Sunlight and Roots part #1

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Have you ever noticed that flowers and plants will always reach towards the sunlight? Put them in a dark room with one source of light, and they will bend in its direction. Keep them in darkness and they wither and die. But all they need is that kiss of light to energize them to life. God has ingrained in them the ability to seek the light which is their source of life. And so He has with us.

We live in that dark room. Just look around you. Read the news. Scroll social media. There is so much heartbreak and devastation. Greed and pride are the mainstay of the day. The human heart believe that it is the center of the universe. The weak are exploited and trafficked all over the world. Terrorist attacks are at an all-time high. Humanity is disregarding God’s standards and rewriting rules on sexuality, marriage, and gender. Those worshiped in America the most are the celebrities and athletes rather than the One who made them. We accumulate all we can and continue to long for more. Almost a million babies are killed each year because of the need for ‘pro-choice’. None of this is new; I realize that. And fortunately, this isn’t the complete story.

There is a source of light in our world of darkness. It’s not the human spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit. It’s not human power that draw the shades back to let light into the darkness. It’s the forces of humility and grace. We have a light. His name is Jesus. And those who follow Him reflect his light so that it pushes back even more of the darkness.

If you find yourself suffocating under the pressures of life. If you feel burdened and broken. If you’ve been wrecked by the harshness of this world. No matter how dark your room is, reach for the Light. He is your source of life. As you do, reflect His light in the world around you. Someone you know really needs it.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

John 8:12 (NLT)

Peace brothers and sister.

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Jesus Raised the Bar, He didn’t remove it

follow JesusI’ve been journeying through the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7) over the last couple weeks and there seems to be a common phrase that Jesus used.

You have heard it said…but I say…

Matthew 5

Jesus makes use of this phrase in verses 21, 27, 33, 38, and 43 of chapter 5. If He felt compelled to use it so often in such a condensed portion of scripture it must be important. But what was He trying to say? I think it’s easy to fall into a trap here. There are prominent misconceptions about this that are easy to believe, but are false regardless of their believably. People can sometimes take them out of context (which is never a good idea) and that leads them to make faulty conclusions. I’ve done that too. Who hasn’t?

Lets start with what Jesus is NOT saying. He is not saying that the law is void and null. Jesus is not rewriting the law of God because to do so would be to rewrite the character of God. How do we know that Jesus isn’t saying this? Because Jesus is the exact imprint of God and Jesus lived out the law. If the law wasn’t important, then the life of Jesus didn’t matter. I would fear for anyone who believed that. We also know that Jesus isn’t abolishing the law because of His own words. The following verses preceded His statement above.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV) [my emphasis]

Jesus was the embodiment of the law. He lived it perfectly. He reflected God perfectly. So would He say that none of that is important any longer? Absolutely not! That would be like Jesus saying, “follow me, except don’t do all that stuff that I did when I was on earth.” We also know that Jesus was not making corrections to the law. To think that would mean that God made mistakes in the past and Jesus was His editor. Malachi 3:6 says that God does not change. Since God does not change, His word does not change.

For a long time I felt bad for people of the Old Testament. They had a strict law code and system to adhere to. It seemed so heavy to carry. But then I started to see exactly what the coming of Christ did and I began to see how He didn’t remove that godly standard, but actually raised the bar for everyone. When Jesus says, “you have heard…but I say…” He’s doing a few things. One, He’s removing false conceptions about what it means to follow the law of God. Humanity has always distorted truth. Second, He’s clarify the heart of the law and therefore, the heart of God in His purity. Third, Jesus is calling humanity to go way deeper. Below are some examples:

#1- Instead of just not murdering someone, you shouldn’t be angry with a person and withhold grace and forgiveness. The life of the Christian in these terms should reflect Christ, hanging on the cross, wrongfully convicted, suffering for others, and doing so that many would come to grace and find forgiveness in God. The Christian heart should not be an angry heart. The Christian heart should never want God’s full judgement for anyone because they’ve been saved from it themselves by what Jesus has done. Instead, the Christian should do what they can to extend love and grace, not wrath, even to those who abuse and exploit us.

