Devoted Familiarity

Psalm 78:35-37 (NLT) Then they remembered that God was their rock, that God Most High was their redeemer. But all they gave him was lip service; they lied to him with their tongues. Their hearts were not loyal to him. They did not keep his covenant.

Psalms 78 provides a summary of the relationship and interactions recorded in the Bible between God and the Israelites. From the very beginning God has desired a personal and intimate relationship with mankind starting in the Garden of Eden. It was there that God expressed His love for man by creating the institution we call marriage, authorizing and blessing the male-female union.

The verses above describe how the Israelites acknowledged God with their mouths but not with their hearts. Yes, they remembered how God had gotten them out of some tight situations but this did not result in devotion or loyalty. Scripture says that they gave God lip service and lied to Him, and maybe, themselves. The defining statement for the condition of the Israelites was that their hearts were not loyal to God – loyal being defined as characterized by showing faithfulness to commitments, vows, allegiances, obligations, etc. In other words they did not keep their covenant or reverence. I believe they had become familiar with God and his covenant but had failed to experience true devotion to their covenant God.

Familiarity can be a great intimacy-building experience that can also become dangerous to any relationship when callousness is allowed to breed. God desires us to know His character, will, and commitment to us as defined in His Word. It is through the awe and expressed love in God’s Word and our personal life experience with God that opens our eyes, heart, and mind to His ever-present love for us. This recognition allows us to enjoy the comfort, peace, security, and hope promised by God to those who love and know Him. When we allow our familiarity to cause us to take Him for granted, and not appreciate the loving sacrifice and provision made through Christ Jesus daily, it can become dangerous to a healthy relationship. In the same way, our relationship with our spouse that started out full of wonder, excitement, intrigue, and love can become callously unhealthy without continued acts and attitudes of respect.

To protect our relationships with God and our mate requires us to always value, honor, and respect them. We must remember the life experiences that have been shared and crafted together over time. Remember and be grateful for the love received and the opportunity afforded to love and develop eternal and life long bonds. Familiarity that intentionally breeds devotion through mutual appreciation is God’s plan, purpose, and will for humanity.

Devotion to God and your spouse will allow the benefits of God’s promises to manifest in your life. Our challenge is to be truly loyal and committed to developing an ever stronger and intimate relationship by valuing, honoring, and appreciating our loved ones. The trap is to mistake familiarity for devotion. The Israelites knew what God wanted and would conform periodically, just as we do in our marriages. The acts of love must some day be transformed into relational heart-anchored, love-spawned acts and deeds of affectionate commitments that are stronger than our love of life itself. Keeping our covenant with God first and then our spouse must become the true meaning of life itself to us.

Enough is Enough!

Matthew 19: 6 (NLT)

Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.

The divorce statistics in this nation are atrocious! And the worst of it is that they are about the same in Christian marriages. Why is this?

I think the simple reason is that too many people have chosen to take what appears to be the shortcut to what they feel is the solution to a troubled relationship. Rather than fighting to keep their covenant, they give up, sometimes too easily, sometimes after really trying. Most vows end with, “Till death do us part.” In other words, “I will do all of these extraordinary things for you and with you until one of us dies.” However, based on the statistics, not a whole lot of people mean it. The other reason many Christian marriages fail is because one or the other or both have chosen to disobey God’s word regarding how to treat each other.

God hates divorce because it distorts and perverts the picture of God’s love and faithfulness. He uses the marriage relationship as the example to represent Jesus and the Church. The Church is called His Bride. God is faithful to His covenant with us even when we displease Him, even when we disregard Him and do our own selfish thing. He expects us to do the same.

When couples are joined together in marriage, they become one flesh. Try to imagine what would happen if two of your fingers were fused together to the point that now it just looks like one fat finger. After awhile, you decide you want to separate the two fingers. It would take major surgery to make that happen, and it would be painful. This is what happens in divorce. It’s NEVER a simple solution. Just ask the people who have experienced it; it is quite painful, and with it typically comes a great deal of regret.

Now, before you pick up stones to toss at me, let me state this: In matters of abusiveness, addictions and extreme infidelity, one could easily make a case for divorce, but those are the exceptions. In most cases, these are not the reasons for marriage breakups. Based on the many coaching couples we have encountered, most marriages end out sheer selfishness and pride. We described those in our book (Marriage is Not for the Faint of Heart) as “the two marriage killers”.

Aren’t we tired of this? Aren’t we tired of looking like the world? Let’s begin to intercede for the marriages in this country. Let’s not allow Satan to overthrow God’s ordained institution. Let’s first take our stand right in our own homes. Enough is enough!

Wedded Bliss or Wedded Blahs?

