Friday, July 31, 2015

Courage to Keep Going

Scripture Text: Acts 21:1-26

Faith and courage are not the absence of fear, they are acting in trust in the midst of fear. Paul clearly understands what is about to happen to him as he returns to Jerusalem, yet he is steadfast in his determination to head there. Those gathered around him are afraid for his life and want him to avoid the journey. It is not that Paul had no fear, that would be foolish, rather in faith and courage Paul continued to move toward Jerusalem.

Paul was clear about his relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and the mission to which he had been called. That kind of clarity provided the foundation for taking action in the face of fear. Without a clear understanding of his relationship with God and his mission, it is very likely Paul would have avoided the trip to Jerusalem.

In our own lives we must have the same kind of clarity. First we must understand our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we have it all figured out and know all there is to know about God. What this does mean is we understand that our very life and breath and existence is based in the grace and love of God as experienced in Jesus Christ.

Second we must be clear in understanding the mission to which we have been called. Paul was clear his role in the Body of Christ was to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles. Many followers of Jesus never take the time to seek direction from God about the mission. We are created for more than existence and soaking up the grace of God. Every person is called to be a conduit of God's grace to the world.

Marriage is meant for more than sharing tax advantages and retirement accounts. When two people are joined together as one, God has a mission for that union. We have found our mission to be helping others find Christ and thrive in that relationship. This blog is part of living out that mission. There is some fear, what if we offend, what about those who are not married, and a whole host of what ifs. Still we must press on to live the calling God has placed on our marriage.

Our prayer is that you will first find your life in Christ. Second that you will find your mission or calling. Then, if you are married that you will find the mission or calling for your marriage.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Money and Marriage

Scripture Texts: Acts 20:17-38; Psalms 55

The day still plays in our memory. It was only about a week before Aaron's seminary graduation and a small electrical fire rendered our house with no electricity. Our electrician made it clear we are fortunate to still have a house based on what he could see, yet we still had a problem. We needed to meet our insurance deductible so the work could get done, and we needed to do this right away as we had people coming from all over for the pending graduation celebration.

At issue was the fact that we did not have the money for the deductible. As we sat at the dinning room table trying to figure out how we were going to pull this off, the only solution we could come up with is to cut back on our giving to the church and give less than a tithe. We had made the decision early in our marriage that we would tithe, give the first and best 10 percent of our income to God through the church. This was not a financial decision, rather it was a spiritual one. God has been faithful to provide, we would be faithful to return a portion.

Exasperated with our option we decided to get the mail and take a break from talking about the whole thing. In the mail was an overage check from our escrow account which was enough to cover the deductible, cover the cost of the bankers check, and an ice cream cone for both of us. God provided for us in a wonderful way. Our experience has been when we are faithful in what we do with what God provides, God is faithful to provide.

Money and marriage can be a difficult topic. A significant number of marriages get into trouble because of money. At the same time so few people take the time to learn and apply biblical money management principles. Paul seemed to understand how to manage what he had in a way that honored God, and God honored Paul by providing. The provision of God was done to the extent that Paul did not need to receive from the people of Ephesus a gift for support.

For years now we have done our best to apply biblical principles of money management. We continue to give our first and best 10 percent to God through the church. We continue to live a lifestyle that is less than the means we have available. This allows us to be more available to God. We continue to build a savings so we can manage emergencies without crisis. Most of all, we do not make money the most important thing in our marriage. We work together to honor God with what God has provided, and God honors us.

This is hard work, and requires discipline. Yet the payoff is worth it. Through the years of our marriage we have had financially stressful times. At the same time we have never had an argument over money or our financial situation. We trust that God will provide, as long as we are faithful in how we live our lives in accordance with the principles of money management found in the Scriptures.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Meeting at The Table

Scripture Text: Acts 20:1-16

In this passage from Acts 20 it is easy to focus on the man falling out of the window because he fell asleep. We could look at the amazing account of his being resurrected. Time could be spent talking about whether or not Paul should have been speaking for as long as he did. Those would all be good focus points, and not what we will focus on.

The reason for the gathering was not even to hear Paul preach. Believers in Troas gathered together to share in the Lord's Supper. The people were gathering to share Holy Communion together and Paul preaching is part of the celebration of God's mercy, grace and love.

Something powerful happens when people gather at the Communion Table. People from all different walks of life share in the common bread and cup. Even more profound is the bond of community that is found in the sharing of this sacred meal. When people come together and share in Communion the bond is well beyond sharing some ritual of the church, there is a more intimate and deep connection.

