You are not far from the kingdom of God

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34)

Mark 12 records a great deal of the confrontations that the Jewish leadership had with Jesus on that last week before His Crucifixion.

In this section we see a scribe having a moment of honesty and reflection. What did this man understand? He concluded that loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself were the two greatest commands ever. He also understood that doing these two things matters far more than any “sacrifices” we can offer to God.

To which Jesus replies, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” If we all could understand those two greatest commands then we can really get down to the foundation of what God’s kingdom is really all about.

So, for today, let’s apply this concept to our marriages. If we as men have as our foundation the desire to follow these two commands of Jesus, then how will that help our marriages today? Most of our marriage “problems” are not that complicated, most are pretty simple to sort out (once we calm down all our emotions and attitudes!). It usually comes down to in some way we are not following God’s two basic commands. What is marriage all about in the kingdom of God? It is fundamentally built on the two greatest commands. If you love God with all of your being, and if you love your wife as you love yourself, you are building a kingdom marriage.

Lessons from Dog Training Classes

Anna and I have been taking our new puppy to dog training the past month and a half. It has been a very new experience for both of us. Neither of us were really involved in the dog training world before. We have had dogs, but we never went to dog training classes. Our eyes have been opened to a whole new world.

But we have also enjoyed this time as a couple. We have grown through it. Not only was it fun to just go out and be together, but it was very helpful for our relationship to get into this as a couple.

I used to hear people advise that if you wanted to get to know a girl and see if the two of you were able to work together, then try and go canoeing. I’ve heard others say that if you really want to test a marriage, then wallpaper a room together. But I see the point in all of this, including these dog training classes, as giving us opportunities to learn better communication, and chances to work together for a common objective.

For example, at this dog training center, I saw a couple that clearly had marital issues, and the dog training revealed it for everyone to see. The dog wasn’t the problem, the owners were. Another person was getting very frustrated with her dog in another area, and the trainer said “Hey, the puppy’s not in trouble, the mom (owner) is!” The trainer was working on the owner’s attitude, not the dog’s. It can be nerve-wracking to try new things with your dog while everyone including the trainer is watching. And if your dog is going berserk with all the new dogs and smells, then it can be particularly stressful as you want to try to focus on training. Add that stress to two people trying to work together, and it can show some areas we need to work on ourselves in our marriage!

I guess what I’m saying in all of this ramble is to take opportunities (if you are not already doing it) to get involved in something fun and challenging together as a couple. It will be great to spend time together, for example we took this opportunity to get a coffee on the way there and french fries on the way back! Okay, junkie I know, but it was a fun date night for us. We plan on continuing classes at that dog training center, and I’m looking forward to spending this time with Anna. It is helping me as a husband to think differently. Train the human (me) first, then the dog.

Created With Purpose

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:10)

When God created water, it was given a purpose, and that is to water the earth. When God said, “Let there be light,” it had a purpose. Because of light we have life, growth, seasons, years, etc. Everything God created had a purpose.

The Christian is a new creation. We are His workmanship. God took what was dead and lifeless and breathed new life into it (Ephesians 2:1,5). He spoke into the darkness of our souls and said “Let there be light” (2 Corinthians 4:6). He turned a valley of dry bones into a massive spirit-filled army (Ezekiel 37). We are that army (Ephesians 6:10-18). God created us as new creatures, but just like light and water, we have a purpose. God created light in our souls because He wants us to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). God didn’t create water just to sit in a lake, nor did He do such amazing things within us so that we fail to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

So, thinking of all this, why did God create marriage? What is the purpose of marriage? How is God glorified through marriage?

Marriage is to be held in honor among all (Hebrews 13:4). By living in a relationship that God created and supports, we are honoring God and teaching the world about God’s ways and how His ways are best.

Marriage mirrors the relationship that Christ has with the church (Ephesians 5:21-33). In marriage we learn so much about love, respect, and submission to each other in very similar ways to how the church interacts with Jesus.

In marriage, God wants us to enjoy the marriage and grow old joyfully together (Ecclesiastes 9:9). It’s sad to see Christians be so miserable in marriage. When those who don’t even believe in God have better relationships and communication in marriage than those who should know better, it doesn’t say much for the Christian’s claim that God’s ways are best. God’s name is reviled when God’s people don’t behave as they should in the home (Titus 2:5). Sometimes the Christian couple is just miserable because they don’t like each other, but can’t divorce. God wants better for you, and that isn’t pie in the sky religious talk, it’s true. Marriage, God’s way, should have joy and peace. When we are miserable in marriage, then we are not fulfilling the purpose for which the relationship was created. Get help from godly Christians who can sit down with you and guide you into a better marriage.

