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Friday, May 1, 2015

What do you believe about your marriage? 

Just as faith launches your spiritual journey with the Lord, we come to the marriage altar full of faith too. We believe that our covenant will last a lifetime. We believe our spouse is "the one" for us. We believe that God will bless our sacred union. We believe for a good future together.

Then life happens. And faith wanes.

Do you still believe in your marriage? Maybe it would be better if I asked it this way: "What do you believe about your marriage - right now?"

It's not a rhetorical question.  What you believe about your marriage is just as important as what you believe about your spouse, the topic we covered last time in Part 1 of this series.

What you believe about your marriage will largely determine the path of your future relationship with your spouse.

3 Important Beliefs

There are dozens of suggestion I could make on what you should believe about your marriage, but to keep it simple, I'm only going to offer three here:

1) God is For Your Marriage - Most Christians would agree that God is for marriage. After all, He's the one who created it in the first place. But did you know that God is for YOUR marriage in particular. He cares about the health, passion, intimacy level and longevity of your marriage, and He is wanting to actively partner with you to help you have the marriage you dream of.  Pray for your marriage and your spouse. Ask God to lead you by the Holy Spirit in the way you speak, act and think concerning your marriage. He is anxious to help. Your marriage matters to God. Believe it.

Related Posts:
2) Intimacy is the Goal - Have you ever asked yourself what the purpose and goal of your marriage is? My opinion is that intimacy is the ultimate goal of any marriage. I'm talking about intimacy in all its forms: spiritual, sexual, emotional, financial, recreational, intellectual... Intimacy in the whole of your beings. Intimacy that comes from being fully know and fully loved. When you got married, you and your spouse became one, so why not live like it is really true. Forget scorekeeping, stop struggling for power and to "win," put away selfishness and anger. These all tear at the fabric of your oneness.

Related Posts

3) The Best is Yet to Come - Society and the media will tell you that marriages ultimately decline. It's a lie. If you walk in the truth of beliefs 1 and 2 above, then it is entirely possible to continually grow closer regardless of how long you've been married. Don't believe the myth that marriages eventually end up in roommate status no matter what you do. Work to keep your sex life vibrant, to continue to date your spouse, to give yourself fully to your spouse and marriage, to invest in romance and other emotional dimensions of your relationship. You can and should keep your marriage on the Path of Intimacy.

Related Posts:

Yes, what you believe about your marriage really matters. Your beliefs drive your thoughts, actions and words. Give some thought to the things your are believing about your marriage these days and ask yourself if these beliefs will take you where you want to go.

What key  marriage beliefs would you add to my three? Leave a comment!

PS  Take a minute to give this fabulous song a listen, God Believes in You by Pierce Pettis.
Remember as you listen, that God believes in your marriage too!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Just as faith is important in your walk with God, it's also important in your marriage.

Yeah, it's that whole bridal paradigm spiritual/marital thing again.

Faith is obviously a critical component of our life in God. But did you know that faith is also critical to the life of your marriage?

Springing off my last post, "Renew Your Dreams," I'm  starting a series today entitled "Faith, Hope and Love" in which I'll be covering each of these three topics in the coming weeks.

So let's get started with faith!

Faith in God

Our faith journey in God begins when we choose to believe in Jesus and in what he did for us at the cross. But of course that is just the start of our amazing lifelong adventure in God. Faith goes way beyond our initial salvation.

The Bible describes faith this way:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
At its core, faith is about what we really believe in our hearts, even when the evidence runs contrary to the truths we profess to hold.

Faith requires knowing. For example, faith in the love of God, when it doesn't "feel" present, requires knowing who God is, knowing that his very nature is love. That's why Paul implores us in Ephesians 3 to get to know this unknowable love of God. He goes on to say that it is the key to fullness in our faith journey.

Knowing God's love, really knowing it, carries you through when you aren't feeling it.

Faith in Your Spouse

Admittedly, sometimes faith is a struggle, even when it comes to faith in a perfect and unchangeable God.

