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My wife is a high detail individual.  She continues to baffle me with the finite pieces she sees in something we are planning or doing.    On the other hand, I solidly wait for things to pull into place, and do not worry about the details, at least to the extent she will.   May I share that such views ran smack up against differences that divided us and brought conflict into our relationship after we were married.

It took us a while to understand that it wasn’t our differences that divided us, but because of our mutual selfishness we were not looking at the biggest picture — the one that God wanted us to see.

God says our marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and His Church, not something He gave mankind to make us “happy”.  It was given to produce in us – godliness.  1 Peter 1:16 reminds us, that we are to be holy as He is holy, reaffirming what God said in Leviticus 11:44.  For a long time I thought that was hyperbole, or didn’t happen anytime soon. Reading Philippians 1:6  “He that began the good work in you will carry it on to completion…” made me ponder and question how that was supposed to happen.

What we miss, or at least I missed, was that spiritual growth is a process and I have a responsibility to be a part of that process by allowing and eagerly accepting God’s instruction along the way — particularly as it relates to my marriage.  Worship, Bible reading, community and serving all function together to produce character change (holiness), making me more fit for marriage.

One piece of that was to see that it really isn’t our differences that divide us, it’s our failure to:

  • Acknowledge the differences

  • Accept the differences

  • Appreciate the differences

  • and Apply the differences to enhance and grow our marriage.

That clears things up a great deal in my opinion.

The differences we have are God given.  He made us different.    Just read Love and Respect by Emerson Eggrichs and learn how God designed us to be different, to make a display case for others out of our marriage (see Eph 5:32).  Or read “Men are Like Waffles, Women Like Spaghetti” by Bill & Pam Farrel and see what a sense of humor our God has to make us so different.   

To Acknowledge the differences is the first step in the process of understanding.  Once we have acknowledged the differences by sitting down to talk about how I approach things and how Mary Jane approaches things, we found that our communication improved and we learned a lot about how each of us was raised that we didn’t already know.  We bonded more too.  And, it’s an ongoing occurance. revealing new things about each other still today.

Step two was learning to Accept our differences not as wrong but just, well, DIFFERENT.  You may be saying your spouse is wrong!  Most often it is not a matter of right -vs- wrong, it’s more about our preference -vs- theirs.   That is where that ugly selfishness pops up and tries to undo what you’ve accomplished in step one.    So we wrestle with our pride and selfishness and ask God to help us do what we know is right, in spite of ourselves.

Part three of the puzzle is to take that acknowledgement and acceptance and move to Appreciation for the differences.  Once I understood and accepted that Mary Jane saw details I could not, I asked God to help me appreciate her detail orientation, and He was faithful to give us that.

That made the last part fit so well, as we learned to Apply our differences to the best advantage, not of ourselves, nor perhaps to the other, but to the benefit of God and our marriage. It’s going for the Win-Win, instead of the Win-Lose.

If this reads like we have the answer, let me assure you we do not.   We know it will always be a struggle to arrest our self centered actions and replace them with God honoring actions.   While we work on our marriages, we also need to work on ourselves – that’s where Men Coaching Men and Women’s Ministry come into the picture. Marriage Ministry is here to help us work on the relationship with each other, the other two ministries are here to help us work on our individual relationship with God.  All three are important.

apl 2014-03
16 January 2014 @ 03:09 pm
January 2014 Marriage Fitness Center monthly letter

marriage boxEach year around the world people take stock of their lives and propose resolutions, some of which are discarded even before the month ends.   Many are regarding things like exercise and diet, and I know that for me they have often been a struggle.  Each year we say – “This year will be different”, and at the beginning of a new year we have to try again.

The Marriage Box I found on FaceBook started me thinking, that while those diet and exercise goals are worthy, the most important issue God has given mankind is “Relationships”.   Ours with Him, and with our spouse are primary.  All other relationships pale by comparison, even our relationship with children, other family, friends and community.

Given that truth, it seems to me that starting with God and spouse, may ultimately be the way to sustainable goals in other areas of our lives as well.

The box concept reminds me that my relationship to God is similar to the Marriage Box. When I accepted Christ into my life and decided to become a follower of Jesus, my relationship “box” with God was empty, and only by getting to know Him more and more would my relationship “box” fill.  He fills it, not me, and He gives me the desire to glean from the Scriptures, Prayer, and Experience (fellowship with others) what He reveals.   Only as I open myself to the kernel of desire He’s given me, does God develop our character from those three, and our behavior changes.

