Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Trading dollars for pennies?

     A few months ago, I was sorting a jar of coins to roll them and take them to the bank.  As I was going thru the pennies, I came across something I’d never seen before—a blank penny.  There wasn’t an image on the front or back.  I set the blank aside to show Lisa and the kids.
     They thought the blank penny was as neat as I did, and Lisa looked it up and found that occasionally coins can slip thru the engraving process without being struck by the die that makes the image on the coin.  These mistakes are supposed to be caught and removed from circulation, but on rare occasions the blank is released into public distribution.  While not worth a million dollars, Lisa found that blanks will usually sell for about a dollar.  “Not bad,” I thought.  “That’s still 100 times what it would be worth otherwise.”
     Regrettably, I haven’t sold the penny yet.  Actually, I can’t even find it.  You see, after showing it to my family, I put the special penny back into the coin jar, fully meaning to set it aside later.  But instead, I just keep piling regular coins all around it. Eventually, the jar was full and I rolled the coins again.  My best guess is that I accidentally let the one dollar penny slip into a roll of regular pennies, and have long since taken it to the bank and cashed it in.  It hurts to think that thru my neglect I traded a dollar for a penny.
     How many times do we do that in our marriages?  How often do we allow what could be special, meaningful moments to become obscured by neglect?  It’s not that there isn’t an intrinsic and meaningful value to the ordinary moments as well, but how many times have you settled for “less than” rather than experiencing the full value in your covenant marriage relationship?
     So how do you keep from trading dollars for pennies and find the full value in your marriage?  Here are a few things to be mindful of to help experience the full value of your relationship.

  • Shared faith and prayer.  Whether on a mountain top or in a dark valley, keeping God at the center of your marriage relationship allows you to experience a fullness of life that is impossible without Him.  John 10:10 reminds us that The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Don’t trade dollars for pennies in your spiritual life as a couple.
  • Gratitude.  Your perception will become your reality.  This is an inescapable truth in any relationship.  By focusing on the things that your mate does for which you are grateful, you help positively shape the reality of your relationship together.
  • Compliments.  Who doesn’t like to hear nice things about themselves—appearance, accomplishments, work, even chores.  What happens when you build up your mate?  You communicate your love and commitment and give your spouse confidence, and you also continually remind yourself of the qualities that keep your love for your spouse strong.
  • Laughter.  There are certainly times to be serious, but we all need some levity in our lives.  I don’t think I know anybody who doesn’t like to laugh.  When a couple laughs with each other (and please note I’m saying with each other, not at each other), inhibitions go down and the couple has a wonderful place to make powerful and intimate connections.  The more you share laughter together, the more you grow joy in your relationship on an ongoing basis.

     Not trading dollars for pennies in your marriage takes intentionality and consistency, but the pay-off is way beyond any cost in time or effort.  What other ways do you and your spouse make sure to be intentional about getting the most out of your relationship?  Please share in the comments below.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A picture is worth...

     This past week, I would guestimate that I was in several thousand pictures and videos.  Lisa and I were at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina with our kids, and while we do take a bunch of pictures each vacation (Lisa’s still trying to get that perfect family photo on the beach), we probably only took a hundred or so pics on our own.  So why was I in thousands more photos and videos? 
     Obviously, we live in a digital age.  With smart phones everywhere, virtually everybody carries a camera and video camera with them at all times, ready to capture that perfect moment of silliness, sweetness, fun, adventure, or even embarrassment.  So, whether it was a parent wanting to capture their baby’s first experience at the beach, or teens acting goofy in the ice cream shop, or a honeymooning couple taking a selfie at a restaurant, or a child’s excitement at looking off the top of the lighthouse, I was in the background of hundreds upon hundreds of pictures and videos.  In a very real sense, we are all background players and extras in other people’s world.
     So why is that important?  Because in every photo that I show up in, I communicated something about my marriage, about the love and respect I give to Lisa, whether or not I put my wife first, and most significantly, where God is within our relationship.  I can live with being the stranger in the background who people laugh at because I have a goofy expression, or because I’m falling down, or because I have something on my face.  But I don’t ever want to be the guy in the background who is yelling at his wife, or ignoring her, or being disrespectful and selfish.
     I don’t want to be mindful of the image that I am (literally) projecting just for the sake of others thinking I am a good guy.  I want to do it because I want my love for my spouse to flow from the very core of who I am.  I want her to know that whether we believe someone else is watching or not, she can be confident that I will be intentionally kind, and patient, and loving, and joyful, and forgiving, and responsible, and honest, and caring, and gentle, and peaceful with her.  I want every projection of my marriage to say something about our relationship, but also about our life in Christ.  When people see me and Lisa together, whether it is talking to friends face-to-face, or as the background players in a photo or video, we want them to see Christ in us, lived out in our marriage relationship.  After all, that is the call of Christian marriage—to use our marriage to show Christ to the world through how we love and interact with our spouses.
     I’m a background player, an extra in someone else’s life—and so are you.  But you get to choose what you convey about your spouse, your marriage, and Christ’s redeeming love with every picture you show up in.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Marriage Blessing