In the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, the grace of God is made available in such a way that people not only meet the risen Christ, they meet each other. The Lord's Supper is more than a personal one-on-one with Jesus, it is a meal where the community meets and experiences the grace of God is a real and tangible way.

Sharing in Holy Communion as a married couple offers yet another layer of connection. Like with the greater community, there is an intimacy and depth in sharing of the bread and cup with your spouse. Beyond that which is experienced by the community, is the opportunity to remember the union of each other with Christ at the center. The bread and cup serve as a reminder not only of God's grace and love but the grace and love required in a marriage.

When the opportunity presents itself once again for sharing in the Lord's Supper we hope that you will move beyond a personal experience. There is something profound happening in the community sharing the meal, and there is an opportunity for something profound in the martial covenant you share. Our prayer is you will meet Christ, the community and each other in a deeper way as you share in the holy meal.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Eliminate Confusion

Scripture Texts: Acts 19:21-40; Psalm 54

When there are too many options many people get confused. We often see this at a restaurant with a huge menu full of choices. It can be paralyzing. At a restaurant with few choices, we might grumble at the limited menu, however there is less confusion.

This happens in our journey with God. We look around and see all kinds of options of things to follow or worship. Further, we live in a time when everyday there is something new coming out that demands our attention. The result is we begin to be confused about who God is in the midst of all these false gods. Once confusion sets in, it becomes easier to lose sight of who matters most.

Allowing multiple gods to have influence in our lives results in confusion and ultimately idolatry. It it important to remember that gods are not only religious or spiritual in nature. Technology, ideology, money, or fame can become gods in our lives. None of these are bad things until they create confusion about who God is.

Marriages are not immune to this challenge. In the midst of making ends meet, caring for children, managing a household, and many other things, confusion can set in. We can get confused about who God is, and we can get confused about the value and importance of our marriage. More often than not divorce enters the equation when one or both of the couple begins to have too many competing gods in their life.

Cultivating a healthy marriage means taking the time to reduce the options for who or what will be God in our lives. It also means taking time to eliminate the confusion about the importance and value of your marriage. For us this usually requires a few days away from the kids and the normal demands of daily life. This is more than a date night, which is important as well. This is a couple of days with just the two of you and time.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Integration With God

Scripture Text: Acts 17

In God we live and move and exist says Paul to the Athenians. When we take a good look at this phrase we see that all we are is rooted in God. While many do not recognize God, this does not nullify God's existence. All people seem to crave something to worship and to have as a foundation for life. Through the years there have been many alternatives to God sought, yet the only enduring foundation for our life and breath is God.

This means whether we recognize it or not, every bit of our being is connected to God. The breath we take, the life we live, everything is connected to God. At the same time it is easy to try to live a life that has God only as a component, or one part of a multi-compartment life. We designate our God time, perhaps with going to church, a bible study or time in prayer. These are all good things, however, they are only part of our connection with God.

God is not simply an add on to our lives, God is the foundation of our lives. God is the source of our breath, the initiator of our movement, and the very core of our existence. This cannot be experienced by treating God as one among many options. We do not experience the live, movement and existence God longs for us to have when we make God only a part of our lives.

The same is true in marriage. For many the pinnacle of God in their marriage is on their wedding day. After that God became a refuge in trouble, or a connection when convenient. Almost designating God to a limited role in our marriage. Then we turn around and wonder why we are not experiencing all that we could in marriage.

If we are to know God as the person by which we live and move and exist, we must fully integrate our lives with the God. Not keeping God among the valid options. Not connecting with God only when all else has failed. Not connecting when the schedule allows for it. No, if we want to experience God in fullness in our marriage, we must give our marriage over to God, and begin to integrate our lives with God.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Importance of Prayer

Scripture Text: Acts 16:1-15

It was the Sabbath and Paul made his way outside of town to a place where they thought people would be gathered for prayer. This shows up in the passage as a detail easily lost among all the other things happening, yet, it is a detail worth noting. Paul was seeking to spend time with those who were seeking to be in conversation with God.

When Paul finds the group of people he was looking for, the message of Jesus is shared and the people respond. Before we know it the people are baptized and inviting Paul and company to visit in their home. By Paul seeking those who were seeking, God was able to shower people with the grace and love of Jesus.

