Ten Commandments of Marriage, part 2

Last week, I gave the first part of what I called “Ten Commandments of Marriage.” If you missed them, find them here. Now that you have those first five down pat (piece ‘o cake, right?), here are the next five:

6. Laugh together. Life is funny. Sometimes it’s ha-ha funny, sometimes it’s LOL funny, and sometimes it’s are-you-kidding-me-right-now funny. A healthy couple learns to laugh at the funny stuff, as well as the stuff that’s often only funny after the fact. Laughter is a true bonding and uniting experience for two people who are facing all of life together. One marriage and family therapist has observed this truth: Unhappy people reserve laughter for everyone but their mate. Don’t let that be you. Don’t laugh apart; laugh together.

7. Pray together. Even when you don’t feel close to each other, praying together brings you together before the One who holds you together. Praying together is an act of faith, a commitment to unity, regardless of how you feel that particular day. Praying together says: We need God smack dab in the center of our relationship. Without God, we don’t have a prayer. Literally.

8. Never stop doing life together. To me, this is the reminder that we can’t let our marriages slide into a rut, where, for example, every Saturday is the same, or every evening is spent in front of the TV. Instead, marriage should be about going on the adventure of life together. As often happens, though, the adventure morphs into just going through the motions. Psychologist Arthur Aron tells us that doing adventurous things together draws couples closer. So, take the challenge. Don’t let the TV or the internet be the extent of your time together; when you go out together, don’t fall back on the predictable dinner-and-a-movie. Try something new, together. You’ll probably find that it helps you do #6 above. And, if it’s crazy enough, you might find it helps you do #7, too.

9. Learn to listen well. Even though this is #9 on my list of commandments, that’s not an indication of its importance. Listening well is vital. I remember reading someone say that half of ministry is listening. As a minister, that’s a helpful reminder for me. But I also need that prompt for my marriage, too. True listening (the put-down-the-phone-kind-of-listening) is what we need from each other, and what we need to offer to each other. And it needs to be non-judgmental, too. There are plenty of people at our jobs, or in our extended families, who are happy to listen in order to assess our weaknesses and mistakes. That’s not the kind of listening we need from our spouses. Healthy listening is the kind that helps your spouse give voice to her deepest feelings and needs. Often, I think you’ll find that when you truly listen, your spouse will find she is able to give voice to the challenge she faces, and to the way forward. Which means – you’ll look awfully smart, without hardly saying anything at all.

10. Guard your marriage by guarding your heart. I don’t believe any marriage makes it very long without the pull of other attractions. The couple that doesn’t think it can happen to them is the one that … invites it to happen to them. This means that healthy boundaries must be established. Unfettered internet access can be deadly; work relationships without proper boundaries can be devastating; an unguarded heart can lead to broken hearts. The wise couple recognizes: Yes, it CAN happen to us. And they act accordingly. John Leax writes: “As part of the marriage ceremony, a couple promises, before God and gathered witnesses, to be faithful to each other until separated by death. This promise is not demanded by sentiment; it is demanded because everyone present at the marriage knows the truth of human nature. Both bride and groom will change. Ambitions, new dreams, other bodies will attract them. Their only hope for success will be the reach of their vow.”

Their vow: the promise to live and love together til death “do us part.”

As Ephesians 5 points out, this amazing thing called marriage is actually a reflection of Christ & the Church. A picture of love and redemption. Of sacrifice and unity; and sacrifice for the sake of unity.

Easy? No way. Will it take a lot of effort? Absolutely. But in a world where faithfulness and commitment are in short supply, marriages that last are a glimpse of grace and growth. And also a place where Jesus is reflected.

Ten Commandments of Marriage, part 1

What is the most popular month to get married? April? May? June?

How about … October? It’s true. Couples are increasingly migrating away from spring and summer (and, apparently, the challenges of rain and heat) – and moving toward the fall. And we’re now told that the single most popular month to tie the knot is October.

We have 2 weddings in our church sanctuary next month – in a room where even one a month is a lot for us. So, if 2 is a trend, then the stats are right. Brides are increasingly telling their husbands to show up at the altar in October.

