Letting Go of Legalism

During a family reunion many years ago, my husband’s family found themselves at a karaoke bar in Branson, Missouri. This was before I became an official part of the family. Toward the end of the evening, all the brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins, etc. came together onstage and sang “We Are Family.” My mother-in-law still recalls it as one of the most special moments of her life.

Except one aunt and uncle weren’t there. They stayed back at the hotel because alcohol was served in that establishment.  Just before this aunt passed away, she told my mother-in-law how much she regretted that decision…how much she wished she had been part of the family ensemble on stage that night. Continue reading

All You Need is Love…and More Love*

It’s the week before Jesus will be crucified. A couple of days earlier, he came into Jerusalem like a triumphant king (Mark 11:1-11). You can bet the religious leaders (of every stripe) heard about that! Jesus spends these days in Jerusalem, often in the temple courts. The religious leaders come at him like waves of the ocean.

  1. Mark 11:27-33 (if you want to look it up): The chief priests, teachers, and elders ask him about his authority, and he entangles them in their own reasoning.
  2. Mark 12:13-17: The Pharisees and Herodians (a group of influential Jews who supported Rome) question him about taxes, and Jesus comes back with that oft-quoted line, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17 ESV).
  3. Mark 12:18-27: The Sadducees, having seen him shut down two groups already, think they have a better question. They pose a scenario about marriage and resurrection. Odd because Sadducees don’t believe in resurrection (Mark 12:18). Jesus used Scripture to refute their whole premise.

Three waves, three groups of scholars, and none of them could entangle or confuse Jesus. Continue reading

Three Paths We “Walk”

Last week, I wrote about becoming more Christlike as we go through life.

The New Testament often uses the word walk to talk about the process of living. (In fact, the NIV uses “live a life” in place of walk in Colossians 1:10.) There wasn’t space, however, to unpack walk. Today, let’s revisit those verses and consider three paths in which we walk (because in follows walk all three times). Continue reading

Twenty Years and Five Ideas

hands-weddingMy 20th wedding anniversary was this week. We didn’t do anything major. We tend to do big things on odd years, like 11. We just went out to dinner at our favorite local restaurant and tried to remember if we went there for our first anniversary. Conclusion: probably.

But the milestone has made me reflective. What have I learned in twenty years of marriage? Here are the five biggest things.

Jesus first.

Prioritize your relationship with Jesus above your marriage relationship. Not church. Not Bible studies. Not believing friends. Not children. Just Jesus. If your number-one goal is to know Him, imitate Him, please Him, your marriage will be better. If your spouse has the same goal, your marriage will be great! I don’t mean ‘great’ in the everything-is-roses sense but in the rock-solid, nothing-can-separate-us sense.

Nothing will impact your marriage
more than taking your eyes off
your spouse and putting them
primarily on Jesus.

That kind of priority starts with a daily quiet time. You may call it something else and you may not do it first thing in the morning, but time in the Word of God every day has to be non-negotiable. It wasn’t that way for us twenty years ago. He almost never had a quiet time, and I only did it during an organized Bible study, or I’d read the Bible out of obligation. But these days, vacations mean we get to spend extra time in Scripture, and even the busiest days of the year still find us with a warm cup and an open Bible every morning.

Forgiveness reigns. Apologies rule.

Forgiveness is a choice. You’re never going to feel like forgiving someone when they’ve hurt you. Do it anyway. Take a break for an hour or so, if you need it, but if your spouse asks for forgiveness, give it. For small things, ask God to help you forget it. That’s the simplest way to move forward. For the bigger things, ask Him to help you learn from it and release it. Releasing isn’t the same as forgiving. Releasing means it doesn’t affect you anymore.

The magic words of
marriage: “Forgive me?”

When you’re on the other side of the situation, ask for forgiveness. Do it straightforwardly, as in, “Will you please forgive me for…?”.  Yes, it’s humbling, but it’s the closest thing to magic words I’ve ever seen.

With that being said, it’s okay to go to bed angry. Sometimes you’re both tired, and the best thing you can do is get some sleep. In the morning, your perspective will be so much better. You’ll probably realize how silly you were the night before, then apologies and forgiveness will come easily.

Keep embarrassments private but broadcast accomplishments.

Be that place of unconditional comfort for your spouse, where he knows he won’t be “outed” the next time you go to a party. Really listen when she talks about her struggles. Validate those feelings, even if you don’t really understand. Receive his failures as an intimate gift that he won’t share with friends. (Kinda stereotyping here, so your spouse may be different.) Think about “flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) as including “mind of my mind.” My secrets are as safe with my spouse as if I’d never spoken them, but without the negative self-talk.

Be your spouse’s biggest
cheerleader – in public and
in private.

Praise your spouse publicly and frequently, in subtle and blatant ways. For example, I rarely bring up my seminary degree in public, but my husband will mention it any time we talk about seminary. He champions my accomplishments and unwaveringly believes in my future success.

Another example? So glad you asked. A few months ago, I was ready to quit writing altogether and find a job with a consistent paycheck. When I suggested this course of action to my husband, he gently refused it. He reminded me of my Call to write from the Bible. His encouragement helped me re-believe in myself. It was a private moment, but he stated his faith in me out loud—exactly what I needed.

Express love in front of others—especially your children.

We saw this couple French kissing at the gas station the other day. Eww! That’s not what I mean.

