One Word To Improve Your Marriage

It is one of the great blessings one can enjoy: marriage.  Yes, marriage is a good thing.  Marriage is from God, Genesis 2:23-24.  Marriage is a great blessing, Proverbs 5:15-19;  Ecclesiastes 9:9.   Marriage is to be a life long commitment, Matthew 19:4-6.

Sadly, there are those who are married who would not describe their marriage as a blessing, but instead as a curse.  Unfortunately, many marriages (even in the church) will end up in divorce.  That shouldn’t be.  How can our marriages be the way God wants them to be?  If you had one word to tell a new couple to remember as they begin their marriage, what word would you want them to remember?  Maybe words like “love” or “selfless” or even “forgiveness” come to mind.  Those are all great words and should be a part of every marriage.  But there’s another one I want us to consider: ETERNITY.  Have you thought about how thinking more about eternity will have an impact on our marriages?  As we think about our marriages, we need to be thinking about eternity.  Specifically, we need to remember the following:

Your spouse is made in the image of God.  They too were made in the image of God, Genesis 1:26.  Therefore, they are unique and important in the eyes of God.  This may feel like a “Duh” kind of point, but I think in the process of time we can fail to view our spouses correctly.  We can begin to see our spouses more superficially and fail to focus on the fact that they have a soul.  Remember they are made in God’s image.  Treat them right, Matthew 7:12.

God wants us to help our spouse go to heaven.  A husband and wife should be so concerned about the other because they are made in the image of God, that they will do hard things because they want their spouse to go to heaven, 1 Peter 3:1-7.  The sad reality, however, is that I’ve seen couples not help but rather hinder each other.  How often do you think a husband or wife is thinking about eternity as they contemplate committing adultery, forsaking the assembly, or are filled with bitterness?  Let’s do all we can to help our spouse to go to heaven.

God wants us to be in heaven too.  How we treat our spouses will have spiritual consequences for us, 1 Peter 3:7.  Let’s be wise and remember what’s at stake.  I realize we can’t control our spouses.  We can’t force them to do anything.  A person’s spouse may not do right.  But we can control ourselves.  Even if they aren’t thinking about eternity, we can!  What does God see when He looks at our marriages?  Let’s be sure He sees love, mercy, forgiveness, and us thinking about eternity.

Their First Love

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
(Revelation 2:4)

Ephesus would have been considered by most of us as a “sound church.” From the outside they were doing all the right things. They were facing persecution and standing firm against the devil. The congregation would not tolerate false doctrine and were testing any teacher to make sure the things said were directly from God. They were patiently enduring for Christ, but Christ said that they were about to lose their fellowship with Him. He was going to remove their lampstand from its place. They were in need of repentance!

Why? Because they had left their first love. Maybe if we were in Ephesus we would be shocked to hear these words from Jesus. We are doing all the right things, why would Jesus tell us to repent? They were doing works, indeed, but Jesus said they were not doing the “first works.” Whatever they were like before, they were not like that now. On the outside all appearances looked like this was a strong, Bible-teaching congregation. But to Jesus, He saw a congregation that was now going through the motions. The love they had at first was not there anymore.

This is true in churches, organizations, marriages, sports teams, etc. At first the fire is there. We know our “why.” A young couple is just full of energy, love, passion and all things are new! But after time, years, struggles, pain, stress, busy-ness, etc., the couple just starts going through the motions. That couple may even seem to many others like they have a great marriage, but to each other they know the “first love” is not there anymore. What happens in marriages, teams, businesses, and churches is that we forget where we came from and how we were when we got started.

We have to get back to those beginnings! Jesus told the church at Ephesus to “repent.” But how is that done? He told them to, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” Remember. Do the first works.

For a married couple it may mean going out on dates again. Getting out the wedding videos and watching them. Do you have those old love letters in a box somewhere? Read them. Remember when?

For Ephesus, they could do the same thing. They could get out the old love letters and read them again. There was this great letter called “Ephesians” sent to them by Paul decades before. It’s time to get that letter out and dust it off. Read the first half of Ephesians and you will rekindle the old flames once again. Remember what it was like when Jesus saved you from your sins and covered you in His grace and His blood. Remember where you came from. Think of the newness, fire and zeal you had when you were a new Christian. It’s time to get back to the beginning, back to the basics. Read the old love letters and rekindle the fire.

Are We Like Shem and Japheth?

