Friday, August 28, 2009

To Be Sober Part 3 - The Purpose of Marriage

"Sincerity makes the very least person to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite" - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

I have to be honest, nothing has been more challenging in my 16 year pilgrimage with the Lord than my marriage. Marriage can be very wonderful, but more often than not, we do not warn of the pitfalls of marriage, and young people go in with high expectations of fluffy bliss. I know I did. I ignored the crazy statistics out there of almost 60% of marriages ending in divorce. When I first got married and things started unraveling, I felt so ashamed and alone because other couples, especially in churches, seemed to be in a piece of heaven. What was wrong with us? As I get older I'm starting to hear real stories from real women, and we and our husbands are just normal sinners sharing the same roll of toilet paper. If only we as older women would be honest with younger women and share our experiences good and bad, how it would equip, encourage and even save marriages. Titus 2:3-5 are not suggestions, but a mandate. I only had one woman in my early marriage who was a pastor's wife that came and asked me how things were going. I lied and told her things were fine. She shared briefly that she had been married for many years, and for the first five it were very difficult. I remember coming away from that conversation so relieved, but I needed more mentoring.

I’m convinced if I would only get it right as a wife, everything else would fall into place. I’m not going to tell you with hypocrisy that I have arrived, or even try to appear like I have all the answers; only God has all the answers given to us through His word. The reason why I share what God has taught me is not only to help those who need it, but to also review and challenge myself. I desperately need help with the natural tendency that we all have as women to rule over our husbands (Genesis 3:16); whether we would do that in dominance, or in a manipulative martyr way. I have a long way to go to being a woman of God. It seems I would do well for a while, then things can go awry before I would blink.

I was saved a year before I was married, and I thought I was so spiritual. I was over the moon for the Lord, life was good, sin no longer had the dominion over me like it did, and I could see the Lord working in my life in so many areas. I was reading my Bible every day, going to church with my Grandma, praying, telling others about Jesus and singing Hallelujah; then I got married. For the first time in a year, swear words flew out of my mouth at my new husband. (This problem is no longer by God's grace.) This is a man I made a covenant with before God in His sanctuary in front of over a hundred witnesses promising to love and cherish for the rest of my life. Talk about a wake up call that I was not the sanctified self righteous princess I thought I was. I was so ashamed. We went through years of arguing, until we withdrew into quiet despair. After about five years, I found myself in bed weeping uncontrollably for four days. I fell into a deep depression.

I managed to get out of bed, but the hopelessness of just hearing the alarm clock and waking up seemed daunting. What will this day bring? Is it going to be a day of more emptiness, heartache, rushing, fighting, dirty socks on the floor, etc., etc., etc? For the first time in my life, even a day at the salon would not cheer me up. Things I once enjoyed seemed like just another task. I remember this time about 10 years ago, going to a salon and telling the lady to do what she wanted, and that I didn't care. It almost seemed in the woman’s eyes she knew. She seemed to take extra care with me as she stayed silent to cut my hair. I’m a very relational person, and I just sat there stone faced. I needed a good year of biblical counseling, and a Titus 2 Bible study to help me get through all of that. God is so good in so many ways; it would take a rather large book to write it all out. He really is the Good Shepherd.

Perhaps you can relate in some way. God knows, and has never left or forsaken you. You may be going through pain much worse than anything I have ever experienced. I want to encourage you with a verse on the reason for marriage if you’re a Christian. Here it goes…

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” Romans 8:28-29

Most of us know this verse, but rarely do we apply it to marriage. I heard a preacher say that more often than not, God will give us a mate that is not compatible. When we think of Christ we think of His ability to forgive and His unconditional love. God will use what it takes to teach us unconditional love. How can we ever learn to love unconditionally if our mate meets all of our conditions? We are being conformed to His image and that should be an encouragement. He is the Potter and we are the clay. Praise God!

Once I came to a place where I realized that I deserve nothing outside of His grace and His salvation is more than enough, my perspective started to change. God revealed to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10"And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness " Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

I find myself reminding myself time and time again of Paul's prayer that I not only have been saved from the Hell I deserve, but bought and purified by the blood of Christ, and given more grace by being adopted as His own. If you think of that, all we could do is rejoice. On top of all of that, He blessed me with a wonderful husband and children.

If your husband is not regenerated by the Holy Spirit, I know that is a lonely road. I was there for the first 15 years of my marriage. If you've been a Christian for very long, I'm sure you're familiar with the verse in 1 Peter 3:1 "In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior." If you catch the first part of that verse, "In the same way", it refers to the previous text in 1 Peter chapter 2 as it mentions submitting to authority and being a bond servant to Christ to "silence the ignorance of foolish men" through your obedience. Also it refers to Christ's example during His crucifixion..."and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;" 1 Peter 2:23. I would encourage you to do a study on 1 Peter chapters 2 and 3. He doesn't ask us to be nailed to a cross, but He does call us to take up our cross and follow Him. Some are called to suffer not only conform us to His image, but to give us the privilege to represent Him as He sanctifies us.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

To Be Sober Part 2 - Disenchanting Idols

"You shall have no other gods before Me." Exodus 20:3

I was thinking of my own thought life and the constant war zones I find myself in. I realized that most of my negative thinking and lack of sober mindedness is all rooted by idols. We all have them. Some of these thoughts may start by good intentions (ministry, marriage, kids, volunteer work, etc...), but before we know it, we have been ensnared by our own flesh, whether that be in a form of acceptance, accolades, or fear of the people in our lives. Another example of an idol is with us mothers. We often worry over our children that can overwhelm us to the point of crippling our trust in God's sovereignty. Let’s put it this way, whatever fills your mind the most is your god.