Imagine the day it must have been for Lydia. She was in her place of prayer, seeking God through prayer. She meets God in a new and profound way through the message of Jesus Christ. This woman of prominence in her community is found praying and finds life in her prayer.

It is easy to downplay the importance of prayer. A few words of thanks before a meal. Quiet prayer when facing a challenging or fearful situation. Prayer when we need something from God. All of these fleeting moments are important, yet there is also great importance in meeting with God in prayer regularly. Imagine if we could be found not because we have a building with a steeple but because we are known to gather at the same place weekly for prayer.

Prayer is an important engine in the life of a marriage. Regular time spent praying together and for each other creates fertile ground for a deep relationship. During times of struggle as a couple or for one person in the marriage, prayer is the most powerful action that can be taken.

An amazing thing happens when you hear your spouse praying earnest words of hope and support over you. There is an intimacy shared between spouses who pray together that is well beyond the physical. Praying together and for each other reinforces the bond of marriage in ways nothing else can accomplish. We hope you will take time each day to pray together, and for each other. This is especially important when one of you is struggling.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Vulnerable Heart

Scripture Texts: Acts 15:22-41; Psalm 51

David had been caught. In another section of the Bible we find the prophet Nathan confronting David about his actions toward Bathsheba and her husband. Psalm 51 is written in response as David's way of crying out to God, seeking forgiveness.

One of the challenges of this Psalm is reading with the depth of heart and passion behind the words. Reading this Psalm with an ordinary voice does no justice to the meaning behind the words. David is pouring his heart out to God realizing his own brokenness and need for God. Rarely is this a conversation had in a dispassionate and average way.

We all have times when we need to pour out our hearts to God. It does not have to be when we are caught in a moral failure. In fact it might prevent a moral failure if we take the time early to pour out our hearts. David provides a great framework for us in Psalm 51. Primary in the plea is remembering it is our heart God is most concerned with.

While it is essential to pour our hearts out to God, it is equally important to pour our hearts out to our spouse. There are times when it can feel more challenging to share with our spouse than with God. Anytime we pour out our hearts there is a level of vulnerability, and that vulnerability is often what keeps us from sharing.

To cultivate a healthy marriage we must risk the vulnerability to open our hearts with our spouse. Withholding this level of sharing will bring nothing of value to the relationship and will ultimately do more harm than good. So, breath deep, swallow hard and share the depths of your heart with the one whom you love the most.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Removing the Hurdles

Scripture Text:  Acts 15:1-21

With grace and elegance an Olympic hurdler runs the track, clearing each hurdle. When done well, it looks like there is little to no effort used to stride over top the hurdle. Reality is clearing those hurdles is no small task. The top edge of each hurdle is 42 inches off the ground. An average person would find clearing the hurdles to be extremely challenging.

The issue in Acts 15 is whether or not Gentile followers of Jesus must be circumcised. Each side has opportunity to present an argument and then the leadership of the early church renders a decision. No hurdle should be set out for the Gentile believers. Following Jesus has enough challenges, the leaders decided it was not needed to add another challenge.

Marriage has challenges along the way that are fairly inevitable. Whenever there are two people walking through life together there is going to be struggle. There will be sickness, loss of family and loved ones, financial struggles and many others. We should be careful to not add hurdles to the journey.

Each couple has hurdles unique to their relationship that can be places along the way. It can be when we choose career over our spouse, or children above our relationship with each other. Hurdles can also be found in how much and the type of time we spend with friends. It is hard to generate a list of hurdles, yet I am sure you are thinking about one right now.

It might be a hurdle your spouse has placed before the two of you. It might be one that you placed in the track. Regardless of who placed the hurdle to cultivate a healthy marriage, you must work together to remove the hurdle. Once that happens make every effort to prevent the hurdles from showing up. Remember, there will be hurdles, let us not add anymore along the way.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Relentless Pursuit

Scripture Texts: Acts 13:13-52; Psalm 50

God is a relentless God with a focused mission. The mission of God is to be in perfect community with all of humanity. The first attempt at this community was in the Garden of Eden, followed by years of covenants and laws designed to reconnect with humanity. Finally God stepped out of eternity and into our reality as Jesus Christ to reconnect.

The overall success of this mission is yet to be seen but we can see that God's pursuit is relentless. Even as human faithfulness to the community with God has wavered, God has remains constant. There is nothing that will get in the way of God reaching for the ultimate goal. The variable is the way humanity will get on board with what God is doing in their midst.

