Love And Marriage

I recently attended the wedding of my nephew to a wonderful Godly young woman. It was a grand, celebratory occasion. I gathered with two of my kids, and their spouses, my sisters and their husbands, and my brothers and their wives. We sat around our table laughing and remembering the crazy things that happened at our own weddings.  I reveled in the fact that all us are on our first and only marriages and all lasting many years (from my little brother at 18 to my oldest sister at 48 years). During a lull in the conversation I glanced over at the bride and groom and smiled at the look of promise, hope, and love in their eyes.

Thirty-seven years ago this July 1, I was one of those brides. Looking back I realize how little I knew about marriage. Not long after our wedding, I came to realize that marriage is not all romance and flowers, and my husband realized that I would not always be at the door when he came home with dinner on the table and slippers in hand.

Both my husband and I have had to adjust our expectations of marriage and our life together. I thought he would always pick up his own clothes, he thought I would always put the cap back on the toothpaste. We both thought our spouses would always put our needs above their own. Somewhere is the process of the “Will you marry me?” and the “I dos” we forgot we each were marrying sinners. Fortunately, we are sinners saved and sanctified by a longsuffering God who refines us continually.

I wince at the line in so many movies where two people are seeking their soul mates. I am not sure we marry our soul mates, but I know that we can become those soul mates for one another.

God’s plan for marriage is to use us and our spouses to sanctify each other. Like sandpaper on wood, we rub, scrub and scour one another within the most intimate of relationships this side of heaven.  We chafe, we irritate, we sin, we repent, we reconcile, we are changed. And it is all part of God’s plan.

I think we have bought into the false notion that marriage will be comfortable, easy and we will always get along and agree. I’ve heard friends say, “it shouldn’t be this hard!” In his book, What Did You Expect, Paul Tripp says “God has designed marriage to be one of his most effective tools toward personal holiness. Your differences and difficulties that they place you in are not a sign that God has forgotten you…they are not an interruption of his plan; they are part of his plan. “

Paul also says “when viewing our differences in marriage it is important to remember that these things are not to be viewed as the potholes to be avoided on the road to a good marriage but as effective instruments of change in the hands of a loving, wise and faithful Redeemer. “

When I came to see God’s true purpose for me in my marriage, it changed my point of view drastically. I stopped trying to be a better wife and mother and focused instead on becoming a woman of God pursuing holiness, which made me a better wife and mother. It became not about what I was trying to do, but what God was doing in me. Because God loves me, I then want to respect and love my husband and live out the gospel in my marriage on a daily basis.

Balancing family, an outside, job, and ministry life as a young woman was difficult for me for many years. I often felt cheated out of “me time”; resentment would grow, and I would neglect nurturing the one earthly relationship that God views as “holy.”  I am thankful for God and my husband helping me to root out my sin, thankful for confession, repentance and reconciliation. I am thankful that because of their patience and love I now see a bit more of Jesus in me.

I am very fortunate and blessed that I married a man who was also committed to allowing God to refine him. Confession, repentance, and reconciliation have become a part of our relationship. He is committed to loving me as Christ loved the church, and I am committed to respecting him, both out of obedience to God. We have learned to major on the majors and not on the minors. We have learned that our differences are often a matter of tastes and preferences.  If the clothes do not make it into the hamper it is ok. It is not a statement on our relationship.

I Corinthians has often been called the “love chapter” and is read at many weddings. I love the way it is worded in The Message Bible,

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

You can hear many statistics on the divorce rate in America both in and out of church. I don’t know why some marriages fail and others succeed. I only know why mine has and it is summed up in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 13…

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly ( I Cor 13:13).  Now that’s great marriage advice.

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Why Can’t We Just All Get Along?

Growing up in a large family I saw my fair share of fighting. With three sisters and two Picture1brothers, we did not lack for sibling rivalry especially  during our teenage years. Most of the quarrels were about our “stuff.” “She is wearing my stuff, using my stuff, has her stuff all over my stuff, etc.”  Fortunately we grew out of that stage and get along quite well now. I  wish I could say that my life is now conflict free. Even though I have been    redeemed by Jesus, the remnant of my sinful nature still resides in me and because of this conflict arises. The good news is that Jesus has given me a remedy for conflict in His Word.

