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18 September 2015 @ 11:04 am
What is marriage?

Whether you've been married 5 days or 50 years, marriage was and is defined by God for some specific purposes.  For the young it includes the possibility of children.  For all ages it is to be for an intimate oneness and companionship that cannot be found in any other relationship including the sisterhood like that between Naomi and Ruth and brotherhood like Jonathon and David.  It also is the unique connection physically in love making, in which God requires a husband and wife to be fully devoted to pleasing each other.  And finally, but perhaps the most important, a marriage is to reflect the relationship that Christ has with His church (Eph 5:32) - perhaps the best form of evangelism God has given mankind.  Why you ask?   Because a great marriage that does that is unique and very visible to us all, and we are drawn to it to ask, "Why are you so different?"

When we married, we each gave a covenantal vow before one another and to God, that our marriage would last until one of us stands beside the grave of the other.   Although the Bible says marriage and male/female do not exist in heaven we will be with our Christian spouse and other Christ follower loved ones for eternity.    The here and now is our preparation for our eternity.

Looking for a possible measuring stick, consider that there were most likely two parts to your wedding vows - the Vow and the Exchange of rings.  You may have written your own vows, or used some of the more common ones like the one below.  For most of us our wedding day was a blur, and unless we tucked them away somewhere, we may long have forgotten them, so read the one below, for I'm sure it contains the essence of the words you shared with each other that day.

I, ___, take you ___, to be my wedded ___. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'till death do us part. And this day I pledge you my faithfulness.

The rings exchanged symbolize the unending nature of marriage. Also during your ceremony, the Bible was read, and prayers given.  Truth and wisdom about marriage are found throughout the pages of the Bible.  The Bible, Prayer,  Worship, and Relationships with others are the binding glue of marriage. 

Actually, our vows were the challenge to place Christ at the center of our individual lives and to do so in our marriage. The Great Commandment first found in Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us that we must love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and love our neighbors as our self.   This touches on something we all feel very deeply in our hearts; that the purity of God's love is the greatest gift we can offer one another.  It is what makes marriage so very special and gives us the greatest opportunity for ongoing joy.  Our relationship with Him guides our way to be kind and gentle, even when emotions rise - as they will.

As we individually and together see Christ so up close and personal, we realize that He is worthy of our losing everything we value in life in order to know Him and serve Him.  The more clearly we see God, the more we are able to give to one another

The measure of our marriage then, is displayed as a radical and humble servant-hood.   It is not how we embrace the “happy life” geared to “my rights”, personal comfort, or entitlements , rather that we live unselfishly, before one another, submitting to each other as unto Christ in the years to come.

Ultimately, the real measure of our marriage and our individual lives, is in our character; how it is displayed before our spouse, and others.  Do we exude the fruit of God’s spirit (see Gal 5:22-23), or do others see more of those things outlined in verses 19-21?   As we humble ourselves before the Creator of the universe, He changes our character to become the person and couple He designed us to be.


The Bible records in John 11:35, "Jesus wept" on hearing that His friend Lazarus had died.    I believe it's safe to consider that Jesus had a strong friendship with Lazarus, and before he became King, David's relationship with Jonathan knit them together like brothers.

Most of us have a friend we've not seen in a long time that we can pick up where we parted, in a heartbeat. I call it the Friendship Factor. How does it grow? Last month we talked about Relational Drift as the natural occurrence in relationships unless individuals are putting effort and time into the relationships. This month I'd like to explore the beginnings of relationships, and what constitutes the Friendship Factor that will build -- sort of the opposite side of relational drift.

Relationships begin most often when two people find they have something in common. I believe as a result of the 60's sexual revolution, Roe -vs- Wade, and the slow subtle removal of Religion in society (in reality the removal of Faith in the Bible and biblical values), a majority of relationships today that lead to marriage are begun on physical attraction. As it has been for many generations we are looking for "connection" and like the model of Jesus and Lazarus connection, we still connect with others based on similar interests (sports, knitting, cooking, hunting, etc). When it comes to male/female connections we've often replaced similar interests (spiritual values, missions, books, career, etc.) with solely physical attractions and build on that with stimulation and intercourse. Often it moves to co-habiting, with the thinking it will lead naturally to marriage, but we discover over time that we started in a way that missed the Friendship Factor.   (Note: Sex outside of marriage is asking God to bless our relationship while willfully being disobedient to Him.)