The Bible’s definition of an idol is an image of a deity other than God. So what is that supposed “divine” thing that takes your thoughts away from the One True God or obeying His word? So many Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by God, but few really believe it is sufficient. "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Often times the philosophies of this world can lead us in idolatry to strive for something outside of the will of God such as money, career, success, and even the American dream rather than strive for His Kingdom. There is nothing wrong with wanting those things, but we need to examine our motives and see if any work we do brings glory to God, and the promotion of His Kingdom rather than ourselves and our kingdom.

An idol is also any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion. I think for most women who read fairy tales as a little girl, or read romance novels (even Christian), would form an image in our heart of the “perfect man”. We all know the handsome Prince Charming who promised to take us away from our annoying parents and siblings and go far, far away, and (now let’s say it together...) live happily ever after. Even as little girls, that was our fantasy, our dream come true. Another definition of an idol is a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom; a figment of the mind, or a fantasy. The reality is if you’re married, or going to be married, accept he is a sinner, a seed of Adam. I will talk later about the differences between men and women, but it’s not common, being that they are conquers by nature, will slay the dragon, hang their swords, watch TV and “let go” after a long day. Meanwhile, we can become very disenchanted and even miss our Prince Charming that he once was (or appeared to be). Not only is the image of the perfect man an idol, but a desire for romance or a close companionship can root bitterness and discontentment. Realize that any preconceived notions from books we’ve read, TV shows, soap opera, movies, etc are only a mere image without substance. We really need to be very careful of the images we put in our minds. Those images can lead us astray into emotional idolatry, and give us a heart of discontentment, and feed vain imaginations of entitlement. Our culture brainwashes us to believe that a sinful man can fulfill us and make us "complete". Only God can truly satisfy. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 1 Corinthians 10:13-15"
Here is an exercise I share with women and practice myself using Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” That is a command from God! If you’re struggling to even think of anything good about your husband, you need to remove the idol of “the perfect man” and replace it with five things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, etc. and pray with thanksgiving. Pray for a week and show with your face (smile at him) your admiration of him. Because “a happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” Proverbs 15:13

I know this may sound simplistic especially if you are married to a difficult, sinful, rebellious, cantankerous, or neglectful man, but scripture is simplistic. The disappointment may seem overwhelming to the point of hopelessness. When I share the "list making exercise", I'll get this death glare, but it all comes down to our own pride of our supposed righteous indignation, and turning our eyes around to ourselves. This may not fix your husband, but through God's word and being obedient, God will change your heart, thus changing the tone of your home and fade that "perfect man" or any other idol that steals the desire for God. "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:25-26 This verse talks about regeneration that results in sanctification, and this should be the process in the life of the true believer. We’ve made it way more complicated than it needs to be by simply not trusting the Lord in ALL THINGS and leaving that idol on His throne in prayer, and being thankful for the mission He has sent us on. "Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:5-7

Let me share an experience that I had this just past week. I was having a serious conversation with my friend at the beach while my three boys were playing next to us in the sand. If I analyzed what that “serious” thing was, it was a worthless idol. After talking for several minutes, my friend asked me where my youngest son David was. I immediately stood up, and quickly was at the brink of hysteria trying to locate him. He was gone! The terror filled my mind as I imagined the worse case scenario that he drowned in the ocean. I begged God, “please no, oh God, please no!” After about 10 minutes, a group of Christian woman next to us huddled in a prayer circle while lifeguards for miles were locating a little six year old boy with blue shorts and brown hair. I was standing at the water edge with fixed eyes on the bobbing heads in the water. Within minutes, a lifeguard got a message on her walky-talky that they found him. He had wandered off.

The irony of this incident is that my friends and family tease me at my child watching intensity in potentially dangerous situations. Immediately that conversation of that very "serious" nature became the furthest thing from my mind. My point in sharing that story with you is how “idols” take our hearts and minds off the things that really matter. That could of been a very tragic situation, and because of my negligence, could of cost my son his life. This may be an extreme example, but more often than not, I choose "me" rather than spending time with God, my boys, husband, family, etc.. When it comes down to it, I only need to look in the mirror to find my idol, and see that I'm worshipping my own desires when I'm not walking in obedience and denying myself. And He (Jesus) was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. " Luke 9:23-24. God will use anything to humble us and make us see that we are not what we think we are. I really believe He brought this incident to not only to show His power in prayer to all the unsaved that was all around us, but to also show me that I’m weak and distracted by things that are only a blind admiration.