A Trial Run

“For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” – Romans 8:16-17. 

The topic of trials and suffering is not the most popular topic in Christian circles. But whether we like it or not, and whether we ever want to fully face up to this reality in this life, every single one us, saved or unsaved, will have to face a certain amount of trials and tribulations as we journey through this life. It is cold, hard reality. 

In 1 Peter 1:6 and James 1:2, both Peter and James mention, “trials of many kinds.” Their point is that trials can be long, short, emotional, physical, mental, or circumstantial, and come with varying degrees of difficulty. Our trials come in all shapes and sizes. If you find yourself in some difficult or constraining circumstances that are a source of struggle for you, consider yourself in a trial; it was allowed by God and can work for good in your spiritual growth.

1 Peter 1:6-7 is one of the most valuable passages on trials, because it describes the dynamics of how God changes us in a trial. Peter describes the gold smelting process where gold is heated up and impurities float to the surface. The next step in the process is to scoop away the impurities. The result is a purer piece of gold. The result then, of trials, is to accomplish a purer and stronger character and faith. It is in trials that our weaknesses, sin, and character flaws come to the surface, so that they may be transformed.

Trials can also illuminate deficiencies in our faith. When we come through the trial, we find that our faith has been stretched to several times its original size, as we own the character of God in a way we never did before.

Trials produce maturity, and this is why they are a blessing to us. James 1:4 describes a progression where trials produce perseverance, and perseverance, maturity. The goal of trials is not to make a person more persevering. That’s not a very exciting goal. But the result of persevering under trials is a more mature faith, and that is motivating. All Christians want mature faith.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have the trials that you have experienced brought you closer to, or pushed you further away from God? How have trials affected your faith?
  2. When you read James 1:2-4, it seems like suffering is a major way in which God produces maturity and perseverance in us. Why do you think trials refine us so well?

Being Holy Because God Is Holy

“So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16.

“You must be holy because I am holy.”

Whoa,,,what? Be Holy. How is this even possible? It is not easy being a good spouse, or parent, or friend. How am I supposed to be as holy as God? I’ve got issues. I do things I don’t want to do. I make mistakes. Being holy in life generally and in marriage specifically, seems impossible.

The Bible has a lot to say on the subject. Psalm 14:2-3 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one.” And in Isaiah 64:6, we read, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” What hope do we possibly have of becoming holy like God?

Fortunately, holiness is not just based on our own efforts at being good. Holiness is who we are based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then the Bible says that you have been given a new heart. A new person has replaced the old person. We are holy because of our position in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:10 says it like this, “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.”

We have been made holy… not because we follow a bunch of rules of things to do and not to do. It is not because we exhausted ourselves trying to be a spouse or parent or a better person. It is because of Jesus Christ. But even though our position as a child of God is secure when we accept Him as Savior, it is still important how we conduct our lives in marriage and in life. We must continue to live in a pure and Holy way that pleases and honors our Father in heaven.

Living a life of holiness isn’t easy. We are to imitate Christ. To do that we must turn away from the temptations of the world, and we live in obedience to our Heavenly Father.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Does living a holy and pure life seem impossible? Does that mean marriage is impossible as well?
  2. What is he hardest part of living a holy life? 

Stay Away

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” —1 Corinthians 10:13.

“I’ll go in if you will.”

“Maybe we should go home, it’s getting late.”

“Chicken!” You are scared aren’t you?” 

“Okay, let’s do this.” 

The two friends push through a wrought-iron gate that leads to a decayed Victorian mansion in front of them. There is a sudden wind bringing in ominous clouds. So begins every haunted-house scene in every horror movie ever made. We collectively whisper, “Don’t do it!” as they open the door and walk in through cobweb-littered halls and rooms. We know what’s coming. Someone or something will jump, fall, or fly out of a closet, through a window, from behind a door and drag them to the basement. We know it will not end well.    

We are not so different. We are supposed to flee from things that can harm us, yet we have a hard time walking away from things we know are not good for us. There are several places in the Bible where we are commanded to flee, to turn tail and run from an enemy far more vicious than anything lurking in a horror movie mansion. 

“Flee” is a strong word. The Bible does not tell you to amble, meander, lope, or trot from your sin. It tells you to flee. Fleeing involves effort. It involves speed. You flee when you need to find and experience safety from a threat. When you know the mansion has a bunch of axes in the shed, you don’t go near the shed. When there are chainsaws in the horror movie garage, you don’t go near the garage, in fact you flee because it is too dangerous to remain where you are.

If you know certain situations will bring you into temptation take preventive action. The most effective way to overcome temptation is to avoid it altogether. The mature Christian knows when to turn tail and run. If you have a problem with the wrong crowd, pick a different crowd. If you have trouble with alcohol, stay away from places that serve alcohol. If you watch the wrong TV programs, change the channel. But if you find yourself in a sticky situation – get out! Don’t just walk away — run. You don’t try to resist it, run away.

