A Grace-Based Marriage

Two gold rings - reflected candlesIs your marriage based on works or on grace? Let’s be real, shall we? You are married to a sinful person. Your partner is not only imperfect, but they can be self-centered, lazy, forgetful, vindictive, make poor decisions, and well, fill in the blank. Now let’s get more real. You’re not the picture of perfection either, are you? For some reason, that seems far less of a concern because your spouse is worse, or at least, “causes” these…imperfections to come out in you.

Throughout the Scriptures, there are several common and related themes mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. First, we (believers in Christ) are the Bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom. Second, our marriages are a reflection of the greater marriage between Christ and the Church. Third, our relationship with God is characterized or built upon grace and not upon works. Therefore, if our marriages are to reflect the greater marriage, than our marriages must also be built upon grace, and not upon works.
How do we have a marriage that reflects God’s grace and not upon works? Let me offer one question to ask yourself:

Do you have expectations for your spouse?  Are you focusing on what your spouse is doing or not doing?  If so, you are focusing on their works.  You set up standards for them (law of works) and your attention is drawn to whether they met them or not.  If they fail, they will be punished (by you) based on their failure (being yelled at, dirty look, no sex, etc.).

Then, is it wrong to have expectations for your spouse?  No, not necessarily.  Obviously, it is appropriate to have certain expectations for your spouse.  For example, you should expect them to be faithful, to treat you with kindness and respect, to love you, etc.  However, there are standards and expectations that may be placed so high that they become idols in your heart.  In these situations, you become high king or queen of the home and your spouse becomes your subject that must meet your expectations.  Your focus then is placed from yourself and then onto them and their actions.

Instead of focusing on what they are doing or not doing (and whether they meet your standards/law), focus on 1) how gracious God is to you by forgiving your sins (or you not measuring up to His standards); 2) ask His help to love your spouse as He loves you (not based on your actions); and 3) give your spouse the grace (the unmerited favor) He has given you.  Unmerited favor is just that – favor, mercy, or love that is not based on what they have done, but on who they are (at minimum, being created in His image or being a child of God).  Though you may find this difficult to do, seek the Help of His Wonderful Counselor.

May the God of grace empower you to do as He wills through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hurricane Sandy, Power, and God

Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, leaving behind her trail of devastation and destruction. The New York and New Jersey shores have seen the worst in decades. Homes destroyed. Numerous deaths reported. Cars lost. Gas supplies declined. And the electric power, that which we have grown so fond of and depended on, failed. In many ways, people were powerless literally, and they felt powerless figuratively.

As one of the preparations for Hurricane Sandy, electrical line workers were flown in 

Imageand drove in from distances to help cities, townships, and power so that our necessities of heat, food, and water, and our conveniences of TV, lights, and web access may be returned to us. These line workers literally have spent 14-20 hour days working hard to bring our lives back to “normal.” neighborhoods restore 

In some manners, Jesus was like that line worker. Sin had disconnected us from the Father. We were powerless and in need, but we could not connect to the Power ourselves. Sure, we set up generators, temporary solutions that needed to be constantly replenished with gas to work, but this temporary solution was just that…temporary. We needed a real fix to the problem. We needed to be reconnected to our Power, to our heavenly Father. So Jesus sacrificed His life, so that through Him, we might be connected to the Father forever. And yes, even He was ridiculed and persecuted for doing what He came to do, even when it was in the people’s (our) best interest.
Believers have been chosen to bring attention to this. We are called to help people put aside their temporary solutions from life’s struggles and to ask Jesus the Line Worker to connect them to God.  At times, we may even hear the complaints, ridicule, and even receive persecution for their perceived thoughts of us. As unpleasant as that is, that is what we are chosen to do.  This connection with God, through the sacrificial work of the Son, will satisfy our deepest and greatest needs.
If you are not connected to the Father, ask Jesus to forgive you from your sin (that which disconnected you from Him), believe that Jesus connects you to the Father through His death on the cross and resurrection, and now live with the Power of the Lord. The power to change, the power to withstand temptation, the power to live life to the fullest, and the eternal connection to Him are only a decision away. How easy it is to call your electrical supplier to let them know you need them. Now, will you call upon the Lord and tell Him that you need Him? 

