Love IS: Forever

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Love is a complex idea. It isn’t something that can be tied down to a single expression, feeling, or relationship. Love goes beyond all our boundaries. It takes us to all new heights. And love makes life worth living. In this final post of the series, I want to talk about how love is meant to outlast everything. First, one more time through our verses:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

So many relationships come to an end because people “fell out of love” with one another. But we can’t fall out of true love. That’s because true love outlast every hardship. True love does not despair. True love can carry any load.  According to verse seven, love bears, believes, hopes, and endures ALL things. The ultimate evidence of this is not how we’ve been loved by others, but how we’ve been loved by our Maker. Think about it…God’s love has endured a sinful and broken humanity for thousands of years. And you know what? His love has never diminished.

Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails

Psalm 136:1 (CEV)

Instead of looking at each of us to define love, we should really look at the one who invented the concept. I’ve loved imperfectly. You’ve loved imperfectly. But God is perfect love. Not only is God’s love never ending, but He continued to rescue humanity from their weaknesses and mistakes, purely out of His love. Eventually, He would show His love to the point where He would come to earth to die for those who had even despised His love. At our worst, God’s arms were stretched wide open.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 8:5 (ESV)

Look around. We aren’t worthy of His love. Not a single one of us. We all sin, whether in thought, words, or actions, every single day. We’ve all turned our backs on Him at some point. We’ve all tried to live life independent from Him at some point too. But He is the picture of what true love really looks like. God’s love isn’t extended to just those who deserve it, but to every single human ever created. God’s love has just been given to you and me when we were at our best (whatever that looks like). God’s love has endured all of our shortcomings. Out of His love He has bore our sins. Out of His love he patiently desires the salvation for every human being. Out of His great love, He carries the grief of our sinful deeds.

Because we are people of God, we should be people of love. Not a love of our own imagination, but a love as demonstrated by God himself. Those in your life, even your spouse, may not seem worthy of you love. But that isn’t what matters. A godly love is one that transcends worthiness. Don’t let people’s faults get in the way of your love for them, especially when it comes to your spouse. I’ll end with a quote from American author and theologian, Frederick Buechner, because I absolutely love it!

The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.

Love others. Love your spouse. Love them deeply. Be patient to the very end, no matter how long, and always reach for kindness as your expression of love. Never seek to do what is wrong, or to see revenge or hurt in others, but shower your marriage and all other relationships with truth. Set God as your example and love those around you with an unending kind of love. May your marriages, and all your relationship blossom into beautiful expressions of heaven.

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Love IS: True

Welcome to part three of a four part series on ways to define love according to the bible. In part one, we explored some of the emotional do’s and don’ts of love. In part two, it was all about acting out our love for others through kindness. This post is more focused on the foundation of love. Before we jump in let’s look at our series verses.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

Right in the middle of this passage is this statement about love: “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” According to the dictionary, truth is something that is proven based on fact and reality. But in this context, truth corresponds with what we do because the opposite to truth is wrongdoing. So truth is a correct way of living based on a correct way of thinking. Wrongdoing is a false way of living based on a false way of thinking. We all know that how we think is how we will live. To rephrase the previous statement: love wants nothing to do with falsehood and bad living but celebrates the truth and the right way to live.

The person who deceives us the most, is us. In the church atmosphere there is a lot of talk about how Satan deceives us. He is the father of lies and the first of anyone to lie. It is his main weapon against humanity. However, his work is easy because of humanity’s propensity to sin and gravity towards rebellion against God. Rebellion against God is rebellion against truth. In essence, it is to rejoice in wrongdoing. In the book of James we’re told that this wrongdoing occurs when we are led astray by our own desires. We are the masters of lying to ourselves. We can justify about any action. Humans, because of our sin nature, have an ability to make wrong, look right. This can easily happen in any relationship, especially a marriage. Anything we do in marriage that is contrary to biblical principles is the equivalent to rejoicing in wrongdoing. That might sound harsh but it’s true.

When we care about someone, sometimes we can give them the power to convince us to do something we know is not right. When we love someone, we can fall victim to the idea that we just want them to be happy and we’ll let them pick their path. We don’t intercede because we don’t want to make waves. I’ve known a lot of people who have had convictions in their own hearts about something, but they’ve allowed their spouse to derail their pursuit of those convictions. That’s why it’s important to have open dialogue with one another, no matter the issue. And we have to know that condoning others in doing wrong, or participating in something we know to be wrong, is not showing love, it’s showing the exact opposite.

