EXTRA! EXTRA!

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For over a year I have been writing the blog “Living in the Tent.” Initially, I tailored my blog to express how to live a Christian life, both from a theological perspective and a relationship perspective. As a Christian marriage therapist, I felt this would be a great way to blend both of my passions into one expression.

However, as I began to review this blog last month I realized that the majority of my posts on here were more of a devotional nature and less about relationships. I still enjoy writing about how to manage one’s marriage successfully, but I have to recognize that this blog is no longer able to sustain a dual focus. Therefore, I have decided to do the only thing that anyone with a passion for writing, loving God, and helping couples can do…I’m starting a second blog!

This blog will remain intact and continue to deliver the devotional posts that you have been reading. However, my new blog will take up the mantle of providing relationship advice for couples. As anyone can tell you, a wedding is one thing but a marriage is a whole other animal. That is why I decided to create After the Aisle. If any of you are interested in my new blog and the relationship advice that I will be giving there, please click here and check it out. I hope you enjoy it!

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Sitting on the Stool

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“There are two spiritual activities which are to be unceasingly part of a believer’s life, two great pillars that hold up the believer in the matter of daily living.  One is the study of the Word of God.  Two, prayer.”

— John MacArthur

I’m not one to usually criticize John MacArthur, who some would argue is the best exegetical preacher alive today, but when I was listening to his sermon “The Paternity of Prayer” on my way to work the other day, the above quote popped out at me.

Immediately, I thought: Wait a minute. What about service?

I do not disagree that study and prayer are two essential aspects of the Christian life, but if we forget or minimize the necessity of service, we fail to put legs to what our study and praying have revealed. This is why I have often thought of Christianity like a three-legged stool that must continually be in balance, where one leg is study, one is prayer, and one is service.

You cannot neglect one or two of these legs without toppling over. For instance, a person that is great at study but does not pray, he only has head knowledge and can get filled up with the arrogance of much learning. Or if he has a passion for prayer so as to see great miracles occur but does not study or serve, he will not produce anything meaningful. This is why Solomon warns us:

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:12-14)

And it is why Paul says:

“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.” (1 Cor 13:2)

In both situations, Solomon and Paul emphasize that the most important thing is not knowledge or faith by itself, but it is adding both of these things to what you do. As Paul later wrote in Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (NIV)

Service, then, is a necessary leg of the Christian existence. If it was not, James would not have argued that it is our deeds that prove our faith (Ja. 2:17-18) Jesus would not have said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:35) And the disciples in Acts would not have delegated the work of distributing food to the widows to seven godly men so that The 12 would not neglect “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:1-4)

I understand that it is safer to remain in one’s study, surrounded by books and excavating truths never before understood. I respect that it feels more comfortable, and at times it feels more spiritual, to pray for a person or a situation, rather than get involved. But God calls us out of our safe places and asks us to leave our comfort zones. This is why Jesus tells us “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Because we are to be a going people. We are to be an engaging people. We are revolutionaries who are on a mission to change the culture of our homes, communities, and nations. We are a people who are to serve “by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)

We are not to be cowardly or sluggish or foolish. Those are mistakes the anxious. We are not to be arrogant, doubting, or disbelieving. Those are the mistakes of the inactive. We are to be doing, going, and serving. Giving our bodies up as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which is “your spiritual worship” (or, “your rational service“).

Neglect not this third leg of Christianity. It is where you get to see the truth you’ve studied in action, and where you witness your prayers become weapons of warfare. It is where you are allowed to join the holy, sovereign, creating God in the redemptive work He is doing. To reject such an honor is disrespectful. To refuse such a privilege is unthinkable. No man is remembered who does not add service to his study and prayer.

Loving is Exalting

in_loving_memoryIn 1989, I began my sophomore year at Baylor University. My best friend, Kevin, had been hired to be a resident assistant (RA) in the dorms that year and had left our shared state of South Carolina a few weeks prior to attend RA camp and receive his training for the job. I soon followed, arriving at school a week before classes began, so that I could settle into my dorm room early and hang out with my friend.

