Monday, December 22, 2014

Blessed are those who give...

     This is the time of year we typically think about giving gifts.  Generosity is both a spiritual principle (2 Corinthians 9:6-15), and a spiritual gift (Romans 12:6-8).  But generosity and giving goes far beyond money and material things.  In a healthy, Christ-centered marriage, sacrificial giving is a part of your covenant relationship.  It is not about making sure your mate regularly gets elaborate or expensive gifts.  Rather, it is giving of yourself in order to bless your mate and bless your union.
     When you give sacrificially of yourself, a couple powerful things happen.

  • First, you build intimacy.  Your time and your presence are the most powerful, precious resources that you have.  They are the one thing that no one else can decide how you will use them, and no one else can give them for you.  When you give those to your mate, you build an intimate oneness that is uniquely yours as a couple.
  • Second, you build trust.  When you give of yourself to your spouse, you open yourself up to a level of vulnerability —emotionally, socially, intellectually, spiritually, and physically— that should only be shared with your mate.  You tell him/her “I am putting my whole being— the good, the bad, my fears, my joys, all of who I am —into your hands.  I know you can hurt me, but I trust that you won’t.”

It’s always easier to be stingy, to withhold and refuse to share.  It can give the illusion of being safe, being in control.  But the more you give to your mate, the more you will see the positive benefits it brings to your marriage relationship, and the more it will lead you to an even greater generosity.  Blessings generate more blessings.
     When you give, be careful not to let your giving become expectations of something in return.  If you only give for what you expect to get back, that is not love, that is manipulation.  Give.  Give to your mate.  Give to your mate freely and fully.  Throughout the Christmas season, and throughout your marriage, blessed are those who give.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Announcing the King

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
     Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 
     So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 

     In this brief passage from Luke 2:8-18, the single most important announcement in history is delivered—in the person of Jesus Christ, God has come into the world!  The shepherds receive the good news and are told specifically what signs to look for as they search out God among us.
     Although we are not heavenly beings like the angels on high, in Christian marriage, we are called by God to carry the same commission—to announce the presence of God in the world.  While we do not announce the birth of a baby, we do announce the presence of a King.  And just as the angels told the shepherds what to look for, there are definitive signs that will validate our announcement.
     When you love your spouse, when you seek his/her well-being above your own, when you forgive, when you speak words of blessing and encouragement into your mate’s life, when you provide a place of safety and goodness, when grace and mercy flow freely, when God reigns in your hearts and in your home, when you live out your faith first-and-foremost with your spouse—in those moments, you loudly and powerfully proclaim that Jesus Christ, the Lord and Messiah, has come into this world and is living among us.
     Please, let your marriage “shout it from the mountaintops” the good news that will cause great joy for all the people—Jesus is here.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Makes a great, inexpensive Christmas gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A couple's guide to navigating the holidays

     Where did you go for Thanksgiving?  What are your plans for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?  Are your holidays normally an enjoyable time with family—a time you can laugh together, share together, and reflect on the goodness of God in your lives—or are your holidays a stress-inducing nightmare that you wish would end quickly.  (Or maybe it’s a combination of both.)  While we all dream of perfect, peaceful holidays, few find it.

     When you marry someone, you marry into a whole other family.  And with another family comes another set of holiday traditions, immediate in-laws, extended family, in-laws’ family, and an ever growing web of folks to accommodate in one way or another.  The different demands and expectations that others place on a couple, or that a couple places on themselves, can set the stage for tension and conflict throughout the holiday season.  

     The holidays can be a festive time, but they can also be a time of anger, conflict, and stress in a marriage.  It's amazing how much distress we can bring upon ourselves when we're driven by guilt, ("You can't be the first person in the family to not make it home for Christmas Eve dinner in the last 27 years."), obligation ("I think we can make the hundred mile drive between both houses on Christmas morning, and then still stop by Aunt Joan's that night."), and worry ("We have to go.  What if something happens between now and next Christmas, and this is the last Christmas I can see them.").
     So how can a husband and wife protect their marriage, honor their families, and still enjoy the holidays?  Every couple has to figure out how to navigate the waters themselves depending on their circumstances, but here are a few general thoughts:

  • First, create your own traditions and guard them zealously.  If Santa comes to your house on Christmas morning, don’t let someone guilt you into giving that up.  Set boundaries together long before the holiday season hits, deciding where you will and will not go and what you will and will not do, and stick to those boundaries.
  • Second, recognize that things may have to change as your family changes.  Kids grow up.  In-laws are introduced into the equation.  Jobs change.  People move.  Health changes.  Seek some normalcy, but recognize that life happens, and sometimes it can happen very quickly and very unexpectedly.
  • Third, give your spouse space to grieve when a long standing tradition has to change.  If it truly is the first time in 27 years he/she hasn't been in his/her parents' home at Christmas, or the first time grandma's health won't allow her to cook Christmas dinner, or the first time your kids won't be sleeping in their beds on Christmas Eve, it's okay to be emotional about that.
  • Fourth, don’t become what you say you don’t like.  Think about the things that cause you stress during the holidays, and don’t do the same thing to others.  If you felt guilty every time you heard “I guess they just won’t get to see their grandparents on Christmas day,” then don’t do the same to your kids.  If you hated running to a dozen different places, don’t ask your family to spend the entire holiday on the road.  And certainly, don’t use manipulative tactics to satisfy your own selfishness.
  • And finally, don’t miss out on the spiritual blessing of the holiday.  The word “holiday” means “holy day.”  Make it a priority to let the holidays include at least some time of spiritual renewal for you and your spouse together.

