Friday, December 25, 2015

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.
  
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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.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's finally here!



     It’s hard to believe it is finally here!  We’ve been waiting since last year!  Lisa and I are excited!  The kids are bouncing off the walls!  So many childhood memories keep flooding my mind.  It’s finally here!!! That’s right—we’re seeing the new Star Wars movie…oh yeah, and it’s also Christmas Eve.  (Actually, we saw the new Star Wars movie a few days ago.  I won’t spoil it for you by telling you that Jar Jar Binks is the hero and he saves the day when he flies the U.S.S. Enterprise into Hogwarts to rescue the Tardis from the dragon Smaug.)
     Whether it is a favorite holiday, a much anticipated movie, a new child or grandchild on the way, an upcoming trip, a bonus at work, a visit from someone you love, or something else, anticipation is powerful.  Anticipation can give us hope, renew our strength, allow us to keep moving forward, fill us with joy, and help us to envision a brighter future.
     Anticipation is a powerful part of a healthy marriage.  There is something amazing that happens when a husband and wife are joined together in expecting something good—not just a vague “something,” but a specific event or intimate time together.  Especially when a couple is walking through “a desert-time” together, anticipation becomes critical because it helps them realize that an oasis of refreshing water is ahead.
     What are things that you can do to help create exciting anticipation in your relationship?  Certainly you have to be realistic about what you can do based on time and money, but creating or planning something special for you and your covenant lover to do together is a great way to bring a renewed connection into your marriage.  Regularly, give each other a special time, a special place, a wonderful experience to look forward to sharing together—something that breaks out of the ordinary, even if just for a short time, and allows you to grow closer together.
     But be careful.  Building anticipation, then continually putting your spouse off will create frustration and resentment.  As the proverbist says, Hope delayed makes the heart sick; longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12, CEB)  Whether it’s connected to a movie, a holiday, or something more amorous, how can you create positive anticipation and be “a tree of life” to your marriage?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mental real estate...



     How much can you pack into a room before the room begins to look cluttered—before it is difficult to move around, to find what you need or want, or to invite others into that space?
     A room, or a house, or a piece of land are a certain size, and you can only reasonable put so much into a defined space before the quality of life around that space begins to diminish.  That’s why most cities have zoning boards that tell you how much a given area can take before it becomes detrimental to a neighborhood or community.  Yet, there are always people who try to squeeze as much into a space as possible.  But the reality is you only have so much physical space.
     In the same way, we only have so much of what I call, “mental real estate.”  Our mental real estate is defined by what we allow to fill our thoughts on a regular basis.  And the more we allow one thing or another to consume our available mental real estate, the less room there is for anything else.
     Sadly, the two most common ways that people fill up their mental real estate is with “I should have’s” and “what if’s.”  “I should have’s” are constantly living in the past, reliving and rethinking every decision, knowing that doing so won’t change anything.  (“I should have done this instead of that, and then everything would have turned out better.”)  “What if’s” are constantly living in the future, playing through scenarios that will likely never come to pass.  (“What if she believes I meant xyz rather than qrs?  Then she’ll probably say this about me.”)
     The best marriages are lived in the present, not the past or the future.  Now obviously that doesn’t mean that you don’t learn from past choices or that you don’t plan for the future, but if your available mental real estate is cluttered up with regrets from the past or anxieties for the future, then you will miss out on so many blessings now.  If your mental real estate is muddled with “should have’s” and “what if’s,” not only do you miss out on the moment, but you also have less resources to deal with real crises when they come along.  Why?  Because you have already expended your time and energy reliving situations that have already passed and cannot be altered, or stressing over future circumstances that may never be.  Here are a few signs that you’re allotting too much mental real estate to “what if’s” and “should have’s”:

  • You constantly put off your spouse because you are always preparing for the next thing that might (note the keyword “might”) happen.
  • You can’t talk about things that are going on in your marriage now without repetitively bringing up the past in a negative way.
  • You are more content to live in guilt and regret and shame, than to accept your mate’s forgiveness and work together toward a better future.
  • You obsessively focus on others in a way that keeps you from enjoying life and enjoying your spouse’s company.
  • You can’t quiet your mind, even during good times with your husband/wife.
  • Sharing intimate moments with your covenant lover is more of a chore than an expression of your joy in your union together.
  • Your senses become dulled to what is happening now because your thoughts are always preoccupied elsewhere, so you miss out on enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations that you experience with your mate.
  • You begin to feel distant spiritually from your spouse.

     Different circumstances and different seasons of life can occupy our mental real estate in various ways.*  During the stresses of the holiday season, it is easy for a person’s mental real estate to get as cluttered as our houses can become after unwrapping presents.  But don’t miss out on the joys you and your mate can share right now because you’re too exhausted trying to live in the past or the future.  Manage your mental real estate so that there is always room to invite your spouse in.

*If you are living with anxiety, depression, or destructive thought patterns that have interfered with your life over an extended period of time, please seek professional counseling help.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Marriage and Advent...



     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 began this past Sunday, November 29th, 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.
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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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An environment of gratitude...



     The primary calling of all Christians is to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. (Matthew 22:37-38)  Part of loving someone is showing gratitude.  Undoubtedly, we owe thanks to God.  But there is a reason that when Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment, he also gave the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:39)  Our love for God is fully lived out and manifested in how we love our fellow humans who are the image bearers of God, and you won’t find a closer, more intimate neighbor than your spouse.  So, just as part of loving God is expressing gratitude, part of loving your spouse is expressing gratitudenot out of obligation, but out of a deep love for your mate and the way he/she completes you, enhances your life, and draws you closer to God.
     Sometimes it is harder to show gratitude to your mate than it is to show gratitude to God.  Why?  Well, at least in a physical sense, God doesn’t get in your face, offend you, or otherwise give you grief.  God hasn’t hurt you in the past.  God doesn’t have human flaws that you are so keenly aware of each and every day.  Your mate does.
     Yet, when you show gratitude to your spouse (who is just as broken and imperfect as you are) you demonstrate God’s love, grace, mercy, and goodness at work in immeasurably powerful ways.  In an intimate marriage relationship, gratitude creates, conveys, and maintains an environment of value, trust, and partnership.
     So, with that in mind, how attentive are you to showing your love for your mate through gratitude?  When was the last time you spoke words of appreciation to your wife or husband?  Do you remember to say thank you for the simple daily things that your mate does for you to make life better—things like preparing meals, laundry, filling the car up with gas, being a great mom or dad for the kids.  While those things might be your spouse’s “job,” remember how much he/she blesses your life by doing them.  Do you thank your spouse for special things he/she does for you, or when he/she gives you that extra attention or goes the extra mile?
     As we move though this season of giving and thanksgiving, keep a journal of things you spouse does for which you are thankful; everything from regular tasks to special efforts he/she makes for your sake.  If you pay attention, it shouldn’t take too long to fill up page after page of things you mate does for you.  After you fill it up, take the journal and give it to your mate as a gift; a visible reminder to both of you of your gratitude for the many things he/she does for you.  Let your gratitude be a manifestation of your love.  If you start your journal now, you should have a really nice surprise for your wife or husband by Christmas.    

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A couple's guide to navigating the hoidays...



     Where are you going 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.
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As we move into 2016, are you 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.