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What I would say…

Dear God, I have some relatives graduating and one getting engaged this year. When I was thinking about graduation presents for them, I thought of two things.

For the graduates, I thought of a daily devotion book called My Utmost for His Highest. You know I know this one well. In fact, it was my source for scripture when I first started doing these prayer journals to you 20 years ago. But my history with that book actually goes back closer to 40 years. My dad used it as a daily devotion when I was young, and he gave me a copy of it when I graduated from high school. The inscription reads:

8/27/88

John,

This book has really been meaningful to me as it constantly challenges me to turn loose of the distractions of life and to move into a deeper personal relationship with Jesus. I pray that you will likewise find it helpful in your personal walk with the Lord as you enter an exciting new phase in your life as a Baylor student.

Love,

Dad

I used it regularly my freshman year of college. The weakness in it for me is that its words were written pre World War I by a Brit, and the British language he used in the early 20th century was different than the language we use now. Thankfully, about 30 years ago, James Reimann re-edited it to update the language and it’s even clearer now.

The theology is this book is so solid, but I often found that just reading the daily verse, reading Mr. Chambers’s reflection on it, and then saying a prayer to you didn’t stick with me throughout the day. It wasn’t until I started to journal through the passages starting in April 2000 that your scripture and what you were saying to me through it began to seep into my soul.

So I found this version of the James Reimann edited edition that includes a column for at least writing down some personal reflections. IMG_3111

I ordered one for my niece and my nephew. I pray over these two books, that you will use them along with all of the other tools in your toolbox to draw their hearts into yours and lead them to lives submitted to you.

The second book I ordered was the one that changed the course of my marriage and who I eventually became as a husband to my wife. This one is for the niece who got engaged. It’s called Sacred Marriage and it was written by Gary Thomas. IMG_3112

The subtitle of the book is “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” That question alone gets your attention. Through reading this book and attending a workshop in person with my wife, you revealed to me how much I was depending upon my wife’s and children’s acceptance for my sense of worth instead of simply leaning into you. Ironically (or perhaps, providentially), I encountered this book right about the same time I started doing these prayer journals to you. I know we’ve talked about this a lot before, but I was a needy husband, and my neediness was oppressive to my wife. She could never fill up my “God hole” that I’d allowed to grow without you. I had made her an idol. I became codependent. It was all bad. But Gary helped me to see how you use my wife, my children, and everyone around me to shape me through the giving of myself, not the taking. That simple paradigm shift changed everything, and it helped me to become more disciplined in my pursuit of you as the source of my joy and peace.

So I have these young relatives who are starting new chapters in their lives. They have tremendous opportunities to radically affect the trajectory of their lives through the choices they make now. Who will they be in 10, 20, or 30 years? Well, as an uncle that they know just a little, I hope that what they know of me will give me the credibility to share these two critical tools you used on me and have them receive them as part of the tools you are using on them.

Father, I want to pray over my niece and my nephew right now. I pray for my niece, that she will experience the full measure of who you are. Help her to embrace you completely. Help her fiancé to completely embrace you as well. And as they work out their respective faiths with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), unite their hearts together completely. Give them mutual respect and help them to turn loose of their expectations of the other. Fill them with so much of your presence that they don’t need to look to the other for their worth. And for my nephew, he has had a rough and confusing few years, but now he’s about to start college. There is a lot of healing to do there. Guide him in into your heart. Hold him close. Raise up people around him whom you will use to strengthen and encourage him. Heal his broken relationships and bring glory to your name through his life.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas (Selected Study Guide Questions)

Dear God, as I finalize what I’m going to do with this home church tonight, I thought I would go through the Sacred Marriage study guide that’s available free online and answer some of the questions for not only myself, but also you.

What has your marriage revealed to you about your sinful attitudes, selfish behaviors, and other character flaws? Why do you think marriage brings so many character issues to the surface?

