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Sunday, April 20, 2014

This Easter, let's be determined to fully possess all that Jesus paid for!

I love the Easter season and all that comes with it. Flowers, celebration, family, new outfits and a sense of starting fresh.

There is so much power in what Jesus did for us on the cross, sealed by the victory of Easter morning! Jesus' selfless sacrifice has taken away all our sin and shame. Everything we've done or ever will do that could grieve God has been dealt with once and for all! Hallelujah!!

Even More Than Forgiveness

It's beautiful and marvelous to know that our every sin and disobedience has been forgiven - completely eliminated from the record, but there is even more! Even more wonderful than what Jesus brought us out of (sin, shame and death) is with is what He brought us into!

As you celebrate Easter, remember what you now have that you could not have had if not for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

First among these, I believe, is intimacy with God. I am convinced that this, above all else, is the real purpose of Easter: an unrestrained, unashamed, unrestricted close and intimate relationship with the Father. Yes, our sin needed to be dealt with, but sin was not the real end goal of the cross. The sin needed to go so that we could have in intimacy with God. The story of the cross is a love story.

So this Easter, let's take full advantage of what Jesus did for us. Let's approach the Father with the boldness and joy of much loved sons and daughters.
In him and through faith in him (Jesus) we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Ephesians 3:12
I believe God is much more interested in your relationship with him than all the rules and requirements we tend to focus on instead. Yes, obedience matters.  But obedience born out of a love relationship has real staying power for the long run. Not so obedience born of religious duty.

What About Marriage and Easter?

You and I are the eternal bride of Christ, purchased at the price of his very life. We will live in intimate relationship with Him forever. Not only that, but we are one with Him right now. The Bible makes it clear that we are joined to Christ as one from the moment we choose to believe in Him. The living God dwells inside us! Nothing we do or fail to do can change that fact. His grace is that good, that amazing, that unrelenting.

Because we are permanently and eternally one with Christ, His goodness (righteousness), His power, His love, His peace, His wisdom and His knowledge of the Father all accrue to us. These are ours to have in this life. Wow!

This Easter, let's be determined to possess all that Jesus paid for! Let's take these for our own. Let's use them for His glory and for His Kingdom. These are the spoils of Easter. Let's live them.

Let's take them and live them every day in our marriages and homes.

image credit: runnerphil711 /123rf.com

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When was that last time obedience really cost you something?

During a time of prayer a few months back the Lord brought a question to my mind. It's usually easy to spot the God questions. They aren't the kind of questions I would typically think to ask myself. They often can't be answered offhand, requiring me to wrestle with them before the answer emerges.

And they usually end up rocking my world in a significant way.

The question this time was: "What would radical obedience look like?"

For the purposes of this post I'll spare you the soul searching part and skip to the answer. Jenni and I talked it over and agreed that it was time for me to do whatever it takes for me to finish the book I've been writing in fits and starts but hadn't touched in almost two years.

God of the Ridiculous

I have felt impressed by the Lord on more than one occasion to finish the book, but I would always eventually pass it off as impossible. At this stage of my life I can barely get a weekly post and a monthly newsletter in. A book? Ridiculous to even consider.

But I've found that God is often a God of the ridiculous. By that I mean upside down, out of reach, way out there ridiculous. Maybe more accurate would be to say He is a God of ridiculously radical ideas.

So despite being under more work pressure than ever before. Despite the 102 items backlogged in my to do list (that's a real number, by the way - the photo above is a screenshot from my to do list manager) I am sequestered away at a friend's lake house for a week of concentrated work on my book.

No Guarantees

I would love to promise you that when you step out in radical obedience that the clouds will suddenly part and everything will suddenly turn easy.

Maybe it actually does work that way sometimes, but more often than not, at least for me, it doesn't. This week is no exception.

God did show me ridiculous favor by providing a comfortable secluded place for a week for free, without me even having to ask for it. It was a fantastic confirmation that we had heard God correctly concerning the book.

But the actual writing part is being much harder and more laborious that I had ever imagined. Progress has been so much less than I had hoped for going in.

It's funny (strange funny, not ha ha funny) how after the first steps of obedience God often calls us to a place of deeper trust. You see it everywhere in The Bible. David spent 14 years running for his life before his anointing as king finally came to pass. I'm convinced that during those years of running God was preparing David to bear the blessing he had in store.

Radical Surrender

Radical obedience usually calls for radical surrender.

I'm not talking about the "giving up" kind of surrender but the "giving over" kind. It usually calls for some kind of sacrifice, generosity, submission or serving.

I think God calls us all to radical surrender in our marriages.

Think about your relationship with your spouse. When was the last time God called you to radical obedience in your marriage? I'm not talking about obedience to your spouse but obedience to what you know God has called you to be or to do for him or her.

When is the last time your obedience, your surrender of self, really cost you something? When was the last time putting your spouse first in something was really hard? When is the last time you purposefully chose grace over offense, sexual intimacy over exhaustion, reaching out in kindness in the face of emotional distance?