 The secret to avoiding conflict is to first identity it and the reasons behind it. This task is easier than you might think.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:1-2

When I get in an argument with someone, I immediately blame the other person for the quarrel. “We just don’t get along. We aren’t wired the same way. Our personalities clash. We have issues. They are hard to get along with.” C. J. Mahaney says, “It’s our sinful tendency to minimize the seriousness of relational conflict. Often, we have a very        flattering assessment of ourselves, and we assume the other participant is primarily to blame. We’re quite comfortable describing conflict with superficial, morally neutral generalities.”

 But James tells us straight up that the root of our conflict is ourselves; our own passions which are at war within us. Conflict isn’t the other person’s fault, or the result of unfortunate circumstances–as James reiterates several times: “Your passions are at war within you. You desire and do not have. You covet and cannot obtain.” Each and every conflict reveals a strong desire for something we want so much that we’re willing to quarrel and fight, to sin against others and dishonor God in order to get. Notice how the passage in James escalates; a quarrel becomes a fight which turns into war and leads to murder. This is often how our conflicts progress as well.  We may not physically murder anyone but we murder them in our thoughts.

 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” Sinful cravings within our hearts are the root cause of    quarrels and fights. When my children would be home from school during school holidays, the state of the house often deteriorated. I would leave them a list of chores to do while I was at work. If I came home from work to find the chores not done, I would immediately get angry and the fighting would be begin.

 You might be thinking; “Well of course you got angry! They did not do their chores! It’s their fault.” 

 But James says the root of my anger is me and the sinful cravings of my heart. So I must examine my heart to understand what I am craving. A clean house, obedient children, a hassle free evening were at the top of list. When I delved deeper into my motives, I realized that my comfort was the real craving of my heart. I wanted to come home to a clean house, relax after a hard day and not be bothered by  anyone. Yes my children were disobedient but they were not the cause of my anger. The moment my feelings turned into anger I was in sin.

 The root of our conflicts is cravings and our cravings can sometimes be hidden issues, even from ourselves. Over 85% of an iceberg is below the surface and cannot be seen. The same is true for the deeper issues of our soul.  Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

God wants us to understand ourselves first and foremost and rid our heart of sinful cravings. As followers of Jesus we sometimes think of sinful cravings as wanting material things.  But sinful cravings are often more than the obvious.  Cravings for affection, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life can be at the root of our conflict.  The need for attention and power is often at the root of our church conflicts. We can get off track and can be more interested in building our own kingdom instead of God’s kingdom.

 As the pastor’s wife at my church, women often come to me for counsel when they are in conflict. The majority of women I see are in conflict with their adult children. The issue: control. The mothers have not learned to let go of their adult children and allow them to make their own decisions. They give  advice that is not wanted nor asked for and it eventually causes conflict within the family. As moms we think we know better than our children and that may be the case. But when our craving for control over the lives of our children, or spouse, or other family members come into play, conflict is inevitable.  I have seen many a family shattered because of sinful cravings.

 So what is the cure? First we must call conflict what it is, SIN. It hurts the heart of God and brings  disgrace to his name. Second we look to James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

We humble ourselves by confessing our sin and repenting of it. Conflict with others is at the core  conflict with God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all  unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9.) When we humble ourselves before the Lord, he will forgive, and he will exalt us.

Third we humble ourselves before those we have hurt and offended by going to them, confessing our sin, and asking for forgiveness. C.J. Mahaney says “When you have contributed sinfully to a conflict,    return to that individual with a confession that is sincere, specific, and–in most cases–brief. Just as   specific confession is vital when repenting before God, it is also important to identify specific sinful   cravings when confessing to others. We must also guard against a lengthy confession, which can   sometimes be a front to excuse sin instead of requesting forgiveness. Only when your confession is    sincere and specific will you be able to help your wife, child, friend, church member, or fellow employee.”

 It all sounds so easy and in some ways it is. Because Jesus has done the hard work of going to the Cross to take on our sins, past, present and future, we have forgiveness now and the power to love others as He has loved us.

