Monday, August 31, 2015

Marriage and Elephant Snacks

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 16; Psalm 68

Many people have used the African proverb about how to eat an elephant... one small bite at a time. When we face great challenges it is better to create small, relatively easy steps to accomplish all that is before us. Paul is using this line of thinking as he reminds the people of Corinth about the financial commitment they made to Jerusalem.

He reminds them it will be very difficult to wait until he comes to collect all the money, rather it would be best to set aside some money on the first day of each week. Creating a small step each week will make the significant task more likely to be accomplished.

When it comes to engaging our spiritual journey the distance between where we are and where we could be seems huge. Paul's advice to the Corinthian church about money applies. If we dedicate small steps in growing deeper in our relationship with God we will have greater success. Instead of trying to read the entire Bible in two weeks, commit to one chapter each day for two weeks, and build from there.

It is safe to say everyone would like to have a healthy and deep marriage. The effort required to attain this goal can seem overwhelming, especially if we try to do it all at once. Key to cultivating a great marriage is doing the small things with consistency. Setting aside time, five or ten minutes, for each other everyday. Never underestimate the power of a small gift, especially when it is not a birthday, anniversary or other special day.

One area that we have not been very good at over the 16 years we have been married is having a regular date night. We know some couples that have a date night each week, time for dinner and time out each week. Regardless of our efforts, we have not been able to establish the practice. What we have been able to do is create times through out the year when we share an overnight away together.

Someday we might find the right pattern to a regular date night. We might also find there to be another important small step to cultivating a healthy marriage. No matter what, we must keep in mind that the big work of a great marriage is accomplished by consistent small steps. Eating the elephant one bite at a time.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Responsible For One Another

Scripture Text: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

In this section Paul gets detailed about what should happen in worship. It would be easy to get lost in the details, however, that is not the intention of the passage. What Paul is trying to convey is worship should have order and intention. When the church gathers for worship it is not a free-for-all where each person does whatever they think is right.

Also in the passage is one of the more challenging things from Paul, his teaching about the role of women in worship. Have you ever had a scripture passage that you wish was simply not there? This is one of them. At the same time, it is included in our text. We could simply dismiss it on the grounds that the Bible was put together by a group of men who wanted to keep women down. While this might be true, it is too simple an answer.

Another argument that could be made is one of cultural context. Paul was writing to a particular church, addressing a particular pastoral concern of that church. Once again this may be true, and it is too simple an answer. The option always exists to write off Paul as wrong and dismiss this and all his teaching. Yet again too simple a solution. Perhaps we simply need to live with the tension of the words from Paul and our experience in the church. Many wonderful and powerful women proclaim the message and truth of God in the pulpit, classroom, office and every other room of the church. Perhaps there is not an easy answer.

Now we add another layer of marriage to this passage. According to Paul, if a woman has a question in church she should ask her husband at home. Never mind there is not conversation about whether the husband would know the answer, we can again get lost in the details. If we look at this passage in a literal way, there are many things missing from many of our worship services. If we look at the spirit of the passage we find there to be a mutual responsibility for each others faith.

An important aspect of this teaching from Paul helps us to realize the faith journey of our spouse is not independent of the marriage relationship. Husband and wife walk together through journey of growing deeper in living a life of transformation. If one spouse has questions the most logical place to engage the question is our marriage partner. From there the other resources of our faith can be engaged.

Before we are married the development of our life in Christ for the most part is our own responsibility. Once we are married, we are responsible for our own still, yet we are also responsible for the development of our spouse. Not just husband to wife, or wife to husband, but a mutual journey where we seek after God with intention and hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tell The Whole World

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25; Psalm 66

"Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth! Sing about the glory of his name! Tell the world how glorious he is." -- Psalm 66:1-2

It often seems easier to complain about the areas of our lives that do not meet our satisfaction. Grumbling and complaining seem to come naturally. The subject of our discontent rarely knows a boundary, and God easily becomes the recipient of our complaints.