#2-Instead of just keeping yourself from sleeping with another besides your spouse, you shouldn’t even long for another. That means you shouldn’t desire to undress others with your eyes, or seek out a fantasy world through books, articles, videos, pictures, and any other source. Your whole heart should be for your spouse. If you’re not married, the rules still apply. In addition to that, longing for anything more than God amounts to adultery towards God himself. Placing material objects, comfort, people, money, or anything else at the highest level of importance in our lives demotes God. When we do that, our heart betrays us worse more than ever.

Prior to the arrival of Jesus on planet earth, humanity had a standard by which to measure themselves and to know the heart of God. But it was still lived out by imperfect people. Even the greatest figures in the bible messed up and fell short of the mark. But when Jesus arrived, humanity saw it all displayed. And that removed any ounce of deniability. They could not longer say that they didn’t know what God meant or how it should look to live for Him. When I give my students and assignment with verbal instructions, I understand that some of them will not get it right. But when I give them the instructions and then demonstrate them over and over, they won’t be able to say that they don’t know what’s expected. Jesus demonstrated God’s heart, God’s character, God’s law, and God’s love. Then He looked out at humanity and said the following words:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14:6 (NASB)

Jesus raised the bar for everyone because He showed us what a life lived for God really looks like. After centuries of men, women, and kings getting it wrong, humanity had perfection revealed. God himself, clothed in humanity, out of grace and love, said, “let me show you how.” He now bids us to come and do the same. We won’t be perfect as he was perfect, but that should never deter us. The life of the Christians is aimed at Christ’s life, surrendered in Christ’s death, and empowered by Christ’s Spirit. There is no higher standard than that.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

To imitate perfection is a very intimidating notion. But we aren’t on our own in this endeavor. God’s Holy Spirit is within us, God’s children surround us, and God’s grace covers us.

Races don’t exist

af9874ec95caadf9fef66dafb6925b92272470bef7947dea95e5202b8f8a43e9The battle over racism has reverberated throughout history. Cultures have used the concept of race, or variations of it, to subjugate groups of people for millennia. In the US alone, we denied civil rights to particular groups based on the “color” of their skin. More than that, we used race to segregate large portions of our population from public areas and certain jobs. If that wasn’t enough, we even bound people in chains all because of race. However, all of these conflicts have occurred based on a faulty concept. There is no such thing as multiple races. That’s right! Races don’t exist, therefore racism is discrimination towards something that isn’t real. That, among many other things, should make racists feel great shame. How have we come to such a place where people are so hung up on belonging to a specific race? How did we ever develop a construct of racial groups in the first place?

Over 100 years ago, an American sociologist named W.E.B. Du Bois spoke out on this issue. He was concerned that race was being used as biological explanations for social and cultural differences between different populations of people. Du Bois criticized the idea of using white and black labels for discrete groups. He claimed that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity and were not biologically correct in the first place.

 

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Recent scientific research has supported Du Bois’ claims. Here’s a quote from Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia who has been involved in studies on the matter.

It’s [race] a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it’s a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it’s a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from.

Race has been a tool, not for understanding people or for preserving culture and identity, but to subjugate and segregate people groups within societies and without. The best way for racism to disappear in a society is for people to come to the reality that race is only a construct of their own imagination. Human cultures have been bred to see race. We’re constantly inundated with it. We hear about it in schools, in music, on movies, and in the news. But race, has no place, among the world of facts. I’ve written this topic in a post two years ago but the issue has only grown in our American media and mainstream since. So I feel compelled to share once again. Below are just a few reasons why race is a false title for you and me to apply to anyone:

#1- We all have the same beginning.

Race: a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.

