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Giving credit where it is due, PSD was in our “Tighten the Knot” Marriage series message by Brad Cooper.  Yet the importance of this resonates in me harkening back to a 5-year long lesson the Lord gave me on my most important role on this earth.  During those 5 years the Father continually brought me back to these verses in Ephesians.  ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. ‘  Ephesians 5:25-27  If you are married, your first human relationship is with your spouse.  Men, God has given you the responsibility to partner with Him in His sanctifying work in the woman you pledged to “cherish for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”  You made a commitment to your wife (and to God, if you missed that part) that you were in it for the long haul.  You have signed on the dotted line and the contract is not just valid in all 50 states, but in heaven as well as on earth.  But never fear, God has co-signed this contract with you so success is 100% assured, IF we do it His way.  (Another borrowed thought from Dr. Jimmy Evans in our Marriage series.)

First, we must take a moment to define commit and love.  Both are verbs and despite the dilution both words have experienced in the modern day, they indicate two eternally powerful concepts that God uses to accomplish His divine purposes.  To Commit is to agree to with the full weight of your will to fulfill that which you have agreed to.  Love is to desire the very best for another and to do whatever is required to achieve it for them.  The term love is used in so many lesser ways today, but the picture of love is a soldier sacrificing his life for a another.  The Greek word for this type of love is Agape.  It is the love Jesus refers to when He tells the disciples to “Love one another”.  It is the love He demonstrated in dying on the cross for our sins.  Husbands, it is the love we are called to have for our wives and it is demonstrated in thought, word, and deed.

So, PSD… Pursue, Serve, Die.  There is a phase in boy – girl relationships that is intoxicating.  Dr. Gary Chapman refers to this as the “Falling in Love” stage of a relationship.  It is what causes two people, often very different people, to desire companionship, togetherness, and in the normal course of time, intimacy, while modifying or at least softening, a number of personal likes and dislikes.  In the Falling in love phase, faults become hidden, often with no effort, disagreeable traits meld into likeable quirks, and the object of our affection becomes the epitome of perfection.  This phase can last up to 2 years, but…. and this is important, it is not permanent.

It is critically important that we understand that the Falling in Love phase is not only not permanant, it was never meant to be.  The Falling in Love phase serves an important purpose to get us past ourselves and into the realm of risk, trust, sacrifice and eventually into true love.  I have watched some very good sports teams accomplish surprising results riding the wave of an emotional high, but unless there is something more than just emotion the success is not sustainable.  The same is true in marriage.  Falling in love is emotionally fueled.  It is important to get us to the point that we realize there is such value in the relationship that we begin to move into true Love.

True love is of divine origin. ‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. ‘  1 John 4:16  This love is not caught, but received and grown.  It involves the will more than the emotion (although the emotions are definitely engaged) and it takes time to mature.  Let me make no bones about it, I loved before I fully committed my life to the Lord 35 years ago, but only after that did I begin to realize the capacity to love that was now resident within me.  Now I admit I am far from loving to the full, but there are times when His loves breaks through to me, and even more wonderfully, when His love breaks through to others through me.  This is a fundamental calling for Christ-followers, to allow Jesus’ love to fill and overflow us.  But the exclamation point on that is for husbands… to love our wives as Christ loves the Church.

Going back to Falling in love, PSD tends to happen spontaneously during this phase.  Pursue, Serve, and Die happens naturally, but again it is largely emotion fueled.  Just because the emotion fades though, does not mean we should not abandon these.  In fact the maturing and deepening of love is the transition from emotional, almost-without- thought, pursuit, serving, and dying for our beloved, to the intentional, purposeful pursuit, serving, and dying for them.  Once the blinders are removed and we realize that our beloved isn’t perfect… and sometimes isn’t totally pleasant… and they sometimes do, or say something that hurts you… (Note, Honey, if you are reading this I’m speaking hypothetically in our case!)… then is the opportunity for PSD to begin morphing into true love.

