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Monday, February 28, 2011
This past weekend I had the privilege of being part of the teaching team for our church’s weekend marriage retreat. It was a fun and refreshing to get away to a beautiful mountaintop location, and I believe the 25 couples who chose to invest their time and effort into their marriages will see fruit in their relationships in the weeks, months and years ahead.

I made a bold statement during one of my teachings. It was something to the effect that:

The church should have such radically different and better marriages than the world at large that people get saved by observing Christian couples in action.

That is not an elitist statement. I don’t say that because I think Christian’s are inherently “better” people or any such nonsense. We are all just a bunch of imperfect humans saved by the generous grace of God.

We Know the Designer

The reason I say that Christians should have the best marriages because we, as followers of Christ, have the inside track. We have a personal relationship with the one who designed and ordained it!

I believe that we have access to wisdom and revelation from the very heart of God concerning marriage in general, and our own marriages in particular. We can pray, “Lord, show me how you see my marriage,” and listen to discern his reply. God sees in each of us the potential he created us for, and he sees in our marriages that same kind of potential. Tapping that picture has great power to propel your marriage forward toward that end.

We Have the Template

As if it wasn’t enough to know the marriage designer, he gave us a template for marriage by sending his Son, Jesus, to be our Bridegroom. We are the very bride of Christ, and the Bible makes it clear that we can learn a great deal about marriage by observing the love relationship that Jesus has with us.

Jesus Made the Way

Not only did Jesus model the marriage relationship for us, but he died and rose to make a way for our marriages to get back to the Garden. Eden was a place of perfect intimacy between Adam and Eve and had an atmosphere where total nakedness (literal and figurative) was not tainted with any form of shame or fear or sin. Jesus provides us access to the grace necessary to get back to Eden.

The Real Statistics

There is a common misconception about there being no difference between marriages inside and outside the church. I’ve even made allusions to that falsehood myself. The truth is slightly different:
By The UVA National Marriage Project

Clearly, among those who regularly attend church together marriages are both happier and stronger. However, my whole point in this post is that we shouldn’t simply be marginally happier and less prone to divorce.

God designed marriage to be a reflection of his love for us and his desire to have an intimate relationship with us. We desire intimacy because we are made in his image, and he does too. If we only could tap into the reality of this truth and learn to love each other like Jesus does: selflessly, completely, and unconditionally, without precondition or expecting anything in return!

Here’s a little video I put together as an illustration for this weekend’s lesson on intimacy.


YouTube link:

What a strong testimony to the amazing love of God a church full of those kinds of marriages would be to the world!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I’m working on a short series unpacking some of the recent marriage statistics that I’ve been studying, but at the moment I am swamped with preparing to speak at our church’s marriage retreat this weekend. It’s going to be a fabulous time with 25 other couples looking to invigorate and strengthen their marriages.

In the mean time, here’s a compelling video that speaks to our cultural obsession with appearance. I saw this on Shannon Ethridge’s blog and decided to pass on here:


YouTube Link

I’m reminded of how starkly the Kingdom of God contrasts with the kingdom of this world when it comes to appearance.
  • “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7b)
  • He gives me the countenance of his glory in exchange for my shame. “Those who look to him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame” (Psalm 34:5)
  • My slightest glance in God’s direction ignites his very heart with love. “You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride ; You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes,” (Song 4:9)
  • He calls me beautiful. “My lover spoke to me and said, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.’” (Song 2:10)

How do we fight against the overwhelming current of appearance-obsessed messages that surround us? Honestly, I don’t know.

But fight we must, one marriage at a time.

I don’t know anything about Dr. Oz or his philosophies, and I’ve never seen his show, but my wife was telling me the other day about an episode she saw part of that explored the shame so many women feel about their bodies. There were women on the show whose husbands had NEVER seen hem naked due to shame they felt over their bodies. How unbelievably sad!

I’m not na├»ve. I’m not saying that appearance makes no difference or that we shouldn’t invest in looking our best and being healthy. I enjoy it when my wife gets dressed up, fixes her hair nicely and puts on make-up, especially when I know she is doing it mainly for me. But I also find her stunning in blue jeans, without make-up, when she rolls out of bed with morning bed-hair, or when she is all sweaty from exercising. I know and love the true beauty she possesses, both outside and in, and whenever I look at her, that’s what I see. I try to tell her often, even if she doesn’t always receive it or believe it.