Touch, hold hands, smile at each other, ,say “I love you.” Make it obvious that you enjoy being together. Your children are blessed by that assurance. (It’s been said a million times that the best thing you can do for your kids is love their other parent.) Other people are encouraged as well. Don’t get mushy or sappy, and don’t fake it. People can see right through that. But the no-touching policy your private Christian school enforced no longer applies once you’re married.

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(c) Carole Sparks

At the same time, don’t hide it when you’re not feeling so loving. I’m not suggesting you have a big fight in front of your Bible study group, but if you fought on the way to Bible study, it’s okay to talk about it honorably. Let others see that you have “issues” as a couple, but make sure they see you resolve those issues. There are no perfect couples, and your transparency may be exactly what another couple needs to work through their own problems or seek help elsewhere.

What does it mean to “talk about it honorably”? Guard against belittling your spouse or trying to convince people you are right while your spouse is wrong. For example, you might say, “Since our finances have gotten so tight, we argue more. We’re really trying to trust God here, but sometimes it’s hard.” That brings me to the last point…

Tell your stories so they’re more about God than about the two of you.

If you come to our house and have dinner at our table, be sure we’ll ask you these two questions:

  1. How did you come to know Jesus as your Savior?
  2. How did you meet/fall in love with your spouse?

God’s timing is the theme
of my marriage story.

I love it when those two stories intertwine! The story of my marriage is nothing if not a story of God’s timing. Every major event in the last twenty-one years is clearly linked to God’s hand in our lives! I wish I could tell you…

What about your story? You know God gave you your spouse, even if you weren’t following Him when you met and married. How can you shift your perspective on that story to make God the hero in it? When He gets glory from your recounting of your marital relationship, you’ll find He gets more glory from the day-to-day circumstances of your marriage.

Five ideas from a 20-year marriage…because my #marriage is #NotAboutMe. (click to tweet)

If you’re married, with what do you agree? What have YOU learned? Married or not, what caused you to raise your eyebrows here? What do you want to remember? Let’s start a conversation in the comments!

Check out this post on Intentional Parenting for my 5 Best Marriage Book suggestions.

Not “in love” with Jesus

I am not in love with Jesus. There, I said it. And it’s true. In fact, sometimes I don’t even like him much. He asks me to do really difficult things. He puts me on the spot. He expects a LOT from me every day, all the time. I’ve been “in love,” and this is not what it felt like.

Jesus’ expectations for me
reveal His character, not mine.

But I love Jesus. I love him more now than I did last year and way more than I loved him twenty years ago. I love him so much that (in my best moments) when he asks me to do something difficult, I simply ask him to go with me. When he puts me on the spot, I turn that spotlight onto him. And when I begin to grasp those massive expectations of his, I fall on my knees with the words of Isaiah, “Woe is me! I am [wo]man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6:5), because his expectations for me reveal his character, showing me I don’t deserve to be loved by him.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  –1 John 4:10

The fact is, I never fell in love with Jesus. To fall implies some kind of accident, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus called me. I…I find it hard to explain what I did (This is because I’m completely up-in-the-air on the whole predestination/free-will thing right now.), but I became His (or maybe I already was, and he just showed me…). I already loved him; I know that now. I think God somehow planted that love in my heart. I hung around casually for a while, trying really hard to make him happy, but that got old, so I left. That’s when He really pursued me. He was relentless. And patient. And forgiving. When I finally stopped running, I turned around to him and confessed what he and I both already knew: that I loved him.

If you love me, keep my commands.  –John 14:15

At that point, I committed to love, which means I committed to obedience (Can’t get into that here; another time.). I can’t stop or start this love; I don’t fuel it. He does all that. All I do is hang on.

But I am very committed to hanging on.

You see, for me, being “in love” is an emotional high that’s linked to another person. It’s an infatuation. It sees no faults, admits no doubts, and denies the very real risk of heartbreak. I love my husband. We’ve been married for almost twenty years, so I am well aware of his faults…and sometimes I have doubts. We know there’s a risk of heartbreak because we’ve let each other down in the past, and we’ll surely do it again. But I choose to continue loving him. I choose to hang on.

Jesus, of course, has no faults, and all the doubts lie unfounded on my side of the relationship. There is no risk of heartbreak because he will never fail. At the same time, though, I see this relationship realistically. I know he doesn’t offer me a field of daisies and a happy-go-lucky life. I know what it means to obey; sometimes it’s hard; sometimes it hurts.

Jesus prayed about
the permanence of
God’s love in us.

When Jesus prayed for all believers just before Gethsemane, he didn’t pray that we would fall in love with him. He talks instead about the permanence of God’s love in us. It is that love—God’s love—in us that responds to Jesus. Instead of “in love with Jesus,” perhaps we should say, “love with Jesus in me.”

Jesus prayed, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”  –John 17:26

The love of God is simultaneously something we choose and something for which we are chosen. We can deny it. We can doubt it. We can diminish it. But when we declare it and delight in it, that love grows to strengthen us far beyond the emotional high of infatuation.

Why I don’t say I’m “in love” with Jesus and other musings on His love…and mine, from @Carole_Sparks. #NotAboutMe #NotInLove (click to tweet)

What do you think about love, particularly our love for Jesus or our response to God’s love for us? How do you feel about being “in love” with Jesus? I’m open to dialogue here.