Art of Marriage Weekend

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This past weekend we had a marriage retreat at church: The Art of Marriage by Family Life Ministries. John & I partnered up with Bro. Gary & Ms Michelle to coordinate the event. It was the first time John & I have been able to work in Marriage Ministry. It is something we have felt called to do for years and have been praying for an opportunity.

Unfortunately, the devil is alive and well! He sure has been attacking us this week – stress seems to be overwhelming… my job has taken a VERY dramatic shift, studying trying to gather last minute donations, packing for a short getaway to visit family, and we have had a hornet infestation – I’m not talking little paper-wasp or bald face hornets, these are HUGE. It is the European Hornet. This little critter I about the size of my thumb. We have had FIVE in our living-room this week. FIVE! That is terrifying to someone (me!) who is not only allergic to bees but also to antihistamines. The devil has been attacking not only in our own lives but in the lives of most of the attendees I spoke with. He has done everything he can to keep people from attending and to discourage me and John.

The Art of Marriage Weekend was more successful than I imagined it would be! We received so much good input – several people even wrote down on their evaluation forms that they would be willing to help host an event themselves. Most people wrote down that it was LIFE CHANGING. Everyone has struggles in their marriage – and everyone left with tools on how to handle the struggles and with Hope. So far, we have about 7 other couples who are very anxious to attend the next event since they were unable to make this one due to previous engagements. We are planning for the next Art of Marriage Weekend to be hosted later this summer.

We have been VERY blessed with so many generous donations to give away as door prizes – I think everyone was amazed: hotel reservations, shooting range membership, river boat cruise, fine dining, breakfast pastries, local restaurants gift certificates, theater tickets, etc. Everyone left with a very nice prize and we had two grand prizes on top of that.

On Friday night we covered two sessions and on Saturday 4 with a lunch break in the middle. We covered God’s Plan for Marriage, Conflict, Communication, Intimacy &  Leaving a Lasting Legacy. The material was delivered in a very unique way to where it wasn’t lectures but engaging videos. We would give an introduction, and then play the video. The video consisted of actors giving a short performance of a marital situation and then it would cut to Life Way authors who would give very brief input and testimony. It actually reminded me a lot of a sports event: You have a few minutes of a game (the actors in their vignette) then it will cut to the commentators (the authors) and occasionally an interview with a well-known player (other Life Way ministry leaders with testimony.) This was set up to appeal to men and to couples who do not learn well with lectures.  I prefer lectures, but most people don’t.  The material was extremely thought provoking. Hearing the testimony and input from the authors really gave new light on the subjects.

One of the most powerful segments was the lesson on Communication. This one couple was at the brink of divorce, and a counselor told the husband that he needed see the Gospel of the Now in his situation, his marriage and his life. (I did a HORRIBLE job paraphrasing that! I tried to write down that exact quote but I was so busy taking notes that I didn’t get it every word written down!) I loved the message in the quote. The Gospel of the Now. We have to strive to see Jesus in EVERY aspect of our life. If we remember that 1) I live in a fallen world 2) I am a wretched sinner 3) Sin separates me from God 4) Jesus is a great savior who forgives me for so much and is SO patient with me in my shortcomings.

That changes perspective on EVERYTHING.

I can forgive my husband when he has a living-in-the-flesh moment and says some words that come out a little harsh – because I am a wretched sinner and Jesus is a great savior. He has forgiven me of SO MUCH.

I can remember that I am not a slave to my emotions, but acknowledge then in a godly way when the stress of life gets overwhelming – because I am a wretched sinner and Jesus is a great savior. He has forgiven me of SO MUCH.

I can forgive the friend who lashes out harshly in false judgment – because I am a wretched sinner and Jesus is a great savior.  He has forgiven me of SO MUCH.

I am so excited about the Marriage Ministry. We had 13 couples attend this event. Most are excited to join in a bible study based on the material covered. Everyone seems SO HUNGRY for God’s Word and for what He says about marriage. It’s beautiful. I’m so excited to see the work God is doing in all our lives.

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The Frailty of Love

I have a burden for marriage ministry. I try to read every book about having a Christ-honoring marriage that I can get my hands on. If one of the reasons – perhaps even the primary reason – that God created marriage as a way for us to know Him, to deepen our relationship with Him, a way that simultaneously is reflecting Him to the world around us – then why wouldn’t we put forth as much effort into trying to make it as strong of a marriage as possible?

While studying, there seemed to be an underlining similarity – love fragile and must be carefully and purposefully nourished.

In Genesis 2 we see that God designed marriage. Gen 2:18 “Then the Lord God said ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper for him.’”

Gen 2: 24-25 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

The Bible describes the marital covenant as two becoming one. As one Christian author points out it takes two complete people to become unified. Marriage was not designed for two incomplete (immature) people to join together that all the gaps would be filled in. As contrary to our secular culture as it seems, your spouse was not created to COMPLETE you.

God, in His Divine Providence, did know who you would marry.  But we are each responsible for our personal walk with Christ, and our own maturity as individuals.

Does God use our spouse to help us grow? Yes of course, but only as a tool to aid in growth. The responsibility is still your own.

One of my favorite quotes on the subject says that marriage “was designed, not to make you a whole person, but to give your wholeness a new range of experience” (Cloud & Townsend).  We are not extensions of each other – we are our own unique individuals who are covenantally bound in unison before God. It is because of that unity that I can no longer think of my world only in the terms of how it affects me, but how it affects US.

Being so united with someone gives us ample opportunity to severely hurt the one we are supposed to love the most. Why? Because we are two sinners living in close proximity! Some of the most painful wounds on our hearts have come from our own family or spouse.

