condition of the heart of a person. Moses allowed the people to divorce because of their hard hearts. The rich young man may have had financial wealth, he might have also through he had religious wealth because he followed all the commandments. Yet Jesus highlights he is still lacking, a heart that is poor in spirit that realizes its need for God, like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Welcoming the children was a matter of the heart as well.

Jesus seemed more concerned with the condition of a persons heart than the results of their actions. Often we find ourselves living less than the full life God desires for us because the condition of our heart is not at a place that is ready to receive the fullness of God.

This passage has an obvious connection to a blog about marriage. Divorce is a very real part of the human experience especially now that over half of the marriages in our world end in divorce. We want to be careful in how this idea gets talked about because people find themselves in divorce for all kinds of reasons. A significant number of people ended up being divorced because their partner decided to walk away from the marriage. Still the "hard teaching" of Jesus remains. The intention of God was not to have divorce be a part of the equation, yet it became part because of hardness of heart.

No one enters into marriage planning on divorce. However there are some intentional decisions that can be made to help reduce the possibilities. For us we decided before our wedding day that for us divorce was not an option. This means when we disagree, when we struggle, there is a trust in our relationship that we are both committed to this for the long haul. This decision needs to be intentionally reinforced in tangible ways. We continue to remind each other in the hard times and the good times, that we are committed to this marriage and walking away is not an option.

This brings me to the matter of the heart. Both of us have to have our hearts in the right condition for this to work. If we do not tend to our hearts, our best intentions can be laid aside. We must do things that help keep our hearts open, soft and pliable to God and each other. It is our hope that the time you invest in reading this blog is part of that work. Further, if you are married and reading this blog, please consider reading it with your spouse as a devotional. Through it all may all of us be intentional about the condition of our heart.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Defering to Jesus and our Spouse

Scripture Texts: Mark 8:31-38; Mark 9:1-13

The essence of being a follower of Jesus Christ is to deny yourself and take up your cross. There could not be a more counter cultural message for our day and age. We live in the time of gratification and taking care of ourselves more than anyone else around us. From our earliest of years we are now being taught to place top value on our own happiness.

The teaching of Jesus confronts this thinking directly. Everyday people justify the way they live their life on the basis of "just being who I am." The transformational work of the Gospel is that we get the opportunity to be more than who we are. The strange part is to experience the fullness of our humanity, we must deny ourselves and conform our lives to the way of Jesus.

This means denying what I think is best and deferring to Jesus. This means denying what I see as my rights and just deserts and deferring to Jesus. Self-denial and sacrifice is not something that runs strong in the fabric our our lives, yet it is exactly what we are called to.

It might seem obvious, I will state it anyway. In order to cultivate a healthy marriage self-sacrifice is a requirement. If our only pursuit is to satisfy our needs, wants, hopes and dreams at the expense of our spouse chances are if we achieve all those things, our spouse won't be there to celebrate with us.

For this to be healthy both partners need to be approaching their lives and the marriage from this understanding. If only one partner is willing to sacrifice the results are oppressive. When both partners are sacrificial the focus is on other person more than themselves.

A whole deeper level is when both spouses not only defer to each other, they also defer to the way of Jesus. In fact self-sacrifice begins with our ability to to deny ourselves and and take up the way of Jesus. Two people denying themselves and following Jesus, while also sacrificing for the sake of their spouse will result in a marriage that is whole and full.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Who Do You Say I Am?

Scripture Texts: Mark 8:11-30; Psalm 9

Many great questions can be found throughout the Scriptures. Several of the great questions coming from Jesus. Quite possibly one of the best questions Jesus asks is in this passage from Mark. Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is.

This question follows a more general question asking who people in general say Jesus is. It was safe to speculate about what others are saying about Jesus. The stakes got much higher when Jesus made it personal.

We live in a day and age when there are many thoughts about who Jesus was and is. Some people say he was a great moral teacher, and nothing more. There are some who say Jesus is a creation of religious people with no historical connection to a real person. Yet others, say that Jesus is one of the many valid options for experiencing a full relationship with God. It is fun to speculate about how others have answered the question. Yet, like the disciples, we must deal with the question on a personal level. Who do you say Jesus is?

