Let Grace Break Through!

I’ve been looking back on some notes on marriage lately. There are so many couples, particularly those in Christian leadership, who are facing serious battles because the enemy is working hard to strike strategically. We must stand firm, folks! We must band together in prayer, encouragement, and even exhortation with one another.

In his book, “This Momentary Marriage,” John Piper wrote something that I think is absolutely critical for us to grasp:

“…the main meaning of marriage is to display the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. In other words, marriage was designed by God, most deeply and most importantly, to be a parable or a drama of the way Christ loves his church and the way he calls the church to love him.”

Due to sleep deprivation at our house, grace has sometimes been more difficult for Larry and I to extend towards each other lately. I certainly resonate with Pastor Piper’s description that marriage is a DRAMA!

Piper cautions us against becoming so familiar with a passage like Ephesians 5:23-25 that we fail to see how amazing it is!

Look at Ephesians 5:23-25:

The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

And now look at how Piper expounds upon it:

“What is the most important meaning of marriage? It is found in the words: “as Christ…as the church…as Christ.” The ultimate meaning of marriage is not in marriage itself. It is not in the husband and not the wife and not the offspring. The ultimate meaning of marriage is in “as Christ,” “as the church,” “as Christ.” Marriage is a magnificent thing because it is modeled on something magnificent and points to something magnificent. And the love that binds this man and woman in marriage is a magnificent love because it portrays something magnificent…The greatness of marriage is not in itself. The greatness of marriage is that it diplays something unspeakably great, namely, Christ and the church.”

There are some reading this now who will say, “but my spouse has treated me so poorly, even abusively, that it is time for the end of anyone’s reasonable extension of grace.” To this I must remind us all that God’s love is rarely REASONABLE and that the whole point of grace is that it is UNDESERVED! What was that Jesus said, “…seventy TIMES seven…?”

This is not to say that we throw away healthy boundaries or completely ignore sin. It is simply to challenge those who are hurting to reconsider that the ugly drama unfolding in your marriage is portraying the same kind of ugly drama that unfolded when Christ was crucified. Our battle isn’t against our spouse. It’s against SIN. Mankind sinned — over and over again, in fact — and yet Jesus surrendered Himself so that we might live. He loved us FIRST — BEFORE we loved Him.

When we do battle on behalf of our marriages, it’s about so much more than preserving a family unit or making some heroic comeback. It’s about fighting a magnificent battle to display the greatest picture available of what Christ’s love for His church looks like. It is EVIDENCE to a hurting and torn-up world that Christ’s love BREAKS THROUGH and ALWAYS WINS.

I will even be bold enough to say, we all need to go have some intimacy with our spouses tonight if for no other reason than to claim one of Christ’s most powerful tools in our arsenal for strong marriage. And that kind of WARFARE is the battle at its most gorgeous!

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Happy New Year!

Hebrews 10:19-25

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

HOW A MOTHER PRAYS

The most agonizing moments of my experience as a mother have been those times when my youngest daughter, Carly, has been in pain — a pain she can’t explain to me and a kind of pain that I may never be able to make go away. For all the things Larry and I have tried to do for her over the years, there is increasing awareness that there is often little more that we can do but pray.

Raising a child who cannot talk and who has complex developmental and health issues has stretched me in many ways but probably, most of all, it has been teaching me to surrender things I cannot (even should not) try to control. This experience keeps teaching me to embrace the precious intimacy and power of prayer.

We can learn a lot from the way people in the Bible pray.

Samuel listened and responded decisively to God’s call.

David laid his heart bare before the Lord.

Paul prayed often for others and frequently used written prayers to encourage.

But since it’s the Christmas season and because I’ll be talking with a group of young moms tomorrow, I got to thinking about what we can learn about prayer from Mary, the mother of our Lord. Among the many reasons why I’m drawn to Mary during this season is that we have been in a prolonged season of caring for Carly through issues we’ve not been able to understand or fix.

As I watched the movie The Passion years ago, the scenes that most brought me to tears were those of the frantic Mary trying to wrap her heart around the most painful but holy moments her Son would ever endure. It’s arguable that there were numerous other scenes that should have gripped me more, but I must admit, it was resonating with Mary’s mother-heart that tore me to pieces. Even with Mary’s deep trust in God and with whatever appreciation she must have had for the eternal value of the events unfolding before her, there was nothing that could soothe her broken-heartedness in those profoundly overwhelming hours of Jesus’ suffering.

