Our pastor and his wife, Kenny and Valerie Dean, talked yesterday about marriage. Central in there discussion was how hard marriage can be. I don’t think it matters how “in love” you are with your spouse, there are times you just want to quit and walk away. All through the Bible, marriage is used to show how much God loves us.
“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28 MSG
“No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
Ephesians 5:29-33 MSG
As I considered yesterday’s message, i understood that people often treat their marriage the same way they treat God. We expect our marriages (and God) to be exactly what we want: all fun and happiness with no rough spots. Life is a beautiful rose garden with a fairy-God granting our every wish. However, it doesn’t take long to learn that the roses have thorns. God loves us, but He loves us through the trials. It’s only through the struggles that we learn trust and commitment. When marriage is all about what makes ME happy, the rough spots are inevitable. By loving my spouse IN SPITE of my feelings, I learn what true love is.
In our fast food, microwave culture, we have forgotten how to wait. If things don’t turn out the way we want, we find another option. We don’t have the patience to wait on God, so we stick around just long enough to glimpse the truth and then jump to something else. When I’m not happy in my marriage, I find other ways to get pleasure. The divorce rate in our country is indicative of this. If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy” I will scream! That’s a lie. Happiness is a decision not a right.
Time and time again we see evidence of the messes we make trying to “help God”. The unrest in the Middle East has its origins in such a debacle. Sarah helped God by giving her servant to Abraham. Ishmael was born the result. Sarah was mad when Hagar became pregnant and abused her. Hagar ran away to die.
“The angel of GOD said, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her abuse.” He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting. From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son: Name him Ishmael; for GOD heard you, GOD answered you. He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.””
Genesis 16:9-12 MSG
How many times do we cause issues because we aren’t willing to wait? We jump from one partner to another trying to find love and happiness. We cheat and take what we want and then wonder why there is suspicion and heartache in our relationships. Sexual promiscuity is acceptable and dangerous. You have no idea what you will be exposed to in a single moment of pleasure. When you have convinced yourself that variety in partners helps you to grow into a better lover, you rob yourself of a truly intimate relationship.
“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”
1 Corinthians 6:16-20 MSG
I serve a jealous God.
“You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.”
Exodus 34:14 NLT
If my marriage is to be a picture of a my relationship with God, then I cannot venture outside of my marriage to find happiness. My joy and my happiness will be realized through serving God and loving my husband regardless of what’s going on in our lives. Through the good times and the bad, through the fun and the sadness, I will honor my marriage vows. I will honor my God.
. . . “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Ruth 1:16-17 NIV
I’m an introvert. I draw energy from being alone. I need time to process information. Interacting with people, whether family, social or strangers results in my need to withdraw and to spend time alone to re-energize. Small talk and pointless conversations are exhausting to me. It doesn’t take loads of alone time for me to recharge. Just a few minutes in the evening or a Saturday morning just “piddling” in my office will suffice.
An extrovert won’t always understand the need for “alone” time. Extroverts often equate being alone with loneliness. Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. Loneliness is painful and sad. Depression and remoteness are the results of loneliness. Alone time is energizing and breeds creativity and calm. Being alone allows the introvert the opportunity to process the days events, the ability to download and file away the day’s emotions and make necessary decisions.
I have been lonely. I was that person who seemed to have it all together, but would eat take-out in the driveway rather than face the quiet of the house. I am the one who spent entire weekends in bed. Sleep filled the loneliest times. I’ve done the things that had to be done on my own, because that was required. I’ve sat through numerous family and social events all alone, surrounded by happy couples. I’ve been forgotten on the way to a family funeral because everyone had someone else to consider and besides, I’m very capable.
For ten years, I was the lonely person coping with doing most things alone. A few years ago, I was rescued from the loneliness. I have a partner in my husband. I believe we bring out the best in each other. There are still things that I have to accomplish alone. And there are days that my extrovert husband questions my need to be alone. But, I’m no longer lonely. I refuse to be the lonely person in the midst of the couples. I can admit that I don’t have it all together and trust that there is someone upon whom I can depend. I am no longer lonely.