Faith in your fallible spouse, who isn't necessarily always walking in full maturity of their identity in Christ, is even more difficult. And the larger the gap between their behavior and who God says they really are, the more we will struggle to see and believe in the "real" person inside.

This brings me to the key scripture upon which we base this series.The context is Paul's familiar and detailed description of what love looks like. Then he concludes by describing what "mature" love looks like.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:11-13 NKJV
Matthew Henry notes in his commentary that faith is primarily expressed towards God. Hope, on the other hand is on behalf of ourselves.  Love, he says, is expressed mostly in loving others.

I agree that faith is firstly a spiritual matter, but as with most spiritual principles, I believe there is a marital equivalent.

What you believe about who your spouse is at their core - the way God sees them - matters a lot. Faith is important in your relationship with your spouse, because if you don't know who your husband or wife truly is, how can you partner with him or her in reaching their destiny in God?

Jenni and I have recently started watching the series Friday Night Lights. There is a great scene of marital faith in the second show of the first season. Without going into too much detail, the coach of the football team is despondent because his star quarterback, on whom a championship season had largely rested, is injured and out of the picture. The second string quarterback is wholly unprepared for the responsibility that suddenly falls to him.

The dejected coach says to his wife, in essence, "I can't do this. There is no way I can bring this kid up to speed in time." His wife calmly yet adamantly encourages him that yes, indeed he can do this. "It's who you are.  It's what you do." She reminds him of what he's done in the past. With her encouragement, rather than giving up and admitting defeat, he takes on the challenge. Without giving you a spoiler, I'll just say that the new kid makes incredible progress in an amazingly short time thanks to the way the coach pours himself into the young QB.

Your belief in your spouse has great power to call him or her back to their destiny.

I'll close this post with some questions to ponder regarding faith in your spouse:
  • Have you asked God to give you divine insight into who your husband or wife truly is - as God sees them?
  • Do you have faith enough in your spouse to extend grace to the them when their actions don't line up with who you know they truly are?
  • Are you able to remind your spouse who they are when he or she is unable to see it for themselves?
  • Do the words you speak to your spouse line up more with who God says they are or with their latest misstep?

What does faith in your spouse mean to you? How does it work it's way into your marriage? I'd love to hear. Leave a comment below.

Next time:  Part 2 - Faith in Your Marriage

Monday, April 13, 2015

It's time to renew your dreams and even add to them. It's never too late.

A few days ago I turned 55. I can hardly believe that number.

Of course I know that 55 is mathematically only one year older than 54, but somehow the prospect of being closer to 60 than to 50 has been tough on me mentally. Whatever age you are, you've probably had certain milestone birthdays that have been more difficult than others. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Right?

Victory, Not Decline, Is Our Destiny

Compounding this benchmark birthday, or maybe because of it, I've been feeling like too many areas of my life are in decline recently. I've had a few health issues (nothing major), I've stepped down from leading worship to focus on marriage ministry, which isn't going like I'd hoped it would: book still unfinished, small group curriculum unpublished, blog posts getting fewer and farther between, new website remains a distant dream.

I could go on, but  you get the point. Too many things not going in the direction I want them to.Discouragement abounded.

Then the other day I stumbled across a little verse that seemed to be straight from the Lord to my heart. It is from The Passion Translation, which I highly recommend for it's insight into the heart of God.
And say to Archippus, “Be faithful to complete the ministry you received from our Lord Jesus and don’t give in to your problems until they yield the victory God intends for you to have!”
Colossians 4:17 (TPT)
As the footnote in The Passion Translation explains, "We can only speculate why Paul wanted this exhortation to be made to him. Some believe he was a minister of Christ who was discouraged and needed to be exhorted to not abandon his calling."

When I think about the trials and discouragement those in the early church faced, my meager difficulties seem pretty minor. Still, Paul's words of encouragement spoke to me.

