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Bitter: Amplify the Sweetness

SweeTarts - Bitter SweetRuth 1

SCRIPTURE

Ruth 1:16-18, “…wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (NLT)

OBSERVATION

Bitter. Why do love stories always seem to start with something so bitter? The Book of Ruth is a love story. It’s a story about family. It’s the story of a Mother-in-Law who suffered great loss and a Daughter-in-Law blessed by and a blessing to her entire family.

SPOILER ALERT. It’s great to know the end of the story. Ruth returns to Judah with Naomi. Ruth meets and marries a son of Israel. The coolest part of all? Through the bloodline of Ruth is born David, King of Israel. Through his bloodline would come Jesus, redeemer and Savior of all. That sounds big. It sounds significant. It sounds important. It sounds blessed.

But that’s not how Naomi felt. She was Ruth’s Mother-in-Law. She is part of this bloodline and a significant part of the story too. But in chapter one she doesn’t feel blessed. She feels bitter. Rightfully so, I think.

She met and married the love of her life. Moved from her homeland. Gave birth to two sons. What  happens next is tragic. Her husband dies. Both sons die. She’s left living in a land of foreigners where the economy has crashed, food is hard to come by and she’s the one responsible for her household, two morning Daughters-in-Law.

Mara, bitter, numb – it’s all Naomi has left to feel. Desperate, she returns to her homeland. Her Daughters-in-law follow. Naomi knows what it’s like to live far from home. She graciously releases her Daughters-in-law to return to their family. One goes. Ruth stays. My wife and I borrowed her words for our wedding vows.

“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Through the tragic and bitter beginning to the story of Naomi and Ruth is a glimmer of hope, a brief glimpse of love that cuts through bitterness and out lives tragedy. Naomi had won the heart of Ruth.

There was much to morn. Bitterness seems like the appropriate response. But just beneath the surface of bitterness was the sweet center of genuine love that will eventually write the story of salvation for you and me.

APPLICATION

Have you ever had a Sweetart? People deliberately put these bitter pills in their mouth for the sweetness that will later come if only they hold on. This is the pain of bitterness Naomi experienced. Certainly she suffered tragedy. Bitterness was an appropriate response. But she held on. Ruth encouraged her. Her family helped her. And in the end she became great-grandmother to kings. The bitterness of this moment amplified the sweetness of the next.

Life will have bitter moments. The relationships you build before the bitterness can sustain you. Don’t take them for granted. The end of the thing is better than its beginning. Hold on. God is working out the divine story of his relentless affection for you.

Are you living through a bitter season now? Hold on. There’s sweetness ahead.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Help. In moments of tragedy, when things don’t go my way, when the odds are stacked against me, when everything falls apart – help. I love and trust you. I believe you have my best interest at heart. I believe you know what’s best for me. I know that you are able to do exceedingly abundantly above all I ask or think. In my bitter moments give me the presence of mind to remember that the bitterness of this moment amplifies the sweetness of the next. Give me the strength to hold on. Help me trust and follow you in difficult times and celebrate and honor you when things are good. Thank you for my marriage and my family. I am blessed through them. Bless them with your favor today.

I love you, in Jesus name –
Chad

A Holy Marriage | Licensed By God

The most difficult and most significant thing you will ever learn is how to have healthy relationships.

The other day I stood in the hallway at church with my wife. It had been a busy morning and we hadn’t really seen each so we were taking a minute to catch up. We didn’t have long. I had to head one direction, she had to go another. At the end of our conversation I gave her a hug and a kiss. Nothing sloppy, just the standard, “See ya soon, you’re more than a friend,” kind of kiss. As I did, someone walked by, “Hey! No P.D.A.!” They teased. They didn’t mean Petting Dumb Animals. They meant Public Displays of Affection.

Quickly, I turned, pointed to my wedding ring and said, “It’s not a problem. We’ve got a license!”

It was a good natured joke intended to tease and slightly embarrass. My response was a lighthearted attempt to deflect and turn that embarrassment into something funny. We all went our separate ways smiling. But it made me think. My wife and I really are licensed. We’re licensed by God and the State. We’ve got pictures to prove it. We both signed and submitted a contract to the State of Oklahoma. There was a wedding ceremony, held in a church and officiated by a minister of the gospel. At the end that minister prayed then said, “By the power vested in me by God and the State of Oklahoma, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

As husband and wife we’ve been given the blessing of God (and the state), not only to be together, but to fully enjoy the benefits of what being together as husband and wife can mean. God smiles on our relationship. As a husband, I’ve been set apart for Londa. As a wife, she has been set apart for me. As a couple, we have been set apart by God to become a family.