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” After the flood Noah lived 350 years.
(Genesis 9:20-28)

I listened to a sermon recently where the preacher was talking about covering one another in grace and love. The speaker referred to the above passage from Genesis when Shem and Japheth “covered” their father. Look at the lengths to which those two sons went to cover their father. They took a blanket, walked backward into the tent, and covered their father so that they would not see his nakedness. The other son, Ham, exposed his father’s shame, but the other sons tried to cover it.

How eager are we to “cover” one another in grace, love, mercy and forgiveness? Or on the flip side, are we like Ham in the tent mocking and spreading the word about another’s shame?

Here are some other passages for our meditation today. May we have the spirit of Shem and Japheth.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
(1 Peter 4:8)

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
(Proverbs 10:12)

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
(Proverbs 17:9)

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
(James 5:19-20)

Grow in the Grace

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18).

I heard a lesson last week that referred to this passage about growing in grace. The preacher talked about how we do not grow in condemnation and guilt, but we grow in grace. Grace is the fertile soil in which our souls will flourish and grow.

This is just as true for our kids, our spouses, our friends, etc. If we seek the growth of others, we have to remember that people grow in an environment of grace. Many of us, if not all of us, have experienced a relationship based upon guilt, shame and condemnation. Whether that came from a parent, from the pulpit or from people in authority at work or school, that kind of condemnation crippled us and stunted our growth.

If you are walking around afraid to mess up because of how those around you treat you when you fail, then you understand what condemnation and guilt will do for you. The apostle Paul understood the agony of seeking perfection in law-keeping and the guilt and condemnation it brought with it. He cried out, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). That’s how a lot of us walk around, and sadly that’s how a lot of us treat others. Shame. Guilt. Condemnation. Follow the rules…perfectly. Don’t mess up.

Read the next verse, where Paul again cries out, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Also read what Paul wrote just a few verses later, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Does God expect you to grow in fear that if you mess up, He is going to zap you? No, He holds you in His embrace as you grow, as you stumble, as you fall and as you get back up. His assurances and promises are there with you that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38-39). He has begun a good work in you, and He will see it to completion (Philippians 1:6). That is not a shame and guilt-based relationship, that is love, mercy and grace-based relationship.

It would be helpful if we took out a “legal” pad, and write down as many verses as we can find in the Bible about Gods’ love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and longsuffering. Remind yourself that you are in a relationship of grace, security and mercy. You are safe in the arms of Jesus because of His blood. If we are safe in Jesus, then others around us will be treated the same way (Romans 15:7).

No one had the strength to subdue him

“He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” Mark 5:3-5

No one could bind him…No one had the strength to subdue him. This man wasn’t fit to live among people. Only Jesus could heal what was wrong with this demon-possessed man. People of the village were trying to use their own strength to harness, control and stop this man, but it was the spirit inside that was giving the man this strength and destructive power.

The man didn’t need chains and shackles, they were useless. He needed Jesus. Look in Mark 5:1-20 to see how Jesus got inside of this man and changed him from the inside out. Once the man’s insides changed, then the outside reflected that spiritual transformation. This formerly demon-possessed man became a powerful evangelist for Jesus! But that didn’t happen until the demons within were cast out.

Again, it is Jesus that makes you and me fit to live among people. We may try to harness, manage or control the behavior and words of others, but it is Jesus that really has the power to release the “demon” within. Those “demons” can be things like guilt, past abuse, shame, addictions, etc. If we find ourselves breaking chains and shackles, going around in a rage, and cutting ourselves with stones, then the real problem is what is going on deep down inside of us. Until we truly get at peace with ourselves and with Jesus, then we will be like this man living in a cave howling at the moon.

In our relationships, we must focus more on root causes and not symptoms.

God’s Voice and the Storm

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
(Mark 4:38-41)

Here is a song to listen to today, called Oceans. Very encouraging.

God’s Voice and the Storm

It is no wonder that these Jewish men were wondering “who” Jesus was! God’s power over the waters, winds and storms is evident throughout Scripture (Genesis 6:17; Exodus 14; Joshua 3; Psalm 29:3,10; 65:7; 89:9; 93:3-4; 104:6-9; 107:29; 148:8; Proverbs 8:29; Job 38:8-11,25; Jeremiah 5:22; Nahum 1:4). When Jesus woke up and “rebuked” the wind and told the sea to be calm, it immediately obeyed His voice. Only God has that power.

Read Psalm 29 about the voice of God. Think about Jesus as you read this, but also think about the “storms, winds and floods” in your life. Where is our faith? We are in the boat with the God of the Storm.

