Sunday, May 31, 2015

Understanding and Application

Scripture Texts: John 7:25-53; Psalms 30

Facts and details can be fascinating and troublesome things. There is a chance we might have all the right facts and details and apply them incorrectly. It is also possible to have the right application without having the facts and details together. In either case the results are misinformation and misguided actions.

The people questioning Jesus in John's Gospel have their facts and details right about where the Messiah would come from. Their application was the problem, they did not realize, or remember, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, this city of David. If correctly applied to Jesus, the people would have found the facts and details to point to Jesus as Messiah.

On the other side of this is when the religious leaders try to keep the people connected with God. The law given by God was to guide the people in having a relationship with God. Religious leaders kept adding to the law so that people would not even come close to breaking God's law. Their application was good, keeping people from sin. Their facts and details on how to do keep from sin and in full relationship with God were incorrect. Therefore their good application was in the wrong direction.

Any relationship is susceptible to this challenge of application, and facts and details. Marriage is certainly not an exception. We can know all of the right things which cultivate a healthy and full marriage, if we do not apply them well then we still miss out. Likewise, if we are making every effort to cultivate a healthy and full marriage, but do not have the facts and details together, we will miss out.

Over the past few months we have explored some of the practices, habits and understandings of a healthy marriage. Perhaps along the way you have, like we have, learned a few facts and details about cultivating a marriage. This is only part of the challenge. The full challenge is in the application. Are we putting into practice the things we have learned? Understanding and application must go hand in hand if we are to cultivate a healthy and full marriage.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sacrificing the Perishable for the Sake of the Eternal

Scripture Text: John 6:22-59

We have an amazing tendency to sacrifice the eternal for the sake of the perishable. The focus of our lives becomes getting the things we desire in with little regard for what God desires for us. In this process we get more focused on fulfilling our wants and desires that we leave behind that which is best.

This time in history is not the first to fall prey to this challenge. For as long as there have been people, people have been people. The Scriptures are filled with people who sacrificed the eternal for the sake of the perishable. When in reality a life that follows after God is one that is willing to sacrifice the perishable for the sake of the eternal.

In the Gospel of John this is shown by the way the crowd is looking for Jesus to do parlor tricks before they will believe. They wanted their desires to be satisfied before they would believe. Jesus challenges them to believe seek something better, something lasting.

In marriage it becomes easy to sacrifice the fullness of marriage for the desires and wants of the current moment. We want to experience all that marriage has to offer without having to sacrifice any of our desires. This simply will not work. If we are to experience all that marriage has to offer we must be willing to sacrifice the perishable desires for the sake of the eternal.

Some of the struggles we went through early in our marriage often had easy solutions to them. These easy solutions more often than not would have invited us to sacrifice the eternal for the perishable. There would have been jobs taken that were really not what God hoped for us. Purchases made that would have placed us in bondage to something other than Christ. In fact early in our marriage as we began to welcome children into the world we purchased a big SUV to cart our family around. This met a very real desire and a need. The issue was we sacrificed some availability to God because of the unrealistic car payment we found ourselves bound to. For several years after sacrificing the eternal for the perishable, we paid a financial price for the vehicle long after it was gone from our family.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dancing on The Waves of a Storm

Scripture Texts: John 6:1-21; Psalms 28

Jesus had a knack for asking the impossible of his followers. Feed thousands without planning ahead and only a child's lunch as provision.  Then to have them experience him walking on water in the midst of the storm. It could be argued Jesus is just showing off with that. Still, we find Jesus repeatedly inviting followers to stretch beyond their understanding of what is possible.

As humans we are a people that by and large tend to stay with the safe and the known. When we come across someone who is willing to take risks, or stretch our sense of what is possible we often dismiss them as having a loose grip on reality. However, following Jesus is a continual life of moving beyond perceived limitations and expanding our experience of possible.

When we stop and think about it marriage is close to an impossible thing. Two people who commit to live their lives together until death do they part. In our case we intend on having this be many decades of life together, which means we need Jesus to lead us into the waters of what is humanly impossible.

