THE MARRIAGE JOURNEY

Today I have a special treat.  My long-time friend 
David Richardson is guest blogging for me.  
You can CLICK HERE to head over to 
David’s blog page, or you can click on the 
link in my blogroll on my homepage.  I told 
him he could blog about whatever he wanted to, 
and this is what was on his heart.  Thanks David 
for a great post with important reminders 
for us in our relationships.

Twenty two years. That’s how long Lara and I have been married. We started our marriage fresh off the heels of graduating from college. Now we’re on the verge of sending our oldest child off to college. Time sure flies!

Lovebirds!
Lovebirds!

We’ve learned some lessons along the way. I’d like to share them with you today because maybe some of the things we’ve picked up along the way will help you with your own marriage. Of course, we know there is plenty more to learn. But here is what we’ve gathered to this point about being husband and wife:

[1] Work at it. Good relationships don’t just happen. They demand effort on the part of the husband and the wife. Lara and I have had to learn new skills, hang in there during the not so easy times, and work on better understanding each other. I’m seeing that marriage requires intentional effort.

[2] Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. We see that it’s vital to share honestly with one another our thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. Men cannot read the mind of women, and women cannot read the mind of men. That just doesn’t happen. The phrase “I shouldn’t have to tell him/her” is one you might as well forget using. Unless your spouse is a mind reader, yes you do have speak up and communicate. How can your spouse know there is a problem if you don’t communicate? How can your spouse know to take care of a need in your life if you don’t communicate? See my point. You and I both have to speak up if we want good marriages.

[3] Forgive. I’m not a perfect husband. Far from it! I have failed Lara some along the way. And she has let me down at times too. We’ve realized that we are fully capable of wronging each other, and that puts us at a point of decision. Either we can stay mad and grow bitter at one another, or we can forgive. I’ve come to see that forgiveness means we bypass bitterness and refuse revenge. In other words, we say what needs to be said, let it go, don’t stew over it, and choose not to inflict a hurtful payback on one another. Has your spouse hurt you? Let me encourage you to do something: Forgive her or him as God has forgiven you.

[4] Seek counseling. It’s ok to sit down with a counselor and talk through issues. I will unashamedly tell you we’ve done that before. And it was good for us. A counselor helps a couple talk through issues that maybe they would not discuss on their own. If your marriage is struggling, and you just can’t seem to fix it on your own. reach out for help. It’s a smart thing to do.

[5] Put your spouse first. Selfishness destroys marriages. The biggest regrets I have so far about my marriage all go back to the times when I’ve been solely focused on me. That has never worked well. So I’m seeing that marriage requires I focus on caring for her. And, at the same time, she focuses on caring for me. The same is true for you and your spouse. You both have to put each other first. And this only works if both of you do this. It can’t be the sort of deal where one is putting their spouse first and the other is not. Both parties have to be on board with this.

[6] Look to God. I don’t want to sound preachy here. But I will say that having God in our lives is what has saved and improved our marriage. God is loving, forgiving, and patient. Because we look to Him, He helps us love, forgive, and hang in there with each other. I don’t know if we’d still be together if it wasn’t for God. We need Him as individuals and as a couple. So do you! Through Jesus Christ, you too can have a relationship with Him that helps you in every area of your life, including your marriage!

I enjoy my marriage now more than I ever have before. Really, I do! It’s not perfect. No marriage is. But it is a good union between two people who are willing to work at it, get real, forgive in the midst of failure, look out for the needs of each other, and seek help from above.

I wish you well in your marriage. Hang in there with that special someone you looked at and told “I do.” With God’s help, you can make it. And even better than that, you can enjoy it too!

PAIN

“This will not hurt, you will feel no pain.”  The dentist said it with confidence.

“But,” the patient challenged, “isn’t pain a little like beauty; isn’t it really in the eye of the bolder?”  A bead of sweat appeared on his forehead, betraying a lifetime of fear of dentists.

No, this is not an excerpt from a new novel, it was me this morning.  I’ve been going through a serious process of trying to save a painful molar.  It has been neglected for a long time, mostly because I had no dental insurance when I pastored.

When I said that about pain being in the eye of the beholder to the dentist, he pulled back and gave me a brief lesson on the science of pain.  He told me about nerve receptors and the messages they send to the brain when we experience pain.  He said there are two different aspects of pain.  One is the reaction to pain.  Some people react in over-the-top ways to any kind of pain sensation at all, while other people show almost no reaction.  My dentist tells me the pain is the same, it is the reaction that is different.  He also described the difference in pain perception.  Different people will perceive the normalcy of pain in differing ways; thus what may seem to be a great trauma to one person is deemed only a minor inconvenience to someone else.coll1

It was about that time he stuck the high pitched whining drill into my mouth to fix the tooth that broke Sunday after church.

As he worked, I thought about pain from the perspective of life change.  There is an old axiom that pastors know.  It goes like this:

People will not change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.

Think about that for a moment.  Until it hurts more to remain in the situation (a bad relationship, destructive habits, relocation, a bad tooth) most of us will never make the appropriate change (break up, withdrawals, meeting new people, visit and pay the dentist) needed to make our lives better.  I wondered if this is a perception or a reaction issue?  As the dentist drilled and chiseled in my mouth, I decided that it was a perception problem, particularly a perception problem based on fear.  We fear the unknown, even if there is a reasonable chance the unknown will feel better than the known.  People’s reaction to the pain they live in is not a solution.  They may complain about the relationship, feel shame about their addiction, look at the housing market in Montana, or avoid eating on that side of the mouth but until they perceive it is a pain that can be removed they will not do anything significant to fix it.

Pain is the bodies way of letting us know something is wrong.  This is true of physical pain, emotional pain, and spiritual pain.

Now, you want to know, did the dentist hurt me?  Was there pain?  No, there was no pain because Dr. Aulick is a wonderful dentist who has done fantastic work on my mouth, making it much better.  The only thing I felt was relief.

SMALL GROUP FINALE

Last night my small group finished our semester with a cookout (it was a cookout, not a barbeque–barbeque is a technical and specific word that does not apply to just any old thing  cooked on a grill) in a local park.  The weather was lousily cold and windy but the food was spectacular:  Rice Krispy treats, polish dogs, hot dogs, hamburgers, veggies, pasta salad, baked beans, and lumpia.  I personally may have eaten 15 Rice Krispy treats.  Our small group values food.  We are thinking of change our name next year to The Foodie Small Group.  We’ll see.

We will take the rest of the summer off and then kick it up again in September.  All of us will miss it in one way or another because our small group has become an important part of who we are.  The longer I am involved in active ministry, the larger I view the role of the small group in individual spiritual growth.  I still believe in the primacy of corporate worship, but the small group is important for some very specific reasons.

First, it is in small group that I build meaningful relationships with people I see and expect to see week in and week out.

Second, from the small group relationships are nurtured ‘on the side.’  Because we study together, I have often gotten together with people in my small group to do other things.

Third, studying the Bible in smaller units of people creates an environment that encourages questions, discovery, and debate.  We are not all alike and some of us in the small group are at different spots on the Christ-journey.

Fourth, I am more accountable to participate and to belong in a small group.  If someone misses two or three weeks, we are all over it.  They will find out we miss them.

Fifth, in our small group we discover needs and are able to provide help.  Most often this comes from the ministry of the casserole or the encouragement of the cookies that are delivered to homes that could use some love.  Food is one of the ways we can say, “I love you.”

Sixth, our particular small group has emerged as an inter-generational unit.  It was originally meant for younger folks with children, but that is not how it evolved. We now have couples at various ages from their 50’s to 20’s and some are married and some are not and all of our children are always around.  I think that is how Jesus likes us to exist; not as niche groups with only people who look and smell like one another.

Some of our number were missing–caring for sick family, recovering from illness, or at work but they were missed and were with us in spirit.  Saturday we meet one more time for our service project–a morning working at a Habitat for Humanity house.

MORE RETRO SONGS MAKE GREAT SERMON TITLES

One of the most popular, blogs I have ever posted was titled Retro Songs Make Great Sermon Titles.  I thought I would share a few more retro-songs and the way I might, hypothetically, employ them in preaching.  The catch is never the actual song itself, but the title as a cultural touchstone, or hook, to launch into a way to look at life from a biblical worldview.  It is a fun exercise.

1.  I Heard it Through the Grapevine—This Motown classic could be used in so many different ways.  The most obvious is to discuss gossip and how gossip is dangerous to meaningful relationships.  But it could also be used to speak of the ongoing work of telling people about the Lord—and the one who is doing the singing (and hearing) is the Devil . . . “not much longer would you be mine.”  The song could likewise provide a launching point for discussing how to nurture relationships, or alternately, the right way to end one.

2.  Margaritaville—I love this song, so I might be pressing a bit to include I here.  I already have a sermon in which Margaritaville is prominent.  That sermon is about Nabal being a fool and Abigail being suddenly available.  If I preached it as retro-song series I think I would emphasize regret and lost opportunities.  Note, however, do not confuse Jimmy Buffet with Warren Buffet.

3.  I Wish It Would Rain Down—This one is for my wife.  Mrs. Greenbean is a huge Phil Collins fan.  Any person who is best known as having a group called “Genesis” ought to be in serious consideration for a retro-song sermon title.  This sermon could focus upon the desire every human being has for cleansing—but also for the fresh start that the rain represents.  Alternate take might be to pair with the traditional Christian hymn “Showers of Blessing” and speak about the heavenly rainfall of the Holy Spirit.

4.  Break on Through (to the Other Side)—Jim Morrison was demon possessed, I freely admit that.  However, this song title and subsequent lyrical beat call to mind the deep ontological angst of life and death.  The other side in Morrison’s twisted lyric is a drug tainted death or the afterlife.  The sermon could move from the myopic fatalism of the song to the hope of the gospel in Jesus Christ!

5.  All Along the Watchtower—This Bob Dylan song has been covered by just about everyone.  Recently, and to my delight, it was highlighted, in all places, in the remake of Battlestar Galactica.  Awesome.  While no one, including Dylan, really knows what it means I think the title could be used to emphasize the “watchmen” concept in the Old Testament or the “watch and pray” motif.  Needless to say the songs apocalyptic and medieval tone would also set up a nice “end-of-the-world” sermon.  But hey, save that for the next one.

6.  It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I feel Fine)—R.E.M. is similar to U2 in that a great many of their songs have religious undertones and would be useful, such as Happy Shiny People.  However, I choose this one because it might be useful in an apocalyptic tone (see #5 above) or it could be helpful in speaking about how, when we come to faith in Christ our old way of living is gone—our old world and way of life ends, but there is a new world on the horizon that is better than the old.  2 Corinthians 5:17 comes to mind.

Okay, that is enough for now.  I resisted the urge to get more Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, or The Eagles in there.  Someday, though, I will preach these.