Psalm 29:1-11

A Psalm of David. Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. (2) Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. (3) The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. (4) The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. (5) The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. (6) He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. (7) The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. (8) The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. (9) The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (10) The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. (11) May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Jesus rebuked the wind (Mark 4:39). He also rebuked the fever in Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:39), he rebuked unclean spirits (Mark 9:25). Peter tried to rebuke Jesus and Jesus turned around and rebuked Peter (Mark 8:32-33). After His resurrection, Jesus rebuked his disciples for their unbelief (Mark 16:14). When James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55). There is authority and great power in the rebuke of Jesus. Let’s let Him rebuke our storms and winds.

Let No One Cause Me Trouble

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
(Galatians 6:14-18)

“From now on let no one cause me trouble…”

Let’s think about what Paul just said to the Galatian Christians and why it was so significant.

I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. What had Paul gone through? I’m not sure when Galatians was written, but I do know that Paul is addressing the new Galatian Christians. We see their conversions in Acts 13-14. And then we see the conflict about circumcision and keeping the Law that arose in Acts 15. This is the foundation for Paul’s letter.

The point in bringing this up is…Paul had to deal with these new Christians who were fighting among themselves. He had to bring them back to the one Gospel. Apparently some were taking some very nasty shots at Paul, and had now become his enemy because he was telling them the truth. So, Paul lovingly deals with them and leads them through all of this, which really would have been unnecessary if they all just focused on the Gospel.

But after all of that, Paul tells them, “From now on let no one cause me trouble,” but why? He said that his body couldn’t handle much more of what they were throwing at him. I want you to take time to look at what Paul went through just in Acts 13 and 14. Please don’t just read the facts, listen and think about what Paul went through physically, spiritually and emotionally. He had been argued with every step of the way. In fact, the heat of persecution must have been pretty intense, because John Mark bailed in chapter 13. Wherever Paul went, envious hypocrites were following him from city to city to oppose him and stir up trouble. People went from worshiping him to trying to murder him. He was stoned almost to the point of death, dragged out of the city and left for dead. Many times Paul didn’t know if he was going to be received well or be beaten and killed. Tons of uncertainty on a daily basis for Paul.

But Paul doesn’t quit, does he? No, he got up, went back into the city after just having been stoned. He continues to preach Jesus. He’s going back through those same cities and encouraging the Christians to keep going. Elders are appointed in each church. I believe when Paul leaves the Galatian region with stable churches with elders that he thinks they are in a good state. We learn from Galatians 1 that Paul was surprised and marveled that they so soon had left from their focus on the one Gospel. After everything that Paul had done for them and went through for them, now he has to deal with all of this fighting and falseness among the Galatians.

Please consider this just as a human being. What had he been through? Was it traumatic what Paul endured in Galatia? Absolutely! He had suffered trauma at every level. When Paul said, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus,” that was no exaggeration. His body was literally broken. I’m sure he was filled with scars all over his body. But those were not the only scars. Friends, we have to understand that what Paul went through did not just affect his body. It was no small thing that he went through. Someone cannot go through what Paul did and it not drastically injure his emotions and brain. Physically, Paul was a broken man. The man needed a break and some rest.

So, how could these brethren help Paul? Leave him alone. Give him a break. Get along. The best thing those Christians could do is to focus on the Gospel and get busy in the kingdom saving souls.

More to come later, Lord willing.

What does it mean to trust? Part 2

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:7)

I will refer you back to Monday’s article for part 1 of “What does it mean to trust?” My daughter learned a lesson in trust when we were at the farm store the other day.  She saw the stock tanks that hold the baby chicks but did not trust me that the chicks were not in there. It wasn’t until she put her ear to the side of the tank that she “confirmed” that the chicks weren’t there.

What she was looking for was not there. It was an empty tank. I’ve been thinking about this even more in a lot of applications to our lives. What I’m looking for may end up being an empty tank. The tank promised to deliver something, but I didn’t trust my Father and in the end the tank was empty.

Pleasure. It may be that you think you are going to find relief, satisfaction and pleasure in excessive entertainment, immoral sexual behavior, or in substances like alcohol and other drugs. But in the end, God told you to trust Him, and you didn’t. You found an empty tank. What you were looking for wasn’t to be found. All of us can think of things that promised to make us happy and we ended up empty. Notice the following two passages from letters to Timothy. What was Timothy to “pursue”? From what was he to “flee”?

