Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Our Unity Matters

Scripture Texts: Matthew 12:22-42; Proverbs 16

Jesus is accused by the religious leaders of obtaining his power from Satan rather than God. When you are the Son of God this is a pretty significant charge and challenge to who you are. This is one of the more direct responses Jesus gives to the religious leaders, "Any Kingdom divided against itself will fall..."

Throughout history we find earthly kingdoms that learned this the hard way. Our own country, the United States, went through a time when it was divided and the Civil War was the result an attempt to preserve the union of the nation.Abraham Lincoln knew that if the country was allowed to remain divided that both sides of the conflict would be destroyed.

It is popular in history to point out winners and losers in war and conflict. The Civil War is not immune to this, and it becomes east to think the North won and the South lost. In reality it was not either side that won or lost, in fact the union of our nation was the victor and destruction of our nation was the loser. It might not always seem like it but everyone won the civil war because the union was preserved.

The union of marriage faces the same truth. If the union of a marriage is divided against itself, it stands no chance of persevering. This does not mean that we always agree with our spouse. What it means is the unity of our lives is more important that either individual. Take a look at a marriage that has fallen apart. In every single case at least one of the partners in the marriage decided to seek after their own importance and desires more than the unity of the marriage.

This is the divided house that cannot stand. Cultivating a healthy marriage means that we are willing to put our individual drives, desires and dreams on hold so that we can keep our house from being divided. This also means that we are the biggest advocate and champion of our spouse. If the whole world is against us, our spouse is for us when our marriage is healthy and unified.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

That Which Matters Most

Scripture Text: Matthew 12:1-21

The religious leaders of Jesus' day get a lesson about what matters most in the Kingdom of God from Jesus himself. The Pharisees had a very elaborate set of rules and regulations they wanted people to follow. The goal of these rules and regulations was to keep people from even coming close to sinful living. In the midst of their quest they began to value their rules and regulations more than the people they were trying to protect.

The issue with the Pharisees was never their desire to see people have a relationship with God, or to see people live in such a way as to honor God with their life. What was at issue was the fact that the rules and regulations meant more to them than the actual relationship with God. Pharisees had lost sight of that which matters most, and that caused them to have the right intention with the wrong application.

Before we are too hard on the Pharisees, we have to recognize our own ability to have the same problem. In our desire to see others live the fullness of life that God calls us to, we can get hung up on the rules and regulations designed to protect people. We can miss keeping our focus on that which matters most.

This missed focus can happen in a marriage as well. We can become expert in doing all the right things. We can meet all the rules and regulations for a healthy marriage, and still not have a healthy marriage. Why? Because we did not keep the relationship with our spouse as the primary focus. It can become more important to keep the rules than to keep our relationship.

Sure all the things we do are in an honest and well-meaning attempt. They are filled with wonderful and good intention. The problem becomes our application. Doing the right things that will cultivate a healthy marriage only matter if we will focus on that which matters most, our relationship with our spouse. When our primary goal is to have the most amazing marriage possible, the steps become a tool to achieve the goal, not a the goal themselves.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New and Old Together

Scripture Texts: Matthew 9:1-17; Psalm 78

Without special care, new things and old things struggle to exist in the same space. Sometimes it is impossible for the new and old to be in the same place and time. Jesus was talking about this when he challenged the crowd regarding wineskins. He reminds, "You cannot put new wine in old wineskins, or they will burst."

It was not that Jesus had no value for the things of old, instead Jesus wanted to make sure that which has been is preserved while something new comes into being. To be clear something new is always coming and we have to pay attention how we balance the new and the old. The way of relating to God as found in the Old Testament did not go away when Jesus came. Yet, there was something new in our relationship with God emerging.

Holding too tightly to that which has been creates all kinds of problems in our relationship with God. We must make room for God to continue to create anew, alongside that which has always been. To use the image Jesus used, new wine in new wineskins, along side of old wine in old wineskins.

There is a profound moment in a wedding celebration that can be easily missed. It is the presentation of the bride by the family. The person officiating the service will ask something akin to, who gives this person to this other person in marriage? Shortly after the ceremony in a Christian tradition speaks of leaving one family and starting a new one.