God seeks godly offspring. One way God is glorified through marriage and one way we accomplish the purpose for which marriage was created is to bring godly children up in our homes (Malachi 2; Psalm 127-128). Just as water is created to help bring life into the world and  continue to nurture that life, we are given the blessing of marriage to water our precious children’s souls.

A Song of Ascents. Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
(Psalm 128:1-4)

Learning from Potholes

Michigan roads are just lovely…aren’t they? The freeze-thaw cycle reveals quickly what kind of roads we have. The flat tires and bent rims are aplenty.

I got to thinking about potholes and how extreme cold followed by heat is able to create such destructive craters in the road. The roads are not safe to travel on because the roads are not built to handle adversity and change. Others are paying high prices in repair shops because of the damage done to their own cars as they are just trying to drive to work and school.

Of course, we’re going to get philosophical, but trials and extreme changes in life can reveal the potholes in our character and in our relationships. Money problems, career stress, health problems, relationship stresses around us, severe loss, etc. all can take a toll on you and your marriage. You start to see big gaping areas in your life that need some serious work. And a quick patch slapped on it won’t fix the problem.

Those potholes in our character and relationships become a hardship for others, too. Just like the road becomes dangerous to travel on, we become harmful to others. We start flattening other people’s tires and bending their rims. Maybe because we are less patient, more defensive, and more reactionary…we just become too tired to be kind. If you have ever driven on a road full of potholes you know how scared to death you are to drive on them. You have to go 5 miles an hour (exaggeration maybe) because one wrong move and WHAMMO your tire is flat. And that’s how we are to others when we have all those potholes in our character. People are moving slowly and cautiously around us, walking on eggshells because they don’t want anymore axles broken.

The trials are good, though, very good, because they expose those areas in which we need to grow (1 Peter 1:7). This is not all negative. In Michigan, everyone is talking about the roads, including those in power. Here is the opportunity for those who have the power to do something about it…to actually do something about it. Patches and quick fixes are unacceptable. In the same way in our marriages and in our individual lives; we see those potholes and we have several options, don’t we? We can give quick fixes and patches that only temporarily mask the real underlying problems. We can ignore them, but it will only get worse. Like our politicians we can continually point the finger of blame at others for the problems. Or we can get real and honest and say, “Let’s get some help to help build a better road that others are safe to drive on.”

Are you tired of potholes? Then fix the road.

Who Has the Prettiest Feathers?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
(Philippians 2:3-4)

In our relationships a lot of us like to strut around and show who has the prettiest feathers. What I mean by this is:

  • When somebody tells you something you already know, how do you respond? Do you have to make sure it is known that you already know this, and that person is not giving you any new information?
  • If someone uses your idea, do you have to make sure it is widely known that it was your idea?
  • In a dispute, do you find yourself pushing your opinion, raising your voice, interrupting, and pressing your way until the other relents and gives in?
  • If someone doesn’t do things your way, and it bombs, do you have to make sure he or she knows your advice wasn’t followed?
  • When you do good things, especially for your wife around the house, do you have to make sure she knows you did it?
  • Do you have to instantly make a conversation about you when someone starts sharing things with you? In other words, that friend is sharing a trial he or she is facing, and you instantly switch or compare to what you are going through instead of really trying to understand the other person.

Aren’t those feathers pretty?

We are not roosters or peacocks…God expects us to have a spirit of humility that was shown wonderfully in the person of Jesus Christ. If anyone could have walked around and strutted, it would have been Jesus, but He counted others as more significant to Himself.

Just a reminder that it ain’t about us.

Try restraining that urge to say, “I already know that.” See how it works. Do good deeds and don’t say anything about them (see Matthew 6). If someone uses your idea, bite your tongue and say a prayer in your head of giving glory to God (hopefully it was a good idea that you shared!). Let’s not try so hard to break our elbows patting ourselves on the back!

Jacob and Esau

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
(Genesis 25:29-34)

Esau – Esau traded something very valuable for something of very little value. A simple bowl of lentils…he traded his birthright for one meal. All Esau could think about was how hungry he was at the moment. There was no regard for the high cost and consequences of his choices. Hebrews calls Esau a profane and immoral man (Heb. 12:16-17); Genesis says he “despised his birthright,” meaning he treated this amazing blessing as firstborn as if it had no value to him.