  • I’ve talked ad nauseum about my neediness that you helped to mostly (not completely) purge from me through marriage. This is what comes to mind first. The change in paradigm to look to you for my wholeness and not to my wife. Well, I don’t know that you used my wife to teach me that, but, thankfully, you taught me that before my neediness destroyed my marriage.
  • I’ve talked about losing some of my selfishness in the interest of serving her and serving my children (without expecting anything in return–that’s important).
  • One of the things my wife, in particular, has taught me is how to appreciate the arts more. Musical theater. Poetry. She is a deep thinker and a very intelligent woman. I used to be very dismissive of the arts, and it was foolish of me.
  • She has modeled forgiveness to me. Not only how she forgives me, but also how she forgives others.
  • She challenges me spiritually by her example of pursuing you. There have been times when I haven’t pursued you like I should, but she has always been an example of steady perseverance.
  • Her self-discipline is quite remarkable and an example to me.

I could go on an on, but I better get to the next question.

How can a discouraged spouse directly apply the admonition to seek God in the midst of disappointments rather than to obsess over where the spouse falls short?

This is obviously the crux of the entire book. The ideal situation is when each spouse pursues a selfless attitude towards their mate. In that situation, one would likely naturally find their needs being met. But when it’s a one-way street, what is someone to do?

The thing I love about this book is that if someone reads it and says, “Boy, my husband/wife needs to read this,” then they’ve missed the point. For millennia people have been in unequally yoked marriages. Outside of an emotionally/physically abusive relationship (which needs intervention and more drastic measures), the answer is that your selfless loving actions will ultimately bring Jesus into your home and to your spouse, and there is a good chance that it evolve a change in your spouse. They will see Jesus in you (and the love, joy, peace, patients, etc.) present in you and then be more likely to respond positively. As opposed to the nagging, preachy spouse that becomes an obstacle to change.

How much time do you spend thinking about how to make your spouse happy, compared to the amount of time you spend thinking about how well your spouse is pleasing you? Do you think your answer is about right, or do you need to do better in this area?

Well, now that I’ve lived with these concepts for nearly 20 years, I think I am fairly close to a good balance. For the most part, I spend more time thinking about blessing her without looking for my benefits. Again, it goes back to loving. And I guess I should put this here because it needs to be said somewhere. My wife does NOT nag me. I weighed over 300 lbs. at one point, and in over 30 years together she has never said one word to me about my weight. She has never suggested I am not attractive to her. It’s a blessing she has given to me that I hope I am getting better about returning to her.

How is any lack of respect or active contempt for your spouse negatively affecting your own life and the lives of your children?

Some questions just shouldn’t be answered out loud. This is one that shouldn’t be answered in a group, but needs to be contemplated. I know my wife and I have tried to show each other respect behind the other’s back, especially with our children. We do our best to not be critical of the other to our parents, our siblings, or our children. I’ve witnessed this kind of negativity. We both have, and it is toxic to everyone involved. This one is a really big deal. No, if we are going over these questions tonight, this is one that needs to just soak in and fester.

How do you want people to describe your marriage at your golden wedding anniversary?

Oh, boy! I’ve always said that I’d love for it to be said of me that I never had a negative things to say about anyone. It won’t be said of me, but I’d love for it to be said of me. For my marriage, I’d love for people to say that they always felt welcome around us. I would want them to reflect on us and see us a serving others and that we lived harmonious lives with each other, yielding to the other whenever possible.

Do you and your mate face the difficulties in your marriage differently? What can you learn from your spouse’s approach? What can your spouse learn from your approach?

YES! Oh, did I say that too loud? I’m not going to say what she can learn from my approach because I have learned so much from hers. Some difficulties we have faced include:

  • Extended unemployment
  • Parenting struggles
  • Relationships with extended family

My approach is usually to be straight ahead confrontational. Hers is to take a beat and see if there is a more loving, less confrontational way to handle it. What I’ve learned from her is to take my desire to confront and package it in a way that enables me to deliver it lovingly. Again, I’m not perfect at it, but I’m better than I was.

The unemployment was a little different. In that case, there was a lot of uncertainty and praying to you. There was also, seemingly, a lot of silence from you. Having her there kept me accountable for moving forward. I can see where I would easily have slipped into a depression if I wouldn’t have had the responsibility of her and my children to keep me going and persevering.