There’s a Bible word for this, “Holy”.

The word holy means, ‘set apart for God’s purpose.’ Your marriage is not simply about the union of a man and a woman. Fairytale weddings and happily-ever-afters are only one possible part of the story. Those challenges we face learning to live together, love together and stay together are the practice field where God shapes and reshapes us both to become more like Him and live out His purpose in our marriage and community. Marriage can be a beautiful picture of the relationship God has with Believers.

Let’s be honest, most people don’t think of themselves as holy, let alone their marriage. Don’t let the word intimidate you. Holiness isn’t about religious ceremony, or pompous self-righteousness. It’s really about God’s intention for you and His relationship to you and your spouse.

I’ve heard people say, “In my life, God is number one, my spouse is number two and everything else falls in place after that.” They act as though God is asking them to make a choice between Him and their spouse. It’s a noble sentiment, but it’s not what God intends for a married couple. The Bible says, ‘the two become one.’

In a holy marriage, God is number one and the two are becoming one. 

God’s not competing with your spouse for your attention or affection. He should be number one, while you and your spouse are becoming one. It builds an interesting dynamic into your relationship. It’s like a love triangle with God at the top. The closer you and your spouse grow to God, the closer you will be to one another.

Don’t settle for an average marriage. Don’t stop with healthy or happy. If you’re married, you’re licensed by God to explore the richest depths of intimacy imaginable. Discover what it means to have a holy marriage.

1 Peter 1:16, “As it is written, ‘Be holy, as I am holy.”

Matthew 19:5, “…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one…” 


More on this topic…

A Happy Marriage | Who Do You Like Most?

The most difficult and most significant thing you will ever do is learn to have healthy relationships.

Do you remember Chip ‘n’ Dale? No, not the dancers. The two Disney chipmunks with a nose for trouble. They spent most of their time trying to outwit other Disney characters. This dynamic duo were always collecting something. Sometimes they tried to fill their tree with acorns. Other times they were after apples. In one episode they pestered Donald for pancakes. When they weren’t collecting they were defending their home from someone who wanted to chop it down. Whatever they did, they did together.

I don’t know how often this happened, but I remember it happening a lot. Chip ‘n’ Dale always had trouble going through doors. It wasn’t because they couldn’t open them or because one was trying to push past the other, but because they would hold the door open for one another. The exchange would go something like this:

“You first.”
“No, you first.”
“I insist, you first.”
“No, really, go ahead.”
“No, no, no, no, no, you first.”

They would eventually laugh and make their way through the door together. I think they unwittingly illustrated the secret of a happy marriage. Prefer one another.

Happily married couples like each other. Love may be the foundation of their relationship, but like is the foreman that builds the house. That’s not a terribly romantic statement. It’s not the fiery catalyst of passion or the sappy sentiment of a Hallmark card. It’s the practical nuts and bolts that make a house a home and help hold a marriage together.

Happy couples like one another. Happy couples prefer one another.

Every relationship is built on core values, family values and preferences.

  • Core Values – represent those non-negotiable ideas that make us who we are. For some, this is expressed through religious belief. For other’s it’s political persuasion. Your core values define who you are, the way you think and how you act. The key word for recognizing core values is ‘non-negotiable’. If it’s a value you can give up or give away, it’s probably not a core value. It’s rare for people with vastly different core values to get together.
  • Family Values – represent those ideas that define how we do things in this house. My kids go to bed around 8:30pm. Yours may go to bed earlier or later. It’s not a hard and fast rule. It’s one that can change, but generally everyone in the family knows and agrees that this is the way things are done in this house. Some couples get together because they have similar family values. The comfortable feel of the familiar draws them together. Other people get together because they hate the family values they grew up with so they find someone who is completely opposite. Together they define a new way of doing things.
  • Preferences – represent the way I would like it. You’re a little country. I’m a little rock and roll. I like the room cold. You like it hot. I prefer movies with explosions. You like the ones that make you cry. Preferences aren’t house rules. Ignoring a preference won’t violate the core of we are. Preferences define what we like.

In a happy marriage couples prefer one another. They pay attention to the preferences of their spouse and give in to those preferences. They hold doors open.

“You first.”
“No, you first.”

It’s not one sided. The husband sets aside his preferences for the benefit of his wife. The wife sets aside her preferences for the benefit of her husband. They don’t do this out of obligation or duty. They do it because they like one another. They do it because they like how they feel when they successfully make their spouse feel special.