     I am a big advocate of formal blessings that are prayed and repeated on a regular basis.  If used right, they can help keep us centered and serve as a constant reminder of God's love and provision for us.
     I taught a Christian Marriage and Family class at my previous church, and we started every class by reciting the blessing above together.  I even printed out cards for everyone in the class with the blessing.  After a couple of weeks, most people in the class knew the blessing by heart.
     However, the more important result was the comments I got from various members of the class after a couple of months.  After repeating the blessing each Sunday, and after seeing the card with the blessing on it stuck to the bathroom mirror, or on the refrigerator, or in the car, or in a purse or wallet each day, people began to act differently toward their mates.  For most it was not huge changes.  Instead it was smaller considerations; being more thoughtful, more respectful, more aware of how their marriages blessed their lives, and recognizing God's presence in their marriage relationship.
     I would challenge you to either print off and cut out the marriage blessing above, or, if you'd rather be more personal, pray about it with your spouse or with your faith community and come up with a marriage blessing of your own.  Let it be something that reflects the God-given blessings of covenant marriage.  Let it be something that reminds you to be a blessing to your spouse, to recognize your spouse for the blessing that he/she is to you, and something that prompts you to think and act in a way that honors God by honoring and protecting your marriage union. Whether you use the blessing above, find one from another source, or come up with your own, recite it regularly with your mate, and let God work in you and your spouse's lives for each other and to glorify him.

(Just in case you are viewing this on a device that didn't load the image above, here is the blessing again)
Lord, bless me to love my spouse as you love me.  Let my love for my spouse be a reflection of my love for you.  Help me to always serve and forgive, persevere and protect.  Let me be a blessing to my marriage and ever blessed by my marriage.  Keep me away from anything that would tempt me to dishonor my marriage covenant.  We ask this blessing by the power of the divine name of your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: At Last!

     It’s Sunday!  There is a buzz that keeps getting stronger and stronger.  First the women reported that the tomb was empty.  Then, Peter and John confirmed it.  Two men coming from Emmaus said it was far more than an empty tomb.  They claimed they walked and talked with Jesus—that he is alive!  Then, to their overwhelming surprise, Jesus is standing in the middle of the disciples, showing them that he is not a ghost, not an apparition, not a figment of wishful thinking.  He has real flesh and blood, and he is as alive as any of them.  And then, then it comes to them at last.  Their version of Messiah involved earthly political powers, overthrowing a foreign government, ascending to positions of authority.  But Jesus was giving them something far greater, far more powerful.  He was inviting them into the resurrection life, into a new way of living that supersedes everything else.  He was giving them peace, joy, and hope beyond understanding.  He was calling them back to God’s purpose for their lives.  At last, Easter Sunday had arrived!  At last, new life can begin!
     Easter is a continually call to embrace the new life we have in Christ.  We remember that we are called to a different kind of life—the resurrection life—that is radically different from the old life we put to death.
     So what does that have to do with marriage?  If marriage is a Kingdom calling (which I believe it is), we must continually ask the question, “How are you bringing ‘new life’ into your marriage on an ongoing basis so that the world can see Christ in you as a couple?”
     I don’t know where you are in your marriage right now, but if your relationship is characterized by your selfish desires, demands, and expectations of your spouse (and all of us are that way at one time or another), then it’s time to put those things to death so that you can start moving toward a “new life” with your mate.  That new life in your marriage will be characterized by
  • selflessly serving your mate
  • loving in action as well as word
  • forgiveness without any strings attached
  • embracing a renewed trust
  • a shared hope that can only come through Christ
     We live in a world marred by darkness.  The ongoing Easter call is for us, by the power of God, to continually drive out the world's darkness that tries to seep into our marriages, and replace it with the light of Christ.  Often times, the first step to a “new life” in your marriage is being honest with yourself and your spouse about the things you need to change.  Once you do that, you open up yourself and your marriage for God to do powerful things through you—at last!