This does not mean the families the couple grew up in no longer exist. Further it does not mean the new couple will never again have interaction with their families. What is happening at the wedding is the new family is forged and the existing family is no longer the primary family for the couple. This has classically been called, leaving and cleaving. We leave one family and cleave to our spouse, our new family.

In marriages where there is not a leaving and cleaving great struggle is often found. Trying to fit a new family into the mold of existing families will cause a lot of hurt, pain and anguish. A new family cannot be forced into the existing families mold, something new has come. The family that we grew up in will always be important, and always be a part of who we are. Once we are married however, the family we have with our spouse becomes the most important family, our primary family.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Works and Wonders

Scripture Text:  Matthew 8:18-38

As followers of Jesus it can be hard to fully comprehend what it means to follow Jesus, and to come to terms with the works and wonder of Jesus. This is nothing new as since he walked on earth people have struggled. As a result we can simplify the call to follow Jesus while we also remove the supernatural power of Jesus.

To be a follower of Jesus when he walked the earth was not a matter of attending a few church services and toting a Bible around. The call to follow Jesus was a call to fundamentally change the way we live our lives. We are invited to exchange living from a perspective of society, for living the life that Jesus modeled and taught. We are called to be countercultural. Whether it was the first century, or today, this is not an easy task.

Part of being a follower of Jesus is to recognize the supernatural of Jesus. Jesus is able to do things that science and reason have tried to explain but cannot. Calming the sea with a mere command, is not "normal" climate behavior. Casting demons into pigs after a conversation about it, is not average day-to-day behavior. Yet, that is exactly the work and wonder Jesus was about.

A common question in the United States is why we do not see the miraculous today like we read about in the Bible? Some assume it is because God does not act like that anymore. Another would reason the miracles never really took place, they are only written about. Lots of answers are given that remove supernatural ability from Jesus. Perhaps we do not see it as often in our culture because we have determined Jesus not capable.

Living a Christ-centered marriage has never been an easy thing. The values by which we live when we are following Christ come into conflict with the world around us. Marriage is not immune to this. In fact we live in a time when holding to Christ-centered values in marriage is not only hard to do, it is hard to define. Still the call is clear, live a life, a marriage with Christ as the measure of our values not the culture around us.

When it comes to our relationship with the supernatural works and wonders of Jesus, marriage can often be a visible sign of the miraculous. The idea the two people could commit to living the rest of their lives together, through sickness and health, for richer, for poorer, till death do us part requires the supernatural work of God. Perhaps as we have tried to do it on our own, rendering Jesus impotent, marriage has fallen prey to the disposable nature of so many things in our culture.

Marriage gets viewed as disposable because it is thought to be only the work of humans. The works and wonders of Jesus are cut out of the equation. Couple this with the challenge of married life in a culture that struggles to have clear value of marriage, and the trap is set for poor quality marriage. To cultivate a healthy marriage we must first be willing to follow Jesus, even when it is not culturally valued. Second, we must keep space for the supernatural works and wonders of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Jesus is Willing, Are You?

Scripture Texts: Matthew 8:1-17; Psalm 77

Can you imagine asking Jesus to do something, and adding the phrase if you are willing? Most of us do not have to imagine, at some point in our journey with Christ we have wondered or asked if God is willing to do what we would like. For the man in Matthew 8, he asks if Jesus is willing, and finds himself healed.

Never was the question whether Jesus was able, it was a question of willingness. From time to time we get those two things confused. We wonder if Jesus is willing to do something in our lives when we really are wondering if Jesus is able to do something in our lives. Too often we seek after Jesus hoping he will be able to accomplish what it is we want.

Jesus is able to do all things, exceedingly, abundantly more than we can imagine. There are things Jesus is not willing to do in our lives. Not because we are unloved by Jesus, rather it is because of the great love Jesus has for us that there is a limit in the willingness. What we are asking for might not be the best for us or our relationship with Jesus.

There is another possibility in the willingness question. Perhaps we ask willingness of Jesus when we are really wondering if we want something to really happen. It might be fitting for Jesus to declare he is willing and ask if we are willing. The greatest limit to what Jesus can do in our lives is not the ability or willingness of Jesus, it is our willingness.