Is there a “file cabinet” in your marriage’s “confessional”? What do you have to do to forgive your spouse and get rid of the filing cabinet?

There is one thing that my wife did that still brings me pain when I think about it. I don’t think about it often, but it really hurts when I do. And she has told me how sorry she is for it. And it happened over seven years ago so you would think that it would be gone. Why have I held onto it? Maybe it’s ego. Hmm. Good question. What do I have to do to forgive her and get rid of that thing? I think it might come down to dying to the part of my ego and pride that were hurt by it. Father, help me to stop thinking that I was too “good” for that to happen to.

How can a husband and wife more consciously invite the presence of God into their marriage?

About the best thing that we do is pray together almost every morning. She also knows when I am having my private prayer time, and I know when she is either having hers or going to the chapel. I think that knowledge is a good affirmation for each of us. Of course, we worship together most Sundays. I think that is important. We are part of a couples group at our church which has been very positive as well. And we talk about what we might be learning at any given time through our personal faith walks. I think one of the big things is that we give each other the freedom to pursue you in our own way, and we approach you very differently.

Consider the effects that these stages of family life can have on ministry:

  • newly married, without children
  • married with toddlers
  • raising teenagers
  • empty nesters

What are the advantages and challenges of each phase of life as it relates to living out your ministry calling?

Maybe I should have started with this question because now that I’m at the “empty nester” stage, I can look back and see all kinds of lessons you taught me along the way. It’s too much to go into here, but each phase has helped to break me, melt me, and mold me. And hopefully with each lesson, I’ve been able to provide you with a vessel that you can fill.

Father, thank you for my marriage. Thank you that you have really changed me for the better through my wife. I pray (literally) that I’ve done the same for her. Help me to be exactly what you need me to be tonight. I’m probably walking into dangerous territory. Let your Holy Spirit be there and help us all to approach our marriages and you in a humble way.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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My Father-In-Law

Dear God, a couple of days ago, I prayed to you about Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Marriage. This morning, while I was eating breakfast, I listed to a talk he gave seven or eight years ago (link above). I don’t mean for these prayer journals to become a sales pitch for Gary, but his stuff is really good.

The title of this prayer to you is NOT about my wife’s physical father who happens to live next door to me. No, it’s about you. At about the 29-minute mark of this talk, Thomas said something that really struck a chord with me. YOU are my Father-in-law because YOU are my wife’s father. Thomas said:

If there was a guy who came up to me and said, “Gary, I’m going to give you 10% of my income. I going to memorize your books. I’m going to tell others about you. I’m going to try to get everybody to by your book. But he’s abusing my daughter? He’s neglecting my daughter? I’m going to have one conversation with him and one thing only: ‘Hey, buddy, if you respect me, you take care of my little girl. I have nothing else to say to you.'”

Wow. Conviction. How am I doing? Unlike my earthly father-in-law, who is only next door, you see EVERYTHING I do. You see every inkling of disrespect I give her. You see every little thing I might want to hide from her such as something I want to purchase or even lust. You see any shortness of temper I have. You see how I talk about her to others when she is in the room and when she’s not.

How about my children. I suppose they are your children too. In a way, I am a step-father caring for them on your behalf. How am I doing with your children?

Expand it out. Everyone I meet today is your child. How am I treating your children? Some of them are young. Some are old. Some are wealthy. Some are poor. Some are struggling. All are your children. How will I treat your children today? Will I see them with your eyes and act accordingly?

Father, I am your child too. Thank you. I love you. And I’m really sorry for any failings I might have as a husband to your daughter, a parent to your children, a son to your children, a brother to your children, a friend to your children, and a fellow citizen to your children. Help me to be about loving you by loving all of them as you would have me to.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2020 in Miscellaneous

 

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Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy more that to Make us Happy? By Gary Thomas

Dear God, I am speaking to a home church this weekend and as I prayed to you and talked to you about what you would have me discuss, this book that I read nearly 20 years ago kept coming to mind. It is the best marriage book I’ve ever read, and its lessons have stuck with me through the years. However, as I’ve sat down a few times over the last few days to try to collect my thoughts and synthesize the message of this book into a lesson, I’ve struggled. There’s so much here. I could almost do a lesson on each chapter. Ultimately, I decided that the best thing to do was to sit down and just talk with you about what it was about this book that meant so much to me 20 years ago.