1 Peter 3:8-12 “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” 

To me, the realization of the frailty of love is terrifying. What do we do then? We love. Like Christ loves the church. Selflessly. We seek to love with Agape in every area of our life. Regardless of how we feel.

1 John 4:11 “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 

Phil 2:3-4 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Also Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”  

James 4 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts,  you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

We have to remember the Gospel – I am a wretched sinner, and Christ is a wonderful savior. Yes – my spouse has hurt me. Why? Because he is still a sinner. And I am still a sinner too.  So in light of the Gospel, I have to remember that Christ died for sinners.

My sin from today alone would have been enough to have caused Christ to die. So sure, my husband may have snapped and said something harshly – but I killed Jesus.

Every day I fail to love Christ with my whole heart – and every day He forgives me and every day He loves me completely. So I can forgive my husband and love him completely.

Love is not based on how I feel. Even in a great marriage – the frightening realization that the feeling of love is fragile, that the blissful unified feeling can fade in a moment – our reality is not based on how we feel. Love is not a hole in the ground to fall into or out of.

Love is a choice that we can make because Christ loved us first.

A Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Love is incredible.  Falling in love feels otherworldly.

But REAL love, agape, is a reflection of Christ – it is a bright light shining boldly as a witness amidst the darkness of this world. Real love forces us to act contrary to our fleshly desires, our body (naturally self-centered whose goal is self-preservation and self-worship) reels against it. Our body is continuously at war with our spirit for control. Love is not natural for our body. It is a conduit by which the indwelling Holy Spirit guides us to becoming more Christ-like and deeper in love with our Savior.

1 Corinthians 13 is of course, one of the most well known explanations of love in the bible.  “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Real love. Agape. This isn’t about fuzzy feelings that make you happy. This isn’t the being swept off your feet or the rush of falling in love.  It is Grace in action.

Ephesians 4: 29-32 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and all slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Agape keeps the Cross in the center of every situation. It is BECAUSE of the cross that we can experience agape. It is BECAUSE of the cross that we can share agape with others. It is BECAUSE of the cross that we MUST live agape in every area of life and with every breath we have.

 2 Cor 5:14-15 “For Christ’s love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died,  and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

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Since Agape love is not natural for us, it can seem elusive and fragile. If we taint agape even just a tiny bit, then it is no longer agape.  If you hold back, only loving a little, then you have focused on yourself which is idolatry.

If you say “I will love you, but only in this manner because it is the manner most natural (ie, convenient) for me” then that too is self-centered. Romans 2:8 “But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” 

This is primarily what is wrong with the Five Love Language mentality.  I enjoyed the book – and think it is a great tool! It is handy to have a way of describing some of these complex emotions and a way of organizing the thoughts that go with them.

But when we use it as a method of manipulation – that is sinful. We shouldn’t speak to our spouse in their primary love language SO THAT our spouse will speak to us in our primary love language.  And equally sinful is the opposite reaction – when we acknowledge that we have a way of showing a love that is most comfortable for us and we refuse to attempt to speak our spouses love language.

Romans 12:9-10 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Love is easily tainted because is holds to a very high standard, God’s Standard. This is the pursuit of holiness. Real love earnestly seeks that which is GOOD, that which draws us closer to Christ.

Phil 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” If anything, even SLIGHTLY wrong is permitted to dwell then it is no longer agape love, because that changes the focus off of Christ to self.

We tend to bend the rules when it comes to things that make us feel good. This is one of the reasons that pornography and solo sexual acts are wrong. It isn’t putting the other first. It is seeking to satisfy SELF.

This needs to be applied to every area of life even to what we watch on tv or listen to on the radio. If it isn’t true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, or having godly excellence – then we don’t need to have it in our home or in our life. That isn’t what agape does.

But what if it is our favorite tv series? Then you are allowing your own personal pleasure to have lordship over your heart rather than Jesus – who loves us SO MUCH that he sacrificed Himself for us to be made righteous.

Phil 2:3 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” And also see James 3:16 “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

But what about the other areas of life, the seemingly innocent areas that we don’t keep a firm check on? For example, your spouse has been put on a glucose free diet by the doctor. You have both vowed to help each other live by this diet plan. It is supposed to be a new way of life now.

But he has had a very hard day at work and has asked you for a bowl of ice cream. You both know that ice cream is something that the doctor said he can’t have. He doesn’t like the glucose-free version that you picked up and is asking for the last of the Rocky Road that was still in the freezer.  Would it be loving of you to make him a bowl of his favorite flavored ice cream after such a hard day? …. As tempting to say yes as it is – the answer is a firm no.

You try to justify it by saying, “It’s his love language, Act of Service!” Or you may say “I’m being a submissive wife by getting him what he asked even though it’s breaking the rules!” But that is not what real love is or what submission means.

Getting the ice cream wouldn’t be for his best (it’s not edifying), you know it is going against what you both promised and what the doctor said (it’s not honorable), which makes you a cheat and a liar (it is not commendable, just, lovely, pure etc) So you make him some gluten-free brownies instead and offer to rub his feet.

Agape has to seep into EVERY area of our life.  Col 3:12-14 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Love transforms us. Agape is focusing on Gods love for us and it overflowing into how we live. It moves our focus off of SELF (our desires, our self-centered tendencies, our problems, our pain) and onto Christ. Ps 59:16 “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Love builds our relationship with Jesus because it is what He commands.

Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Not only is it what we are supposed to do as followers of Christ, but it is for our benefit. It is through love that we experience COMPLETE JOY. So much of the world of focused on doing what will make them happy for that moment – but we can have a sense of completeness (peace) and overwhelming joy.

John 15:9-13 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

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