Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why I gave up biting my fingernails for Lent and what that has to do with my marriage…

     I am a lifelong nail biter, but I gave it up for Lent.  Now, in last post (which you can read here), I recommended that for Lent couples do something together, something for the benefit of their marriage and their joint participation in the Kingdom of God.  Giving up biting my nails is for my marriage and is for my participation with Lisa in the Kingdom of God, and here’s why.
     I’m a compulsive nail biter. I bite my nails without thinking.  I don’t do it out of nervousness, or anxiety.  I do it out of boredom; something to fill the time.  But I’ve done it out of boredom for so long that I do it without even thinking about it.  I normally don’t even realize I’m doing it, until someone points it out.
     So, if I bite my nails habitually, without even really realizing I’m doing it, what other things am I doing without a second thought?  Do I say things to Lisa without thinking about what I’m really saying?  Do I do things “just because,” and never realize the impact those actions (no matter how great or how small) are having on my wife, or on our pursuit of God in our relationship?  Do I allow myself to be content with what we do together in the Kingdom of God because it’s easier to do so than it is to challenge us to break out of our comfort zone and trust God?
     Not biting my nails is about intentionality.  Right now, it is actually harder for me to not bite my nails than it is to bite them.  I constantly catch myself moving my hand toward my mouth, and I have to stop myself from going through a rote action that really doesn’t help or bless me in any way.  I have to recognize I can’t bite my nails because, “that’s just what I do.”  I have to stop making excuses, justifying, and rationalizing why it’s easier to not worry about biting my nails.  There has to be more of a purpose to my thoughts and actions than that.  And I want that same sense of purpose, dedication to being intentional, and thoughtfulness to affect even the most miniscule areas of my marriage—no matter how seemingly inconsequential.
     If you’re a nail biter, I’m not getting on to you, or telling you that you have to quit.  This may not be your avenue to a better marriage and better service in the Kingdom of God.  But for me, over the 40 days of Lent, it’s a way to “take captive every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5) so that I can be more intentional in blessing my wife and more intentional to awakening myself to God’s call for our marriage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent and Your Marriage

     Today, Wednesday, February 18th is Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent.  Lent is a tradition observed by many Christians to mark the 40 days leading up to Easter weekend.  Many think of Lent as a time of self-denial; giving up bad habits or luxuries that might distract you from focusing on Christ.  But Lent isn’t just about getting rid of the bad, it can also be a time to incorporate positive actions and attitudes.
     Most people focus on individual personal improvement during Lent (which is not a bad thing), but this year, how about deciding with your spouse on something the two of you can do together to improve your marriage and refocus on having a Christ-centered relationship.  It might be leaving behind something that has distracted you from maximizing your marriage relationship, or it might be starting (or restarting) something that proves good for you and your spouse.
     Obviously, you need to talk with your spouse about what you’re going to do, and it will look different for every couple, but here are some possibilities for the next 40 days during Lent:
  • Pray with each other (not just for each other, but actually with each other) 
  • Read scripture together each day
  • Make each other laugh as often as possible
  • Say encouraging things to your mate multiple times daily
  • Pledge to turn off/put down technology (cell phones, tablets, TV, computer) when your mate talks to you so that he/she knows they have your undivided and undistracted attention
  • Verbally express a specific reason you love your spouse—and give a different reason each day
  • Give your spouse a handwritten note each day
  • Hold hands, hug, kiss, or have some other type of prolonged physical contact each day (that isn’t necessarily intended to lead to sex)
  • Share at least one meal together every day (if one of you travels, use Facetime or Skype to be together as you eat)
  • Devote the time you would have given to your hobby to sharing in your spouse’s interests
  • Find a new way to connect intimately each day (not just physical intimacy, but also emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual intimacy)
  • Create something together with your hands over the next 40 days that will bless your marriage
  • Start a new ministry together
  • Together, bless a different person, in a different way, each day for the next 40 days
  • Encourage each other to live a more healthy life to God's glory

Certainly, you could add so many more things to this list, but maybe this will get you thinking about what you can do together.  Just be intentional and don’t give up.
     Changing a behavior, whether you’re adding or taking away, takes discipline and effort.  But let 40 days during Lent this year lead to a lifetime of marriage improving action.  If you read this after Lent has already begun, don’t use that as an excuse not to start right now doing whatever you can together to make your marriage better.  And, if you don’t celebrate Lent, that’s okay—call it whatever you want, but 40 days of intentional, Christ-centered focus together can renew your marriage in amazing ways.


Need something to help you and your mate focus during Lent?  Marriage: A Blessed Promise is a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class.  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Give a gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.
Or, if you're looking to use the Lent/Easter season to revitalize your church's marriage ministry, The Marriage-Friendly Church is an excellent guide to help churches renew, re-center, and re-engergize the church's environment for facilitating healthy marriage.  It's available at 21st Century Christian or on Amazon here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

After Valentine's Day Sale: Finding love...