I think it starts with me being a very needy husband for the first 10-ish years of our marriage. I have two dogs right now, and one of them is very needy. She’s always looking for attention from anyone who will love her. She annoys the heck out of me. I think this is how I was when I got married. I came into marriage very insecure. I grew up witnessing a fairly tumultuous marriage, and I didn’t want to give my wife (and ultimately, my children after they were born) any excuse to not love me or like me. To add to that, I needed that love affirmed all of the time.

My best example is my wife’s first Mother’s Day after our son was born. I did everything for her that day. He was about 10 months old, and I took care of him all day. I made her breakfast in bed. I did everything around the house. I did it all! Later, she told me that all she could think about was how she could never live up to what I had done when Father’s Day came a month later. I wasn’t giving freely out of love for her, and she could tell. I was being needy and giving so that I could receive. That kind of love was very oppressive to her.

One of the first lessons I had to learn was to give her the freedom to feel about me any way that she wished. It was her right to like me or not. I order to do that, I had to find my peace in something else. Yeah, I guess peace is the best word. What is it that we are looking for when we are being needy? When our hearts are unsettled and in search of something? The answer: Peace. When I look for my peace in anything but you (money, sex, wife, fun, job, etc.) that object or activity becomes my idol. Thank you that I ultimately didn’t have to do with my marriage what you almost made Abraham do with his idol, Isaac.

So now that my wife had the freedom from me to like/love me at her own discretion, I needed a new paradigm for my marriage. Providentially, Thomas’s thoughts on marriage came to me just at the right time. If the book came out in 2000, then we probably went to the marriage conference he did in Waco in maybe 2000 or 2001. Just after I started doing the regular prayer journals to you in April 2000.

So what are some of the concepts in this book? Well, the subtitle alone is practically all you need: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? It starts by exposing the lie that undergirds the prosperity gospel message that I deserve to be happy. He’s careful to say that holiness and happiness are not mutually exclusive concepts, but if you pursue happiness through your marriage then you have the wrong frame of mind. “You wont find happiness at the end of a road named selfishness.” (Page 12) Here’s another quote: “Just as celibates use abstinence and religious hermits use isolation, so we can use marriage for the same purpose–to grow in our service, obedience, character, pursuit, and love of God.” (Page 12)

These two quotes, taken to their logical conclusions, give you these chapter titles:

  1. The Greatest Challenge in the World: A Call to Holiness more than Happiness

  2. Romanticism’s Ruse: How Marriage Points us to True Fulfillment

  3. Finding God in Marriage: Marital Analogies Teach Us Truths about God

  4. Learning to Love: How Marriage Teaches Us to Love

  5. Holy Honor: Marriage Teaches Us to Respect Others

  6. The Soul’s Embrace: Good Marriage Can Foster Good Prayer

  7. The Cleansing of Marriage: How Marriage Exposes our Sin

  8. Sacred History: Building the Spiritual Discipline of Perseverance

  9. Sacred Struggle: Embracing Difficulty in Order to Build Character

  10. Falling Forward: Marriage Teaches Us to Forgive

  11. Make Me a Servant: Marriage Can Build in Us a Servant’s Heart

  12. Sexual Saints: Marital Sexuality Can Provide Spiritual Insights and Character Development

  13. Sacred Presence: How Marriage Can Make us more Aware of God’s Presence

  14. Sacred Mission: Marriage Can Develop our Spiritual Calling, Mission, and Purpose

  15. Epilogue: The Holy Couple

It’s ween a while since I read some of these chapters. Nearly 20 years. But each chapter title alone is enough to spark my thoughts. When I was in high school, I asked my dad one time what benefit any parent gets from parenting. Why would someone want to do it. His answer was interesting. Paraphrasing, “The adults I know with no children tend to be some of the most selfish, self-centered people I know because they never had to learn to put someone else’s needs above their own.” Thinking about that concept, I think marriage is supposed to be a building block towards selfLESSness too.