As we begin to mature in our relationship with Christ, we are also more able to pour into our marriage relationship the increasing habits of giving, serving, humor, and praise.   The powerful GYM (Growing Your Marriage) Studies we’ve assembled provide tools, but what they teach becomes sustainable primarily as our relationship with Christ grows.

I’d like to challenge myself and you to ask God to increase our desire to deepen our relationship with Him this year and develop greater godliness, helping us to live more out of Romans 10:12, “giving preference to one another in honor” than we do today.

Mary Jane and I are looking forward to our yearly planning time this month, and we’ll use among other things a list of 10 Questions from Tom Elliff, and the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22 and ask each other how we see each fruit in our behavior toward one another and others.    Hearing from the heart of our spouse about our attitudes and conduct is a powerful way for God to speak His Truth into our lives.   (Ask me for a copy)

Your Marriage Fitness Center ministry has many ideas like these (some posted weekly on our FaceBook page, and a full array of tools to help your relationships grow deeper.   From an individualized relationship inventory (Marriage Proactive), regularly scheduled short term GYM Studies, ongoing small groups, and pastoral shepherding, to Marriage 911 for couples in distress, we are here to serve you.

I hope you have a fruitful and blessed year and are challenged to make your life more vulnerable to God’s leading in every area of your life and to your spouse’s influence in becoming the godly man and woman He planned for you since creation.

07 December 2013 @ 05:03 pm
Current Location: Home
Current Mood: Joyful
Current Music: Mary Did You Know
A Certification class in the Prepare/Enrich Relationship Inventory/Assessment, for Counselors, Pastors and Marriage Ministry staff and volunteers has been scheduled in Scottsdale Arizona - details below. If this is not a good fit for you please pass this on to others who would benefit.
Current Location: Paradise
Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful
Current Music: Sharalee Lucas
20 August 2011 @ 09:53 pm

Your Life Questions Answered !

On the SBC Marriage Ministry website.

More than 2500 video answers by the experts in their field to many of the questions about dating, marriage, finances, health - LIFE.

Find them here
- ask your own.

Current Location: here
Current Mood: jubilantjubilant
Current Music: Only A Lamb
Proverbs 29:18 tells us: Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.   But many of us today have no vision – a dream perhaps – but the vision is missing.   We need to look no further than to our Lord for it, and passionate, persistent, intentional, surrendered, sincere prayer will guide us – and find that His vision for our transformed life leads to our becoming conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29, 12:2 & Phil 1:6)

Last month I wrote about “fulfilling the minimal requirement for getting into heaven”, and suggested that the phrase might well stir our hearts dissatisfaction if we live with that view instead of being conformed to the image of Christ and transformed by the renewing of our minds.

As Dallas Willard says that mindset most often is a stirring of our prideful selves in our desire for control that allows us to be more interested in having others change.  He says in his book Renovation of the Heart  that “the greatest threat to Gods’ kingdom is mine” [the kingdom of “me”].  Proverbs 14:12 reminds us that there is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way to death.

When we act out that hunger for control, we become lost.  When lost, sometimes we’ll not know it, but those times when we do, we need to cling to the understanding that we’re not worthless – just misplaced and distant from God – and that we’ll remain there until we surrender to Him and give up our wildly mistaken thought that we are in control.

If you’ve never felt dissatisfaction with your relationship with Christ, may I suggest that you pray for it and find God’s vision for your life?   A deep interpersonal walk with Jesus seems to be a common thread in the lives of those whom we’d look at as godly and those used powerfully by Him.    Since somewhere in my soul the stirring of God does quietly call to me, when I ask Him to stir it more to create that hunger for Him, it’s a prayer that He always answers - in His way and His time. 

As you acknowledge the inspired dissatisfaction with your life today– that’s Good!   It’s simply that God is there calling quietly to your heart for YOU to yield to Him.  That slight discomfort or gnawing pain can only be changed, with any permanence, as you yield and walk with Him.  Anything else will just be medication, and will satisfy only for a time. 

And if, like so many Christians, you aren’t sure you want to live that close to God, ask Him to stir that desire in you.  Larry Crabb suggests that we pray, asking “ that we would want to want, what we don’t want now in our walk and life with Christ. Say it out loud to really hear it for it’s a concept we truly have to think about to grasp. 

As we do begin to want that transformation, our life will never be the same.   What can be better than walking through life with an ever deepening trust in the One who personally created us and directs it all.

