Sunday, April 16, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: 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 a 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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Waiting

     It’s Saturday.  It is a God-ordained day of rest.  But there is no rest from grief, disappointment, emptiness.  The disciples’ minds are flooded—the things Jesus said, the things he did—Jesus gave them such hope.  And now he is lying in a grave.  In a guarded tomb no less.  They think about what they might could have said differently, or done different, to change where they were at now.  But that is wishful thinking, and the reality now is that Jesus is dead and they are left waiting.  Will things get worse?  Will the enemies who are now gloating in their victory hunt down the remaining disciples?  Will the disciples just scatter to the wind and be forgotten?  Do they keep looking for the Messiah they’d hoped Jesus would be?  It is a Saturday of waiting.
     Have you ever had a period of waiting in your marriage?  The words or actions have passed and the damage is done.  Regret has already been expressed.  If stubborn pride or paralyzing fear hasn’t kicked in, reconciliation might even already be in process.  But the sense of any kind of hope, any kind of normalcy is yet to appear on the horizon.
     Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “How did we get here?” or “Where do we go from here?” or “Why does being here hurt so much?  Why does just…well just “being” hurt so much right now?”  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but the moment of waiting is painfully present.
     In my experience counseling couples, waiting is usually the toughest part of the process.  Our microwave society makes us want to hurry things along, force something to happen, shape reality to our current desires.  We want intimacy, but we want immediacy even more.  So in that period of waiting, some couples give up.  Some pursue destructive behaviors even more intensely, as if to prove they are as bad as they believe his/her spouse sees them.  Some become the victim.  Others become the blamer.  But some…some wait.  Patiently or impatiently, some wait.
     Jesus was in the grave three days.  The disciples could only wait.  In your marriage, you will go through periods of waiting, trapped between dread and hope, as you make changes to heal and improve your relationship.  And in that period of waiting, as painful as it can be, we give room for God to work on our hearts and minds.  We give space to walk away from selfishness and walk toward a healthy God-centered relationship.  We allow healing to take place.  We allow hope to return.
     But first, you may just have to wait.

Click on the links below for the previous posts connecting marriage and Holy Week:

Friday, April 14, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Sunday is Coming

     It’s Friday.  There is sadness and confusion.  An unnatural darkness covers everything.  The betrayer’s guilt has caused him to take rash, horrible action.  The denier stays at a distance still weeping over his cowardice.  Those who know each other best, who should be the closest, are lost, uncertain, broken, and defeated.  And Jesus…well Jesus hangs in agony, condemned to die with criminals, as his mother and one last disciple helplessly look on as the very scent of death lingers in the air.
     Have you ever thought about what went through Jesus’ disciples minds on the Friday of the crucifixion?  They’d been with Jesus through years of good times.  They’d seen him teach, perform miracles, heal the sick, and care for the poor, the oppressed, and the rejected.  At one time, they were even willing to die for him.  But then things went bad.  And just as quickly as they once so convincingly stood by him, they now doubted him, fled from him, denied him, and even watched him die.  But God was still there.  And Easter Sunday was coming.
     Every couple walks through their own “Fridays,” when it seems things couldn't get any worse, that any hope of...well...hope, seems unlikely.  The joy you once experienced seems distant and an unnatural darkness has crept into your relationship.  I don’t know what your Friday is.  It might be a new couple’s first major disagreement.  “Where is the man I married?”  It might be deception.  “Did she really believe I would never find out about her secret credit cards?”  It might be the loss of a job.  “He feels so worthless, and I don’t know how to help him.”  It might be of a physical nature.  “The disease is progressive and she won’t get better.”  Whether it is a spouse’s really bad choices, mismanaged stress, financial difficulty, family problems, or whatever else, all couples encounter fearful Fridays.
     But God is there.  He is always there.  And there is a “Sunday” coming that brings the hope of new life, reconciliation, and renewal.  Jesus’ disciples couldn’t see it on Friday, and more often than not a couple in the middle of a crisis can’t see it either.  But trust God and know that Sunday is coming.
     In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul says:
 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The most important part of our faith is knowing; knowing that resurrection Sunday is coming.  And in knowing we have “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  The most important part of our marriage is knowing; knowing that Fridays come, but if we hold on to Him who gives us our hope, if we live in love, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation, then our Sundays are coming too.
     I don’t know what Fridays you’ve already lived through, what Friday you might be experiencing now, or what Fridays lie ahead, but please don’t give up on your mate.  Please don’t forget God is always with us.  Please don’t lose hope.  Hold on to Christ, and hold on to your mate, because Easter Sunday is coming.

