Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The stupid point...

     I don’t know how other races are laid out, but at the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, TN, everyone starts out together and runs together for about 11 miles.  Around 11 miles comes what I jokingly call “the stupid point.”  That is the point where those who are running the half marathon split off from those who are running the full marathon.  It is a point of choice and there are consequences for the choice you make.  For those who do not weigh the consequences carefully, taking into account their physical condition, mental and emotional disposition, the environment around them, and their ability to endure, it can be a painful train wreck that takes a long time from which to recover.
     In marriage, there is also a “stupid point.” It is the point where you are presented with a choice, and there will be consequences.  Some choices can bring immediate gratification, but can be disastrous over the long haul.  Other choices can be trying initially, but ultimately bring blessings and growth to a couple.  The “stupid point” can appear in a variety of ways.

  • He knows he is attracted to his assistant, and he can easily justify to his wife why he has to work several late nights with the assistant to complete an upcoming project.
  • She thinks about taking out the third credit card that her husband knows nothing about, rationalizing ways she can move around money unnoticed in order to pay off her hidden debt.
  • He had a stressful day at work, and things at home have only added to it.  She asks the same question for the third time and he is more than ready to give her a piece of his mind to stop what he feels is her annoying badgering.
  • Her parents are trying to insert themselves into her marriage again, and she knows it would be easier to just give in than to honor the boundaries she and her husband set together for family.
  • His wife is gone on an overnight business trip and while he is at home alone, he finds himself drawn toward websites he knows he ought not visit.
  • She knows all she has to do is say she is sorry and reach out for his hand, but she wonders if she can find it within herself to admit he was right.

Whether it is through pride, selfishness, unrealistic expectations of ourselves or our mates, overt or covert temptations, we are continually faced with “the stupid point.”
     Please don’t think that I am calling anyone stupid personally.  From time to time, we all make choices we wish we hadn't.  I am simply saying at moments of choice, Satan will do whatever he can to drive a wedge between you and your spouse.  So many times throughout the day, we come to a point of choice where we must decide if we are going to honor God and honor our spouses, or if we are going to let “stupid” take over and lead us down a path that creates strife and destroys trust.  In your marriage, as choices present themselves, consider the options, weigh the consequences, and make the choice that will bless you and bless your mate.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The only rule...

     “The race is not always to the swift, but also to those who can keep running.”
When we think of a race, we almost always think about speed.  But the fastest sprinter usually won’t win the marathon.  It takes a different mentality to be “in it for the long haul.”
     When I train for long distance running, I have one rule—don’t stop.  There are times I go faster, there are times I go slower, and there are even times that I limp along wondering if my legs are going to quit on me.  But no matter where I am in training, where I am along the course, whatever I am doing, I have conditioned myself to always repeat the mantra, “Keep moving.  No matter what, do not stop.”  Because my mind is fully immersed in that thought, when the pain comes there is no room for anything else—no room for excuses, no room for rationalizations, no room for quitting because, frankly, sometimes it would just be easier to quit.  There is only the rule…don’t stop.
     Christian marriage is not a sprint.  It is a marathon.  Whether you have been married for less than five weeks or for more than fifty years, “till death do we part” is the covenant promise you make as you commit yourself to the marathon.  There will be hills and valleys, times when you are joyfully running together at full speed, and times when you are agonizingly crawling along feeling all alone.  But wherever you are at, don’t give up on your marriage and don’t stop moving forward.*
     Now don’t misunderstand my analogy.  I hate when people talk negatively about marriage and they use the phrase “in it for the long haul” as if marriage is a dreadful thing that you must endure until you’re lucky enough for one of you to die. It is a joyful covenant relationship between two people that is rooted in Christ.  But I am also a realist.  Couples have conflict, trust is sometimes broken, disappointments come, selfishness and pride have a way of showing themselves, things occur that are beyond your control as an individual or as a couple—in short, life happens.  But if you stay centered in Christ, if you continue to humble and submit yourself to Him and to your mate, leaning on and encouraging each other as you run, then “till death do we part” will be a joyful journey with your covenant lover.
     Keep running.  There is an amazing victory at the end for those who persevere.  And if you follow the rule, even in the most difficult of times, you just might be surprised how much you and your spouse enjoy the race together—both in the moment and in retrospect.

*This post is meant to address normal difficulties that occur within a marriage relationship.  It is not meant to address extreme addictions, abuse, or other forms of marital conflict that require professional clinical counseling.  If there is conflict in your relationship that presents danger to your well-being—physically, mentally, emotionally, or in any way—or if you live in a state of fear due to conflict, seek immediate professional and protective help.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The pack mentality...

     This past Saturday, along with tens of thousands of my closest friends, I ran the Country Music Marathon.  As I ran along the 26.2 mile course, it quickly occurred to me that I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going.  When I picked up my race number and the shoe tag that clocked my time, they gave me a map of the course.  I could have studied the map and been familiar with every turn, every hill, every straightaway.  But instead, from start to finish I just followed the pack.  If you’ve ever run a marathon or half marathon, you know that unless you’re the person in the lead, you’re constantly surrounded by hundreds of others, mostly moving in unison, as some surge ahead and some fall behind.  But most of us are just going with the flow.
     I wonder if we don’t do that in marriage sometimes—finding ourselves just going along with whatever is happening around us, letting the world plot a course for what we believe about marriage, about love, about intimacy, about commitment, about family, about integrity toward one’s spouse, and so many other aspects of the marriage relationship.
     I understand the pack mentality.  I really do.  It takes less effort.  It seems right because everyone else around me is going the same way.  There’s certainly safety and confidence in numbers.  But what if they’re wrong?  What if they took a wrong turn?  What if someone took a shortcut in his or her relationship, and rather than pay attention and try to correct the course, the next person just followed suit?  Pretty soon, the wrong way will become the norm.
     As you run the race that is Christian marriage—for better or for worse, in times of plenty and in times of want, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, till death do we part—make sure you know where you’re going.  Look for landmarks that you’re on the right path, and be confident that if you are centering your marriage on Christ, the One leading the race is always taking you in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Render unto Caesar...