Paul highlights God was going to roll out the plan of salvation for the Jewish people first. Only when the Jews did not accept the message of grace and the invitation to a new level of community with God, did God choose to continue the mission in another way. The mission of God was not going to be stopped because one group of people would not listen, God is relentless.

Relentless is the way we would like people to describe our pursuit of a healthy and godly marriage. Our ultimate goal is to have a marriage that God can use to build community with others and to show what can happen when God is given free reign with a marriage. There are many obstacles that could get in the way, however we will be relentless.

Over the years we have adjusted our understanding and practices of marriage so that we can move closer to our ultimate goal. The goal has not changed, the avenues of pursuit have. There are times when it would have been easier to quit but we pushed on. Our hope is our marriage is like the mission of God, relentless. That we would pursue all that God desires for us and to use our marriage to do great things for the Kingdom of God.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Stopping Distraction's Work

Scripture Text: Acts 13:1-12

It has been said we live in a distracted world. Enough evidence certainly exists to support this claim. In fact while reading this there will be times, if they have not hit already, that your attention will drift from the screen and onto something else. Distraction seems to be a normal part of our lives. This does not mean however, that it is harmless.

God has a plan and a calling for each person. This plan is often born out of a vision, and the vision becomes the point that we orient our entire life around. That is unless we get distracted. Paul and Barnabas were on their mission, and they were fulfilling their vision when a false prophet distracts them from what the were really about.

Perhaps it is better to say that the false prophet attempts to be a distraction. Paul has nothing to do with the distraction allowing him to get sidetracked. Instead Paul uses the distraction to demonstrate God's power among the people. Through this the civic leadership become followers of Jesus because Paul would not allow the distraction to accomplish its work.

Marriage is filled with distractions. Work, kids, housework, just about anything can fill the blank of what is a distraction. The question is not whether distractions will show up in your marriage. The question is how will you interact with the distractions. It is easy to take the bait and allow the distractions to sidetrack us from the work God has called us to, and to slow our progress toward cultivating the healthy marriage we long for. This does not have to be the case.

Like Paul we can use the distractions for the glory of God. When those around us see that we do not let the distraction run our life, they will want to know more about what is at the center of our lives. If we are able to manage the distractions, we will be able to remain in pursuit of our vision. At the core of this is keeping our eyes on Jesus. If we are not going to allow distraction to do its work, we must have our eyes and hearts fixed on something greater than the distractions. There is nothing greater than God.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The God of The Impossible

Scripture Texts: Acts 12; Psalm 49

The Spirit of God is able to do more than our human minds can understand. Peter is put in prison and the followers of Jesus have every reason to believe that he will be killed. Death had been the fate of many of the leaders of the early church, so they thought it was the only possible outcome to his imprisonment. Besides, the Romans were the best in the business at imprisonment, punishment and death.

When someone claiming to be Peter shows up at the door, it makes sense the people would think of any possibility other than it was really Peter standing at the door. The Spirit of God had released Peter from the Roman prison, and he was there to rejoice with the fellow followers of Jesus. It was just not humanly possible Peter could be there.

It is easy to forget that God specialized in the impossible. This is one the things most followers of Jesus can agree upon. At the same time this is something that is easily forgotten as we live our daily lives. The challenges we face from the mundane to the impossible, are all more than possible for God, yet we do our best to figure things out rather than relying on the Spirit of God to bring us through.

God's Spirit does more than work in the lives of individuals, God is at work in a marriage. We could write of the many times when we faced apparently impossible situations. There are times when the story ends by sharing how we experienced the power of God to have the impossible made possible. We could also tell the stories of how the impossible stayed impossible.

The difference in what happens to the impossible is not whether God is willing or able to deal with our situation. The variable is whether we yield or submit ourselves to God. The times when the impossible remained impossible it was often because we did not submit to God and trust in the power of God to make a way. It has to be said there are times when we ask God to act and God does not because what we ask for is not in our best interest through God's eyes.

Cultivating a healthy marriage means taking the time to surrender and submit to God all the challenges we encounter. We must remember God is able to do the impossible. As we learn to do this better, our marriage grows more healthy, and the best time to learn is before the impossible shows up. Take time each day to submit to God the celebrations and challenges that are ahead of you. It will be amazing to see how God works through the possible and the impossible we encounter.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

False Boundaries

Scripture Text: Acts 11

We are a people who like to create boundaries. All too quickly we begin to label other people as a way to create a differentiation between us and them. This is where labels like, conservative, evangelical, progressive, liberal and the like find root in our lives. If we can create boundaries between us and people who are different than we are, it becomes easier to proclaim ourselves as right.