During Kevin’s off hours, we attended movies, ate together, stayed up late talking, and began the gradual transition to playing racquetball (due to Kevin’s disdain at barely losing in tennis to me most days). The campus was relatively quiet that week, and when Sunday rolled around we stood at the back of the church’s sanctuary, hopelessly looking for a familiar face to sit with. Eventually, Kevin spotted two girls across the sanctuary that he had met at RA camp and suggested we sit with them. I agreed and we walked over. Kevin entered the row first, placing me at one end of the four of us. I later found out that this was a strategic move so that he could sit by the girl he wanted to. But it created a slight awkwardness, so that when I was introduced to the cute brunette at the opposite end, I had to lean forward to casually wave at the woman who would become my wife. Continue reading

Making Marriage Fun Again

marriage1-620x449“Marriage is work.” Have you ever heard that statement before? You probably have, and if you are like many people, your visceral reaction to that little, three-word sentence is “Ugh.” The reason? The word “work” conjures up images of hard labor, calloused hands, low pay, unappreciation, long nights at the office, deadlines, unreasonable expectations, performance reviews, lazy coworkers who shuffle their load onto your desk, and a boss who just loves to micromanage. Who wants a marriage like that?

Instead, we want a marriage where we are excited to be together. Where it may be tough, but we know we can survive the trials of life because we support and encourage each other. We plan together, solve together, laugh together, and argue together. We take dates, raise children, take vacations, bury loved ones, and discover how to help each other accomplish their dreams. We realize that yes, marriage is difficult. It is not easy to navigate situations with someone raised completely different than you. There are responsibilities, and you must take intentional effort to nurture the relationship, but for the most part, marriage is not about the tasks you do. It’s about the person you are with.

So, let me ask you: Which way do you think about your marriage? Or your partner?

Are you keeping your head down, avoiding each other, just trying to make it through the day without any huge conflicts along the way? Or are you looking up, smiling at each other, taking joy in being with the one person who is both your best friend and your true love?

If you are the former, here are some tips that may help put some fun back in your marriage:

  1. Don’t call it a date. Just do things with each other. Lots of things. Relearn to enjoy each other’s presence. For some people, the word “date” connotes pressure to do something special. That’s an old holdover from adolescence. Adults know that getting away from the kids and going to Barnes and Noble for an hour can be just as fun as tickets to Broadway.
  2. The feeling of love comes in both being loved and giving love. If you only define love as “what’s in it for me,” you will either develop the habit of constantly using others for your personal pleasure/gain, or you will continually be disappointed in your partners.
  3. There is a difference between responsibility and pressure. Responsibility is about helping out a person you have a relationship with. Pressure is about fulfilling an obligation. Or, to put it another way, it is the difference between desire and duty.
  4. Find what is funny to your spouse and reintroduce laughter into your marriage through a humorous context that they enjoy.
  5. Reintroduce flirting in your marriage. There is nothing like a little banter charged with the electricity of wit and attraction to make marriage fun again.
  6. Rebuild your friendship with your spouse. Find those areas of commonality, whether it is similar frustrations, likes/dislikes, types of entertainment, opinions, etc., and connect them like Legos through continual communication. C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
  7. Expect nothing in return. Marriage is not a quid pro quo relationship. You give because the other person is valuable to you, and because you want to express the depth of that value to them, not because you will receive a reward in return.
  8. Look for how your spouse likes to demonstrate love to others, then reflect that back to them.
  9. Look for ways you can assist your spouse, whether it is in physical or emotional ways. Tune in to what is going on in their world so that you can either pick up the slack or put an arm around them to get them to the finish line. Romance is in the attention to details in your spouse’s world and attending to them more than ultra-creative moments you design for each other.
  10. Finally, in case you haven’t figured it out yet: Love is a skill, not a feeling. If you are telling yourself “I don’t think I have the ability to do marriage successfully,” it’s okay. No one has that ability in their nature. We are innately selfish creatures. That is why love is the skill of selflessness practiced endlessly with (and for) another person. It is not something that you arrive at through a two-hour seminar or a sermon on Sunday morning. It is a daily practice you engage in.

Dear Teenager…

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-spider-manYou’ve probably heard it all your life. Your parents say it. Your teachers say it. Heck, even your coaches may say it. You’ve heard it so many times, you’re probably sick of it, and even though you think you know what it means, I’m betting that you don’t.

So, as you transition from adolescence to adulthood, I’m going to give you what no one ever gave me, but everyone expected me to understand. Continue reading