If you can't think of any recent examples, I encourage you to pray and ask, "God, what would radical obedience look like in my marriage?" Then do whatever he shows you.

PS While you are praying, I'd appreciate your prayers on behalf of this little book writing venture I'm in the middle of.  Thanks. Now back to the book.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What is the most important thing in marriage?

Let me ask that question a slightly different, less generic way. What is it that is most important to you in your own marriage?

Did you answer those two questions differently? I find that I can tend to. Because, you see, the thing that I know ought to be most important often is not the thing I go after the most in my own marriage.

What I Know

I know in my head that intimacy is the most important thing in marriage. And when I say that I'm not using the word intimacy as a euphemism for sex. Sex is but one (albeit very important) component of intimacy, but in this case I'm talking about intimacy in every dimension of marriage: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, intellectual, etc.

Intimacy reaches its pinnacle when we are fully known, nakedly transparent, yet fully loved for who we really are. I like to call it being naked without shame. Actually the Bible calls it that too, so it didn't originate with me (See Genesis 2 for this pre-fall definition of marital intimacy). That's how marriage is supposed to be.

How do I know that intimacy is what matters most in marriage?

It's because of the Bridal Paradigm, which is my understanding of myself as the bride of Christ. It is through that lens that God portrays the perfect picture of marriage. It is through that lens that I see Christ as my Bridegroom, looking for an eternal bride. Christ's pursuit of me, a pursuit that cost him his very life, was not so that I would follow all the religious rules. No, Jesus' pursuit of me was so that I could live in intimacy with him forever as his bride, starting right here and now. (Sorry guys, if you want to be a great husband you will just have to get over yourself and get a clear picture of what it means to be a bride.)

Intimacy is the most important thing in marriage because intimacy is what matters most to God. It's that simple.

What I Do

But it isn't quite that simple. I mean, if I really, truly grasped the importance of intimacy in my marriage I would probably do a lot of things differently. You probably would too.

Genuine intimacy in marriage doesn't happen on its own. The natural state of a relationship is not intimacy but coexistence. Left untended, a marriage can easily devolve over time into little more than being excellent roommates.

The funny thing is, though, that we are hardwired with a desire for intimacy. In my New Reader Poll, intimacy is the topic everyone wants to hear more about. Men and women. Newly married couples and couples married 30 years. Couples with kids and without. The topics of sexual and emotional intimacy top the list every way you slice it.  (By the way, please take my New Reader Survey if you haven't yet.)

We all desire more intimacy in our marriage, but we don't always do the things that best build and maintain intimacy. I know I don't.

If Intimacy Really Mattered Most...

If I really put the goal of intimacy with my wife ahead of everything else in our relationship, a lot of things would have to change.
  • I would no longer see having my personal needs met as the most important thing in our relationship. Instead of asking "What can I get from her?" I would ask, "What can I do to keep us close?"
  • I would not depend on my wife to make me happy and to keep me that way. Instead, I would find the greatest happiness when our intimacy is deepest. I would gladly take the lead in our pursuit of every form of intimacy.
  • Demanding my rights and insisting on my "fair share" would be replaced by looking out for what is best for our marriage and our relationship.
  • When I feel offended or disappointed, instead of reacting by keeping emotional distance, I would press closer to her, seek to understand what is really going on, and do my best to eliminate whatever is standing between us.
  • Instead of giving my wife only my leftovers, after my job and ministry and chores have taken everything out of me, I would make sure I have sufficient physical, emotional, sexual, and mental energy to give the best part of me to her.
There are many other things that I would probably do differently if I really lived and loved as if intimacy was the main goal of my marriage. What might you do differently with that understanding?  I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment.

image credit: inspirestock / 123rf.com

More in this "What If..." series:
  1. A Lesson in How to "What If..."
  2. What If... You and Your Spouse Really Are One?
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How would you live and love differently if you really believed that you and your spouse are one?

I'm continuing today with my "What If" series. If you missed my last post, you may want to go back and read it, because in that post  I explain the how and why of all this "what iffing."

The goal of this series is to get you to thoughtfully ponder the implications of certain statements of marital truth and to allow them to impact the way you live and love.

So don't read any further unless you are ready to give this some serious thought!

Here's what I want you to consider this week:

What if... you really are one with your spouse?

You probably know what I'm referring to, but in case it's not clear, I'm talking about the verses in Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 that say a husband and wife, when they are joined in marriage, actually become one.

The Apostle Paul describes this as a great mystery. In the Greek the word is "mega" - literally a mega-mystery!

He adds to the mystery by stating explicitly that husband and wife are one in the same way we become one with Christ when we come to faith in Him. Whoa!

Unpacking the Mega-Mystery

The first thing to realize about the whole two-become one mystery is that it is not something you do.

It's not even something you become.

It's something you ARE.  