In Micah 6:8 God tells us that He requires us to walk humbly with Him.  Prostrating ourselves before Him in our heart may begin with our looking to Hosea 7:14 for inspiration.  There it tells us that God longs to redeem us (to restore us from our lost state), but that we “wail from our beds, instead of crying from our heart”.  How often in my prayer life, do I ask for relief, to understand, or control something?   It’s treating God like He’s a puppet to fulfill my desire for control is at best – foolish.  But when I cry from my heart just to find Him and to simply dwell in the presence of Christ with joy, and not to think I can manipulate Him for my gain – that’s when the full power of God comes to me and often through me to others. (see John 17:3) Praise God.

It’s there we find that doing the right thing, the things Jesus would have done, becomes more and more the passion of our lives.

Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
Strange that it might seem, for the most part Americans today, are more concerned with whether the other person in a relationship will change – not as God tells us throughout scriptures, that we are responsible only for our own changes, NOT anyone else’s. 

We all have expectations in life and many are what we expect of others.  All too often we expect our husbands and wives to become kinder, more loving and compassionate, joyful, gracious and even more humorous each year, and we expect those we meet in the parking lot after services and during the week to be – well – different than those who have not come to the “minimal requirements” for getting into heaven.  And when they don’t we brood or begin judging them.  Seldom does a day pass without a husband and/or wife wanting me to help them change their spouse believing that it’s just their spouse that’s the problem.

Here’s an emotion charged phrase that I’ve heard both Dallas Willard and John Ortberg use – “fulfilling the minimal requirement for getting into heaven”.  If we’re to become the individual that God called and created us to be, such a statement will strike something deep inside our soul that will rise and speak to us.  It may be a small or large dissatisfaction with our life today, because we were not created for minimalist things.  We were created for a life giving, life fulfilling, interactive, dynamic, powerful, relationship with our creator.  The bible calls it being conformed to the image of Christ and transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Sadly, what we expect in others, but often not ourselves, is that they will progressively become more of what Jesus would be like.  In our own eyes, we’re doing fine, and don’t have to work at ‘becoming” the man or woman that behaves more like Jesus with each day we live.  After all, we’ve met the requirement for getting into heaven.  That our faith might actually be the minimal aspect of a life in Christ is not raised or entertained in our thoughts.

The good news from Genesis forward is that we were created in God’s image – imago Dei.  Then Paul tells us that we are designed (from before the foundation of the world) to be conformed to that image, the image of Christ, and that we’re to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  In both the Old Testament and New, we are told to be holy and to be imitators of Christ. 

This transformation is not something that comes by osmosis – it comes by personal interaction with Christ and intentional choices and action on our part.  It comes by taking responsibility for me, not others – it comes from falling down on my face before the God who knew me before creation, and formed me in my mother’s womb, and has a plan and purpose for my life that is awesome (because it is His plan).

As we do this and are transformed - we are in a much better place to see our marriage grow healthier and stronger to become that marvelous “Display Case” for Christ and the Church as described in Eph 5:32..
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
05 October 2010 @ 01:45 pm

How often it’s more like Another Marriage Unraveled by the Mysteries of Life – but the truth is that while marriage takes hard work, in the end – it’s still pretty straight-forward.   We have been called individually to a life of holiness.   If that becomes the sincere goal in our life, then the rest truly does fall well into place.

It gave Daniel the ability to walk with confidence into the fiery furnace and lion’s den, and ultimately what gives us the ability to live with someone of the opposite sex who is so-o-o different from ourselves.

In his book “What Did You Expect?” Paul David Tripp shares how an injury that might leave us with a stiff knee may give us a hard time walking.  At first the pain causes us to limp and we are quite aware of it.  But over time it becomes less and less noticeable to us – to the point we do not notice it at all.  It has become the new and almost comfortable norm.  Then we run into a seldom seen friend who is startled by it.

We forget we have this “unnoticed limp” over time until someone who knew us long ago, brings it up. Left untreated the knee continues to deteriorate until it painfully comes back to our awareness – often requiring more repair than we would have needed if we’d dealt with it earlier.

Just as wounded knees do not heal themselves, and must be repaired by skilled technicians called therapist or surgeon – so our marriage easily drifts into an unnoticed limp – a new norm that misses the wonderful plan of God to become a great display case to others of the Kingdom of Christ, and live out the greatest tool of evangelism I believe God has given mankind.

We have a choice.  We can let time, neglect, apathy, busy-ness, and sin, slowly unravel our marriage or we can put prayer, time, fun, education, spiritual and emotional connecting effort into our marriage and arrive at a display case worthy of King Jesus.

