This past Sunday the passage the pastor preached from was, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” Matt.5:8 ESV. Have you ever wondered, based on this verse and others, if there is a ‘conditional-ness’ to the mercy and forgiveness we receive from God? Take a look at just a few verses later in the same sermon where Jesus says this, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. “ Matt 6:14-15 ESV. Is Jesus saying , “Show mercy to others and I will show mercy to you, forgive others and I will forgive you”? Is that really how God interacts with us? Is His mercy and forgiveness extended towards us conditional upon us first extending the same to others? Is this saying that there is a way by which we can actually in a sense, earn the mercy and forgiveness we desperately want, desire and need from God? It can certainly make us think that at first glimpse but let’s dig a little deeper and I think the truth will become clear. Continue Reading…
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8) Rely on God. Maybe one of my favorite verses, in the bible, on relationships is a verse that speaks about the makeup of close friendships. That verse is in Ecclesiastes 4:12. It says, “A cord of three stands is not quickly broken”. God has blessed, my wife and I, with four daughters so, even though I don’t know much about how to do hair, there as some basic hairdos I have to know. I can do a pretty good ponytail and I at least know how to braid hair (though I probably wouldn’t send them to school with one of the braids I make). One of the things that amazed me about a braid is that when you look at it, it looks like two stands of hair twisted together. However, in reality, a braid is actually three stands of hair that only looks like two. The third one is essential for holding it all together. I believe the same is true in marriage. Marriages look like they are made up of two people but, those that are built on God, have a third strand that helps to hold them together.
Someone once said, “Marriage is the perfect union of two imperfect people.” I don’t think that could be truer. No matter how hard you try you will hurt, upset and offend your spouse. It’s great when that happens and you realize what a bonehead you’ve been and immediately apologize and make it right. But this becomes a whole lot harder when you feel like you are ‘in the right’ or even justified by what you’ve said or done. The problem with apologies is that they have to be sincere to be of any value. A simple ‘Sorry’ won’t work especially if you are apologizing for an offense you’ve done numerous times! In this case the apology seems trite and disingenuous.
So how do we handle this in marriage? Here are a couple of thoughts… Continue Reading…
6) Invite your spouse into your sexuality.
This goes far beyond having good marital sex which seems to be what most people try to address in this area. Inviting your spouse into your sexuality is more the intimacy of true transparency in the area of how you are wired, tempted and
even dysfunctional, sexually. Without a doubt this gets very personal but there is no person who should know the details of who we are sexually more than your spouse. I believe with all my heart, that the greatest protection against marital infidelity is the openness of our ‘inside stuff’ with our spouse. Often that ‘inside stuff’ will touch on, if not be completely entwined with, our sexuality. I am like most men, I grew up with unhealthy thoughts and exposures
4) Set priorities and build your life around them…not the other way around. Often I meet couples who will come to me after several years of marriage, struggling. Life, as a married couple, has not turned out how they wanted it to be and they are disillusioned by what their lives have now become. Now I realize that unexpected things happen to all of us. Things that are truly out of our control. But more times than not, the issue isn’t circumstances that are out of our control but rather because they have never set priorities for their lives together. ‘Life’ has taken over and now they are doing little more than responding to it. Life has a tendency to happen. It is like a current that can carry us places we don’t want to go.
Priorities, agreed upon together, can be the boat in that current, which allows a couple the ability to move in the direction they feel, is important. Let me give you a personal example. Before we even got married, my wife and I talked about how important we felt it was that one parent stay home and focus their energies around raising the children. For us this was a priority. That means that from the time we started having children we would be forced to live on one salary if we were to keep that priority. I have heard some people say it is impossible to do this today. For some people that is true however for many others having two salaries isn’t out of necessity but out of a desire to have the lifestyle two salaries provides. Often that isn’t a choice or a priority that the couple has made. It is just something that happened and a lifestyle they got use to before having children and they can’t imagine doing life with less. This is a case of life directing the couple instead of allowing their priorities to direct them and then living life accordingly.
