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Friday, April 30, 2010
My wife and I saw the movie “Date Night” earlier this week.

(Spoiler warning: I hate it when people give away a movie that I have not yet seen but intend to, so if that’s you, you might want to skip this post. Go see the movie and come back here with your comments.)

The basic story line of the movie is that an ordinary couple from New Jersey, seeking to infuse their visibly boring marriage with the excitement of a night on the town in NYC, wind up getting tangled up with the mob. It’s not a terribly realistic story in some respects, but in other ways it sends some good messages. So I’d like to share a few thoughts for us “real” married people.

I don’t wish to opine, so I’ll just toss out my unsubstantiated and random observations.
  1.  I thought they did a decent job of portraying the reality of a married couple who obviously care for each other yet are totally bored and have stopped making the effort to keep things interesting.   A few examples:  1) she comes to bed in an old t-shirt wearing a mouth guard, and rather than expressing his desires, he responds by immediately giving up on any hope for intimacy, even when she offers him a quickie (albeit half-heartedly).  2) They both show a total lack of enthusiasm for their regular date night, doing it more out of routine and obligation rather than any sense of enjoyment. They even forget about it until the sitter shows up. They apparently go to the same restaurant and order the same food every time – perhaps a little over the top to make a point.
  2. My wife observed that they writers avoided the stereotypical spouse-bashing portrayal you so often see in the movies. The two were genuinely respectful toward each other, even in their boredom. Nice touch. 
  3. Their wake-up call comes when close friends who are equally bored, decide to divorce. Rather than running for the exit of their relationship, they re-double their effort to regain that spark of excitement. The wife initiates this by donning a sexy dress and heels, with make-up and hair done with extra care. Seeing her, as perhaps he has forgotten she can be, causes him to respond with determination to rise to the occasion, declaring that they are going into the city 
  4. He has given up trying to lead in the relationship. She has apparently stopped trusting him and allowing him to do so due to past mistakes that aren’t really expounded upon. This is obviously hurtful to him. Through the course of their adventure she eventually relinquishes control to him, and discovers, after some mis-haps, that he is a much more capable leader than she thought. 
  5. Early on there is a scene where the couple is participating in a book-reading club. It’s just him and five wives, no husbands other than he is willing to endure the pain of the horrible book selections. It makes him look a little wimpy and browbeaten. You later learn that he does it simply because he thinks it is important to her. His heart is sincere – it’s not because she requires it of him. And you later find out that she hates the group and the books. She only reads the first chapter and the end, while he reads the whole thing.
I’m sure if I thought some more there would be other observations. If you’ve seen the movie maybe you’d like to add you own below. Please do.

The movie invites a few questions:

  1. Do you recognize signs of boredom in your own marriage? Are you as vigilant as you should be against apathy?
  2. Have you “stuck” your spouse in a role based on history or past perceptions rather than allowing him or her to grow and mature in new ways?
  3. Do you assume your marriage is OK simply because you treat each other with respect and kindness, thinking that is enough?
  4. When was the last time you went out of your way to create an adventure or sense of excitement? 
  5. How do you respond when you see marriages falling apart around you?
  6. Are there things you are engaged in, even as a couple, that really aren’t feeding either of you? Are there things you do simply because you always have and not because you really want to?
Sunday, April 25, 2010
I was reminded this morning by way of our Pastor’s sermon how important it is to know that God loves us.

Sure, you’ve heard it a thousand times, “God loves you.”

But if you knew it, I mean really understood the extent of it, the unfailing, unending, unstoppable and deeply passionate nature of it, it would change EVERYTHING. It would change the way you pray, the way you work, the way you serve, and the way you relate to others. Everything. If the reality of God’s love struck your heart at its core, you’d be ruined for a “normal” Christian life.

I think King David got it. Read the Psalms and you’ll see the love of God everywhere. The apostle Paul got it, too. Maybe he got it more than any human ever did. In Ephesians 3 he prayed that you would:

...know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph 3:19
He admits up front that it’s not possible to really know this love to it’s fullest extent, yet he prays that we would. He makes the bold statement that fully knowing the love of Christ is how we attain the fullness of God. Whoa! He makes it clear that this is a life-long pursuit, and that the more we know, the more we realize we don’t really know at all.

This little word “know” here is so much more than our meager English translation. The Greek word ginosko means much more than simply to have an idea in your head or to give mental ascent to a notion. No! Ginosko means to know by experience, to feel and to understand. Strongs Concordance explains it as “Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.” Now that is real knowing!

