Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Enemies at Work

     “What will you give me to deliver him to you?”  That was the question Judas asked the chief priests.  He knew their jealousy drove them to hate Jesus.  He knew they would pay nicely for someone from Jesus inner circle to help them.  An “innocent enough question” would drive their jealous to the same levels as his greed, and from within and from without, a deal was struck.  Now it was just a matter of waiting for the opportune time.
     Peter reminds us that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Our American culture has taught us to read scripture primarily on an individual level.  And certainly there is a personal diligence we must maintain.  But I believe that if you are called to marriage, then you should also read scripture on a couple level.  What is the Word saying not just to you, but to you and your spouse as you live out being “one flesh.”  With that in mind, how is the devil prowling around your marriage, just as he prowled around waiting to enter into Judas’ heart?
     Certainly, the devil works from within.  Judas’ greed compelled him to continually seek selfish gain, and the devil was able to easily capitalize on that.  Is there some area of your heart that the devil continually circles and prowls around? Maybe it becomes easy for him to justify spending extra time with the secretary when he knows there is an attraction.  Or perhaps she feels it would be easier to hide the credit card than to have another argument over money.  He rationalizes why he deserves to watch pornography on the computer if she is denying him intimately.  She decides the return on career-advancement by isolating herself with work for months-on-end is worth what she loses in time spent with her husband.
     And the devil works from outside, just as he used the chief priests jealousy to apply pressure and keep the situation as volatile as possible.  What outside pressures are hungrily circling your covenant relationship?  Her parents constantly try to insert themselves into her marriage and then expect her to criticize him for “not being willing to accept help.”  A female friend who’s gone through a bad break up wants to meet him alone for lunch to talk because “he’s always been a good listener.”  Friends tell the couple that if they watch the latest sex-driven movie it will spice up their love life.
     Be alert!  It doesn’t matter what form the temptation comes in, or if it comes from within or without.  The devil doesn’t give up.  The enemy is constantly at work.  Looking for weak spots.  Teasing.  Promising.  Lying.  Doing whatever it takes to find susceptibility.  Trying to see at what price you’re willing to sell out your marriage.
     Your marriage is worth far more than any 30 pieces of silver.  Keep it centered in Christ, and help each other keep the devil at bay.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cleaning House

     God’s temple stood as a symbol of hope and healing for the nations.  A place that beckoned everyone to come to know God.  A place of worship and community, forgiveness and grace.
     It was Monday. As Jesus walked past the temple, he knew what it was supposed to be.  He saw what it had become; a marketplace.  A place to make a profit off of those least likely to be able to afford it.  A shortcut from one side of the city to the other.  A place to live in an existence cut off from God while in the shadow of God’s temple.  In short, it had become a mockery of what it was supposed to be.  The sacrifices still went on, the priest still did their duties, and the ritual was in place, but the people and things surrounding the temple had lost their way.  The bright light of the temple was dulled and tarnished.  And Jesus couldn’t take it any longer.
     Zeal for the Lord’s temple consumed Jesus, and Jesus cleaned house.  He turned over the money-changers’ tables, drove out those selling animals and profiting off of visitors, and cracked a whip at those who couldn’t see God even though God’s Mercy Seat was just yards away.  For the holy to abide, the clutter could not reside.
     Marriage is a holy, covenant union.  Christian marriage is meant to be something more than just two people living together and generally getting along.  It is meant to be a light, a symbol, something that calls others to God.  Within their relationship, a husband and wife and how they treat each other, are to show God’s love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and goodness to the world.
     But if we’re not careful our marriages can become tainted—cluttered with distractions, short cuts, and selfishness, rather than glowing with the light of God’s presence.
     Often, the distractions are not something a couple intends, but life happens.  Work picks up, children’s schedules run rampant, distractions fill our world, and it becomes easier to take care of one’s self than to tend to your spouse.
     If left to its own ends, the distractions and lack of proper focus will eventually create distance between husband and wife.  Communication will break down, emotions will run too hot or too cold, and the marriage will take a back seat to “what I want” and “what I need.”
     When that happens, it’s time for a house cleaning.  It’s time to get radical, to get zealous for your marriage, and to get rid of the clutter that is keeping your marriage from fulfilling its Kingdom-purpose.  Whether it is something you have to do individually (listening better, being more helpful around the house, cutting out pornography or other addictive behaviors, becoming financially responsible, or whatever else), or whether it is something you have to do as a couple (start praying together again, surrender yourselves to each other, allow yourself to be transparent and authentic, talk more, be friends again, put the marriage before other relationships (including other family), etc.), clean house so that your marriage will continually point you and others toward Christ.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


