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It’s spring in the South so that means I am busy in the yard.  One task that was always low on my list of spring tasks was pruning the plants.  I wasn’t fond of loping off part of a living plant.  I also wasn’t very confident that I was doing it correctly.  Finally, I wasn’t sure it was all that important.  I mean plants in the wild don’t have somebody coming through and pruning them do they?  As I’ve grown in my gardening skills and lived a number of years, I’ve come to not just practice pruning because I have to, but to value it and even look forward to the opportunity to give the essential care that pruning provides.  And I’ve learned pruning isn’t just good for the plants in my yard.  Pruning is good for me too.

My introduction to pruning was as a young lad working the family garden with my Dad.  We often grew a number of tomato plants and Dad taught me that we had to pinch off the “suckers” in the crotches of the tomato branches.  It seems that as the plant grows it will focus it’s energy into making more and more branches and more leaves, but at the expense of producing fruit.  By removing the suckers we are encouraging the plant to produce the tomatoes it was made for.

That made sense so I have always pinched the suckers on my tomato plants, but I didn’t really see the connection with a lot of my other plants.  Later we had some roses and I noticed that the first year they looked very nice all season long.  The second year not so much.  As the third season rolled around I read about pruning my roses.  It said I could remove up to 1/3 of the plants growth in pruning and that I should focus upon sick, damaged, and dead wood.  Well I set out carefully making small snips here and there removing the material that fit that definition.  It was extremely time consuming.  I also got pricked more than once.  And after I had finished a rose bush it didn’t look much different than when I started.

My wife came out after I had finished about half the bushes and she asked what I was doing.  When I told her, she said, “Oh, I know how to prune roses, but that’s not how you do it.”  After I explained to her what I had read she responded in her usual, loving way, “Yeah, but that not how you do it.  Why don’t you go get the ones around the side of the house and I will finish these in the front.”  I was all for getting a little help.  As I walked around the house I wondered what was left to do.

I hadn’t finished the first of the rose bushes on the side of the house when Lisa came around the corner with hedge shears in her hand and said she was through.  Alarm bells went off as I noticed the crooked grin on her face and the way she said she was through.  As I rushed to the front I saw piles of rose bush clippings scattered everywhere and the roses I had labored over for over an hour had been reduced to just a few stems and leaves.  Horrified at how this mangled mess of roses now looked, I suddenly realized I had left my wife alone… with the hedge shears… by the defenseless roses on the side of the house.  I ran back just in time to see her finish massacring the last of the roses.  I was stunned.  She stood up with pieces of rose leaves in her hair and on her shirt, put her hand on her hip and asked, “Well, what do you think?”  “You’ve killed our roses,” was all I could say.

Four weeks later the roses were more beautiful than they had ever been.  I couldn’t believe it.  I learned a lesson that season.  Pruning can invigorate plants that look healthy and good, but have so much more to offer.

While my wife provided a practical lesson in the benefits of pruning, I realize that this is exactly what Jesus told us in John 15:1-2.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  Jesus told us these same principles apply in our lives.  As I reflect back over my life, I can see so many ways in which I have been pruned.  I mentioned in my last post about losing my job a year ago.  That was a time of extreme pruning that I am now so thankful for.

A difference between people and plants is that we can be more active participants in the pruning process.  Lent, this season of anticipation as we approach Easter, is a wonderful time to ask the Father what might be appropriate to remove from our lives.  Some things that come to mind is any number of addictive behaviors, poor eating habits, or excessive social media.  Another area where God wants us to join Him in the pruning process might be in relationships.  A lesson I have learned is that not every person we meet is someone we should build a relationship with.  There are toxic relationships that we need to avoid or are not to remain in.  This type of pruning is often among the most difficult, but also the most beneficial for all involved.

When I mention this, it is important to realize that the person with whom we would have a toxic relationship with, can have a meaningful relationship with the person God chooses.  Our staying in a toxic relationship just might be the thing that prevents them and us, from moving forward in our lives.  Note, this is not about leaving a marriage, but rather any number of other relationships including dating, work, and other social interactions.  In marriage, it is important to realize that our priority relationship is with our spouse, so pruning will occur to build a stronger and healthier marriage.