     Yesterday was the day that people traditionally think about love and romance.  Whether it is perennial favorites like Disney princesses, or the current vampire or 50 shades flavor of the moment, love sells.  It sells movie tickets, it sells books, and it sells fantasies.
     The problem is, what it sells isn’t real.  Whether it’s a fairy tale ending or a sexually-charged rendezvous with the “perfect” person, the media has always redefined the question “What does it mean to love someone?”
     The problem with most media depictions of love is that love is always presented as an emotionally driven relationship.  The stronger the emotion, the more “in love” the couple are.  But what about when the emotions go away?  What happens when he gets bored because the thrill is gone?  What happens when she has a bad day and just isn’t “feeling it” at the moment.  What happens when he sees someone else and has a stronger sexual attraction to her?  What happens when she realizes that strong romantic feelings don’t necessarily translate into good communication or healthy ways of handling conflicts?
     Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for the “tingle-in-your-toes” feelings you get when you’re with your lover.  I love a great date night.  I enjoy an adventure with my bride.  But if you base your love strictly on feelings, and on an obligation to keep the other person happy (because you believe they will surely do the same for you), then you are setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.

     Feelings come and go, and a romanticized love comes and goes with it.  But love that is selfless builds an abiding relationship.  In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul said it this way (italics mine):

     Love is patient, and I need my spouse to have patience with me far more than I’d like to admit, love is kind, even when I’m unkind, my lover is still good to me. It does not envy, my mate wants me to succeed and be everything God is calling me to be, it does not boast, my spouse doesn’t demean me or make me feel inadequate, it is not proud, my lover delights in my accomplishments and victories more than his/her own. It does not dishonor others, my mate lifts me up, even when it would be easier to talk about my faults, it is not self-seeking, my lover see us as one flesh, knowing what blesses me will bless him/her, it is not easily angered, my spouse and I, we know how to push each other’s buttons, but he/she respects me enough not to take cheap shots, it keeps no record of wrongs, my lover doesn’t fight historical battles and use my past mistakes to humiliate me. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, my covenant lover always points me toward God. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and puts God at the center of our relationship.  Love never fails, at least real love that comes from God and permeates a marriage.

     I hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day.  I hope it was filled with romance and fun.  But I really hope and pray that you have a marriage filled with real, lasting, Christ-centered love.  Then, when the chocolate melts, the flowers wither, and “hot” feelings lapse, you will have an abiding love that will bring you a stronger joy and peace than anything the media tries to sell you.


Valentine's Day is over, but finding real, Christ-centered love is an ongoing endeavor.  Marriage: A Blessed Promise is a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Give a post-Valentine's Day gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Does it really matter?

     Does it really matter if I take the time to put my dishes in the dishwasher rather than leaving them on the table?  Does it really matter if I pack the kids lunches for school?  Does it really matter if I start my mate’s car on a cold frosty morning?  Does it really matter if I say “I love you” an extra time or two each day?  Does it really matter if we pray together every single day?  Does it really matter if I’m the one who feeds the pets?  Does it really matter if I help my spouse fold the laundry?  Does it really matter if I call my spouse, just to see what kind of day he/she is having?  Does it really
matter if I pick up a nice little surprise for my spouse when I stop at the store?  Does it really matter if I show an extra measure of kindness to my spouse’s family?  Does it really matter if I open the door for my spouse, or get my spouse a blanket on a cold evening, or shut of my electronic devices when he/she is talking to me?  Does it really matter if…
     The list could go on—dozens of little things we can do for our mates every single day.  Sometimes, it’s the same things each day, and sometimes it’s little things that only occur periodically.  But do the little things matter?  Well, the answer is both no, and yes.  No, it doesn’t matter who takes out the trash, so long as the task gets done.  But yes, it does matter, because the little things are often how we demonstrate our love for our mates in a consistent, daily way.  It is a way of saying, “I want to do whatever little things I can to bless you and make your day easier.”  It is saying, “I love you, not just in words, but also in actions.”  It is recognizing, We are one flesh, and what blesses and benefits you, blesses and benefits me.
     In doing the little things, we need to be careful of two things.  First, be careful that you don’t take your mate for granted, and the turn the little blessings into overbearing demands.  Certainly there are expectations in any relationship about who will fill what roles and do which tasks, but don’t let daily kindnesses turn into unrealistic or uncommunicated expectations that create a rift.  Second, while it is nice to show your mate appreciation for what he/she does, don’t do your acts of kindness for your mate for the sake of stroking your own ego or getting something in return.  If it is selfishly motivated or manipulative, it is no longer an act of kindness for the good the marriage.
     Do the little things matter?  They matter more than most of us ever realize, even if the significance isn’t always vocalized.  Figure out a few definitive ways you can bless your mate this week by attending to those little things that really do matter.  And as you serve your love, be sure to thank him/her for all those insignificant things he/she does for you that really are significant.


Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and thoughts of love and marriage are in the air.  Marriage: A Blessed Promise is a fun, practical, Biblically-based, couples' study that can be used with individual couples, in small groups, or in a Bible class?  It's less than four bucks and available now from 21st Century Christian.  Give a Valentine's Day gift that will have lasting benefits.  Order online here.