“God said, “It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” Genesis 2:18 MSG
When I was a teenager, I was told that I should never watch soap operas. The reason was simple: they portrayed lives that were not realistic. The women were always perfectly coiffed and dressed. The men loved to talk about EVERYTHING. Life was not that exciting or interesting. This was reinforced when I was touring Europe with the United States Collegiate Wind Band the summer of 1978. When the family I was staying with in Buitenpost, the Netherlands found out I was from Texas, they immediately asked how many oil wells were in my back yard. They watched “Dallas” on television and believed it to be the ‘real’ Texas.
Fast forward to today. We still have the fantasies created by television shows. And, we have added reality TV & social media to shape the way we view life. All of these work together to create an unrealistic view of what life SHOULD be and how we SHOULD be living. As a result, there are many, many individuals living counterfeit lives. They are busy making things appear as they “should” and avoiding the reality that is life.
Have you talked to anyone that is of dating age recently? Most of them talk of getting married, buying a home and starting a family. But prevailing wisdom of today is to live together. The reasoning is that you can be sure it will last without the “big” commitment. But the reality is “I just don’t think it’s worth waiting until I’m married”. I remember being asked about waiting for marriage as a 20-something. The question was “What if the sex isn’t good?” My response, “If I don’t have anything to compare to, how will I know the sex isn’t good?” I was also raised to value myself and to know that marriage is more that sex. It’s commitment and building a life & family together. I’m not saying that waiting is easy. It is definitely not! And, the further down the path you go the more difficult it is to stop. What I am saying is that anything you value is worth the wait. You save money for a house, instead of buying a tent because “all my friends are”.
Counterfeit living is grabbing for all the advantages of life without any of the real commitment. Counterfeit living is pretending you are married when you are just “shacking up”. Counterfeit living is escaping into something (alcohol, drugs, shopping, games, television, etc.) to avoid facing a reality you don’t want to see. Counterfeit living is pretending you value yourself, but willingly give yourself away for the illusion of “living the life”.
Reality can be hard. Reality may mean walking away from something you really want in order to grow into a better person. Reality may mean saying “No” to pleasures that you don’t want to miss, but realizing you are worth more than the momentary pleasure. Reality may mean giving up control for just a moment and allowing others to follow their own path. Reality may mean manning up and facing the life you have chosen without whining or tattling about the person you “love” so much.
When my husband and I were dating, I told him I just wanted to make him happy. His response was “You are not responsible nor capable of making me happy. I choose to be happy or not. You can only provide opportunities for me to choose happiness.” Not very romantic, but entirely true. If I’m looking for circumstances or people to make me happy, I will never get there. I must choose to be happy in the circumstances I am presented with at the time. Real life doesn’t always provide opportunities for happiness. But, when the opportunities do arise, they are marvelous. Because, I can know the opportunites are real and solid and I can trust them. I can choose to be happy. I can choose JOY! Counterfeit living will never provide that. Counterfeit living will only cause questions to arise: “Is this real? Will this last?”
And for me, the only way to cope with reality is to turn to my faith.
“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.” Proverbs 16:20
There are many people who have successful marriages after living in premarital relationships. And, I know many of them also live with years of guilt because they didn’t stand up for their own convictions. They will always have that small question “Would we still be together if we had waited? Was I worth it?”
I challenge you to look at your own life. Are you living in the reality of life with all of its struggles and joys? Are your walls stripped bare for all the world to see? Or, are you living in a counterfeit reality with facades that need constant attention and repair? Facades that provide for more stress and less happiness? When I was able to allow the facades to fall, I found an entirely new reality. I found a reality where I didn’t have to the strongest or the smartest or the best. I found there is contentment in just doing the best that I can in this moment. I still struggle and at times try to hide behind the old walls, but I’m no longer trapped and afraid to be honest.
I am currently reading the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. This book is Nabeel Qureshi’s personal account of his life as he went from a devout upbringing in the Muslim faith to find that Jesus Christ was indeed his personal savior. Throughout the book, the author talks of how simple it often was to shut down any Christian that tried to talk to him about faith in Christ. The reason it was so simple: the Christians had only a head knowledge of the “whys” of their own beliefs. They could not back up the normal rhetoric that is given to prove their beliefs.