True love has to be founded on truth thinking and true living. A relationship that includes secrecy of any kind is on shaky ground. It’s the equivalent of telling your spouse that you don’t trust them. How can that be love?

A relationship where either person seeks to get revenge, make the other pay, or intentionally harm them emotionally through words or actions, has disaster written all over it. A heart of love for another never seeks their harm but always their wellbeing.

True love is love built on truth. Right way of thinking, leading to the right way of living. What is a true way to think about our spouse? They are a gift, unique, with gifts and talents too. They have dreams and a purpose. They are your spouse, but first and foremost they are God’s child. We should treat them like the prince or princess they are, even when they don’t act like it. We control how we see them, and we control how we love them.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

Love IS: Other

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAVLAAAAJGZiMmY2OWU2LThmNjYtNDQyMi04NDQxLTExM2VjOGRiNzM2YQThis is part two of a four part series titled “Love IS”. Throughout the four posts we will be breaking down the extremely well known passage out of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

In the first post I talked about the emotions that can be used to test our love. Four of them were emotions not to feel and only one was one that true love feels towards others. This post will be more about how we affect others by how our emotions play out. Just like last time, Paul tells us more ways that love should not manifest itself and gives us one more loving attribute to demonstrate in our lives. Once again, lets start with the naughty list.

Love should not be boastful, insist on its own way, or rude. What do each of those things have in common? They are all self-centered actions. No thriving relationship can ever revolve around one person. The root of, probably most conflicts, is when one person demands their way and won’t budge. The act of insisting on our own way is a form of boasting. It’s the equivalent of saying, “I know what’s best and you don’t know what you’re talking about.” But boasting certainly goes way beyond that. Last time we talked about people being arrogant. Arrogance is the emotion that leads to boasting. Another word for arrogance is pride, which is not a positive attribute, no matter how society tries to promote it.

Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18 (HCSB)

Boasting is anything a person does to draw attention to themselves. It’s putting yourself at the center of whatever relationship you’re in and setting your wants and needs as priority. People who are boastful are generally rude, especially when their demands or expectations aren’t met. They can’t seem to understand why others don’t view them how they view themselves. When the bible says that pride leads to destruction and a fall, it’s not a warning to take lightly. Relationships shatter, churches split, teams fail, and lives are ruined all because of pride. Pride in oneself and true love cannot coexist. They are enemies of one another. Instead of being self focused, love is a reflection of a person’s heart that seeks the good of another.

The act of being kind, requires a person to regard the feelings of others, to look beyond themselves, and to intentionally influence another for their good, even at their own expense at times. Showing kindness to someone can save a relationship, end strife, and even save lives. Other words for showing kindness include: affection, warmth, gentleness, concern, and care. When we’re rude, it shows that we value ourselves above all. When we’re kind, it shows that we value others above ourselves.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

If we want our marriages to thrive then we need to be more concerned with what our spouse’s needs are than our own. We need to making a real attempt to show them kindness every day. That can take several forms. For some, the simple act of asking about their spouse’s day or how they’re doing and genuinely listening is a big step. Or how about asking them what you can do to help them or make life easier for them. Kindness can be seen in a warm embrace or a gentle response. Kindness is setting our own emotions aside out of concern for what the other is going through. In the last post we talked about how patience requires humility. Well, so does kindness. In fact, the patient person is far more likely to be a kind and caring person. The kind person is one who goes through a day thinking of others. The kind person is a concerned person. The kind person is sad for those who are grieving, and celebrates with the victories of others. The world of a kind person is so much bigger than themselves. The act of being kind is a tangible reflection of love. Make it a priority, every day, to show kindness to your spouse. Not just when it’s convenient, when you feel like it, or if you feel they deserve it, but always. Because love is kind.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:15-18 (ESV)

Love IS: Emotional

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Today is part one of a four part series titled: Love IS. For every part of this series we will be focusing on a familiar set of verses out of the first of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Many people have these verses inscribed on wedding invitations and champagne flutes, but the focus is going to be on living them out in our marriages. My hope is, for you and me, that our love for our spouse (now or in the future if you’re not married) will be described in this way:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ESV)

I’m going to be jumping all around these verses over the next four posts so hang in there with me. I’ve tried to group all of these into four basic themes rather than going through each individual word. The first theme I chose is based on certain emotions that we should and shouldn’t have in love. Love, by itself, is not an emotion (despite what many cultures will say). On the other hand, love does produce many emotions. We’re told of five emotions, four we shouldn’t feel, and only one that we should if we are loving authentically. Let’s start with what not to feel.