While we are found complaining, the world around us sees the way we complain about God, the church and the people we journey with. The grumbling goes on and on while we seem clueless as to why people do not come to church, or want to have a relationship with God.

In the Psalms, we find a fair amount of complaining, we also find a balance of praise. If the time is taken to search through the Psalms more instances of praise are found than complaining. Praising God has an impact in many ways. First, our soul is lifted up as we celebrate the greatness of God and the ways in which God's grace is at work in our lives. Second, when we speak well of God, praise, others around us get more interested in God.

The Psalmist says tell the world how glorious God is. Sing praises and celebrate who God is and what God is up to. The same is true of marriage. It has become common to grumble about marriage and the struggles that present themselves. Turn the television on and you will not have to look hard to find examples of people lamenting marriage more the celebrating. No wonder so many people are uncertain about marriage, they have watched too many people complain and not celebrate.

Not only should we celebrate the joy of being married, we should tell the world how glorious the person we are married to is. There is no replacement for celebrating our spouse in a one-on-one way by sharing what we appreciate and value about them. This is taken to the next level when we tell others about how great our spouse is.

May we be people who celebrate how glorious God is, and tell the whole world. May those who are married celebrate how glorious it is to be married. May we tell the whole world how glorious our spouse is. Celebrate the God who creates, the marriage that unifies souls, and the person whom we journey through life with as our spouse.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

For More Than a Wedding

Scripture Text: 1 Corinthians 13

This passage of Scripture seems like an easy target for a marriage blog, and in many ways it is. By the same token, there is a challenge because of its familiarity. Not to mention the tired ways this passage has been applied to marriage over the years. There is so much more to this passage than kind words at a wedding.

If you have been to a wedding in the last 20 years there is a better than average chance this passage of Scripture has been read during the ceremony. A wedding is the ideal place to have a conversation about love. At the same time, Paul was not writing these words for a wedding, he was writing them to the church in Corinth as instruction for how they could best live their lives.

All the other great things in life are meaningless if we do not have love. This does not mean if no one loves us. It means if we do not live our lives based in the love Paul describes. These words are instructions for how we show love to others, including our spouse, if we want to reflect having a relationship with God.

The points Paul highlights about what love is and is not, are essential in a marriage. Their starting point is not found in the marriage relationship but in the lives of the two individuals making up the marriage. Long before the first date, long before the first thought of asking for the first date, we must fashion our lives in such a way that people experience love from us.

Love that Paul describes does not get initiated by a wedding. It is not the result of two people who love each other enough. The love Paul describes is found when two people commit their lives to the love God has shown humanity in Jesus Christ, and then commit to each other to be bearers of that love.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Uniquely Designed and Created

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 12; Proverbs 13

The passage from Corinthians is one of the more famous passages from the New Testament. Each person is given gifts from the Holy Spirit, and not everyone has the same gifts. This makes up the richness that is humanity. There is not one person who contains all of the gifts needed for the Body of Christ to be whole.

Yet our differences can often cause division and strife. It is easy to think everyone should live their faith the same way and fulfill the life of grace in the same way. Reality is each person is uniquely designed and created by God to be exactly who they are. That is the place we find our unity, not in function but in our connection to God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Further, as Paul points out, we need a diversity of gifts and people. Not all are called to lead, not all are called to preach, not all are called to administration. Some are called to utilize some of the more expressive gifts like tongues and prophecy. The differences found in people are not something to be managed or even tolerated, they are to be embraced as necessary for wholeness of the Body of Christ.

One of the relationships this should be the easiest to grasp yet is often forgotten is marriage. At some point in a marriage the thought has crossed the mind of each person, "I wish they would think or act like me." If we do not pay attention to the differences between us, our marriage relationships will be greatly harmed.

For some it can be scary to think about having another person complete them. It is after all the stuff of sappy romance movies. Still, it is important to recognize the work of God through the movement of the Spirit in bringing two very different people together as one. In our relationship, Aaron is often quick to move to a new idea or situation, while Sarah is more ready to be steadfast in the present moment. This difference has been a source of tension sometimes, however more often than not it has worked well together when we celebrate the difference.

