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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
My last two posts (Marriage: Made for Glory and The Glory in Your Spouse) explained how the glory of God is available to infuse you, your marriage and your spouse with divine blessing and power.

If you came away from those posts thinking, “That sounds just too good to be true,” then you need to understand a little more about grace.

God’s grace is the mechanism by which the glory of God is made available to us. By definition, grace comes to us as a free and undeserved gift from God (free to us because of the costly sacrifice of Jesus!).

It can be difficult to get a grasp on this extravagant grace. We want to think that we have something to do with it. We want our own efforts to count for something. But the truth is that our own human striving means nothing when it comes to filling your life and your marriage with the glory of God.

So what DO we DO?

Filling your marriage with more of God (his power, his peace, his love, etc.) is a fairly simple two-part process.

First, we get to know who God is – his nature, his attributes, his emotions, and his acts. We can look to Jesus to see the Father (2 Cor 4:6-7). We can study the Word. We can talk with Him in prayer. We can ask for revelation by the Holy Spirit Ephesians 1:17-23, Ephesians 3:16-21). We can worship.

As I said before, I think getting to know God is the most important priority in our lifelong spiritual journey. And this knowing is more than just head knowledge. It is a deeply intimate and experiential understanding that goes deeply into our soul.

Then, because we have been given a new nature and are now one with Christ, we can believe that all these things that are found in God are also available to us. We can appropriate God’s glorious power to fill our marriages.

Remember, this glory comes by grace, not by human effort. Our effort is not in doing good or by trying to earn God’s favor with our behavior. Our effort is in getting to know him and in believing what he says about us and about our marriage is absolutely true.

Doing That Comes from Knowing

Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not saying that you don’t do good things for your marriage or your spouse. Of course you do. If you read hear at all, you’ll see I strongly believe in doing things to strengthen and grow your marriage. What I’m talking about is the heart behind the doing.

Many who struggle with grace fear that an overemphasis of grace will encourage people to selfishly do whatever they want. To me, that is grace without glory. That’s why I prefaced this grace post with two about glory.

When you truly experience the glory of God, when you see his infinite and sacrificial love, his blessings and promises, his extravagant goodness toward you, it is life changing. It is radically transformational.

This transformation, this renewing of our minds through the knowledge of God, is our motivation for doing rightly in our marriages. It’s not to earn bonus points with your spouse or God. It’s not giving in order to get something in return. It’s not even doing things because you know they are the “right” things to do.

You do things that bless your spouse and marriage because of grace you have been given. You love your husband or wife because you are filled with God’s nature, and he IS love. You lay your life down for your wife because Jesus laid his life down for you. You honor your husband because in God’s eyes he is worthy of honor.

All of this comes to us by God's grace. Freely. Extravagantly.

It is the free gift of God that gives us whatever we need in order to love, bless and honor our spouse in the way God calls us to do it. It is by God’s grace that his glory can shine forth in your marriage.

Do you believe it?

Friday, November 25, 2011
Last time I focused on the amazing truth that your marriage was made to carry the glory of God. As a believer, you and your marriage have free access to the infinite resources of our infinite God!

Today I want to examine another aspect of glory: seeing the glory in your spouse.

Work In Progress

We are all a work in progress. Those of us on a spiritual journey are seeking to become who God has designed us to be, to reach our full potential, by gaining a deeper understanding of who we are in Christ. This is a journey not of human striving but a work of grace done by the Holy Spirit. Our part is but to learn to look on the face of Jesus and allow Him to transform us into a reflection of His glory (2 Cor 3:18, 1 Cor. 4:6-7). You were made for glory.

As hard as it can sometimes be to see our own life in the context of this journey into glory, it can be even harder to see your spouse in the same way. But I’m convinced that this is how God sees us.

Seeing with the Eyes of Heaven

It’s really easy to look at your spouse and see what’s “missing.”

It’s a lot harder to look at your spouse and see what’s there but has not yet been revealed in fullness. That’s what learning to see with the eyes of heaven is all about. That’s how God sees us, and that’s how we should see each other.

There are several key things we can do to shift our perspective to be more in line with heaven’s.

First, as I explained in my previous post, we have to get to know the glory of God, his nature, his attributes and his promises. Next, believe that as a Christ-follower your spouse is a glory-carrier. They have been given a new nature in Christ and are on a journey toward walking in that new nature. Thirdly, ask God to reveal to you the “real nature” of your spouse – who God created them to be. Also, pray for your spouse, that they will be able to walk in the fullness of their God-given destiny.

Finally, rather than taking the easy way out of criticizing your spouse for what you see as their shortcomings and misdeeds, speak to them of their potential. Tell them of the glorious nature and promises of Christ that we all have access to. Learn to speak to that which you want to see rise up in him or her.