The Empty Nest

I have entered a new season of life which most people call the “empty nest”. My youngest child, the baby of the family, just left home for college in Spokane, Washington, joining her older sister. I was not sure how to anticipate this phase of my life. I knew some of my friends went into mourning at the loss of their child-rearing years. Other friends celebrated their new found freedom with great glee. I think I am somewhere in-between.

They say when you become a parent your heart is never again your own. I suppose this is true as it feels that a part of my heart is now in Washington State and part of it is in Orange County. The humorist Erma Bombeck said children are like kites. “You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you’re both breathless … they crash … you add a longer tail … they hit the rooftop … you pluck them out of the spout. You patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly. Finally, they are  airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out. With each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant, and somehow you know that it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and soar as it was meant to soar — free and alone. Only then do you know that you did our job.”

 So as I approach my empty nest I feel a sense of satisfaction and even pride that I have done my job and done it as well as I know how. All my children love the Lord and are ministry minded. I am confident that they are following God’s call for their lives.  I know I will have sad moments and certainly I miss my children very much. But the adventures that await them are going to be grand and glorious. I have no doubt that they will all do great things for God.

I am also excited for myself and this new season of my life. Grand adventures await me as well. With the “empty nest” comes more time for pursuing God, more time for my marriage, and more time for ministry. I look forward to being able to take more mission trips with my husband, begin a new ministry, and perhaps even go back to school myself.

 This last year my favorite Bible verse has been Hebrews 11:8-10; By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

 God called Abraham out of his comfortable life in Ur to a life of wandering (in the desert) and wondering (God’s purpose) Yet Abraham had complete faith in God and obeyed even without the details.  He was able to obey because he had his eyes on his final destination, heaven with God Almighty.I do not know what this next season of life will bring for me or my family.  Every year I become more and more aware of the brevity of life. Certainly I have more years behind me than ahead of me. But I intend to follow Abraham’s example and get out of my comfort zone, follow God wherever He leads, have great and grand adventures, and do it all for the glory of His Name.

What’s In a Name

There is a new disease sweeping the country among young parents. Psychologists say it comes from having too many choices. It’s Baby Name Regret. Parents are beginning to regret the names they are choosing for their little ones. Evidence suggests names can influence a child later in life and so parents are under more pressure than ever to choose the perfect name. We have seen many actors give their children unusual names such as Apple, Pilot Inspektor , and Audio Science. Parents who give their child unusual names often get frustrated because their unique baby name keeps getting mispronounced. But most parents who suffer from Baby Name Regret simply feel that another choice on their list would have fit their baby better.

My mother once told me that she had picked out the name Glenda for me. However, when I was born she discovered to her surprise that I was a twin. She and my dad then named their newborn twin son and daughter, Randy and Sandy. What can I say? It was the 50s. I have always liked my name and, no offense to all the Glendas out there, but I prefer Sandra.

Names and their meanings have always been significant throughout history, and you see that clearly in the Old Testament. Names often foretold what the person’s character or life was going to be like.

Isaac’s name means laughter, for it was Sarah who laughed at God. And it is significant because it means that Sarah can now laugh or delight in the future. One of the twin boys born to Abraham’s son Isaac was named Jacob which means “heal grabber”. He came out of the womb grabbing the heal of his brother. But Jacob also means schemer, twister, and liar. Jacob’s life was marred by the schemes and lies he told in order to obtain blessing and favor.

Jacob’s wife, Leah was not loved by Jacob. As she began to give birth to Jacob’s sons, she gave each one a name that stated her emotion at the time. First there was Reuben which means “see” and she states, “The Lord has seen my affliction.” Simeon came next which means “hearing”: “the Lord has heard that I am unloved.” The next son born was Levi which means “attached” and she says, “Now my husband will become attached to me.” Leah finally stops focusing on her husband and turns her eyes to the Lord. Her next son is named Judah which means “Yahweh be praised” and she states, “Now I will praise Yahweh.” (Genesis 29:32-35)

I don’t think any of these parents suffered from Baby Name Regret, although perhaps their children did. We do find some examples in the scriptures, however, where God changed the name of some of his followers.