Fortunately for believers, the Holy Spirit takes the horror out of the horror show. He is a blazing torch we carry into the haunted house, and he ferrets out the monsters. No sin escapes his searching eye. We must simply trust and follow Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What danger might there be for us if we do not flee from sin? 
  2. What weapons do we need in order to combat the enemy of sin? 
  3. When does one flee from sin?

The Value Of Self-Disclosure

He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” – Sigmund Freud

It is not too uncommon to find marriage filled with secrets.  From “little white lies” to more significant secrets, the married couple does not feel the freedom to be completely honest with one another. So for whatever reason, they decide to cover things up and hide things from one another. In most cases, however, their secrets are uncovered and the marriage often ends in the dark place of trying to separate the truth from the lies.   

As Christians, none of us would argue that the healthiest of marriages are those filled with honesty, authenticity, and transparency. It would be hard to find anybody that believes there is room in marriage for lies and deceit. So why do we keep secrets? In fairness, most couples have the best of intentions. They don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, being tactful or being tolerant. They feel the relationship will be damaged if the truth gets out, although that is exactly what usually happens anyway.

You’ve probably got secrets—private, hidden things you do or think when you’re alone, or perhaps something that happened a long time ago that you prefer to keep to yourself.  Are these secrets good or bad? How should you determine whether keeping something from your spouse is justifiable? The question of “to tell, or not to tell” can be settled by wrestling with the “why” and “how” reasoning behind keeping a secret.

If you’ve got a secret, the “why” question is, “why are you keeping this knowledge from your spouse?” Do you honestly believe what you’re doing is best for both of you? Or are you just scared of what might happen if the secret comes out?

Then follow the “why” question with a “how” question: “How is your marriage enhanced and intimacy promoted by keeping this secret?” By keeping the secret are you sincerely seeking the highest and best good of God’s great gift of marriage?

Secrets. They may have their place, but that place is rarely a healthy marriage. Even though it may feel risky to open up with the one you love, the rewards of deepened intimacy far exceed the risk and struggle it takes to get there. It can take huge amounts of energy to keep a secret hidden. That energy would be put to better use in promoting your closeness as a couple.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is telling secrets so hard?
  2. Why is it better to disclose our secrets rather than have our spouse find out?

Reconcilable Differences

“And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you, says the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.”  – Ezekiel 16:8.

It might have been decades ago, it may have been yesterday. It may have been in front of a large group, or a very small one. It could have been very formal or it could have been very casual. It could have cost a king’s ransom. It could have cost the price of a marriage license. But sometime, somewhere we said “i do” and got married. After all, we were head over heels in love and felt a combination of excitement and anxiousness to get married. The actual wedding was a blur. But, after the reception dissolved and people made their way for home, and the bridesmaids were packing the gifts in the car, the reality of our responsibilities before God as husband and wife sank in. And then there is this whole purity thing.

Marital purity is a difficult challenge. Sin is like an undercurrent in the ocean, if you play in it, you will be overpowered and carried away into certain destruction. We may bring sin into the marriage with us or we may start practicing it when we are married. Satan wants us to think that we won’t take our sin to the next level. He wants us to think that we’re stronger than we really are. He wants to make us think that we’ll never go “that far.” All the time we think we won’t go where we don’t want to go. But we can and do. One of the ways Satan works this angle is to tempt you to think that purity is a line in the sand rather than a posture of the heart. He wants you to think that if you don’t cross a certain line, you’re “staying pure.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that Jesus says if we lust in our heart, we’ve sinned and are condemned before God (Matthew 5:27-30).

Purity is all about the heart. The age old question of “how far is too far” may be revealing a desire to get as close to sin as possible rather than a desire to “flee” as God calls us to do: “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18). So I ask you, what’s the posture of your heart? Are you seeking to find ways to flee from lust or getting as close as you can? Be careful to not underestimate your vulnerability, or as Paul said, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Purity is a daily choice. Even when you’re in a solid, God-honoring relationship—even when you’re married, in fact—purity is an ongoing challenge. Draw close to God and ask for His help in resisting temptation. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you define intimacy?
  2. What can we do to better insulate ourselves from temptation this week?

Pure And Simple

“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.”— C. S. Lewis

The Bible has a great deal to say about purity. Matthew 5:8 says, “God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. I Thessalonians 4:3-5,7 says, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor— not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways…God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives.” And I Corinthians 6:18—20 adds, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

So many times when we talk about purity, we put it in terms of dos and don’ts. Can I go here? Should I read this book? Is it wrong to see this movie? Is this blouse too revealing? Should I listen to this music? Or we talk about purity as a series of options or choices. But purity is not primarily about sex, or what you do or don’t do, or about what you watch or read or what you say. Purity is not about you or your desires. Purity is about doing what honors God. Purity is about God.