A Few Examples

Let’s say your wife is deeply discouraged over some parenting issues and is acting out of her frustration. Rather than criticizing her for being emotional, remind her of her spiritual authority as a parent. Go together to God in prayer and ask for the wisdom that God promises he will provide if we ask.

Maybe your husband is full of anxiety about your financial future, maybe even with good cause due to your circumstances. Don’t join him in worry, criticize him as a lousy provider, or accuse him for his fearfulness. Instead, remind him of God’s unrelenting faithfulness and speak to him of the perfect love of God that casts out fear.

I’m not saying this kind of thinking is necessarily easy. It goes against our unredeemed human nature to see with spiritual eyes. The good news is that Jesus died to give us a new nature and gave us the Holy Spirit to renew our minds.

Speak into your spouse’s life in a way that encourages them toward glory rather than accuses them with shame. Shame is ultimately a terrible motivator. But glory truly has transformational power.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our church recently hosted a conference called “Glory and Grace.” The entire three day event was focused on exploring and extolling these two extremely important attributes of God’s nature.

I am struck by how significantly both glory and grace also affect marriages. In this post and my next one I will talk about glory. I’ll follow that up with a post about grace.

It may seem awkward to talk about glory as it relates to marriage. But once you understand what glory is, it may not be quite so much so.

You see, God’s glory is simply his very nature. It’s his essence, the “ness” of God: His awesomeness, His loveliness, His powerfulness, His brilliance, His unfailing love and grace.

We are Made for Glory

As Christ followers, we are in essence carriers of His glory. It amazes me that God chose to put this kind of treasure into the likes of you and me, but that’s how it is.
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
1 Cor 4:6-7
We are made for glory. We are made to reflect the Lord’s glory in ever-increasing measure (2 Cor 3:18). This is our inheritance in Jesus.

I led worship at our church last Sunday and closed with the song “We are an Ark.” It proclaims the truth that we are made to be glory-carriers.

If you have a few minutes close your eyes and give a listen. Let the truth of this reality sink deeply into your soul.

Direct YouTube Link

I love how the song ends by switching from "I am and ark" to "We are an ark." This is both a personal and corporate truth. The "we" truth also applies your marriage.

Your Marriage is Made for Glory

By extension, your marriage is also made for glory.

Two believers joined together in the covenant of marriage cannot help but be a mutual “ark” for the glory of God.

God made marriage to be a reflection of his selfless and eternal love for us. The marriage covenant is a direct parallel of the new covenant. God sent his Son, Jesus, to the earth as our Bridegroom, to win us as His bride forever. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now.
People should get saved in response to looking at the beauty (glory) of the marriages in the church.
I believe that’s possible. I believe that’s how it was made to be. Marriages, full to overflowing with God’s glory!

Shame, the Opposite of Glory

So what’s the deal? Why aren’t people seeing the glory of God and getting saved by observing the marriages in the church?

I think it‘s at least partly because many marriages, and the people in them, aren’t walking in the glory for which they were intended. I say that not as condemnation or judgment, but to encourage you with the truth that glory is your right and the right of your marriage. Access to the glory was purchased for us by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross! It’s bought and paid for!

And for those whose marriages are walking in a measure of glory, let me assure you there is always more – much more.

I think a lot of what holds us back from experiencing glory in marriage has to do with shame. Shame is the opposite of glory. Glory brings light and freedom and peace. Shame brings darkness and bondage and strife. I think a lot of marriages are trapped in shame, and the enemy keeps us there by fooling us into thinking that’s all there is. But that’s a lie! (I have a series on shame that digs more deeply into the shame issue than I can in this context.)

Shame is not our inheritance in Jesus, glory is.

Embracing Glory

How do we get out of the trap of shame? The short answer is found in the scripture I quoted above. The knowledge of the glory of God is found in the face of Jesus. To live in the glory, we have to first know the glory. We have an open invitation to passionately and boldly pursue the intimate, experiential knowledge of God’s nature and glory.

The highest goal in our spiritual walk should be to know Him more.

Ask God to show you His glory. If you don’t know where to start, use the prayers of the Apostle Paul found in Ephesians 1:15-23, that the eyes of your heart be opened to who God is, with wisdom and revelation. Or use Ephesians 3:16-21, and ask for a deeper understanding of the immeasurable love of Christ. Worship is also a fantastic way to become more deeply infused with the glory of God.  