Since before the day of our wedding, our desire has been to have God use our marriage for great things. In fact we asked God to use our marriage, if willing, to help others experience the blessing of marriage, and ultimately to experience love and grace in Jesus Christ by becoming a follower of Jesus. While we have asked it, the question has never been the willingness of God, it has been our willingness.

Are we willing to live our lives in such a way that God can fully use our marriage? There are lots of understandings about what marriage is in this day and age. This is not about gender, and same gender marriage, it is about the ideals people have of marriage and what a good marriage is. It has become commonplace to settle for something less than the fullness of God because we are not willing to live in such a way that God can fully use.

Many marriages settle for good enough, when God is willing, able and hoping that we will strive for fullness. That we will be willing to live following after Jesus with our whole hearts, that our marriages will be different than the ideals of society, that we will cultivate a marriage that will do whatever it takes, to be used by God, for the Kingdom of love and grace to be experienced here and now.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Foundations Matter

Scripture Text: Matthew 7

Recently our children along with some of their friends were building a human pyramid. All of the children were of different heights and builds so the way they arranged themselves in the pyramid mattered. Somewhere along the way a few of the smallest in the group wanted to be part of the base while the biggest of the group wanted to be on the top. You can only guess how this worked out.

The foundation of any structure determines how the rest is build and what can sit at the top. Jesus is clear how this relates to our lives. We must have a foundation built on bedrock otherwise everything else is suspect to being destroyed in the storms. This teaching comes at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, and particularly in a section where Jesus makes clear his role in the life of people.

To build a solid foundation we must invite God to be the center of our lives. The way we do this is by making the decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ. A life without God can look good, and appear to have everything in place. Yet, when the storms come and the torrents crash against the foundation of our life, it will be washed away. Any foundation that leaves God out of the mix will reach a crumbling point.

There are many ingredients that go into a healthy marriage. Love and romance, honor and respect, humility and submission, the list could go on and on. All of these are important and need attention, however all of these things without God as the foundation of your marriage and it will crumble when the storms come.

Before we were married we spend several months writing back and forth, handwritten letters, in which we would complain to each other that we could not find a person to date who met the standards we were using to measure potential spouses. Through this we each generated a list, sending to each other for review. Keep in mind we were not dating at this point, we were two friends who were sharing our hearts.

When we reviewed the separate lists it became clear we were looking for the same things. It did not take too long for us to realize that in each other we had found what we were looking for in a potential spouse. At the top of the list was they must be a follower of Jesus, and God must have the top spot in their life. We began our relationship and our marriage with this value at the very center of our lives together.

Over the years we have faced storms, financial challenges, death of a parent and grandparents, moving several times, and life situations we simply did not want to be in. Through it all we have been able to cling to the foundation of Christ in our lives and marriage. Each time we have held on, it has made it easier the next time.

Before you read this and think how easy that sounds, know that we have had to work hard at keeping Christ at the center of our lives and marriage. It is not something that happens just because it is on a list of priorities. We have needed to and will continue to invest the time and energy in keeping Christ as the foundation. This means keeping in the Scriptures, together and individually. It means time in prayer with each other and for each other. Time in worship and service keep us tuned into God's abundant grace. We have to be intentional about cultivating a Christ-centered life, so that we can cultivate a Christ-centered marriage. It takes investment, and the return is worth every bit of it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Power of our Thoughts

Scripture Texts: Matthew 5: 17-37; Proverbs 15

Actions speak louder than words, and our thoughts drive them both. In fact our thoughts can be more dangerous, or life-giving then either actions or words. Jesus is really pushing us to understand this through this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Our thought life is powerful enough for our thinking to be equal to the actions and words, even to the point of murder.

The way we think about another person often becomes how we treat them. If we think of someone and pity them, we tend to treat them accordingly. When we think about someone in anger, we tend to treat that person in an angry way. If we are to think about another person filled with hope, we treat them with hope. On and on the list goes, yet the point easily eludes us. The way we think drives the way we act.