Dictionary.com

Every single human being on planet earth has the same descendant.  It doesn’t matter where you live, what language you speak, or how you look. We are all related. Africans are related to Europeans, are related to Americans, are related to Asians. We are all one big family. If we are all related, race cannot exist. To discriminate against another is to attack your own family. But if we all started from the same two people, then why the variations? Why do we look so different? For the same reason why you don’t look like your distant cousins. Now multiply that by billions of people genetically mixing over thousands of years and it’s not too difficult to understand why humanity is so diverse.

#2- We are all the same color.

One thing people use as a race identifier is the color of skin. But what few people realize is that every single human is the same color. That’s right! So why the different variations?  It all comes down to how much melanin your body produces (which also affects eye and skin color). People have the ability to make multiple kinds and levels of melanin in their skin and that will determine the shade variation of your appearance. That is all determined by the combination of genes that have mixed and been passed down over the ages. The amount of melanin can be varied from very little, like in fair skinned people, to a lot found in dark brown skin. In combination with this is also the color of our skin cells. Most cells are clear and we can see the reddish purple of the blood through very pale skin, but in our outer skin the upper cells have keratin fibers for protection. Keratin has a pale yellowish hue. Variations in human skin shade also correlate closely with geography and the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. So humans have various shades based on the combinations from melanin production, keratin, the blood under their skin, and exposure to the sun.

#3- The concept of race is fairly new

Contemporary scholars argue that race was made common place as recent as the 18th century as people were searching for a way to classify people. Many disciplines have declared that the real meaning of race, especially in American society, has to do with social realities, as opposed to physical variations in the humans. In other words, race was created as a means of justifying abuses. And even today, race is being used to further drive a wedge among people within a nation. Prior to the 18th century, most civilizations viewed others in accordance with people groups and family lineage. Read historical texts, including the bible, and see how labels are used. So while persecution still existed in great abundance before the 1700’s, it was based on biases, a desire for dominance and power, socioeconomic status, and differences in cultural customs. You know who enslaved Africans first? Africans. You know who the “white” Europeans enslaved first? Other “white” Europeans.  All of the elements of discrimination that once existed still exist today, yet we’ve added the race element to it as well, and it has been tearing at the American nation ever since.

#4- The One that created us gave us a real image

Race is more about image than it is anything else. We are physical creatures and we often view others based on their physical appearance and how they portray themselves and that goes a long way in determining one’s image. We aren’t black. We aren’t white. We aren’t anything that has to do with color. We aren’t meant to put ourselves in a tiny box labeled Caucasian or Hispanic or African American. Those labels should have no place in a society. They only serve to divide and brainwash us to view ourselves and others based on those labels. We all have the same inherent label and image. Once people can come to grips with that reality, the better we’ll be in treating and viewing others how they should be.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

Enough with Unite the Right. Enough with KKK and White Supremacy. Enough with Black Lives Matter and Black Power. Can’t we all see that this is all self defeating? Can’t we see that all this race talk is further making race a problem? We need to wake up America! There is no such thing as Black and White. There are only people. We are all the same race. We are all image bearers of the One that created us. You know how conflicts arise? Pride and jealousy over differences in people. Sin! It’s people developing images for themselves and others that are so distant from who we were created to be. We are all different. And that is good. Maybe a better way to phrase it is, we’re all unique and that’s how we’ve been designed.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to planet earth to destroy this social phenomenon of false imagery and discrimination. He came to unite His creation based on who He is, not based on our differences. We are created with differences, not to mistreat and label others, but so we will learn to be in community and use our skills to benefit humankind. Faith in Christ, unites. Faith in Christ destroys walls. Faith in Christ opens our eyes to see beyond physical appearance. Faith in Christ helps us to know who we really are and were always meant to be. Lets have a few less protests and a lot more proclaiming the love of Jesus. Lets forget about resisting the national anthem and focus on a revival of hearts on fire for Jesus Christ and His mission.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (NIV) [my emphasis]

Marriage Series #5: Don’t forget your number one.

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For some reason, when people get married, life together can get muddled very easily. This final post in the five part series takes us deep into just how highly we hold our marriage relationship among the things of life.