          It was Sunday—the beginning of a week-long celebration leading up to Passover.  Anticipation was high.  As Jesus entered Jerusalem, people lined the streets.  Shouts of “Hosanna!” rang out.  Palm branches and coats covered the road way.  When detractors tried to shut it down, they were told that nothing will stop the anticipation and the celebration—and if they try, the stones will cry out in praise.
     Anticipation is a powerful force.  Do you remember the giddy, excited feeling you would get as a child waiting for the Easter Bunny to come visit?  Or looking forward to a birthday party, or finally getting your driver’s license?  Do you remember the anticipation you felt as your wedding date drew nearer?  Maybe you have felt the excitement of a spouse returning from a tour of duty overseas, or signs of improvement after a long illness.  Big or small, anticipation can be a powerful, positive driving force in a relationship.  And anticipation often leads to celebration.
     Relationships aren’t perfect.  Sometimes, when there is conflict in the past or difficulty on the horizon, it is tough to find joy in anticipation and celebrate the goodness of the present.  But every couple needs times of celebration in their marriage.  In spite of the good feelings of the moment and the powerful accolades from the crowd, Jesus wasn’t oblivious to the fact that his week would take him to the cross.  But that was Friday, and on Sunday he lived in the moment and relished the celebration going on around him.  He saw God’s presence, and he saw how his participation blessed others. 
     I don’t know what’s going on in your marriage.  I sincerely hope you are enjoying a season of peace and goodness.  But even if you are not, look for the positive moments you can celebrate with your spouse.  Celebrate the good things, no matter how short-lived or how long, that remind you of your covenant love for each other.  Celebrate because darker days may be ahead, but so is hope.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Springtime renewal...

     Well, after a winter of crazy, unpredictable weather, it appears spring has finally sprung.  At least officially it has. Allergies aside, I love spring because for me it represents an awakening.  What was once dormant explodes into vibrant renewal, as flowers bloom, trees bud, new life and new growth abound.  It is a wonderful time to be consistently reminded of God’s grandeur all around us.
     But spring can also serve as a time of renewal and growth for your covenant marriage relationship.  With spring now upon us, what can you do to breathe “new life” into your marriage?  Whether by choice or by circumstance, is there is an area of your relationship with your spouse that has been minimized or maybe even neglected all together?  If so, now is the time to allow a “springtime renewal” into your relationship.
     Here are some thoughts to help your covenant marriage leap into a vibrant, colorful “springtime” of revival:

  • Commit yourself to pruning away distractions so that you can really listen to your spouse
  • Say something encouraging to your mate every single day
  • Awaken a revived intimate connection by holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes more
  • Let this spring become a new season of praying with your spouse and not just for your spouse
  • Look for the little kindnesses you can do for your mate to make his/her life easier
  • Forgive, so that new life isn’t consistently stomped down by old hurts
  • Re-engage with your children (guys, you’d be surprised how much it excites your wife to see you caring about your family)
  • Take walks together and enjoy God’s creation
  • Create something for your lover (a song, a poem, a drawing)
  • Read through 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 together and then be patient, be kind, don’t be rude, don’t hold grudges…
  • Laugh together
  • Have date nights again
  • Fix a special meal or favorite dessert for your spouse
  • Cuddle up together on a chilly night and watch a favorite TV show or movie
  • Find new ways to serve together, so that you can share your life in Christ with others

It doesn’t matter what you do.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or cost anything, or take inordinate amounts of time.  Just do something that will bring life, and hope, and goodness to your marriage relationship.