Many people have heard and given the advice to a young couple with the ink on the marriage certificate still drying, do not go to bed angry. In light of what Jesus reminds us about the connection between our thinking and our actions, this advise looms large. If we are angry with our spouse and we do not resolve it, the angry thoughts will grow as will our treatment of our spouse poorly. This is not about peace in the home before sleep, it is about not allowing negative thoughts to flourish.

Here is a little test/challenge. For the next ten days keep track of your thoughts regarding you spouse. When negative thoughts begin to creep in, push them away as quickly as possible. Then replace the negative with positive. As the positive thoughts about your spouse enter, find ways to hold on to them. Devote the next ten days to thinking only positive about your spouse.

Cultivating a healthy marriage is about keeping our thought life on track. Interestingly enough the way we think about our spouse will impact the emotions we experience about our spouse. The emotions will directly impact the way we treat our spouse. We pray that we can all be people who think about the amazing person we call our spouse.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Blessed Marriage

Scripture Text: Matthew 5:1-16

In these verses we find the opening statements of Jesus' longest recorded sermon. Through these words we get a glimpse of what it means to live our lives according to the Kingdom of God as opposed to any other kingdom. This section, also called the beatitudes, share with us how to live the kind of life that God blesses.

Just like for the original audience, the teaching confronts the way our world today commonly thinks and acts through life. In fact in almost every instance living according the the Kingdom of God understanding is the opposite of living by other kingdoms. To be blessed we must realize we need God. To be blessed we must mourn with those who mourn. On and on the list goes turning upside down the most commonly taught ways to be blessed in life.

The life Jesus calls us to is filled with blessings, however it is not easy. We are told to expect persecution, strife, and mocking because we follow Jesus. All of this screams to us the way of Jesus is not the same as the dominate culture. Further we can see the danger of attempting to make the way of Jesus into something it is not, the dominate culture. In Christ we live a life not so that we can fit in, or get things the way we think they should be. We live our lives so that through us the world might see God.

As Jesus instructs how to live as people of the Kingdom of God, we should also apply the list to our marriage:

  • Our marriage will be blessed when we realize how much we need God, for others shall see the Kingdom of God in us.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we mourn with each other, and others, and God will be our comfort.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we treat each other with humility, for we will inherit all that God desires for us.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we hunger and thirst for for justice for our spouse.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we show mercy to our spouse, for we will experience mercy.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we keep our heart pure for our spouse, for we will experience the fullness of God.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we seek to live in peace with our spouse, for we both will be called children of God.
  • Our marriage will be blessed when we are persecuted because of how we live in our marriage, for God is with us.
  • Our marriage is blessed when others mock and persecute us because of how we strive to live with Christ as the center of our marriage.

All of this is not for the glorification of our marriage, it is so that others will see God. We strive to live in such a way that we can be blessed by God to be a blessing to others. We live the life we do so that others might know the love and grace of Jesus Christ and decide to follow him either because of, or inspite of our lives.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Beating Temptation

Scripture Text: Matthew 4; Psalm 75

For as long as there have been people temptation has been part of the equation. We see this from Adam and Eve, to King David, to Jesus, and every person to walk the planet. It is not a question of whether or not we will face temptation, it is a matter of how we will respond in the face of temptation.

As we might guess Jesus gives a perfect model in Matthew 4. Each temptation was responded to with Scripture and evidence of a relationship with God. Satan does not hold back in the temptation offering Jesus everything that would be needed. Jesus knows all those things are only counterfeit versions of what his mission was.

Temptation offers to us a counterfeit version of what we think we need or what we are trying to accomplish. The danger is so high because it often comes in the form of a shortcut or making something that is a great challenge seem like it is easy. The first step in responding well to temptation is to have clarity about what you are called to. Second is clarity around the character traits you want to display as you achieve the goal. Lastly, responding well to temptation requires having connection with a solution that will endure.

Marriage is no stranger to temptation. In many ways it creates more opportunities to respond to temptation. There are the obvious temptations of entering into relationships with people other than your spouse in ways that are reserved for those who are our spouse. This can be of a physical or emotional nature.