Tomorrow during my talk we’ll be unpacking several things about how Mary prays that can be helpful reflection at any time of year but especially as we consider the awe and wonder of Christmas — what it meant then and what it means today. If you’d like to dig deeper with me on that, check out the list at the end of my post.

I’m taking a couple of things away from the kind of woman Mary must have been. I think she was like our modern-day prayer walkers. She seemed to be in a constant state of prayer, attentive to all that was going on around her and quietly pondering — continuing to be a woman of persistent prayer right into the earliest days of the Christian church (Acts 2:14). I don’t know about you but I’m inspired.

Today I’m also taking notes from David’s book (metaphorically mostly, but also quite literally going to the Psalms) and praying from an anguished soul. I’m weary and battle-worn from parenting Carly and the intensity of her needs and our shared suffering. After another very rough night last night, Larry and I are in the midst of yet more prayerful pondering about what to do next while expressing raw emotions before each other and the Lord as David did. But I am also increasingly praying, as Mary did, with a quiet and pondering heart.

I would be on the fringes of sanity without prayer, without my Lord’s constant availability for conversation. I am brought to my knees with gratitude for the intimate way I have of connecting with my Savior on a most holy level.

Certainly we need a Savior to pay the penalty of sin for us but we can also claim Jesus as the One who keeps saving us from suffering that threatens to consume us — the One who extends mercy and power to us through the Holy Spirit so that we can keep a heavenly perspective and remain strengthened for the journey.

Some things Mary modeled:

AUTHENTICITY—Luke 1:34

TRUST—Luke 1:45, Luke 1:50, Luke 2:48-50

REVERENCE—Luke 1:46-49

SURRENDER—Luke 1:51-55

QUIET & PONDERING—Luke 2:19

FREQUENCY—Luke 2:41-42

FRUITFULNESS—Luke 2:52

DISCERNMENT—John 2:3-5

PERSISTENCE—Acts 2:14

HOW HANDY ARE YOU?

I changed the thermostat in my 2001 Impala last week. Now, for everyone other than mechanics and DIY aficionados, that may sound impressive. Maybe…maybe not. A couple of weeks before that, I took apart and cleaned the control unit of my constantly-discharging water softener and also replaced a faulty solenoid. The result is a well-functioning unit and a savings of at least $150 over what the repairman would have charged me. “Wow, what a handy guy,” you might think.

I often wish I possessed significant knowledge about cars and all other things mechanical. The truth of the matter is that I don’t, no matter how it might appear to others. But here’s what I do possess – access to the internet and a pretty good idea of what projects I can and cannot handle.

There is a truly astounding amount of information stored out there in the immense information aggregation we know as “the internet.” With a little persistence, one can not only get a pretty good idea of what is wrong with a 2001 Impala when the temperature gauge does not move off the lower bound of its measuring range, but also a list of any necessary tools or parts and step-by-step instructions for making the repair. All that is left is to decide whether one can or wants to handle the job. It’s pretty simple, really. Even for me.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17

Lisa and I have found ourselves in somewhat of a “funk” recently. Perhaps it is all of the stresses of life or the self-inflicted lack of sleep we have been experiencing lately. Whatever the cause or causes, we have been unusually short with one another and generally lacking in appropriate expressions of love and affection. The result is two rather tired, somewhat fragile people just trying to get through another day.

I often wish that I possessed better insight into why I do the things I do, why I continue to make mistakes and cause harm to myself and to the people I hold most dear. The truth of the matter is that I am a finite, fallible human being. And despite my best attempts to give the appearance of “having it together,” I really don’t, no matter how it might appear to others. But despite my numerous weaknesses and failures, despite high levels of fatigue and low levels of expressive love, here is what I do possess – the Word of God and a Savior who loves me and restores me no matter what messes I get myself into.

It is truly astounding how much information is packed into the Bible. One can use it not only as a diagnostic tool to help one get a pretty good idea of the condition of one’s heart and soul, but also as a list of any necessary changes and step-by-step instructions for making the repair.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
HEBREWS 4:12

And as we are reminded again during this Advent season, the God of the universe gave up his heavenly position to come to earth as a man and pay the ultimate penalty for my sins and yours. All that is left is to decide whether one wants to follow the Child, the Savior – to allow Him to bring forgiveness and fullness into one’s life.

It’s pretty simple, really. Even for me.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
1 JOHN 4:9-12