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.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Less than a week...

     In the last post, I wrote about developing habits that elevate your spouse and your marriage—things you can do to create a positive environment of healthy, Christ-centered marriage (you can read that post here).
     It takes about 10 weeks of repeating a positive action for it to become a habit (depending on the person and the behavior).  Do you know how long it takes to lose a good habit?  Less than a week.  After all, it is always easier to not do something than to do it.  More often than not, we don’t intend to stop doing positive things that bless our marriages.  But as we go through the cycles of life and our lives get busy, it becomes easy to let things slide.
     So, the first time you forget to say “I love you,” or give a kiss goodbye, or pray together, you will probably notice (even if you don’t notice until later).  But then the choice comes.  Do you recognize something valuable was missed that you desperately want to reclaim, or do you just let it go?  If you don’t return to the marriage-honoring behavior immediately, it will become easier to not do it the next time.  Eventually, you’ll begin to rationalize and justify skipping the behavior—“She knows I love her even if I don’t say so.”  “He will get by if I don’t give him a kiss before he leaves for work.”  “I’m kind of tired tonight, so if we don’t pray together it won’t matter.”  And before you know it, those good things that you now look forward to, quickly become those things you used to do together.
     But nature abhors a vacuum. When you give up a marriage-enriching habit, something else will fill that time, take that energy, and use that resource.  If you aren’t conscientious to keep your spouse and your marriage at the center, the selfish nature will quickly kick-in and take over.  Time spent talking together in the evenings becomes hours of isolation on the computer or smart phone.  Couple recreation time becomes “me time” where your spouse is not welcomed.  Shared spiritual pursuits are pushed to the side and you lose touch with your mutual love for God.  And if your not careful, eventually that loss of meaningful, regular connection as a couple can turn into anger, or blame, or even disaffection toward a lonely spouse.
       Whether you are newlyweds or have been married for over fifty years, maintaining a healthy, godly environment in a marriage takes discipline and commitment from both partners…but it is always worth it.  Don’t let less than a week take away something that can bless your spouse, bless your marriage, and creates a strong, Christ-centered relationship for a lifetime.

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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

10 weeks...

     Research says it takes an average of 10 weeks to develop a habit and incorporate it into your daily routines.  Of course there is always some variance depending on the person, his or her context, and the particular habit—but on average, about 10 weeks.  What could you do for your marriage over the next 10 weeks? 
     If you want a healthy marriage that thrives in an overall positive environment, then you must recognize that healthy marriage is not about trying to live out a romance movie in your relationship.  It is not about grand vacations or expensive gifts.  It is not about event-oriented living, or self-centered happiness.  Rather, it is about habitually doing good things for your mate, for the good of the marriage.  It is about contributing regularly to a marriage that is defined by encouragement, intimacy, forgiveness, goodness, playfulness, and graciousness—a marriage that is selfless, respectful, healthy and Christ-centered.
     I don’t know what good habits you already have within your marriage, but what if over the next 10 weeks you...

  • ...only said encouraging things to your spouse
  • ...served your mate rather than expecting to be served
  • ...listened fully and attentively without interrupting or arguing
  • ...said “I love you” just one more time each day
  • ...prayed for each other daily
  • ...prayed with each other daily (and while we should do both, there is a significant difference between praying for each other and praying with each other)
  • ...had at least one hour of uncompromised play time each week
  • ...shared affectionate touch often (that isn’t just sexually driven)
  • ...kissed more
  • ...surprised your mate with a gift (it doesn’t have to be expensive)
  • ...shared a movie, or TV show, or book together
  • ...served together to help someone in need

This is just a dozen possibilities.  There are hundreds of more things you could add to the list.  The point is, be intentional.  Develop some positive, new habit that will raise the quality of your marriage because it will bless your mate and bless you as a couple.  Do something that will make your marriage a more positive, healthy place to be.  Don't try to take on too much at once.  Just do what you can.
     With most positive, new habits, the hardest part is doing the behavior until it becomes a regular part of your daily routine. But don't give up.  Create a powerful, Christ-centered, marriage-honoring environment that you can both be free to fully bless and be blessed.
     What can you do in 10 weeks?  What one or two things can you add to your daily routines that can have amazing effects in your marriage?  You’ll never know till you try.

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.