Jesus' friendship with Lazarus may have roots in His being God and His relationship with Lazarus being part of His love for His Creation, and probably had something to do with Lazarus' devotion to the One he recognized as God incarnate. But they no doubt put effort into fellowship, lengthy discussions about many things, and perhaps outings together, just as we will do with our close friends.

So here we are today in our marriage, perhaps finding ourselves wanting to build greater strength into our marriage, or with a slight or major drift from the one who sleeps across the bed from us.   Is it too late? NO!

God is faithful, and even if we have begun to think "I married the wrong person", God is the redeemer for His children, and gives wonderful Friendship Factor examples for us that we can look to for how to build friendship into our marriage.

The Disciples may be the original "band of brothers" as it's coined and has been used in literature for hundreds of years. It is used to describe the concept of blood brothers, best friends, and "Sisters". As different as they were from one another, the Disciples had the common thread of loving Jesus. Among them there were fishermen, political zealots, a home builder, a tax collector, one of noble birth, a pessimist, and The Carpenter,

They would not seem to be the ideal "band of brothers", but God built on the common thread they had and built something miraculous. Over what really was a short period of time God built a very strong Friendship Factor that God used to transform the world.

We can do something similar in our marriage by taking the common thread, no matter how thin, and allowing God to grow something miraculous like a three stranded heavy rope. Husband, Wife and Christ.

Start with our faith - read and study the Bible together. Can you imagine how different views of God and faith would have been the case with the Apostles as they discovered how their different backgrounds and beliefs brought strength to their brotherhood?   Bring the differences in your understanding of God and Faith under the authority of Scripture and grow in your maturity in Christ as "one flesh" as God reveals marriage to be in Gen 2:24, Eph 5:21-32, and throughout the Scriptures.

Like Jesus who took His disciples everywhere, have fun dates, serious times and join one another to discover new things for you both. Nearly 30 years ago Willard Harley wrote "His Needs, Her Needs" and created a recreational list for couples that you may reply to this email and ask us to send you via email. It's a multi page PDF designed to help you find some activities that you both enjoy, and in months and years to come to stimulate your thinking about new activities you can try.

Lastly, our friend Christy Osborn recently posted on her blog the The Benefits of Kissing, showing how it builds the Friendship Factor just as regularly dating our spouse will. Read her blog and take Christy's "Selfie Kiss Challenge." , and consider the "Reflections and Applications below.

16 January 2015 @ 04:23 pm
Monthly Marriage Fitness Center letter - January 2015

Relational Drift

The natural occurrence of relationships is to either work at them by spending time connecting, or seeing them drift apart.  Think back on your relationships with family members, childhood and adolescent friends, and ponder which you are well connected with now, and what the difference is between them and others you’ve lost “touch” with. 

Most often the difference comes down to the effort the two of you have put into keeping the relationship fresh and meaningful to you both --- with a fair portion of that effort being, for you – about them, their needs, and life.

Ipic 01-2015n marriage: we marry believing that our greatest needs will be met by our spouse – or do we merely have that as an unrealistic expectation?    Yes, during our dating we are usually receiving sufficiently from the one we’re dating to keep us interested, and most us, if honest, would acknowledge that we were on our best behavior, focused on their needs as well.   That level of receiving and giving usually lasts into the marriage.

Unfortunately a good part of that level of selflessness is hormonal and those hormones only are produced by our brains for a sustainably limited time – typically 4 years at best.   Unless we have something more significant than hormones, our relationship will follow the natural drift phenomenon of all relationships moving to the time where there is not significant connection effort which leads toward distance, alienation, isolation, arguing, criticism, defensiveness and blame.

There are some easy to spot early signs that drift is looming in our marriage: avoiding time together, being “too busy” with work, kids, church, sports, failing to date your spouse for fun times, talk centering around the kids, work, others, rather than focusing in on what’s important to each other and to your marriage relationship.

We need to know and understand that marriage takes work, and that the natural occurrence for the majority of couples in America is to drift.  Having something more substantial guides us as the hormonal drugs taper off and to sustain us for decades into the future.

I believe that “something” is a personal heart being transformed into Christ-likeness, learning from Scripture all we can about godly character – His Character – that we might imitate it and have Christ change ours from the inside out.   Sharing such growth, in studies, on a date, teaching our children, will bring us closer, but that does not remove the need for individual investment in the study of God’s Word, prayer and fellowship/study with other couples.