This was a question that we talked about before we were married. For us it was important that we shared a common answer to the question. Our relationship with Jesus looks different in some ways because we are different people. At the same time we both claim Jesus to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. That no one gains a full relationship with God outside of Jesus Christ.

For both of us it mattered that we had this answer in common. Otherwise the core question of our lives would have different answers and therefore we would have different life values at the core of our lives. This is not a recipe for a healthy marriage. We would not be living from the same core and foundation. So, when we answer the question who is Jesus, each of us must answer. In marriage we find greater health when we hold the answer in common.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The God That Provides

Scripture Texts: Mark 7:31-37; Mark 8:1-10

We find Jesus once again feeding a large crowd with only a small amount of food. Before it was feeding 5000 plus people this time it is 4000 plus people. The resources were about the same, a handful of loaves of bread and a few fish.

The disciples seem to be in the same place as well as they are not sure how they are going to feed all these people. It is easy to wonder if Jesus was getting frustrated with the disciples as you would think they would begin to "get it". Before we are too hard on the disciples it is important to look at our own lives. How many times have we found ourselves confronting a situation that God has brought us through before wondering if God will do it again?

The provision of God is one the areas that seems difficult to learn. Whether it is food, money, shelter or just about anything we feel a lack of, we easily fall into the cycle of wondering how provision will get made. Repeatedly God provides for the needs we have, and even our wants from time to time. This provision happens in multiple ways including and increase of what we have, and in better using what we already have.

Provision is a big thing in marriage. One of the leading sources of marital stress is finances. More specifically not feeling like there is enough money to go around. We have certainly experienced this in our marriage. There have been times of sitting at the table laying out all the obligations and realizing there just was not enough.

There have been times when we were literally down to our last few dollars and we were not sure how we were going to care for everything. These were some of the most stressful times in our marriage. At the same time as we experienced God's amazing provision, they were some of the most remarkable times in our marriage.

Whatever it is we are lacking we must remember the source of all provision. If we are looking to our spouse to provide for all our needs, we will still be in want. Not because our spouse did not try but because only God can provide all that we ever need. An amazing thing happens when we as individuals and as a couple look to God for provision. We find we have all that we need.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Heart of The Matter

Scripture Texts: Mark 7:14-30; Psalm 8

Jesus almost always views the world around him in a different way than the religious leaders. There was an intricate system of rules and regulations. Foods that could be eaten and others that could not. A strict process of hand washing before, during and after a meal. Especially high on the list was the company that a person kept, there were some people a godly person just did not have dinner with according to the religious leaders.

In this passage in Mark Jesus challenges the long held beliefs. The origin of what defiles is not found in the externals of life, food, washing, the company kept, as much as it is found in the condition of a persons heart.

The woman that came to Jesus was troublesome from a religious leader perspective. At first it looks like even Jesus was going to treat her with contempt, until he changes his treatment of her. It is possible the change was Jesus plan all along to highlight what he had taught just moments before. No matter what the reason, we find Jesus emphasizing the condition of the heart over the externals of religion.

In a marriage it is important to pay attention to this teaching. We might do all the external things right. Kind treatment of each other, spending time together, acts of love both physical and verbal, and many others may be a regular part of our relationship. Yet the real measure is the condition of our heart toward our spouse. The health of a marriage can only be assessed by the condition of the hearts joined in the marriage.

This means keeping our hearts free of things that would do harm. Jealousy, bitterness and anger are the most likely candidates to cause problems, however they are not the only ones. Purity in heart requires us to be vigilant about what is happening in our heart. We must monitor the condition of our heart and when things are not right we must do the work to have the condition of our heart repaired.