Dealing With Disappointment

ImageA husband comes home from work hoping to be greeted with a warm kiss, but his presence is barely acknowledged.  A wife comes home from work, hoping her husband started dinner or cleaned before her arrival, but she does not get either wish.  A child opens up a gift on Christmas hoping it is a Nerf gun, only to find socks and underwear.  A Pastor meets with a member hoping to help, only to hear that the member is leaving the church.  A person hoping to accomplish their personal goals falls short…again.

Disappointment.  Being let down.  A familiar feeling for all of us, I’m sure.  As 2012 begins, gym membership rates are reduced, exercise equipment on sale, and new hopes are born as resolutions are made to improve the appearance of self.  Perhaps 2012 will be better than 2011.  Maybe this new year will bring about reduced weight and calories and increased confidence and determination.  I hope that is the case for you…but for many, the valiant efforts in the beginning of the year are overshadowed by giving in to the temptations of chocolate in February.  Disappointment.

As a perfectionist (only in looking at myself and not in cleanliness), I deal with disappointment often.  Too many times it is a disappointment for failing to measure up to my standards for myself.  Other times it is because I have not measured up to the standards of others.  Let’s face it…isn’t this what disappointment is?  It is the inability for ourselves or for others to measure up to the standards (or expectations) we have for them or the standards they have for us.

As I continue to grow in my relationship with the Lord, He has continued to reveal to me that when I am disappointed, it is often because I am living by the law, my law (or standards or expectations), and not by grace.  I need to continuously remind myself that if I live by grace, then I accept the reality that I am a sinner, that I will constantly fail, and that others will fail as well.  Failure to do this is living in pride.  It is prideful because disappointment comes from the expectation that I or others will not fail.  OF COURSE WE ALL FAIL, it is because we are sinners!  Other people will fail us and no one is excluded.  Pastors, friends, spouses, children, bosses, co-workers, postal workers, other drivers, etc., etc.  They will all fail us.  Sometimes their failings come from them falling short of our expectations of them, and sometimes it is because they just screwed up.

How do we deal with disappointments?  We accept that we fail.  We accept that others will fail.  We ask the Lord to search our heart’s expectations and unmet desires, we confess our pride and self-centeredness, and we ask for his help to live by grace.  We remind ourselves that we are sinners saved by grace through faith and we extend this grace to ourselves and others.  As long as there is sin and as long as people sin, we will all deal with disappointment.  But let’s not deal with it alone…but deal with it with Christ, through Christ, and for Christ that he be glorified in our lives. Amen.

Extra Innings

There is excitement when you’re watching your favorite sports team battle for a win, but when it gets into extra innings, you’re on the edge of your seat, especially if your team is the underdog.  You know that every moment and every play matter, because soon the game will be over, and you will either come out on top or be defeated and disappointed.  I’d like to share with you a brief personal story of a person whose life went into extra innings…where every moment counted…where the chances of being victorious were slim to none…but in the end, who came out on top.  This person is my grandmother, Muriel Dietrich.

On Thursday, November 10, 2011, my grandmother went to be with the Lord.  She lived to be 91 years of age and battled cancer for 56 years.  Her life was a testimony of faith, perseverance, thanksgiving, and love.  When first diagnosed with cancer, the doctors gave her about 5 years to live.  The cancer started in her lungs and moved towards her neck to the base of her skull.  Through surgeries, chemo, periods of remission, and additional doctor’s visits throughout the next 56 years, the doctors continued to limit her life span to years or even months…yet she kept going, baffling the doctors and their false predictions.  Her attitude was “I’m going to give it to God and keep living”.  And she did.

Throughout the years, especially the past few years as her health began to deteriorate (but also throughout her life), she expressed thanksgiving to God for allowing her to live when the doctors said that she would not.  She would often state how God had seen her through, how blessed she was to have two wonderful daughters who have two wonderful partners.  She would state how blessed she was to have upstanding grandchildren who chose wonderful spouses.  Sometimes, she would say how great my wife was so often that I would wonder if she loved my wife more than me!

I believe that the cancer she fought had a large impact on her perspective on life.  She knew that she was living on borrowed time, in extra innings, and that the extra time was a gift to her from God to see her family grow in numbers, in faith, and in love for her and one another.  Upon every visit, she would share some stories of the past, but would always share how blessed she was for living a long life.