I’ve known my wife for over 30 years, and we are coming up on 28 years of marriage. It’s unbelievable when I look back on how you have used her and our relationship to shape me. You did the same with our children. And you’ve done the same with jobs, friends, church experiences, extended family, etc. But my ability to grow beyond serving my wife out of need and into serving her in love transformed me into being less needy in the other areas of my life too. I am a less needy employee. I am a less needy father. Now I’m not perfect, and there are still times when self-pity comes crashing in on me and I feel the pain of rejection. But I don’t think I would even be able to recognize those failures in myself if I didn’t start by turning loose of my neediness in marriage.

Thankfully, Thomas’ theory worked in my case. His theory is that if both spouses are committed to this selfLESS pursuit of God through marriage then each will find that you are meeting a lot of their needs through the other. Since my wife has embraced this same attitude in our marriage then a terrific balance is created. I honestly don’t know what it would be like to live in a marriage where only one spouse lived this way and the other didn’t. I suppose I could ask my wife because I think she was closer to it those first few years of marriage than I was. But, ultimately, the spouse that pursues you and holiness through their marriage will even be able to be at peace in an unbalanced marriage. To be clear, there are unhealthy situations such as physical or emotional abuse that should not be tolerated, but a simple shift of focus off of myself and onto serving my wife through my pursuit of you in an incredibly liberating thing.

One last thing–the idea of the pursuit of happiness (and I’m still learning to truly live what I’m about to say). I reject the idea that my life and your purpose for my life must be about my happiness. There are some happinesses in life that are denied to me. That’s okay. There were generations of Israelites that were born into slavery, lived in slavery and died in slavery. One result of that is that you built a nation through those years in Egypt. The widow Jesus saw put two coins in the offering went home and likely died as poor as she was when she woke up that morning, but she likely never knew that I would know about her and use her as an example 2,000 years later. Some people do everything right with their children and it still goes wrong. Some people are excellent employees/workers and still go broke. And some are in one-way marriages. The idea that any of these people are not living their best lives because they are experiencing pain is foolish. I don’t know why some of this stuff happens, but mine is not to know why. Mine is to love and worship you, and to do my best with those people and responsibilities you have given to me. The results of all of that are not mine, they are yours. Of course, now that I’ve said those thoughtful, deep things, Father, I pray that you help men to truly live it.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups — The Threshing Floor (Ruth 3:6-13)


The above image is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image itself is called “Ruth and Boaz (after Ben Zion)” and was created by Ned Bustard. 

So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law. After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.” “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.”
Ruth 3:6-13

Dear God, I’ve spent some time looking at Ruth and Boaz, but I don’t know remember spending too much time thinking about Boaz himself. You know, trying to get into his skin. To do that, we have to go back to his introduction in chapter 2. Here are some verses in chapter 2 that are striking me about him and his character:

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9)

Not only did Boaz provide food for her, but he also cast a net of physical protection over her. I have been reminded over and over again how vulnerable women are to physical harm. I was talking with a friend yesterday morning about our daughters and wishing we could protect them better. My wife and I have talked about her uneasiness walking in crowds and fear of being groped by an anonymous man walking by. These just aren’t fears that I have, but they are real and legitimate fears for women. In fact, until this morning, I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to the physical danger Ruth was in by going out to glean in the fields. But Boaz thought about it.  Why did he care so much? What was it about Ruth that got his attention?

“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12)

I think that speaks for itself. So I guess my question is, were Ruth and Naomi manipulating Boaz in chapter 3? At the end of the day, I suppose this was part of the culture at the time. In fact, I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand this story because I don’t understand the culture of that time and place enough. But I do know that this ended up being part of your plan because these two people became David’s great-grandparents. Boaz did a lot of wonderful things, but he never knew he had done this. He was faithful in what you had given to him to steward, and the results would have been beyond anything he ever would have dreamed.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t go back to this image by Bustard and at least say what he had to say about it in his book:

Ben-Zion Weinman (1897-1987) was a sculptor, painter, and printmaker. An emigrant from Ukraine, he came to the United States in 1920 and was a founding member of a 1930’s avant-garde group called “The Ten.” Curing the 1950s he completed several portfolios of expressionistic etchings/aquatints. This print is a reworking of one of those pieces from The Books of Ruth, Job, and Song of Songs portfolio. The Bible is ambiguous about what may or may not have happened that night on the threshing floor: Weinman leaves the way open for either reading of the passage in his visualization of the famous night. He depicts both people asleep under the starlight, the future great-grandmother of King David under a blanket at the feed of Boaz, who snores against a heap of grain.