On the wedding day couples are not equipped for the journey ahead, they do not have all the provisions for the life that God is calling them to live in Jesus Christ. Yet, if allowed to, Jesus will supply what we need when we need it, even if it starts with a child's lunch. When the storms of life come, Jesus loves to show off a little and dance on top of waves just to make sure we see that what we think is impossible is joy for Jesus.

The key on this is placing our trust in Jesus more than what is known and what we think to be possible. If all we live by is what is thought to be possible, we will never dance on the waves of a storm with Jesus. If our marriage is limited to what is possible for two human beings to accomplish the limits will abound. We must keep our hearts, minds and possibilities for our marriage focused on the provision of possibilities of Jesus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Difference Jesus Makes

Scripture Text: John 5:19-47

Does belief in Jesus really matter? That is the crux of the conversation Jesus is having in this section from John. People all over the world live productive lives, filled with compassion and love, yet Jesus is not part of the equation for them. So, what difference does it make?

Belief in Jesus does not automatically make everything better in our lives, in fact there are times when it makes it harder. The promise of God is not that we will live a better life than another person who does not believe in Jesus, much less follow Jesus. No, the promise is that we will have a fullness of life that is only possible through Jesus.

This fullness comes from having a fullness of relationship with God that can only be found through Jesus. A life that experiences love and compassion without Jesus will come to know love and compassion more fully because of their relationship with Jesus. In other words, when we do not believe and follow Jesus, we are settling for less than everything God desires for us.

The same is true of marriage. There are many successful marriages throughout the world that do not have Jesus as a part of the marriage. Great love and fulfilment is found in these marriages, and for all intents and purposes these marriages are of high quality. Only they are not experiencing the fullness of what God desires for marriage.

There are many who call themselves Christians who continue to leave Jesus out of their marriage. This is easy to do because we have not seen Jesus, nor have we seen God and we live in a seeing is believing culture. Yet, the key to experiencing everything God desires in marriage still comes back to Jesus.

To experience all that God desires in marriage requires two people who are followers of Jesus. Further it requires the couple to invite Jesus into the marriage in tangible ways. This is done by loving our spouse and other people like Jesus loves all of us. It is also done by walking in compassion and mercy with our spouse in the same ways Jesus does with all of us. Anything less can still be productive and good, however, it will not be all that God desires for you and your marriage.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Few Words Change Everything

Scripture Text: John 4:31-54

All it took was a few words. Jesus never even saw the young boy who was dying. Still he spoke words of healing and from a distance the boy was made well. The government official had gotten word Jesus was in the area so he went to see if he could heal his son. This man's request was for Jesus to come with him and heal his son, Jesus had another plan, to simply speak the healing.

In all of this we do not find a discussion about faith often found in the healing miracles. The man that comes to Jesus is specifically identified as a government official. Not a religious leader, not a Jewish person but a governmental official, possibly even a Roman. The official comes to Jesus because he had heard about the miracles being done, and that was the only hope for his son. Not once does the official claim to have a faith, or belief before the healing in pronounced. This is not the classic, "your faith has made you well" kind of moment.

Once Jesus tells the official to go home because his son is going to live, the official then believes and heads home. The only assurance of healing for his son is the words of Jesus, yet he believes and goes home. There is not any firsthand evidence. The son does not come strolling down the road. It is not a time when Jesus tells the boy to get up. There is a request and Jesus says it is cared for. The only way the official would know if it is true would be to go home and see for himself.

When we stood in front of God and the congregation at our wedding we made many commitments to each other and to God. Part of the ceremony was a commitment offered by God to us. If we keep the covenant made that day, and follow the will of God for our lives, then we will experience the fullness of God in our marriage. There was no tangible evidence of this promise being true, only words offered on God's behalf.