As I sit on this balcony in a beautiful tropical location at 4:00 am celebrating our 33 years of marriage, I am able to reflect on marriage to a wonderful woman.  She has demonstrated a deep and abiding love to me and I have been truly blessed.  I realize that over these 33 years, I’ve sometimes gotten it right and made steps in growing that capacity to love.  I also admit, the old man… the self-centered man that I once was, has not completely died.  I see why Jesus said we have to die to ourselves daily, because the old man is a stubborn old coot that keeps trying to assert himself.  But, in our marriages we are afforded the marvelous opportunity to practice love that transforms.  I love my beloved more today that when we first fell in love.  We have weathered storms together, we’ve experienced many joys side by side, and with the Lord’s help we’ve grown much.  The old man has suffered greatly due to the purposeful following of the Lord’s leading to “Love my wife like He loved the Church”.  And the results are the best kind.  We both grow.  We both love better.  We become examples of a love that lasts.  Our lives and our marriage shows to any who wonder, what God can do through two people committed to Him and committed to love with His love.

Be blessed today my friend and be a blessing.

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Chapter 1

The Firemaster stood looking at the blackened pile of charcoal and half-burned wood.  Not a wisp of smoke emanated from the pile.  He knelt and held His hand close looking for warmth… for any sign of life.  His face, usually enigmatic, today reflected the sadness of the lifeless fire-ring.  With a stick He stirred the dead coals, periodically placing His hand close… testing…searching… looking for some sign that heat, even just a little heat remained.  If He could find it, then with it was hope.  And the Firemaster knew that hope is a powerful thing.

The man sat on the bench in the park quiet.  In the distance a couple runners jogged side-by-side, their breathless conversation garbled and mingled with the birdsong all around him.  But the man heard neither the birds or the runners.  Slumped forward, head in his hands, the man was lost in thought.  It seemed like just yesterday that He had been basking in the warmth of the fire.  It had given light to his surroundings, warmth to his body, and hope in his soul.  Yet, now it was gone.  The fire had died and he wasn’t sure exactly what or how it had happened…

The woman lay quietly in the bed.  The alarm had gone off over half an hour before.  She had silenced the alarm that had annoyed her but not awakened her.  She had been awake for hours… thinking, fighting off the sadness, trying to understand.  The fire, her greatest joy for such a long time, was now out.  It had died and just like the dark smokeless pile of fire remnants, her heart felt blackened and cold.  She started to cry again.

The Firemaster continued to stir.  A look of resolve in His countenance, the Firemaster knew that hope remained if He could find just one coal.  A fire, the type of fire that He builds and teaches His pupils to build, is not easily put out.  In fact many have weighed in and said His fire is the most powerful of forces.  Long-enduring, consuming chaff and stubble, His fire is able to refine, purify, and make strong.  Suddenly the tiniest of wisps arose out of the pile of dead coals.  It was just a single wisp, but the Firemaster’s trained eye caught it.  His hand immediately went out to find the subtle temperature difference.  It took only a few moments more for the Firemaster to find it.  A single coal.  As He lifted it to His face, the Firemaster gave a gentle blow on the coal.  The merest hint of color appeared in the coal, but it was enough.  The Firemaster’s eyes lit up.  Hope remained.

The man roused himself, resigned that he had lost something precious, perhaps the most precious thing he would ever know.  While he had hurled accusations and blame for the fire’s demise, the past few hours of introspection had cut through his excuses.  He was given responsibility to tend the fire and he hadn’t.  The Firemaster had taught him not only how to build the fire, but He had stressed the need for diligence in maintaining and caring for it.  Too many distractions, too little tending.

The woman pushed herself out of the bed.  Against everything she felt at that moment, she willed herself to get moving.  Showered and dressed, she still felt the heaviness of the loss, but at least she was up and moving.  Knowing that life would never be the same, she determined to put the thoughts of the fire out of her mind and get on with life.  While she may never again feel the warmth of that fire, she determined to learn from her mistakes and move on.  Mistakes… yes, she could now see her mistakes.  She too had learned the art of the fire from the Firemaster.  She knew that tending the fire was a team effort.  And she had lost sight of that at some point, just like she lost sight of tending the fire.  And now it was gone.