I remember one working relationship that I had where God used pruning in an amazing way.  Early in my career I worked for Mr. R for about a year before I was promoted into another area.  Mr. R was a rather big personality.  He could be a schmoozer when he needed your help, but he was a rather cantankerous individual on many occasions.  Within a few years I was promoted again and now I had Mr. R working for me.  In my new role, the big personality that was merely a distraction when I worked with him, became a serious thorn in my side as a member of my team.  We worked together for about 6 years and there were so many times when he pushed me to my limits.  Interestingly, God wouldn’t let me stop loving this man even though he frustrated me to death.  I distinctly remember leaving a confrontation with him one day heading to my office as angry as I ever remember being.  I was going to begin official discipline.  But as I got to the stairwell, the Spirit of God overwhelmed me with love for this man, even while I was still stewing over his impertinence.  Prayer and serious pleading with God ensued.  Interestingly, it was not long after this that Mr. R retired.  A pruning occurred.  But that is not the end of the story.  While he was out of my life, the hours of prayer and sharing the faith had not been in vain.  Mr. R found himself in a serious life crisis a few years later and in the midst of this, he came to faith.  We renewed our relationship and I was blessed to find that God had worked a miracle in his life.  He was a new man.

Pruning is now one of the first chores I tackle each spring.  I realize it accomplishes more than I ever imagined.  And if I sense the Father pointing to areas in me that need pruning, I don’t pull back any longer.  I submit to His good work.  “Lord, you are the Master Gardener.  Accomplish Your good and perfect will in me.  Prune in the manner I need.  To You be the glory!”  

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

 

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I love my wife.  I realized I loved her fairly early in our relationship and it was with great joy that she said yes to my marriage proposal after we had been dating about 5 months.  During this time I have never not loved Lisa.  I wish I could say that she has always felt loved, but I know that at times she has not.  This realization has been one arrived at through a rather drawn-out season of learning.  The Lord kept bringing me back to Ephesians 5:25 until I finally learned and acted upon His prompting to take love to another level.  Here is my post with my friend as we walk through Proverbs.  This is from Friday’s reading in chapter 5.

Proverbs 5:18.  “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”
Lisa and I have been married for over 30 years.  Any couple that has been together for any time has had their share of difficulties.  We have had ours although in God’s grace, none have been too serious.  Probably our most persistent issue has been that we get too busy with our jobs, activities, and doing things for the kids that we forget to take time to nurture our marriage.  Make no mistake – the most important earthly relationship a married person has is the one with their spouse.
I went through a season beginning about 7 years ago that the message the Lord laid on my heart was Ephesians 5:25.  “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her…”   This went on for about 4 years.  During that time I repeatedly tried to “Band-Aid” an acceptable response.  I would take this prompting to mean that I needed to “do more” for Lisa, which I would do for a while, but I would soon drift back into busy-ness.  I would again notice the lack of passion and depth in our marriage and I would seek the Lord and He would point to the same verse.  Now I have sought to walk closely with the Lord for 32 years.  I know Him to be real.  He has actively guided me.  For the majority of the time prior to this, there were things He would bring to light that needed changing in me, sometimes it might take me a little while to get it right, but usually in short order He had brought about the change in me He desired and the next lesson would begin.  So for a single lesson to continue for 4 years was different and very humbling.  God had to eventually break me in a very painful and powerful manner.  You can read about it in depth in this blog in the post entitled “Broken Legs, Mended Hearts”.
Here are a few truths that I learned from that season that tie into this verse in Proverbs.
1) Our relationship with our wife is the best barometer of our relationship with God.  If we can’t get the relationship right with the most important human being who we can see, we will struggle with the relationship with the most important One who we happen to be unable to see yet.
2)  God knows the deep things that must be rooted out in our lives.  He loves us enough that He will do the work that needs to be done to get them out.
3)  The first step is not adding more “spiritual” things to our to-do list.  The first step is dying to self and allowing God to replace our wishes, wants, and desires with His desires.
There is an amazing thing that has happened since I reached a deeper place of dying to self and better serving Lisa.  God immediately put a fresh love for Lisa in my heart.  Before anything actually changed in our relationship, God was already making changes inside of me that would become the fertile ground that grew a renewed and deeper love between us.  In a practical way, my love began expressing itself in her love language again which is Quality Time.  My love language is Acts of Service which isn’t on Lisa’s love language radar at all, so all my work to try and show her love in my love language missed the mark.  As God worked in my heart I didn’t have to consciously think about how to show her love.  Since we have been through the Love Language training and recognize the truths of the Five Love Languages my brokenness now sought to effectively demonstrate itself to her.  However since our love had gotten stale and we both were so busy, we had forgotten the need to be intentional in this area.  Once I started truly dying to what I wanted, I became focused upon pleasing Lisa and our relationship has grown and blossomed.  It has been really great the past three years or so.
Oh, I almost forgot.  The fact that I was dying to my desires did not mean that my deepest desires now were totally neglected.  The good ones, the godly ones, the best ones now became the desire of my wife.  God began prompting Lisa to meet my needs at a much deeper level too.
There is a lot of godly wisdom in the verses of Proverbs 5, particularly about avoiding the temptations of the wayward or adulterous woman.  However I have found that if I focus upon doing the BEST thing, I don’t have to spend nearly as much time and effort on not doing all the wrong things.  Dying to self and loving your spouse in practical ways are two sides of the same coin.  Here’s to doing the BEST thing.
I hope you enjoy today’s reading.  Drop me a comment or ask a question if you would get a chance.  I’d love to interact with some of my readers.
Be blessed and be a blessing to someone today.

