Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We're Self Seeking People

Do I see other people as having souls or do I see them as existing for my pleasure?
When seeking a relationship, it's important to find out the character and intentions of the one we are seeking. How do they treat others? How do they treat the waiter when the service isn't the greatest? Do they consider that person is a human just like they are and might be having a terrible, horrible, no good, rotten day or do they see it as an opportunity to justify leaving a smaller tip? How do they treat the cashier at the store when they are in a rush and the line moves slowly? Do they gripe about  how the line is taking forever and neglect to let the pregnant mother with two anxious kids skip ahead of them?  Do they try to leave places better than they found them? Do they bend over to pick up a piece of trash that they are walking past or just leave it there for "the person whose job it is?" These may seem trivial, but they are actually great ways to gauge character. Anybody can put on an impressive act when they know they need to, but it is the little moments that often pull away the curtains of the heart and  reveal what is behind them the best.

One key element that I have noticed in all successful relationships is the act of service. We live in a very narcissistic society and it is quite easy to fall prey to the mindset that life is all about ourselves, but that is not how the life of a Christian should be, and it is also the breeding ground for a very unhappy relationship. The life of a Christian should be one that is outwardly focused. If we live our lives with the expectations that people should be meeting our desires, we'll miss out on opportunities to serve. And serving is what we as Christians  are here on earth for. When we are falling in love and start to feel giddy, we often excuse away things that should be immediate red flags. That is foolish, and will only come back to haunt us later.

One great point that Matt makes in that snippet of his sermon is "Loneliness now is monumentally better than the loneliness of having a man in the house who has no intention of loving and serving you like Christ loved the Church...marriage is a good thing, but it is not an ultimate thing. Jesus is enough, trust Him when He says that..."

Often we get so desperate to be in love and be loved back that we become careless. God calls us to know  that He alone is enough to sustain us. That doesn't mean that God doesn't want us to be in relationship and get married, but it does mean that before we head that direction,  we must be confident that He alone is all that we need. If we can't cling to that, if our souls don't truly mean it, then we will find ourselves settling, for the sake of filling that void. Since God is all that can ever fill that void, sooner or later we'll find ourselves very dissatisfied. I mean, ultimately that is what divorce is all about. Divorce is becoming a pandemic in this nation, and divorce is rooted in selfishness and dissatisfaction. Sure there are situations which push relationships that direction such as abuse and affairs, but even the root of those circumstance can be traced to the selfishness of the human condition. I'm not advocating a position of staying in a relationship where a partner is abusive or a chronic philanderer and I'm not accusing victims of abuse  of being selfish for leaving a dangerous and unhealthy environment. I'm simply pointing out that even when a relationship is justly dissolved, it  has its roots in unmet desires.

Secondly, before the marriage day most of the warning signs were probably obvious.  Most people who are abusive don't just become abusive over night, and likewise with unfaithful people. And even in most "normal" relationships that fail, all of the problems that are listed as the source of the failure are traceable to not having desires satiated. The reality is, selfishness is a learned habit and most people who are self-centered became that way by forming the habit of thinking about themselves above others, and they did so over an extended period of time. In this country we are subconsciously and consciously bombarded with the notion that the life is all about our happiness. But troubles arise when we seek our happiness from outside sources and those sources fail us.

Mandy Hale points out that "Until you get comfortable with being alone you'll never know if you are choosing someone out of love or loneliness." Again I speak in generalizations, but in most circumstance, if we take the time to objectively get to know a person before we enter into a relationship, we won't be doing so out of desperate desires, and we won't be surprised by major character flaws creeping out from the darkness. And if we take the time to really get to know a person, in doing so we'll discover not only their weaknesses, but also our own. If we enter a relationship with the idea that it is a wellspring for our fulfillment, we doom it from the start. There is no human who can meet that standard all of the time. They might do it some of the time, but life is cyclic. As the Turtles sang in their timeless song that quoted the book of Ecclesiastes , "To everything there is a season."  There will be moments of pure bliss, and moments of misery. There will be times of joy and times of anger. Times of laughter and times of tears. Life contains the best of times, and it contains the worst of times and it isn't always opaque about when the going will start to get tough. We're  not well prepared to weather those difficult times when we're not honest in our anticipation for them. We want to be in those times with somebody that we can confidently trust to stick it out with us. If we've been dishonest with ourselves in getting to know a person or if we've chosen to be with them out of desperation, odds are 50-50 as to whether we picked somebody who really meant their vows and is committed for a lifelong adventure.