As we begin to see and know the glory of God, the next step is to embrace it in your life and your marriage. Here a just a few examples of where you can apply the glory of God to your marriage:
  • Believe that the power that raised Christ from the dead also fills your marriage. God has the power to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think. That’s a lot of power!
  • Believe that the peace of Christ that calmed the stormy seas can calm the storms in your marriage.
  • Believe that the same love of Christ that fills us with the fullness of God is available for your marriage.
  • Believe that in Christ, we have freedom from shame and from the lies of the enemy that want to keep us trapped there.
The applications of the glory of God are truly limitless!!  Because God is limitless. There is so much hope and power in this truth. 

What aspects of the glory of God would you like to see applied to your own marriage? Pursue it! Get to know it! Believe it! Go for it! It’s yours!

Monday, November 14, 2011
I noticed last week that it’s time again for Stu Gray’s 2011 version of the “Top Ten Marriage Blog” contest. It got me thinking about marketing and popularity and how it relates to my blogging life.

I’m approaching my second blogging anniversary in a few months, and I’m sometimes still trying to sort out exactly why I am doing this thing. I recall a conversation with Paul and Lori Byerly over dinner a few months back. Paul asked about what got me started blogging. I gave a somewhat long-winded answer that, in the end, came down to, “I felt like God was calling me to do it.” He nodded and said that it seems to be that way with a lot of us in this marriage blogging biz.

And I guess that’s why I continue to write. I still feel like it’s something God wants me to do. He wants me to be a voice for marriage – marriage the way he made it.

But thinking about Stu’s top-ten contest caused me to challenge the genuineness of my own statement.

Gut Check Time

Truthfully, I’ve done very little to market my blog. Yeah, I have a Twitter account, but I know I don’t use it effectively – at least according to the social media “experts.” I don’t even have a Facebook page (yet). So far at least, I only post about my blog on my personal Facebook page so the relatively few friends I have there can see what I’m writing about. I don’t get many hits from it. I comment on other blogs, but only when a topic stirs a response in me, not to drive traffic to my own blog. I enjoy meeting and exchanging ideas with fellow bloggers, but for me it comes out of the joy of engaging with those who share a similar passion, not as a networking strategy.

So, on the surface you wouldn’t think I care a whole lot about marketing and gaining readership or popularity. But reading about the top-ten contest peaked an unexpected initial response in me. It made me realize that I wanted to be “popular.” I wanted to be in the “top ten.” I wanted to be recognized as doing something of value. I wanted validation from others for what I do here.

And I didn’t like that response at all.

Now it’s not that there’s anything wrong with blog marketing, wanting to gain readership or to win a blogging contest. Really, there’s not. That’s not my point. But the thought process made me do a gut-check on my motivation, to revisit my calling, and that IS my point.

Why I Write, Really

God didn’t set me on this endeavor to stroke my ego or make me look good. He didn’t start me blogging to make me popular or to prove to the world what a great writer I am. Truthfully, I don’t think he cares a hoot about any of those things.

This really is about God’s heart for marriage. I’m passionate about it because He is. It’s not my career. It’s not my hobby. It’s my calling, or at least a big part of it.

You see, God made it clear to me some years ago that he has called me to the “bride preparation business.” Everything I do in ministry, whether it be worship leading, writing and teaching about marriage, songwriting or ministering to kids alongside my lovely wife, it all comes down to helping to build and prepare the bride of Christ, the church, for the eternal marriage to her Bridegroom, Jesus. It’s all about a wedding at the end of the age.

And that’s why I write. Really. I’m passionate about marriage because Jesus is passionate about his bride. The only validation I need is from Him.

The Contest

So here’s the deal about the top-ten marriage blog contest for 2011. At first I was going to skip the whole thing. It felt like an unnecessary distraction.

But I think it’s actually a very good thing. It promotes marriage and makes a lot of great resources more available to more couples. And I’m actually all for that! So, if you are so inclined you can nominate my blog or some other marriage blog by clicking on over to Stu’s contest page.

If not, that’s fine too.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep doing this marriage-blogging thing until God tells me to it’s time to stop. I don’t expect that’ll be any time soon, because he cares A LOT about marriage. And so do I.

Thanks for letting me dump out my inner thought process on you. I needed that.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming: God’s heart to see marriages lived out the way he designed it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011
I’m traveling (again) this week and have finally gotten around to reading Dr. David Schnarch’s book “Passionate Marriage.” I have seen his theories referred too often by others and received endorsements of his work from two family members who are family therapists whose opinions I respect.

So I decided to dive into the book this week. I’ll withhold my final opinion until I have finished the book. It’s pretty heavy stuff and definitely challenges some of the most common intimacy paradigms. Suffice it to say that there are lots of things I agree with and a few things I do not. Most of what I have a problem with so far has to do with the fact that Dr. Schnarch clearly does not share my Christian world view, which brings about some understandable conflicts.