No matter your age, whatever the reason, we all have seasons where we feel discouragement, decline and/or disappointment. Just like with Archippus, God doesn't want us to give up! He wants us to hold onto hope, to hold onto him until victory comes. And it does come. God  has a destiny for you and me that is greater than anything we could dream or imagine.
Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams].
Ephesians 4:20 (AMP)
Hope For Your Marriage

Although my marriage is not one of the areas where I am battling disappointment, I know I need to never give in to the idea that marriages inevitably decline. It's a lie that I never want to agree with. I know there are a lot of couples who have lost hope. Maybe past hurts, years of disconnection and pain, or a basic lack of intimacy on any level have left you feeling hopeless and helpless.

We can take heart in the fact that God is a redeemer and a restorer. It's his nature. It's who He is and what He does. We can cling to that truth. I've seen him do miracles in so many hard, seemingly hopeless marriages.

What unfulfilled dreams do you have for your marriage? What desires have you let go of? What dreams do you want to add to those you have already?

I strongly believe that there is always more ahead for every marriage. More love. More intimacy. More passion. I believe it for my marriage, and I believe it for yours. Even the best marriages can discover deeper levels of these things. And struggling marriages can rekindle them again.

Where to Start

Start with God. It might sound trite, but it's a powerful truth that the love you need to sustain your marriage is best found in the One who is Love.

As the Apostle Paul prays in Ephesians 3, we are to never stop pursuing a deeper understanding of the powerful, relentless love of God. First, because it's critical to learn how He feels about us. Second, because He longs to equip us with His love in the journey of our marriages. God's love is our foundation.

Second, change the way you think. Allow God to renew your hope and to speak heaven's perspective into your dreams. He is a good Father who has great things to say to you. Seek Him and His heart for you, your spouse and your marriage.

Then begin to do little things to work on you and the way you interact with your spouse. There is no magic formula here. Reach across the divide between the two of you with kind words and small gestures of love. Do your best to focus more on what you can give than on what you expect to receive. There will be setbacks, but press on. Pray a lot. Forgive quickly. Let grace abound.

Here's a little extra encouragement I read recently from Nitty Gritty Love, When Your Marriage Seems Hopeless.

No matter how long you feel like your marriage has been in decline, don't give up hope. It's never too late for God to move and turn things around. 

Do you have a story of God working  to save or restore your marriage? Share your story with a comment.

Here are just a few encouraging testimonies of restored marriage dreams from some fellow marriage bloggers:

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sin was the problem. Grace was the method. Intimacy was the goal.

Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter have come and gone, but I want to pause today to reflect on the significance of this most holy season and what it means for your marriage.

What Does Easter Have to do With Marriage? 

Actually, a lot more than you might think.

For starters, you have to understand that marriage was on God's heart before time began. Before he set the world in motion, he knew he would need to send his Son, Jesus, to claim an eternal bride.

Marriage, your marriage, is the picture God chose to show us his passionate pursuit of us.

Next consider the symbolism of the Lord's supper on Maundy Thursday. In celebrating the Passover, Jesus takes a cup of wine and offers it to his disciples. This act mirrors the traditional Jewish offer of betrothal in which the groom offers his bride a cup of wine. If she accepts it, she is accepting his marriage proposal. She is declaring her acceptance of the marriage covenant. In effect, she is saying "I am yours, forever."

The Problem, The Method, The Goal

The forgiveness of our sins was not the goal of the cross. I realize that statement could be misinterpreted, but hang with me.

Yes, sin was the problem that separated us from God. Sin needed to be dealt with, and Jesus was the only One worthy of that task. But forgiveness was not the goal.

You see, I believe that sin was the problem. Grace was the method. But intimacy was the ultimate goal. 

Jesus stepped out of heaven, came to earth and died a cruel death in order for us to have an intimate and eternal relationship with God, starting right now. Easter, by way of the cross, gives us intimate and permanent access to the Father.

The Marriage Message of Easter

In religion we have a tendency to get hung up on rules. Rules make us comfortable, because we think they tell us if we are okay or not. Are we "in" or "out?" Are we "good" or "bad?"

But Jesus came to do away with the law (rules) and to replace it with His grace. We are "in" and "good" because of Him. No good we could do got us in. Grace got us in and keeps us in.