Song of Solomon 4:9 (NLT) You have captured my heart,

I believe I could say with confidence that when most couples get married, they have in their minds that married life is going to be heaven on earth. They probably even fantasize, prior to the ceremony, about what things will be like. The woman imagines a husband who will anticipate her every need and desire without even being told. The man envisions having a sex partner who’s willing and available at all times; someone who will be a constant companion.

It doesn’t take too long after the wedding night to discover that she did not marry a prince charming, and he did not marry a goddess. Instead, they soon realize that those stars in their eyes that obscured the other’s flaws for so long have somehow fallen to the ground, and now they see clearly.

I was thinking about this word “bliss”. It means: complete happiness. Is that what God intended marriage to be like? I believe so. As mentioned in my last blog, when God placed Adam in the Garden, He had constant fellowship with him. Yet, God said “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.”(Genesis 2:18, NLT) That means God decided that man would be better with a woman by his side. He, obviously, felt that Adam was not complete without a wife, so his true and complete happiness came as a result of Eve being placed in his life.

It’s unfortunate, but most couples are experiencing wedded blahs instead of bliss. They go through their entire married life with “a feeling of boredom, lethargy or general dissatisfaction”. How sad, especially when it doesn’t have to be that way.

Married bliss, in the true sense, is when each partner treats the other with respect and honor; it’s loving unconditionally, passionately and completely. It’s being honest with one another and having a strong desire to meet each other’s needs. That, my friends, is complete happiness.

The ability to experience wedded bliss is based on a decision. When you decide that you want the very best God has for you, you will make the effort and corrections needed to make it happen. And it takes conscious diligence. There is no magic pill to take or spell to cast. It requires work and constant commitment and recommitment.

I think, sometimes, couples believe that the absence of conflict is an indication of happiness in a marriage. The only way to avoid conflict is to avoid each other. In other words, you keep things very superficial, never delving into the deep parts of your heart with each other. That represents the “blah-type” relationship. Where love runs deep, conflict is lovingly dealt with, and you are able to move on.

Capture the truth of wedded bliss through prayer and obedience to God’s Word. When you make the decision to pursue God’s plan, the Holy Spirit will back you up and come alongside to help. The changes you experience will be evident in both of you, bringing glory of God and adding to your personal fulfillment.

Transparency

Galatians 6:2 (AMP)

Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the requirements of the law of Christ [that is, the law of Christian love].

I remember when I first met my wife and the joy of finding a friend that brought such happiness to my life. We were committed to each other and desired to help the other achieve what we believed was God’s call upon our lives. It was and is our belief that God allowed us to be joined in marriage to help us please Him better together than we could ever realize by being apart.

Our relationship began with trying to learn and appreciate as much about each other as possible. It was so much fun and fascinating to discover the likes and dislikes, visions and plans for the future that we had made as individuals. Then to lovingly handle each other’s desires, always wanting to preserve where possible and combine to allow each of us to feel and experience the value, respect, and honor of an open and transparent relationship. We realized what it meant to assist the other in pursuing our determination to please God and each other.

We had come to an awareness that God had placed us in each other’s lives to be His physical and emotional representative of love. God knows everything about us better than we know ourselves; yet in marriage, we must learn the intimate details of our mates. This is where transparency is so vital to the health and continued growth and maturity of our marriages. Being open with one another allows us to not only stumble upon but to see the weaknesses and strengths of the other. Openness reveals the dreams and nightmares of your mate for nurturing, protection, and sharing. Closeness is very difficult if not impossible, without the vulnerability of open and honest communications – honest talk that is spoken always in love and a desire to bring healing.

God helps because he knows everything, but He still asks us to ask for help. In order for us, or our partners, to help one another, we must share everything. Remember, we want to know so that we can demonstrate the love of God toward our spouse. This requires a selfless attitude that invites the presence and help of God into our lives. We must stay on task as God’s representatives and assistants to help our mates achieve their destinies and God-given purposes. You will only be able to do this if you believe God is working for your good through your mate. This requires you to be wholly committed to love your mate, as you believe God loves you. You are one in Christ.

To accomplish this you must encourage each other and spend time weekly sharing goals, aspirations, and dreams, as well as hurts, failures, and feelings of inadequacy, mistakes, sins, and victories. Be vulnerable enough to communicate what may seem obvious, that you love each other and are committed the other’s success in life.

 

Love In Deed

1 John 3:18 (NLT)

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

I looked up the definition of the word deed and found it to mean: anything done, an act. The definition further described a deed to be a notable achievement, feat, exploit and finally an action in general as opposed to words. The scripture quoted above challenges us to not merely say we love but to demonstrate our true love or affection through actions.

It is sometimes very easy to say to our spouses that we love them; but according to this definition, is what we are doing really expressing true love? To love our mate and family is to perform selfless acts of service and care that benefit them.   One of the greatest detriments to marital happiness and stability is the selfishness of one or both of the marriage partners. This happens when one partner in the relationship places a condition or requirement that the other partner act first before he or she will do what they know to be right; that is, an act of love. In other words, “Serve me first.”

