Monday, January 28, 2019

To the Couple Considering Cohabitation...

In the last few decades a shift has been made in the way people in our country and society think about marriage and cohabitation. Cohabitation has become much more socially acceptable and this is evidenced by the fact that the Majority of Americans Now Believe in Cohabitation. Some studies estimate "that the percentage of people living together before tying the knot is now at an all-time high of over 70 percent."* Some believe "that the number of people who will eventually cohabit outside of marriage could reach 80 percent or more."* This is pretty remarkable considering just 20-30 years ago cohabitation was still considered relatively taboo. With so much societal support for cohabitation, what does one say to the couple considering moving in together. Here are a few thoughts from a pastor who wants the very best for you, your significant other, and your future family.

Thought #1
Your faith should affect your relationship.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then the relationship you share with Him should take precedence over every other relationship you have with other people. Your relationship with Christ should impact the way you love your family, the way you relate to co-workers, and even your decision-making process when considering cohabitation. God specifically designed our most intimate personal relationships to take place inside of a marriage relationship between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24). When we put our faith in Christ, we commit ourselves to following His designs and plans for our lives. To live outside of those designs and plans is to willfully sin against Him. When we live in sin we cannot be in perfect fellowship with Him, which ought to be our goal. As a Christian you cannot pick and choose what commands you will follow and which you want to discard. Cohabitation is a sin and goes against God's design for your intimate personal relationships. If you love the person you are considering cohabiting with, then allow your faith to impact your decision and follow God's plan.

If you aren't a follower of Christ, then you don't have a faith-based decision-making process. What I would encourage you to do is to hold off on making any kind of rash decision concerning cohabitation. Speak with a pastor or counselor who can give you some counsel from an outside perspective. I would also encourage you to check out this link to learn more about what it means to put your faith in Jesus Christ.

Thought #2
Cohabitation is a poor option for deciding on marital compatibility.

Several reports show "that those who start cohabiting before deciding to marry report lower average marital quality and are more likely to divorce."* Even though in the past people have believed that "'It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along.' It is worth noting that there is virtually no evidence in support of this belief."* Deciding whether you and your significant other are compatible for marriage should not involve living out a marriage situation without the commitment of marriage. To determine whether your significant other is the one God has planed for you to marry requires more than simply sharing a place to live. You should first seek God's plan for your life. The best way to do this is through prayer. This involves asking God to show you the person you ought to have a relationship with and then being willing to accept what He shows you. This means listening and being patient for His plan to unfold for you. Secondly, you should be mindful that if your significant other is not a follower of Christ like you, then the two of you are incompatible from the start. You both are coming into the relationship from different spiritual perspectives (2 Corinthians 6:14). With different spiritual perspectives you are both literally headed in different spiritual directions, especially when this life is over. The foundation for a strong marital relationship is for both spouses to have a strong personal relationship with Christ.

Thought #3
Don't sell out your faith to pay your bills.

There are plenty of people who will give you one reason for their decision to live together as being it is cheaper to keep up one household than it is two. They very well could be "playing house" at two different houses so why not go ahead and consolidate the bills. Some would say there is logic in that thinking, but it isn't worth selling out your faith to simply save some money. If you are willing to live together and one of your reasons is so you don't have double the bills, then what you're saying is that your financial standing in this life is worth more to you than your spiritual standing with God. You can never save enough money to make it worth the spiritual damage you do to your relationship with God (Matthew 16:26).

A Final Thought...

I'm not naive enough to think that this short blog post fully examines all the nuances of cohabitation. What I do believe is this, from a spiritual perspective cohabitation is a bad idea. It will affect your relationship with God and desensitize you to His voice. For the Christian, it is a blatant slap in the face to the God who sacrificed His Son to give you forgiveness of your sins and eternal life. God has a design for your intimate personal relationships and cohabitation is not it. In my humble opinion, I've seen more damage done to relationships and to people's lives because of cohabitation than I have any positives from it. Before jumping into a cohabitation situation, really think about the unseen spiritual consequences of the decision you are looking to make. The immediate benefits of living together will never outweigh the eternal spiritual harm it causes.