The Firemaster held the coal in a metal box.  Inside the box He put two other coals.  Periodically He would blow a soft breath across them and watch the glow increase.  A slight smile crossed His face.  He waited.

For the man, the days passed in a numb blur.  He continued work, he worked out, he read, but everything, from the taste of food to the perception of the weather was somehow less.  He worked hard to put the thoughts of the fire out of his mind.  But unbidden, the thoughts would come… laughter in the fire’s glow, tender moments shared over the hot coals, warmth from the fire that warded off the cold outside.  In desperation the man decided he had to find closure.  Perhaps, if he returned to where the fire was first lit, he could somehow put it to rest.  If he viewed the blackened pile maybe he could be done with this constant dull ache of loss and move on.

The woman put on her make-up each day and with it went the fake smile to cover up the pain that she had hoped would soon lessen.  Each day seemed so like the last… yet none felt like the days with the fire.  While time had passed, her memory was still keen of the times holding hands and sharing life in the fire’s light.  In fact, in some ways the memories today were stronger than in those final days when she had forgotten the fire and let it die.  How could she have lost sight of something so precious?  Finishing with her lipstick she decided that today she would visit their fire ring and, well… she wasn’t exactly sure, but it had been the beginning of something beautiful once.  Today she would visit to see if visiting could bring this to an end.  Then possibly, she would have a chance to truly move on and, perhaps start something new.

Chapter 2

The Firemaster saw the man coming when he was still far off.  The Firemaster knew this day would come the moment He found the coal that still had life.  The man came with purposeful step.  He was on a mission and the Firemaster could tell it in his step and the grim look of determination on his face.  Yet when the fire ring came into view the man’s step slowed and a look of pain crept across his visage.  The Firemaster allowed the man to stand on the edge of the fire ring a long time knowing that he needed this.  It was a long time coming, this final grieving and closure.

The Firemaster stepped up and spoke.  “It was a great fire.”

The man jumped, not having heard the Firemaster approach.  “Oh, Sir, I didn’t hear you.”  Recovering he said, “It was.  I am sorry that it went out.”

“It died you mean.” said the Firemaster.

“Yes, it died and went out,” said the man.  “I am sorry I didn’t heed your instructions and continue tending it.  It was precious to me… to us, but I lost sight of that.”

“You are half right.  It did die.”

“What do you mean half right?  Look at it.  There is nothing left, no life, no flame, no smoke.  It is dead and out,” declared the man, a note of frustration in his voice.

“It is dead, that is correct.  But death isn’t necessarily the end,” replied the Firemaster.  “The flame is the outward and visible part of the fire.  We look at that and say the fire is alive or dead.  But the fire is more than just the flame.”

“So your saying their was something left after the fire died?” asked the man with hope creeping into his voice.

“There was,” said the Firemaster holding out the box with the coals, “and there still is.”

Wonder filled the man’s eyes as he peered into the box and saw the coals.  “This is from OUR fire?”

“It is.  And as you can see, what was dead is now alive.”

“So what do I do?  Can it create a full fire once again?”

“Do you remember what I taught you?  Can you build a fire?” asked the Firemaster.  Then with a gaze steady he asked, “will you tend it as I taught you?”

The man couldn’t hold his gaze and dropped his eyes.  “I always assumed I could.  That seemed like the easiest part.  I always thought the real work went into starting and building the fire, yet it seems like we handled that without too much trouble.  It was only later that we realized that the blaze we had long enjoyed had gone out.  And then it was only too easy to look across the blackened pit and see what the other had done and not done to keep the fire going.”

A long silence ensued.  The Firemaster watched the man as he stared at the charcoal at his feet.  The hope he had recently felt seemed to have evaporated as quickly as water on hot coals.  He was now pensive and brooding.

The Firemaster watched, considering the man’s thoughtful silence a good sign.  “Building and keeping the fire is a team effort.  But you are 100% responsible for the fire.  You submit to one another, but it is your consistent sacrifice to be aware of and nurture both your partner and the fire that ensures it will never go out.  While you have many things that can occupy your life and mind, there is nothing more important than tending the fire with her.”