Do you want to know the secret of a happy marriage? It comes down to a question. Who do you like the most, you or your spouse? Learn to like your spouse. Discover each others preferences then work to see who can out prefer the other. Every door you face you’ll walk through together.

Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”


More on this topic…

A Healthy Marriage | I Choose You

The most difficult and most significant thing you will ever learn is how to have healthy relationships.

Marriage is the truest test of that statement. Two people meet, fall in love, have a wedding, and start building a life together. Why do some marriages thrive while others fail? As a Christ-follower you might be tempted to answer ‘faith’, but the divorce rate among religious people is virtually identical to the rest of the world. As a romantic you might be tempted to say ‘love’, but I’ve met people who tell me they love one another, they just can’t live with one another. So what it is it? How can two, clearly flawed individuals come together and stay together?

The answer isn’t complicated, but it is hard. You understand the difference, right? Losing weight isn’t complicated. Eat fewer calories than you burn and you’ll lose weight. Not complicated, but definitely hard. Like staying out of debt. Spend less than you make and you’ll be debt free. Not complicated, but clearly hard. The key to a healthy marriage is the same. It’s about choice.

In healthy marriages both the husband and wife have made a clear choice. Spoken or unspoken they’ve looked at one another and said:

  • I choose you – above all others.
  • I choose you – above myself.
  • I choose you – above my children.
  • I choose you – above my career.
  • I choose you – regardless of income.
  • I choose you – in spite of your weirdness.
  • I choose you – in spite of my quirkiness.
  • I choose you – so I will forgive when you’re wrong.
  • I choose you – so I will repent when I’m wrong.
  • I choose you – so I will give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • I choose you – even when I think you’re stupid.
  • I choose you – even when you treat me like I’m stupid.
  • I choose you – when we’re in debt.
  • I choose you – when we have more than we ever dreamed possible.
  • I choose you – when you succeed.
  • I choose you – when you fail.
  • I choose you – when you’re nice.
  • I choose you – when you’re not so nice.
  • I choose you – when you’re beautiful.
  • I choose you – when you’re messy.
  • I choose  you – when you’re healthy.
  • I choose you – when you’re hurting.
  • I choose you – when we agree.
  • I choose you – when we disagree.
  • I choose you – when all’s right with the world.
  • I choose you – when everything falls apart.
  • I choose you – when life is busy and we don’t get to see each other.
  • I choose you – in those quiet moments that it’s just the two of us.
  • I choose you – your dreams, desires, & hopes.
  • I choose you – your hurts, habits & hang ups.
  • I choose you – your family, yes, even your mother.
  • I choose you – above my own rights or opinions. This is mutual submission out of mutual respect.
  • In light of every other possibility  – I choose you.

If you’re married, it’s because you and your spouse made a choice. If you’re not, it’s because you or your spouse made a choice.

Your marriage can improve. Let your spouse know. I choose you.

Colossians 3:18-19, “Wives, submit to your husbands…Husbands, love your wives.”

Good For; Good To

Do you ever meet a couple that seems mismatched? Maybe they’ve been married for 15 or 20 years but something just doesn’t seem to fit. How could a couple with a woman that smart and a man that daft stay together for so long? How is it possible that someone so driven and organized could endure someone so listless and free-spirited? What is it that holds together a relationship that seems built on a foundation of contradictions. She’s a little bit country. He’s a little bit rock and roll. She likes long walks in the park. He likes good seats at Fenway Park.

I think ‘good for; good to’ is part of the answer. I love to talk with couples about what brought them and keeps them together. There’s all the standard comments: Love, respect, communication, patience, an occasional knock on the head with a frying pan. But sometimes they cut through the usual list of responses and say something truly interesting.

“She’s good for me.” I heard one friend say. “Before I met her I was a knucklehead. Today, I’m a recovering knucklehead with occasional relapses.” We had a good laugh. I thought I’d get in a friendly jab, “That explains why you’re with her. Why does she stick with you!?”

He got serious for a moment and didn’t miss a beat, “She’s good for me. I try to be good to her. It just works.”

Ephesians 5:22-33 gives us a brief snapshot of how to have a healthy, happy, even holy marriage. It could be summed up in this one principle: “Mutual submission out of mutual respect.”

It could be said as a series of questions:

  • Will you be good for or good to your spouse today?
  • Will you look out for their interests and their needs before your own?
  • Will you give more of yourself to them than you think you can afford and trust God to provide? (A good definition of sacrifice.)
  • Will you be willing to repent when you’re wrong and forgive when you’re right?
  • Will you value your relationship more than your own rights or opinions?