We also find the less obvious temptation to take our relationship for granted. This shows up in leaving the little things of life undone such a chores around the house. It also shows up in no longer doing the small yet powerful romantic gestures of the courting or dating days. The great danger here is that it becomes easy to not even realize we have given into temptation.

Responding well to temptation in marriage is the same as in all arenas of life. First we must be clear of the call to live a healthy and great marriage, not to simply exist until we reach the till death do us part portion. Second we must have clarity that we want to make the journey filled with integrity, joy, compassion, passion and love. Third, we must remain connected with the God who loves us and teaches us how to live in such a way that we cultivate the best marriage possible.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It is a Simple Message

Scripture Text: Matthew 3

John the Baptist's message often gets only a passing treatment because he is leading the way for Jesus. Yet, the message being proclaimed is not to be missed, even if it is hard to come to terms with. Matthew tells us the simple message of John, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near."

Words like repent and sin are not real popular words in our day and age. This is nothing new, they were not all that popular in John's day either. For the most part people felt if they were generally good people, and claimed their heritage as people of God, everything would be just fine. All this talk of sin and repentance was too much.

Once Jesus is on the scene the message does not change a whole lot. Jesus continues to call people to step away from sinning and to turn to God. The main variation to the message was times when he would say the Kingdom of God is near, or say it was at hand. Whether it was the people of Jesus' day or people today we still struggle with the simple message. The struggle is so great that we make every attempt to clarify it on God's behalf. We make sure to nuance the message and make it more palatable reducing Jesus to a good moralistic teacher. In reality we need to come face to face with the simple message of God as seen in Christ.

The message of marriage is pretty simple as well. Do everything in your ability to remain centered in Christ, and keep fidelity with the one you are married to. Throughout the centuries we have nuanced this message as we continue to do so today. We are not saying there is never a situation where divorce is the best option, that was not even the message Jesus gave regarding marriage. What we are saying is while relationships are complicated the basic marriage is simple.

Another way to think about it has been shared with us by a close friend, "If you are married,there are two types of people in the world, those who you are married to and those who you are not. as long as you remember who is who things will go much better." Whenever one person in the marriage forgets this simple truth, everything gets much more complicated.

Still the message is very simple. When we do our best to keep our focus on the simple message and resist the temptation to make it more complicated than it is, we find we experience more of what it is like to live in the Kingdom of God, which is near. So, we must repent of our sin and turn to God, because the Kingdom is near, and we must remember to remain centered in Christ and in fidelity to our spouse.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Near Miss

Scripture Texts: Matthew 2; Psalms 74

Before Jesus would have been heading to Kindergarten in most US states there were three attempts to snuff out his light before it really shined. Each time there was an intervention to the plot which proved to preserve the life of the infant Savior. The interventions came in the form of visions and dreams.

First the magi were informed through a vision to not return to Herod informing him of the location of the child. Second was a dream warning Joseph to flee to Egypt. Third was after the time in Egypt Joseph was warned in a dream to settle in Galilee. These dreams were no small matter as they were not leading Joseph and the family into easy situations. It would have been very easy to dismiss the dreams to pursue that which was easiest and most comfortable.

It is possible one of the results of not following the instructions of the dream would have been the death of the infant Jesus. However, this is the Child of God, the one who is the redeemer of all the people of creation. It seems more plausible that God would have chosen another intervention, another route to preserve life. Only Joseph would have missed out on full participation in God's plan. The near miss of this account from Jesus life might not be about the life of an infant, it might be about participating in the Kingdom of God.

Imagine the moment when Joseph told Mary about the dream he had, and how they were to flee to Egypt. Mary was no stranger to the communication of God, yet the call to head to Egypt seemed crazy. They had no family in Egypt, God had often warned about not going back to Egypt. Still, this young couple had to make a decision that would have significant impact on their young family. God was calling them to continue this audacious ride they were already on, and they could have missed it.

God is in the business of calling people. Most often the calling of God is to go to a place we have not been, and a place that requires new things. A leap of faith is required also. This is true for individuals, it is also true for a married couple. God calls us to live in marriage in such a way that God is using our marriage for Kingdom purpose. Our ability to follow the calling of God does not ultimately change what God desires to accomplish. What changes is the experience we have as a married couple.