When the condition of our heart toward our spouse and toward God is in the right place all the external signs of a healthy marriage take on deeper meaning. Time together, kind treatment, acts of love, and all the other external expressions of marriage are very important, just not as important as the condition of our heart when we engage in them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Spur One Another On

Scripture Texts: Mark 6:45-58; Mark 7:1-13

Jesus has just walked on water to get to where the disciples were struggling against the winds and the waves. Jesus was not even planning to stop when they call out to him in fear that it is a ghost they are seeing. Once the disciples realize that it is Jesus they settle down and Jesus climbs in the boat. Then they continue their journey across the sea.

The passage tells us something that is easy to miss. The winds and the waves stop but the disciples are still amazed over the feeding of the five thousand. In fact the words that end the discussion reveal the hearts of the disciples were too hard to take it all in. They have just witnessed Jesus feeding thousands of people with a small boys lunch. Then they witnessed him walking on water. Followed by the calming of the entire sea, and their hearts are still too hard to take it all in.

What do we miss that God is doing? It is easy to chastise the disciples as being clueless. It is just as easy to realize we might be right in the boat with them. God is in the business of doing some really amazing things. God is just as active today as God was when Jesus walked the face of the planet. Perhaps the issue is not God working, rather it is our missing what is happening right in front of us. Perhaps it is a case of having hearts that are too hard to take it all in.

God has provided, repeatedly, just like providing lunch for the crowd. God has done some pretty amazing things that defy the known laws of science, just like walking on water. God has even calmed the storms raging around us, even when it is not weather related. The question is do we see it.

We have been blessed with a marriage that God has been at work in since day one. As we have followed God's call of ministry in various places. When death of loved ones has been part of the journey. When we had no clue where the money for basics like food and shelter were going to come from. Through it all we made the effort to keep our eyes open for what God was up to.

In our marriage this has often meant one of us reminding both of us to continue to look for God. We have needed to lean on the other person and their faith until our own caught up. More often than not when one heart was too hard to take it all in, the other remained soft and open. This has made our marriage one where we spur each other on to see what God is doing in our midst that we might otherwise miss on our own.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Marriage that Honors God

Scripture Texts: Mark 6:14-44; Psalm 7

Herod Antipas uses marriage in a way that does not honor God. When the prophet of God, John the Baptist, confronts him the king does not change his ways. Even though the king respects John the Baptist, he is more willing to live the way he wants to more than is way that honors God.

Herod's unwillingness to honor God with his marriage creates problems for more than just him. Herodias becomes part of the tangled web, as well as Herod's daughter. When all is said and done John the Baptist is executed because Herod would not honor God with his life and marriage. In fact Herod was married to someone he should not have been in the first place.

There is no such thing as just hurting ourselves when it comes to not honoring God. We do not have the record of Herod's thoughts but I wonder if he ever thought, I am only hurting myself not anyone else? Reality is Herod's poor choice impacted everyone around him. Herodias lives a life full of bitterness toward God, the daughter of Herod becomes part of a plot to do harm to God's servant. Let's not forget John himself who ends up dead because Herod refused to honor God.

The idea of honoring God with our marriage might seem like an antiquated idea. More common than honoring God with marriage we find people who are asking God to honor their version of marriage. It is easy to flip things around and think that we have created the marriage and that God should bless it and honor it. That is not how it works, however. God is the one who establishes our marriage, and great fulfillment comes from a marriage where both partners are seeking to honor God with their life and marriage.

Honoring God with marriage first involves being in marriage with the person that God has prepared you for, and prepared for you. Marriage is not another case of random selection, it is the intersection of two people whom God has been developing for something great. Next we honor God with our marriage by treating our spouse with love, respect and honor. Not like Herodias who used her spouse as a tool of revenge. Third, honoring God with marriage means heeding the words of accountability when they come. If someone whom you trust speaks truth into your marriage, honoring God means taking the words seriously.

Through it all honoring God with marriage leads to a marriage that finds fulfillment. Additionally, honoring God with marriage also reduces the collateral damage in the lives around us. The greatest reason to honor God with our marriage is that God is the one who establishes and sustains our marriage.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Resurrection Matters

Tonight we take a break from our regular pattern to share an Easter message. This is the day we celebrate God raising Jesus from the dead, the day of resurrection. Like many for us the day has had its share of chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, family dinners and time spent at church. Those are all wonderful things, yet they are only a small part of why we rejoice this day.