Jesus cares a lot more about our love relationship with Him than our ability to follow all the rules. That's why he had such a problem with the Pharisees. They followed all the rules, but their hearts were far from God. (Matt 15:8)

How often in our marriages do we put rules ahead of the relationship? Our rules are all the expectations and demands we heap upon our spouse. It's the bar of acceptability we require them to jump over before we will love them in return, before we will surrender ourselves to them, before we will give back.

But that's not how Jesus loved us. That's not the message of Easter. No, grace abounded "while we were yet sinners." (Rom 5:8)

Consider this passage that kicks off Paul's famous chapter on marriage:
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
In the afterglow of Easter, consider the extravagance of Jesus' offer of grace, and consider the unconditional nature of his love for us. Love your spouse like that.

Grace is an invitation to intimacy. It's as true in your marriage as it is in your walk with God.

Are there areas where you have let rules and expectations hinder intimacy? Consider how growing in grace toward your husband or wife might deepen the intimacy between  you. Move in the direction of grace and see how love, intimacy and passion grow in your marriage.

I was inspired to write this while reading Kate's excellent post over at One Flesh Marriage, 3 Things the Cross Teaches us About Marriage.  Be sure to check it out.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why did a poorly written book followed up by a mediocre movie grab the hearts and minds of millions of women?

I've purposefully chosen to stay out of the Fifty Shades of Grey (FSOG) fray up to now. So many people have covered the topic that I figured I wouldn't be able to add anything significant to the conversation.

But it's hard for me to ignore the fact that over the last few months, my blog stats show that my post "A Wife's Sexual Surrender" has been consistently at the top of my most viewed pages. The 2011 post shot up in popularity with the release of the FSOG book and then again with the recently released movie. No doubt many disappointed Googlers landed on that post, written long before the release of the book, to find nothing remotely close to the kind of "submission" depicted in FSOG.

I have often wondered what all these poeple, the majority of whom are presumably women, are looking for in a post on sexual surrender?

It's this question that ultimately led me to finally wade into the murky FSOG waters today. And this question leads to some similar ones that have been nagging me ever since the FSOG phenomenon took our popular culture by storm.

How is that a such a poorly written erotic romance novel spent months atop the best seller list and sold more than 100 million copies in 52 languages worldwide?  One book blogger  said about the book, "In all honesty, though, this book is awful.  Really, truly, mind-bogglingly awful." The New York Review of Books, after acknowledging the popular success of the book, summarized the critics perspective this way,  "Critics, by contrast, have found much to abhor about the work." Yet the readers at Amazon and Barnes and Noble both give the trilogy an average of four-and-a-half out of five stars. How could the progenitor of such mediocre tripe be named to Time Magazine's list of the "100 Most Influential People in the World?"

Further, the movie based on the book has been critically panned, receiving one star on Rotten Tomatoes and a little south of two stars on IMDB's critics review. Yet the movie has set box office records, grossing in excess of 500 million dollars in the month since its release. But why? As with the book, critical and popular opinions stand in stark contrast to each other.

These are questions I've seen a few writers attempt to answer, but most of these answers haven't fully satisfied my curiosity.

What The World Says

Admittedly, I have neither read the books nor seen movie, but I've read enough about them, from enough varied sources, to get a pretty clear picture of the content. In researching for this post, I've also read a number of theories on the reasons for the FSOG phenomenon, from both secular and Christian sources.

Secular sources are decidedly mixed as to the effects of FSOG on society. Many call it harmless mind-candy for bored housewives. Some laud the permission FSOG supposedly gives women to free themselves sexually or to tap into their hidden fantasies. Others argue strongly that the books and movie promote sexual violence against women.

As for the reasons for its popularity, secular writers say the attraction is in the way the story portrays the healing power of love, even though it does so in a totally unrealistic fashion. Other say it appeals to women's innate desire to be a "rescuer and healer." Many mention women's common attraction to "bad boys." Surprisingly few point to the kinky sex as the draw.