We simply had to believe and live our lives in accordance with the covenant we made that day. The only way we will find out if the promise is true is to keep living in the covenant. If we decide to not live by the covenant we made on our wedding day, we will never know if the promise of God for our marriage is true. Even if we are told by others what God has done for them, we will only know the truth and power of God for our marriage if we believe and live in the promise. All because God offers the promise long before we realize the promise.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Don't Get Lost in the Details

Scripture Texts: John 4:1-30; Psalms 26

There are times in our lives when the conversation we think we are in, is not really the conversation we are in. That is the situation for the woman Jesus encounters at the well. She thinks they are having a conversation about water and worship. In reality they are having a conversation about the condition of her soul.

All of the details of the passage can provide a smokescreen to the real point of Jesus' interaction with her. This is not about the number husbands she has had, not about where she worships, and it is certainly not about getting water from the well. Jesus wants this woman to know what matters most, the condition of her relationship with God.

It is easy for us to get distracted from what matters most. We must remember that what seems huge for us may not even be what God wants us to focus on. Likewise, that which seems small, or insignificant, might be exactly what needs the most focus. The woman at the well viewed herself as insignificant while all the other topics of conversation seemed most important. Jesus brings some clarity.

We can spend a lot of time in a marriage focusing on the wrong things. Perhaps it is better to say we can spend a lot of time making something more important than it is, while neglecting that which is most important. If a marriage includes children this gets even more challenging.

So, what is the most important thing? In a word relationships. First and foremost our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The details of this relationship are not as important as the relationship itself. How we live this relationship is less important than making sure we have a relationship. In marriage the most important things is to focus on the relationship we have with our spouse in the midst of details.

Most the disagreements between spouses are rooted in details that are not that important in the end. However, if we get more focused on the details than on the relationship as a whole we will get sidetracked. We will find ourselves losing the relationship for the sake of winning the details. Like the woman at the well, we must focus on that which is most important and not get tangled in the details.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Decrease Our Self Importance

Scripture Text: John 3:22-36

John the Baptist is one of the most fascinating characters in the New Testament. He does not play by all the religious rules, lives out in the wilderness, dresses in eccentric ways, and is really clear about who he is and who God has called him to be.

After baptizing Jesus, John continues the work of baptism among the people in preparation for their encounter with the Messiah. The disciples of John get a little worried because all of a sudden they find Jesus baptizing people. In their view Jesus is stealing John's role but that is not at all how John understands the situation. In fact John is excited about his decreasing role and in the increasing role of Jesus.

Oswald Chambers wrote, "We should never be late to the funeral of our own self-importance." John the Baptist I am sure would have celebrated these words as they were embodied in his life. John was willing to see his importance reduced so that Christ could be lifted up. The greatest end to John's life was not connected to his own importance.

If our own importance is the chief end in our life we will find struggle in following Jesus and struggle in marriage. We must be willing to take on the attitude of John the Baptist in our relationship to Jesus and do the same in our marriage. Jesus must be greater than ourselves, and we must be willing to put our spouse ahead of ourselves.

This is not easy work as there seems to be something about being human that is driven by our own importance. All too often we are faced with the radical call of Jesus or following what we think is better. Additionally, we wrestle to put our spouse ahead of ourselves. Perhaps the key is to remember some things from John. First, John understood his role in preparing the way for someone else to have the glory. Second, John was clear that his importance must decrease as Jesus' increased. Third, John kept his focus on the ultimate goal, that more and more people would find grace, hope and love in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Firsthand Experience

Scripture Texts: John 1:35-51; Psalms 25

If we visit a restaurant and enjoy a fantastic meal we are likely to tell others about it. Given the opportunity we would go beyond just telling someone about it, we would invite them to join us at the restaurant sometime.

The earliest disciples of Jesus are engaged in a similar practice. They are not stopping at telling others about Jesus, there is an invitation to experience Jesus firsthand. We see how helpful and fruitful this is when there are objections. No elaborate arguments are made. There is not back and forth, simply an invitation to come and see.

There was enough confidence by these early disciples to simply introduce others to Jesus. Do we have the same level of confidence? Do we believe there is something worth coming to see when we invite others to experience Jesus firsthand?