When we know that God is enough, we'll be patient when seeking romance. We'll guard our hearts and the hearts of those we pursue. We'll take on the difficult and lengthy task of getting to know the character of a person. We'll see how they serve in the big moments and the seemingly insignificant moments. And most importantly, we'll strive to do all that we can to see them become more like Christ, because ultimately, that's what relationships are all about.

Is It Biblical To Think That Physical Attraction Must Be a Component to A Biblical Marriage?

"The main focus of beauty should be the inner spirit....we should cultivate the kind of beauty that we all long for in relationships."

Francis Chan's Thoughts On How To Make Marriage Work

"From day one our marriage has been about making disciples. What bonds us is that we're on this mission together. It's all about God's kingdom. As I seek God first, the other stuff will happen...When we put the emphasis on our marriage first, we're just like everybody else out there who just wants a happy marriage, but God says seek the kingdom first and watch what happens...when you and your spouse get over yourselves, and the two of you start focusing on making disciples, that's when God says 'Here I am...Seeking and serving, I really believe that is the answer to our marriage...'"

Practical Addvice From A Couple Married 70 years

This is such a cute couple, and it is obvious that after nearly 70 years of marriage, they are still very much in love. They are quick to point out that they always have and still do find each other physically attractive, but that there is much more to having a solid foundation than that. I hope to have a love with such strong roots it endures like theirs has.

Some of the practical advice I found noteworthy:

"Nothing can be always smooth, otherwise it's boring...You have to be tolerant to make [marriage] work..."

"It todays world you get a divorce if everything isn't comfy cozy. You have to be liberal with your love if you want it to last. Nothing is perfect. We struggled...but it was a very loving time, even though it was a tough time. You know the person so well. You know the good, the bad, and the in between..."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In relationships, submission does not equal weakness. When I think of the word submission, I think of a guy in a choke hold being forced to cry uncle, but that is not what submission looks like in a Biblical relationship. True submission does not force somebody beneath you because it is a two way street; it is done willfully, mutually and out of love and respect. Husbands and wives are both called to submit, first to the lordship of Christ, then to one another out of reverence for God and a mutual love for each other. Jesus willfully humbled Himself and served, and so too are we.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the concept of submission and it is often misconstrued. It sickens me to see Christian men who treat their wives poorly and use scripture to validate their conduct. One characteristics of love is that it builds up, and a domineering and condescending attitude will not accomplish that result. Think of boot camp - they scream at you, they belittle you, they holler demands and orders at you that you must obey. The goal is to break you down and mold you into a perfect soldier fit for battle. By the end of camp, soldiers have been  reconditioned to think only when orders are given. That dynamic might work well in the military, but it is toxic in marriage. Chauvinism is the  opposite of God's ideals for submission and there is no room for it in a relationship that seeks to put Christ first and honor Him. In Galatians 3:28 Paul reminds us that because of Christ we are all equals.  Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave no free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Submission is so powerful, that if done properly, it can reflect God's character so much that God can use it to win over an unbelieving husband (1 Peter 3:1-4).

Debra White Smith describes the wonders of submission
      "Submission is unconditional love in action. A wife who experiences this kind of love for her
       husband is eager to meet his needs. Most men who see their wives striving to meet their needs
      and pouring energy into the romance of a marriage will respond by extending their hearts and
      enveloping their wives in love and submission to their needs. At this point, a marriage will
      sparkle with a God-ordained romance that outshines the glitter of jewels....[Submission] is not an
      act off weakness- it is an act of strength that will revolutionize a marriage. Submissions offers
      husbands the security they need to completely release their hearts to their wives. Few men love
     with abandon until they know their wives are loyal. Submission speaks loyalty to a man."