The Firemaster’s voice was low and gentle.  There was no accusation in it.  It was a simple summation of what He had taught the man.  Lessons given, but until now, not sufficiently heeded.

“So, you’re saying there is hope?”  He breathed out more as a wish than a question.

“You have the coals.  Why don’t you see for yourself.  Do you remember how to build a fire?”

A slight smile crossed the man’s face.  “Building the fire wasn’t the problem.  Keeping it going was our challenge.”

The Firemaster chuckled heartily, “No, you two built a raging fire at times.  Perhaps you might put as much energy into tending the fire the next time.”

The man was suddenly struck with a thought, “but will she come?”

The Firemaster noting the concern that crossed the man’s face said, “You can only control what you do.  It is of no use worrying about what others think and do.  You are to build a fire and tend it as you were taught.  To do that you need to prepare.  You do remember how to build a fire, don’t you?” a playful light coming to the Firemaster’s eyes.

“Yes, I do.  So I prepare even if she doesn’t return?”

“Son, I have given you the ability to build and tend a fire.  It is a very great gift.  It is my design that you and your partner build a fire together and that your fire burn brightly for as long as you both live.  In fact some fires continue even after.  Not everyone tends their fire though.  Some die and do go out.  I do not take away the privilege or the responsibility to build a fire even though one of you may no longer desire it.”

“You returned here today looking for something… closure perhaps… peace I suppose… maybe a new beginning.  They are all here.  They are tied to your faith that another fire is worth the risk and your courage to begin again.  I cannot promise you who you will build the fire with.  But I can tell you that you are called to build a fire.  And this coal will be your start.”

The man smiled at the Firemaster.  “I am ready, Sir.  I need to gather materials.  And I am going to be sure I have plenty of wood for tending it once it is started.  You said I was good at starting a fire a moment ago.  It’s been a long time since I had to start one, but I will take your word for it.  I suspect you are right.  I also hear your call, your challenge to tend it this time as if it was my sole responsibility.  This I will endeavor to do so.  Do you have any specific wisdom for me?”

“Indeed I do,” said the Firemaster breaking into a broad grin.  “I am always near.  I love to help with fire.  All anyone has to do is call to me and I will be there to help.  So do not forget that.  All you have to do is call and I will be there.”

Chapter 3

The man had just crested a hillside east of the fire ring when the woman appeared from a trail to the south.  She noticed the Firemaster from a distance and quickened her pace.  She was almost running as she got to Him and threw her arms around Him.  The Firemaster returned her embrace, whispering words of comfort as hot tears fell from the woman and onto His shoulder.

“There, there now daughter everything will be alright.  You are fine my child.  I am here with you and you need not worry.”

“Oh, Firemaster, I forgot your words of warning and I let the fire go out.  I failed you… I failed us.  Oh Firemaster it is all my fault,” she cried.

At length her tears subsided and she regained control of her emotions.  His words of comfort were seeping into her, giving her peace and solidity that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

She gently pushed herself back and took a step back so she could look at Him.  “I forgot your teaching Firemaster.  You taught us to tend the fire well.  You even said to beware, that it was easy to assume the fire would continue unabated once we got it started, but that it needed attention and tending.  You warned us that the fire could and would die if we were not careful.”  Another sniffle rose as she said this and the tears threatened to flow again.

“Indeed my child.  I did say that, but what else did I say?  What did I say about the flames dying and the coals?”

The woman was struck with a memory.  “Yes, you did say that the flames were wont to flicker and die, but that we were not to lose hope.  I had forgotten that.  You said that the fire was still in the coals.”

Her eyes brightened momentarily. Then she looked at the fire ring and noticed how dead, cold, and bleak it was.  He countenance fell.  “I have waited too long,” she said.

“Have you?” asked the Firemaster as He pulled the metal box with the coal in it out and held it before her.

Surprise and a questioning look quickly crossed her eyes.  “Is that….?”

“It is your coal, my dear.  You still have hope because a coal yet lives.”

The woman gasped.  Hope, the one thing she kept reaching for yet never quite able to reach was now held in the little box right in front of her.  She looked in, blew on the coals and saw the intensity of the glow increase.  She squealed with delight.