The previous post for Marriage and Holy Week can be found by clicking on the following links:

Monday--Cleaning House
Tuesday--Enemies at Work
Wednesday--Woe! Red Flags!
Friday--Sunday is coming

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Waiting

     It’s Saturday.  It is a God-ordained day of rest.  But there is no rest from grief, disappointment, emptiness.  The disciples’ minds are flooded—the things Jesus said, the things he did—Jesus gave them such hope.  And now he is lying in a grave.  In a guarded tomb no less.  They think about what they might could have said differently, or done different, to change where they were at now.  But that is wishful thinking, and the reality now is that Jesus is dead and they are left waiting.  Will things get worse?  Will the enemies who are now gloating in their victory hunt down the remaining disciples?  Will the disciples just scatter to the wind and be forgotten?  Do they keep looking for the Messiah they’d hoped Jesus would be?  It is a Saturday of waiting.
     Have you ever had a period of waiting in your marriage?  The words or actions have passed and the damage is done.  Regret has already been expressed.  If stubborn pride or paralyzing fear hasn’t kicked in, reconciliation might even already be in process.  But the sense of any kind of hope, any kind of normalcy is yet to appear on the horizon.
     Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “How did we get here?” or “Where do we go from here?” or “Why does being here hurt so much?  Why does just…well just “being” hurt so much right now?”  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but the moment of waiting is painfully present.
     In my experience counseling couples, waiting is usually the toughest part of the process.  Our microwave society makes us want to hurry things along, force something to happen, shape reality to our current desires.  We want intimacy, but we want immediacy even more.  So in that period of waiting, some couples give up.  Some pursue destructive behaviors even more intensely, as if to prove they are as bad as they believe his/her spouse sees them.  Some become the victim.  Others become the blamer.  But some…some wait.  Patiently or impatiently, some wait.
     Jesus was in the grave three days.  The disciples could only wait.  In your marriage, you will go through periods of waiting, trapped between dread and hope, as you make changes to heal and improve your relationship.  And in that period of waiting, as painful as it can be, we give room for God to work on our hearts and minds.  We give space to walk away from selfishness and walk toward a healthy God-centered relationship.  We allow healing to take place.  We allow hope to return.
     But first, you may just have to wait.

Click on the links below for the previous posts connecting marriage and Holy Week:

Friday, April 14, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Sunday is Coming