We could fill the page with the ways God has created us different. Another page could be filled with the ways we are similar. Through the similarities and differences, God is working for our wholeness. The wholeness is not only for our benefit but for the benefit of the Body of Christ.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Journey Together

Scripture Text: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Some of the people in the Corinthian church were engaged in excess while others did not have enough. In the name of worship and celebrating God, some of the followers were having lavish parties where eating excessively and getting drunk were common. All the while, other people of the church were not getting any food. Paul points out this is a problem for the church.

It does not require a great stretch to our imagination to see we have the same struggle in the church today. Not that people are gathering to overeat, though that has happened, or to get drunk on the wine of communion and fellowship. There are people in our churches who live with great abundance while others are not even getting by with their daily bread. As a result there is a hierarchy in the church of those who have and those who have not.

To be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ this kind of disparity cannot exist. There should not be people celebrating excess while there are people without enough. This is not to say people cannot live in abundance. In fact one person may have an abundance to care for the people who are in need. Further we must remember that today's abundance can easily become tomorrows place of need.

In marriage this dynamic can happen. Often the division is not money or resources but in relationship with God. Everyone has a relationship with God that ebbs and flows. There are times of relative ease to the connection with God and there are times when it is challenging. During the challenging times it can be difficult to see someone else in a time of ease. This is even more difficult if that person is your spouse.

Therefore, it is essential in cultivating a healthy marriage to make sure there is a sharing of the journey. In marriage when one person struggles, the role of the spouse is not to highlight how they are experiencing excess. The role of the spouse is to join with the struggling partner so that both may experience God more deeply. In Christian Community, of which marriage is a primary experience, there should not be excess for one while the other struggles. We are to make every effort to share the journey God has us on.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

This is Not a Competition

Scripture Texts: 1 Corinthians 4; Psalm 61

Contrary to the messages we find throughout our society, life is not a competition. Yet, we are so easily drawn into competition in almost every situation of our lives. This starts early on when we want more of the sandbox to play in than all the others who are playing with us. It continues on into most aspects of our lives including our relationship with God.

Though we do not often use the words, we want to be more spiritual than the people around us. So we begin to generate lists containing all the things we do as efforts of our devotion. The checklists of bible passages read and memorized, the time spent in church, the mission projects, and of course the classification of sins. All of this can be summed up as religion, the human pursuit to prove we are more godly than other people. This is competition at its finest.

As we read from Paul we are not the first people to struggle with competition in our relationship with God and others. The church in Corinth, which could be any of our churches today, created competition between Paul and Apollos, and between themselves and anyone who might teach them. We certainly do not face a new struggle with competition, and the struggle is real.

There are two main ways to deal with competition in our lives, humility and honoring. Neither of these mean we do not strive for excellence, rather as we strive we must do so with a proper attitude. Humility is remembering that everyone can be on the quest to be all of who God has called them to be and another person's excellence does not come at my expense. Our goal in life should not be to become better than anyone else. Honoring, is taking time to recognize we are not all the same person and therefore do not all see the world the same way. When we honor another person we do not attempt to win them to our point of view, rather we celebrate the variance between us.

As you might guess, competition can be destructive in marriage. If we are competing to be better than our spouse it becomes increasingly difficult to be humble and honoring toward or spouse. Likewise when we are more humble and honoring toward our spouse, we are less likely to be competitive. Marriage is not a competition, between spouses and in comparison to other marriages.

Cultivating a healthy marriage requires humility and honoring. We are not to be working to become the best this or that in the life of our marriage. In fact we are most helpful to our spouse and our marriage when we strive to see the other person become all of who God is calling them to be. Rather than pursue our own excellence, we find more joy and a healthier marriage when we participate in our spouses excellence. This will not work, however, if we are approaching our marriage as a competition.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pause in The Storm

Scripture Texts: Acts 27:27-44; Psalm 59

Put yourself on that ship with Paul and all the people. You are out to sea and a storm comes up. This is harrowing enough but it does not relent for over fourteen days. That's right, over 14 days in the midst of the storm. It is getting so dangerous some of the sailors think it would be safer to get off the big boat and be in the lifeboats.