God has a stake in our purity  He has called us to be pure and He is glorified when we walk in purity. The real question is not “should I do this?” or “would I enjoy this?” or “will this get me in trouble?” but “will this honor God?” Will it honor God for me to spend time with this person? Does this addiction of mine dishonor the Lord? Will it reflect badly on the Lord if I go along with my friends? Will it dishonor God to not be completely truthful to my wife about my extracurricular activities?

Andy Stanley talks about putting up guardrails —warning systems you put up within your marriage. God has a standard for marriage and for purity. We need guardrails so we don’t violate those standards. No guardrails often leads to trouble because perhaps the couple wouldn’t have strayed into dangerous places. 

Not too many spouses think, when they first get married, that they will not stray into dangerous behavior. But it happens. You think that it won’t happen to you.” “There’s no way! Not Me!” Think again —many who were as strong as they thought they could be, have weakened beyond their wildest imaginations, and have fallen. Even the most innocent of beginnings, with the best of intentions, can end up where you find yourself flirting with danger.

Married couples need to put those guardrails up before a dangerous temptation catches their attention. With no guardrail in place they strayed into doing what they they shouldn’t have. Whatever act could threaten your marriage is exactly the act you should be guarding yourselves by setting up guardrails to keep that from happening. 

Discussion questions:

  1. Is purity realistic let alone possible in today’s culture? Why or why not? 
  2. What guardrails do I need in my marriage/relationships this week? 

Half and Half Marriage

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” – Matthew 7:24-27.

When two people get married, they have high expectations about their relationship. The expectation is the other person will “meet me halfway” and that “you do your part, and I’ll do mine.” This concept sounds logical, but does not work. In my experience, the half and half plan does not work. Why?

Because it is difficult to determine if your spouse is doing their half. Because neither of you can agree on what their half is, so each spouse is left to subjectively determine whether you are getting the better or the worse end of the deal. Couple that with the fact that many times in a marriage, both partners are busy, overworked, and feel taken for granted. The real issue isn’t who did more or less that day. It is not a test of who contributes more or who has more responsibility. The important dilemma is, how do you build oneness and teamwork instead of keeping score and waiting for the other person to meet your expectations while they are waiting for you to meet theirs. It can quickly become a Catch 22 which is defined as a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions. 

The solution to the marriage Catch 22 can be found in Philippians 2:3: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” Basically that is the 100 percent plan which means you are willing to give 100 percent. Or in other words, I will do what I can to love you without demanding an equal amount in return. The Bible describes this plan well in Matthew 22:39: “…‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no closer neighbor than your spouse. 

Now the enemy will try to get you back to the half and half plan. You will hear a voice that says, “should I be doing this housework while he is out fishing?” Or “why shouldn’t I buy myself some new golf clubs, since she keeps buying shoes and already owns a thousand or so pairs.” You will never have all of your expectations met in marriage on this fallen planet. Marriage is the union of two imperfect people who can and will have demands that will lead to disappointment and hurt. This is where we need God’s model of unconditional and unlearned love.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the problems with a quid pro quo marriage?
  2. What are the obstacles to giving 100 percent to our spouse without expecting anything in return? 

Mutual Submission

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Mutual submission – what does it mean and better yet, how can I apply it in my life? In simple terms, mutual submission means “I’m going to leverage my resources, my time, my talent, etc. for your benefit.” Regardless of who we are or what role we have, this is God’s standard for relationships. So what is it all about and how do I go about doing that?

This question will help: ”What can I do to help?” This is a game changer, especially if everyone in the family adopts this mindset. Stop for moment for this mental picture: one of your kids comes up to you and says, “Hey Mom, hey Dad, what can I do to help?” Your immediate thought is, “who is this kid, and what have you done with my son?” After the initial shock, you smile. You look at your wife who has accidentally swallowed her gum. You decide there is hope for the world after your generation is gone after all. You decide to try it and ask your son or daughter, “What can I do to help?” For the first time in years, they turn off their electronic devices and you have their rapt attention. For the first time in a long time you are communicating. Wow.

Then conjure up a mental picture of wives, rather than being unintentionally critical, and ask, “what can I do to help?” Suddenly, the husband drops his remote control and by doing so turns off the football game in the middle of the biggest comeback in collegiate history. By asking that question, you are telling your husband that “I am aware of your responsibility, the burden you carry.” It tells him that you value, affirm, and respect him. If the husband asked the wife the same question, she would be no less surprised. She may look a little closer and then ask quietly, “we have been married for 17 years and I don’t know you.” But when you ask that question, you are telling her that you are here for her, that you love and appreciate her. If you make a habit of asking the question, she will feel secure, cared for and cherished.

