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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)

I thought this a perfect scripture for a day in which we typically gorge ourselves to the point of pain! But there's another reason for this particular verse. Two reasons in fact: peace and joy.

It's been a few years since I've done a Thanksgiving post, I suppose mostly because it seems like everyone does them. I admit to being a bit of a non-conformist in that regard.

My Year of Joy, Peace and Power

At the beginning of each year I spend time seeking the Lord and His heart for me concerning the year ahead. This year I felt the Lord wanted me to learn to walk in more joy, peace and power.  I suppose the Lord knew this would be a challenging year for me, full of things like tremendous job stress and significant financial pressure, among other challenges. He knew I would need to be have my mind set on the joy, peace and power that only He can provide in such circumstances.

Thanks and Peace

I've been learning something interesting about peace lately. I'm learning how often the Bible links peace with thanksgiving. I'm convinced there is a relationship between the two.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Col 3:15-17
Get that? We are CALLED to peace. How do  you find peace? Be thankful, have gratitude in your heart, give thanks in all things.  And this scripture passage seems to indicate that speaking your thanks out loud (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) is one of the keys. Don't just think thanks, speak it (or even better, sing it).

There's more:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7
Do you have anxiety? Want peace instead? Pray with thanksgiving (not with fear or dread, but thanksgiving) in your heart. It's a guard for your heart and your mind. What does a prayer with thanks sound like?  "Lord, I thank you that your are good and that all your thoughts toward me are good. Let your goodness fill my life, and let your supernatural peace rule my heart."

Thanks and Joy

Just as thanks and peace are linked in the Bible, so too are thanks and joy.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thes 5:16-18
Want to know God's will for your life?  It's joy and thanks, flanking your prayers.

So hear is my Thanksgiving prayer for you and  yours this year:
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
Col1:9-12 (NKJ)
And I'll add this prayer to it:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

May this day be more than a day of feasting and family, may it be filled with an abundance of thankfulness that brings you deep and abiding joy and peace!

photo credit: yelo34 / 123rf

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When you truly understand this, your marriage will be transformed!

My last two posts were actually an intentional prelude to this one. You may not get the leap, so it's worth explaining.

In my post "Why God Should Not Be #1 On Your Priority List"  I challenged our traditional Christian teaching that has us set God as our first priority. There are two main problems with this priority paradigm. First, it causes us to separate our lives into spiritual and secular buckets - a clearly non-biblical principle. Second, it can cause us to see the things we do "for God" as holier than the other things in our lives, which comes with the additional baggage of being self-righteous and trying to earn bonus points with God through our own striving. Also non-biblical.

I then wrote a follow up post, "What Matters Most?" to clarify the first one. In that post I explained that our real highest goal, and what matters most to God in our walk with him, is intimacy with him at all times. True intimacy with him requires that we know him deeply. The "God stuff" we do, like quiet times, worship and reading scripture, can help us to know him more, but we can actually find him in everything we do. Being "good" and doing "God stuff" don't earn us favor, but they do help us know him. In the end, though, God cares about your relationship more than how well you follow the rules. This is far from the common understanding of what it means to be a "good Christian."

All this has direct bearing on your marriage. Still not making the marriage connection? Read on!

Most Important to Marriage

Bottom line? Intimacy is the most important thing in your marriage.

You see, God hardwired us to desire intimacy.

He put that desire in us first of all so that we would seek a relationship with Him. Then he designed marriage to be a direct reflection of his desire for intimacy with us.

I've had hundreds of responses to my One Minute New Reader Poll (you've taken it right? If not, go do it now!). One thing that has been consistent over the years, regardless of how you slice the demographics, intimacy is always the number one topic readers are interested in. Like I said. We're wired for it.

So if we're wired for it and we want it so badly, why do so many couples live without it and/or long for more of it?

My theory is that it's the same reason we don't have the intimacy with God that we want. We choose rules over relationship.

The Rules of Marriage

Now by saying we pick rules, I'm not talking about the same kind of rules we attribute to God (most of which we put on ourselves  anyway). No the rules of marriage are different, but the result is the same.