I have been struck by many parts of this book. Most of all, I have to face that many of us cannot defend the faith we say that we have. Nabeel studied the Bible to be able to refute the usual comments. It wasn’t until he met someone who was willing and able to give him facts that Nabeel began to truly “hear” the message. On the flip side, Nabeel also had to come to terms with the fact that much of what he knew of his Muslim beliefs were based on what he had been told. Studying the Qur’an and other documents as he defended his childhood religion was very unsettling for him. Even though he have read the entire Qur’an by the time he was 5 years old, he didn’t know or understand much of the basics of his faith.
Nabeel Qureshi’s decision to follow Christ was not an easy choice. It took years to get to that decision. He had to weigh giving up EVERYTHING in order to follow the Christ of the Bible. This decision caused immense pain for both of his parents. In “Christianity Today”, he made this spoke about the effect his conversion had on his family:
“A few days later, the two people I loved most in this world were shattered by my betrayal. To this day my family is broken by the decision I made, and it is excruciating every time I see the cost I had to pay.
But Jesus is the God of reversal and redemption. He redeemed sinners to life by his death, and he redeemed a symbol of execution by repurposing it for salvation. He redeemed my suffering by making me rely upon him for my every moment, bending my heart toward him. It was there in my pain that I knew him intimately. He reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions, and called me to prayer in my suffering. It was there that I found Jesus. To follow him is worth giving up everything.”
I have to ask myself, “Would I do this?” I’ve lived a pretty easy life. Sure there have been bumps along the way, some of them very big bumps. When my first husband died, I struggled with my faith. I reviewed all that I said that I believed. And, I concluded that my faith in God was correct and real. But, I was never required to give up everything: my family, my core beliefs, the familiar. Would I do that? Could I defend my beliefs to another in a logical and cohesive manner? Would I be able to give details and truth? I wish I could give a resounding YES, but I’m not sure.
My family and I have been watching the Leah Remini show on Scientology. I often sit in astonishment at what people are willing to do and to give up for their beliefs in this “religion”. While reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I have a different understanding of the Scientology followers: they too risk everything for their beliefs. The difference? Nabeel Qureshi’s Muslim upbringing did acknowledge parts of the Bible and recognize some of the same people as Christianity (although differently), he had a basis to build upon when confronted for Christianity. He was willing to debate and discuss to prove his point. Scientology doesn’t allow any questions. There is no debate. It’s all or nothing. As we have listened to people who have left Scientology, it is so sad to see that most have still not found salvation in Jesus. How do we as Christians help to fill the void? How do we take steps in this tender and painful area of trust for people’s of any faith that are hurt and searching? Do we really care? Do we really want to step out?
Again, I’m not sure. It’s more convenient to throw a tract or book at someone than to interact with them in any depth. It’s emotionally safer to invite someone to church than to sit down and have coffee and talk over and over again. It’s easier to only communicate about God when you need something by asking for “a little prayer for _____” instead of getting involved with God on a daily basis with His people. It’s less intimidating to just mind my own business and let someone else do the hands on stuff.
I’m challenged. I’m struggling.
For you see, standing up for one’s beliefs to those in your closest circle of family and friends can be hard, especially if they don’t agree. It takes balance to lovingly rebuke those who claim to be Christian and do not live as such. It takes a measured patience to be ridiculed as “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” when you have lived and may actually have a basis for this “old-fashioned” and “out of touch” advise. The easiest road may not be the best choice and momentary laughter does not mean a lifetime of joy.
Nabeel Qureshi passed away after a year-long battle with stomach cancer on September 16, 2017 at the age of 34. His parents were helping to care for him during his illness. I am so fortunate to have his story from which to learn. He has touched and continues to touch many lives with his stand for Christ.
Would you follow?
I have always loved the color PURPLE! I’m drawn to the color in everything from clothes to décor. I have my favorite purple sweatshirt with my name on the front. My dad helped me paint my trombone case purple. I had a purple furry coat. I just loved the color. And, I still do today.