Just like the act of loving takes lots of practicing, so too does the act of submitting. Mistakes will be made on both ends. Show grace, but don't stop trying.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Love Isn't Something That You Feel

Titus 2:4 gives instructions to teach women to love their husbands and children. The teaching them part really stuck out to me, and I couldn't stop from wondering what that was all about. I got to thinking, and here are my loosely tied together thoughts about why we must be taught to love.

Love is often painted as an emotion. It is portrayed in an idyllic and fantastical way and it is beaten into out heads that it is a feeling that takes us into the land of Happily Ever After. Well, love is not an emotion, in and of itself anyways, and love is not a free pass into perpetual earthly happiness. Love is actually quite contrary to that fairy tale concept. Loving is unnatural at times. Loving is hard work and the act of loving must be learned both by trial and error and by observing and being mentored by those better versed in it.

Love is selfless, unconditional, and sacrificial, and those are not characteristics that are hardwired into humans from birth. When two selfish humans choose to love each other, conflict is inevitable. Let's be real here - we are all selfish at times, and that's all there is to it. If we expect that love auto programs out flaws, we'll end up very disillusioned about love. Love does in fact change us, but not all at once. Real love confronts flaws with grace, while romantic love either overlooks them with a childlike naivety or demands them to be adjusted.

Love isn't something that is felt, it is something that is done. Love is an expression, and of course feelings are a large part of that, but love itself is not defined by feelings and emotions.  When we rely on romantic notions to define what love is, we set our relationships up to crumble. Emotions are fickle, and so is a love that relies upon them to direct its course.  True love is learned, and it is learned through following the Biblical examples set before us, through hard work, devotion, and a mutual dedication committed to sticking it out while you figure it out. And as long as we're alive and striving to grow, we'll never stop figuring it out; and that constantness is part of the inherent beauty of love. As long as we cherish and protect and guard love, it just keeps on growing.

Biblical Foundation For An Intimate Marriage

"His design for marriage and for everything else  is if you want to be first, you must be last. If you want to live, you must die. And if you want to gain, you must lose. The Biblical foundation for the intimate marriage is that we don't start out seeking the intimate marriage."

So what is R.C. Sprouls Jr talking about? He's talking about the fundamental and central truth of the Gospel. We are sinners, and we are selfish, and the only remedy is Christ Himself. When we come to Christ that decision contradicts every fiber within our selfish and fleshly nature, but it begins for us a new life. Our old selves are put to death and become our past. Our new life in Christ shifts our focus from self to service. We no longer seek to be first, and nothing of this world is of gain to our new eternal perspective. God is our priority and we are now equipped to love Biblically. It's not easy. It takes discipline and it takes a daily commitment, that is why Jesus told us that we have to take up our cross and deny ourselves daily. The cross all at once symbolizes death and life- death to our old selves and the eternal life found in Christ.

So, if you want a Biblical marriage, there is the cornerstone to lay. The primary focus must always be loving, serving, and honoring God.  We must live a life that acknowledges both with word and deed that everything is for His glory and not our comfort, and that includes marriage. Marriage is difficult, but when we keep our focus on the cross we refuse to give up when our desires are not being met and we don't walk away when love gets tough.  Like He does with everything, Christ demands that we give him our marriages if we want to obediently follow Him.

Matthew 20:16
John 12:24
Luke 9:23-24
Galatians 5:24
Colossians 3:3-7
Romans 6:11-14
Romans 7:4-6
Romans 8:13

Monday, November 3, 2014

Who Do You Want In The Foxhole With You?