But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
(1 Timothy 6:8-11)

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
(2 Timothy 2:22)

Knowledge. Some of us try so hard to find new ways to think about things. We really work hard to find things that our spiritual ancestors didn’t discover before. So much energy is exhausted to find new interpretations that “nobody has thought of before” (see Acts 17:21). In fact, we become so arrogant and smug in our pursuit of new ways to think that we spit on those who labored for years in study of God’s word to arrive at their conclusions. It might be that we have convinced ourselves that we are “testing all things,” but I believe we can be looking for something that God says isn’t there. We end up coming to an empty tank. The irony is that many times we arrive at the same conclusions our fathers did because those conclusions were solidly based on the word of God combined with years of experience.

Certainly, “test all things” as God tells you (1 Thessalonians 5:21). But have some humility, young men and women (1 Peter 5:5). You might be running toward an empty tank. What you thought was promising to be a wealth of overflowing knowledge may end up being a disappointing vacuous hole. Before you disregard the wisdom and wealth of study done by those who preceded you, trust that they may have some great insight to share.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.
(1 Corinthians 8:1-2)

Are you trusting the Father? Or are you running toward an empty tank?

God’s Desire to Bless Us

“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)

This morning, I watched a Bible Project summary of the book of Genesis (part 1 and part 2). What struck me today is how God’s heart to bless all of mankind is so prevalent in the book. From the 1st chapter to the 50th chapter, God’s heart is to bless man, save their lives, and do good for them.

But when you read Genesis, you see selfishness, pride, brokenness, violence, hatred, revenge, deceit, drunkenness, sexual immorality, lust, envy, etc. All of the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5) can be found there. Mankind…we are a messed up and evil group of people, aren’t we? And yet, even though God did punish mankind, God’s heart through it all was to bring His richest blessings to even the vilest sorts of people. He wanted them to repent and be saved.

Look at this pattern in Genesis. God gave Cain time to repent, and even after Cain murdered Abel, God blessed Cain with mercy (Genesis 4). He gave the whole world time to repent until there was only Noah left with his family (Genesis 6). The Lord told Abraham that he would give the people of the land of Canaan several centuries to repent before He drove them out of their land (Genesis 15). Sodom and Gomorrah was spared until there was only Lot left with his family (Genesis 19). And on and on and on it goes.

That’s the heart of God. His heart is to forgive. He wants us to repent. Our loving Lord wants us to be reconciled to Him in a family relationship. He, as our Father, wants to bless us in so many ways. And His desire to do so does not change when we become His enemies. We as humans have done everything in our power to hurt Him, yet He blesses us and wants to bless us even more. He blesses even the most vile and disgusting sorts of sinners today. Even the wicked get blessings from God. That is how God is.

The question really is, “Where is my heart on all of this?”

So, with that in mind, let’s think and pray today about what Jesus tells us in the above passage in Luke 6. Am I like the Father toward those who hurt me? If we cannot bless our enemies and love them, then we are really nothing like our Father in heaven. Is my desire like God’s, in that I seek to love, bless, pray for and do good for those who are against me?

Please, O Father, transform our hearts to be like You. In our homes, communities, churches and wherever we may be, that we may bless the peoples around us because we are your children.

Sacred Selections Adoption

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1:27)

James says that pure religion is to care for the widows and orphans. God wants us to help the helpless, to care for those uncared for, and to draw in those who have been cast out.

One very good way that Christians are caring for the helpless is through adoption. It is one thing to cry out about how children are being treated, but an entirely different thing to bring those kids into your own home. God bless those families who have God’s heart and care for those wonderful children made in God’s image. And God bless those who are supporting those families who are adopting children.

Today, I am referring you to an organization called Sacred Selections, a group of Christians that help to financially assist families in the process of adoption.  Here is their mission statement:

Sacred Selections mission is to financially assist Christian couples whose hearts and homes are open to loving and raising a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The dream of parenting does not have to be constrained by limited financial resources. The foundation, its board and many generous donors are committed to using the blessings we’ve received to assist in the wonderful effort in creating a Christian home and family.

Whether you are interested in adoption, or would like to support families who are doing so, please visit their website. Pray about it. See how you can help Sacred Selections and help families fulfill what God calls pure religion.

Ways to Donate: Here is Sacred Selections’ page on the various ways to donate.

For example, here are a couple of ways you can donate. There are more details on their website.

  • You can do a one-time or regular donation through Paypal.
  • You can also use Amazon Smile and designate Sacred Selections as your preferred charity.
  • Directly sponsor a couple who is adopting.

If you want to contact them directly: