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Monday, August 22, 2016

Does your marriage more closely resemble a religious exercise or an intimate relationship?

Did I cause you to do a double-take with the headline? After all, isn't this that blog where they are always talking about the intersection of the marital and the spiritual; the blog that explores that "bridal paradigm" thing with Christ and the church being a model for marriage?

Yep this it that blog, but would it shock you if I said I'm not a big fan of religion?

Religion vs. Relationship

The popular Christian pollster George Barna published a 2003 Study which found that 81% of self-identified Christians contended "that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible."

Does that statistic make you cringe? It actually makes me a bit sad. I think it makes God sad too.

Religion is what Jesus came to deliver us from! Religion is all about rules. Following Jesus is all about relationship. Jesus spent most of his earthly ministry blowing up the rules of His day and pointing people to relationship instead. 

It's not that the truths in the Word of God aren't important. They are very important and there for our good. It's just they aren't the main thing, and they aren't a substitute for the relationship God longs to have with each of us. Spiritual maturity is about being as intimately connected to Jesus as possible. When I'm in that place of intimacy with Him, the rules tend to take care of themselves.

An Important Distinction

Why is the distinction between religious rules and relationship so important for your marriage? Because if your marriage is intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, then you need to have an accurate picture of what God intends that to look like. And His highest intention is intimacy, not our good behavior or religious activities.

1. Performing for Love

Religion says that God loves me most when I perform for him. Relationship says that there is nothing I can do to make Him love me more or to make Him love me less. Love is who he is. It's his nature. It's unconditional.

Love for your spouse should be as unconditional as the love of God. Lavish love on your spouse with abandon, regardless of the love you feel you are receiving. God does not withhold blessing from me until I have my act together. Neither should I withhold blessing my wife based on her performance to my standards.

2. Punishment or Grace

Religion says that God will punish us if we mess up. In fact, some act like God is shocked and offended by our screw ups. But the truth is that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross has paid for every screw up I have done and for every one I ever will do. Same for you. Our sin comes as no surprise to him, yet he chose to give his life for us anyway. 
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8
A grace-filled, religion-free marriage means that forgiveness overrules retribution. There may be natural consequences when you or your spouse makes a mistake, does something unkind, or are guilty of some other offense, but relationship dictates that grace is at the forefront of our response.

As you have been freely forgiven by Jesus; freely forgive your spouse.

3. Passion and Desire

The Bible is a love story of a God in passionate pursuit of a bride, who would go to extreme lengths  to win her to himself. So great is his desire for us that he sacrificed his own Son in order to live with us in intimacy, right now and forever.

Passion and desire are godly emotions. We feel them because God feels them, and we are made in his image.

Could it be that the way we have disconnected God from sex has something to do with the way we have disassociated God from emotions like passion and desire? Of course his desire is not of a sexual nature, but I definitely believe that there is a direct spiritual parallel between sex in marriage and the kind of deep, passion-filled intimacy God wants with us.

A right understanding of the emotions of God toward us, including His great passion and desire, is key to understanding how we can love each other in marriage. My own journey into understanding the bridal paradigm started with a revelation of the emotions of God, and it greatly impacted my marriage.

I recently heard Pastor Robert Morris explain this in a sermon entitled "God's Greatest Desire." He summarized it this way,  "God's greatest desire is to marry you, and to live happily ever after with you. And he has worked out all the details through grace." God's own desire for intimacy is mirrored in us, since we were formed in his image. That's the reason he made man and woman to be intimately joined in marriage.

4. Two Become One

Many Scripture passages make it clear that when we come to faith in Christ we become one with him. Yet somehow we labor under the notion that we have to work our way into unity with him and that if we mess up, then that unity is somehow broken. Yet God makes it clear in Scripture that "nothing can separate us from the love of God." (Romans 8:39)

In a similar way, many describe marriage as the process of becoming one, with oneness as something that we work toward, but never fully achieve. Oneness is portrayed as fragile and elusive. I used to think of it that way too! But then I realized that unity in marriage works the exact same way as our unity with Christ. It is what Paul calls a "great mystery" in Ephesians. When we marry, two become as one.
 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32
So then, marriage is the process of learning to enjoy and live fully in the unity we have already been granted by virtue of the fact that we are married. If we see our oneness as something we have to earn, then we'll forever be falling short and striving for the unity that is already ours. As I said in my post What If We Really Are One?  we will live very differently if we believe we are truly one.