Arguably nothing distracts us more from our spouse than having children. All of sudden, there is another little miracle to focus on, and before we know it, we’ve forgotten to focus on an even more important relationship: our marriage. That’s right, your spouse is your priority. Not at the neglect of your children, but because your children need your spouse to be number one.

We are given children to raise, and nurture, and help mold into godly individuals so that they can go out into the world to do the same. In a nut shell, we have kids with the goal to give them away at a later point in their future, and to prepare them for when that day comes. The marriage is way different. We join with a spouse for life. Our goal is never to prepare our spouse to leave one day. That would be crazy! Our goal is to draw more closely together in the union as one. But unfortunately, so many parents neglect their marriage for the cause of their children. They pour their time and effort out and have nothing left for the one that matters most. Don’t get me wrong, I have two little ones and I know the time and energy that it takes to raise kiddos. I also know the special place they hold in my heart. But I had a wife first, and I need to make sure she remembers that she had my heart first.

Children aren’t the only drain on marriage fun. For men especially, work can exhaust even the most hardy individual. Sometimes people fill their lives with work out of necessity. I’m a realist. I get it. I have a career as a teacher, I own a window washing business, and I coach wrestling. My life is full but out of the need to provide for my family. God has been so good to provide each of those opportunities for us. I could easily allow them to drain the life out of me and have nothing left when I get home. But that would be neglect. That would be sinful. Yes, sinful. God paired me with an amazing woman and I owe her my service, my love, and my affection. To deny her any of these is to shortchange the greatest treasure in my life. I will be the first to admit, that I have come up short, more than once. But each day is a new day for me to show her how much she means to me no matter how busy I am.

On the other hand, some people pour their lives out for their careers out of choice, not need. Why? Jobs can be controlled. Jobs are safe. And lets face it, jobs are way easier than relationships. So a lot of people retreat into their work where they can have more success. There’s no other way to put it…this is a cowards way out and it’s pathetic and crushing to a marriage.  Even with that said, it’s not too late to reset your priorities in life and to re-calibrate your heart back to your spouse.

There are many things that can take our eyes off our marriage. Worrying about bills, struggling health, stresses caused by others, etc…Whatever the case may be, it is possible to always have our marriage on high priority. It’s a choice…a constant one. I have a few ideas on how we can make sure we keep our spouse as our number one love (other than Jesus of course).

#1-Continue dating

Make it a point to go out with your spouse. If you have children, make sure you have some dates without those bundles of joy. If you can afford it, try once a month. If you can do more, do more. Dates don’t have to be expensive either. There’s plenty you can do for under $10 or even free. The effort makes the difference.

#2-Never stop adoring your spouse

To adore our spouse is very much a choice. Circumstance can certainly affect us but we get the power to choose whether we stay head over heals for our significant other. Remember how you loved them once. Remember how you never wanted to be apart. Hold on to that. That never has to change, we just allow it to. We should be way more in love with them at the end of life than we were the day we got married.

#3-Remember that they are a gift

I know that this can be hard right after an argument. But you don’t deserve them. They don’t deserve you. Your spouse is a symbol of God’s amazing grace in your life. God created the system of marriage as a way to help one another in carrying out life’s purposes. Don’t forget that or take that for granted.

#4-Don’t forget who your spouse belongs to

God made your spouse. That’s a fact. Treat her like the princess she is. Treat him like the prince he is. Even when they don’t act like it.

#5-Keep the communication lines open

There’s lots of ways to do this. Set specific times to talk. For my wife and I, that mostly happens after 8:30 when the kids are in bed. But we also need to make sure we don’t act on important things without including our spouse. Remember, we are one in marriage and they need to be the one we go to first and most.

#6-Have a lot of fun

My wife and I are best friends. We love to laugh together, be playful, sit by a fire in our backyard, watch movies, and so much more. Marriage is awesome. It’s a never ending sleep over with your best friend.