     It’s Friday.  There is sadness and confusion.  An unnatural darkness covers everything.  The betrayer’s guilt has caused him to take rash, horrible action.  The denier stays at a distance still weeping over his cowardice.  Those who know each other best, who should be the closest, are lost, uncertain, broken, and defeated.  And Jesus…well Jesus hangs in agony, condemned to die with criminals, as his mother and one last disciple helplessly look on as the very scent of death lingers in the air.
     Have you ever thought about what went through Jesus’ disciples minds on the Friday of the crucifixion?  They’d been with Jesus through years of good times.  They’d seen him teach, perform miracles, heal the sick, and care for the poor, the oppressed, and the rejected.  At one time, they were even willing to die for him.  But then things went bad.  And just as quickly as they once so convincingly stood by him, they now doubted him, fled from him, denied him, and even watched him die.  But God was still there.  And Easter Sunday was coming.
     Every couple walks through their own “Fridays,” when it seems things couldn't get any worse, that any hope of...well...hope, seems unlikely.  The joy you once experienced seems distant and an unnatural darkness has crept into your relationship.  I don’t know what your Friday is.  It might be a new couple’s first major disagreement.  “Where is the man I married?”  It might be deception.  “Did she really believe I would never find out about her secret credit cards?”  It might be the loss of a job.  “He feels so worthless, and I don’t know how to help him.”  It might be of a physical nature.  “The disease is progressive and she won’t get better.”  Whether it is a spouse’s really bad choices, mismanaged stress, financial difficulty, family problems, or whatever else, all couples encounter fearful Fridays.
     But God is there.  He is always there.  And there is a “Sunday” coming that brings the hope of new life, reconciliation, and renewal.  Jesus’ disciples couldn’t see it on Friday, and more often than not a couple in the middle of a crisis can’t see it either.  But trust God and know that Sunday is coming.
     In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul says:
 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The most important part of our faith is knowing; knowing that resurrection Sunday is coming.  And in knowing we have “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  The most important part of our marriage is knowing; knowing that Fridays come, but if we hold on to Him who gives us our hope, if we live in love, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation, then our Sundays are coming too.
     I don’t know what Fridays you’ve already lived through, what Friday you might be experiencing now, or what Fridays lie ahead, but please don’t give up on your mate.  Please don’t forget God is always with us.  Please don’t lose hope.  Hold on to Christ, and hold on to your mate, because Easter Sunday is coming.

For the rest of this week's posts on Holy Week and Marriage, click to links below:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Serve

     It’s Thursday.  The preparations have been made, and Jesus is eager to share in what will be his last Passover with his friends.  There is still so much to be said.  So much that will happen in the next few hours.  But before any of those things transpire, there’s another matter to attend to as Jesus and his friends sit down to supper.  Whether out of custom or out of necessity for a pleasant meal, their feet need to be washed.  And apparently, everyone is sitting there expecting to be serviced, rather than to serve.
     So, when Jesus, who is clearly the leader and most important person in their company, begins to wash their feet, they are surprised.  One by one, he washes the sweat and grime off of their feet and then dries their feet with the towel wrapped around his waist.  There is an exchange with Peter about what it means to be clean.  And somewhere in this process, Jesus washes Judas’ feet.
     What?  Why would Jesus serve the one who he clearly knows is about to betray him?  Was it just a ruse to keep the others from figuring out what was about to happen for fear that they might try and whisk Jesus away to safety or that they would turn on Judas in a most unpleasant manner?  Why would Jesus care?  Why did he wash Judas’ feet?  Because in spite of all the pain Jesus was about to suffer because of Judas’ wicked choice, Judas was still one of Jesus’ disciples.  He was still a part of the company.  He still was an image bearer of God, loved by God, and loved by Christ.  To serve him, to wash his feet, was to serve God.
     In marriage, we are called on to be selfless rather than selfish—to give of ourselves for the blessing of the one with whom we share our covenant relationship.  But we also live in a fallen world.  We make mistakes.  Whether massive, looming things like infidelity, or frequent little jabs meant to cause pain, we hurt our mates, and our mates hurt us.
     I don’t know where you are at in your marriage.  I hope you haven’t had to go through betrayal, or pain caused by irresponsible choices, or that your circumstances haven’t caused you to question and mistrust your spouse.  But what do you do when there is tension, hurt, the sting of uncertainty?  Jesus says you serve your mate.  Your wash his/her feet.  You live in the reality of the situation, but you don’t let it cause you to compromise who you are as a child of God.  In serving your mate, you serve God in whose image your spouse is made.
     I don’t know how easy it was for Jesus to wash Judas’ feet.  I’m guessing it wasn’t easy at all.  But he did it.  In Matthew 7:12, Jesus said “Treat other people the way you want to be treated.”  We call it the Golden Rule.  The problem is, most people think it says “treat other people the way that they have treated you.”  Seek vengeance.  Blow for blow. Hurt for hurt.  Insult for insult.  But that’s not what Jesus said.  Treat your spouse the way you want to be treated.  No matter what he/she has done to you.  Is it easy to serve your mate, especially in seasons of pain?  No.  But when you do, you are reaching out from the very heart of God.

Links to the previous posts for Marriage and Holy Week: