Let’s love well and enjoy safety

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Since today is Valentine’s Day here in America, let’s focus on God’s command to love one another.  I’ve always known that being well loved is a gift, but this week I saw how practicing love toward others is also a gift. I’m beginning to think that loving others well, something that often includes ‘bearing’ or helping to carry another’s burden, is a kind of protection against one’s own fear and churn.  It’s been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. So, to fight fear we need to focus on love.  God’s love for us and ours for others.

My second offering to you today is a slim example of why ‘not worrying’ when we can trust Jesus is such a relief.

May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow….. may He make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy….1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

February is ‘Heart Health Month’. We all know that proper nutrition and lots of cardio benefit our hearts.  But God also has a sure remedy to strengthen our hearts.  That is to practice loving one another each day.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it!  Just how can loving others improve my heart condition?  Because it means copying Jesus’ interactions.

Practicing this love thing can be painful at times.  Especially since the logical place to ‘train’ my heart is with my family.

I don’t have to tell you how challenging that is.  To treat someone the way Jesus would involves humility, patience, gentleness and keeping my mouth shut when tempted to blurt out a barb.

I don’t work in an office anymore, but if my family doesn’t provide enough ‘exercise’, there’s always my church family. 

God’s ‘School of Love’ provides one long continuing education program meant to condition the heart.

February 10

….do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11 ESV

We don’t have to be ‘preppers’. Mike and I used to live in Western North Carolina. We occasionally heard tales of locals stockpiling food and supplies in case of future invasion or calamity.

Jesus is an anti-prepper. He teaches that when believers are dragged in front of government officials hostile to the gospel, we don’t have to plan what to say.  The Holy Spirit will speak give us the appropriate words.

Then in verse 23 when describing the end times, Jesus again does not counsel packing food or clothes, but simply commands: But be on guard.  The Greek verb ‘blepo’ means ‘to pay attention, to understand the times’.

What a relief to know we don’t have to worry, to be anxious, to make contingency plans!  How would we prepare anyway? Too many eventualities to think about. Jesus presence is enough.

New potting soil for our marriage

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potting soil  With Valentine’s Day approaching I’ve been thinking about our marriage.  When Mike and I exchanged vows in church, although churchgoers, we ‘lived and moved and had our being’ in contemporary American 20th-century culture. If you had asked us the very strange-sounding question:  “What is your marriage grounded in?” we would have answered with a blank stare of incomprehension.

Had you gently probed with a further query like, “What is the basis for those wedding vows you just spoke?” I know I would have said, “Love!”  Having gotten to know Mike over 9 months, I knew simply that I wanted to be with him permanently.  Marriage made sense, for that reason.  Plus, as Army officers, we couldn’t be guaranteed joint assignments unless we were married.

But as any wedded couple can attest, living with another sinful person is very hard, whether Christian or not.  We experienced the same stress common to husbands and wives.  And at one point, year 20, separation looked like a real possibility.  Why?  Because our marriage was firmly planted in the soil of contemporary American culture where ‘what makes me happy’ is normative.  Worldly colleagues at school counseled me to ‘move on’ if my needs were not being met.

But the Divine Gardner gently repotted us into different soil, through other friends who spoke God’s truth into us.  Gradually their counsel plus sermons centered on teaching on the Biblical God, books on Christian marriage plus our participation in Bible Study Fellowship changed our individual-centered worldview for a God-centered mindset.  This steady feeding gradually weakened the lies we had accepted as true.  That ‘Mike and Maria’ died.  A new ‘Mike and Maria’ continues to grow stronger as God fertilizes and prunes us.

The dirt made all the difference.

Over time we came to understand the true purpose of marriage.  Not at all what I would have expected, certainly not the way I was brought up.  Certainly not what best selling movies and books describe.

Paul describes marriage like this, in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes:

  •  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)

Mike and I are still learning that marriage is NOT about our own ‘happily ever after’, but about covenant keeping and reflecting  (very imperfectly most of the time) the marriage of Jesus and the Church.

As Tim Keller, a pastor in NYC writes: “If we want to be happy in marriage we will accept that marriage is designed to make us holy, not happy. Happiness is a byproduct.”

Mike and I now realize that becoming holy takes a lifetime! Being married IS sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, often ordinary.  But a ‘happy ordinary’ is SO much better now than it was the first 20 years of our relationship.

Just as Jesus will never abandon his commitment and pledge to love his bride, the Church, so too we must not abrogate the earthly union with our spouse that our Father has blessed.

Have ‘fights’ and ‘frustrations’ disappeared?  No, but they are less frequent and not as emotionally charged as they used to be when ‘getting what I want’ was each of our goals.  Mike and I still struggle, but we are learning to love one another sacrificially.  For me, this means keeping my mouth shut instead of letting loose with a sarcastic or unloving response.  A new practice of putting myself in his shoes to understand his perspective feels more right.  I now take very seriously the Father’s charge to me as Mike’s wife – to pray for him and his growth in holiness.  I know that is what will make Mike happiest and me most fulfilled as his wife.

As Peter says in his 1st letter:  ABOVE ALL, love one another deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4: 8)

 

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