During the storm the crew is doing everything humanly possible to weather the storm. Putting out anchors so they do not move too fast. Lightening the ship so they sit higher in the water. They were even ready to kill the prisoners in transport so they would not escape. The list of prisoners included Paul who seems to be at complete peace in the storm.

Before this section of the account ends we find the ship run aground and the waves beginning to rip the boat apart. It is easy to get the sense that Paul is sitting back, calmly taking it all in. Everything seems to be going just as Paul thought it would.

It is safe to say most of us would not be like Paul in this moment. We would be freaking out and functioning more like the sailors. In the midst of all the craziness of the storm, Paul is not only calm but has them eat a meal together so they will have continued strength for what is ahead. Not only had they been in the midst of the storm for fourteen days, their ordeal was not over yet.

Regardless the storm, we want the duration to be short, and when it is not short we tend to grow restless with God. It is easy to think God needs us to engage the rescue and to take on the storm. To be sure we have to be ready to do our part, yet it is God who is the one at work in the storm. Paul was able to keep focused on God and what God was doing more than what the wind and the waves were doing. It is easy to be more focused on the waves than on God. It is easy, but it will not get us through the storm like staying focused on God.

If we pay attention to most of the Disney Princess movies marriage turns out to be happily ever after. We are given the image of the married couple ridding off into the sunset with a life that will from that day forward be perfect, nothing but smooth sailing. Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows there are storms to weather in marriage. Some of the storms are from outside, others are from within. Either way, we all have storms and we all want them to end as soon as possible.

Storms will come and go in our lives with us having little control over their appearance or duration. What we do have control over is what we do in the midst of the storm. Do we exhaust every human possibility, or do we turn to God? To cultivate a healthy marriage we cannot let a storm take our focus off God. Further we cannot let the storm have us grabbing lifeboats and getting off the ship of marriage.

Often we need to stop, gather our strength and prepare to head into the storm. We must be ready to face the days head on being prepared to crash against the rocks. In fact the sailors planned to hit the rocks, they only hit them earlier than planned. The moment of pause around the dinner table made all the difference in how they moved forward, it will make all the difference in how you face the storms that show up in your life and marriage.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Unusual Places

Scripture Text: Acts 23:23-35

In this section from the book of Acts we find Paul is often in danger of being killed by the crowd. Every time it is the Roman officials that rescue and provide safety for Paul. This protection is all because Paul is a Roman citizen, however there is irony that in the name of Caesar, Paul is protected. During the time of the Caesars the Roman understanding was Caesar is lord, and that there is not other lord than Caesar. This is not what Paul believed or taught.

Even though Paul had a Lord other than Caesar, his protection from the mob was from Caesar. His protection came from an unusual place. Further, the people who should have been most understanding of Paul's message and a place of protection, were the very people who were attempting to kill him. In our lives our protection can often come from unusual places.

It did not make sense for Paul to run to the Romans, yet it was the best path for him to continue the ministry God had put in front of him. In our marriage there are times when the path we need to take is not the path that makes the most sense. When we first moved from a camp in the Adirondacks to the Rochester NY area so Aaron could attend seminary, the way things happened made not sense.

We both had paying jobs and we moved to a situation where neither of us had jobs. We moved from a four bedroom apartment that was part of a compensation package to a two bedroom apartment with rent that we did not see until we moved in. We were doing all the things we would tell others to never do, it made no sense, and was exactly the path we needed to take.