The boundary building has a way of declaring who is right, us and who is wrong, them. If we can label someone as being too conservative or too progressive, we can then show how their views are wrong and ours are right. Current generations are not the first to deal with this. In the early days of the church there was the labeling of Jews and Gentiles.

A good Jewish person would not interact with a Gentile except under very specific circumstances. This certainly did not include a relationship with God. According to the years of teaching, only Jews had relationship with God, and if you wanted a relationship with God you must become a Jew first. Jesus changed all of that, the love of Jesus knows no boundary. The heart of God as found in Jesus Christ pushes past all of the labels we create.

Many of us are married to people who come from backgrounds which are different than ours. Imagine if you would have written off your spouse before even dating because they were them and not us. We might have missed out on the best earthly relationship in our lives simply be cause we allowed a label to become a boundary. It is not only with the love of God that we create false boundaries, it is with the love of humans.

The differences we experience with our spouses can create tension in the relationship. These differences also bring a richness to the relationship that can be easy to miss when we employ labels and boundaries. Take some time to think about the labels you have assigned to your spouse. Are the labels ones that celebrate who God has created them to be? Are they labels that help you celebrate the joy of being married? Or, are they labels which create boundaries? The heart of Jesus knows no boundaries, perhaps there is something for us to learn in that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Love and Acceptance

Scripture Texts: Acts 10:34-48; Psalm 48

"O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple."

These are the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 48. The tendency is to think about or reflect on the love that God has for us more than spending time meditating. Meditating is deeper and more profound than thinking or reflecting. When we meditate on the unfailing love of God we spend time going beyond the surface and attempting to grasp the depth of God's love for us.

Nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God. This means there will never be a time when God looks at us and decides we are out of the bounds of God's love. This however, does not mean that God accepts everything in our lives as okay. Love and acceptance are often coupled together, yet they should not be confused as the same.

We think about our daughters. We love them beyond our wildest imagination. At the same time their actions and words are not always acceptable. This does not change our love for them, in fact it often deepens our love. It is possible to love someone with your whole heart and not accept their words or actions. We learn this from Jesus. Jesus loved everyone, he did not accept everyone's actions and words.

A culture exists today where if you do not accept someone it is assumed you do not love them, or if you love someone you will accept whatever is happening in their life. This becomes a stumbling block for many relationships, especially marriage. Just because our spouse calls us to account on something, finds our behavior or words unacceptable, does not mean they have stopped loving us.

Quite the opposite, love is secure and caring enough to confront with grace and love rather than simply accept. The deepest form of love is found when we express love when we cannot accept the behavior or words of another. This is the love we find in God, the unfailing love that is impossible to forfeit. The unfailing love of God challenges and confronts with grace and compassion. The love of God and the acceptance of God are not the same thing, you always have the love of God, the acceptance is found in how we live our lives.

May the love in our marriages be unfailing. May it be strong enough to challenge and confront unacceptable behavior and words. May we live our lives in such a way that we are loved and accepted by God.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Continuing Conversion

Scripture Text: Acts 9:1-20

Stories that we hear about conversion often have the same feel as the conversion of Saul. The idea that someone is living a life that is in total opposition to what God is doing in our midst. Then that person has a 180 degree moment where their life becomes completely reoriented.

There is another conversion story here in Acts 9 that might not be as obvious. Ananias is a man who believes in God and is a follower of Jesus, yet there is more conversion to take place in his life. His life altering encounter with God is through going to meet with the man who has been killing the followers of Jesus.

For all we know up to this point Ananias was living a faithful life. There does not appear to be a record of killing others. We do not find him traipsing about breathing out murderous threats against anyone. Still his life and heart needed more conversion. It is not a matter of night and day conversion, it is a matter of living into the grace and call of God in greater and deeper ways. This is actually the most common conversion, not Saul's.

The day we stand before God and the gathered witnesses is a day of conversion. After that day we are no longer single we are married. After that day our lives are never the same again. Still, the conversion of marriage is not complete there in front of the pastor. The work of conversion continues as we live more deeply into the love and partnership we share with our spouse.