The reason we don’t submit and our relationships are not as healthy as they could be is because of fear. We are afraid of the answer. Or we are afraid someone is going to take advantage of us or we won’t be king of the castle anymore. We are afraid it will cost us time, resources, prestige and maybe even jeopardize the good thing we have going on. We are afraid it will cost us something, so why risk it if the status quo is fine already.

Ephesians 5:21 gives us the answer: “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul, in that context, is telling us, “out of reverence for Christ, open yourself up to help others, and yes they may take advantage of you, and yes you’ll have to put someone else first, and yes it will cost you.”  But it will not cost you your life as it did Jesus.  And Jesus is the model of mutual submission.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In marriage, what does mutual submission look like? What part do you play in that?
  2. What is the difference between obedience and submission?
  3. What can we do this week to practice mutual submission?

Contract Versus Covenant

Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” – Matthew 19:4-6.

The above passage in Matthew 19 is very similar to Genesis 2:24: “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This requires a covenant between both of them. Mention that word to non-Christians and Christians and you may get a blank stare. We don’t use the word or concept of a covenant much anymore in Western society. We prefer the word contract. 

Ours is a contract-oriented society. Basically, a contract is an agreement between two or more persons signifying that all signing parties will do something. In a legal marriage, if one party doesn’t live up to the contracts, then legal actions force him or her to do so or to end the marriage with an equitable settlement. The problem arises when you view your marriage only as a contract or as a series of contracts. A contract marriage is where we’re committed to each other if this relationship is mutually beneficial. Contract marriages are an “If…, then…,” mentality. In other words, one spouse relies on the other spouse for happiness. Finally contracts are motivated by the desire to get something.

A covenant, like a contract, is an agreement between two or more persons, but the nature of the agreement is different. Covenants are the fruit of a loving, faithful relationship. The vows we exchange at our wedding reflect a relationship already bound by steadfast love and faithfulness. Covenant partners nurture their relationship. Our marriage will grow as we build up one another in love. This takes place when we value our spouse more than ourselves. As we experience the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, we are able to love our spouse as He loves us. Some basic differences between a contract and covenant: 

Contract: I take you for me.
Covenant: I give myself to you.

Contract: You had better do it!
Covenant: How may I serve you?

Contract: What do I get?
Covenant: What can I give?

Contract: I’ll meet you halfway.
Covenant: I’ll give you 100% plus.

Contract: I have to.
Covenant: I want to.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the marriage covenant mean to you as a Christian? How should we submit to God in that covenant?
  2. How can a marriage covenant with God help your marriage where a “contract” doesn’t?

Your Results May Vary

“Are you pouring the best into your marriage? Or are you giving it the crumbs and leftovers of a busy life?”  – Ngina Otiende

If you watch TV for an hour each day, chances are you will see a Pharmaceutical commercial that both highlights the benefits as well as gives a long list of possible side effects of a certain medicine. Those side effects are potentially bad, sometimes including death. The commercial then states that the commercial “describes only one person’s experience and your experience may vary.”

We all have an idea of what we think marriage should be—but our expectations don’t always match reality. Marriage is not for everyone. Marriage comes with a long list of expected and unexpected side effects. How do we deal with marriage, even when your results are not typical or your results may vary? Side effects may include anxiety, frustration, hair loss, lack of hearing, sensitivity to turning into your mother and children. How do we deal with marriage, even when our results are not typical or our results vary from what we expected? 

There is no question that people who are married or getting married, know what results they are looking for. Most people get married assuming that marriage is an environment that produces all the things they are looking for: companionship, romance, intimacy, friendship, laughter, financial security, and joy. And we pick our partner because they think/hope/assume that everything can be provided by their future spouse. 

The truth is if you want your results to vary, if you want a godly marriage, both spouses need to contribute to the marriage. Each person needs to contribute things like love, kindness, appreciation. They must develop a servant mentality and the habits that bare a byproduct of that mentality: giving, sharing, loving, being kind, being affectionate, serving, sacrificing, communicating, appreciating, forgiving, accepting, not sweating the small stuff, being consistent, and so on. In other words, your results will vary when you are actively contributing to those results.

When we love another person, we want to give to that person in a way that is meaningful to him or her; we want to be good to that person; our focus is no longer just on ourselves, but is also equally if not more so on the other. We have the other person’s best interests at heart—and not just some of the time, but constantly. We have internalized the other person and their interests so much that they have become a part of us, inseparable from us.  

Discussion Questions

  1. What results are you looking for in marriage? Why do results vary so much in marriages?
  2. What can we do this week to contribute to our marriage results?