The acts of love that are performed should be out of a response to our love for God first, then we can present it as a visible, tangible display of love for our mate and family. Sometimes we can get confused about whom we actually are responsible to for living lives of demonstrated love actions. The confusion comes when we begin to measure and ration our behaviors of love based on the responses or actions of others to us. The scripture instructs us to love in deed and not merely word to please God, not ourselves.

We often forget that the plan and processes of God require us to obey Him first in order to enjoy the promises declared in His Word. The love we desire to be shown by our mates may be delayed by our own stubborn refusal to act lovingly. Be determined to love through actions even when faced with resistance from your spouse. Scriptures tell us that God is love. Let God work through your actions to bring His victory to completion in you, your marriage, and family.

The Battle of the Sexes

Genesis 1:27 (NLT) So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Did you know that the first battle of the sexes began in the Garden of Eden?

Eve convinced Adam to partake of the fruit in the garden they were not supposed to touch. Why do you think the serpent saw Eve as an easy mark? Here’s my theory: Women have a tendency to make decisions, many times, from an emotional standpoint first. Logic typically follows later. Of course, this is a generalization, so you may be the exception. Satan was able to appeal to her emotional side by pointing out how nice the fruit looked and helping her to imagine how good it will taste and how it will make her feel. Because men tend to see things more logically first (again, a generalization), Satan would have had a harder time tempting Adam. I think he (Adam) would have reminded Satan of what God specifically said to him and more easily resisted.

Satan was very deliberate in choosing Eve to put his plan into motion because he knew that if he could persuade her to eat the fruit, she would be more influential to Adam. It was at that point that it was established how powerful a woman’s influence was.

Eve won the battle of the sexes but ultimately lost. Her decision caused Adam to sin and thus caused mankind to lose close fellowship with God. The result of that costly sin was a curse that God placed on their lives: “Then he said to the woman, ‘I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.’ And to the man he said, ‘Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it (Gen. 3:16-17, NLT)’” At this point, God banishes them from the Garden.

Perhaps, this gives us some understanding of why men and women are always in a battle to see who will take the lead in a relationship. It’s because of the curse. But here’s the good news! If you are born again, you are no longer under the curse. We have been redeemed from the curse (Gal. 3:13), so we have the grace and ability to receive strength to resist the temptation to battle over dominion. As husband and wife, we can live in harmony with each other and experience the blessings of obedience to God’s word instead of the curse of disobedience.

God’s best is that we live a life of peace, free from strife, walking in Jesus’ promise of abundant life.

Don’t Forget

Ephesians 4:32 (NLT) 

32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

As we go through life and its many joys and challenges, we often become so engrossed or distracted by life’s drama that we forget the miraculous and fantastic gifts God has made available to us through His mercy. It is His mercy that prevents us from receiving what we so fully deserve from the lives that we have lived, maybe are living today, or probably will live tomorrow. God’s grace and mercy allow us to experience the wonderful blessing of fellowship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

What you and I must not forget is the mercy of God which is made new for us every morning according to Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT) which says, The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” When we forget the mercy of God, we begin to believe that we are who we are because of our own efforts and talents. Forgetting the mercy of God will cause you to harshly judge and think less of others who have not accomplished what we have. We will find our selves saying about others, “Why didn’t they just make better decisions in life”.

Our loved ones, families, spouse, and acquaintances need us to be kind to them, tenderhearted, forgiving of one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven us. To do this we must remember the mercy, love and forgiveness God has demonstrated on our behalf. Worship God for His faithful deliverance of mercy and compassion toward you by determining to share what you have received abundantly from God. Every morning, as you remember your shortcomings, mistakes, and outright sins, ask God for and receive forgiveness and mercy, and do the same for your spouse and family.

Don’t allow the busyness or frenetic pace of life to cause you to forget the blessing that you depend on every day to enjoy God’s presence and promises. Stay connected to the presence of God, and be a blessing to everyone you are privileged to touch.

When Iron Sharpens Iron, Sometimes Sparks Fly!

Proverbs 27:17 (NLT) As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.

Sharpening is the process of creating or refining a sharp edge of appropriate shape on a tool or implement designed for cutting. It’s done by grinding away material on the implement with an abrasive substance harder than the material of the implement, followed sometimes by processes to polish the sharp surface to increase smoothness and to correct small mechanical deformations without regrinding. That is what happens when humans relate and interact.

Humans were made for fellowship, and what better fellowship opportunity can there be than a marriage relationship. When God created Adam, and placed him in the Garden, God and Adam had wonderful fellowship, I’m sure; but God, Himself, recognized that it wasn’t enough. Adam was blessed with Eve because people need people.