Love is a purposeful, unconditional, sacrificial giving to our God and is often revealed in how we love our spouse.  The model for us is Christ on the cross.  We can only reach this ‘agape’ kind of love by recognizing that we are able to love only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), and with intentionality seek to  live before Him in ways that help us live out of Romans 12:9-19, and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 seeing Galatians 6:22-23 as the result:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

 Where do we begin?  We must surrender ourselves to God and work on our vertical relationship with Christ.  Recognize that the list above is impossible for us in our own strength - that our surrender reveals a sold out personal love for Christ that comes from, and is returned in faithful gratitude, TO God.  His grace is truly sufficient for us and it is our love from and to Him that makes it happen.  As we grow the vision of Christ living in “me”, He will change and MOLD our character into godliness – and when we have the intention to become all that He designed “me” to become, He provides the means to achieve it.

A marriage without work never works, because good marriages never happen by accident.  A lazy coasting marriage produces emptiness, mediocrity and disaster, a marriage built on a vision of God’s plan, with intention to live that vision, has the Christ given means and opportunity for marital growth.

 Your marriage may be brand new or better than it once was; BUT it is not yet ALL it could be. God's desire is that your marriage be a great display-case for the relationship between Christ and the church - lifting the Kingdom of God not the kingdom of self.  Life is to be lived and shaped by the relationship we have with Christ as we choose to live our lives with His plan for our lives always on our horizon, in our thinking and actions.  
Current Location: office
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
Current Music: It is Well with My Soul
04 August 2010 @ 07:30 am

By Dennis Prager


     To the students and faculty of our high school:

     I am your new principal, and honored to be so. There is no greater calling than to teach young people.

     I would like to apprise you of some important changes coming to our school. I am making these changes because I am convinced that most of the ideas that have dominated public education in America have worked against you, against your teachers and against our country.

     First, this school will no longer honor race or ethnicity. I could not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower or on slave ships.

     The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity -- your character, your scholarship, your humanity. And the only national identity this school will care about is American. This is an American public school, and American public schools were created to make better Americans.

     If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere. We will end all ethnicity-, race- and non-American nationality-based celebrations. They undermine the motto of America , one of its three central values -- e pluribus unum, "from many, one." And this school will be guided by America 's values.

     This includes all after-school clubs. I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities. This includes race, language, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else may become in vogue in a society divided by political correctness.

     Your clubs will be based on interests and passions, not blood, ethnic, racial or other physically defined ties. Those clubs just cultivate narcissism -- an unhealthy preoccupation with the self -- while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself. So we will have clubs that transport you to the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, languages you do not already speak, carpentry and more. If the only extracurricular activities you can imagine being interesting in are those based on ethnic, racial or sexual identity, that means that little outside of yourself really interests you.

     Second, I am uninterested in whether English is your native language. My only interest in terms of language is that you leave this school speaking and writing English as fluently as possible. The English language has united America 's citizens for over 200 years, and it will unite us at this school. It is one of the indispensable reasons this country of immigrants has always come to be one country. And if you leave this school without excellent English language skills, I would be remiss in my duty to ensure that you will be prepared to successfully compete in the American job market. We will learn other languages here -- it is deplorable that most Americans only speak English -- but if you want classes taught in your native language rather than in English, this is not your school.

     Third, because I regard learning as a sacred endeavor, everything in this school will reflect learning's elevated status. This means, among other things, that you and your teachers will dress accordingly. Many people in our society dress more formally for Hollywood events than for church or school. These people have their priorities backward. Therefore, there will be a formal dress code at this school.

     Fourth, no obscene language will be tolerated anywhere on this school's property -- whether in class, in the hallways or at athletic events. If you can't speak without using the f-word, you can't speak. By obscene language I mean the words banned by the Federal Communications Commission, plus epithets such as "Nigger," even when used by one black student to address another black, or "bitch," even when addressed by a girl to a girlfriend. It is my intent that by the time you leave this school, you will be among the few your age to instinctively distinguish between the elevated and the degraded, the holy and the obscene.

     Fifth, we will end all self-esteem programs. In this school, self-esteem will be attained in only one way -- the way people attained it until decided otherwise a generation ago -- by earning it. One immediate consequence is that there will be one valedictorian, not eight.

     Sixth, and last, I am reorienting the school toward academics and away from politics and propaganda. No more time will devoted to scaring you about smoking and caffeine, or terrifying you about sexual harassment or global warming. No more semesters will be devoted to condom wearing and teaching you to regard sexual relations as only or primarily a health issue. There will be no more attempts to convince you that you are a victim because you are not white, or not male, or not heterosexual or not Christian. We will have failed if any one of you graduates this school and does not consider him or herself inordinately lucky -- to be alive and to be an American.

     Now, please stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our country. As many of you do not know the words, your teachers will hand them out to you.

Current Location: office
Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful
Current Music: birds and coyotes