"We're in a spiritual battle and the one thing I would encourage any man is you gotta find somebody to fight that battle with. And if I were to go to war, I'd want my wife to be in that foxhole with me because I know she'd watch my back like no other."  - Ken Tada

Get their incredible love story to read for yourself

Ian and Larissa Murphy - One Of The Most Beautiful Love Stories Ever

A more recent interview of Ian and Larissa

Grace Is A Lifetime Warranty On Marriage

Dr. Tripp's book is full of useful and practical tips. The six commitments he highlights in his book are:
1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness
2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda
3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust
4. We will commit to building a relationship of love
5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace
6. We will work to protect our marriage
"These commitments are not rooted in the trust of your spouse, they are rooted in Jesus Christ. When I realize the grace I have been given, I want to give them to those I care about. Grace means having a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness. We live in a broken world, and we are all selfish, and we need a way of dealing with that. Grace never calls wrong right. It doesn't mean living with the mess. Grace is about how we deal with the failures. It's not forgetting, because we want to learn from them; it is not holding them against somebody."

How To Make Her Feel Understood

Men and women often have a difficult time understanding each other. I'll be unbiased though,  it has been my observation that it is generally men who seem to cause the misunderstanding, by not even understanding that there is a misunderstanding. Every person desires to be  understood, but learning to understand somebody can be quite frustrating. When somebody doesn't feel understood, they don't feel listened to, and at that point, effective communication is halted.  Lack of communication is a huge barrier to intimacy, and being misunderstood often seems to be a root cause to this lack of communication and intimacy.

In his book Love & Respect Dr. Emerson Eggerichs  states that a woman's need to feel understood is insatiable. He gives some pointers to making a women feel understood:

  • Listen and repeat back what she says
  • Don't try to "fix her problems unless" she specifically asks
  • Try to identify her feelings
  • Never dismiss her feelings, no matter how illogical they seem
  • Say "I appreciate you sharing that with me."
  • Don't interrupt when she is trying to tell you how she feels
  • Apologize and admit being wrong
  • Cut her slack during her monthly cycle
  • See something that needs done and do it without hassle
  • Express appreciation for all she does. "Honey, I could never do your job."
  • Pray with her and for her

The Greatest Challenge Facing Marriage

What Are The Greatest Challenges Facing Marriage Today?

"The greatest challenge of marriage is learning to be more committed to the well being of another than to my own personal well being"  - Larry Crabb

“Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God's holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom. In your love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsability towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal - it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.”    
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Sexual Sin Is False Intimacy

"The Gospel is the strongest message of acceptance you'll find anywhere. The message is that we're so deep in sin that it  takes God reaching out to us to save us, that is acceptance. Jesus [mingled] with sinners...Jesus tells us he came for sinners. God comes to us and offers us everything, and he takes us and accepts us, not because he has transformed does he accepts us, but because we are sinners. And if we respond, then He transforms us. And the question is, why is that not enough? The Christian should have the strongest immunity to false intimacy, because we understand that at the deepest core we do not merit the acceptance of God and yet we have it...[With false intimacy] we're not seeking first the kingdom of God, we're closing off the rest of the world, creating fantasy, manufacturing our own world. God accepts us unconditionally on one hand, but at the same time says 'everything has to change'. Here is the key phrase, it is no longer our will. When we respond to God, it must be His will. The most critical part of transformation is that when it is God's will, it is all His will. "

Future Wife Litmus Test

1 Peter 3:1-7 are verses that are often misunderstood and taken out of context. A few verses that I think every Christian man ought to use as an important litmus test while seeking a wife are verses three and four, which instructs women that their "beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight."

These verses don't mean that women can't cut their hair or are forbidden to wear jewelry as some sects of Christianity have taken it to mean (i.e. some Mennonite, Amish, and 7 Day Adventist denominations). Such groups take these verses, as well as 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 to be specific commands from God to follow, and believe that adhering to them is an act of piety. I disagree, and find that mentality is grossly misaligned to the heart of God, and the context that these verses were meant to be taken (only once does the Bible mention specifically not cutting the hair, and that is when one chooses to take the Nazarite Vow in Numbers 6:37). For some, following a set of rules makes them feel holy, but Jesus was pretty clear that following rules does not always result in being godly. In fact, many people seem to follow "the rules" and have it all together outwardly, but in Matthew 23:27 Jesus describes the whitewashed tombs, that is, people who think that their legalism justifies them.