How we answer questions like these determines whether or not those mismatched couples will go the distance.

Good for | Good to – which are you?

Some Thoughts on Divorce

Mark 10:1-12 & Matthew 19:1-10 (click the verses to read them at Biblegateway.com) provide pretty succinct Biblical discussions on divorce. In these passages Jesus tells us that Moses allows for divorce because people have hard hearts. He then quotes Old Testament Scriptures that say divorce is not what God intends.

Matthew 19 indicates that sexual immorality may be legitimate grounds for divorce, but if you read it closely this passage isn’t really granting people permission for divorce. It’s actually saying that if you divorce for any reason except sexual immorality then once you or your former spouse remarry you’ll be committing adultery. It doesn’t really say, “Because of sexual immorality, divorce is okay.”

To be clear, it says, “Divorce is bad, don’t do it. If you think divorce is your only option count the cost and consider what the affects will be.”

Divorce is only a legitimate option because of the hard hearts of people. Sometimes this hardness of heart leads to adultery. Sometimes to wrath. If someone is in a physically abusive situation they should get out now.

The End of Grace

Divorce, historically, has carried a stigma, as though God somehow considers divorce more wicked than other sins or divorced people second class citizens. This simply is not true. From a spiritual perspective, divorce represents the end of what is almost always a long list of unrighteousness. The tragedy of divorce is not simply the damage done to a family but that divorce represents the end of grace. It’s two people saying to one another, “There is no hope for repentance, reconciliation or restoration between us. I’m giving up on you.” I believe this is why God hates divorce (not divorced people). Scripture is clear about the grace God has given those who believe. He is faithful even when we are unfaithful. His love for us remains sure, His grace remains strong and His mercy is everlasting in spite of how often we disobey or disappoint.

One design God has for marriage is that it should be a picture of His relationship with His people. It’s simply contrary to His character to give up on His people. When a couple gets a divorce they destroy that picture.

God is so passionate about His faithfulness to us that he once commanded an Old Testament prophet, Hosea, to marry a prostitute in order to illustrate His relationship to His people. God told Hosea, in spite of her unfaithfulness and adultery stay with her, love and cherish her. You are an example of my (God’s) relationship with Israel. They are my people, they have been unfaithful to me, but I will remain faithful to them. Nothing will separate them from my love.

I know couples whose marriage has survived the misery and devastation of adultery. They survived because the unfaithful spouse asked for forgiveness and the faithful spouse gave it. It’s a choice I’m not sure I could make. But I’ve seen it happen on multiple occasions. These marriages, like Hosea’s, have served as an example of God’s faithfulness in spite of our unfaithfulness.

I’m not suggesting that remaining married in the face of adultery is the first, best or only choice. Just like everything else in marriage it takes two. It takes one to seek forgiveness and one to give it. In most marriages both people need to ask forgiveness of one another and give it. It takes both repentance and forgiveness. That’s what leads to a restored relationship. If no one is willing to repent it’s impossible to offer the kind of forgiveness that leads to a restored relationship.

In the end Moses was right. Adultery, outbursts of wrath, selfishness, envy, uncontrolled and unreasonable spending, an unwillingness to repent or forgive – all these things represent a hardening of the heart that can (and likely will) lead to the end of a marriage. Are they ‘legitimate and Biblical’ grounds for divorce? Legitimate, maybe – Biblical, I’m not so sure.

In the end God’s desire is the same, remain faithful to one another. Keep your promise. Anything less is not His perfect intent for you and your spouse.

Practical Thoughts

If you’ve been divorced – You’ve lived through one of the most painful life events a person can experience. You may feel shame or failure. You may feel freedom. Whatever the case I can assure you of a couple of things:

  1. God loves you. You have not done anything that God cannot redeem.
  2. You have a future. It may involve another marriage, it may not. Either way, it’s never too soon to begin practicing faithfulness.

Your divorce happened because someone hardened their heart. How will you cultivate a pure heart that willingly yields to God?

If you’re considering divorce – You are living through one of the most painful life events a person can experience. You may feel shame or failure. Whatever the case I can assure you of a few of things:

  1. God loves you. You have not done anything that God cannot redeem.
  2. Count the cost – divorce will cost you something. It will cost your kids. You will break a promise to your spouse and your children. Is the price worth paying?
  3. Someone has hardened their heart. Examine yourself. Is it you? Is it both of you? Is there room for grace? Are you willing to forgive? Are you willing to ask for forgiveness?
  4. You have a future. It’s never too soon to begin practicing faithfulness.