Some people will say, “I can’t help the way I feel.” Not true. Not even close. The Cognitive theory states that emotions are not fixed, but flexible. We can actually train our minds to have certain responses. We can also control our responses based on a basic understanding of our chemical responses to emotional onslaughts. Negative emotional responses come from perceived threats. Those can be threats to our time, our bodies, our goals, our preconceived ideas about something, our intelligence, and so much more. That’s why people get so ‘fired up’ about politics and religion. When our minds detect a threat, our bodies react. Those chemical reactions can sometimes create negative emotional outbursts, and worse yet, lead to some people bottling up their emotions so that they erupt like Mount St. Helens later on down the road.

This passage says that to love is to not be arrogant, irritable, envious, or resentful. All of these are emotional responses to something that the person has perceived as a threat. When people are irritable, they are lashing out for a variety of reasons. It could be that things simply aren’t going the way they planned, they aren’t getting to do what they want, or maybe they aren’t being treated the way they hoped. Perhaps pressure at work (threat to money, time, performance, etc…) is causing a person to treat their spouse with shortness or harshness. Maybe you don’t feel good (threat to our health and energy) and you take it out on your spouse. How about resentful? So many marriage crumble because of this nasty little “R” word. People become resentful when things are not how they think they should be, generally over a longer period of time, or their spouse isn’t who they want them to be. This is a harmful dagger that has driven a wedge between so many couples. Lay the dagger down.

The other two come from either a feeling of inferiority or superiority, both of which we create in our own minds. A person is arrogant because they think they are better than their spouse (yes some people actually think that). If you’ve ever thought that your spouse is lucky to have you or that they don’t deserve you, then you’ve been guilty. Or someone can be envious if they think their spouse has something that they should. For example, a spouse becomes envious because their loved one has achieved their dreams and they themselves have not. On the adverse to a previous example, if you’ve ever thought that you don’t deserve your spouse or how could they ever be with you, then you’ve been guilty of this.

It’s obvious that love should never produce these things in a marriage. What all four of the previously mentioned emotions do is simply divide people. Love is meant to be a bond. Love unifies. So, divisive emotions should not exist in a loving marriage, or any relationship for that matter. And when you’ve lost someone who is close to you, it becomes blatantly obvious that these emotions are a complete waste of time and energy.

Now, we are left with one commendation from Paul on emotions. He tells us to be patient. For most of us, that is a constant work-in-progress. Practicing patience is hard enough. Patience places unity above our own perceived rights. Patience is a flexible emotion that can respond well to whatever circumstances arise. One of the synonyms for patience is the word stoic. The picture of a stoic person is one who can endure whatever trials, backlashes, criticisms, and all the previously mentioned negative emotions, and  aren’t shaken or riled. They are constant and steady. But the patience that the bible is talking about goes way beyond being stoic. Patience in this sense means loving others from a heart at peace regardless of what is happening to you.

The patient spouse puts the expectations on themselves to treat the other with love and honor instead of demanding that their spouse meets their expectations. The patient spouse is willing to drop their ‘to-do’ list in a heartbeat to meet the needs of the other. The patient spouse always meets their loved one half way, and if needed, will go the rest of the way. The patient spouse slows down, is present, and is calm through the changes in life. Sounds like a pretty high bar doesn’t it? One word carries with it so much. For one, a person needs to be extremely humble in order to be patient. And I’m not talking about outward patience here. I’m talking about the inward, sincere form of patience. Because those who display outward patience only are steaming below the surface and harboring ill feelings. That won’t last, and it’s not fair to either partner. Outward patience is not humble, it’s fake. It’s masking one’s true feelings. I know people who are sweet and gentle on the outside, but underneath are their true feelings which generally come out in gossip sessions or person bashing with a friend. The patient person sees no need to vent because they don’t hold on to ways they’ve been wronged. They can take each situation in stride no matter how hard it  may be.