I've been digging into the bridal paradigm for more than a decade, yet I am continually discovering new ways in which my relationship with Jesus informs my understanding of marriage and vice-versa. I am realizing that if I want to understand how marriage is designed to work, I have to more fully know the true nature of God. 

What other "religious" notions about God might negatively impact how you live out your marriage? Add to my list. Leave a comment.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Are body image issues keeping you from being "naked without shame" with your spouse?

My posts on body image are consistently very popular with readers. The high level of interest in this topic convinces me that this is a major issue, especially for women, and something that hinders both physical and emotional intimacy in many marriages.

If you or your spouse struggle with body image issues, be sure to read these posts and take action to deal with it. It's worth it!!



The Body Image Battle

This is a post directed at husbands, encouraging them to help their wives win the ever-present war that rages against their self-image.
Your wife is in a major battle. It’s an important and difficult battle. In this battle you must choose sides. You can choose to fight for her or against her. There is no middle ground, because if you are not fighting for her, in her mind you are fighting against her...
Read the post



The Body Image Battle Continues

This is a post directed at wives, encouraging them to embraces some basic truths about their bodies. Among them:
  • Your husband wants you to feel beautiful
  • Your husband already knows the parts of your body you don't like
  • Your husband likes your body
  • Your husband is attracted as much by your confidence as by your appearance
Read the post



What If Your Husband Really Does Love Your Body?

This post is part of my "What If..." Series and a Wives Only Wednesday post that encourages wives to ask themselves this question:
How would you act and speak differently if you really believed what your husband says about loving your body?
Read the post



If your marriage is being negatively impacted by body image issues, I encourage you not to just live with it as something "normal." It may be common, but that is no reason not to do something to address it.



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"Letting your hair down" with your spouse is a good thing, but...

What does the idiom "let your hair down" mean? Here are some dictionary suggestions:
  • To tell someone everything; to tell one's innermost feelings and secrets.
  • To relax and enjoy yourself without worrying what other people will think.
  • To drop one's reserve or inhibitions.

Freedom to be Genuinely You

Intimacy, by definition, must be genuine. I'm a big believer in being who you really are with your spouse, of letting your hair down and losing your inhibitions. It's part of the beauty of being one. In fact, pretense inhibits intimacy, because there is no such thing as fake intimacy.

Intimacy is about being fully known and yet deeply loved and accepted. If fear or shame are keeping you from being real with your spouse, check out my post Shame and Intimacy.

Here are a few excerpts from that post:
In the end shame, which is driven by our fear of disconnection, prevents us from experiencing the very intimacy we fear losing (or not getting in the first place). Shame is a dead end, guaranteed to leave you trapped in loneliness, without the genuine connection you long for. The ultimate conclusion I draw from this is that shame and intimacy simply cannot coexist.
I believe quite strongly that overcoming the shame that is blocking intimacy in your marriage needs to start with a revelation of the love of God for you (and consequently for your spouse). What I’m talking about goes way beyond a vague “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” kind of understanding. I’m talking about a personal and powerful revelation of just how deeply and endlessly Jesus loves you.
We know that the ideal state for marriage, as described for us in Genesis 2:24-25 is to be "naked without shame." It involves more than just physical nakedness (though it does include that too). It means being transparent and vulnerable in the whole of your marriage: emotionally, financially, spiritually, and physically. In everything. If you fear nakedness with your spouse, if you are holding back in certain areas, read my post Naked Without Shame.

Freedom vs. License - Give the Best of You

However, we have to hold this truth in tension against the other side of the coin. Freedom to be yourself with your spouse is not license to just do whatever you want, to say whatever comes into your mind, or to be unkempt or rude or unkind.

It's not about being fake. It's about giving your spouse the best you have to give.
  • If you don't cuss with your church friends, don't turn into a sailor at home
  • If you smile kindly to the clerk at the store, don't put on your grumpy pout-face for your spouse.
  • If you don't belch in a business meeting, don't subject your wife (or husband) to such things
  • If you are gracious and generous to your friends, don't be any less so with your spouse. Be more so!

Physical appearance/grooming is another area where freedom can be taken too far. While there are times it's nice to just be relaxed and literally "let your hair down," to go without shaving or showering, or to wear your comfy clothes, you also don't want to just "let yourself go" all the time. Out of respect for your spouse, keep good grooming habits.