As I finished up premarital counseling with one of those 2 couples, I shared with them my “Ten Commandments of Marriage.” These ‘commandments’ aren’t written in stone, at least not in mosaic form. But they are a summary of what I have come to believe is vital for couples to pursue as they pursue life together. So, whether you are getting married in October, or you might someday get married, or you are currently navigating life with a spouse, here are my thoughts on what you need to know:

  1. Commit to a life time of growing together. Marriage is a decision to journey together no matter where the journey takes you. In a world that is increasingly hedging its bets when it comes to marriage, many believe that saying “I do” is similar to saying “Maybe.” But you can’t build a life on maybe. Marriage is not for the timid; it is for those ready to commit to facing life united with another person. Which leads to #2…
  1. Be ready for it to be hard. Is anything in life easy? I mean, anything that matters? Whether it’s Calculus or calculating how much you’ll need for retirement, whether it’s building a house or building a life, if you are going to accomplish something meaningful, it’s going to take some meaningful commitment. You simply will not get by in marriage on your feelings. You will not last in marriage if you expect the honeymoon to last. This isn’t to say that marriage is tedious or tiring – though it will be sometimes. It’s simply the recognition that the look of love in your eyes on your October wedding day will one day fade; and some days that look might be one of anger, or frustration, or “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” If you know that going in, you won’t be surprised when it happens. And your first thought won’t be: Well, this is hard, so maybe it’s not going to work out…. Instead, you can think: Wow, this is hard. Guess it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I mean, short of winning the lottery, no one expects something as meaningless as money to come easily; so why would we expect something as meaningful as marriage to be easy?
  1. Love like Jesus, trust in Jesus, depend on him to guide you. You don’t have to be married to learn this, but marriage is certainly a great teacher: You can’t do life on your own. Each of us (married or single) was made by our Creator to be in relationship with Him. The sooner we learn that, the sooner we can choose to submit to His leadership – and the sooner we can become what He has made us to be. I mean, really – what better way to learn you are flawed then to get married? Nothing cures idolatry better than marriage, for we all live life, at some point, as our own little god. Sooner or later, you find out you’re not. Sooner is preferable. Marriage helps that sooner happen. And when it does, you can then come to realize that the way forward in life is to receive the love of Jesus, and let it teach you and flow through you. If you’re married, to your spouse. If you’re a parent, to your kids. Or if you just simply happen to be human, then Jesus’ love changes how you live and love among other humans. The way to be the husband/wife/parent/human you are called to be? Begin with the love of Jesus, and let it be your guide.
  1. Work for unity. I guess this flows naturally out of #2 & #3. If marriage is hard, then a married couple needs to realize that they will have to work for unity. And if they trust in Jesus, then they have what they need for that unity to happen. Their unity is not based on what they have in common, but on Who they have in common. A couple can be very different, even as they change over time, but if Jesus is the center of their life, He is then the author of their unity. And He doesn’t change. Again, it’ll take work. But it will not be because a husband and wife agree on a thousand different points, but that they agree on this one truth: Jesus brings us together, and teaches us how to live together.
  1. Find an older, mentor couple. Find a couple who has traveled the path of marriage longer than you have. Invite them to dinner. Watch how they do life. Learn from them. As the divorce rate increases, it’s going to be increasingly important for younger couples to find older examples. And, it’s going to be especially important that couples who have shared decades together take on the responsibility of encouraging and supporting younger couples. Whatever your age or the length of your marriage, don’t simply make friends with couples in the same situation as you are. Reach across generations to learn from, and share with, those who need to learn from, and teach, you.

Ok, that’s my first five. If God needed 2 tablets, surely I can take 2 blog posts for my Ten Commandments. So, come back next week for my second five.

Some thoughts on racism & prejudice

Jesus said: The poor you will always have with you. He’s right. But that also makes me wonder: What else will we always have with us in this life? If you took that phrase, and put a __________ in place of the word poor, how else could you begin this sentence:

___________ you will always have with you.

Here are some words that I think fit that space:

  1. Greed
  2. Gossip
  3. Grief
  4. Girls (That’s a good thing, especially since I’m married to one. And have two who call me Dad. And who, one day, will give me grandkids. Hey, that’s another really good G.)
  5. Grace (Thank God … Hey, there’s another really good one that also fits in the blank.)
  6. Gratitude
  7. Grumpiness (for those who choose not to cultivate item #6)
  8. Generosity (for those who DO choose to cultivate item #6)
  9. Government (That’s a good thing, right? Right?)
  10. Glasses (for me, at least)

There are a lot of things we will always have with us in this life. And that’s just 12 things that start with G. Some good. Some bad. Some, somewhere in between. We could fill that blank with a LOT of things, and we could make this blog very long. But let me just add one more thing we will always have with us in this life: Racism.

I wish it weren’t so. I wish that we could look forward to the day when racism would be done away with in this age where we live. But we can’t – because even though most people would run from the term, and a large majority of people have no desire to be racist, it will persist, for 2 reasons.

One, we are a people beset by sin. And sin is certainly not getting less, but more. And racism is sin.

Two, even those of us who would (appropriately) run from the label of racist, struggle with Racism’s cousin, Prejudice. And the truth, as I see it, is that prejudice is a part of every human heart.

Why? Because prejudice happens when I pre-judge someone. Before knowing them, or even knowing much about them, I am pretty good at subtly evaluating them, and making a judgment about them. In other words, pre-judging them – showing prejudice.