Paul uses that same word, in the prayer from the first chapter of Ephesians.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. Eph 1:17
So why all this talk about knowing the love of God in a marriage blog? Skip a few pages over in your Bible to Ephesians 5 and you’ll see the reason. I think Paul was laying the groundwork in the love of Christ in order to come to this very point.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Eph 5:25
How can a husband ever expect to love his wife in the same way Christ loves us unless he knows how Christ loves us? Impossible. The love of God is no subtle side point in the discussion of marriage; it is at its very core! Men you need “wisdom and revelation” to really know in an experiential and personal way “how high, how deep and how wide” this love of Christ is.

Husbands, passionately pursue the knowledge of the love of God. Study it. Meditate on it. Read about it. Prayerfully consider it. Ask for revelation on it. Go after it like your marriage depends on it, because it does more than you even know. The good news is that the kind of knowing we are talking about comes by way of supernatural revelation by  the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of God loves to brag on the love of God. He’s longing to have you “know” it. Just ask. It’s a prayer that is eagerly answered.

And then, as you gain each new bit of additional understanding of the love of Christ, turn and lavish that very same kind of love on your wife. God himself is the source of love that husbands are called to bestow on their wives, because God is love. It’s not something you can whip up on your own, so go to the source and get some. Get some more. And then go back and get more again. Never stop.

Men, get yourself wrecked by the love of God, and let it transform the way you love your wife.  You've got to KNOW so she can KNOW.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Comments from Mike on my last post reminded me of a question I have been meaning to address for some time. Why do I choose to focus exclusively on “Christian” marriage? 

One of Mike’s points was that by solely targeting Christian marriages I immediately create a separation, a distinction if you will, that prevents the possibility of a singular common definition of marriage.

As desirable as a harmonized societal marriage definition may sound, I just don’t think it’s possible. If you’ve read much in my blog at all, you’ve seen that most of what I believe about marriage is based on spiritual principles that hold no relevancy to a non-believer. It would be like me, a meat lover, trying to write a cookbook that would also be useful for vegetarians. Such a tiny fraction of it would cross over that it makes little sense to even try.

That’s not to say that some of the marriage principles I espouse wouldn’t be useful to those without a common spiritual grid. Surely a few of my recipes in the cookbook scenario would be compatible with a vegetarian’s diet. But consider that the core of my understanding of marriage is this:
  • God is the designer of marriage.
  • He designed it with a certain idea in mind of how it should work.
  • He showed us that idea in the marriage of his Son, Jesus, to his bride, the church.
How to you translate that core understanding into secular terms? This concept, this bridal paradigm makes no sense to someone who sees Jesus as nothing more than an interesting historical figure.

So I will go on being “exclusive,” because if I take the spiritual core out of what I believe about marriage, it completely loses its power and meaning. Will I limit, as a result, the number of people who read and follow this blog? Yes. Will I occasionally offend non-Christians by appearing to exclude them or by stating beliefs that they see as narrow-minded? Yes. Is it possible that by exploring here the love relationship between Jesus and us that some may be drawn to know this love in a personal way? Maybe so.

But my genuine hope is that in the process I will somehow be more effective in bringing across what I see as an urgent and important message for the bride of Christ in this hour.

What do you think? Have I missed the boat by making this a Christian marriage blog?

Friday, April 16, 2010
During my morning drive to work yesterday I listened with dismay to a talk show discussion between Bill Bennett and Robert Rector concerning a National Review Online article he wrote on the problem of illegitimacy in America.

What caught my attention was this statistic: 40% of children born in 2008 were born out of wedlock. Does that number astound and frighten anyone besides me? (The article, which I read later, states that in 1963 that number was 7%, and was recognized at the time to be a growing problem.)

The interview and the article focus predominantly on the economic and societal impacts of these dismal statistics, which are profound and many, but what grieved me most are the implications for marriage.

These numbers beg the question: Is the US becoming a post-marriage society in which the institution is seen as outdated and unnecessary?

I suppose the answer lays party in how you define marriage in the first place. I participated in recent discussion over at Project M on the definition of marriage. As for me, I cannot separate marriage from its spiritual implications, so I defined that marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman (yes, I do limit it to that, as politically incorrect as I may be) made before God and the community, which includes family, friends, and society at large.

I know that many do not share my view on the importance of marriage or see it as a God-ordained and deeply spiritual in nature. Many see it as an increasingly irrelevant superstition. That breaks my heart. I think it breaks God’s heart too.