Great marriages can be the result of a Saul like conversion, where some event or transgression triggers a total redirection of life. More often than not, great marriages are the result of two people committed to have each day be a day of conversion. To being obedient to each other and the call of God, even when we are called to meet with people and circumstances that do not seem wise in our eyes. Cultivating a great marriage is often about being more like Ananias than Saul.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Stop Freaking Out, God is In Control

Scripture Texts: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 46

Pick up a newspaper or read the latest news feed and we can see there are some scary things in our world. Story after story of destruction and doom fill the lines that flash before our eyes. It is easy to get drawn in and live our lives in fear of all that is happening around us. To have our worldview be one of seeing everything as ushering in the end of the world.

This is not the kind of mindset God longs for us to have. We are not supposed to ignore all that is happening. Nor are we to use God as an escape from the realities we find around us. The people of God are called to be people who remember the greatness of God in the midst of it all. We are to be the people that hold onto the worldview that says no matter how crazy it gets, God is still here and God is still bigger.

Often quoted, we find this reminder in Psalm 46, to be still and know that God is God. This is not a simple call to quiet time each morning, though that is not a bad idea. The words of the Psalmist came in the midst of seeing everything in the world that is causing struggle and strife. When the news becomes unbearable, we are not to give up, we are to stand firm. We are to remember that God is God.

One of the many joys of marriage is having someone in your life who can help remind us of the truth offered by the psalmist. Our spouse can often be the voice reminding us that God is still God in the midst of the trials and tribulations of life. We can offer the same voice to our spouse when they need reminding of God's presence among us.

Being still is not as much about a physical stillness as it is a mental or anxiety stillness. If we were to change the language some, we are being told, stop freaking out, God has this all under control. In a healthy marriage we can provide the reminder to stop freaking out, and to rest in God's presence. This always seems easier to do when we know we have someone else sitting with us, being still.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Opportunity of Persecution

Scripture Text: Acts 8:1-25

The death of Stephen triggered a wave of persecution of the believers. Generally we think of persecution as a negative think as it often makes it more difficult to proclaim Jesus openly. In the book of Acts as persecution grows, the mission of God in Jesus Christ grows. There appears to be a connection with persecution and spreading of the Gospel.

Most people want their lives to be easy and with as few challenges as possible. So when difficulty shows up it is assumed we are doing something wrong, or that something about the situation is wrong. The reality is we can be doing all the right things, in all the right places and still face trials and tribulations.

In fact the most dangerous times of our faith are when things are going along well. During times of easy going it becomes more likely we will reduce our reliance of God. When we face struggle or persecution there is a clarifying of our faith and a reliance of God. Challenges in life and our relationship with Jesus have the capacity to bear fruit like few other opportunities.

After the ceremony was done. Upon arrival home from the honeymoon. After the gifts had all been opened and thank yous sent. We thought married life would simply continue to go on in a state of eternal bliss. Then we got a dose of reality. This marriage thing is hard work and often there is struggle. The struggles we face in marriage are not a sign of a poor marriage or even a sign that we are doing it wrong. It is a sign that we are married.

Not everyday of marriage should be a struggle. Through the years we can point to more times of delight and joy than we can point to struggle. Yet during the times of struggle have been when our relationship has grown the most. During the times of struggle we have had to rely of God more deeply and hold onto each other more tightly. We do not need to seek after persecution or struggle, it will show up on its own. At the same time we need not be afraid, we must be ready to grow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Follow Jesus Above Anything Else

Scripture Texts: Acts 7: 33-60; Proverbs 9

Stephen continues to tell the familiar story of the history of the people of God. By this point in the telling the religious leaders might have begun to mentally wander some as the were beyond familiar with the story. That is until Stephen departs from the story as they have always told it to levy an accusation at the religious leaders.

By the end of the chapter the religious leaders are having Stephen killed because he is more interested in following Jesus than following the religious leaders of his day. There is a certain irony in the choice Stephen makes. The very people who should have been most ready to hear and experience the Messiah were the ones who rejected most violently.

Fast forward a couple thousand years and we are left to wonder if we would be Stephen or the religious leaders. The first reaction would be that we are Stephen, yet we must wonder how often we are actually more like the religious leaders. It is easy to miss what God is doing in our midst for the sake of preserving that which we like and benefit from.

We live in what feels like a unique time. Great debate is being had about the nature of marriage with the two major sides of the debate both claiming a religious foundation for their belief. It is quite possible both sides of the issue are correct and both sides are not. One thing is for certain, for some it is no longer about what God desires it is about protecting and preserving something that is liked and from which there is benefit.