Looking back at Jesus life we find the pattern by which we are to fashion our lives. We find teaching and real life modeling of love, justice, mercy and grace. In the death of Jesus we find forgiveness and restoration. Scholars can debate about how exactly this happens, however the main thing in Jesus death is that our possibility of wholeness was found through God's act of love and grace in Jesus. But what about the resurrection? Why does that matter?

There are two key reasons the resurrection of Jesus matters. First, if the grave were to still contain Jesus he would have been merely a moral teacher. His resurrection is the evidence for the claims made during his life and ministry. Without resurrection Jesus is not the long awaited Messiah. Second, is that we have new life because of the resurrection. When Jesus conquered sin and death it was not simply to show off, or for his own sake. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus opened the possibility that we too could be made new, that we could experience a new life.

From where we sit, that is reason to celebrate. Because of the resurrection whatever our past holds, it does not hold our future. Because of resurrection we do not have to fear sin and death. Because of resurrection we can choose to live a new life. Because of resurrection, everything has changed.

So today as we celebrate, we also offer an encouragement. We hope and pray that all of us will live the new life of resurrection. That we will live our lives in such a way that the people around us will wonder what happened. Our hope is that we will experience new life in such a way that others will see the love and grace of God at work in our lives. Our hope is that this Easter will be a day of new life. One where we experience the fullness of Jesus, and those around us are drawn into the journey.

May we be people who live a resurrection life. May we be people who live with the understanding that sin and death are conquered. May we live the resurrection in such a way that others can find the same new life in Jesus.

That is why resurrection matters. That is why we celebrate.

He is risen indeed!!!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Many Aspects of Marriage

Scripture Texts: Mark 5:1-20

Can you imagine the scene. Jesus encounters a guy who has been tormented by evil spirits to the point of insanity. The man can no longer live in the community but lives in the graveyard, naked and alone. Jesus commands the evil spirits to leave the man and enter some near by pigs. In this process Jesus has an entire conversation with the demons.

After the demons are removed and the pigs drown in the sea, all the people begin to gather. They see the previously insane and tormented man sitting calmly, clothed at the feet of Jesus. Rather than joy they experience fear and send Jesus away. Perhaps their fear is the amazing power that was on display. The demon possessed man was tormented by not just one demon, but many or a legion. Maybe the magnitude of the holiness found in Jesus made them nervous. We are not sure why but the people send Jesus away.

One of the great joys we have is sitting with couples who are engaged to be married. About a month before the wedding day we sit with them and open the conversation up so they can ask anything they want to about marriage. In one form or another we are asked if there is one thing that makes a marriage successful. We usually answer with a series of points rather than one thing.

The aspects of cultivating a healthy marriage are legion. That means there are many things that contribute to the health of a marriage. Rarely is it one thing the makes a marriage successful. Likewise, rarely is it one thing that causes a marriage to crumble. There are many aspects of marriage that must be engaged along the way.

Only through the holiness and power of God are we able to navigate the aspects. The human effort of marriage is essential but it will only carry the relationship so far. The power of God is what engages the legion of aspects that make up a marriage. It is only through the power of God are we able to be whole and sit calmly at the feet of Jesus together.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Any Marriage Can Blossom.

Scripture Texts: Mark 4:10-41; Proverbs 1

We fashion ourselves as amateur gardeners. Each year we start the seeds, care for the small sprouts and eventually plant outside. Last year as we went through the process we noticed our small sprouts were staying small, if they started at all. After many different tests and exploration of the possibilities we determined the primary reason our sprouts were struggling was the soil.

The soil you plant something in makes all the difference in the world. Jesus picks up on this when he explains the parable of the sower. The soil the seed is planted in has a direct impact on the fruitfulness of the plant in the long run.

As gardeners we have learned no matter what the soil is like when you start, there is always the possibility of developing soil that bears great fruit. It becomes a matter of how much effort and resource you want to put in to get the soil you are looking for. Even the soil that seems to be good requires consistent tending and care to keep the soil fruitful. The right combination of peat moss, compost, and other nutrients makes all the difference.