Everyone wants to be found attractive, especially by the person they are married to. 

Everyone wants to know that their spouse would choose them again, even now.

Everyone wants to be appreciated for who they are on the inside, not just their outside covering.

Everyone wants to feel that their spouse thinks they are  
pretty amazing.


Are these things that you frequently communicate to your spouse?



Releated Posts:
     
        Intimacy and Shame: Appearance

        The Body Image Battle



Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Of all days to be stricken with a 24 hour stomach bug, it had to be Valentines Day!

I knew when I woke up something wasn’t right. I’ll spare you the details, but at one point I did wonder if it was the salmon from the local farmer’s market that had struck its revenge.

We had agreed not to exchange gifts, which is always hard for me, but our gift to each other would instead be to spend the entire day together. Pressing through my physical symptoms I was determined not to let them stand in the way of our Valentines Day plans. I struggled to pretend it was nothing. My headache could just have been one of my frequent sinus flare-ups. Right? I had arranged to have the day off of work, and after getting our daughter off to school, allowing Jenni to sleep in for a change, we snoozed a while longer together. I made us breakfast sandwiches, and we shared our quiet times snuggled together, reading and praying, before going on a walk at the local park, enjoying the gorgeous, sunny 60+ degree weather. Thus began the lovely first half of our plans for the day.

But I was on a pretty steady decline. We had lunch at Jenni’s favorite Chinese restaurant, where I managed nothing more than a bowl of wonton soup. Upon our return, I could do nothing more than fall into bed (alone), now with a small fever and all-over body aches. I was mostly passed out there until this morning, when I awoke feeling much better, although with lingering after-effects that vaguely resemble a mild hangover.

The other thing that was lingering with me earlier today was the disappointment over being so sick on what is (at our house at least) always a very important day. Then Jenni reminded me that even though it didn’t turn out quite how we had hoped, it was so nice and special to have the morning together, so relaxed and so close. I love her for her glass-half-full outlook on things. She also reminded me that we’ll have a lot of together time attending the LIFT worship conference together. It’s always a huge blessing when we can share in one another’s ministries, and it’s been probably more than ten years since we attended a conference like this together.

So I got to thinking how silly it is to be disappointed over one day that didn’t quite meet my expectations. The reality is that I have 364 other days in which to make up for it!

Disappointment Leaves You With a Choice

I won’t ask for a show of hands, but do you too sometimes struggle over what to do with disappointments?

Here’s what my little bout with a bug has taught me: If I let disappointment rule my way forward, it only extends the misery and prevents me from overcoming the circumstances.

I could choose to be depressed and miserable about being “robbed” of our Valentines Day plans, which would likely lead to Jenni and I spending the rest of the week disconnected and less intimate. Or I can choose to simply say, “It was unfortunate to wind up sick on Valentines Day, ” but set it in my mind to respond by making it Valentines Week instead.

Why should I let the consequences of the flu last all week? No reason.

So the next time you face a disappointment in your marriage, instead of letting the circumstances rule you, make a choice to compensate in the opposite direction of whatever caused your disappointment.
  • Have a bad date? Schedule another one (or two) and determine to make it wonderful.
  • Unhappy with the gift you received on the last special occasion? Decide to go “gift-free” next time and simply be together.
  • Dissatisfied with sex one night? Plan something special or different for your next encounter or see if you can set a record for most days of sex in a row!
  • Feeling bad about yourself for how you handled your last disagreement?  No, don't plan more disagreements, but go to your spouse, admit your mistake, seek forgiveness, and ask specifically how you could have responded better, more clearly or created less contention. 

Next time you are disappointed, determine to break the momentum of the disappointment by deliberately working in the opposite direction.


Thursday, February 10, 2011
Apparently, somebody decided that every year the week before Valentines Day (February 7-14) should be designated National Marriage Week. It makes sense to give such a designation to the week immediately precedes The Day of Love. But how many of you were even aware that such a thing exists? Sadly, I wasn’t, at least not until I discovered it through an obscure reference on another blog (thanks to Lori at Marriage Gems who does such a great job keeping us up on all the latest marriage research!)