Our lifestyle is certainly affected by our priorities. Personally, we have never had new or fancy vehicles and until recent years we only had one. We’ve lived for years with multiple children in single bedrooms. Our kids have never had the best of anything, but they also don’t suffer. We aren’t a family who takes big vacations. And my kids will likely have to work hard for scholarship and money to go to college. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel hard done by at all. We are blessed beyond what we deserve. I’m only saying we have tried to live by our priorities and make the choices in life that match those priorities, instead of allow life to dictate how we will live.
5) Be who you are and not who you think you are supposed to be. I think all of us come to marriage with a set of preconceived ideas of who it is we should be or what we think our marriages are supposed to look like. Those images come from all sorts of places…it might be the image of our parent’s marriage that we are trying to duplicate, it might be a marriage we have seen on TV (does anyone still try to have a marriage like Ward and June Cleaver?), it might be the image of a famous marriage we see in our society. Continue Reading…
2) Know your differences, embrace them and use them for each other’s benefit. Typically the place where we find differences in a couple we also find some of their greatest strengths. Have you ever noticed that some of the very things that attracted you to your spouse when you were dating, can be the very things that drive you crazy once you are married?! The characteristic of spontaneity that you loved about that person, when you were dating, now years later drives you crazy because they won’t follow the plan. The characteristic of stability, well grounded, and practical seemed so comforting when you were dating but later in marriage feels like a wet blanket to all your great ideas and dreams. (Yes these are personal examples)
Embracing these differences and using them for each other’s benefits can be challenging. Especially since you first have to be humble enough to say you need those very characteristics in your life that sometimes have driven you crazy. How you apply this may be very easy to see in some areas and more difficult to see in others. For example, if one of you is clearly better than the other at handling and organizing your home finances, then let that person lead in that area. It will be for your mutual benefit. Other areas are a little trickier to see and implement. My personality is pretty no-nonsense and more on the analytical side. My wife is far more compassionate, gracious and feeling towards situations. I can’t tell you how many times she has given me advice, from her perspective, in a difficult people situation. I have not always appreciated that advice. I’d rather have her tell me she thinks I am handling things perfectly. But I have to admit, that when I’ve been humble enough to follow her advice, it has helped those situations be resolved in a much more positive way than would have occurred had I done it my way. When you know and embrace your differences you can use them to each other’s benefit.
3) Laugh Often… I’d have to say some of my favorite memories over the past twenty years have been the times just before falling to sleep at night or just getting up in the morning that my wife and I, reflecting on something that has place in our day, have laughed so hard we could barely catch a breathe. Often it will be about something one of our kids said that day or how they responded to our correction. It might be about a silly and insignificant thing that led up to a big blow up between us. Later, as we reflect on the source of such a large disagreement, we can’t help but laugh at the stupidity with which we sometimes act.
Sometimes we have laughed at a stressful time in our lives. Maybe a time when things were not going right and the future looked quite dim. At those moments something said in ‘black humor’, would just break both of us up laughing and gave us perspective that life would be okay and we will get through this difficult time. I remember one time we were looking for a new place to live while I was in seminary. It had been a whirlwind trip and as we were heading home talking about the house we had put an offer on, I mentioned to my wife how I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to handle the avocado green appliances. My wife laughed and said they were almond color. I was certain she was wrong and because I’m not color blind, I knew that wasn’t the reason for the discrepancy. All the way home, during that 16 hour drive, we tried to prove to the other why we felt we were right about the color. Days later we asked for some pictures to be sent of the house and there it was in full, living color for all to see the almond color appliances! I’m still not sure how I got it so wrong but even to this day we laugh about how adamantly I argued my position, wrongly. Laughter is great medicine in marriage so use it liberally!