So often we rely on our own understanding and ability to figure out the challenging situations we find ourselves in, or we rely on our own wisdom of how to best cultivate a marriage. Reality is we need to rely on a wisdom and understanding different than ours more often than not. When we reach the end of our own ability, we must rely on someone other than ourselves. Reducing our self reliance opens the door to rely on God. Allowing ourselves to rely on God is the only way to find the path for us, and the only way to cultivate a marriage worth having.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Know Your Story

Scripture Text: Acts 22:1-22

Regardless of the topic you can always find someone who does not believe the claims you are making. When the topic is Jesus, it does not take long to find people who will discredit the Gospel account as told in Scripture. When Paul finds himself confronted by the crowd he does not turn to a set of Scriptural proof texts. Paul tells the people the story of how he encountered the resurrected Christ and what life has been like since.

After telling our story people will continue to debate the validity of our beliefs, however, they will not be able to argue with the change in our lives. Paul highlights how he persecuted the Way of Jesus before his conversion, and contrasts it with how he serves and communicates with God now. People in the crowd continued to debate about Jesus but the change in Paul was not debatable.

At the root of this is Paul being clear about the story God had written in his life. Not all of us will have a Paul like story, most will not. Yet we all have a story about how the love and grace of Jesus transformed our lives. This is a story we must know well so we can tell others the story, and so we can tell ourselves the story when we are facing times of trial. It could be that Paul was telling the crowd and reminding himself of how Jesus took hold of his life.

It is essential for a married couple to take time and remember their story. This is why those anniversary dates are so important. Beyond the date of the wedding, it is important to remember the first date and other significant moments in the relationship. All of these moments compose the story that is being written with your lives. Remember the significant moments are not limited to only the positive moments. Some of the most meaningful times in our relationship have been the result of some of the most challenging times.

Knowing your story as a couple is important for the same reasons Paul knowing his story was important. People can question your beliefs but they cannot question the story of your lives. Further, there will be times when we need to remember our story because the storms of life are raging and we need the story of our past to anchor our hope for the future.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Importance of Integrity

Scripture Texts: Acts 21:27-40; Proverbs 11

"The Lord detests people with crooked hearts, but he delights in those with integrity."-- Proverbs 11:20.

Integrity is a challenging topic to look at. The danger is that no one fully lives everything they say, so writing about integrity should be done with a great amount of humility and care. The writer of the proverb was taking a grand look at the spectrum of integrity and a crooked heart. Realizing we all live somewhere in between.

It is fascinating to see the writer juxtapose integrity and a crooked heart. Upon first reflection the two do not appear to be the opposites like so many of the other comparisons around them in Proverbs 11. When we take time to dig more deeply however, we find that a lack of integrity really is a matter of the condition of our heart. If our heart is bent on seeking only our own benefit with no regard for other persons, or for God, then integrity is not important.

For those who are Christ followers, and others for that matter, integrity is a crucial lifestyle. Yes, integrity is a lifestyle not a characteristic, or a trait, it is a lifestyle. One where the words we use are consistent with the actions we take. A lifestyle where our beliefs, words and actions are all in alignment. This means if you have chosen to be a Christ follower, your words and actions are in alignment with the teachings and life of Jesus.

In marriage, as with all relationships, integrity takes on a whole new level of importance. We find integrity is small ways, being home when we said we would be home, doing the chores around the house we said we world, or treating your spouse the same in public as you do behind closed doors. Integrity becomes the lifestyle of a marriage when we live the claims we make about our marriage, and about our spouse.

When integrity is lacking, there is an erosion of trust. Without trust it is impossible to cultivate a deep and lasting relationship. This does not mean we can never fail. It means that when we fail, we own it and are humble enough to seek forgiveness. Integrity is found in owning up to our mistakes and misalignment rather than ignoring it or covering it up. It is far better to admit we have blown it, seek the appropriate forgiveness, and then attempt to live with integrity in greater ways.

Please know we do not write this as people who get this right every time. Our past is littered with times when we had a lapse of integrity. That is the danger of writing this post. Yet, we are people who are doing our level best to live with integrity the life of Christ by which we have chosen to live. Additionally, we are working hard at living a marriage that is marked by integrity toward each other, the world and the God we serve.