When we look at our marriage, more importantly when others look at our marriage, do they experience Jesus firsthand? Put another way, are we living in our marriage in such as way as to help the people around us encounter Christ?

For several years we have lifted a simple prayer to God, that God would help us to live a marriage that could be used to show others Christ and a Christ-centered marriage. There are several things that go into that prayer becoming reality, however it starts with us having an experience of Christ that compels us to invite others to come and see. Second, we must strive to keep Christ at the center of our marriage. When it comes to what others experience in our marriage, that is up to God. We will do our best to do our part, and we will trust God to do God's part.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Recognizing the Presence

Scripture Texts: John 1:18; Psalms 24

No matter where we look there is not something or someone that does not belong to God. This includes all the land and the seas, all the animals and rocks. All of it belongs to God. Even the people who are more difficult to deal with, and the people who do not acknowledge God.

That is one of the most amazing things about God. Even when we do not acknowledge God's presence, God is there. When someone does not recognize God as real or a part of the world God is still there. Our ability to recognize or see God is not what determines God's presence and care for us. If the entire world were to stop recognizing God, this would not eliminate God's existence.

Whether or not we recognize the presence of God in our marriage, God is present. Every marriage that has ever taken place is done in the presence of God. The question becomes what we do with that presence. Many people simply live their lives without recognizing God's presence and role in their life and marriage. God is still there. When we begin to recognize God in our marriage, things begin to change for the better.

When we recognize what is already there, God, our marriage can begin to move toward the fullness God desires for us. Moving past recognition and beginning to follow God through Jesus Christ move our lives and marriage toward transformation. So many people settle for less than transformation because they only recognize God instead of embracing God and following. We were never intended to settle for anything less than everything God desires for us. The beginning of this is recognizing that we belong to God, and through following God in Christ Jesus we begin to experience an ever-increasing amount of what is possible.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Avoid Division

Scripture Text: Romans 16

A common theme in Paul's writing is to avoid division in among the believers. Not just division but those who would instigate division by what they teach. It is made clear by Paul that those who teach in a way that creates division are only serving their own personal desires not serving Christ.

This same message applies today. We live in a world of messages. They come at us from every angle, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, other people and T.V. and movies. We must be careful what messages we allow to have influence in our lives, otherwise we might too become and agent of division. It is essential that we surround ourselves with people and messages that will keep us focused on Christ.

Trying to cultivate a healthy marriage is challenged by the message of division that sounds us. We are bombarded by messages that tells we should put ourselves first. This is not what the teaching of Jesus call us to, and it is not what will create a healthy marriage. Every effort must be made to stay away from messages that encourage division and to invest out time in messages of Christ.

It is not only messages of division that cause problems for a marriage. Any message that causes us to not remain focused on Christ is to be avoided. This might mean not watching certain programs, it might mean, staying of some internet sites. It could even mean not spending time with certain people. For everyone the company we keep matters, it is especially important for those who are married. We need to keep company with people who will keep division from showing up in our marriages.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Who is Your Shepherd?

Scripture Texts: Romans 15:14-33; Psalms 23

"The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need." These words open what is possibly the most known Psalm of them all. These words and the entire Psalm remind us that God is ever-present, and ever-providing for our needs. Whether it is in the darkest of times or in times of celebration, God is constant.

This also mean when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death, we can have an assurance of God's presence with us. There is no reason to fear in dark and difficult times because God is close by ready to protect and comfort. All of this reminds us of the great blessing it is to have God as our shepherd.

Who is the shepherd of your marriage? It might seem strange to think about a marriage having a shepherd until we think about the role a shepherd fulfills. The shepherd is the one who cares for the sheep, the one who makes sure they are safe, and have everything they need. In other words the shepherd is the one person on who the sheep can rely totally and completely.