Monday, March 16, 2015


     With the temperature in Middle Tennessee near 80 degrees today, it seems hard to believe that just 10 days ago we were snowbound!  Virtually everything came to a standstill.
     When the snow hit, my wife and I had 3 to 4 inches of ice on our front porch and sidewalk, the back deck was covered in ice and snow, everything looked white and frozen, and it was pretty easy to believe that we were cut off and alone.
     But the reality was there were tire tracks in the snow on the road in front of our house, and toward the entrance to our neighborhood the ice had already turned slushy.  The road in front of our neighborhood was clearing, and by the time I got to the main thoroughfares, the roads were already mostly dry.  But, until we could see beyond our front porch, we made some pretty dire assumptions about our situation.
     Has that ever happened to you in your marriage?  You feel isolated and cut off?  Because you only see what’s closest to you, your perspective narrows.  All you can see is the ice and snow surrounding your house.  You want it to be different, but you don’t even know where to begin to imagine different.  The worry, or fear, or anger keeps you from recognizing that there are other possibilities.
     Sometimes our isolation is of our own doing.  One spouse throws out an ill-timed, poorly thought-out comment, and the cold front moves in.  The other spouse responds out of anger rather than engaging in healthy discussion, and the precipitation begins.  Pride sets in, escalation occurs, and the situation grows steadily worse until both mates begin to feel alone and cut off from everything else, especially each other.  As hurt feelings linger, it becomes harder and harder to see anything other than the ice and snow immediately surrounding the situation.
     And sometimes, our isolation is a result of circumstances we have no control over.  He receives the diagnosis he didn’t want to hear.  But rather than letting his wife in to walk with him through the dark valley, he pushes her away.  And the layer of ice begins to form.  She thinks nobody could ever understand the pain she is going through as the conflict between her and her mother deepens, so she takes out her frustration on her husband, and path to togetherness gets more inaccessible.  A teen’s behavior creates tension in the house, and husband and wife are at odds over how to handle it.  So as the wedge widens, each spouse begin to feel lost and alone.
     When tension rises, it is easy for spouses to begin to isolate themselves.  Something happens that raises our hackles, and our brains kick in the “fight, flight, or freeze” response.  Rather than engaging in godly, healthy productive communication and conflict management, we throw up protective walls, or hurl back hurtful words shot-for-shot, or run away and try to hide.
     But you don’t have to remain snowbound.  You can get unstuck.  Here are a few things to help:
Take a deep breath—I know it sounds cliché, but rather than letting your “survival instincts” take over, give a second for your reasoning-brain-responses to engage.  You probably still won’t like what’s going on, but at least you can respond rationally and calmly.
Remember that this is a single incident, not your entire marriage—The snow will melt and life will eventually resume.  Don’t do more damage while you are snowbound by escalating the conflict.
Humility and selflessness go a long way—When both spouses feel trapped and feelings are running high, go out of your way to take care of your mate’s emotional needs.
Continually return to the “one flesh” principle—“One flesh” means that I will not do or say anything to you that I would not want done or said to me, because to hurt you is to hurt me.  You will survive best together, not alone.
And finally, seek help if necessary—You might feel trapped, but there are still others out there who are willing and able to help you walk through whatever issues you’re struggling with.  Have the courage to seek them out.  (Please note, this is NOT finding someone to side with you.  It is finding a person or a couple you and your spouse both know loves you enough to help—even if the truth hurts.)
     It’s tough to be trapped, wondering when the bread and milk are going to run out, and when the ice and snow will finally melt.  But in marriage, you’re not alone.  Don’t let conflict cause you to lose your perspective and become snowbound.