I looked for the original, and I couldn’t be sure which image was the one that Bustard used as the inspiration, but it’s interesting to consider that the author of Ruth left the events of that night vague. I’d never considered that before. I just took it for what was written on the page. Perhaps I’m naïve.

Father, help me to be faithful this day. Help me to not look to my legacy or my future because I have zero idea how you might be using me. The author Gary Thomas said in one of his books (it might have been Sacred Parenting) that our role in history is to be born, possibly procreate, and then get out of the way. What you do with our lives after that is up to you. Help me to embrace that simplicity and to offer you this one life that I get on earth to further your kingdom and your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Proverbs 31:30-31

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.

Dear God, what is the best way to reward her? Yes, I’ve been fooled by charming women. I’ve been fooled by beautiful women. But I’m very grateful to have a wife that fears you. So how do I praise her? How do I reward her? How do I appropriately show others her deeds so that the deeds themselves might declare her praise?

I read a great marriage book about 20 years ago called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. I know I’ve mentioned it here before. I picked it up again this weekend to just refresh myself on what it said and I found some great things. It starts with this premise: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? Here’s a good quote:

So we’re not anti-happiness; that would be silly. The problem I’m trying to address is that “happy marriage” (defined romantically and in terms of pleasant feelings is too often the endgame of Mose marriage books (even Christian marriage books). This is a false promise. You won’t find happiness at the end of a road named selfishness (emphasis mine)

Oh, but how I want to be selfish in my marriage. Oh, how I want to be treated the way I want to be treated. I want to the recipient of constant love and kindness from my wife. Yes, I am a needy boy. The good news is that I am not as needy as I used to be and I have actually adopted a lot of Thomas’s attitudes and philosophies over the last 20 years. But I still catch myself feeling sorry for myself when I feel like I’m not getting what I deserve.

Going back to praising the woman who fears the Lord, I have so many blessings in my life because I am married to a woman who fears you. First, she has great amounts of mercy and grace for me. She also exhibits unreasonable amounts of love to others within and outside of our family. She faithfully intercedes for others in devoted prayer. She is at peace with what she has and does not look for everlasting joy and happiness through spending money and acquiring things. She doesn’t seem to have anything to prove to anyone.

Father, help me to truly praise my wife and build her up for what and who she is. Thank you for her compassion, faithfulness, self-discipline, and humility. Thank you for her wisdom and discernment. Thank you that you make all of us better through her and women such as her.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2019 in Proverbs

 

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Sacred Marriage

Dear God, I read this great book on marriage a few years ago called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. The subtitle is, “What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?” I went through it in a men’s group that I was in and, as I recall, it has about 12 chapters and the second to last one dealt with sex. I must admit that we stopped after the sex chapter so he was smart to put it towards the end.

Anyway, it was the best marriage book I’ve ever read. The concept was simple. We enter marriage thinking about what wants/needs we have will get met. For example, in my case, she will make me happy, take care of me, and always make me feel good because she makes me feel good now. The lens through which we are looking is always our own. How do I see the world and how is the world (in the example of my marriage, my spouse) impacting me and what I think I deserve? I’ve talked about this recently in terms of the levels of faith that Job goes through. This book is saying that my marriage, ultimately, is not about what I think I deserve but what God wants to teach me about loving and serving others.

I say all of this because my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary on Thursday. When I spoke with them on the phone, there were jokes about the three separations they had that total more than a year when combined. When they got engaged they were from two different worlds. One was from deep poverty and one was more lower middle class. One dropped out of high school and had already been married with two children while the other was just graduating college and had never been married. The college graduate’s parents were not pleased. They were nervous for their child. They tried to talk the child out of it. They saw problems that the child couldn’t see. And, frankly, in one respect, my grandparents were right. But in another one, they were wrong.