     Nobody wants to offend and alienate family, especially during a time that’s supposed to be joyful and peaceful.  Ultimately you have to decide if you are going to be angry and resentful (at your spouse, at your in-laws, or at anyone else), or if you’re going to let the holiday be a blessing to you and to your marriage.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Makes a great, inexpensive Christmas gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent and marriage

     Advent is a word meaning “toward the arrival.”  For hundreds of years, Christians have observed it as a way of celebrating Christ’s arrival and preparing for his next coming.  This year, advent begins today, November 30, and goes through Christmas Eve.
     Whether you formally celebrate it or not, Advent has powerful implications for marriage.  You see, if you are a Christian and you are called to marriage, then God expects you to use your marriage as a way of bringing glory and honor to him.  He expects your marriage to reflect your love for God and your love for others who are made in the image of God.  Christian marriage is not supposed to look like secular marriage with some “Christian window dressing.”  If the only difference between your marriage and the non-Christian couple next door is that you go to church on Sunday, you’ve missed the point of what God is trying to do through you and your spouse together for the sake of his Kingdom.
     That being said, how does your marriage reflect the hope and joy of Christ’s presence in your covenant relationship?  How does the most significant event in human history, God becoming flesh and living among us, change the way you love, honor, respect, and give of yourself for your spouse?  What does it mean to your marriage that in the person of Jesus Christ, “God made his dwelling among us”? (John 1:14)  How does the light of his presence in your marriage penetrate the darkness of this fallen world that is trying to overtake your union?
     As we look forward to Christ’s return, does your marriage point others toward the time when all things will be made new?  Do they see the love, goodness, grace, redemption, and forgiveness in you that gives glimpses of the final eternal Kingdom to come?
     The Advent season is upon us, so use this time of celebration and observance to renew your commitment to Christ and to your marriage.  Give thanks for God’s presence in this world and in your marriage, as we anxiously await Christ’s return.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Makes a great, inexpensive Christmas gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What do I have to be thankful for?

     “What do I have to be thankful for?”  It is easy to come up with cliché reasons to be thankful, and I believe there really is a place for recognizing the often-overlooked, simple blessings of life in general, and the blessings of marriage in particular.  But the reality is we live in a fallen world.  Sometimes life doesn’t go at all like we want or expect.  Sometimes life hurts—either through our circumstances or through our relationships.  And marriage is certainly not immune to this reality.
     So, how do you find a place of thanksgiving if your year has been punctuated with pain?  How are you thankful when you’ve lost your job unjustly?  How do you celebrate when you and your spouse have had serious, marriage-threatening conflict?  How do you praise God when you’re worrying about your children?  Where is the joy when someone you love won’t be sitting at the Thanksgiving table for the first time…or the twentieth time?  How do you go through another year defined by strife, or arguing, or lossa year filled with things that stands against what a family holiday is supposed to be?
     There is no easy answer.  No magic bullet that will make
all the pain and confusion go away.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope.  As you observe Thanksgiving this year, consider the following:

  • Let Thanksgiving be a time-out to rest.  You might not be able to fix your problems, but be intentional about setting them aside at least for a day.
  • If your pain is not due to an issue with your spouse, don’t shut your spouse out.  Let him/her be a safe harbor for you as you process whatever the things that are plaguing you.  Remember, if you are hurting or stressed, it’s very likely your spouse is too, and he/she needs you just as much as you need him/her.
  • If your pain is due to an issue with your spouse, begin the journey toward forgiveness.  Forgiveness isn’t easy, and restoration of trust takes time, but let Thanksgiving Day be the day you make the first move in that direction.
  • Set your mind on things above.  Seek God in your current circumstances.  What is he teaching you about yourself?  About how you relate to your spouse and others?  Most significantly, where is your relationship with him?  How can you love God and love your neighbor (and remember, your spouse is always your closest most intimate neighbor)?  How can you treat others the way you want to be treated?
  • And finally, if you are in a healthy, blessed place, be sure to pay attention to those who are not.  It is easy to overlook those who are hurting when we are not.  Use your marriage to bring goodness into someone else's life.

     I pray that you are in a blessed and joyful place personally, in your marriage, and in your life.  If not, I pray that you will find clarity, discernment, humility, reconciliation, or whatever it is that you need so that your marriage will be blessed as we move through the holidays.  No matter what your Thanksgiving will look like, be thankful.  God is still on his throne ruling, and he always loves you.  What do you have to be thankful for?  A whole lot more than you might be able to clearly see right now.

Looking for a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  Check out Marriage: A Blessed Promise.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Order online here.