Am I over-reacting? Do you agree with me that there is an all-out attack on marriage and the traditional family coming from every direction? Do you see Satan’s fingerprints on this as I do? The stench from the decay of marriage is clear. Statistics don’t lie. Poverty and welfare increase. Children do worse in school and are more likely to get involved in crime and drugs. And there is a generational impact that seems to propagate down the family line.

I’m not saying that having a piece of paper that states you are married fixes all these problems. Not at all. Bad marriages and rampant divorce rates contribute to just as many societal ills as does illegitimacy. I suppose it isn’t surprising that so many have given up on the institution as it stands today.

The answer is found in getting back to marriage as it was originally designed by God to be, in getting to a covenantal bridal paradigm understanding that makes marriage as enriching as it is enduring.

I refuse to despair. I believe that the restoration and strengthening of marriage in our nation is not only necessary but also possible. Otherwise I would not be writing for this cause.

Will you believe with me?
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
We have been exploring what it means to be “one flesh” for a few weeks now and I think it’s time to wrap things up, though in truth I feel I’ve really only scratched the surface.

To conclude this series I want to circle back to the beginning and take another look at learning to be naked without shame. You can read the first post in this series for a general discussion on this topic, but today I want to talk about shame as it relates to a recent event in my own life. It's another Paradigm in Practice (PiP) entry.

This past weekend I celebrated my 50th birthday. As much as I had dreaded that milestone, now that I’m on the other side of it I am determined that this is going to be the best decade of my life so far. This was definitely not my outlook in the month or so leading up to the big day. No sir. My thinking was more along the lines of “What have I done with my life?” and “What, if anything, will I do with the rest of it?” I was overwhelmed with a sense of failure and futility, fueled by accusations and lies from the enemy (Satan, the father of lies, is also known as the accuser of the brethren). My head was full of wrong thinking about who I am, what I’ve done or not done, and what my future holds.

I confided in my wife these difficult feelings I was struggling with. Yep, I got nakedly honest with her about it, doing my best to overcome my shame of looking weak-minded in front of her. Her response blessed my socks off. She didn’t belittle me for it or try to sweep it away as so much silly thinking or tell me just to “man up.” Rather, as part of my birthday celebration she and my three girls wrote me detailed letters telling me who they see me as, the lives I’ve influenced, and the ways my life has blessed theirs and others. Rather than judging me, she took my feelings at face value and responded with truth. And it helped me to completely change my mind-set around one-hundred-and-eighty degrees.

Shame has an ugly sister, and her name is fear. Left unchecked, fear leads to doubt, mistrust and seclusion, which finally will lead to our total immobilization and isolation. I know because I was on that path.

I’m reminded of another situation in a certain garden where shame and fear were also closely linked. The story begins like this:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.   Genesis 2:24-25
But then shame and fear crash in:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?" So he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." Genesis 3:6-10
The implications of this story go way beyond what I can discuss in this little post, so I’ll leave it for you to ponder on your own. (You have no idea how hard that is for me to do!)

Let me just reflect briefly on this relative to my own recent struggle with the shame and fear that arose out of my birthday situation. The shame I felt about what I saw as my lack of meaningful accomplishment in my life up to now led to fear over my future and a sense of hopelessness. But the light of truth from the Lord and my family dissolved my shame and banished my fears. Had I not chosen to be “naked” with Jenni (and with God) about my struggles, these things would have continued to eat away at me, shutting me down, leaving me to wallow in my wrong mindset.

The problem with shame and fear is that they eliminate the possibility of intimacy. You can see how Adam hid from God after he and Eve screwed things up. Their sin was not their nakedness, but it was shame over their nakedness that made them hide. It was shame that caused them to try to cover things over with fig leaves of pretense, as if such feeble coverings would fool God.

Had I not chosen to bare my soul to Jenni, I would have denied her the opportunity to help me wrestle through my middle-aged doubts. The shame of my negative self-image would no doubt have invaded our marriage, making it harder for me to accept her love and to believe in her desire for me. In short, had I not chosen to be nakedly honest about this struggle, it no doubt would have robbed us of intimacy. Instead, because I was vulnerable with her, and because she responded as she did, it had the completely opposite effect. Truth does that.

You see, shame leads to the darkness of disgrace and distrust, but the light of truth leads to grace and trust. When we are willing to be naked without shame good things can happen. Nakedness leads us down the path toward genuine intimacy.

So, do you have some shame you need to shed? Perhaps it’s time to drop those fig leaves.

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