Wear things you know your spouse finds attractive. Pay attention to their compliments, or just ask him or her before dressing. "Anything special you'd like me to wear?" Use perfume or cologne that your spouse prefers. After all, who else are you wearing it for? Hair and shaving is another area where your spouse's preference in style and color should matter.

Be free. Be yourself. But also be the best version of yourself you can be out of love and respect for the one to whom you are intimately joined as one. Start a conversation by asking, "Is there any area where you feel like I'm giving you less than the best I have to give?"

Monday, July 25, 2016

The heart is the heart of every marriage.


Have you ever had a halfhearted customer service experience? How do you feel when you engage with someone who seems totally disinterested in serving you? On the other hand, how do you feel when you encounter someone who is wholeheartedly engaged and enthusiastically determined to meet your needs? Such a positive experience will likely cause you to speak favorably about the establishment to others and keep you coming back.

Websters defines a wholehearted person as someone who is devoted, determined and enthusiastic, marked by an earnest commitment.

So here's my question: are you wholehearted when it comes to your marriage?

But my spouse...

Maybe you are thinking that your spouse's halfheartedness is your excuse for living a halfhearted marriage. This may seem logical, but unfortunately such thinking is ultimately self-defeating and won't move you any closer to experiencing a wholehearted marriage.

You see, the truly wholehearted understand that wholeheartedness comes out of who they are, not in response to what someone else does or doesn't do. It's a choice not a reaction.

I believe wholeheartedness is contagious. While you only have the power to control yourself, you do have influence over the atmosphere of your marriage, which can ultimately influence your spouse in a positive direction. (But sorry, no magic formulas here!)

As you work toward being wholehearted in your marriage, below are five areas to consider.

1. All In 100%

The wholehearted hold nothing back. When it comes to their marriage and spouse they are all in and fully engaged. Do you have areas of your being or life that you are withholding from your spouse? Do you wait until you feel your needs are met before you are willing to meet your spouses needs? Do you love only in proportion to the amount of love you feel you are receiving?

Selflessness, grace and loving your spouse as if they are already meeting all your needs and loving you well are the keys to a wholehearted marriage.

2. Wholly Devoted

Jesus describes the devotion we are to have toward God in Mark like this:
And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment.
Mark 12:30 (quoting Deut. 6:4, 5) [AMP]
I like to think that the marriage relationship is designed to mirror the love and devotion God wants to have with us. No, your spouse is not a god and not a substitute for your relationship with Jesus, but I don't think God gets offended when we love each other wholeheartedly and with tender devotion. He designed it to work that way.

3. Sexually Engaged

It's easy for us to relegate sexuality to the bedroom. But the truth is you don't cease to be a sexual being when you leave the bedroom, just like you don't cease to be a spiritual being when you leave church. Sure there are things that aren't necessarily appropriate for public consumption (whether we're talking the church or sex), but whether you "feel it" or not, you are a sexual being 24/7.

So what does it mean to be wholeheartedly sexual? It starts with thinking of yourself and your spouse in sexual terms outside the throws of passion. Proactively seek to engage with your spouse in a sexual manner throughout the day. It also means serving each other sexually and unselfishly, striving to give more in that department than you get. It also means being fully present and obviously engaged during sexual activity.

4. Open and Vulnerable

Based on her research, Dr. Brene Brown includes vulnerability as a key attribute of the wholehearted. (See her TED Talk video and my related posts: What a Shame and Time To Get Naked)

If you want a marriage full of intimacy, you have to learn to live transparently and vulnerably with each other. Shame is the enemy of vulnerability and the biggest inhibitor to intimacy. To embrace vulnerability, you need to first believe that you are worthy of love and connection, just as you are. The amazing truth is that Jesus makes us all worthy.

Being wholehearted means being willing to be imperfect, embracing our weaknesses and owning up your mistakes in a genuine but not self condemning way. (Remember, there is NO condemnation for us who are in Christ). Open up and invite your spouse in. Gary Smalley, author of Wholehearted Marriage, says that "Emotions are the voice of the heart." Let your spouse hear your heart.