#7-Be intimate

Guys, this is more than just physical intimacy. Ladies, this is more than just emotional intimacy. To be intimate includes both and so much more. We can’t deny each other our hearts. We need to be playful, and physical, and open with our fears and dreams. We have to share, and share deeply.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine

Song of Songs 6:3

The marriage relationship is so important. That cannot be stressed enough. We cannot treat it like a secondary relationship. We can’t put our spouse on the back burner until our kids are out of the house or we meet that career goal. There are always going to be sacrifices on the part of each person in the marriage, but we can’t afford to sacrifice our marriage, not even a little.

Marriage is amazing. God made it to be amazing. You’re spouse is an absolute treasure. Make sure they know that. Peace to you and your marriage!

Follow Up: Use these questions for your own reflection or to engage in a discussion with the love of your life.

1- How often do you and your spouse go on dates?

2- Are you placing anyone or anything above your spouse (children, work, something else)?

3- Do you make time regularly to have conversations with your spouse about more than just surface level things?

4- Are you physically playful and intimate with your spouse?

5- What are signs that your love and affection for your spouse is growing? Is it growing? How can/do you nurture your affections for them?

Marriage Series #4: This Means War

spiritual-war

I heard once that the marriage relationship is meant to tell the truth about who God is and how He loves. That concept comes from passages like Ephesians 5:25 that states that our love should reflect the way that Jesus loves. There are also several verses that compare the church’s relationship with Jesus as a marriage union where Jesus is referred to as the Bridegroom and the church is the bride (I know that’s weird if you’re a guy). A couple of those verses to check out are Isaiah 61:10 and Matthew 9:15. Also, one day in the future we’ll be invited to a marriage feast with Jesus as the host. In the bible it’s referred to as the marriage supper of the Lamb where the church will be joined with it’s Bridegroom(Jesus). That story is in Revelation 19. Check it out:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Revelation 19:6-10 (ESV) [my emphasis]

How cool is that? If marriage reflects our relationship with Jesus then it must be the most important relationship we have outside of our relationship with Jesus himself. You can be sure that if a marriage carries that weight of importance, then it is going to be opposed. Why do I say that? Because God is opposed and the same one that opposes Him opposes your marriage.

In the last post we talked about how strong a marriage union can be when it includes the third cord who is God. So not only is a marriage meant to reveal qualities of God, it also includes God. Any relationship that He is a part of will be a high priority for the enemy of God. You’re a target! Your spouse is a target! Your family is part of a spiritual hit list that the enemy of God will do anything to bring down and tear apart. That’s the bleak reality, but it doesn’t end there. We’re under assault but from a defeated enemy. Which means, if a marriage has God, then a marriage has the victory already. But it’s not a passive victory. It has to be claimed.

A lot of marriages don’t experience the kind of victory I’m talking about because they don’t join in the fight. They might not even realize there is a fight. They might think they have a fight but that their the opponent is their spouse. It’s not…ever…no matter what the issue is or what they’ve done or said. Your spouse is NOT the problem. And neither are you. Remember what we’ve already talked about. You and your spouse are meant to be one, laced together in a powerful three cord bond with the purpose of serving and loving one another in a sacrificial way. That is marriage and it is beautiful. I know people fail and come up short. I know that sometimes people make a complete wreck of things. But nothing that our spouse does will ever make them the enemy of our marriage. There is another. One who is behind it all. One who wants nothing more than to split you up.

He goes by several names: Satan, the Devil, Prince of the power of the air, ruler of this world, and many more. He is not the fictitious little red man with horns and a pitchfork. He was once the most beautiful angel among the hosts of heavens. Then he lead a revolt against God and he’s been trying to destroy God and those close to Him ever since. He’s been described as both a vicious dragon and an angel of light. Whatever form he takes, and whatever name he goes by, he hates you and he hates your spouse. He hates your marriage. And he has an entire army at his command to engage you in spiritual combat.