I’m willing to bet that no one reading this fits the description of a truly patient person. I certainly don’t. That’s why this has taken me weeks to write. But the good news is, that it gives us a bar to shoot for. But not on our own. To be sincerely patient, we need more than our own strength, we need Jesus to change our hearts. Then we can love people, no matter how they love us. The effects of that kind of patience in a marriage can be exponential. It can keep a marriage together. It can make a marriage flourish. But this love needs to be present in all of our relationships. That really difficult coworker, the unfair parent, the two-faced friend or relative…we should love them all with the humble patience that should mark a follower of Jesus.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)

The Lily and the Apple Tree

fireheartA lot people avoid the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon, depending on your translation). It makes people blush, and rightfully so. I haven’t seen any bible study small groups quick to make this their selection. But, if it’s in the bible, it must have something very valuable to teach us right? I personally enjoy the book because of its raw, unapologetic description of love. It’s a beautiful dialogue that expresses the heart in a unique way. Just check out this small section:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
    like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
    rivers cannot sweep it away.

Song of Songs 8:6-7 (NIV) [my emphasis]

That’s intense right? Death is not something any of us can overpower. We can’t step out of the grave on our own power. And if you’ve ever seen a large powerful fire you’d know it’s unstoppable. It consumes everything in it’s path. To describe love that way is incredibly moving, especially in the context of a marriage.

My wife and I chose these verses for our wedding invitations over 7 years ago. I’d like to say that the past seven plus years have been fueled by a love like this but that wouldn’t be true. Many moments definitely have. But that’s not the case for every one of the nearly 3000 days that we’ve been together. So while passages like this are very moving, they’re also very convicting.

Don’t you think God meant for our love for our spouse to look this way? To be unstoppable, unquenchable, fierce, and powerful? Our love can actually be strong enough that no speeds bumps of life could ever dowse the flames. This is a passionate love that I think every marriage needs, and every spouse deserves. It’s a love that we have to fight for and make every conscious effort to maintain. It’s love that fully adores our spouse no matter how they are acting or if its a good day or not. It’s love that sets our spouse as a priority. It’s a love that serves as often as possible. It’s love that puts the needs of the relationship above either individuals personal needs. It’s a love that withstands any temptation. It’s a love that refuses to dull into oblivion.

Here, check out another one:

Like a lily among thorns
    is my darling among the young women.

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest

    is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
    and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
    and let his banner over me be love.

Song of Songs 2:2-4 (NIV)

This is passion. These are two people who adore one another. Our marriage should be a love poem that would read like this. Our spouse should know that we are head over heals for them. The butterflies never have to stop fluttering in your stomach when you’re out on a date with your significant other. You never have to stop being captivated by the one you chose to spend your life with.

When’s the last time you felt a deep passionate desire for your spouse? Anyone struggling to answer that question should also know that it’s not too late. That fire can be rekindled. With God, all things are possible. But we have to want it.

In a way, to lose our passion for our spouse is equal to devaluing them. If you know the story of Solomon, you know that he eventually went astray. He had to devalue his bride to go after other things and other women. All marriages are susceptible to this. We start to lose that passion when we allow jobs, ministry, other relationships, money, goals, hobbies, and even kids to get in the way.

I think Solomon’s sad story pushes some away from reading his love poem. I hope for you, that’s not the case. We’re told that all scripture is profitable and inspired by God. Which means, He wants us to know the words of the Song of Songs. Because that passionate love that we’re meant to have with our spouse reflects His heart for us. There is no power in existence that can stop our God’s love for us. And that is an encouraging thought.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Be encouraged

Be loved

Love passionately

 

How to Fight Selfishness in Marriage

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I was doing some homework at breakfast, planning to meet a close friend and mentor the next morning. And I needed to be ready. I love connecting with him, but every time I do, he asks me the same question: “What has God been teaching you lately?”

I don’t always have an answer, and I wanted to prepare a theologically deep and appropriately pithy response. And then, just as my brain was getting into a groove, Erin interrupted me.

“I’m going to Denver next weekend,” she said, “and I was wondering if you’d bring Annie (our 10-year-old daughter) up to meet me so she and I can have a special date. There’s a fun play in town that I know she’d love.”