Any marriage can become a fruitful marriage. Regardless the starting point with attention and intention, any marriage can blossom into a thing of beauty. Also every marriage, regardless of its starting point requires effort to maintain its fruitfulness. A neglected marriage, like a neglected garden, will only produce weeds if not cared for.

The nutrients of a marriage are found in a handful of ways. Time together is always needed to tend the soil of a marriage. We must always work to feed our marriage by doing things that will build strength, like devotions together. Often the greatest strengthener of a marriage are the compost seasons of life. Those challenging and messy moments that are easily mistaken for manure, are often the times that test the soil of a marriage the most. These times also have the ability to produce healthy soil that will in turn produce a fruitful marriage.

Each seed in Jesus parable had different soil to start with but each had the same potential. Each seed had a different level of effort required to thrive but each had the potential to thrive. These two things are the same with every marriage, if we are willing to tend the soil.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A House Undivided

Scripture Texts: Mark 3:22-35; Mark 4:1-9

It seems the religious leaders would use just about any angle to slow Jesus down. This included calling him Satan, which seems a little drastic. It is no surprise Jesus does not miss a beat and has an answer for the religious leaders.

In a statement that seems obvious Jesus reminds the leaders that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Since Jesus was casting our evil demons, it was not even logical that his authority came from Satan. It was inconceivable that Satan would slow down Satan.

Jesus then puts the whole discussion in to a context that has a connection with marriage. A family that is at war with itself cannot stand. A marriage that has the spouses at odds and battling is not in good shape. In fact most marriages that end before the death of a spouse is due to the couple being at odds with each other.

We have learned this does not always mean that we agree with each other, only that we make sure not to battle each other. Each of us does things the other disagrees with, however the only time we would stand in each others way is if there was physical or spiritual danger ahead. A oneness exists in our marriage that means we are for each other and not against.

Cultivating a fulfilling marriage requires a unified household. This means there is always one place that we can find someone who is in this with us. There is always at least one other person in all of creation that will be on our side. Even when there is disagreement, there will always be one person who will walk with you.

A final note. There is a difference between arguments and battling. Whenever two people share life together there will be disagreement. yet this does not mean there is division. When there is division there are two parties working in different directions. Disagreement means there are different ways to move in the same direction. A house that is divided cannot stand, a house that is unified can stand through anything.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Called Out Ones

Scripture Texts: Mark 3:1-21; Psalm 5

The ministry of Jesus continues to grow with more people coming to be healed and hear his teaching. We find Jesus drawing a crowd to a mountain top or hillside. As Mark puts it these are the people Jesus calls out as followers, with the twelve called out for the ministry of preaching and casting out of demons.

Everyone who went with Jesus to that mountain was a part of the called out ones. These were people who chose to follow Jesus and in turn Jesus called them to live their lives in a different way than the rest of culture. It has become less favorable in this day and age to recognize that there are some who are called out and some who are not. Reality is the differentiation is not about who Christ calls, rather it is found in who chooses to follow. Everyone is called, only some choose to follow.

Before we were us, each of us knew that God had called us and that we were part of the called out ones. Both of us had chosen to respond and follow the call of God. When we got married we knew that God continued to call us as individuals, however it took us a little while to realize that our marriage has been part of how we have been called out by Christ.

There are many marriages that exist today which are healthy, loving and seem to be working well. These are not only marriages with Christ at the center. Every marriage is one where the couple is called to live different than the rest of the culture. Not every marriage has chosen to follow that call and live for Christ more than anything else. To the best of our ability we have chosen to follow and live in a different way than what we see all around us.

Having our marriage follow the way of Jesus begins with the recognition of being called out by Jesus. Next we must chose to pattern our lives after the life and teaching of Jesus. In it all we have days when we do this better than others, and like everyone else we depend on the love and grace of Christ to sustain us in the journey. Our hope is that as we chose to live as called out people of God, that God will be able to use our marriage to show others what is possible through the grace and love of Christ.