So what are these "rules" we often chose to focus on instead of relationship? We focus on all the ways our spouse isn't measuring up, and we hold these shortcoming against them (analogous to how we view our sins against God). Here are some examples.
  • A wife expects her husband to help out more around the house
  • A couple tries to divide everything 50-50, and both of them are thinking it's 70-30 in their spouse's favor
  • A husband expects his wife to want sex as much as he does.
  • A wife who is critical of her husband's lack of handyman skills, and compares him unfavorably to her father.
  • A husband who doesn't think his wife keeps things tidy enough for his liking
  • A wife thinks her husband should learn to be more romantic
  • A husband gets offended every time his wife criticizes his driving
I could go on, but you get the point. These and many more are the kinds of "sins" we hold against each other.

Here's a sure sign that rules are ruling your marriage: you catch yourself saying "If my husband/wife would just ______ , our marriage would be so much better."

Intimacy is Organic

The intimacy in your marriage is a living organism. As such it's either growing or dying. You are either growing closer together or you are growing apart. I describe these two options as The Path of Separation  and The Path of Intimacy. (Read more about these two paths in the kick-off post to my series on intimacy, Choosing The Path of Intimacy.)

You get on the Path of Separation when you start focusing on all the ways in which your needs are not getting met. It's the path of self. It leads to disappointment, resentment and disenchantment.

The Path of Intimacy is the path you want to be on, and you get there by focusing more in the needs of your spouse than on your own. Rather than looking at their shortcomings and missteps, focus on what they need from you. Believe that their love for you is genuine, even when it doesn't seem that way.

Serve each other.

Love unconditionally.

Seek intimacy over perfection.

Trust in your spouse's heart.

These are the ways God pursues intimacy with us. These are the ways we should pursue intimacy with each other.

If you think about it, it's really a matter of grace, isn't it? Grace is an invitation to intimacy!

Whenever  you are tempted to take offense, step back, take a breath and ask yourself this question:
What can I do to keep us connected right now?

What have been the "rules" in your marriage? Where do you need to start putting your relationship ahead of these rules? Where have you been able to let go of your expectations?

photo credit: iqoncept /

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You might be surprised what God cares about most!

I'll admit that my last post, "Why God Should NOT Be #1 on Your Priority List " was meant to provoke you.

Truthfully, I expected a little more push back than I got. Maybe Christians are just too nice to say what they really think?

The point of my post was to get you to rethink how you look at your priorities and how you approach your spiritual life. The truth is that your whole life is your spiritual life, not just the stuff we think of as spiritual, like quiet times and Bible studies. The main issue with trying to make God your highest priority, is that you can then tend to then separate your life into spiritual and secular, which is completely non-biblical.

Now by me saying that you should rethink your priorities in this way, I'm not saying you should take a lax attitude toward the things of God. Reading the Word, praying, worshiping are all good and all important parts of our walk with God. I'll get to why that is in a bit.

Neither am I suggesting that you try to hyper-spiritualize everything in your life. I'm not sure God is all that concerned over whether you buy the Wheat Chex or the Corn Chex.

The Real Number One Priority

What is it you think God cares about most in your walk with him?

During the "Grace to the Nations" conference I attended last week, Andrew Farley mentioned a Barna Research report that floored me. According to the report, 81% of Christians think Christianity is mostly about obeying rules. If that is a real number, then I think God's heart is breaking.

What God cares most about is relationship, not rules. He wants your heart, and he wants you to know his heart of love toward you. Yes, He mostly wants intimacy with you. Remember how I define intimacy in marriage: to be known deeply and loved completely. That's what God wants with us. After all, he's after a bride.

Remember this verse?
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."  This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32 (NIV)
Did you know that Christ died in order to be one with you? It was all for the sake of intimacy! I bet many, if not most, would answer that He died in order to forgive our sins. While our forgiveness is real and necessary, the sin was just the thing that stood between us and intimacy with the Father. That's what God was ultimately after in the sacrifice of his Son - an eternal bride that could dwell with him in intimacy right now and forever.

The Bible makes it clear that we are already one with Christ. We don't need to earn it by our good deeds. But if that is so, then how do you gain intimacy with Jesus? You get to know him- deeply! That's the only reason that studying the Word, praying, worshiping and all the stuff we "do for God" matters. It's not to earn holiness points, it's to know him more deeply. And when we get to know him, when we come to understand his loving nature and gracious ways, we cannot help but love him.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)
Did you get that?  Fullness in God = Knowing the love of Jesus.

Here's another of Paul's prayers for the church:
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.
Ephesians 1:17 (NIV)
That should be our daily pursuit, "Lord let me know you more."