Let me go on to say that I don’t believe that all pre-judging is wrong. The truth is: all of us make quick decisions about people, based on little information. For me, the issue isn’t that we pre-judge; it’s what we DO with what our mind is telling us about that person, or that group, that we are assessing.

For example, I can look at you and decide that because you  (again, fill in the blank):

  • are old
  • are young
  • have long hair
  • have white hair
  • wear ripped jeans
  • wear an $800 suit
  • speak Spanish
  • speak poor English
  • don’t speak much at all

…you’re not like me, or you ARE like me – and then make decisions accordingly.

In other words, prejudice evaluates people on their differences. Racism, then, is one way we might choose to treat the person based on those differences. You see, I can’t help but notice what makes you different from me. But I can choose how I act (or not) on those perceptions.

There is NO doubt that Jesus came to set aside our differences. Not ignore them, but recognize them – and in the midst of them, call us to a unity we would never have on our own. At the very heart of the Good News of Jesus is that ALL are invited to drink of the water of life. In fact, as Travis & Dena Hurley point out in a very helpful article: inclusion of Gentiles in the family of God is at the very heart of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t come simply to invite individuals to receive His grace; He deliberately came inviting Jew & Gentile, slave & free, male & female, old & young, black, white and brown to experience His grace –together. In other words, Jesus invites us to look beyond our prejudices, and choose to welcome, and love, those who are different. And because the Spirit is at work, He brings us together, differences and all, and makes us one.

Sadly, racism will always be a reality in this world, because sin will always be a reality. But at the very center of the Church’s calling is to live another way, to BE another way; to allow the Spirit to lead us not to be defined by what separates us, but what unites us; to continue to grow in Gracism, not Racism – even as we look forward to The Day when all sin, all division, all racism will be done away with. Forever.

None & Done?

If you ask a lady in a black tunic what she is, and you ask many young people what kind of faith they have, their answer will sound the same, but mean completely different things – Nun, and None. You’ve heard of the rise of the Nones, haven’t you? Not little ladies in religious habits, but young people who’ve given up religious habits.

The rise of the Nones (people, many of them young, who claim to be atheist, agnostic, or have no religious affiliation) has caused no small amount of angst. As young people exit the Church, with hardly a wave goodbye – or, who have no experience with church, or desire to experience church – there are plenty of people sounding the alarm bells. Understandably so. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 1 out of 3 millennials (born between 1981 & 1996) claim to be a None. Nearly 1 out of 4 American adults now identifies as a None. Or, put another way: for every person in America who moves from outside a religious community into one, four are going out the door in the opposite direction.

Not only are they disconnected from communities of faith, they are very skeptical of Christians. Of young people in our country who don’t participate in church, Barna says that 87% say they see Christians as judgmental, and 85% label us as hypocritical. And when given a choice of four images that they believe best represent the Church, most millennials (and most Americans) pick the picture of a pointed finger hovering over an open Bible. barna church images

There’s no sugar-coating it. These stats and facts are hard to swallow. American millennials – and Americans – are rapidly changing. The old assumptions don’t work for us anymore; we can no longer take faith for granted in the wider culture.

All of this can lead those of us who carry the name of Jesus to be pretty discouraged. Or frustrated. Or fearful. Or resigned to the way things are now. Or apathetic. Even angry.

Which of those words would I pick to describe our current situation? None. (Pun intended.) The word those stats point me to? Opportunity.

I see our current reality as a real opportunity to really be what we say we are; to really live what Jesus calls us to live. Instead of agonizing over the rapid changes in our culture and the resulting skepticism, we have an opportunity to stop taking things for granted, and get busy being the Church.

And what millennials need to see is a Church that loves like Jesus loved, and values what Jesus valued. People. The hurting, the heartbroken, the hopeless. Millennials – and all Nones of all varieties – need to see followers of Jesus who are focused on what matters, united around grace and pouring it out in ample supply.

The days for arguing over unimportant stuff are over. But so are the days of trying to entertain or excite people with the latest and greatest. Instead, the path for a renewed Church is rather simple: Live and love like Jesus. Speak his truth, not sacrificing grace or truth. And don’t just talk about grace; live it. Worry less about what people think about Church, and point them to Jesus. Be less focused on their hairstyle, or tattoos, or clothing choices, and see in them someone to love.

What if every millennial had a parent or grandparent-type person (biological or spiritual) who cared so much for them that they met them right where they are, staying connected to them, loving them like Jesus loves them? What if, instead of worrying so much about how we do worship, we spent more time caring about who is missing from worship? And what if, instead of seeing the younger generation as people to preach at, we see them as persons to welcome into?

All of it, I think, begins when we see this present age, not as something to fear, but as a season to embrace – to receive as a God-given opportunity to show His grace to a new generation.