So, who is the shepherd of your marriage? Too often we try to shepherd our own marriage. Every effort is taken to provide for our own needs, to provide our own safety and protection. Only to fall short and continue to be in need. God can be the shepherd of our marriage. in fact God desires to be the shepherd of our marriage. The challenge is whether or not we will let God be our shepherd..

Before we simply embrace God as our shepherd we must remember that the shepherd leads the sheep. Once we have a shepherd we submit to following wherever we are lead. This will mean the green pastures as well as the valley of the shadow of death. This will mean having an overflowing cup as well as having just enough. It will mean that our marriage is no longer our own but it is submitted to the shepherd.

Are you ready for God to be the shepherd of your life and your marriage?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

More Than Food

Scripture Texts: Romans 14:13-23; Romans 15:1-13

We are not that far removed from the season of Lent. Often during that time we hear of people giving up something as a spiritual discipline. More often than not we find people in America giving up a food of some sort. Some people do in fact find a deep spiritual journey in denying themselves of a food, while others simply do not. Then we get the words of Paul in Romans 14, "The Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."

Perhaps the issue is not what foods we eat or deny. The bigger issue is found in the life we live. Does giving up a food for lent help us live a more godly life? Better yet does living a more godly life depend on what we eat? Paul would tell us stop worrying about food and pay attention to your attitude.

When we look at our marriage, are we worried about the right things? The biggest concern is not about the external things, food and the like, it is about how we are living our lives together. Is our marriage marked by goodness and peace? Is there joy in the Holy Spirit? We can get all the external things right and still miss out on the marriage God longs for us to experience by not living a life of goodness, peace and joy.

To cultivate a life of goodness, peace and joy we must be willing to seek these things. Goodness does not happen by accident, it is found in our daily choices in how we treat each other. Peace is not found by happenstance, it is found when we choose to live at peace with God and others. Joy is a choice as well. We can choose joy no matter what life brings our way. What we choose in the area of goodness, peace and joy determines the quality of our life and marriage far more than what is on our dinner plate.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Comparison Game

Scripture Texts: Romans 13:8-14; Romans 14:1-12; Psalms 22

There is something almost natural in the way we compare ourselves with other people. A strange comfort is found in being able to point out someone else's flaws and highlight our successes. It can also be harmful when we compare with someone that is excelling in areas we are struggling. All in all, the comparison game will eat us up if we insist on playing it.

Paul reminds us that life is never as cut and dry, especially when we play the comparison game. We might think we are more holy than another person because of the things we stay away from, or because we worship God on a certain day when others do not. In fact Paul goes on to remind us that our measure is not what someone else is doing. No, our measure is found in how we are living out the call of God in our lives.

The comparison game is not really ours to play. We have no right or standing to be able to determine if someone is more or less faithful than we are, that is the work of God. It becomes self-assuring if we are able to highlight someone else rather than look at ourselves. It also becomes a never ending and never winning game.

Comparison in marriage can happen on many levels. We can compare ourselves to our spouse. Some might compare their spouse with other people. There is also the comparison of marriages. A couple might think our marriage is better than another couple's marriage, or they might set another couple on a pedestal. All forms of comparison with other people become dangerous in a marriage, yet comparing your marriage with that of another couple seems to encompass them all.

Once the comparison begins it is difficult to stop it. Many reasons and rationalizations show up as to why our marriage is better, or worse than another. Reality is the only comparison that matters in a marriage is whether or not we are living up to the calling God has placed on our marriage. It is not other couples who we will have to answer to, or who will have to answer to us. We will all answer God for how we have lived the life that was given to us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Transformed Love

Scripture Texts: Romans 12:9-21; Romans 13:1-7

Earlier in chapter 12 Paul writes about living as a sacrifice to God, transformed and not conforming to the ways of this world. The end of the chapter paints a picture of what that means. As we live our transformed, sacrificial life we will live in the ways explained in this chapter.

Looking at the actions described we do not find these to be the normal way of living in our culture. In other words the world around us does not live in a way that shows true love. In fact we find a world that is expert in loving the self more than anything else. We clamour for personal rights and freedoms, while we are willing to villianize anyone who gets in our way. This is not even close to the transformed life God is calling us to.