You have used this path to teach my parents things that they might never have learned otherwise. It was through the first separation that one became a Christian. It was through the second one that the other became a Christian. And it was through the third one that you taught them to love each other at a deeper level. They also learned about how to interact with the world through the other. The one from poverty taught the other how to appreciate everyone from all walks of life. The middle class one showed the other a world where conflicts can be resolved beyond fight or flight. The list of what they taught each other is long.

For my own marriage and children, you have used my wife to make me so much better. I wouldn’t be as physically healthy as I am without her gentle influence. I wouldn’t be as broadly read and knowledgeable about world event without her. I wouldn’t have experienced my faith in you in the same way. Frankly, I could type all day about how you used her to make me more holy. You’ve done the same through me with my children. I am one of the least judgmental people when it comes to judging other parents because I have been humbled by my own shortcomings. I have also learned how to love more deeply through them.

Father, I am proud of my parents today, and there is a lesson for me to learn about the paths you have for us. The lesson is that I do not know what is best for me, my wife, or my children. What looks like disaster on paper might just be the path you have. So I look to you for my children’s paths. I pray that you will guide them in every way. Guide them beyond my limited wisdom. When I was praying with my wife this morning I told her that I truly believe that you are answering our prayers for them whether we can see them or not. And I pray for my parents and the years/decades they have left together. And I pray for my wife and me. Guide us and use us for your glory, not our own.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

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Emails to God – Salvation, Grace, and Sex Ed

When one of my children prayed to accept Christ, I found myself at a little bit of a loss. The child was an early teen and, having once been an early teen who foolishly felt compelled to go through the process of salvation over and over again because I felt like it didn’t take the previous 20 times, I felt a huge burden to plant initial seeds that would sustain them regardless of what their spiritual path would hold.

How does sex education fit into this? The best marriage book I ever read was Sacred Marriage by a guy named Gary Thomas. The subtitle of the book describes his thesis: What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us happy? I went through this book with a men’s group, and Mr. Thomas wisely left the chapter about sex close to the end because I think that’s why most of us in the group were reading the book. In fact, I think we stopped reading it after we got to that chapter. But in that chapter he had a unique point. He said, paraphrasing, that most of us (especially men) have a warped sense of sex as adults because the first time we were ever exposed to the concept of sex was through a worldly, non-Biblical lens. Perhaps it was pornography, or other kids talking at school. Maybe it was something in a movie or on TV. But what would it be like if our FIRST exposure to sex was in the framework within which God intended it to be? Would that impact how we experience it as adults?

My wife and I decided to take this challenge and “beat the world to the punch” when it came to our kids learning about sex. We went to the local Christian bookstore and found a book we felt comfortable sharing with our five-year-old son (and later with our daughter when she was about five). It was designed to specifically discuss sex in a way that God intended it for our lives (in an age-appropriate way). While I will probably never know for sure, in just observing my children, it feels like they are free from at least of a few of the hangups that have haunted me.

That brings me to my child’s salvation experience. I have this young, 13-year-old child who has just made the most important decision of their life. If I can only give them one lesson, what will it be? I went to the bookshelf in our study for some help. What I found was Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. I decided that the most important message I could share with my child was that God’s grace, love, and acceptance is not about our effort, but His. He loves us radically, and there is nothing we can do to change it.

Not wanting to intimidate my child with a Christian self-help book on their first day as a new Christian, I decided to make up a “Cliff’s Notes” kind of version of the first chapter. If they liked it I would do more. So I put three Bible passages together with 19 bullet points from a 20-page chapter onto two pieces of paper and gave it to them. My prayer is to thank God for bringing my child to faith and ask that He will use the foundation of a strong understanding of His grace to build the rest of their relationship with Him.

If any of you have suggestions about other things parents can do to help their children lay a good foundation and nurture further growth, please feel free to share them here.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Musings and Stories

 

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