Just a few thoughts from a pastor who wants the very best for you, your significant other, and your future family.

*The study quoted above can be found here:

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Looks Can Be Deceiving

I was driving home from a late night hospital visit a few months ago and could have sworn that I was passed on the highway by Ricky Bobby. For those of you who don't know who Ricky Bobby is, he is the fictional character from the 2006 movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby starring Will Ferrell. In the movie Ferrell's character only wants to race, win, and go fast. As I was on my way home from this particular visit, I was passed by a truck that was driving fast, erratic, and looking like he was trying to win the Daytona 500. What caught my eye, when he was slowed down by traffic in the left lane before swerving in front of me, was the fact that the man had a Disabled Veteran license plate. The man made a few more moves that would have made Dale Earnhardt cringe and then headed on down the highway leaving us in his dust. Now I will be honest about the situation. My first thought was judgmental when I saw the tag and the way the guy was driving. I thought to myself, "This guy isn't driving like a disabled veteran." I don't know who was driving the truck. It could have been the disabled veteran or it could have been a kid, grandkid, or it could've been stolen for all I know. What I do know is that in that moment of being judgmental, I was reminded that looks can be deceiving as God convicted me because I didn't know the whole story.

Being judgmental is extremely easy to do. I would dare say we all normally do this with everyone we meet, basing our judgment of the person on some superficial analysis. We size the person up based on their clothing, their accent, their skin color, their bravado, their timidness, or for any other reason in a mile long list. In the end, being judgmental towards someone does us no good and it can very easily give us the wrong impression of the person. Like the old saying goes, "Don't judge a book by its cover." We never know what is on the inside of a person simply by looking at the outer layers. God is very careful to warn us about this in His Word. When selecting a new king for the nation of Israel from the family of a man named Jesse, God reminded the prophet Samuel about judging a royal candidate based on their outward appearance. God told Samuel (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV), "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." God knew the hearts of the sons of Jesse and only one of them, David, met God's criteria to be the next king. We have to be reminded of the same thing on a daily basis. We can look at the outward appearance of a person all day long, but we will never know what is in their heart.

Jesus famously said in Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV), "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." These few words should give us pause to consider the qualifications with which we make decisions about a person. What if they used the same "measure" on us? Would they come up with the same judgmental decision about us? The next time you make a rash judgment of a person based on their situation, their dress, or some other superficial reason, remember that what you see is not who the person is. What you see is the outer layers of a person who God loves and a person Jesus Christ died to redeem.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Drive-time Devos

Last year my boys and I started something new. We had previously met at 6:45 each morning to do a devotional together as we prepared for the day. This worked well but it seemed to always cause us problems with them being able to finish getting ready for school. So I decided to try something different. We have a nearly 10 minute drive from home to their school. So now we utilize the time we previously spent in silence or listening to the radio by doing our devotional then. I still read my devotional as I eat my breakfast, but then I relay the same devotional to them in a way they would better understand it. We cover the same topics and stories but in a way that is engaging for them. This definitely makes for some interesting conversations on the way to school. Ultimately I hope it helps them grow in their faith and sends them into school ready for the day ahead of them.

I would like to say I brilliantly came up with this idea of doing our devotionals while riding down the road, but I'm just not that smart. What I am doing is putting into practice something that was wisely commanded nearly 3,500 years ago. In the book of Deuteronomy we find some real wisdom for how to spiritually prepare our children for the day they face and the years to come. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV), "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." I can't tell you the last time I walked down the road with either off my sons. But I can tell you that every day I spend some amount of time with them in my truck. Most of the time it is spent taking them to school or picking them up from their grandparents' house after school. The best way to avoid wasting this precious time is to spend it on what matters. You don't have to have a seminary degree or be the most educated Christian of all time to be able to discuss spiritual matters with your kids. All you have to do is share with them what God has taught you that day in your own devotional time and help them apply it to their own lives.

The time we have with our children from birth to age 18 slips by so quickly. It is only 6,570 days. Counting the time they are sleeping or at school and you are at work, the time you have to impact your children spiritually is drastically reduced. The best way to make the most of the time you have to impact them spiritually is to spend those times that seem to be unimportant doing something important. If you don't personally have a time where you do a devotional, then start making time today and find a good devotional to feed you spiritually. You can't give your kids what you don't already have. Start spending time doing a devotional today so you can pour into your kids what they will need to face the day ahead of them.

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Unhappily Married

A few months ago our family went to eat at a local restaurant. This particular restaurant has booths divided by a glass divider and of course we were seated in one of those booths. While we waited on my wife to arrive, I noticed a couple sitting in the booth just on the other side of the glass divider from our booth. Being a tall person you can't help but look over dividers and walls when seated in a restaurant. This couple, seated within an arm's length of me, was eating their meal in silence. They were probably in their late 50's or maybe early 60's and simply ate their meal in silence. After I noticed they weren't talking to each other, I tried my best to watch out of the corner of my eye if they ever talked to each other. They didn't look particularly pleased to be eating a meal together, so I tried my best to observe them without being that weird guy staring at them from the next booth. For what seemed like forever, they never talked other than to the waitress when she brought them their bill. After that it was silence. They got up from their meal without saying anything and headed to pay their bill.

Now I know I'm making some assumptions from my limited observation of this couple I don't know, but they seemed to be unhappy about spending time together as a couple. We all know about couples who pour themselves into their kids or careers or hobbies for years and then when those things are gone, all they can do is stare at each other across the table because they no longer know the person to which they're married. I'm making a big assumption, but I think this couple I observed was experiencing this kind of marriage relationship.

Marriage is the second hardest job you'll ever have with raising kids being the first. You are two imperfect people attempting God's perfect plan for human relationships. Our baggage, failures, and selfish desires can make for a challenging marriage relationship. When we don't put the necessary time into caring for our marriage relationship, then we can expect it to suffer. Eventually what we find is that we are unhappily married to a person we barely know. Marriage is sort of like a vegetable garden you and your spouse plant. If you till the soil, plant the seeds, water the plants, dig out the weeds, and fertilize the plants, then you will reap an abundance of good fruits and vegetables. But if you don't put the work in and all you do is plant seeds, then you'll find yourself staring at your spouse from across the garden wondering what happened. Marriage is the same way. Marriage requires work, lots of work. When you put in the time you'll have a healthy thriving relationship. When you don't, then you find yourself with a withered, weed-filled relationship that doesn't feed you or your spouse.

To avoid being the couple who doesn't know each other and is unhappily married, start putting the work into your marriage relationship now. Whether its been 20 or 30 months of marriage or 20 or 30 years, you can still start caring for you marriage in a way that will help you avoid an unhappy marriage. Spend time together doing things you both enjoy doing individually and spend time together doing things you both enjoy doing together. Remember the little things your spouse likes and then do them or give them or celebrate them. If you're forgetful, make a list of your spouses favorite things and then find ways to surprise them with something from time to time. Probably the most helpful counsel I'd give you is to talk to each other. Communication is the life blood of relationships and without it, relationships can wither and die. When you talk, don't simply talk about work and the kids, also talk about those things that are happening in your spouse's life that matters to them. Work will one day be over and the kids will be out of the house. If they are your only conversation pieces, then you will find yourself staring across the table with nothing to talk about.

I'll close with this. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. It is a perfectly designed and sometimes poorly executed personal relationship. Do what you can today to pour into your marriage all that is needed to make it the best and healthiest relationship it can be. When you do, you can avoid being that unhappily married couple that eats in silence.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

You Won't Do It

My twelve year old son has recently been putting me to the test. Literally. He has been on a kick now for several months where he will respond to me with the phrase, "Go ahead. You won't do it." With all of the pre-teen hubris he can muster, he is nearly daily trying me to see what I will or will not do. This is generally in relation to some form of childish discipline or an attempt at false bravado. Here's an example. One day while working on his homework he made a snarky comment at me. I was unloading the dishes and jokingly shook a frying pan at him and made a comment about hitting him on the head with the pan. His response? You guessed it. He said, "Go ahead. You won't do it." I promptly took the pan and tapped him on the head with it. I tapped him hard enough to get his attention and thought I had put to bed the idea that he wanted to continue to test me. Boy was I wrong. I think I only encouraged his actions and he has regularly continued to test me with situations he doesn't think I'm willing to do. He's learned so far that dad is willing to do pretty much anything to get the better of him and to save face!