The biggest marriage question to wrestle with is not about our preference or benefit, it is about how our lives are lived in light of Jesus Christ. We are not invited to follow some religious system driven by our own personal preferences or desires. Rather we are to be driven by following Jesus with reckless abandon.

We have our opinion about the status of marriage in our current context. Further we are clear about our preference and the way that we think best honors the love and grace of God as found in Jesus Christ. However, in the end our understanding is not as important as following Jesus with reckless abandon. Stephen was not killed because of wrong belief, nor was he killed because because he embodied the compassion of Christ to the world. He was killed because he refused to settle for anything less than following Jesus Christ with reckless abandon.

May we use our marriage as a path to follow Jesus with reckless abandon. May we be willing to put aside the way we would like to see the world so that the world can see Jesus. May we live our marriage in a way that we stand with Stephen and Jesus, and Jesus stands with us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Windshield Not The Rear View

Scripture Text: Acts 7:1-32

Stephen was clear about the past. Not only the past in his own life but the past of the people of God. With great detail Stephen tells the story about how God has guided the people and the leaders along the way who God used. We also know Stephen was not stuck in the past that he knew so well.

Often times we live our lives based more on what we see in the rear view mirror than what we see looking out the windshield. We know our past in detail and we get focused on the past. Looking back we can see days of great accomplishment, we can also see days of great pain. One thing is for certain, when we look back we see the circumstances that helped develop us to be who we are. We do not see the person we currently are, or the person we are becoming.

Our past informs who we are. No matter what our past holds it does not hold us any longer. A healthy life spends more time looking ahead rather than behind. Looking only in the review mirror of life will result in not moving at all, or a crash. It is amazing how crash after crash we continue to look through the rear view more than the windshield.

Each person's past in a marriage has significant implications for the present relationship. We must be clear about our past as individuals and as a couple. The events which lead up to this moment are critical in our formation, however they will not move us toward the future.

We cannot ignore the past, yet we cannot be defined by it. Nor can we spend all our time trying to relive or correct the past. A healthy marriage cannot be lived through the rear view mirror. An occasional glance to remind us what is behind is important. Still our primary focus is straight ahead to where we are going. No matter what the road of the past has looked like, there is a glorious future when we keep focused on the One leading us, that is Christ Jesus.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Remembering Our Role

Scripture Text: Acts 5:17-42

A great amount of time is spent debating about what and who is right in our world. When we begin to look to the church we find no real difference in the discourse. Each perspective that presents their view is convinced of their being right and that any other opinion on the topic is wrong. In this midst of this there are a great number of human driven perspectives being presented as God's perspective.

Perhaps it is time to learn from one of the lesser known characters from the early years of the church. Gamaliel offered words of wisdom as the high council, all the religious people of the day were ready to have the Apostles killed. Essentially the message is to let God sort these matters out. If what is happening among the followers of Jesus is only driven by humans it will die on its own. If it is driven by God, there is nothing that can stop it.

Our human tendency is to exchange roles with God. We take on the role of determining right and wrong, what is just and unjust, who counts more in the kingdom of heaven than others, or who receives grace and who does not. These are all the work of God and not people. Our role is to follow after God, through Jesus Christ, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Yet we desire to have God follow us as we make the decisions.

This not only happens in the life of the church. Unfortunately this happens in a marriage just as easily. As a married couple pursues their hopes and dreams it is easy to lose sight of who is God and who is the follower. In the end we begin to live our marriage in a way that asks God to bless whatever we are doing instead of seeking to do what it is God longs for us to do.

Whether in the church or in a marriage the key to remembering our role is to walk with humility and submission. Those are two words that have become strange to our world, yet we must reclaim them if we are going to cultivate the life and marriage God longs for us to live. We must be humble to remember this journey is not about us. We must submit to God and trust that God knows best how our lives are to be lived.

In both cases this will mean letting those around us live their life in a way that is different than we think should be lived. Even when we are convinced God is on our side. It would be of benefit to all of us if we were to heed the words of Gamaliel, if it is of human origin it will fail, if it is of God it cannot be stopped, and we might find ourselves fighting against God.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Dangerous Game

Scripture Texts: Acts 4:32-37; Acts 5:1-16; Psalms 44

The account from Acts 5 is one of the more troubling passages in the New Testament. Gathered together is the community of grace, the church, and they are receiving a gift from others in the group. When the couple practice deception they both end up dead. That does not appear to be a gracious response.