You ARE one. The Bible declares it to be so, and so I believe it is.

Yeah, I know, it's hard to get your head around that sometimes. A lot of times it doesn't feel that way, right? I mean we fight, we get self absorbed, and sometimes we grow apart. How can you say we are one through all of that?

That's the mystery.

In the verses in Ephesians that come before the statement of marital oneness, Paul blows the doors off this "what if" mystery by stating that it's exactly the same as it is with Christ and the church. We are one with our spouse in the same way that we are one with Christ. We don't work our way into oneness with Jesus. We don't  grow our way into it, or pray our way into it, or earn it with our daily devotions and weekly church attendance.

No, the Bible make is clear that at salvation we become one with Christ, one in a mysterious spiritual union.

It's the same with marriage. You are one with your spouse by virtue of the fact that you chose to marry each other. It's that simple.

Enjoying the Fruit of Oneness

If you are already one with your husband or wife, then it is kind of silly for us to "try" to be one. The question isn't really how to become one. The question is how do we fully enjoy the fruit of the oneness that is already ours by virtue of the fact that we are married?

To make this notion a little clearer, let me draw the spiritual parallel to which Paul alludes in Ephesians. As believers, we are one with Christ, whether we "feel" one or not. How we feel is not the issue. The oneness we share with Him gives us access to all kinds of great things like a 24/7 intimate walk with Christ, the continuing fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, the right to ask anything in Jesus' name, etc.  Whether or not we tap into all these great fruits of our oneness does not change the fact that we are one with Christ.

So what are the implications for oneness in marriage? Well, for me, if I really am one with my wife, then:
  • Score-keeping makes absolutely no sense, because when my wife"wins" then so do I.
  • Self-centeredness, self-protection, self-promotion and self-reliance have no place
  • Intimacy in all forms (spiritual, physical, emotional, intimacy, financial, intellectual) is the natural, intended state of my marriage.
  • When I choose to meet my wife's needs, I'm actually also helping myself.
  • I don't need to "perform" or jump through certain hoops in order to earn intimacy. It's ours by right.
  • When we choose the Path of Separation instead of the Path of Intimacy, we tear at the fabric of our oneness.
  • Neither of us is more or less, we are instead a perfect complement. One.
  • I am completely free to bring my full self to my marriage, to hold nothing back from my wife. I am fully  hers, as she is fully mine.
  • When I hurt my wife, I'm actually hurting myself.
What are some other implications of the  oneness you have with your spouse? How would you behave differently if you really believed it? How has being one changed how you live and love? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

image credit: icyyoke / 123rf.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Warning! This Post is not to be read lightly!

In my last post, "What If...", I talked about the ways in which we sometimes "what if" ourselves into a fearful, fretful corner. We worry about what might be or about what might have been.

Such "what ifs" are a waste of time and energy.

I then offered you some alternative "what ifs" to ponder, encouraging you to consider the implications of certain statements of truth. You see, there are certain truths that we believe on the surface, things we say we are true, yet we don't allow the full implications of them to settle deeply into our souls. We give them passing acknowledgment without letting them impact our lives in the radical way that they could - and should.

A Reader's Guide to "What If"

I have been thinking a lot about the open-ended "what ifs" I posed to you last time. I decided that these and other "what if's" are worth digging into a bit more, worth really exploring for their incredible implications.

So I'm embarking on a short "what if" series.

Here's the deal, though. I want you to treat these next few posts differently than most. Very differently!

I read tons of blogs. I know how it's done. You scan through headlines, and read at least the first paragraph or two of the ones that sound interesting. If you go further, you tend to give it a light reading, skimming through the content for the nuggets, the gist, the bits of truth to consider briefly before moving on to the next post in your reader or inbox or favorites list.

I read blogs this way every day.

But you see the whole purpose of unwrapping these truths, these "what ifs," is to get them. I mean really get them. To ponder them. To chew on them and ingest them fully. Really take hold of the implications. Pray over them. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and revelation.

I want you to go beyond what I write. Think for yourself, "What if this really is true? What am I going to do with that? How am I going to live and love differently?"

Practice Time

In order for you to give your "what iffing" muscles a workout in preparation for the posts to come, I'm actually going to let you do this first one on your own.It's okay. Be brave. You can do it.

Oh I may chime in with a comment or two as well, but I want you to dig deeply into this one for yourself.

Remember what I said. Consider it thoroughly from all angles. Consider what it means to you personally, to your marriage, to your family to other relationships in your life. What does it mean for how you spend your time and energy? Think about all of the implications of it.

What if it is absolutely, completely, immutably true?

Go deep with it.

You ready? Here it is.

What if... God really is love?

Yep, that's it. Simple yet extremely full of profound implications.  What if God is not simply full of love, or made up of love, but what if love is simply who God is.

Now go. Think deeply on it. Pray on it. Ponder it.

As you process it, finish this sentence in the comments below, "If God really is love then..."

image credit: norgal / 123rf.com

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