When I was about 10 years old, my parents and younger sister took an October trip to the Ozark Mountains. My brother and I stayed with my grandparents and my Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me. My birthday was very near this time, so Ruth and I decided we needed to make a birthday cake. And of course, I wanted a purple cake. We did not have access to the myriad of food coloring products that are available today. We had the box of 4 basic food colors from the grocery store: red, green, yellow & blue. My aunt was in Junior High, so we knew that we could mix the red and the blue to get a beautiful color of purple. We mixed the cake (from scratch) and then added the food coloring. The cake was more lavender than truly purple, but that was okay. After transferring our batter to the pans, we decided that swirls of color would be even better. So, we added drops of all of the colors to the cake in the pans and stirred it around. We stirred a little too much we would discover later. The beautiful purple cake I had envisioned was more gray than purple. There were flecks of color here and there, but over all, it was a gray cake. It tasted great, but it was not very appealing to the eye.
I am going the Bible chronologically this year. Recently, I’ve been in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. The various kings for both Israel and Judah are listed and their history is recorded. I found it interesting that each account included one of these statements: “as far as God was concerned, he lived a bad life” or “in God’s opinion he was a good king” or “… did what pleased God for as long as he lived (even so he did not . . .)” There were several kings that were just bad. They worshiped other gods and led the people to do the same. There were a few kings that did what God decreed and destroyed the other temples and led the people to worship Jehovah only. And then there were the kings that lived the way God decreed, but allowed the people to continue to live in sin by worshiping other gods. These were the “grey” kings. If you kept your eyes closed or didn’t look too closely, they were good kings. But, they didn’t follow God completely. They failed the people they were chosen to lead.
When I look at my own life, I wonder if my life is “gray” when God looks at it. I don’t think I’m living a bad life where God is concerned. But, do I live in a way that pleases God? Am I a royal purple follower of Christ and His commandments? Or, do I slip into the “grey” area that encompasses too many things? Have I become so desensitized to the sins around me that I just don’t realize it? Is political correctness the center of my focus or is God’s word? Do I show compassion to everyone or just to the people I “like” in that moment?
I think we all like to believe that we are on the side of right. I don’t know anyone that deliberately takes a stand that they believe is wrong. However, we can’t all be right about everything. Just as the early kings of Judah and Israel condoned the sex-and-religion worship by allowing temples to be built to worship the gods of fertility, we condone everything that makes us uncomfortable by NOT speaking up. It’s just easier to live our own lives and ignore those around us. I’m not advocating throwing stones at others. I do firmly believe that we are to be kind and compassionate to those around us. But, do those around you know what you believe? Do they see someone who God is blessing when they see you? Do you take a stand on a daily basis or is the act of attending Sunday and/or Wednesday services enough of a witness? Is your relationship with God based solely on the current crisis in your life or do you spend time with Him daily regardless of circumstances?
Too many additions and too little knowledge/experience, made my birthday cake grey. I don’t want my life to be gray. I want the knowledge that comes from reading the scriptures. I want to experience everything that God has to offer. I want to follow Him completely and to exclude anything that is outside of His will. That’s doesn’t mean I wont make mistakes. (I can promise you I will make plenty of them!) It does mean that I will stay aware and correct any mistakes with God’s help. It does mean that I may have to give up some things. I may have to get up a little earlier to spend time with God. I may not get to sleep in on Sundays because I NEED to be in church worshipping with others. I may have to give up my reliance on “finger-crossing” and “quick prayers” to really spend time with God to learn what I need to know. I may have to learn to be part of the crowd and not in the spot-light where others can see me and comment on how wonderful I am.
Gray is a popular color for walls. But, I don’t recommend it for birthday cakes. Or life.
Do you ever feel invisible?
Are there times your voice is not heard? Is it because you do not speak up? Or are the other voices and sounds drowning you out?
Do you ever want to be, maybe even need to be, invisible?
When I was newly widowed, there were many times I felt invisible. I didn’t fit into any group. I was no longer married, but wasn’t quite single, either. My friends were still in the married group. I moved from “part of the group” to “third wheel” status in the blink of an eye. I didn’t know how to be seen. Others seemed to look through me, not ever seeing the ME that stood there. I didn’t know how to be seen, because I didn’t know how to see myself. I watched as others buzzed around and wondered how I could be so lonely in a such a busy group of people. I didn’t know how speak up, it was easier to fade away than to endure the pain of living in the world in which I no longer belonged.