Turning the lens to look at marriage we wonder how many times Romans 12:9-21 has been included in a wedding ceremony. Countless times 1 Corinthians 13 has been read but how many times have these words of really loving people been shared? These few verses seems to inform us more about the love which sustains a marriage more than those of 1 Corinthians.

In particular in mind today is verse 15, "Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep." This speaks of love based on presence, simply being present with our spouse when they are experiencing various emotions. A marriage based in real love is one where we can be happy for our spouse, no matter what is going on in our own life, and we can be sad with our spouse no matter what.

This kind of love resists the temptation to change the situation. We do not need to steal the happiness of our spouse, merely share in it. Likewise we do not need to fix the sadness of a spouse, we only need to be fully present.

Cultivating a healthy and full marriage pays attention to the love shared between two people. It is not always focused on the romantic and intimate love. In fact more often than not the greatest impact of love is found when we walk with our spouse with Romans 12 as our guide. May we be people who love deeply, not as the world around us loves but as people who have been transformed by the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Art of Grafting

Scripture Text: Romans 11:1-24

It is a real art. Taking a branch from one tree and grafting it into another stem or trunk in such a way that life bursts forth. If we were to go out into our yard and cut off a branch from one tree and simply stick it to another tree, we can be fairly confident the branch will die and possibly the tree as well.

The gardener must know exactly the trees that go together. They must also know how to cut the branch and the tree so that the two can come together. There are many more variables that are not readily known. The joining together of dissimilar things is not an easy task.

This joining together is exactly what God has done through the Gentiles. In the days of Paul's writing if you were a Jewish person there were only two types of people in the world, Jewish people and everyone else. The Jewish people were the people chosen of God to be a blessing to the whole world. When God stepped out of eternity and into our reality as Jesus Christ, many of the Jewish people did not believe, so God grafted the Gentiles into the promise.

A marriage in many ways is a grafting process. Two people coming from different families with different understandings of life and possibly different values. The two become one as they are grafted with each other and with God. For the rest of our lives a married couple journey through history and values brought to the marriage as well as the new story and values that emerge.

Like with the grafting of trees, the successful grafting of a marriage takes care and tending. There is much more to the work than simply sticking two lives together. There is an investment in the marriage that involves time, energy and effort. It requires learning and growing along with challenge and struggle. This is why like grafting two plants, marriage is more of an art than a science. Sure science has its place in both, but it is the work of art that becomes the masterpiece.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Guard Your Heart

Scripture Texts: Romans 9:30-33; Romans 10:1-21; Proverbs 4

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (Proverbs 4:23)

It is always fascinating when the Bible uses terms like above all else. The fascination is found in the fact that we use a term like that in a matter of fact kind of way that diminishes its value. When we find the term in Scriptures, this is quite different. So when the writer of Proverbs says to guard your heart above all else, we should take notice.

As a physical organ in the body the heart is a rather essential component. Through the heart our very life is circulated to our entire body. When we move past the physical and into a deeper understanding of heart, the same is true, through our heart our very life is circulated to our entire body. The experiences we allow to have entrance to our heart, and therefore our life, will determine what happens in our lives.

This is why we are encouraged to guard our hearts above all else. If our heart becomes corrupt, then our entire life will suffer. Guarding our heart is about the types of things we expose our heart to. In proverbs there is a list that follows of some things to steer clear of. I am sure we could all add to the list.

If guarding your heart as an individual is top priority, it is even more essential for a marriage. We are constantly bombarded with all kinds of situations and messages that have the ability to steer our marriage to a bad place. The key place to guard our hearts is in the relationships we have with people who we are not married to. If we do not guard our heart it is easy to allow someone to have a portion of our heart that is reserved for our spouse.