Mary and Joseph were both familiar with hearing God call them to outrageous things. Individually they could discern the voice of God from the midst of all the other voices. So, when God spoke to them as a couple they had practice hearing from God. If a married couple is going to hear the call of God for their marriage, they need to have invested the time and practice of hearing God as an individual. This practice applied to marriage, will help to manage the near miss of the visions and dreams God has for us.

There are countless times when we have experienced a near miss. Times when we almost went our way rather than God's way. The sense of relief was amazing. There have also been times when we did not follow God's leading and God had to use another way to get us to where we needed to be. The pain is double during these times. We had the pain of the struggle that resulted from a poor decision, and the pain of realizing we missed what God had for us. Through it all, we have learned, and attempt to practice, the best way to avoid the near miss is to spend the time individually and together, listening to God's call.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Inner Dialogue

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 10; Psalm 72

Each of us has an inner dialogue to our life known as thinking. Not sure if that is true, think about what is happening as you read these words. Not only are you reading the letters on the page, you are beginning to ponder how these words impact you. Chances are, it is almost as if you can hear your voice having the conversation.

This inner dialogue has the potential to help us to great and wonderful things. It also has the potential to take us down a road that leads to destruction. Our thoughts directly impact our actions. Because of this, Paul encourages us to take captive our thoughts. Specifically, the rebellious thoughts. or the thoughts that cause us to put distance between us and God.

Every relationship we are in comes complete with an inner dialogue, and our marriage is no exception. The content of our thoughts around our marriage, and our spouse directly impact the way we treat our spouse and the level to which we trust our spouse. For example, if our thoughts are focused on something negative about our spouse, we tend to treat our spouse in negative ways. Likewise if our thoughts are positive, thinking about the love and connection we have, our actions will tend to follow.

The way we think about our spouse and our marriage matters greatly. The words of Paul to take captive our thoughts applies to our marriage. Paying attention to the content of our inner dialogue about our spouse and marriage has the ability to change the way we behave in our marriage. If you are trapped in a negative dialogue, take those thoughts captive and do whatever is needed to change the content. If the thoughts are positive, take those thoughts captive and do whatever is needed to maintain the positive content.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Generous Heart Required

Scripture Text: 2 Corinthians 9

If we sow with a scarcity mindset, then we will never have enough. If we sow with a generous heart, then we will never go without. Notice the difference, scarcity is an understanding of the mind while generosity is a condition of the heart. Scarcity is figured by doing the math and thinking about what we have versus what we do not have. Generosity is about having an abundance of love and grace at work in our heart.

Paul is talking about money again, however this is a principle far greater than money. When it comes to generosity money is incidental. Being a generous person is about being willing to invest in the work of God and other people because of what God has done in your life and heart. A lack of generosity is not about a lack of funds, it is about a lack of depth in our relationship with God.

We can adopt a scarcity mentality with our spouse without even knowing it. The ways it creeps in are easy to miss. We can become controlling of our spouses time, not wanting anyone else to have more of it than us. The attention our spouse gives to a project can cause us to move into scarcity. There really are few limits to the things that cause us to feel like there is never enough, time, attention, and connection with our spouse. This becomes self-fulfilling as when we are in a scarcity mentality enough is never enough.

When we choose to have a generous heart we can be generous with our spouse. Allowance is made for time spent with other people, projects, and attention. There is an assurance and trust to a healthy marriage that keeps us confident we have an abundance. This is a product of a deep relationship with our spouse. Like with our relationship with God, if we do not have a deep and healthy relationship with our spouse it is almost impossible to be generous.

The key to this is trusting your partner. When the trust balance is zero we are locked into a scarcity mentality. Finding every possible way to develop and deepen the trust we have of our spouse will increase our ability to be generous toward our spouse. If you and your spouse are struggling with trust, there is no greater work that you must address. The best starting point is to talk about the areas of mistrust being sure to identify why the lack of trust is present. Then build a plan to increase the trust in your relationship. Out of this greater generosity will begin to find its way into your marriage.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Pursuit of Excellence

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 8; Psalm 71

Paul tells the church in Corinth he wants them to excel in all the areas of their faith. They have people who excel in faith, speaking, knowledge, enthusiasm and love for others. The desire of Paul is to add generosity to the list. This part of the second letter to the Corinthians is focused around the collection of money that was begun at an earlier time. It is also about giving God your best no matter what the subject matter is.