Jacob – He was called Jacob because of the circumstances of his birth. He was grabbing the heel of his twin brother Esau as Esau was being born. Jacob was called the supplanter, which means to take the place of another by force or treachery (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary). Jacob took advantage of his brother at a weak moment. Instead of showing kindness and brotherly love by offering a meal to his hungry brother, he seized his opportunity to get what he wanted. He was an opportunist. Through the next couple of decades, Jacob will see others treat him the same way. His future father-in-law, Laban, will seize his opportunities to take advantage of Jacob. Jacob’s own sons will also by treachery take advantage of their younger brother Joseph and will sell him into slavery.

This kinds of character traits that we see in Jacob and Esau are displayed in all kinds of relationships. We see them all around if we think about it. In business, politics, sports, family, etc. we see men and women like Esau who give up some incredibly valuable things for a cheap meal. On the flip side we see opportunists like Jacob everywhere, waiting for the right moment to gain the advantage over someone, even if it means exploiting the weaknesses of others.

What does this kind of relationship look like in a marriage? What happens when men and women have mindsets like Jacob and Esau? One spouse displays qualities like Esau in that he or she is so focused on the bowl of stew that the marriage and family suffers. A lot of families have been torpedoed because of a cheap bowl of stew. Another spouse is like Jacob and seizes the opportunity of the other’s weakness to gain an advantage. Is it possible in our marriages that we seize the opportunities of our spouse’s weakness to gain the moral high ground? Aren’t we really doing the same thing Jacob did?

Something to think about. Let’s not be Esau’s and trade the most precious things God gave us for what doesn’t even make a cheap substitute. Don’t get mesmerized by the bowl of stew. And let’s not be Jacob’s either, waiting for others to show weakness so we can show our superiority.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
(Philippians 2:1-5)

Getting a Brain Lock

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
(2 Corinthians 10:5)

We’re told here by the apostle Paul that we are to bring every thought captive in order to obey Christ. But we know that our mind can really go downhill in a hurry. Someone just gets under our skin, and we just can’t let it go. It affects how we treat that person, just like Joseph’s brothers got to a point where they could not speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:4). Then how we treat others is affected because we are really upset at someone else (Heb. 12:15). I’ve heard the expression, “I’m so mad I can’t see straight.” That’s exactly right.

So, what are we to do when our brain gets locked on something negative? What I mean is someone at work did something that bothers or irritates you and you just can’t seem to get your focus off it. Or you have perceived that your spouse was insensitive to your needs and you just can’t let it go. It ruins the whole day and puts everyone in a sour mood. Or maybe you are on a sports team and the referee makes a bad call. It just seems to overwhelm your thinking and you go into a mental downward spiral. I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point.

How do we resurrection ourselves when our brain gets focused on something that really bothers us?

Recognize the source. We have to recognize that this is one of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11). The wrath of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20); instead, we become instruments of the Devil to do his bidding. Sinful thoughts lead to more sin (Matthew 15:19).

No excuses. God has told man from the beginning that we have the power to control our thinking and we can harness and redirect our emotions (Genesis 4:6-7; Jeremiah 4:14). Cain hated his brother and was very angry, and God told Cain to “rule over” his anger. Again, no excuses, no blame-shifting.

Take a moment. Even Jesus went out to the mountain to pray. Jesus had time alone with God. You may have to take a minute to yourself, go out and cool down. There is a time to speak and a time to BE SILENT. You may have to tell those around you that you need a few minutes to yourself and think things through. It may be that the more you talk the more you make a mess of things, so it would be best to be silent and chill for a bit. This is not the silent treatment, this is taking a few minutes of silence so you can later give the right treatment.

Meditate on these things. Read Philippians 4:8. I’m not saying this is a quick fix, but when our brain is at DEFCON 1, you need a go-to-place for your mind. Passages like Philippians 4:8 are Holy Spirit-given guides to tell you WHAT to think about. Imagine if you took a few minutes to thank God for 50 amazing things about your wife instead of getting OCD about the one thing that ticks you off? And, what really upsets you may not have even been a good reason to be upset in the first place!

Talk it through. In the multitude of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). Walking through it with a wise, godly older person will help you see that you were really silly in being so upset about this. Or even if you do have a good reason to be upset, that wise person can give you the calm guidance to work through it.

Learn to see it coming next time. A wise man sees danger and hides himself (Proverbs 22:3). With wisdom and experience should come the ability to see the warning signs that your brain is going down the wrong road. God knows the inclination of our hearts and he wants us to warn ourselves of attitude problems that may come up (for example see Deuteronomy 15:9). Daniel knew what kinds of things he would be asked to do in Babylon, and he prepared his mind on what to do beforehand (Daniel 1:8).