Many extramarital affairs begin as a friendship where the two people do not guard their hearts. Before long more and more of a persons heart becomes available to someone who is not their spouse. From there it is not a jump to give your heart away to someone who it does not belong. This brings a whole new understanding to guarding your heart.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Forgiver and Leader

Scripture Text: Romans 8:1-17

Everyone has had that feeling of helplessness. That feeling when it seems we just are not able to do the right thing or to make the right choice. To use Paul's language those moments when our sinful nature is what controls our actions and thoughts. If Paul would have stopped writing at that point our lives would in fact seem hopeless.

However, Paul does not stop writing there. The account in Romans continues to remind us that we are no longer slaves to our sinful nature when the Spirit of Christ is within us. More directly stated when we are followers of Jesus we are no longer helpless to the power of sin. To be clear this does not mean we are no longer pursued by sin. Instead when we feel the power of our sinful nature lurking, the Spirit of God is ready, willing and able to carry the day.

Volition is a big part of this. First we must choose to follow Christ. Next we must choose to make ourselves available to the leadership of Christ in our lives. In more churchy terms this is have in Jesus be the forgiver and leader of our lives. Once we make those choices we have available to us great resources to withstand the prowling sin of this world.

This is also true of a marriage. To experience the fullness of marriage we have to make the choice for Christ to be our forgiver and leader as individuals and as a couple. It is amazing the number of people who navigate life and marriage without the grace and guidance of the Spirit of God found in Christ Jesus.

Some might argue that you do not need to have Christ as part of the equation to experience the fullness of life or a marriage. While it is entirely possible to experience a good life, maybe even a great life outside of Christ, it is not possible to experience the fullness of life outside of Christ. This also means the fullness of marriage, and that fullness is found when we allow Jesus to be both forgiver and leader of our marriage.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Battle of What I Deserve

Scripture Texts: Romans 7; Psalm 19

Here in Romans 7 Paul takes on what many have experienced in life. We know what it is we want to do but we are not able to do it. At the same time we know what we should stay away from doing and we do it anyway. This is the bakery problem. We can look at the baskets full of fresh baked bread, all the sugar glistening pastries, the chewy bagels, and don't forget those muffins as large as a person's head. There is full recognition we should walk on by and not get anything. Then we decide to get one thing, that becomes two, that becomes one of each.

For the most part the struggle in not knowing what we should or should not do. Our struggle is found in execution. We spend a lifetime trying to get this one right. Never do we fully conquer this challenge, however the more we insert discipline it becomes easier to win the battle. The greater frequency that we experience victory, the easier it is to pursuade ourselves of the benefits of making the right choice.

Marriage is not exempt from this challenge. Often we can find ourselves knowing exactly what would be of great benefit for our spouse. Few and far between are the times when we are clueless about what we need to do. The challenge is following through.

At the root of this is the idea that we will have to subordinate our own wants and desires for the sake of another. Yup pride shows up again. Paul uses the language of sin, it is possible the root of all sin is human pride. Whenever our pride goes into overdrive, there is a good chance we will lose the battle of doing what we know we should do and not doing what we want to stay away from.

Three little words convince us that our actions are okay, I deserve this. These three words have signaled the downfall of many marriages. To be clear, this is not to say we do not deserve certain things. However when we begin to justify our actions by what we deserve, or make demands about what we deserve, pride is lurking.

Cultivating a healthy marriage pays attention to the feelings and declarations of what we deserve. Each partner searches themselves to root our pride. Together the couple can talk about the struggle of pride and feeling like they deserve certain things. This conversation should take place long before the feelings of pride are raging and demands are being made.

Oh, and like in our individual lives, the more we choose what we know to be right, the easier it gets to make that choice in the future. It is true, practice makes perfect easier.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

God Our Rock

Scripture Texts: Romans 5; Psalms 18

"The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock! May the God of my salvation be exalted!" (Psalm 18:46)

It is believed to be David who penned Psalm 18. This is important because when we look at the life of David we find a person that God considered faithful, while also being a person that had no shortage of personal failings. Further, there was no shortage of people trying to do harm to David. Through it all God was steadfast in protecting David.