In Psalm 71, the writer is sharing how God brought the best out of them through challenge and struggle. At the core however, is God helping us to excel in our life. Understand this is not about being successful, or wealthy, or even comfortable. What God desires for all of us is to live fully the life God calls us to live. As the old US Army slogan says it, "To be all you can be."

All of the striving is not even for our own fame and notoriety. God wants us to be our very best so that we will remain connected with God, and bear witness to the greatness of God, not our own. When we excel in living our life fully, as God calls, others will be able to see the mighty work of God. Further, our excelling is not about being better than another person, or benefiting because of someone else's suffering. It all points back to what God has done, is doing, and is preparing us for in the future.

When looking at our marriage the same call to excel is present. There are not many people who strive after a mediocre marriage. Most of us want to excel in marriage and experience all that we can from our marriage. This does not happen without effort. We must cultivate the excellence we desire if we are going to experience the fruit of excellence.

All of the areas Paul wanted the Corinthian church to excel required effort, discipline, and constant learning. Cultivating a marriage that excels requires effort, discipline, and constant learning. This is a lifelong pursuit, and it is not done for our glory, it is for God's glory. Although, when we commit ourselves to seeking an excellent marriage, we experience a fullness of life that is in fact glorious.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Unequally Yoked

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; 2 Corinthians 7

Paul's admonishment to not yoke ourselves to unbelievers has long been cited as the reason a believer should not marry a person who does not believe. This certainly is important to the conversation of marriage, however marriage is not the only focus of this teaching. In every aspect of our lives we need to be careful about our interactions with those who have a different belief system than us.

Taken to the extreme, this has lead to people not having even friendships with people of other faiths, or even spending time in the same place. It is safe to say that is not what Paul intended when he shared this with the church in Corinth. Rather, Paul wanted the people, and us, to think about the partnerships and depth of relationships we have with other people.

When in a relationship with a person who has a different belief system there may be many points of commonality. At the same time, there are going to be places of profound difference. We must be certain to not make the differences about what is right or wrong. A difference is simply different, no value statement needed. Still the difference must be dealt with.

If you are a follower of Jesus and you are in a relationship with a person who is Hindu, there needs to be great respect for the belief and understanding of the other person. There must also be a recognition of a significant difference. These differences create a dissonance when it comes to the values at the core of our beings. Following Jesus, and being a resurrection person has some serious dissonance with the belief of reincarnation.

When we look at a marriage relationship, if there are two belief systems at work in the marriage there is a great challenge to the union of the Spirit God desires for marriage. This does not mean that each person must believe exactly the same. It does mean there has to be similarity on the core issues. Challenge is ahead for the follower of Jesus that marries someone who does not have Jesus as part of their faith Journey. Likewise for a person who follows Buddhism to marry someone who is Mormon, there will be some serious challenges to their life together due to the difference at the core of their belief and being.

If you are a follower of Jesus, cultivating a healthy marriage starts at having a common belief. We have encountered many people who are followers of Christ who married people who are not, and there is a constant struggle. It is easier for two people who do not follow Jesus, than to have a split household. This is true of any belief system. Being unequally yoked rarely results in a long-term, thriving relationship where each person feels they are all God has created them to be. Further, being unequally yoked rarely leads to a marriage of great depth and fulfillment.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Forgiveness, a Life and Death Matter

Scripture Text: 2 Corinthians 2

Forgiveness is something we offer to someone else not for their benefit but for ours. On the surface it might seem like the act of forgiveness is about the pardon we offer to another. Someone wrongs us and later we have the opportunity to forgive them. Forgiveness is not focused on what happens for the person we forgive.

Paul is clear about this when he is writing to the church in Corinth. Forgiveness and the schemes of Satan are put on opposite ends of the spectrum. When we do not extend forgiveness to other people, we make ourselves more open to the influence of Satan. Our inability to forgive another person does no damage to the other person, it is us that is damaged.