Through the National Marriage Week website I discovered another resource that I was not previously aware of: The National Marriage Project, which is run out of the University of Virginia. Hearing of the institute and perusing their website actually caused me to at least slightly improve my general opinion of The University of Virginia (mind you, I am a Hokie, with a degree from cross-state rival Virginia Tech!). Both the National Marriage Week and National Marriage Project websites provide some outstanding resources and research on marriage trends in our nation. (For information on marriage week in some other countries go here.)

As I began looking through the studies on these websites it fueled the sense of discouragement that has been growing in me since I wrote my “Are You Promoting (Your) Marriage” post.  In a few upcoming posts I’ll be reviewing and reflecting on some of this research, but before I get to that I want to relay my recent personal struggle with discouragement.

Maybe some of you are in a similar place of discouragement and can relate.

Saving Marriage: A Daunting Task

As I mentioned, I’ve been really feeling the weight of the hugeness of the task I have undertaken to encourage and promote stronger Christian marriages. In increasing measure for the past week or so I’ve been struggling with discouragement about this whole marriage-building endeavor. Reading through some of the dismal statistics on marriage hasn’t helped either, though there are also some encouraging signs.

There are times, and the last week has been such a time, when the task seems too daunting and overwhelming. Do you ever feel the same about what God has called you to do?

I begin to doubt whether my feeble existence in this little corner of the web and in my limited real-world efforts will really ever make an impact. I sometimes start to think I am just another empty voice in the wilderness. I begin to tell myself all the reasons I should give up: I have a demanding full time job, I am not professionally trained in any of this stuff, I need to take care of my own marriage and family first, the societal forces working against marriage are just too huge, etc. etc. etc. You probably have your own set of voices in your head sewing your own seeds of discouragement.

Have you ever struggled with discouragement about something you know you are called to, but that you just aren’t sure you can actually do? Are you sometimes doubtful of your ability to accomplish the vision that burns within you? Do you sometimes wonder if the limitations of your experience, skills or circumstances will keep you from having a meaningful and lasting impact on the world around you? Are you sometimes tempted to do the easy thing and give it all up?

The truth for me is that I sometimes struggle with these things. My guess is that many of you do to.

Prayer is the Key

I mentioned briefly in my post on Watchfulness that I seek the Lord at the beginning of each year for a “theme verse” for that year. As I try to do repeatedly throughout the year, I turned again last night to my verse for this year:
For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God ; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience ; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. Col 1:9-12

I was immediately and dramatically struck by the direct way in which these verses address my battle with discouragement. Here is Scott’s Revised and Amplified Version of this passage:
I will pray without ceasing to be filled with the knowledge of His will in this marriage-building endeavor to which I am called. I desire to serve from a supernatural impartation of the heart of God for marriage, with wisdom and understanding from on high; wisdom and understanding that goes beyond the mere knowledge and learning of my natural mind.

This is what propels me forward on the path he has set me upon: the knowledge that the Lord’s delight is in me, and my desire is to respond with a pleasing sacrifice to him. I don’t do this to get his favor – I already have that in limitless and unmerited amounts. I need to remember, however, that I’m not doing this for the favor of men either; not for more subscribers or followers, not for better page load stats or for any other worldly measure. The fruit I wish to bear is the fruit of and for the Kindgom. Mine is but to listen and obey.  Fruit is the business of the Holy Spirit.

I will rely on his strength to sustain me and trust in his power to enable me to walk with confidence into every good work to which I am called. In him I find the ability to endure, to continue patiently ever onward, remembering to find joy in the process and in the doing of the thing, not just in being done. Above all, I will remember to always be thankful that God has chosen to make me part of his strategy to see his heart for marriage revealed in the earth, whatever part that may be. I don't know where this thing will go, but I am willing to follow wherever the Lord leads.  I trust in his leadership and goodness.

If you ever struggle with discouragement in your calling, and who doesn’t, I would highly recommend you pray the Apostolic Prayers found in the Bible, like this one from Colossians 1. These are the prayers that so burn on the heart of God that he recorded them for us in his Word. These are prayers he longs to answer for us. These aren’t wish-list prayers. They aren’t prayers for God to do stuff for us. They are, for the most part, prayers that we would change the way we think and thereby change the way we live. Powerful stuff!

Get your spouse to pray them for you and with you. My whole family exchanged our yearly theme scriptures so that we could regularly pray for one another.  Remind yourself with these scriptures how much God is for you.  Renew your mind with them. Click to see and/or print a whole page of these prayers. They are so wonderful and encouraging!