His strategies are subtle. It’s the lures of attraction he uses. It could be a career that he wants us to place as priority over our spouse or family. It could be a relationship with someone of the opposite sex that starts innocent enough and spirals into a full affair. It could be pride that causes us to refuse to say I’m sorry or meet our spouse half way. It may be control that propels us into demanding our own way. It could be selfishness so that we seek what we can get out of our spouse rather than what we can do for them. It could be busyness which takes us away from our spouse and then the silence creeps in and intimacy fades. It could even be the delusion that we need to change our spouse and that’s why God gave them to us. His strategies are the harsh words spoken in the heat of an argument. He loves both the silent treatments and verbal abuse. He loves for either spouses to not be physically intimate and he loves physical abuse. Satan isn’t just a bully. He is the full embodiment of evil and there is no tactic below him. Napoleon wasn’t the originator of the strategy of divide and conquer. Where do you think he got it from. Satan wants to drive the wedge between us and our spouse, in any way that can be achieved.

So much of our energies are wasted. We have all the weapons at our disposal, and we all need to fight this battle, but rarely do we. We need to be praying over our spouses, every day. We need to be very choosy about what we allow into our relationship, meaning the movies, music, and other extracurricular activities. We need to serve our spouses more. We need to lay our lives down in sacrificial love towards them. They need to experience grace from us. They need to know that we love them no matter what. We need to engage them in deep and meaningful conversations. We have to be an open book. The marriage home can afford no closed doors, no ridicule, no shaming, no exclusion. You and your spouse are one, glued together by God himself. You have to keep the glue in the relationship.

I love the movie titled the “Ghost and the Darkness.” It came out back in 1996 with costars Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas. The movie is all about these two lions in Africa who are terrorizing this railroad building project. They strike at night, killing workers in their tents or who have wondered off from the camp. It’s a pretty intense movie and few scenes are more intense then a dream sequence that Val Kilmer has while nearing the end of the bridge construction.  In the dream, Val is getting the opportunity to see his wife, and newly born child, who he’s been away from for months. Picture the scene. Val is in the middle of a large crowd as they work laying the rail lines. In the distance, Val sees his wife and child on the rail platform having just arrived. Val is ecstatic. He begins making is way towards his family when all of a sudden something catches his eye. As Val scans the tall grass that surrounds the platform, he spots a tail waving just above the golden tips of the grass. He begins to hasten even quicker but it is extremely difficult to make his way through the crowds. He shouts for his wife to go back into the train depot but the noise from the workers drown him out. The next moment is heart stopping. In a matter of seconds, the massive lion darts from his cover and lunges for Val’s wife and child. At that moment he is startled awake. Intense right? Well, satan is that lion, waiting in the tall grace, ready to devour your family. He’s waiting for his opening.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)

We can’t afford to ignore that he’s there. The cost is far more than any of us can bear. Don’t let this cause you to freeze in fear of what he may do to your marriage. Use this as a means to understand what stands against you. The best way to defeat your enemy is to know his strategy. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of Nazi Germany wrote a book on strategies in warfare in 1937. Unfortunately for him, American commander General George Patton, read the book and used his strategies against him during the course of World War II. The same applies for our marriage. We know his tactics. And more than that, we are armed with the greatest firepower in the world in order to defeat him. Imagine if Val Kilmer had a machine gun and couldn’t mowed that lion down to protect his family, but then chose not to use it. That’s the equivalent of us choosing not to partner with God by including him in all our decision and using the power of prayer for our spouses and children. And lets not forget ourselves in this equation. We definitely need to be covering ourselves in prayer and spending our days devoted to loving and serving God. Nothing disarms our enemy more than a heart poured out for the Lord.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (ESV)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints

Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV)

Follow Up: Use these questions as reflection or a discussion between you and your spouse. God bless my brother’s and sisters!

1- Have you ever viewed your spouse as the enemy? If so, take the opportunity to ask them for forgiveness.

2- How are you actively fighting for your marriage?

3- In what ways does your marriage reflect Christ’s love for His church?