Before going any further we should be clear about a definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is giving up a claim, rightful or otherwise, that we have against someone who has wronged us. When we forgive we are deciding to not live our lives holding a claim against someone else. No longer will what someone else has done to us take up rent space in our minds, lives and way of being. By the way, forgiveness does not mean we forget what the person has done, only we do not let that person have control in our lives any longer.

Unforgiveness is on the list of high-speed marriage killers. When we do not walk in forgiveness with our spouse, we can be sure only trouble and struggle are ahead for our marriage. Walking through marriage with a claim against our spouse will tear apart a relationship, and make it impossible to cultivate a healthy marriage.

Leaving the work of forgiveness undone leaves vast space for the work of Satan to influence our thoughts and actions. The evil schemes become captivating and we begin to exchange the reality of Christ for the fantasy of Satan. All of this rests on walking in forgiveness. That is why this matters so much. If there is any need to have extend or seek forgiveness in your marriage, do not delay, care for it before this day runs its course.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Confidence Promoting Practices

Scripture Texts: 2 Corinthians 1:12-24; Psalm 69

The fist couple of lines in this letter to the church in Corinth are very bold words. Especially when Paul is claiming them to be true about himself. It is either extreme confidence or right on the border of spiritual pride to make the claim to have lived in God-given holiness.

At the same time, we should be able to look at our lives and see the way we have grown in living the life God has called us to live. A disciple of Jesus Christ is a person who is ever-growing in their holiness. There very well will come a point when we can make the similar claim as Paul. However, our confidence, and I assume Paul's, is not in our ability to live a life of holiness. Our confidence comes from the grace of God, not human wisdom.

Tasking a look at the life of Paul, or any other person who follows Jesus wholeheartedly, we find a person who has engaged in practices that promote holiness in their life. Regular communication with God through prayer and the Scriptures. Actively seeking the justice of God. Walking in mercy with those around us. All of these and some more are practices that promote holiness.

In our marriage we can engage in practices that promote having a marriage we can claim confidence in. These are practices beyond what we do individually. Ways in which we treat our spouse. How we talk about our spouse. Devoting time to our spouse and our relationship. These are the practices that give us the ability to say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived our marriage with God-given faithfulness and fruitfulness, not because of our wisdom but because of God's grace.

For us the practice of taking time to read the Scriptures together, write this blog, review the day that was and the day that is about to be, and then pray together is cultivating deeper confidence in what God is doing in and with our marriage. Our hope is you have been cultivating a similar practice in your marriage. We are honored that you make our words a regular part of your confidence promoting practice.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God Uses The Struggle

Scripture Text:  2 Corinthians 1:1-11

As a result of his suffering Paul says he stopped relying on himself and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. Paul was a talented guy. Above average intelligence, and a good model of faithfulness to his belief. No doubt that relying on himself would take him far in life. Yet he does not have the same skill and ability that God does, by name raising the dead.

We are people that can go far on our own ability. There is a certain amount of intelligence in our lives and we have skills to navigate life. Looking back there is even a track record of working through some difficult times. It is easy to see how we can begin to rely on ourselves more than we rely on God.

Relying on ourselves is woven into the fabric of the culture in the United States. Individualism is at an all time high. As a result self-reliance is at an all time high. This is a dangerous thing in our relationship with God and other people. In our relationship with God we begin to think we have the ability to make our own way through life without any connection to the creator of the universe, who is great in power, love and grace. In relationships with other people, it can become easy to think we do not need anyone else to get by.

While marriage is not focused on an individual, it is easy to rely more on our marriage than on God. The various trials and joys we face can easily feel like ours to work with and leave God out of the equation. From time to time God uses the struggles to remind and teach us of our need to rely on God alone. To be clear, God does not cause the struggle, rather God uses the struggle.

No matter how smart we are. No matter how strong the bond we have as a married couple. When we start to rely on ourselves more that we rely on God, trouble is ahead. Like Paul we should learn to rely on God alone, you know the one who raises the dead.