What? I mentally gasped. That’s, like, almost three hours of driving! Plus it’s on a Sunday … my day of rest. The Broncos are playing a really good team. The nerve of her asking for such a sacrifice. It’s ridiculous!

I didn’t say that to Erin, of course. I simply said, “Really? That would be a pretty long round-trip drive for me, plus the show tickets are really expensive.”

Erin could see she wasn’t going to get much traction with me and dropped her request. No big deal, right? Now I could get back to thinking about my friend’s inevitable question: What has God been trying to teach you lately?

Hmmm, I thought. Not much.

I was still in that same frame of mind on the way to breakfast the following morning and just about to conclude that God wasn’t trying to teach me anything, so tight the two of us were. Things between my heavenly Father and me are going pretty well, I thought. No big lessons for Greg.

And then, at that exact moment, God tapped me on the noggin and reminded me of Erin’ request.

What had God been teaching me lately? I had a clear answer as I slid into the booth for breakfast: He’d been showing me my own selfishness.

Since that morning, God has made me more aware of how my selfishness causes issues in my marriage. And, just in case you might act selfishly on occasion, too, I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned.

First admit — to yourself and your spouse — that you’re selfish. How do you know when you’ve been selfish? Look for the following signs: You’ve ignored your spouse’s feelings and interests and insisted on having your own way. You’ve made demands, not requests. You’ve withheld sex or thrown tantrums if your wishes haven’t been fulfilled.

Remember your spouse’s incredible value. The more you treasure your husband or wife, the more likely you will be to approach him or her selflessly and sacrificially. As Jesus told us, “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Learn to make sacrifices. The ultimate weapon against selfishness is sacrifice, and a happy marriage is often predicated on two people trying to out-serve each other. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” we read in Proverbs 3:27.

Ironically, even an act of sacrifice can turn into an act of selfishness. Here’s a personal example:

Erin is a counselor in an office a few minutes away from our house. She often sees clients in the evening, and if she sees a strange car in the office parking lot after the sun goes down, she’ll sometimes be nervous about leaving the building. So Erin will call and ask me to drive over — just to make sure she gets to her car safely.

It makes me feel valued, and that’s a great feeling. But a while ago, I remember a sense of superiority slipping into my thoughts: Look at what a good husband I am. Erin had better remember how I gave up my time for her.

Act in humility. If you need help finding reasons to be humble, follow Dr. Tony Evans’ example: Meet with your spouse every week for an hour to hear where you’ve messed up. Just listen during that time. (If your spouse struggles in this area, too, switch roles.) These types of meetings can train you in the art of humility.

The fight against selfishness means shelving the “me” and stressing the “we.” Make sure that your marriage has room for both of you: Embrace your interdependence — your inherent need and love for each other.

Finally, remember Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (NIV).

When we remember that we are indeed God’s chosen — clothed in kindness — a little drive up the highway doesn’t seem like such a big thing, does it?

An article from Focus on the Family

640x480Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author of several books.

Marriage on Display

Every marriage has an audience. Whether it’s your children, the next generation, church members, nonbelievers, coworkers, or other couples, your marriage is sending a message to those around you.

I heard a pastor this last weekend make a statement that shocked me. He said that a marriage can either convince people that hell really exists, or that God really exists. I literally said, “Oh my gosh” out loud in my truck when I heard it. But after some time of really thinking about it, I believe he’s correct in what he said.

So now for the hard part. If you’re married, what does your marriage put on display to others? Does it show more of the brokenness and hurt in this world? Or does your marriage reveal a God who is loving full of mercy? Does it show the pride and the ‘me-centered’ attitude that originated with Satan himself. Or does it show the sacrificial love that lays one’s life down for others, like Jesus did on the cross of Calvary? Is it full of anger and bitterness or radiating gentleness and forgiveness?

If your marriage story isn’t what it should be, don’t lose heart. God redeems lives and He can redeem marriages. I know you haven’t been perfect. Neither have I. No one has other than Jesus Himself. We will all have good days and bad days. But as a trend, our marriage should speak life and love. If we have chosen to follow Jesus, then our love should be most evident in the one we’ve chosen to join our lives too.

Peace to you and your marriage!