Looking close at the passage we cannot lose sight of what has happened. This couple who were under no obligation to give all of the proceeds to the church made a show and display about presenting their gift. Before the gift is presented to God through the church the couple is given an opportunity to come clean, yet the plot of deception is left to run its course.

Had the couple admitted they were holding some back rather than tell everyone they were giving it all, the story would have ended in a very different way. Because the church is a community of grace, the honest confession would have certainly been met with forgiveness. When there was clearly the presence of repentant hearts and contrite spirits, the church would have offered the forgiveness of Christ.

Deception is a dangerous game to play, and it always comes into the light. In the case of a relationship, deception can erode the quality of a relationship quicker than almost anything. When we attempt to deceive someone, especially our spouse, we are setting the stage for a broken relationship. In all of creation there is one person who we are to have no secrets from and that is our spouse. The health of the marital relationship depends on no secrets, and no deception.

The issue with the couple in Acts was not what they did with their money, rather what they did with their deception. The actions can be challenging, however nothing is more damaging than trying to cover up poor actions with grand deception. The truth always comes out, so it is better to live in the truth from the beginning rather than after an attempt at deception. There will still be anger, there will also be more room for grace.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Seize The Moment

Scripture Texts: Acts 3:11-26; Psalm 43

"Peter saw his opportunity." That is what Luke, the writer of Acts, tells us Peter saw a chance to proclaim the message of Jesus to the people and he did not miss the chance. Seizing the moment, Peter explains the power by which the man was healed. Peter also goes on to invite people to repent of their sins and follow Jesus.

Quite possibly one of the most significant differences between the disciples we read about in the Bible and many of us today is the seizing of moments. The longer the early disciples followed Jesus, the fewer opportunities that went un-seized. Daily there are opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus. Likewise, there are daily opportunities to invite others to join us in following Jesus. We need to learn from the early disciples and seize every opportunity that comes our way.

When we choose to live a marriage in ways that keep Christ at the center, the world around us tends to notice. The values at the core of our marriage tend to be different than those who do not keep Christ at the center. The decisions we make with our time, relationships and money are often different than those around us. All of this generated opportunity to tell others about Jesus.

In a day and age when so few relationships, secular or religious, reflect the values of Christ, when we live our marriage in Christ people notice. Over the course of our marriage people have wondered about the decisions we have made. From an earthly standpoint they have not made any sense. From the standpoint of following Jesus, it was the only logical path.

Not every time have we seized the opportunity to tell others why we live our lives the way we do. At the same time we are ever-increasing in seizing our opportunities. Peter was living his life following Jesus is such a way that others noticed the difference. That is the first part. Once people noticed and Peter saw the opportunity to point others to Christ, he did not delay. That is the second part. From there we can rest assured we did not miss the opportunity, and we can trust that God is at work in out lives and the lives of others.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Life of Intention

Scripture Texts: Acts 2:42-47; Acts 3:1-10

The first followers of Jesus were people who were intentional about the way they lived their lives, and how they cultivated a deep relationship with Christ. A pattern for daily living included, meals together, prayer together, worship together, and meeting the needs of other people together. These were not activities that were practiced with rigidity, they were practiced with intention.

The first followers wanted to pattern their lives so that whenever and whatever God called them to do, they were ready. To put it another way, they were intentional about living their lives in such a way that God could use them to add daily to the number of people being saved.

It is not only the first followers who need to be intentional about the patterns of our lives. We must find ways to practice the disciplines of our faith, prayer, worship, service, fellowship, and time of deep community. In fact the journey of faith is meant to be a communal journey. Practicing the disciplines of our faith in a private way will leave our faith short of all that God has in mind. To experience the fullness of God requires a community of believers journeying together.

Marriage requires intention as well. To cultivate a fulfilling marriage we must pattern our lives in such a way that we are developing the relationship with our spouse to the fullest. This includes prayer, study of Scriptures, worship, fun time, date time and times of intimacy. Like the disciplines of our faith, these marital disciplines prepare us to live the marriage God longs for us to live.

Living our marriage or our faith by happenstance will result in a poor outcome. This does not mean we have to rigidly follow a schedule. Rather it means we need to find a pattern or rhythm to our lives. A regular way to practice the disciplines that lead us to the life we crave and that God desires for us. If you already have an established pattern, great keep at it. If you do not have a pattern, personally or in your marriage, invest in the time to explore living intentionally.