5. Determined and Committed

The wholehearted have a fierce tenacity about them. They are not only all-in, but they are in for the long haul. A wholehearted marriage is one in which the couple realizes that there will be difficult seasons, but they believe in the covenant bond between them and that they are ultimately on the same side because they are one. Reinforce this idea with phrases like, "I am for you," "I am for us." and "We can do this."

Here's a great clip from the move "Facing the Giants." The acting isn't the greatest but the clip beautifully illustrates wholehearted tenacity and determination. It also speaks to the effect it can have on others.



Remember that wholehearted living is a choice you make for yourself. And while you can't cause wholeheartedness in others, I am convinced that when one person in a marriage chooses wholeheartedness, the atmosphere in the relationship will be changed for the good.

Where will you choose to be more wholehearted this week? Ask God to show you areas where you've been halfhearted in your marriage, and ask for His help in becoming wholehearted.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Last time I wrote about the potential damage technology can inflict on your marriage and ways to avoid it.

This week we'll look at ways to use technology to actually bless your spouse and improve your marriage.


1. Keep in Touch

Although electronic communication (texts, emails, private messages, etc) are no substitute for real, in-person conversation, it does afford couples easy ways to stay in touch with each other. Jenni and I text and message each other frequently throughout the day, and I find that it helps us maintain our connection while we are physically separated. We let each other know of prayer needs, victories and struggles in real time. It is helpful when we are unable to have a lengthy conversation.

Here are a few ways to keep in touch electronically:
  • Text a prayer request or ask how you can pray for your spouse.
  • Send an instant message "I'm especially missing you today."
  • Follow up on an important meeting or event and ask how it went
  • Send a link to a song that reminds you of your spouse or that might be an encouragement

2. Be Intentional

I keep all my calendars and to do lists online and they are available across all my devices. I also use these tools to help me be intentional where Jenni is concerned.

Here are a few examples of how I do that:
  • Keep track of her schedule so I can pray for her and ask her about happenings.
  • Jot down movies we talk about wanting to see in a list.
  • Put date nights in my calendar so I can remember to plan when it's my turn.
  • Make a note of blog posts or articles I'd like us to discuss together

3. Get Your Flirt On

Sometimes it's easier to be flirty when you aren't face-to-face. There are even apps like Couple and Avacado that provide a secure way to communicate words and pictures that you wouldn't want someone to stumble across in your phone.

Here are a few ways to flirt with your spouse.
  • Remind your spouse of a sexy memory.  Ask if you can re-enact it tonight.
  • Thank your spouse for "last night," accompanied by the appropriate emoticons.
  • Visually oriented husbands especially like to see a bit of skin or lingerie (but make sure it's totally secure)
  • Text your spouse something you like about their physical appearance.
  • Send a message suggesting what you have in mind for the two of you tonight after the kids are in bed
Important note: husbands and wives usually have different definitions of how they like be flirted with. Try to keep in mind your spouse's definition!

4. Learn, Grow, Improve

There is a wealth of fantastic marriage encouragement out there these days, and electronic devices give you convenient, on-the-go access to them.
  • Bookmark your favorite marriage blogs in your phone or tablet (I hope Journey to Surrender is among them!).
  • Sign up to receive a marriage newsletter or two that you find helpful. You can sign up for mine here.
  • Get a Kindle or reader app and download a marriage book or two. Read one together with your spouse and talk about it.
  • Take a marriage challenge or download a marriage devotional or prayer guide.
5. Remember

Many of us use our phones as a massive storage device.  With so many cloud-based storage solutions from the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft, you have a real opportunity to keep a treasure trove of memories available to you wherever you go.
  • Sit down with your spouse once in a while and look back through some photos of meaningful, fun, or silly events.
  • Use your phone or tablet as a journal (though I know many prefer actual paper).
  • Make a list on your phone of the things you love most about your spouse (really, do this!). Read them every day. Share one occasionally with your spouse.
6. When You Are Apart

Both Jenni and I travel quite a bit, much of it international. We find electronic communications especially helpful in keeping us connected when we are worlds apart.
  • Send emails to each other when our time zones don't line up. It's great to wake up to a letter from my darling wife.
  • Text, what's app, or use messenger more diligently, even more when we are traveling.
  • It's especially nice when we can Skype or Facetime and actually get to see each other. Not quite as good as being there but close.

Do any of you have other ways you use technology to benefit your marriage? I'd love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment.

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