The temptations we face in life are similar to the exuberant twelve year old saying "Go ahead. You won't do it." Temptations to sin are constantly grabbing our attention and daring us to cross lines we know we shouldn't cross. At times the urge or desire to give in to those temptations is very powerful and nearly impossible to resist. We find ourselves at times giving in to a particular sin we are more vulnerable to and find ourselves looking back wishing we had only been stronger. Each of us faces different temptations in different areas of life. What is a struggle for you may not even make it on my radar and vice versa. What we do know is that Satan knows where each of us is weakest and he exploits those vulnerabilities in the hopes of tempting us into sin. When we are focused on temptations or the results of our sins, then Satan has been victorious in getting our focus away from where it should be and that is on God.

Sometimes we feel all alone in our battle with the temptations we face. But the exact opposite is true. The Bible tells us in the book of Hebrews that we don't face temptation alone. We're told that Jesus has faced temptation just like we face and He was victorious over the temptation and didn't sin. Hebrews 2:18 (NIV) says, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Jesus understands the struggles of temptations. He understands the allure, the desire, and the draw of temptation. Because He understands those things and still didn't sin, He can help you through your struggles with temptations. Hebrews 4:15 (NIV) tells us, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin." Jesus set a perfect example for us when it comes to temptation. He can empathize with us because He was tempted in every way imaginable and still didn't sin. What He showed us is that by pursuing the holy life God has called us to pursue, we can be victorious over the temptations that so often entangle us.

We don't have to live a life defeated by temptations. God wants us to live a victorious life that is beyond anything we could ever imagine (John 10:10). The next time you are struggling with some temptation, spend time in prayer seeking God's wisdom for how to deal with your struggle and seek Jesus' help since He knows what you are enduring. Be persistent in praying and be open to how God shows you to deal with the temptation. You may not like what He shows you, but you can trust that it is for your best.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Don't Celebrate Halloween This Year!

When I was growing up, we went trick-or-treating all over the community where I was raised. Our large and extended family would pile into the back of my dad's 1980 Nissan Datsun truck and we would hit every house with a light on. We would make out like bandits, only to get home and have our parents "check out" our candy to make sure it was "safe" to eat. As kids, we always looked forward to dressing up like our favorite superhero or cartoon character and hitting people up for sugary goodness! Not much has changed in the last 30 years when it comes to Halloween. Many kids still dress up in costumes and hit up neighborhoods all across our country. With parents in tow, the kids stop for candy at every house they can visit.

Now I realize there are many people out there who do not celebrate or participate in Halloween. Some do it for religious reasons. Others do it because they don't live in an area conducive to children visiting their home. And yet others may not have relationships with parents of young children and therefore, no visits on Halloween. As we've been discussing Halloween in recent weeks, I've come to the realization that we've been viewing Halloween all wrong. Halloween is not something to be celebrated, but instead it is something to be used.

When I started serving at our new church, we had 3 months until Halloween rolled around. Knowing that many churches plan Trunk-or-Treats or Fall Festivals around the time of Halloween, I started inquiring about our new church's activities surrounding Halloween. Our church, like many will do a Trunk-or-Treat and we do ours on the Sunday night before Halloween. As I looked at the calendar, I noticed that Halloween was on a Wednesday night and since we have services on Wednesday nights, we could expect lower attendance on that night. Those with small children would likely take their kids to get candy. Those with grandchildren or homes frequently visited by kids would likely stay home to dish out candy. So we decided to use Halloween for the benefit of our church.