Naked Without Shame

One of the things I find most interesting about the book is that it supports one of my fundamental Surrendered Marriage principles: learning to be “naked without shame,” though he couches it in different terms. This idea comes from the way the Bible describes marriage in the Garden of Eden before sin came along, bringing shame and fear that destroy intimacy (intimacy with God and intimacy in marriage). Genesis 2:25 says of that first marriage “they were naked and they were without shame.” That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Of course Schnarch does not come at this from a biblical perspective but rather a clinical one. Still, he reaches a similar conclusion. And his insights offer some interesting perspectives on the dynamics of enduring relationships. He explains that there is a natural track for marriages that tends to lead to a kind of gridlock. Over time most marriages will naturally settle into a kind of comfort zone where neither spouse wants to face the “risks” that deeper intimacy can bring. Neither wants to “rock the boat.” It’s better to keep things safe and surface-level. The status quo settles in and the gridlock that ensues brings with it boredom, loneliness and disenchantment. Schnarch states:
As you become more dependent on (your spouse’s) validation and acceptance, you become less willing to risk disagreement and rejection… The very fact that you love your partner makes it harder and harder to maintain yourself with him or her.
I’m attempting to simplify here for the sake of clarity, but basically fear and shame (what Schnarch describes as an unwillingness to face yourself) put a cap on real intimacy. Eventually you’ll grow weary of the kind of pretense that maintaining a safe and surface-level relationship requires. Going back to our Eden analogy, the fig leaves you put on to cover over your nakedness (driven by the fear that shame produces) and just aren’t all that comfortable or lasting.

Striving to keep everything stable by shrinking back from who you really are and how you really feel (what Schnarch calls your solid self and what I call who God really made you to be) is not sustainable for the long haul. This lack of genuine intimacy will cause you and your spouse to drift apart over time. Often the growing frustration will eventually surface around some particular issue (sex, in-laws, finances, children…) and an explosion will take place.

Deepen Intimacy Through Differences?

At this point, one of four scenarios can take place over the conflict, three of which are negative. First, you may push your spouse to compromise who they are and accommodate you by backing down. Second, you may compromise who you are by accommodating your spouse. Third, you may separate emotionally and/or physically.

The fourth and final scenario, the most difficult to accomplish, is for you to both be willing to confront and present your true selves, to come together naked and unashamed as it were. This is what genuine intimacy requires.

You see, the kind of surrender that we are called to in marriage is not the same as compromise or backing down. Surrender is not giving in so that you can get something in return or even giving up in order to keep the peace.

Finding intimacy in a Surrendered Marriage requires you to maintain your personal integrity while allowing your spouse to do the same. I haven’t gotten to Dr. Schnarch’s prescriptions for gridlock, but I do agree with him that being able maintain your sense of self while staying in close proximity to your spouse is an important component. This is ability to stay close through your differences does indeed breed deeper intimacy.

Biblical Surrender

While the two of you are standing close together, naked and unashamed, without fear or pretense, is a good time to consider what biblical surrender looks like.

I keep coming back to the same definition for intimacy in surrendered marriage: bringing the fullness of yourself (spirit, soul and body) to your marriage in a way that benefits your spouse and your marriage. Rather than looking for what you can get, we are to look for what we can give. But you can’t give what you don’t have, and you can’t fake it for long, so you may need to grow and change.

Rather than selfishly asserting your rights, consider what the right thing to do is in God’s eyes. Pray together and ask for wisdom. Get God’s perspective on the problem or difference. Ask for insight into what is really going on, because in many conflicts, the real issue is something other than the thing that surfaces first. Ask God to show you where you need to grow or change, and ask Him to help you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish that.

These probably aren’t things that Schnarch is going to suggest, though I’m looking forward to seeing what he does offer as solutions to the marital gridlock problem. I’ll come back with some additional thoughts after I’ve finished the book.

Are there issues in your marriage where you’ve made compromise the norm? Are you willing to get naked with your spouse in a way that maintains your personal integrity and theirs? Are you able to seek selfless solutions that benefit your spouse and your marriage, even if it means you have to grow and change?

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Here are a few of my past posts on being naked without shame in your marriage:
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I’ve been traveling lately and swamped with many other things that have prevented me from posting, but I wanted to share with you a post by my blogger friends Brad and Kate at One Flesh Marriage. The post, “One Child in Heaven,”  is a touching story of grievous loss and remarkable recovery as told by their pastors.

I encourage you to click on over and read this incredible story.

Meanwhile, I hope to be back to a regular posting schedule soon.

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