“It is.  I can begin again,”  she whispered.  The faint stirrings of something more… a precursor of joy perhaps, began in her.  She gave voice to her next thought, “I failed in tending this fire.  I don’t want to fail again.  I forgot the most important lesson in tending the fire.”

“And what was that?” asked the Firemaster.  It was like she was a youth again learning the lessons of life and fire building.

She stated it simply.  “Respect.”

“Very good,” replied the Firemaster.  “And what does that really mean?  Is is ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No sir’ or something else?”

The woman chuckled at the memory evoked.  He had asked her exactly the same thing in her training.  “Well, true fire-building as you taught us is a team activity.  You have given us roles in our relationships. Successful fire-building, and especially fire tending, are hugely dependent upon these roles. My role is to respect my partner and show him how much I respect him by the way I submit.”

She had not thought this clear-minded in a while.  Serious now, she went on.  “You taught us that we are both 100% responsible for the fire.  And we are to submit to one another like we submit to You.  But that mutual submission has these roles that allow us to work in harmony.  It is far beyond simple courtesy, so no, it is not a yes, sir and no, sir sort of thing.  It is more affirming and more genuine than that.”

“Well done… well done, daughter.  I don’t know that you said it nearly that well, or heartfelt, in your training.”

She smiled a rueful smile, “I hadn’t had the lesson punctuated by my fire going out.”

“Yes, there is that, isn’t there,” He replied.  “Well, as you see, there are still embers.  I know it has been a long time, but do you still remember how to build a fire?”

The woman smiled again, more fully now as the stirrings within were definitely beginning to feel like joy.  “I think I can figure it out.  But, he is gone.  I don’t really know that I want to build a fire again if…”  She let the thought hang.

“Daughter, do not worry about when and who and how.  You have been taught the art of fire-building.  It is the highest calling for all my students.  Prepare and when it is time, you will once again build a fire.  I will hold this coal for you.  Now go and prepare.  You will once again know the joy of a shared fire.”

The woman couldn’t help herself.  She quickly threw her arms around the Firemaster and placed a kiss on His cheek.  Slightly embarrassed by her own spontaneity, she drew back with a grin, “Um, sorry, I guess I got a little carried away.”

The Firemaster laughed full and throaty.  “Daughter, Daddies never tire when their children show affection.  Be off with you now and gather what you need.  There is a fire to build.”

With His encouragement ringing in her eyes she turned a skipped off to prepare for a fire.

Chapter 4

It was much later in the day when the woman returned.  She had found two bags and inside were materials for tinder and kindling.  She sat them on the ground beside the Firemaster who was now seated on a log as a stool.

“I remember that we did not have enough fuel for the long haul, so I have spotted some bigger branches that I am going back to get.  I will be back shortly,” she said.

As she disappeared down the trail to the west, the man appeared out of the woods to the north of the clearing where the ring was located.  He had a pack on his back with wood and materials sticking out the top.  He was also dragging a large tree branch.  While he was making slow progress, it was obvious that he was pleased with his work.  He smiled at the Firemaster and shouted a greeting as he approached.

A broad smile on his face, he was sweaty, dirty, and happy.  The prospect of building a fire in the gathering dark was pleasing to him.  As he neared the Firemaster, he noticed the other fire material lying close by.

“Did you do some work or am I to assume you have another pupil hard at work?” the man asked.

“I have lot’s of pupils, young man.  And as far as work, it’s a rather loaded question.  I guess my work is measured by the impact of the lives I teach.  Little impact, then I guess I work little.  Big impact, then I guess I work more.  What are your thoughts on the matter?  Did I do some work… with you?”

The man’s broad smile faded a bit, but the humor hadn’t completely left him.  “Well, I guess your teaching was actually quite good, so yes, I would say you worked. And You are still working.  As far as the results…”

He was thoughtful before he finished.  “The fire we had was the best thing that I have ever experienced.  It was all that I had hoped for and more.  We laughed, cried, kissed, and fought, but we made and tended the fire well for a long time.  It hurts like hell that it has died.  But I am so thankful that it has not gone out completely.  Firemaster, I would that we could build a fire again, but even if we can’t, I want to start a fire again.  I want the warmth and light and life that we experienced to be possible again.”