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I have a friend who agreed to walk through Proverbs with me over the month of June.  We are going to each read a chapter a day and then share our thoughts about one verse from the chapter that impressed us.  Here are thoughts from Proverbs, Chapter 1 on June 1.

Chase’s choice – Proverbs 1:7  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
      “The fear of the Lord” here to me is submission to the Lord, an open heart and mind to him. My bible states when we fear something, we either run from it or submit to it. I agree, my salvation was very similar to this as a lot of people’s may have been the same way.
      Once we have the fear of the Lord, it is a healthy fear as the fear we have of electricity or parents.  It is a healthy fear or respect which causes you to act appropriately. But while seeking wisdom the fear or submission unto the Lord is the controlling principle of wisdom.  This principle should not be abandoned and a person cannot just fully focus on the idea that we must just acquire wisdom alone. I believe that is where the fools despising wisdom comes in.  They do not begin with that respect or appropriate fear.
My choice – Proverbs 1:5 “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”  and Proverbs 1:33 “but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
On proverbs 1:7 you made a wise choice.  I always picture God’s awesome majesty, holiness, and righteousness when I consider “the fear of the Lord”.  Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.  That being the case, we all have reason to fear the judgment that we correctly deserve.  The hope of favor with God can then begin to make us desire to walk right and submit.  When we combine His majesty, holiness, and righteousness with His love, mercy, and grace – we have the awesome combination that causes us to joyously submit.
My verse was verse 5, “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”  The last verse, verse 33, also echoes the theme.  In verse 33 it is wisdom itself speaking saying, “but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”  Verse 5 tells us what we are to do.  Verse 33 tells us what the results will be.  Wisdom is the correct and consistent application of knowledge.  I have met many very intelligent people who weren’t really very wise.  They struggled with making the correct application of the vast knowledge they possessed.  I love knowledge, but I have learned that I would rather be wise than just smart.
The common thread in these two verses is listening.  It’s funny, but I spent a lot of my younger married years listening to experts about things, but I spent the majority of my time with my wife and family telling rather than listening.  The Lord has shown me that my wife and even my children can be excellent dispensers of truth and wisdom.  That doesn’t take away from trying to learn from experts, but it means that I should not overlook or despise the sources of wisdom the Lord will use close to me.
One more thought that you may have also heard.  God gave us two ears versus only one mouth.  Wisdom is using this reminder that we are to listen twice as much as we are to talk.  I haven’t studied it so thoroughly as to say if it is exactly 67% listening to 33% talking, but I know the general rule is true.
Be blessed today and be a blessing.

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This morning as my wife and I finished our devotion we moved into prayer for friends and family who are going through serious challenges.  In particular we prayed for couples who are striving to reconcile their marriages after betrayal and hurt.