Lastly I'd like us all to ponder what those aspects of drift from paragraph 5 above will do to our relationship with God.  Can we expect Him to grow godliness in us when we are in a one-way relationship with Him?   He has given it all just for us, when we don't or won't give ourselves to Him.  David Ferguson writes in his book “Relational Discipleship” how the life of Jesus illustrated that God reveals what is needed only as we surrender to Him.

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Monthly Marriage Fitness Center letter - December 2014                                                                                                                 

The Heart of Christ

There are several people in my normal circle of friends who seem to come AT me in discussions, and I then find myself
responding slowly or entirely missing the opportunity to thoughtfully respond from my heart.   I need time to consider
and reflect on such things.   Perhaps we all do in some way or at some times.

I invite you into a conversation I had recently with a friend, regarding each other's approach to the teaching we each
give to Marriage Preparation.   At one point he asked if we teach the "DOCTRINE OF MARRIAGE ", and there was a
very pregnant pause before I responded with my yes (albeit quietly). 

Later that evening I pondered the force and terminology in his request, my hesitation and my quiet response.  Thinking
back to the conversation, it appeared to me that he defined "DOCTRINE OF MARRIAGE" as "the husband is to love his
wife as Christ loved, giving himself up for his wife and the wife is to SUBMIT TO HER HUSBAND ", reflecting what seemed
to me at that moment to be an singular and legalistic emphasis on her obedience --- but not the husbands.   I was also
stuck or struck by the absence of mentioning Eph 5:21 that calls both to submit to one another in the fear of Christ.

What comes home to me now is somewhat a parallel observation
where Jesus asks His disciples "could you not pray with me one
hour ?"   When I read that passage in Matt 26:40, I hear it as a plea
 from a humble, troubled, broken spirit, rather than as a bullet of
condemnation.  After all, this was God - who gave up heaven to
come dwell as a man and by an act of obedient will was about
to suffer the worst possible treatment leading up to His crucifixion
on a crude cross. He was not judging their performance, but giving
a humble plea to their hearts - to stand with Him in His greatest hour
of need.

And as I pondered my conversation with my friend, I saw that his question could well be his empassioned plea for an
understanding that we do teach biblical marriage, not some watered down version that many teach. I was then convicted
that what sounded to me like a "bullet" he fired, may be all about me, not my friend, and in either case clearly did not
warrant a sharp reaction in response, and so I hesitated.

Pastor Jamie said recently to put a stake in the ground when it is clear that:

  • what we are dealing with is a big deal to God,

  • we've considered the ultimate cost and the personal cost,

  • we have listened to the direction and prayer that wise godly counselors give us on the matter

  • and lastly we've scrutinized our understanding and personal motivation in the matter.  

When I look at that, I know the heart of my friend comes with long years studying God's Word, that obedience is a big
deal to God, that the ultimate cost of disobedience is exceedingly great, that my friend has a few godly teachers that do
put a stake in the ground for wives to submit, and that only he and God know his inner motive to emphasize only one
part of Eph 5 with me that evening.  I also know that he often defers (submits) to his wife and lives out Eph 5:21-32.
We've known each other for more than 2 decades and I know him well, but only God truly knows his inner motives - and
it is not for me to mind-read or judge.

My friend and I agree on doctrinal things but often differ on how they are to be emphasized. I believe that's because my
heart is drawn to the Jesus I see who responds as He did when the Pharisees brought the woman caught in the act
of adultery and Jesus (God) sends her on her way at the end with "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more" rather than
"go and SIN NO MORE”. This too I see as an instructional plea to her soul not a bullet to the heart.   The work of the
instruction may come immediately or may come over time as she ponders the miracle of having had a personal
interaction with God, but either way I think it is a healing balm.

Bottom line: For me, the gentleness of grace and a humbled spirit far surpass a bullet to the heart in power, but still, I
stand in awe of my friend and the lives that God has touched through him both through his words and actions which
reflect an active humble walk with God, even if his words sometime reflect to me a greater harshness.  We are friends in
part because we do not judge each other's motives and we both are committed to live out the Gospel to the best of our

Thank you for sharing my journey.  Let me close with one more reflection as we approach Christmas.  This is a time of
year that for a variety of reasons often sees tension rise in marriage, making it a good and much needed time to suspend
judgment of our spouse and their motives (even or especially when they are clearly not the same as ours), and to reflect
on the humble life of Christ the man, who was and is God, yet left heaven for us. 