Christian Voices

For the most part Christian's have been pretty universally critical of the book and movie, and for the most part, rightly so. Erotica is just as dangerous as porn in terms of the potential damage to marriages. The works depict a non-biblical view of sex (outside of marriage, full of control and manipulation, sado-masochism and more). Of course the shows and movies on cable TV these days are just as sexually non-biblical, with much less outrage.

As true as all the badness is with FSOG, we have to admit that millions of professing Christians have read the books and seen the movie. From what I can tell by the many comments I have read, most women loved it and recommended it to their friends. Of course that doesn't make it right, but it does further beg the question of why women, Christians and non-Christians alike, seem so compelled by the story line?

We also have to admit that a non-trivial number of women, Christians among them, claim to have a renewed sense of sexuality and many report improvements in their libido and sex lives as a result, short-lived though it may be.

Stopping at condemnation of the books and movie as perverted, evil and destructive will do little to further our understanding of the popularity of FSOG. Likewise, simply warning, scolding or even condemning those who have chosen to partake of FSOG isn't going to help us or them them understand what it is they are really after.

It's understanding I want to gain as well. 

My Theory

I've realized that I keep researching and rewriting the first part of this post because I have tremendous trepidation over actually putting my theory out there.

As I freely admit in my bio, I'm not a psychologist or trained theologian, so take what I'm about to say as just another marriage blogger's opinion, worth what you paid for it.

Enough caveats. Out with it.

I believe so many woman are drawn to the Fifty Shades of Grey story because they long to be radically loved and cared for by a strong man. Women paint themselves onto the seemingly blank canvas that is Anastasia Steele, the story's female protagonist, because the idea of surrendering themselves to someone whose heart they totally own and who will completely care for them (emotionally, sexually, spiritually, financially) is a huge turn-on for many women.

So strong is this desire that women are willing to look past their disdain for Christian Grey's overly controlling and sadistic nature. Though there are exceptions, many women report that the S&M sex is not what drew them to the story and that they have little desire to engage in the practices depicted so graphically in the books and movie.

The Longings of the Heart

It is difficult to paint the complexities of human longing with simple, broad strokes. Yet, due to the sheer mass appeal of FSOG, it's obvious that the story has clearly tapped into many women's basic desires.

My feminist friends are no doubt rolling their collective eyes at my theory. I hear the chant, "Down with the patriarchy and misogynistic notions that women long to be taken care of. What women really want is independence, power and equality!"

Really? I find nothing of what feminists claim that women want within the FSOG story. Nothing. Yet women are drawn to it by the millions.

Now, before you accuse me of being a woman-hating misogynist, you should read more of what I've written on the subject. My "What I Believe About Marriage" would be a good place to start.

Let me state clearly that I believe that a woman can be both strong  and submissive, that the two are not mutually exclusive. And yes, I did just use the S-word. I agree that feminism has helped to right some historical wrongs, and I absolutely believe men and women are of equal worth.

But I also believe that God set up the ordered partnership that is marriage as described in the Bible. I believe that being equal in value does not mean men and women are the same or interchangeable. I believe God filled our hearts with innate desires that correspond to our God-given roles, though the world will try to get us to deny and denigrate our very natures.

I believe that what most wives really want is a husband who will love them radically, selflessly and unconditionally, and who will pursue and woo them relentlessly, as Christ does with the church. I believe they long to find the bliss that comes through willingly surrendering themselves to such a love, only to find themselves the object their husband's deep affection, relentless protection, and generous provision (as we receive from Christ in our love-relationship with him).

And in such a marriage you are going to find some really great sex.

Fifty Shades of Grey is flawed erotic fiction, with all the dangers and falsehoods that attend it . Yet the hugely popular draw of the story compels us to examine more closely a flawless and even more compelling love story, Christ and the church, the picture of marriage as God designed it.

What do you think of my theory? What have I missed? Why do you think FSOG is such a draw for women? Chime in. Leave a comment

image credit: dolgachov / 123rf.com

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