Halloween is the one time of the year when we invite people to our door or take our children to homes we wouldn't normally visit. In essence, Halloween is the one time a year when the world comes to our door or we go to their door. So why would we miss the opportunity to invite them to church and start to build relationships with them? Last year, my wife and I had some good conversations with folks as we handed out candy in our driveway. We had the chance to meet some neighbors we'd never met before. We even had the chance to invite some to church. As I considered how to use Halloween to the advantage of our church, we decided to cancel services on Halloween. Our plan is not to celebrate Halloween, but instead to use it as an outreach event. We plan to distribute to our church members invites to church that they can drop into a kid's bag while handing out candy. For those taking their kids to get candy, they can hand the invite to folks who hand out candy and invite them to church. We are trying our best to utilize the opportunity the world presents to us so we can invite people to church.

I would encourage you to consider using Halloween as an outreach event for your church rather than simply celebrating it this year. Even if you only make one contact that brings a person to church and ultimately to faith in Jesus Christ, then it was well worth it.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Tap Dancing on a Land Mine

It is amazing what you hear sometimes when you actually listen to the words of songs. Some of the songs you hear while listening to certain genres of music have nonsensical phrases and words thrown together. The other day I was listening to the radio and they were playing a 30 year old song by the classic rock band Aerosmith. The song, Rag Doll, has a phrase in it that I've heard for years and I've never paid any attention to it. In the song, the phrase "Tap dancing on a land mine" is used as one of the lyrics about halfway through the song. I'm not sure what the idea behind its use in the song is, but we all get the word picture trying to be conveyed here. As the music continued to play the phrase continued to roll around in my head. I couldn't get past the absurd idea of someone literally tap dancing on a land mine. Land mines are designed for one single, solitary use and that is destruction. They are used to kill and maim people during war. Stepping on a land mine will end with horrible consequences. Tap dancing on one is to willfully and joyfully put yourself in a position to be irreversibly injured or killed.

When we look at the world we live in today, you don't have to look too far to see people tap dancing on the land mine of sin. Sin is simply disobedience towards God's commands. Ever since sin was introduced into the world in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), man has had a natural bend and insatiable desire for sin. We have a strong desire to succumb to sin because of the allure and the way sin can make us feel for a moment. For some people, they have realized the damage sin has done to their life and they've sought to repair the damage through the forgiveness God offers through a relationship with Jesus. This forgiveness doesn't mean they are immune to the temptations of sin, but it does mean they have help for dealing with the temptation. They see sin for what it really is, something vile that only brings them heartache, pain, and separation from God. For others though, they don't see sin for what it really is. They see it as no big deal. They see it as something to be celebrated and even enjoyed. What they don't realize is, they are tap dancing on a spiritual land mine. The sin they so gladly enjoy and celebrate is the very thing that will bring about spiritual destruction for them. God clearly shows through the pages of the Bible that sin spiritually separates us from Him and if we do not rectify this spiritual separation before death, then we will be spiritually separated from Him for eternity. The only way to close this spiritual gap is to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and to seek His forgiveness for your sins. When you do, you get to experience help for this life, forgiveness of your sins, and eternal life in heaven with God when this life is over.

For those of you tap dancing on the land mine of sin and who've never put your faith in Jesus Christ before, I would encourage you to put your faith in Him today. You can learn more about putting your faith in Christ by following this link. For those of you have put your faith in God but find yourself tap dancing on the land mine of sin, I would encourage you to take a step back and evaluate where you find yourself spiritually. Celebrating your sin is making a mockery of the One who died for you and the price He paid for you. You understand your sinfulness in comparison to God's holiness and you know you need to make a change. Repent, seek His forgiveness, and start down a new path with God today.

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Monday, October 8, 2018

We Are Doomed To Repeat History

When I was a teenager, my parents went on a work trip to Puerto Rico. Luckily for us kids, we were old enough to stay at home with a little bit of supervision from an aunt and an uncle. During this trip, which took place in the summer, we regularly pulled food for meals from my parent's upright freezer. During one of the many trips to get food to eat, someone didn't get the freezer door shut all the way. In case you didn't know, summer time heat and an open freezer do not mix. When we discovered the then soft food, it was too late to save any of it. Who left the freezer open is still a hotly debated item between the two of us older siblings, but we'll never know who did it.