Celebrate His birth, and allow it to bring rebirth in our walk with Him this Christmas season, perhaps God will use it over
the holiday season to learn that mind reading and judging our spouse need to be permanently suspended.  As we do
that we'll find a more joyful Christmas season, and so will those around us.

                                                                                                             app 2014-12
08 November 2014 @ 07:59 pm
The Righteousness of Man

pic 2014-11 righteousnessThe bible speaks of righteousness more than 300 times in the Old and New Testament, telling us in Genesis 15 that as He was giving Abram the new name of Abraham, God said he was righteous because he believed God.  Deuteronomy 6 says we are righteous if we are careful to observe the commandments before God.  1 Samuel 26 gives us the hope that God will repay us for our righteousness.
Daniel 9 reminds us that Righteousness belongs to God, but mankind is filled with open shame.   In the book of Matthew those who seek it are called blessed, and warned that our righteousness should surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees.

The first chapter of Romans repeats what is said in Genesis 15, that the righteousness of God is revealed in Faith and goes on to tell us that mankind is without excuse knowing what righteousness is.

2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us that “Jesus who knew no sin became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”, so that as ambassadors of Christ our righteousness comes from Him and is for Him. The Bible concludes in Revelation 22:11-12:

"Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done."

Throughout the Bible we should notice that righteousness is a character of God, and that we are again and again called to imitate his character - holy godliness.
We know that we were created not for our good pleasure, but for His, and that we are called to live a holy life seeking to be righteous in all we do.  All 66 books of Scripture show us what that looks like, that it takes active engagement not passive agreement to God’s Word, and what will ultimately happen to those who live seeking Christ-likeness and those who don't.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.    - 2 Corinthians 5:10
This brief and very incomplete summary may challenge us to dig deeper into what God desires for us, and help us ponder the things of life - why we are here, how we are to live, and what is to come.

Today the rule seems to be "Culture over (the) Character of God in us", allowing worldly influence to guide many of our thoughts and actions. The road to righteousness is hard, failure inherent as the ruts and bumps hit us.  God does not prevent the pain or suffering in our lives, or the consequences caused by our own foolish actions, or others, but He does promise to walk with us through the pain.   As we surrender ourselves to Him, God takes our pain and molds our character into the righteousness He desires.

God has promised to give us everything we need to make it a successful journey, and those of us who are married have the best environment to demonstrate holiness (consistently righteousness behavior) before one another, our children, family, church and community.

“We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father…  – Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines

And one day as we purpose in our hearts and efforts, yearn for, and gain righteousness in our thoughts and deeds, the Bible tells us that we like Abraham will receive a new name from the Lord of Hosts.
The Marriage Ministry Fitness Center has assembled many great tools to help us on our way.  These are exciting times, as I see more and more marriages here at SBC doing the work, changing, reflecting new love and grace for one another. To God alone be the glory for the things He has done.

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14 September 2014 @ 03:17 pm

Our Attitude Says a Lot About Our Character

pic 2014-09 - prayer Last month we looked at our attitude as a reliable remedy to address marital doldrums, and I’ve been prompted to share more thoughts on that subject.   Attitude is something that always changes the course of life.

Mary Jane and I had both developed an attitude that turned each other into “the adversary” by year four in our marriage, before God turned us around. There are countless stories of attitude shifts, or the difference attitude can make, for good or bad, written on the pages of the Bible, novels, non-fiction writings, and in history, movies, television, and everyday life.

Starting with Philippians 2:5-8 we are reminded of the attitude of Christ, and instructed by Paul to have the same attitude that Jesus had when facing life here on earth proactively leading to the cross.

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond- servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Cultivating a humble attitude takes conviction, repentance, intention, forgiveness, and most likely many failures, but Philippians 1:6 tells us that God is faithful to complete the work He began in us, even as Leviticus 11:44 calls us to “be holy as He is holy“. These are hard things because our will depends on the content of our mind, which is revealed by the patterns of behavior seen in our lives over time. Sustainable change of attitude, reflected in he development of a positive character change is not something we can just “will” for ourselves. Resolving to change is of little use. However, if the desire to change is activated, achieving the change is doable with Christ at our side to guide and instruct us, resulting in the godly character we will then demonstrate to others. It is only with the interaction of the Word, the Holy Spirit and prayer, linking to our new found desire and our surrender, that sustainable attitude change takes place as God grows godly character in us.