A picture that came to mind as we were praying is that of a deep wound that must heal from the inside out.  I spoke with a friend recently who has suffered a very serious injury losing the ends of three fingers.  The doctors are leaving one of the wounds open so that it will heal properly – from the inside out.  Coming back to the picture that came to mind as we were praying, I believe that this was a word the Lord gave of what has to happen in these couples we know although it is true of anyone who has suffered deep hurt.  The emotional wound has to have time to heal.  Words and superficial actions will not bring the healing that we truly need to be made whole.

In a marriage a demonstrated commitment is essential for this healing.  Practical steps in this are striving to know and understand our spouse better and better, seeking to understand and speak our spouse’s love language, putting our spouse and their needs before our own, and walking in the character trifecta of openness, honesty, and integrity.  These same truths apply to other relationships as well, but marriage is indeed a common relationship crucible for many of us.  Sadly, for many marriages the refining fire beneath the crucible doesn’t have to get too hot before the majority of what we have built our life upon becomes ash.  Yet through this God is able to build something truly valuable with the little that is left and adding His all-sufficiency.

You see I know this from personal experience.  My wife and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last month.  As I look back I can honestly say that over those 30 years we have had 29+ years of very good to amazingly great love and life together.  But there have been times…  A little over three years ago our relationship had become quite strained.  My job had me on the road 70% of the time.  Lisa was focusing more and more on her career and when I came home looking to be pampered a little bit (okay maybe I was looking for a lot of pampering) Lisa was about used up from all the extra she was having to do.  Our communication suffered and frankly the love was a rather dim ember at that time.  Even the close friendship that we have always shared was being severely tested.  At Christmas we had booked a condo in Orlando assuming Sammy’s soccer team would be playing soccer between Christmas and New Years as they had done for four years previously.  Surprise, they decided not to play in that tournament and yet I had the condo rented.  The short story is it was not the relaxing time to refresh and rejuvenate that I had hoped for.  In fact we now refer to it as the “vacation from hell.” That is not a direct reflection on Orlando necessarily, but more on our heart condition at the time.

Driving back from that vacation I was secretly looking forward to work and being be back out on the road.  I had scheduled to be gone for the first seven weeks of 2012.  Six days later we were racing to the emergency room with Lisa’s left leg just above the ankle sitting at a grotesque angle.  It was a compound, open fracture of both bones a little above the ankle.  A week in the hospital, three surgeries, 12 weeks with no weight on the ankle and multiple PT sessions later Lisa is able to walk and generally has regained most of her mobility.  In a previous post I have written about our walk through this time.  It’s a particularly moving read called “Broken Legs, Mended Hearts.”

I allude to this story today because one of the residuals from this is a serious scar around Lisa’s leg where the tissue was so seriously damaged.  Two things the doctor later told us that we look to as a testament of God’s grace.  First when he first saw Lisa’s leg he estimated he had a 50/50 chance of saving it.  Yet her healing progressed very well.  In fact he seemed very pleased and even a little surprised at how well she recovered.  Second at her one year check up he fully released her telling her to listen to her leg and let pain and discomfort tell her how much to do.  (Oh he did forbid her from swinging on rope swings too.)  But he also said, that a break as bad as hers 50 years earlier often proved fatal.  The bones were shattered into so many small pieces and the wound was a terrible thing.

As we finished our prayer time and I shared the picture that I had used in praying for our friends, Lisa thought of her leg and pointed to her scar.  And she said that deep wounds can leave bad scars.  She was mostly right, but I don’t see her scar as bad.  To some it may not be pretty, but to me it reminds me of Gods abundant grace.  Lisa lived.  Lisa kept her leg and she has most of her mobility.  Our marriage was healed because when Lisa broke her leg, God broke my heart.  Our oldest daughter who had been estranged from us for a time not only came rushing back to be with her mama, she gave her life to the living God.  She will live with God in His kingdom and the catalyst for her final step to this decision was Lisa’s broken leg.