Just a few weeks ago, Misty discovered that our upright freezer had not been closed completely after someone opened it. Nothing has changed in 20 years. Hot temperatures and an open freezer still don't mix well. Soft food that should be frozen still cannot be salvaged. And as you can imagine, there was plenty of finger pointing as to who was the real culprit. Our boys have regularly asked to hear stories from our childhoods and I thought I had shared this very important story with them, but obviously I had not. In the words of Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again."

It has been said that "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." How many times have we witnessed this through the pages of world history. Time and time again, we see where civilizations, nations, and kingdoms repeat the same mistakes and experience the same results. When it comes to our spiritual walk with Christ, we often find ourselves repeating history. We may find ourselves tempted by a sin that Satan knows is our greatest weakness and it isn't long before we are putting a palm to our forehead while asking, "Will I never learn?" If it is any consolation, you're making the same kind of mistakes people have made for thousands of years. The nation of Israel, as recorded in the Bible, regularly made these same mistakes over and over again. They would have a time of falling away from God, while they chased false gods and idols. Then, after some discipline from God, they would turn back to Him and walk closely with Him. Eventually, they would become complacent in their worship, let down their guard, and start down the slippery slope towards idolatry once again. The Israelites did this with such frequency that their spiritual highs and lows would make the most avid roller coaster rider nauseous. 

So if we find ourselves in this Groundhog Day scenario, how do we break the cycle of mountain top experiences followed by the darkest of valleys? I think the best way to break the cycle is to quit viewing your spiritual walk with Christ as a sprint, but rather as a marathon. Too often people will expect their spiritual growth to be like a 100 meter dash. They expect to see spiritual growth super fast and in just a few days every aspect of their spiritual life is on par with the spirituality of the late Billy Graham. But the reality is, spiritual growth doesn't work that way. To be spiritually strong enough to resist falling into the same temptations over and over again, requires a constant steady growth. It requires daily spending time in prayer. It requires daily spending time studying God's Word. It requires weekly worshiping with fellow believers. It requires a commitment to live out God's commands in your life. Day in and day out. On good days and bad days.

If you want to avoid the nausea-inducing spiritual roller coaster the Israelites were on, and many of us find ourselves on, then change your perspective of your spiritual walk with God. Don't look at it as something you'll do until it doesn't suit you anymore or something that you can accomplish in just a few days. Instead start looking at it as something you are committed to for the long haul. If you do, then you'll be less likely to repeat history.

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Monday, October 1, 2018

My Wife Said She Hated Me

On Saturday Misty and I needed to go do some shopping. The two of us were riding all over the country pricing the item we were looking to buy and had plenty of time to talk. During our ride Misty told me about some counsel she gave to a woman who came to her seeking help for a relationship problem. When asked by the woman if Misty had ever hated me during our 21 plus years together, Misty said, "I told her I hated you 3 times and then told her exactly when those 3 times were." I was a little taken aback by Misty's precise nature regarding her hatred for me. As I fully expected, Misty was more than willing to tell me what those 3 times were. Now in my defense, 2 of those times were not completely my fault. They had to do with emotions that come along when a woman is pregnant and I was the recipient of her hatred. I can handle that blame seeing as how she and I were each partially responsible for her pregnancies. The other time she hated me was shortly after our boys were born and I was a stupid husband. I don't remember the exact event but she did. She told me I had gone to play basketball with some friends that evening and then complained about being tired when I came home. She was also tired after working all day and then feeding, bathing, and caring for 2 kids under a year and a half old. I did stupid stuff like this early in our marriage and I have to own it because it left a mark on her, so much so she remembers her hatred for me in that moment. The remarkable thing is the grace she showed me in all three of those instances, even when I wasn't aware of her feelings or her forgiveness. She said she may have hated me in that moment with "ever cell in her body" but in the next moment she forgave me. We went on to talk about how marriage requires much more grace and forgiveness than it does anything else. 