For the rest of this week's posts on Holy Week and Marriage, click to links below:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Serve

     It’s Thursday.  The preparations have been made, and Jesus is eager to share in what will be his last Passover with his friends.  There is still so much to be said.  So much that will happen in the next few hours.  But before any of those things transpire, there’s another matter to attend to as Jesus and his friends sit down to supper.  Whether out of custom or out of necessity for a pleasant meal, their feet need to be washed.  And apparently, everyone is sitting there expecting to be serviced, rather than to serve.
     So, when Jesus, who is clearly the leader and most important person in their company, begins to wash their feet, they are surprised.  One by one, he washes the sweat and grime off of their feet and then dries their feet with the towel wrapped around his waist.  There is an exchange with Peter about what it means to be clean.  And somewhere in this process, Jesus washes Judas’ feet.
     What?  Why would Jesus serve the one who he clearly knows is about to betray him?  Was it just a ruse to keep the others from figuring out what was about to happen for fear that they might try and whisk Jesus away to safety or that they would turn on Judas in a most unpleasant manner?  Why would Jesus care?  Why did he wash Judas’ feet?  Because in spite of all the pain Jesus was about to suffer because of Judas’ wicked choice, Judas was still one of Jesus’ disciples.  He was still a part of the company.  He still was an image bearer of God, loved by God, and loved by Christ.  To serve him, to wash his feet, was to serve God.
     In marriage, we are called on to be selfless rather than selfish—to give of ourselves for the blessing of the one with whom we share our covenant relationship.  But we also live in a fallen world.  We make mistakes.  Whether massive, looming things like infidelity, or frequent little jabs meant to cause pain, we hurt our mates, and our mates hurt us.
     I don’t know where you are at in your marriage.  I hope you haven’t had to go through betrayal, or pain caused by irresponsible choices, or that your circumstances haven’t caused you to question and mistrust your spouse.  But what do you do when there is tension, hurt, the sting of uncertainty?  Jesus says you serve your mate.  Your wash his/her feet.  You live in the reality of the situation, but you don’t let it cause you to compromise who you are as a child of God.  In serving your mate, you serve God in whose image your spouse is made.
     I don’t know how easy it was for Jesus to wash Judas’ feet.  I’m guessing it wasn’t easy at all.  But he did it.  In Matthew 7:12, Jesus said “Treat other people the way you want to be treated.”  We call it the Golden Rule.  The problem is, most people think it says “treat other people the way that they have treated you.”  Seek vengeance.  Blow for blow. Hurt for hurt.  Insult for insult.  But that’s not what Jesus said.  Treat your spouse the way you want to be treated.  No matter what he/she has done to you.  Is it easy to serve your mate, especially in seasons of pain?  No.  But when you do, you are reaching out from the very heart of God.

Links to the previous posts for Marriage and Holy Week:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Woe! Red Flags!

     It’s Wednesday.  The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees have relentlessly tried to discredit Jesus.  They look for any misstep, any careless word that they can use against him. Time and time again Jesus confounds them, turning their own scenarios, their own logic back on them—but always looking to the heart of God to do so, always looking for ways to give others worth and value as sons and daughters of God.
     But now, it was time to do more than escape their traps.  Now it was time to engage them head on.  As Jesus spoke to the crowd, within the full hearing of those jealous critics who sought to destroy him, he didn’t pull any punches as he called them out.  He called the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees hypocrites, false teachers, wicked men who put on a good show of righteousness.  He noted how they only cared for themselves and not for others who were also made in the image of God.  He was disgusted by how they pursued being legalistically right, but knew nothing of true, God-honoring righteousness.  He called them “a brood of vipers,” deadly and poisonous.
     Make no mistake, though.  Jesus didn’t call out the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees as some sort of “feel good” revenge.  He wasn’t reducing himself to the same level of pettiness that they exuded, or trying to publicly humiliate them just because they had tried so many times to do the same to him.  He called them out because he wanted them to change; to become God’s emissaries of hope and healing and community for God’s people.  Jesus was staking out the red flags to try and get them to turn from the path they were on and turn to where God was calling them.
     Sometimes, in our marriages, we need someone who loves us enough to call us out.  We need someone to plant the red flags, to tell us the truth, even if it is painful.

  • If you continue down this path, you will bankrupt your family.
  • You’re letting your extracurricular activities take too much time away from your marriage.
  • You were too flirty with that other woman.
  • You’re giving that other man the emotional investment you should only be giving to your husband.
  • You’re letting your children rule the family.
  • Your selfishness is driving your wife away.
  • The way you are talking to your husband is humiliating him.

I don’t know what your situation might be, but typically, when others love us enough to call us out, the reaction is denial, justification, argument, or whatever else it takes to preserve the status quo.  Why?  Because change is often painful, even if it will lead to something better later.  But without change, the relationship will suffer, and the marriage will continue down a path of self-destruction.
     Don’t be stubborn, stuck, and dead-set on doing it your way no matter what. Heed the warning, endure the pain, and save the marriage.  You are only “a brood of vipers” as long as you ignore the red flags and choose to continue to be “a brood of vipers.”

Links to the previous posts for Marriage and Easter Week:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: 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, April 10, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: 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.

To read yesterday's post from Easter Week, Celebrate, click here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Marriage and Holy Week: Celebrate

          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.