This interpretation of scripture is rooted in a religious spirit, the same religious spirit Jesus came to overcome and confronted in Matthew 23:27, and the same religious spirit that the Apostle Paul  confronted as a pollution of the Gospel (Philippians 3, Galatians 5:12, Titus 1, Ephesians 2:11-20)

Anyways, I am not here to make a theological point. Paul does that better in the Bible, so if that stuff tickles your fancy, read the above mentioned verses and the book of Hebrews. The point I am trying to make is that the kind of woman that 1 Peter 3:3-4 speaks of is the kind of woman that every man ought to seek after. These verses aren't forbidding looking a certain way, they are however advising that the love of Christ should radiate from us and overshadow anything that we do to our body outwardly. Outward beauty fades, and that's an unavoidable fact. Inward beauty, in contrast, is unfading. I don't know about you, but if I have the choice to fall in love with a person for their outward looks that will titillate me for a brief season and then permanently fade away, or to fall in love with somebody for their godly characteristics that will prove to be unfading, I will pick the latter, and I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to say to my wife of choice, "There are many fine women in the world, but you are the best of them all" (Proverbs 31:29) and mean it to the very core of my being.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

If we don't understand God, the rest of our lives will be misaligned. Going into a relationship, it is important that both people know God and are walking in relationship with Him so that He can be placed first. When the first priority is out of whack, it is impossible for all of the others that follow to  be in their perfect and proper order.

God's View Of Women

God's View Of Women Pt 2 of 3
God's View of Women Pt 3 of 3

Women are not inferior to men, however, their role is often very misunderstood. In the beginning, God made everything good, but God clearly saw that something wasn't good. What was that something? Genesis 2:18 clearly identifies what wasn't good when God says, "It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him." The Hebrew word for helper that is used in this verse is ezer . It is pretty cut and dry that Adam was not complete and God blessed him with Eve. God was very strategic in designing women. The word used for "fit" is kenegdo, meaning "the opposite of him." God did not create women as inferior to men; He made them to be the perfect complement, an ideal match.

If God had created women to be less than men, then the Bible made a mistake when it describes two becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5). If God had meant for women to be lesser than men, I think that verse, and the verses mentioning the creation of women, would read much differently. And though what the Bible says about women is often taken out of context or misconstrued, women truly are man's perfect complement. Truth is, the Bible is pretty clear that creation is not complete without women ,in the beginning of time, as well as today.

Ephesians 5:31-32 addresses the mystery of the oneness/uniqueness of man and women. We are separate and very different, but we become one. It is a mystery that is hard to grasp, but it was designed by God himself. I like The Living Bible Translation of Ephesians 5:31-32:

     That the husband and wife are one body is proved by the Scripture, which says, “A man must 
      leave his father and mother when he marries so that he can be perfectly joined to his wife, and the
  two shall be one.” 
I know that concept is hard to understand, but it is an illustration of the way we are parts of the body of Christ.
Verse 32 is of particular interest to me. The union of man and women is an illustration of how we are the member's of the body of Christ.  This is difficult to understand, or as some translations put it, it is a mystery. God has revealed that mystery to us if we study His word. To understand how important women really are, we should understand just how important every believer is to God's kingdom (remember, marriage is an illustration of the body of Christ). Paul describes the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the
         members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
If God designed marriage to illustrate the way we are parts of the body of Christ, it is pretty clear that all of the body is equally important  and valued, and we are to respect and honor it all. That means it is impossible for the wife to be of lesser value. That view is simply not compatible with Scripture.
I've heard a lot about Ephesians 5:25. It is an important verse that instructs husbands to love their wives sacrificially like Christ loves the Church. But, similar to what often happens, the follow-up verse is neglected and gets deemphasized. In this case, when verse 26 is left out, we miss the whole context. Verse 26 tells us that we are to love our wives like Christ loves the church "So that He might sanctify her."  Woh dudes! That's quite the responsibility to have placed upon us.  When we as men accept our role and the responsibilities that come with it, we can begin to love our wives like Christ commands us to, and through that example sanctify her.  But the first step if we want to be men of God is that we have got to start understanding what is required of us. It's all in God's word. Let's start opening it up and fine tuning our understanding of His beautiful creation.