God wants us to find him in everything we do, not just the "religious" stuff. That's why I challenged you to rethink your priority scheme and allow God to infuse your entire life with His presence.

If your whole life is spiritual, why not let God into every minute of it? How will you pursue knowing God more deeply this week?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Be prepared to have your normal Christian priority paradigms shaken up!

You've heard it said, and I have said it myself, that as a Christian, your priorities should be:
Before I try to explain why this is a problem, let me explain that for the last few days I've had the privilege of sitting under the amazing teaching of Andrew Farley, author of such famous books as "The Naked Gospel," during the 2013 Grace to the Nations Conference being held at my church.

I got to spend four days soaking in the Gospel of grace. I'll be attempting to extrapolate some of what he shared about grace and applying it to the context of marriage. As you know if you've hung around here much, I have come to learn that there are literally hundreds of marriage lessons embedded in the Gospel. One of the most significant is the message of grace.

Grace is as central to marriage as it is to the Gospel.

A New Look At Priorities

So on to the discussion of priorities.

The main problem with the "make God your first priority" paradigm is that it fundamentally separates your life into two parts: spiritual and secular. The problem is that the Bible doesn't separate things that way. Everything is spiritual. Everything.

Now, the Bible does indicate a division of things along the lines of spirit and flesh, but that's not the same thing. Not at all. We are to have our entire being, and everything we do, ruled by the Spirit and not the flesh. (We have lots of wrong ideas of what "flesh" is too, but that is a whole other post.)

So when we have the mindset of putting God first on our list, it causes us to mentally separate everything we think of as non-spiritual from participation by the Spirit. Instead we should see that it's all spiritual.

It's all God's

So when I'm on a date with my wife, that is spiritual. When I'm sharing a meal with the family, that is spiritual too. When I'm mowing the lawn, balancing the budget or sitting in traffic, it's all spiritual. Yes, even when we have sex, it's spiritual. It's all God's domain, and in all of it, I am to be ruled by the Spirit of Christ that lives in me.

The danger in "God first" thinking is that it allows us to compartmentalize God; to keep him in a box, so to speak. The things we think of as "God stuff" (quiet times, church meetings, Bible study, etc.) is not holier than the "non-God stuff" because it's all God's stuff.

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not downplaying the importance of any of these things. It's all good and helpful. The point is that it`'s not holier, it's not better, than all the other things in our lives.

You Can't Earn Holiness

The other danger of the "God first" notion is that it can put us on a quest to earn holiness. You see, doing "God stuff" doesn't make us holier or win us brownie points with God. His love and grace toward us are not a function of how much God stuff we do. How many times do you feel unworthy to approach God when you've neglected your quiet time, felt like you haven't spent enough time in the Word, or prayed like you know you should?

The problem is we can't be any more righteous or holy than we already are, because the Bible makes it clear that we are already the righteousness of Christ. Because of Jesus, by free gift, without our quiet time efforts, we are as righteous as Jesus. Right now. Nothing we do can earn us more righteousness or love or blessing or favor from God. Similarly, nothing we do can earn us less.

So let me give you an alternative priority picture.

It's a pretty radically new way to look at my priorities. But I think I really like it. What do you think? 

By the way, make a note of where this leaves your spouse on your priority list!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What does grace have to do with sex? Everything.

This is the fourth and final post in this series on helping your spouse to be secure in your love, based on part of the excellent new book by Dr. Tim Kimmel called Grace Filled Marriage. This is one of the best marriage books I've read in a long time.

To me, grace and love are the bookends of marriage. Both are essential for keeping your marriage aligned with God's plan for marriage, keeping you and your spouse close to each other, and keeping things in your marriage from toppling over. Grace Filled Marriage does a fantastic job of communicating the grace end of that message, and I highly recommend it for every married couple. You can buy it through my affiliate link by clicking on the book image at the bottom of this post, or by clicking here. Also see below for the details of how to win a free copy.

We are focusing on a part of the book that deals with one of our core human needs: the need to be secure in love. In the Introduction to this series, I explained how we all desire the security of knowing we are loved. (This is the first of Dr. Kimmel's three core human needs: security, significance and strength.) In Part Two I explained how your spouse feels more secure in your love when you accept them for who they are. Part Three emphasized our need to have affinity for our spouse's heart by caring about and engaging with the things that are important to them.