4) Set priorities and build your life around them…not the other way around. (to be continued tomorrow)
This past Wednesday was my wife’s and my 20th anniversary. To me it seemed like a really big deal and something that I had been counting down to for the past few years. Much of that perspective may have come from the fact that my own experience with marriage growing up wasn’t that positive. My parent divorced when I was six and frankly that made me more than a little terrified to get married myself. I knew and had lived, first hand, the scars and the pain that divorce causes and I did not want to go through that experience again. I also knew that statistically, the odds were stacked against me. Children from divorced homes are much more likely to have marriages end in divorced than those from non-divorced homes. So this was a landmark for me and a time to reflect on how we made it to this milestone. Let me say right up front our longevity has been by God’s grace, without a doubt! While my wife is near perfect, I am far from it and without God’s grace my wife would have gotten rid of me a long time ago. (See I have learned a thing or two : )
So here are a few other things I think have helped in our marriage and helped us reach this point. I’m going to be pretty honest with you here. Our marriage has been anything but perfect and over the years both of us have, at times, wondered if we would survive. But these are some of the things that I have noticed have made a difference and the kinds of things I share with couples who come to me looking for advice before they get married or couples who come to me with marriages that are struggling.
1) The more you know yourselves the more you can love each other. Some people know very little about themselves, how they are wired, what their personalities are, or how events in their lives have affected them. Do yourself and your spouse a favor and take the time to ask yourself “Who am I, how am I wired, how has my background impacted me?” if you don’t have the answers to this no else ever will! Understanding yourself is one of the most important spiritual and marital activities you can pursue. Church Father St. Augustine prayed, “Grant, Lord that I may know myself that I may know thee.” John Calvin, one of the Fathers of the Reformation, said this, “There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.” If growth in our relationship with God is dependent upon knowing ourselves how much more is it necessary for knowing and loving our spouse! I can only truly exhibit understanding and sensitivity to my wife when I understand the areas where the greatest differences in our personalities and experiences exist. One of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse is to have a clear knowledge of who you are. Closely connected to this point is the next…
2) Know your differences, embrace them and use them for each other’s benefit. (Find out how in tomorrow’s blog!)
I’m amazed at how many people were talking about the prediction that the world was going to end May 21, 2011 just because one man said so. All of the news channels were covering it. Maybe even more amazing was how many of his followers not only believed this prophecy but spent thousands of dollars of their own money trying to get the message out to others. Well, as we all know by now, May 21 has come and gone and nothing happened. The prophecy of ‘the end of the world as we know it’ has now been set for Oct 21, 2011, and, as the song goes, “I feel fine.”
Of course it is unsettling to think of our life being turned upside down, to have all of our security taken away and to be put in judgment before God. I understand why this is unnerving. I noticed a certain unsettledness with my own children and thought it might be a good opportunity to share with them why I was certain this “doomsday prophecy” wasn’t going to happen. Continue Reading…
Our news has been filled lately with natural disaster followed by natural disaster. Just yesterday, we heard that over 126 people died from a tornado that hit the town of Joplin, Missouri. This happened less than a month after over 300 people perished in Alabama from a similar disaster. Earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, not to mention other tragedies people face… Is there something God is trying to teach us or say to us through all of these events? Some have suggested that these events are a judgment upon humankind by God. The rational is that, for one reason or another, God is angry with us and therefore these things occur as wrath or judgment. Others suggested it has no bearing on that at all and that these events occur simply because of the sin which came into the world at ‘The Fall’. In this way then, these tragedies all happen as part of the price of being human in a fallen world; it’s just part of life.
I’m not sure how qualified I am to give anyone a definitive answer to such a deep, profound and human question. I’ve seen these events, and the devastation they produce, at a distance in that this type of tragedy has never affected my private property or family. However, as a pastor, this is one of those questions that gets asked a lot, both by those who observe tragedy and those who go through it themselves. Over the years I have wrestled with this question like so many other people and have embraced an answer I think most answers the dilemma of tragedy in our lives. The heart of this answer is found in an answer Jesus gave to a disaster that Continue Reading…