The problem with people needing people is that sometimes, during their interactions, sparks fly just like when iron sharpens iron. However, it’s during those times that we should begin to help each other get rid of the dullness (insensitivity to the Holy Spirit), the imperfections (the areas we have not submitted to God), and the rust (picking up old non-fruit-bearing habits). The result should be brightness (shining forth more of the light of Jesus) and perfection (maturing in the things of God).

Isn’t it marvelous how God has put couples together to be a blessing to each other? Marriage is never about individuality. If, in our relationship, we never change to truly become one, there is no purpose in being married. We learn from each other, and we develop into better human beings as a result. I can think of so many instances where my life has improved by living with my husband. He has areas where he is stronger, and I have areas where I am stronger. I believe I shared this once before: Since I was a fairly young Christian when we wed, I wasn’t fully developed in my faith in God. I watched as Adrian met every difficult class he had with an expectation that God was going to help him. I have since learned how important faith is in every instance and circumstance of life. Adrian, along with the Holy Spirit, was my teacher. In turn, my husband has shared with me how I have taught him to be more generous and caring.

Your mate was placed in your life, not to frustrate you, but to bless you and help you become more like Christ. When the frustrations come, we should use them as opportunities to grow rather than excuses to throw in the towel.

Letting Go of Bitterness

When people get married, they plan to have a loving relationship. Their expectations are very high. Suddenly, an offense takes place. It’s not dealt with; then more offences come that are not dealt with and soon bitterness and resentment set in. You may not even notice it at first. It starts so quietly, but then it begins destroying your relationship.

When you find yourself being easily irritated with or very critical towards your spouse, you should realize that some bitterness has begun to set in. Bitterness is a result of pride and selfishness, and these are two of the major killers in a marriage. God wants to bring healing to our marriages, and He wants us to eliminate all resentment. Eph. 4:31 tells us to, “Let all bitterness…be put away from you …”

The reason that bitterness is so harmful is that it gives us justification for being mean, cold, short-tempered or unpleasant to others. You won’t feel guilty if you are able to justify your behavior. Feeling guilty is what causes our conscience to kick in and prevent us from doing things we know are wrong. One author put it this way: “Our conscience tells us that it is wrong to do evil to others. This limits the expression of our hatred towards others. If people are going to persist in their meanness toward someone, they need some way to override the guilt function of their conscious. Otherwise guilt would pile on so thick that they would have to stop being mean. They feel bad (guilty) about it. Bitterness provides the needed short circuit that allows them to bypass the work of their conscious, not only to do evil to others but even to feel smug and self-righteous about it.” (Paul and Linda J. Bucknell; Building a Great Marriage)

Bitterness can defile our relationship. Hebrews 12:15 states, “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” This scripture makes it clear that a bitter root that springs up causes trouble. It not only affects the bitter person, but spreads into the lives of others.

Bitterness happens because we are expecting our mates to be perfect even though we are not. Let us pray that we are always able to give grace to our mates and learn to deal with issues quickly and lovingly so that no root of bitterness springs up in our lives or marriage.

Love Your Own Wife

Ephesians 5:25 (NKJV) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,

Ephesians 5:28-29 (NKJV)

So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.

In the scriptures above, husbands are instructed to love their wives; but it also emphasizes that the wife a husband is to love is his own wife. In today’s world, that I would describe as over stimulated and exposed, the specification of own wife is truly significant and appropriate. People are bombarded with contemporary guidelines for successes that direct us to focus primarily on our own needs and desires above all else. As husbands living in the “me generation”, God’s Word gives yet again another reason to pause and ponder how to actually walk and live the love commanded here.

Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church and was exemplified in the ultimate act of self-denial and sacrifice. Christ was willing to give up His position in glory to come and die for the object of His love: the Church or Body of Christ.  Many of us will say to our wives that we will give our very lives for them but won’t take ten minutes to listen and provide positive feedback concerning their value to you and your family. Christ’s joy was made full, knowing that He had made the way for mankind to be reconciled back to Father God. The cost and sacrifice was indeed counted but given secondary priority to the coveted goal of meeting mankind’s greatest need for redemption.

I know we can’t die physically everyday in demonstration of our love for our wives, but we can make a decision to give them first priority – second only to God, Himself – to love them as our own self or body. This would be awesome to execute for the “me generation”. Think about it: all the wonderful dreams of fulfillment and satisfaction we desire for ourselves being shared and targeted with our resources toward our wives. I believe no man in his right mind hates himself but endeavors to be successful and possess a sense of personal wellbeing.

If you love yourself, the best way to bless yourself is to nourish and cherish your wife; to dare to believe that God has established a love plan that benefits both you and your wife. Commit to, selflessly, invest in the growth and development of your wife, knowing that God assures blessings and fulfillment to all involved.