We are Designed to Need Physical Affection

Today I conclude with Dr. Kimmel's third key ingredient for making your spouse feel secure in your love: physical affection.

Of course affection can and should be shown in many non-physical ways, and these are important. But God designed our physical beings to crave the affection expressed through actual human contact. As Dr. Kimmel puts it:
Our hearts respond well to regular and generous helpings of affection. That’s because love grows much more secure when our spouse is lavish about giving and receiving meaningful touch.
Grace Filled Marriage p.72

The fact is, physical affection is a powerful agent for building secure love into our spouse. Holding hands, hugging, and kissing all add layer upon layer of security in the love within each other’s hearts. But these are all warm preliminaries compared to the ultimate display of affection in marriage—sex. (p. 73)

Grace Filled Sex

I've been reading and commenting on some posts on other blogs in response to a recent Relevant Magazine article, which exclaimed, in what I felt was a purposefully inflammatory title, that "Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex." You can probably guess that there are a lot of things in the article that I disagree with, but the bottom line for me is that I do believe it is God's intent and desire that every marriage be one in which physical intimacy thrives. Do look at it otherwise is to deny God's design for marriage.

I believe sex is an essential component of intimacy that should not be downplayed. It is wonderfully unique in that this is the one component of your marriage relationship that only you and your spouse can share. Of course sex should not be elevated to the point where it becomes an idol either, but if I had to guess, there are a whole lot more sex-starved marriage than sex-idol ones.

So what is the connection between sex and grace? You might be surprised how closely the two are linked:
What does grace have to do with sex? Everything. If anything, our sexual relationship is the litmus test on how serious we are about being an agent of God’s grace when it comes to our spouse. p. 74
Because of the intense vulnerability and raw emotions that sex brings about, it is probably one of the areas in marriage where grace is most called for.

Dr. Kimmel first explains what graceless sex looks like:
  • Sex used for manipulation or to get what we want
  • Sex as reward for "good behavior"
  • Withholding sex as a form of punishment
  • Viewing sex as an obligation rather than a privilege
  • Demanding sex
  • Defrauding sex by denying its rightful place
I don't need to expound much on these. I'm sure you've seen plenty of examples of graceless sex. If these are NOT how sex should fit into your marriage, what is the opposite?

Here's the bottom line of what grace-filled sex is, as explained by Darcey, Dr. Kimmel's wife:
Grace-filled intimacy is about giving with enthusiasm and receiving with joy. The more we align our hearts with God’s heart of grace, the more we can see the strategic role we play as an intimate partner with our spouse. God meant for our marriage bed to be a place of passion, joy, fun, adventure, and mutual satisfaction. And when the intimacy we enjoy  there is an extension of our gracious desire to meet each other’s needs, our love grows  secure. (p.82)
Perfectly said. Amen!

A Secure Love Challenge

Have you given some thought to my question from the Introduction to the series? What would your marriage be like if neither you nor your spouse ever had any doubts about the fact that you are truly, deeply loved by one another? Ponder it. I'm willing bet it's impact would be significant.

In wrapping up this short series on Grace Filled Marriage, I hope I've helped convince you of the important role of grace in marriage, and more specifically how important it is to help your husband or wife be secure in your love. (I also hope I've convinced you to go get this great book! Again, you can get it on through my Amazon affiliate program by clicking on the book image below.)

Let me issue a challenge to you. Consider the three ways I've described in this series to help your spouse feel secure in your love.
  1. Accepting and appreciating who your spouse is at the core of their being
  2. Embracing and participating in the things that are important to your spouse
  3. Showing consistent affection, primarily through sexual intimacy, but also in other ways

Identify the one you feel you have the most to improve on. Now, make a specific plan for what you are going to do differently in the next week to make your spouse more secure in your love.

As a bonus, give yourself a little accountability and extra motivation by leaving a comment below with your planned area for improvement. You don't have to share your specific plan, unless you want to.

image credit:  vgstudio /

Get your copy of "Grace Filled Marriage" on Amazon by clicking on the book image to the right. When you buy through my affiliate link, you help support this marriage ministry. Thanks!

I'm giving away a free copy of "Grace Filled Marriage." I'm selecting from among all those who newly "like" my Journey to Surrender Facebook page. If you already like my page, you can also enter by "sharing" or leaving a comment on any of my Grace Filled Marriage series wall posts (on my FB page).

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