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
(Isaiah 55:6-7)

Trust – Confidence

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
(Philemon 1:21)

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation.
(Hebrews 6:9)

In a relationship, trust is irreplaceable. Without it, do we really have a relationship? Yesterday, we looked at one aspect of trust in that we need to give up our obsession with having all the facts and details and info. If I trust someone (God or man), that means I don’t have to have all the info in order to believe in what he or she is telling me.

Today, I want to talk about the concept of confidence, specifically, the confidence we have in another person’s obedience to God. Look at the two passages above and see that with Paul and Philemon and with the Hebrew Christians, there was a confidence that the other person would do the right things.

Is your expectation that the other person is going to fail? And when he or she fails, we see it as we were justified in what we thought all along? They certain met our expectations because we were holding them in a box of failure. That certainly isn’t the mindset of Christ, is it?

“Love bears all things, believes all things endures all things…” (1 Cor. 13).

What is the assumption we make of others? It really says more about us than it does about them when we assume they are going to mess up.

If this is a problem for you, then take some time today in prayer and ask God to forgive you for making wrong assumptions of people (Eph. 4:30-5:2). Pray for His strength and His grace to fill your heart, and to extend that grace to others. May His love fill your heart, so that you can, like God, see the best in people (Eph. 3:19).  Sit down with a wise brother and discuss these things and pray over them. God can transform our hearts and renew our minds so that we can indeed be trusting and loving people who see the best in others (Eph. 4:20-24).

The heart of her husband trusts in her

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain (Proverbs 31:11).

Trust. The husband of the virtuous woman here in Proverbs 31 is said to have complete trust in his heart for his wife. Let’s think about what that means, and what that looks like.

Many of you have probably taken part in some training seminar or camp where they made you do the “trust fall.” It’s really difficult for a lot of us to trust that when we fall backward, that the person behind us will be there and be able to catch our fall. In order to do that, we have to give up some measure of control. We also have to assume that the person behind us will do the right thing.

The fact that this husband trusted his wife means:

  1. He didn’t have to check into all her actions, decisions and words. She didn’t need a babysitter.
  2. He didn’t make all of the decisions. Look at all of the decisions, both in her business and in her home dealings; she made lots of choices on her own without her husband having to think for her.
  3. He assumed that she was doing the right thing and he wasn’t away from her worried about how she was going to behave.
  4. His heart was at peace when it came to his wife.

Sometimes we have trust issues, because we don’t trust ourselves. When we are not at peace in our own souls, we look at others assuming that they have the same problems. We try to control others because things are out of control in our own hearts. But this husband was not that way toward his wife. He had his life, and his business and his relationship with God, and it seems that he was at peace with it. He didn’t have to overreach into her life and try to micromanage her life to appease his own troubled conscience.

So, think about this husband today, men, and consider how much he truly loved his wife to let her be her own person and make her own decisions. I do not mean that we live in our marriages as complete individuals and that we are not in union and accountable to each other. But we also must remove the desire to control and manage, and trust that others in our lives, specifically our wives, will make the right decisions.

Hebrews 6:9 – Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation

Different, Not Wrong

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
(James 3:13-18)

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
(Hebrews 12:14)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
(Romans 12:18)

Strive for peace. Be open to reason. Live peaceably with all men. Those are directives from Jesus, and they apply to marriage, don’t they?

Are there occasions where you and your wife fuss about things that are really a matter of opinion? Dumb question, I know we all do that from time to time. How the house gets cleaned, and in what order…opinion. Whether the toilet roll feeds from the top or the bottom of the roll…opinion. Do you squeeze the tube of toothpaste it the middle of the tube or from the end of it? Opinion.

It may be that you have a very passionate and convincing argument as to why things have to be a certain way, and you may be absolutely convinced you are right, but what if your wife has a different opinion? What if she makes decisions that are different that what you think should be done?

We should ask ourselves, is it wrong, or is it just different?

Do we find ourselves bringing up our viewpoints often in various ways to remind our wives that we don’t like their opinions and ways of doing things? Are we making fun of and using sarcasm to take shots and how they are doing things different than what we would do? Is this a control thing for you that you need to get right with Jesus? If so, then the spirit of Christ needs to rule in our hearts. His peace must also reign supreme. I believe that if we are truly at peace with God, then someone else’s alternative opinions and approaches would not bother us so much.

Before we say something or bring up how our wives do something different and not in line with our approach to things, let’s come to the throne room of God and ask for His wisdom and peace in the matter. How about talking to a wise godly brother in Christ and consulting him privately about it? And by the way, don’t just pick someone you know will agree with you. 🙂

Different is just that, it’s different. It might make you irritable or uncomfortable, and it might even challenge you to restudy your own convictions. But different many times is not wrong.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
(1 Peter 3:7)