The Firemaster’s look was deep and thoughtful.  He took a few moments before replying, like He was weighing an important matter before rendering a final decision.

The man noticed it was noticeably darker when He finally spoke.  It appeared as though the decision had been made and filed away.  “What did you get for building the fire?”

“I searched as you taught us to, Firemaster.  I found downed branches from of the fruit trees you said were most desirous.  I found gentleness, peace, a whole downed tree of self-control.  You don’t see much of that tree in the city anymore.  I got some patience and kindness limbs too.  This big branch here is from a goodness tree. Oh, and look,” he said as he pulled something out of the side pocket of the backpack.  “I have these twigs from the love shrubs growing on the hillside on the other side of the valley.”

The Firemaster smiled broadly, as much at the man’s enthusiasm as at his cache of fire making materials.  “You have done very well, my son.  I think you have enough to start laying in the fire bed.”  With a twinkle in His eye He said, “why don’t you turn around and get started?”

The man was a little surprised.  He had some material, but he assumed he would need to have more based upon recent experience of running short.  And he was also without a partner.  But the Firemaster was the expert.  His fires never went out.

The man turned and across the fire ring he saw her and it took his breath away.  “How long have you been here?” he asked in surprise and with the slightest hint of irritation.

“Long enough.” she smiled slightly.

“Long enough to hear me pour my heart out to the Firemaster?”

“Long enough to know that I was wrong to walk away and not search for a warm coal,” her tone respectful and just a bit pensive.

His irritation at being overheard was long gone and the surprise was quickly becoming wonder as he said, “Well, I meant it… if you heard what I said.”

“I heard,” she said.  “And I want you to know much I regret that I let the fire go out.”

“It didn’t go out,” he said as he took tentative steps toward her.  “It died because I didn’t tend it like I should.  It is not your fault.  It was mine.  And I want you to know that I am sorry.”

She came to him and they embraced, tentative at first, but with more intensity as whispered apologies and forgivenesses were spoken.  When they finally separated they both wiped away tears of joy and happiness.

“Well, it sounded like you had almost all the materials you needed for the fire except joy and faithfulness,” she said.  “It just so happens that is what I found in abundance as well as branches and twigs of love, peace, and kindness.”

He laughed.  “I guess we are just about ready.  Let’s build the fire bed and then we can get the coal… OUR coal, to start the fire.”

Turning toward the log stool they started to ask the Firemaster a question but He was gone.  They looked all around but didn’t see Him anywhere.  All that was visible was a little metal box sitting on the log.  And by the glow of it, they were about to have a fire.

 

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I was surprised.  We’ve been married for almost 33 years and attended a half dozen marriage retreats and conferences.  We have a strong marriage that has effectively navigated a number of major challenges, always coming through stronger on the other side.  So when we attended the XO Marriage Conference this past weekend, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything new.  I expected to be reminded of biblical truths about marriage that I needed to emphasize and I hoped to be an encouragement to others.   The Lord fulfilled these expectations and, as usual, He went above and beyond.

My “Ah ha” learning was the inclusion of verse 21 in the pre-eminent scriptural description of marriage.  From Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read.

‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.’  Ephesians 5:21-33

The divisions in the bible are a fairly modern literary inclusion designed to aid in reading, marking, and discussing the bible.  They were not in the original manuscripts.  As such, later editors of the bible inserted the chapters, verses, and the topical breaks.  These are meant to help us compartmentalize our thoughts and better remember what we read.  There is an unintended consequence with this though.  In few instances these breaks may cause us to overlook an intended point.  Verse 21 is such a case.  The majority of translations tag verse 21 with the preceding verses and insert a break between verse 21 and 22.  The verses following are referred to as “Instructions for Christian Marriage” or something similar.  While still true and supportive of Christian marriage, these verses benefit greatly from the foundation that verse 21 – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” provides.