4- What is one new thing, or renewed thing, that you can do regularly to fight for your spouse (and kids if you have them)?

5- What ways has the enemy of your marriage subtly tried to drive wedges in your relationship? I suggest committing to praying over these areas with urgency and consistency.

Marriage Series #3: The Glue

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In part two of this series I wrote about two people joining together to become one new person. In this post we will look at what keeps the two together as one. Whenever you place two objects together you have to have some kind of adhesive to make sure they stay together. We aren’t talking about Velcro, tape, or superglue though. In order to keep two people together as one, we need something far more powerful.

Have you ever tried fastening two objects together with the wrong substance? You’d never use duct tape for water pipes. Or wood glue for metal parts. You wouldn’t try to solder two plastic items together. Only the right adhesive will work. Use the wrong stuff and over time the objects will fall apart. Sometimes this happens quickly, but others, over a long period of time. When binding two people together, its no different.

So what is the correct way to bond the married couple as one? Most mainstream magazines would argue that it’s love. This, of course, depends on what definition of love you’re talking about. The so called emotion of love is an awful binding agent. Feelings come and go as we all know. Unfortunately this is the definition of love that most in the world operate with. That’s why we hear people say that they “fell out of love” and that’s why they are separating. What they are really saying is that the warm and fuzzy emotions aren’t there any more and they want to go search for them in someone or something else.

Another response that some might give to what keeps people together is commitment. But that warrants the question: commitment to what? I’ve known people that have stayed ‘together’ for decades but their marriage was a wreck and they simply lived together and tolerated one another. I’ve also seen people so committed to their spouse that they change to become whatever their spouse wants them to be, even if that is so far from who God called them to be. Does that sound like God’s design? Not even close.

Love and commitment are huge! Bigger than huge! I don’t even know what word would adequately depict just how huge they are. But they have to be centered on the right thing. We must be committed, not to the institution of marriage, but to the ones involved in the  marriage. Before you think that I can’t do math or that I put a typo in there. The ‘ones’ that I’m referring to are your spouse and the third person in the covenant relation: God. We also have to love both our spouse and God but not in the way that the world generally defines love (more on that further down).

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV) [my emphasis]

This passage obviously speaks about more than just a marriage but it is also meant to explain a covenant relationship between two people and the third strand: God. Whenever two people enter into a marriage they aren’t just making vows to each other, but also to God. A married couple becomes a threefold cord which are three parts laced together to make stronger. It’s not three parts side by side taped together. The three parts are literally overlapping and intertwined. In other words, they are meant to be inseparable. Take one strand out of the cord and it quickly unravels.

Many couples around the world view their marriage as a union of two people. God is often discarded, or not even recognized from the beginning. If that is the case, then it’s not a marriage according to God’s original design. God included himself in the equation and we cannot afford to write Him out. He is the adhesive. He is the ultimate superglue that binds us to our spouse.

He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Matthew 19:4-6 (ESV) [my emphasis]

God joined you to your spouse, therefore He holds you together. We have to be committed to Him, and His commands, and His guidance. We serve Him and love Him first, and from that comes our love and service to our spouse. It’s in the pursuit of God that our marriage is enriched and our love becomes genuine. It’s in the pursuit of God that our lives are changed so that we can be the person that our spouse deserves. What does that look like? We need to go to God before we go to our spouse. We should be praying before we bring things to our spouse. We should be self reflecting through time with God before we dare to point a finger of blame. We need to make sure we are treating our spouse like they are a child and treasure of God. We need to speak to and treat our spouse like we would speak to or treat God himself. We need to be faithful to our spouse like we would be faithful to God. We need to be spending time with God in prayer and bible study with our spouse.