One final thought.  I went for a run after we finished our devotion.  I love to run and I had stopped for a couple of months, so it was exhilarating to get back out there.  But I don’t run for the sake of running.  I run so I can talk with the Lord.  He did not disappoint.  I pick up small rocks as mementos of the places we’ve travelled.  (Lisa is wrapping up a business meetings here in Myrtle Beach as I write this post.)  You may agree with Lisa and think it’s a little weird, but I have found a few other persons who share this weirdness.  Anyway I am on the return leg of this long run and I have picked up a couple good rock candidates for my collection when I feel the Lord speak to me to stop and look for a rock.  Now I like fossil rocks or intricate design rocks or even pretty rocks – something that stands out.  So as I stand by this puddle I am thinking, “Are you going to show me a gold nugget or something Lord?”  And I started looking for something special.  But the Lord said, “Look in the muck and mire.  Look for the dirty and overlooked.  Get the rock that looks the least appealing.”  So I looked and sure enough there was a little, ugly black rock.  I picked it up and as I evaluated it I decided it is a possibly a small piece of shell encased in a little bit of asphalt.  I thought, “Wow, no gold nugget here.”  To which the Holy Spirit immediately replied, “Everything can be redeemed!”  My mind went to the description of the heavenly city described in Revelation of the streets of gold and I realized that streets of gold will have an underlayment that support them and keep them strong, flat, and beautiful.  An underlayment that can include little pieces of shell encrusted in small chunks of asphalt.

Friend, I do not believe you are reading this by accident.  I feel that the Lord has a message of hope for the world that He will get out through as many means as possible.  This message is meant for you and perhaps a loved one or friend.  God loves you, He can bring about the deep healing that is needed, scars aren’t always bad, and everything can be redeemed.  That about sums it up for this morning.

Have a blessed day.  And be a blessing to someone God puts in your path or on your heart today.

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I don’t know about you, but choosing to die is not my first choice.  In fact in almost every scenario that comes to mind I am choosing the path that provides at least a glimmer of hope of survival.  Our sense of self preservation is strong.  But Jesus preached and modeled something radically different than self preservation.  In Matt 16:25 He said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.”  As we follow His life we see that Jesus willingly lived in obedience to God’s plan and for our salvation which included dying to His self.  As a professed believer and follower in Jesus it is of paramount importance that I come to grips with what Jesus is asking me to do.

Dying to self is the foundational act of faith.  Truly living a life where Jesus is Lord means that we are not.  We, or at least I, are selfish creatures.  In most cases my world revolves around what I see, perceive, and deem appropriate.  Although I am loathe to admit it, I often want what I want and I will act in accordance with that desire much of the time.  Judging by the world around me that is true of most people.  When I committed my life to Christ, when I gave Him my life, I recognized that this innate selfishness was liable to be a problem.  But I trusted Jesus to do something about that.  As I look back over 30+ years of following Him I can see much progress yet there are still times that the old selfish man rises up.  Thankfully God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us with this.  Our response is to die to self daily and trust Him to help us.  And He does.

Jesus modeled dying to self literally.  Not everyone is called to willingly put themselves into situations where physical death is the likely outcome, but that is part of what we sign up for.  As I mentioned yesterday history is full of the faithful losing their lives at the hands of despots and tyrants who war against the one true God and His people.  Today as I write this many believers will perish at the hands of ISIS followers.  My heart hurts for them and I am moved to intercession.   We also have a dear family that we love and support that have been ministering in central Asia now for 11 years.  They recently relocated to Turkey and are beginning a new work among the Muslim population there.  Please join me in praying for God’s protection, grace, and mighty power upon all those in this part of the world.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Mt 26:39.  I have prayed something resembling the first part of that prayer many times… “Lord get me out of this bad or unpleasant situation.”  That is not dying to self though.  Dying to self is the entirety of Jesus’ prayer… a request for another option other than the obvious, but total submission to the Father’s plan and purpose.

Because Jesus submitted to the Father’s will He did have to suffer an agonizing night and day of torture, humiliation, crucifixion, and death.  However, He also purchased my forgiveness and forgiveness for anyone who trusts in Him.  He also launched the Church to proclaim the truth of reconciliation with God through faith in Him.  He broke the power of hell and the grave as He proved that heaven is our final home and the grave is just a doorway into larger life.

I don’t know about you, but I get pumped up when I think about what Jesus has done for me and for you.  Before I close I want to flesh out a little more what dying to self looks like for us.  Let’s get practical.  I think the fifth chapter of Ephesians is a good place to start.