In the past when I read these verses I have seen the two admonitions – wives submit / respect your husbands and husbands love your wives sacrificially.  But undergirding the marriage instructions with this verse to submit to one another literally ties the whole together.

Marriage was God’s idea.  It was ordained from the beginning.

‘The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone… So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.’ Genesis 2:18,21-25

Marriage is one of God’s pre-eminent ideas.  It’s a crucible in which some of God’s best work is done.  A crucible is a bowl used by chemists specially designed to take very high heat.  Into the crucible the chemist places different materials.  Sometimes the elements are crushed, sometimes stirred , often heat is used as well.  In the end the materials are mixed together and something new is created.  In the best scenario, the two materials, which prior to mixing had little clear purpose, combine to form something altogether different and new.  It may be a compound that serves as a new medicine able to save lives or a fragrance that sweetly perfumes a room or a food ingredient that enlivens and pleases the taste buds.  The good outcome is only possible because of time spent in the crucible and the melding that takes place there.

When a man and a woman enter marriage they slip into the crucible together.  In most cases they do so because they have “fallen in love”.  They usually enter with a host of ideas and expectations about marriage.  Some of these may be met.  Some may be discussed and compromises achieved.  But many will remain unmet.  The falling in love phase is not a permanent state for most.  In fact unless the falling in love phase is replaced with Agape love, the intimate feelings will fade, sometimes quite rapidly.  This in itself is a type of heat applied to the marriage.  There are of course numerous other ways crushing, stirring and heat is applied to the marriage – financial strain, medical issues, differences in parenting, not to mention that marriage is the joining of two different people who each carry around their own set of emotional, mental, and spiritual baggage.

Unlike two chemicals that have no choice but to remain in the crucible, people can leave.  They can physically leave or they can emotionally leave, i.e. remote in one hand, beer in the other.  Either way, the potential good the crucible can bring is thwarted because we leave.  Another alternative is to resist and fight.  We do not see the good that can come so we resist the heat and the mixing, the coming together that the crucible can bring about.  Coming back to Ephesians 5:21 when we submit to one another we allow the crucible time to do its work, to blend us into something new, something better than the sum of just two individuals living under the same roof.  As we read in Genesis above – the two become one.

We celebrate 33 years of marriage next month.  We have been blessed with four wonderful children and four grandchildren thus far.  We are part of an awesome church and a great home group of friends that are truly part of our family now.  But we have been in the crucible for more than just one heating.  I know I have at times resisted the lesson in the heat.  Crucible times are not usually pleasant.  But, God, Who is rich in mercy, has always brought us through.  And what has come out of the crucible has been better and stronger than what went in.  Learning to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ is the foundation for living through crucible times.  And there are blessings in store for those who do.

Be blessed and let the God of all grace use you to bless someone who needs it today.

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My plan to catch the sunrise from Pretty Place (Symmes Chapel, Camp Greenville, SC) went awry when I found the gate locked. With the colors already rising in the eastern sky and a suitable viewing point many miles away, I knew pics at the break of dawn were not going happen… at least not for me. I got a wild hair and decided to head up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see if I could capture some scenic shots higher up. Looking Glass Falls warranted the first stop and then pics at the first overlook on the Parkway came up next. A group from the Galloway School asked for me to take their pictures with their cell phones. I obliged, but I also took a few with my camera. (Hopefully they are checking these out!)

The next stop was the Graveyard Fields. Still recovering from my shoulder surgery, I didn’t exactly intend to hike very far, but… The weather and scenery drew me in and I couldn’t help but hike and shoot. I met a family visiting from Florida at the Upper Falls on the Yellowstone Prong. After about 5 miles of hiking, I made the turnoff into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area my final stop. It was a great day in the outdoors and the pics are pretty good too.

I forgot until I was editing the pics, but Looking Glass Mountain is where our son-in-law Michael proposed to our daughter, Christin. Somehow hiking to the top of a mountain to propose is an awesome metaphor for marriage. There is a lot of work on the hike up. You can’t see very far ahead most of the time. But you keep working because you believe in the goal. And the reward is very good… very good indeed!

Enjoy!

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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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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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