     Today is a rather significant day in America.  For some it is a day of anxiety, and for others a day of rejoicing (depending on whether you are paying in or expecting a refund).  It’s April 15th.  Tax day!  The ides of April.
     Every year at this time, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22.  The Pharisees plan a trap for Jesus by asking him if they should pay the Roman taxes or not.  If he answers one way, they can brand him a rebel against the Roman Empire and bring charges against him, but if he answers the other way, they can label him a heretic and traitor against Israel.  But Jesus knows their intention, and holding up a Roman coin, he asks them “Who’s image and inscription is on this coin?”  When they say it is Caesar’s, then Jesus utters the often quoted words, “Then render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.”
     No doubt the taxman will get his share, but when you
“render unto God what is God’s” what does that say about the way you treat your spouse?  You see, if your love for God is reflected by your love for your spouse (which Jesus talks about just a little further down in chapter 22—and please remember that you’ll never have a closer or more intimate neighbor than your spouse), then are you giving your spouse what is rightfully due to her/him?  Ask yourself…

  • Do I give my spouse the time needed for a healthy relationship, or do I consistently let distractions pull me away?
  • Do I listen attentively to my mate, or do I only care about getting my say?
  • Do I give my covenant lover the emotional energy that rightfully belongs to him/her, or do I give away something that should be reserved for my marriage relationship alone?
  • Do I extend forgiveness freely, or do I store up grudges?
  • Do I have realistic and loving expectations of my lover, or do I demand perfection?
  • Do my words reflect my love for my spouse, or do I say critical and hurtful things?
  • Do I connect with my mate sexually, or do I unfairly withhold affection to get my way?
  • Do I put our marriage at the center of our home, or do I allow family (children, parents, or whoever else) to control our lives?
  • Do I seek out ways to be a blessing to my spouse, or do I selfishly wait to be served?
  • Do I draw us closer to God as a couple, or do I put up barriers to my spouse’s faith?

Whether you do it systematically throughout the year or all in a mad rush on April 14th, preparing your taxes takes time and effort.  You have to do a self-accounting of how you are using the resources you have been given.  Hopefully, you see a good financial picture that honors God and cares for your family.
     When you look at your marriage and do a self-accounting, what are you seeing?  If I truly want to “render unto God what is God’s” then part of that is paying attention to my marriage, honoring my wife, and “rendering unto Lisa what is Lisa’s.”  My God bless us all to give our spouses what is God-honoring and righteously due to them.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

At Last!

     It’s Sunday!  There is a buzz that keeps getting stronger and stronger.  First the women reported that the tomb was empty.  Then, Peter and John confirmed it.  Two men coming from Emmaus said it was far more than an empty tomb.  They claimed they walked and talked with Jesus—that he is alive!  Then, to their overwhelming surprise, Jesus is standing in the middle of the disciples, showing them that he is not a ghost, not an apparition, not a figment of wishful thinking.  He has real flesh and blood, and he is as alive as any of them.  And then, then it comes to them at last.  Their version of Messiah involved earthly political powers, overthrowing a foreign government, ascending to positions of authority.  But Jesus was giving them something far greater, far more powerful.  He was inviting them into the resurrection life, into a new way of living that supersedes everything else.  He was giving them peace, joy, and hope beyond understanding.  He was calling them back to God’s purpose for their lives.  At last, Easter Sunday had arrived!  At last, new life can begin!
     Easter is a continually call to embrace the new life we have in Christ.  We remember that we are called to different kind of life—the resurrection life—that is radically different from the old life we put to death.
     So what does that have to do with marriage?  If marriage is a Kingdom calling (which I believe it is), we must continually ask the question, “How are you bringing ‘new life’ into your marriage on an ongoing basis so that the world can see Christ in you as a couple?”
     I don’t know where you are in your marriage right now, but if your relationship is characterized by your selfish desires, demands, and expectations of your spouse (and all of us are that way at one time or another), then it’s time to put those things to death so that you can start moving toward a “new life” with your mate.  That new life in your marriage will be characterized by
  • selflessly serving your mate
  • loving in action as well as word
  • forgiveness without any strings attached
  • embracing a renewed trust
  • a shared hope that can only come through Christ
     We live in a world marred by darkness.  The ongoing Easter call is for us, by the power of God, to continually drive out the world's darkness that tries to seep into our marriages, and replace it with the light of Christ.  Often times, the first step to a “new life” in your marriage is being honest with yourself and your spouse about the things you need to change.  Once you do that, you open up yourself and your marriage for God to do powerful things through you—at last!

The previous post for Marriage and Holy Week can be found by clicking on the following links:

Monday--Cleaning House
Tuesday--Enemies at Work
Wednesday--Woe! Red Flags!
Friday--Sunday is coming