Read them, pray them, and let them propel you forward into whatever it is God has called you to!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Well, I finally decided to dive in and "simply" update my header photo. 

Obviously from the above you can see that support was overwhelmingly in favor of the Stepping Stones, which also just so happened to also be my wife's favorite. Go fig.

Yeah, so anyway,  I should have known better than to quickly update the header photo, especially when I'm feeling half brain-dead from a stressful and tiring work day.  But, of course, I didn't.  I plunged ahead.

Here's the thing.  I use a program called Artisteer for blog design.  It's a great tool; very flexible and powerful, WYSIWYG, easy to use, etc. 

Except.

Blogger integration is far from flawless. Far from.  I have done a fair amount of post-design XML hand coding to customize things like my social networking links, etc. and NONE of it was preserved after I changed the picture.  Plus about a dozen other things broke in the process of this "minor" update. 

All this is to say the terrific and insightful post I had planned to write tonight didn't get written, and now, after repairing all the damage I inflicted on myself, I'm too tired to finish it. 

I will Tomorrow. I (almost) promise.

PS  If you are a blogger, what do you use for blog/template design.  I know a lot of "real" blogs use Wordpress instead of Blogger, but after starting briefly down that path I became quickly convinced that it was not going to be able to customize it to my satisfaction without a huge learning curve. Any experience and insight you can share would be very helpful!  Thanks. 
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Not every household celebrates Valentines Day with the same vigor as we do. At our house it’s a major holiday.

And I actually had every intention of making the run-up to V-day a major event on my blog as well, but frankly everywhere I turn in the marriage blogosphere these days is a give-away, a contest, a daily countdown or a list of suggestions on how to make the day something special. (Of course there are also plenty who think the day is little more than a crass and commercial event to be avoided altogether.)

There seems to be so much stuff out there, a lot of it good stuff too, that I don’t think I have much to add to the mix this year. So although you can rest assured that the day will be celebrated with full revelry at our house, you aren’t going to see much from me on the topic of Valentines Day this year. Sorry if that disappoints.

So much for the holiday of hearts.  Now onto the next mundane matter…my header image.

I received a comment yesterday that someone found the image in the blog header (the one up where the title is) “dark, somber…so cheerless and threatening.” Now normally I’m not one to care much what other people think in matters like these, but the comment got me thinking about why I chose this image in the first place. I figured I’d explain in case others have had a similar reaction.

Now I understand that most marriage blogs have a “happy” header: bright colors, flowers, a smiling couple, sometimes the author with or without their spouse. Not my blog. Call me a non-conformist if you will. It’s my nature.

My header image is actually a photo I took atop a fell (like a tall hill or low mountain) in the Lake District of England. I chose it because to me it represents the fact that God’s design for marriage is a sole bright light that stands in stark contrast to the a dismal, dysfunctional and divorce-ridden marriage paradigm that seems so pervasive in our society today. In the picture my eyes are drawn to the streaming light, which to me represents the counter-cultural truth of biblical marriage. The fact that the light stands in the distance portends the journey that every married couple is on toward discovering God’s design and applying it to their own marriage relationship.

But maybe that’s not what other people see in that picture. Maybe that’s all too esoteric. Maybe I should go with the happy, smiling couple. Or maybe not.

I definitely like the idea of using an original photograph of my own, so I began digging around on my hard disk for suitable alternatives. I came across these and made an attempt to re-cast my header with them.(Click on the image to get a full size view.)

Stepping Stones

These are the actual stepping stones from Wordsworth’s famous poem. We stayed at a fabulous Lake District B&B by the same name, which was originally a Wordsworth family home. I love what these stone across the stream say about the nature of the marriage journey.


Stone Walls

This photo was taken in the same beautiful area of the Lake District as my current header. I like the couple walking the path at the far right of the picture. To me the stone fences represent the framework that is God’s design for marriage.

Alaska Trail

I took this photo on an island off the Alaskan coast. I like the contrast of the solid, level path amidst the wild beauty that surrounds it. The journey is clearly implied by the path.

Conformity

Here’s my attempt at being a conformist – the smiling couple shot. It is my wife and I on a walk to Ambleside in the Lake District of England.

What do you think? Which one gets your vote? Which one do you think portrays the essence of “The Journey to Surrender?” Or shall I stick with the current header photo? 

Indicate your choice and why you made it in the comments below.


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