For husbands it means cherishing your wife, listening to her, working hard to understand her needs and then striving to meet them.  In the list of priorities after you wife would be your children.  These come first – before the man-cave, guys night out, or your pet project.  I’m not saying that those fun things can’t happen, but they have to be down the priority list and only occur when others are considered and acted upon first.  I have to laugh because I have handled this in every way imaginable and most of them have NOT been the right way.  To do these things for your wife and children, but be secretly pouting for the guy things, is not dying to self.  Time spent with the Lord asking and allowing Him to instill in us the desire to love and cherish our family is how we get to the place we can do this right.

Wives dying to self really comes down to a very simple word – submission.  I know that opens a can of worms and I am not going to take the time to chase and catch them all.  Staying simple, Jesus is your Lord as a believer.  You are to submit to Him just as your husband is to submit to Him.  To the extent you can do so without violating the specific leading of the Lord in His Word, you are to live in harmony under the leadership of your husband.  Just like the husband who must give up his will to seek the Lord’s will first and then serve you and your children, so too you must dwell in your prayer closet with the Father to have His heart and attitude in this.

I can think of dozens of scenarios and situations and I am sure you can think of many unique to your life.  In every case the right path is similar.

It begins with a vibrant relationship with the Father through consistent, constant prayer and reading of the Word of God.

It is undergirded by the consistent petition, “Lord make me more like you.”

It progresses through consistently asking and acting upon the thought, “what is best for the other person.”

It is solidified by celebrating the joy and blessings in the lives of others.

It finds it’s rest in thankfulness to the Father for allowing you to be an agent of His grace.

And along the way, without ever focusing upon yourself or your wants, you will find yourself blessed with peace, joy, love, and a deepened faith in the One who loves us more than we can ask or imagine.

Be blessed and be a blessing today my friend.

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Lisa and I attended a Real Marriage conference the past two days.  Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace brought the message that Real Marriage is fun.  As I have shared in earlier posts, God has done a wonderful work in our marriage over the past 2+ months and the catalyst for all of this was Lisa’s broken leg.  Our marriage has gone from OK (which means it’s a relatively successful business partnership with occasional periods of zing) to amazing in this brief a time span because we have begun practicing the majority of what Grace and Mark talked about… and we had not read the book yet.  As I listened to Mark speak I realized that for many people learning about the 4 big ideas will revolutionize their marriage.  For Lisa and I it drilled home truths that we knew as head knowledge, but we had not made heart knowledge that we acted upon consistently.  Lisa’s leg break has caused us to act from the heart much more than from the head.  I think God graciously timed this conference so we could establish these principles in our marriage from henceforth.

One more point before I dive into today’s post.  During the conference there was a brief demonstration of Logos Bible Software.  It looks like a great tool for really digging into the Word of God.  They picked out this verse from John 4.  23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  Obviously the words from the original text often have other subtle shifts in meaning.  The word for truth carries with it the sense of nothing hidden or transparent.

As I awoke this morning I realized that for most of my life I have worked hard to control how I (or my family) are viewed by others.  Since becoming a Christian I have worked to be a believer who looks right, talks right, and lives right.  I believe I have missed the mark at times though because I tried to put on faith in the way of my choosing and not allow God to create that faith within me.  Ephesians makes it clear that faith is a gift from God 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Often I am more concerned with what others think that simply doing what pleases God.  The motivation was wrong.

The first “big idea” Mark and Grace introduced was that spouses must be best friends.  They gave a picture of three types of relationships.  Back-to-back which represents an unhealthy, adversarial relationship.  Shoulder-to-shoulder which represents that working together to accomplish a set of goals much like a business partnership.  And the third which is Face-to-face.  Face-to-face is the pattern God has for friendship and particularly for marriage.  We have lived in the shoulder-to-shoulder marriage for most of our almost 27 years.  It is not that I didn’t love my wife and express my commitment to her often.  But I did not look her in the eye and show her the love, respect, and admiration that she needed and I, as the husband of a wonderful woman, should provide.

The second big idea was that marriages need regular trash removal and clean up to be healthy and whole.  Marriages are unions of two sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness.  We were given examples of how to “fight” in a way that ushers in healing and growth and not ever-increasing pain and isolation.  I am sure I will speak on this more in other posts.