Romans reminds us that Jesus died for us while we are yet sinners. The grace that God showed to David in the Old Testament times is the same grace God has offered to us. We do not have to have our life all together for God to be willing to extend grave and love to us. In fact it is precisely the love of God that cause the extension of grace and love when we are sinners.

Still we are left to ponder if we respond like David. Praise and adoration can be found on David's lips. A remembrance of the great protection of God is found throughout David's writing. A favorite understanding from David of who God is and how God relates to us is to see God as our Rock. The strong and steadfast foundation of our life. The only thing that is steady in the midst of an ever-shifting world.

Who is the rock of your marriage? When troubles come and the days are hard who do you turn to? In some ways this is a trick question because there are two people we can turn to, God and our spouse. We have the opportunity to be a rock to our spouse in midst of trying times. To go further, we should be a rock for our spouse as we journey through life together. However, there are times when both people in a marriage are feeling shaken and unsteady.

This is when God is needed to be the Rock of our marriage. Keep in mind this is not the only time, God is always the Rock of our marriage not just in the trying times. When the hard times come, and they do come even to the best of marriages, we can rely on God to be the One we can lean on.

If we do not have God as the foundation in our marriage, then when the trying times come we will have nothing to hold onto. Many marriages where God is not the Rock fall apart when hard times come because the foundation simply is not there. Without the foundation the whole structure can easily crumble. So, may the words of David come to be true in our lives and our marriages, Praise to my Rock!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Return on Investment

Scripture Text: Romans 4

Paul uses the language of wage earning to teach about the relationship of God and the people of God. When we work, we expect there to be compensation for the work, also known as a wage. However, as Paul points out this is not how it works with God. We cannot earn what God has offered us.

Many in Paul's day thought they could earn the favor of God by being circumcised. Today it is not through circumcision that people try to earn their own way, rather it is through trying to be good enough. We can never be good enough. Only through the grace of God do we find righteousness. In reality it is not until we stop trying to earn righteousness from God that we begin to find it. This does not mean we simply stop paying attention to how we live. Quite the opposite, we are careful to live in a way that is in line with the righteousness of God, knowing we are not earning it, only living in light of it.

In a marriage the idea of wage earning can be helpful as well. The quality of the effort and time you invest in a marriage will produce certain wages. When we are willing to invest in our marriage and our spouse through our time, thoughts and actions we find a fruitful marriage. If we invest in ways that are hurtful to our spouse, the wage earned is destruction.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Importance of Alignment

Scripture Texts: Romans 3:21-31; Psalm 17

There has only been one person to walk the planet who has lived free of sin, Jesus. That means the rest of us have to deal with the sin of our lives, those things that take us out of alignment with God. Try as we might to deal with sin on our own, it is only through the one sinless person that we find the solution.

It is only through Jesus that we find realignment with God from sin. This is true no matter who you are. Paul reminds the Romans and us, that all have fallen short of God's glorious make, and that through Jesus we can be made whole in our relationship with God. Everyone has come up short and Jesus is available to everyone.

In order for us to experience what Jesus has to offer we must stop striving in our own ability. Only through Jesus are we able to move into the life that God has called us to have. It is not by our shear will and determination, it is not by doing or not doing all the right things, it is not from our ancestry, heritage, or ethnic background. The playing field is level, everyone must come to Jesus to find full alignment with God.

A marriage only experiences its fullness when it is made up of two lives that are aligned with God through Jesus. Effort is required by the two people in a marriage, however their effort alone will not result in the life that God is calling the marriage to have. It is only through the work and grace of Jesus that we find our ability to align our lives with God and with each other.

Alignment makes life incredibly easier. If you drive a car that is out of alignment, it pulls to one side, is a rough ride, makes lots of extra noise and costs more money. A car that is in good alignment has a ride that makes it easy to forget you are riding in a car. The same is true in our lives and in our marriage. While a mechanic is the one who can get your car back into alignment, it is only Jesus who can do this for your life and your marriage.