If we are convicted of the need, repentant for our failures, and intentional before a loving God to become what He envisioned for us, another vital component of our attitude we need to address is Forgiveness requested, given and received, because an unforgiving spirit is counter to the love that God has shown to each of us. Here is a great video from one of our GYM studies that helps us understand the power of forgiveness in our lives: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDmUOjCKMI8

Forgiveness is encountered and necessary in everyday life scenarios – some minor, others devastating.   Thirty years ago, Jonathan, the seven month old son of Bill & Pam Mutz drowned as a result of her momentary diversion of attention.   As they have shared it, Bill’s action that very day was for them to sit down with their then 2 year old daughter Cari and for Bill to take the Bible in hand and say “This book is either true or it isn’t.     If it’s true we know God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life and He is in control.   He will not protect us from, He will protect us through.”   With an 80% divorce rate for couples that have lost a child due to the action of one spouse, and knowing that their son’s death was due to Pam’s actions that morning, they embraced God. He indeed guided and protected them through it.  God has blessed them with 10 additional children as they have pressed on through the joys and difficulties of life. God has also gifted them with a powerful ministry and an outstanding family testimony.

As you read the Reflections and Applications below, find conviction where sin might be crouching in your attitudes, repent before Him and any others you have hurt or offended, seek forgiveness where He leads, and become intentional to let God change you.

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09 August 2014 @ 04:21 pm
pic 2014-08 - algae.gifLong ago I learned to identify the term Dog Days of Summer with that period each year when ponds bloomed with Algae.   Each summer, swimming in the local farmers ponds became undesirable as they became more and more fouled with Algae and Duck Weed. My buddies and I would then stop our fun carefree days and resort to the highly chlorinated public swimming pools.   Later on I discovered that dog days are a weather phenomenon that occurs annually when the heat turns up and humidity rises, becoming a season of discomfort, stagnation and inactivity. Thankfully the Dog Days of Summer is a just a season, and cooler weather will soon return.

As it is in the natural world, there is a similar phenomenon often found in marriage, and the Dog Days of Marriage become those seasons when one or both of us feel the emotional air thickening in our relationship, and we may allow the discomfort we feel to turn to stagnation and inactivity.  Many of us react to the Dog Days of Marriage in similar fashion to our reaction to the Dog Days of Summer - by trying to "endure them".

"Enduring them" does not work in relationships, but the resolution of Marital Dog Days is really quite simple, making it a short season, and unlike natures season, very preventable in the future.  There are two key factors.

If we peel ourselves down to the core, it's really our attitude that can get us through the summer doldrums, and it is in our attitude that our marriages can soar or sour.  We all married someone we thought more of than anyone else, and while we may have put on a few pounds and become more selfish, as we turn to God's Word and learn of His plan is for us, we'll continue to discover the wisdom He had in our being together.  God's design is for each of us to grow beyond serving ourselves by learning how to serve others. The beauty of marriage is that it is in our Christ-like Character before Him and one another that we discover the most important factors in joy, and such joy is not seasonal.

I believe that God in His infinite wisdom has given us the Dog Days of Marriage, not as punishment or to be mean, but to help grow us into godliness. By the way that same wisdom has also allowed us to learn how to take Algae and Duckweed and turn them into helpful things like biofuels and food.

Last month we shared ideas for Date Nights with you because marriage studies report that the happiest marriages invest in fun things and fun time together.   Because we are now in the Dog Days of Summer, some of us may need to retreat to cooler places for fun - but even staying home and playing games, reading the Bible or a book together, or downloading our favorite movies work well too.  If desired by both of you, pillow or water balloon fights also can be great ways to laugh our way through the muggy days keeping mugginess in our marriage at bay, turning them into opportunities for selfless growth and godliness.

At the end of summer you will have enjoyed the Dog Days of Summer as you prevent the Dog Days of Marriage by checking your attitude, having a regular Date Night, and thriving as God gives you renewed vision for your marriage.

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