The third bid idea was that sex is a gift God has given within the context of marriage to be enjoyed.  This contrasts against the unholy view the world has that places sex as a god and the equally invalid view of sex as gross.  The later view unfortunately is all too common within church circles.  Again this is a topic for another time.

The last topic asked the question “Are you a selfish lover or a servant lover?”  Like so many questions of this nature, I know what the answer is supposed to be.  I mean I am in church so it has to be servant lover – right?  This is another time when the word truth and the subtle meaning of nothing hidden whacks me right between the eyes… I am still a selfish person so much of the time.  While I hate to have to admit that, it is true.  Lord help me to abandon my selfish ways, thoughts, words, and actions.

When Lisa and I first married, we immediately plunged into life at a fairly breakneck pace.  Rhiannon was just a little shy of 2 years old when we got married so we were already a family.  Lisa continued working for a brief period and then she stopped working so she could go to college full-time.  Before long the next child and then the next arrived.  Soon the Momma to do list was always longer than the what-Momma-accomplished list.

We honestly did not disagree or fight much at all.  Today I recognize that this may not have been the best thing because it allowed small issues to be stuffed away rather than dealt with and resolved.  Undercurrents of dissatisfaction began growing and this began to manifest itself in less intimacy.  I can so relate to the shoulder to shoulder kind of relationship because the relatively small amount of face-to-face we had experienced was now replaced with almost exclusively shoulder to shoulder.  Things which should have been brought out into the open and discussed were left to fester.  Sadly, but in being totally honest, the back-to-back which had never been a part of our marriage, began to show up.  Mark mentioned that a sure sign of an unhealthy friendship within the marriage was going to sleep back-to-back.  Well this had become us.

My heavy travel schedule (read busy and not at home much) and Lisa’s successful (read busy and not engaged at home much) allowed only a few opportunities to really talk about and deal with the dissatisfaction and frustration we were both feeling.

Now I have to step back just a moment in time to give you a little more background in what was going on inside of me.  I recognized that the dissatisfaction was not healthy.  I had prayed for some time for God to heal our marriage.  Now while I was open to the fact that we both probably needed to change I know my hope and intent was for God to fix Lisa.  And I thank God that He is faithful and doesn’t just leave us to our own devices.  During this period He consistently spoke to me exactly what was needed.  “Dan, love Lisa like I love the church.”  I could not get anything else… because I was not doing this.  Don’t misunderstand, I resolved every time to love Lisa better.  Reading the rest of Ephesians 5 where Paul writes about this, I knew that meant I had to die for her.  But I couldn’t.  I didn’t.

Rhiannon, our oldest daughter, recently shared how her Mom’s broken leg changed her life.  Well that is my story too.  My love for Lisa has come out of this as more real and tangible.  I recognize a difference and my beloved does as well.  A lot of selfishness has been blown away.  (I look forward to the day when ALL of it is gone, but until then I am walking by faith.)  It’s really funny, before Lisa broke her leg I would get frustrated that I had to come home from 3 or 4 days away and I had to do a “lot” of household chores.  Today I am doing at least 4 times that and not only am I not frustrated, I am happy to be a help to Lisa.  It is amazing.

On Lisa’s side a transformation is taking place as well.  Mark mentioned that husbands are unrealistic if they expect their wives to look at 50 what they looked like at 25.  After 4 children and a sweet tooth that she often satisfied, Lisa did not look like she had at 25 and I was unrealistic.  Since she broke her leg she has lost 40 pounds… and she still is not able to walk or put weight on her leg.  And she has done this in a healthy manner.  I know because I fix most of her meals at her direction.  I am excitedly looking forward to the day when Lisa’s leg has healed and we can hike together.  I want to hike in the mountains finding scenic waterfalls hidden among the rhododendron together.

It is my hope and prayer that someone out there can benefit from our story.  While I wish Lisa didn’t have to endure the pain of a broken leg, I am so thankful that God has moved through this difficult time to bring so much good.  And Lisa feels the same.  Our laughter and joy has simply exploded the past two months.  And we can only give God all the credit.  He has done marvelously, miraculously more than we could ever ask or imagine.  To Him be the glory, honor, praise and dominion forever and ever.  Amen!

PS. I strongly recommend Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book: Real Marriage – The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together.

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