As I do premarital counseling with couples I always tell them that marriage is God's perfect design for human relationships attempted by imperfect people. This is because we are all sinful, broken people who at times put our own wants, needs, and desires before the wants, needs, and desires of our spouse. Since we are two imperfect people attempting to live life together, marriage will have those times where you may love the person you are married to but you may not like them very much. In those times when anger, frustration, or even hatred creep up in your marriage, remember that grace and forgiveness need to be shared in greater amounts than those feelings that can tear your marriage apart. The bible tells us that forgiveness should be a part of the relationships we have with other people (Matthew 6:14; Luke 17:3). What should remind us to extend forgiveness in our marriage is what Paul writes in Colossians 3:13 (NIV). He wrote, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." If you are a Christian, then God has forgiven you every wrong you've ever committed against Him. How then can you not be willing to extend forgiveness and grace to your spouse? I believe that grace and forgiveness are the two most valuable commodities in marriage and, unfortunately, they are the things we sometimes seem so unwilling to share. If we want a strong and healthy marriage relationship, then we must be willing to forgive and extend grace to our spouse, even though it will cost us.

Today I would encourage you to start making grace and forgiveness towards your spouse a daily practice. Forgive them of their shortcomings, knowing full well you have your own. Give them grace because the next time they love you but don't like you, you'll want grace from them too. If you do, then you can have a marriage where your spouse can tell you they hated you and your marriage won't be affected by it.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Fear and Faith

People have been all out of sorts with all the chaos surrounding the recent storm that devastated NC. Some people have lost their lives, others have lost everything they owned, while others simply endured some wind and rain. Folks have been all over the spectrum, in regards to their responses and reactions to the storm. Some worried and were fearful over the damage the storm would do. This seems like the most reasonable response to a storm that wrecked havoc from one end of NC to the other. Would we fault someone for being fearful in the face of a catastrophic storm? Probably not. As the storm barreled towards NC with all the speed of a herd of turtles, I could tell that one of our boys was a little anxious about the impending storm. Neither of our sons have had to worry about a hurricane affecting them in their short life, but one son was a little concerned about how the storm would affect us. Misty and I tried to calm the anxieties as best we could as parents and we hoped we did a good job. Just moments after dropping my boys off at school I heard a person on the radio share something about fear. Addressing the worries that so many people had about the storm, she shared about how fear and faith cannot occupy the same space. The wisdom shared for the next few moments was wisdom I could give to my sons to help put them at ease.

Fear and faith are like oil and water. The two cannot mix and must occupy two separate places. If we have faith that God is sovereign (in control of all things; Psalm 115:3, 135:6) and that He has our best interest in mind (Romans 8:28), then fear has no place in us. We should not be fearful of the physical, financial, or spiritual storms in life if we have faith that God is in control. We cannot waffle back and forth claiming God's goodness and blessings when things are good and then retreat to fear when things are uncertain. We must choose which one, faith or fear, will take up the limited space inside of us.

I realize when the world is literally crashing down around you in the middle of a hurricane, it is easier said than done to choose faith over fear. Friday morning I woke up to the news of the devastation the hurricane had caused to coastal NC. We have family and friends living in the areas devastated by the storm. At the thoughts of what could be happening to a man I consider a brother and his wife, I allowed my fear and worry to get the better of me for a moment. Then I remembered the words from the radio. The same words I had reassured my son with just days before. I made the decision in that moment to not allow fear to overcome my faith in God's sovereignty, His protection, and His provision. It wasn't easy. It was much easier to worry, fret, and allow fear to consume me. But in that moment when I chose faith over fear, I felt the peace that is described in Philippians 4:7 (NIV). It says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

The next time fear tries to rob you of the joy found in trusting God, remember you have a choice to make. You can allow yourself to be consumed by worry and fear, going directly against what God tells us in the Bible (Isaiah 41:10, 41:13), or you can choose to trust the One who created you, loves you, and sustains you. Choose wisely though, because you can't choose both fear and faith.

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