In Genesis 17 God changes the name of Abram (exalted father) to Abraham, the father of multitudes. God then promises Abraham that he will indeed be a father of multitudes even though at this time he was childless. In the same chapter, God says that Abraham’s wife, Sarai (princess), will now be called Sarah which in Arabic word means “to became great in number”. God then blesses Sarah and declares that she will become the “mother of nations.”

Jacob, the “heal grabber”, “twister”, “schemer” becomes Israel in Genesis 32. Israel means “to prevail” and also “to become great in number”. Jacob doesn’t live to see his family become great in number but God does keep that promise through Jacob’s sons.

There is one other name change that many are familiar with in the New Testament, Simon Peter. Peter was passionate, profound, yet impetuous. He was a fisherman, the equivalent of a blue-collar working man. Yet Jesus saw in Peter the making of a great disciple and evangelist. Upon their first meeting, Jesus bestows on Simon a new name, Peter or Cephas, which means “rock”. It does not describe what Simon is but what he will become.
All of these name changes were not Baby Name Regret for God. God bestowed on these individuals a name of promise; the name of the person they were going to become as a result of the transforming power of the Gospel. Peter was not a rock when Jesus changed his name. In fact his other name, Simon, meant “obedient.” He wasn’t exactly that either. But God knew the future of all these individuals (he had planned it after all) and I can’t help but think that He wanted to encourage them all to live up to the calling to which He had called them.

“ To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:17 ESV)

If you belong to Jesus as Peter did, then the Lord has a new name for you as well. There will come a day when that name will be revealed to you written on a white stone; a symbol of a debt forgiven. It is the name God has given you at your new birth, a name of promise, a name that describes who you are becoming. Perhaps my new name will be “Glenda” which means “holy and good”, or it may stay Sandra, which means “defender of men”. Whatever it is I know that it will wonderfully describe the woman I have become as a result of transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How thrilling it will be to hear that name for the first time spoken by my Lord and Savior, the name above all names, Jesus.

A Circle of Love

We are entering a new phase of our lives. Our son proposed to a wonderful woman, Rachel, last night and she said yes. We will soon we known as the “in-laws”.

His proposal took place at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles a place that is special for both of them.

Rachel knew that it was going to be “the day” as Joel had given her hints along the way. She wanted to be prepared with a quick answer. Fearing she would be overcome with emotion, she wrote “yes” many times over on a piece of paper and kept it in her pocket. That way when he proposed if she began to sob as she thought she might, she could pull out the paper and show it to him so he would not be wondering “Well, what is the answer? Are you crying because it is ‘yes’ or because it is ‘no’?”
The proposal itself honored not only his love for her but their love for the Lord. Joel got down on one knee and said, ‘Rachel Susanne, I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to do kingdom building with you. Will you marry me?”
Of course the answer was Yes and we are thrilled beyond words, but it provoked quite a mixture of emotions.

We are thrilled for the new family and new life together they are beginning. We are blessed that they desire to follow God’s calling and be ministers of the Gospel. But I am glad that at my core I am not a fearful person. If I was I would be fearful for them. This world is so different than when we began our life together some 32 years ago. We too were headed to the ministry together, still finishing school, and wondering how it was all going to work out.

Today the nightly news is enough to put fear in your heart for the future; wars, earthquakes, economical uncertainty, recession, joblessness. Not a good climate in which to begin a family.

I wonder how the newlyweds will survive financially; where will they live; will the ministry pay them enough to start a family? The ministry life is a blessed life but also a difficult one. Will it be kind to them, will they have a life of joy, love, and laughter?

Revelation 1:17-18: “He placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!”

Again and again Jesus tells us in His word to not be afraid. He will take care of us.

Matthew 6:25-31 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. So don’t worry about these things… but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
I am thankful for the assurance that God not only takes care of me but my children as well.

Thirty-two years ago when we were newlyweds, the world did not seem much better. Iran had seized American hostages, homes mortgages were at 17%, and we had to wait in line to get gas for our vehicles. Yet we saw our future through God’s eyes, one filled with hope, love, and the promise of blessings working to build His kingdom. I am thankful that Joel and Rachel have that same view. I am thankful that they are in God’s hands and it is His job to care for them; mine to trust that He will. My main job; extend my circle of love for my son a bit larger to include a new daughter, and try not to bawl through the wedding.