One can be invisible for lots of reasons. When another’s need to be recognized is louder and more aggressive than your own, their need pushes all others out-of-the-way. I feel the shutters begin to close in around me. My opinion doesn’t matter. My voice in not important. Even the facts and information that I know are dismissed and discounted if they are not in agreement. I am forced to disappear within myself to avoid further conflict. It is often that very need to avoid conflict that pushes me further onto the sidelines. When I am helpless to change anything, when I’m caught on the carousel of life and there’s no way to regain control, I disappear.
There are times when I try to blend into the background. There are other times when I need desperately to be heard, to be seen. But, I’m invisible. It’s as if I’m speaking in an unknown language or wearing the cloak of invisibility. No one is listening. No one sees me. Regardless of how hard I try, I cannot break through. I begin to believe that I’m truly invisible, that I truly do not matter. And, that is the real problem. I accept the invisibility. I stop trying. I fade away.
We need to be aware of those invisible people that surround us. The invisible person may be that homeless person that has become a part of the background. The invisible person may be the senior citizen that tells the same stories over and over and over again. The invisible person may be the widow that reminds you how fragile life is. The invisible person may be a friend or family member that refuses to see things your way causing you to rethink your own ideas or decisions. Invisible people surround us. They work in the deli’s in our offices. They stand on the street corners. They are our neighbors, our friends, our family. We need to put on our “X-ray vision” and find those invisible people. We need to see them. Listen to them. We need to care.
God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
Psalm 139 :1-12 MSG
Travis was rescued from death. Literally. Estimated to be about 7 months old when he was found at a construction site, Travis was so sick they didn’t think he would survive the night. He had hookworms that had drained most of his lifeblood from him. He had an injury to his left eye that left a cloudy ulceration. He couldn’t lift his head. He received transfusions for 3 days. For weeks, he wouldn’t even open his injured eye. He was kept in isolation since he was weak and couldn’t see very well. He was given food and water, vitamins, eye-drops, worming medication. He began to recover. He willingly took his vitamins and sat very still for his eye-drops. Given any opportunity to snuggle up to his rescuer, he did. He craved attention.
I first saw his picture on the PUPS website. I was hooked. I talked to his caregiver and got the information she had: his estimated age, his size and temperament with other dogs, and his house training. I found out that Travis would be neutered on Tuesday and available for adoption the following Saturday. I was at the Petsmart that Saturday to meet him as soon as they were setup. And I took Travis home with me that day.
Travis is now called Beauregard (Beau for short). It didn’t take him long to make himself at home with our other fur-babies. His eye is healed and after a few visits with the vet, he’s up to date on all of his shots and worm free. He has a tag with his name and my phone number on it as well as a microchip, so he cannot be lost. He is a little ball of energy. He rolls and plays with the other dogs. Every morning, after his potty break outside, he comes back to my room to find me. I can hear his tags tinkling together as he runs down the hall and comes and lays at my feet. When I call his name, he rolls over and wiggles in anticipation of the belly rub he’s about to receive. I pick him up and cuddle him and get my morning kisses and then he’s off to breakfast.
Beau reminds me how I should react to time with my Father. I was saved from death by the blood of my Savior. He has taken care of me and prepared me for life in this harsh world. It is through God’s loving care that I have survived the grievous events in my life. I allow the world to suck the very life out of me. I struggle to see where I am headed. But, I don’t always go to my loving Father with excitement, anticipating His loving attention. Many times, I’m distracted by other “things” in my life. I don’t have time or I’m sure I can handle this one myself. I forget to spend time with Him.
But, He comes to my rescue, time and time again. And I remember His tenderness and His love. My name is engraved in His book of life. I will never be out of His sight. I realize that it is time with my Heavenly Father that I crave. I spend time in His word. I pray and listen for His guidance. And, yes, I beg, plead, cry and complain about all that is “unfair” with my life. He’s always there to correct me when I’m wrong, to provide for my every need and to always love me.
It took a squirmy, cuddly rescued puppy to remind me that I just have to go to God. He’s waiting with every thing I can need or imagine.
I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart,
I’m writing the book on your wonders.
I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy;
I’m singing your song, High God.
Psalm 9:1-2 MSG