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)

Most people have seen this passage quoted. A lot of people even put it on marriage invitations or wedding glasses or fancy signs to hang in their homes. But how often does our love for our spouse really reflect the words in these verses? There is nothing in here about warm and fuzzy emotions. Love is the way we choose to treat our spouse. Love is a way of life. Love is selfless and giving. Love focuses on others and how we can benefit them. A marriage full of this love, which is only possible through a life lived through and for God, will hold together. This isn’t worldly love. This is Christian love. This is God infused and Holy Spirit empowered love. If we want to love our spouse as we should then we need the third part of the threefold cord. When we do, our marriage will be strong and it will endure.

Follow Up: Use these questions for your own self reflection or to have a deep discussion with your beloved.

1- What do you do with your spouse that includes God and is about God? (i.e. prayer, bible study, worship, serving others, etc…)

2- Do you ever pray before bringing something up to your spouse or while in the middle of a disagreement?

3- How often have you covered your spouse in prayer?

4- Do you view your spouse as a child and treasure of God?

5- Does your approach to loving your spouse reflect the words in 1 Corinthians 13? What areas do you need the Lord to change you in order to love them better?

Selective Love

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“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36 (ESV)

For nearly a two year period, my wife and I had the tremendous honor to be welcomed into a small sphere of the local homeless population where we live. We were not homeless ourselves which made this experience even more meaningful. For the first five or six months it wasn’t an easy undertaking but it was incredible. We met so many new people and heard exciting and heart breaking stories. But we noticed that many of the church fold coming down to help were not responding in the same way. In fact, some of the comments we heard from the Christian servants there were so sad. The three that stood out the most were:

“This just isn’t my thing.”

“I don’t feel called to this.”

“I can’t serve people who aren’t grateful for it.”

The people who made comments like these came and went. For some of them I’m sure they came in the first place to quill some guilt in their hearts or check off another ‘to-do’ item on their Christian servant list. If these weren’t bad enough, we even received warnings from people who told us to think twice about helping the homeless because they could have a bad influence on us.

Over the next several months we went to their camp where we’d eat food, talk about Jesus, and have conversation. I would like to tell you that they all dedicated their lives to Christ and turned their lives around, but that isn’t how it played out. There were many tears shed and there was repentance and lots of prayer, but all but two of those men and women remained on the streets. So the question becomes, is it worth it? Was it a waste of time?

I believe most people would look at that and say that those of us who served threw away those two years. And that is the attitude that I think Jesus is addressing in our focus passage for chapter five. There is something in the fallen human condition that functions on the principle if reciprocity.

Reciprocity is defined as, “the quality or state of being reciprocal:  mutual dependence, action, or influence: a mutual exchange of privileges.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Reciprocity is the enemy of true love. Many relationships die out of self-pity due to one party believing they’re giving more than the other and not receiving back what they think is owed to them. For our service and love to be sincere, we must eradicate any presence of self-entitlement. No relationship can flourish with a ‘what can I get out of this’ mentality. For us to serve and love how Christ called us to means we have to first break the cycle of reciprocity in our lives.

In Luke chapter 6, Jesus is basically saying that if your love is based on return than you’re no different from anyone else. You don’t have to be a believer in Jesus to love but the kind of love that He calls us to is way beyond how worldly love operates. Christians and non-Christians alike, love those whom they receive love from, but Jesus says there’s more…a whole lot more…to love than that. Jesus actually says our love isn’t genuine until we can love the following:

  1. Our Enemies (verse 27)
  2. Those who hate us (verse 27)
  3. Those who curse us (verse 28)
  4. Those who abuse us (verse 28)
  5. Those who strike us (verse 29)
  6. Those who exploit and steal from us (verses 29 and 30)
  7. Those in need who can’t repay (verse 30)

Love is the key marker for how Christ’s followers stand out from the crowds. For our love to stand out it must be as obvious a contrast as light is from darkness. God’s grace would not be exceptional if it was only for those who were great and lovable. God’s grace becomes amazing when we realize He loves us even though the best of us are wretched sinners. If we are going to stand out and bring glory to God’s name by how we live, we cannot be selective in who we love.

For  more, come check out the book!

Peace and Blessings in Christ!