Though eventually the cancer took her life, she did not lose in those extra innings.  No, she had won.  When facing the cancer, she said she would “give it to God and keep on living.”  When considering her heart & soul, she said the same thing.  “I’m going to give it to God and keep on living.”  Death would not be the end, because she had given her life to Christ.  She had accepted his sacrifice for her sins on the cross.  In living, her life belonged to Him.  In dying, her life belonged to Him.  In death, her life remains in Him and with Him.  Since she had made this decision to accept Christ’s death and resurrection, her life remains connected to His.  She will keep on living…and not just in our hearts and in our memories, but with Christ in heaven.  No, death through cancer is not a victory for cancer.  Cancer could not separate her from His love or His presence.

If we think about it…we are all in extra innings.  Our lives will be nearing an end (some closer than others).  Our time on earth is “like a vapor.”  Each of us lives under the common grace that He gives us, allowing us time to spend with loved ones and time to come near to Him….Since we cannot win in extra innings by ourselves, we need someone who will win it for us.  We need a God who loves us so much that He will provide a way for our weak selves to have victory over a stronger opponent (death).  We need Christ.  Now all we have to do is “give our lives to God and then keep on living.”

The Plumbing of a Godly Marriage: Just Say “No” to Poop-Slinging!

Godly marriages have plumbing? Really?  Absolutely.  Every house has plumbing.  Every person has plumbing.  And every marriage has plumbing, too.  As we continue in the series “Building a Godly Marriage” and using the analogy of building a house, I figure it’s good to stick with the theme.  So, what is the plumbing of a godly marriage?  Well, hold your pliers, we’re getting there.

The plumbing in a house is responsible for two tasks:  The first task of plumbing is to bring in a steady flow of clean water.  The second task of the plumbing is to get rid of the poop (or waste).  The second cannot be done without the first.  If something goes wrong with the plumbing, you often know about it quickly.  A small leak is usually not a big deal, but should be addressed before it becomes a bigger leak.  A toilet that is clogged must be addressed before the next use.  A water heater that busts or a pipe that bursts must be addressed quickly.  When these issues are not addressed in time, they can become expensive to repair.

The plumbing in marriage is bringing in the clean water of God’s grace and removing the poop in marriage.  What do I mean by this?  The poop in marriage is the bitterness that has built up from the sin-stained clogs in the relationship.  It’s the stuff that has built up over time and which has not been addressed.  And if that happens, yes, you too can become a poop-slinger.

I know a person who had a septic pump that broke and a warning signal that never came on.  After a short amount of time, the waste built up so much in the septic tank that it eventually came into the house at its lowest level.  Do you think they took care of the issue right away or let the waste build up and stink up the home?  Well, they took care of it right away.  When holding on to bitterness and resentment, the waste of anger builds up until it enters your everyday living space.  Then when that  happens, spouses, in their anger and revenge (they would call it justice, but it’s revenge), end up slinging the poop at one another.  The stench is awful in their nostrils and in God’s, too, but, they argue, “they can’t seem to help themselves” and “the other person deserves it.” So the poop slinging continues.   Instead of addressing the issue, spouses often choose to live in it and use it against one another.  Friends, this should not be, especially as believers in Christ.

Thankfully, there is another part of this plumbing which is important.  It is the bringing in the clean water of God’s grace.  We need His cleansing.  We need His forgiveness.  We need His love.  If we were to take an honest look at ourselves, we would see how covered in waste we really are.  Our hearts our filthy.  Our hands are covered in sin.  We need Him now more than ever.  Jesus shared in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt 18) that we should forgive as the Lord forgave us.  If we are unable to do this, the Lord won’t forgive us.  Wow.  Did you see that?  That is serious.  When the plumbing in our marriages is clogged, our relationship with the Lord is significantly affected.

God has forgiven us so much.  If we are to have marriages without plumbing difficulties, we must remember our sins, how we brought him to the cross through our sins, and how he loved us so much to take the punishment of our sins upon himself.  When we forgive, we must first consider his grace and then give as we have received.  For the plumbing in our marriages to flow without these clogs and poop slinging, we must be constantly aware of our sins and his love.  Then that which we have received, we must freely give.

This portion was taken from the Marriage Seminar: Building a Godly Marriage.  For more information about this seminar from Foundations Christian Counseling Services, please call Fred Jacoby at 570-402-5088.