Wednesday, September 4, 2013

You Never Marry the Right Person

JANUARY 5, 2012
How our culture misunderstands compatibility.

In generations past, there was far less talk about “compatibility” and finding the ideal soul-mate. Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.
In John Tierney’s classic humor article “Picky, Picky, Picky” he tries nobly to get us to laugh at the impossible situation our culture has put us in. He recounts many of the reasons his single friends told him they had given up on their recent relationships:
“She mispronounced ‘Goethe.’” “How could I take him seriously after seeing The Road Less Traveled on his bookshelf?” “If she would just lose seven pounds.” “Sure, he’s a partner, but it’s not a big firm. And he wears those short black socks.” “Well, it started out great ... beautiful face, great body, nice smile. Everything was going fine—until she turned around.” He paused ominously and shook his head. ”... She had dirty elbows.”
In other words, some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner. They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation, a “haven in a heartless world,” as Christopher Lasch describes it. Rather, they are looking for someone who will accept them as they are, complement their abilities and fulfill their sexual and emotional desires. This will indeed require a woman who is “a novelist/astronaut with a background in fashion modeling,” and the equivalent in a man. A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put—today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.
You never marry the right person

The Bible explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible. As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard, it should come naturally.” In response I always say something like: “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?” The understandable retort is: “But this is not baseball or literature. This is love. Love should just come naturally if two people are compatible, if they are truly soul-mates. “

The Christian answer to this is that no two people are compatible. Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become "whole" and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
Hauerwas gives us the first reason that no two people are compatible for marriage, namely, that marriage profoundly changes us. But there is another reason. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered—living life incurvatus in se. As author Denis de Rougemont said, “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love ... ?” That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess. Raw, natural talent does not enable you to play baseball as a pro or write great literature without enduring discipline and enormous work. Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature? Indeed, many people who have mastered athletics and art have failed miserably at marriage. So the biblical doctrine of sin explains why marriage—more than anything else that is good and important in this fallen world—is so painful and hard.
No false choices
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.
The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.
Excerpt from THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE © 2011 by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller.  Published by Dutton, A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Excerpted with permission from the publisher. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hearing God...Are You Listening?

Acts 17:11 Bible Studies

Hearing God

Rev 3:22 (NIV) "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

  • Sandy Gregory's Story Of The Remote Employee
  • Imagine you are hired to open up an office in Anchorage, Alaska. Your new boss gives you a high-tech looking two-way radio, a policy and procedure manual, and tells you that you will receive instructions once you arrive, and off you go. Upon arrival you hear your boss's voice over the radio, saying, "I will communicate to you through this radio unit. But take note: our competitors, our enemies, also have access to this channel. They will try to impersonate my voice with false messages to thwart our purposes." "Oh no!" you panic, "Then how will I know if it is you or the enemy giving me instructions?"
    Your boss's voice comes back over the radio: "Three ways. First, considering the situation, check every message supposedly from me against the policy and procedure manual. Since I wrote it, I'm not likely to ask you to violate it, right? Also, if I am not talking, don't focus in on the noise, pretending that I am. If I am not speaking, let the manual be your guide. Don't let any impersonating voice mislead you, or your own overactive imagination."
    "Second, since the Manual does not cover every situation, you will have to get to know my voice. I know, this will take time, and so I am not likely to ask you to do anything radical until we both have some low-risk successes under our belts. Remember, I understand the situation perfectly well, so I'll go slow at first. A time will come when I will be able to tell you to do the wildest things, and you will know it is me. In the short-term, you must be trained through low-risk experience."
    "Third, over time, my overall purpose for your work will begin to come into focus. You will begin to see the grand strategy in the policy and procedure manual, and the overall pattern of my true instructions. When this happens, you'll know instantly if what you hear through your unit is 'of me', just your imagination, or enemy misinformation. False instructions will begin to appear silly to you then. So take heart, and get to work."
    After reflecting on this a few moments, you hear your boss's voice again on the radio unit. "Take all of the money from petty cash and give it the next person that walks in, no questions asked." Hmmm... You look in the policy and procedure manual, and this is specifically forbidden. Besides, you know your boss wouldn't tell you to do something that risky right off. And also there was an certain "twang" to the voice, an appeal to something different within you, and a plan that was not in the long-term interests of the company. So, even though you are on a hostile channel, you are beginning to have hope that you can indeed do this job.

    Hearing Things...

  • God speaks to us through our minds and hearts. God occasionally speaks audibly to His children when He has placed them in situations that require great faith. Thus, the miraculous aspect of a physical voice coming from nowhere allows us to believe in situations that are beyond us.
  • John 12:28 (NIV) [Jesus prayed,] "Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine."
  • Why did Jesus go out of His way to point out that the voice was not for His benefit? Because He heard God all the time. He was in constant communion with the Father. But the disciples needed to hear it, so they could have faith to believe. Remember, Jesus was about to be rejected by the religious establishment, taunted and humiliated, and executed. So God spoke audibly. God knows when we need a sure word, and works around our lack of maturity in times of great need.
  • 2 Pet 1:16-19 (NIV) We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

    God Will Do What He Says

    Rom 4:17 (NIV) As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
    Gal 4:22-23,29 (NIV) For it is written that Abraham had two sons [Ishmael first, and then Isaac], one by the slave woman [Hagar] and the other by the free woman [Sarah]. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way [the flesh]; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise [the Spirit]... At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.

  • You know the story. God promised Abraham a son in Gen 15:4. The problem came when after receiving this promise, Sarah suggested an idea to move ahead in the flesh and "assist" God. The "Ishmael" mistake of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is not uncommon. We are often deceived into thinking that God needs our help. What is praiseworthy of Abraham and Sarah is that after this false start, they remembered God's promise and got back to simple faith and obedience, believing that God would help them... and not vice-versa.
  • Num 23:19 (NIV) God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
  • God calls Isaac "Abraham's only son" in Gen 22:2,12,16. From God's point of view, "the flesh counts for nothing" (John 6:63). God did not remember Abraham's sin, only his faith, which was credited to him as full righteousness before God (Rom 4:3). His mistakes were forgotten (Micah 7:19). Like Abraham, we need to enter into God's rest, knowing that what God says He will do. For he who enters into rest has ceased from his own works (Heb 4:10).
  • Isa 55:1-11 (NIV) "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live..." Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon... "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

    Discerning God's Voice

    Isa 42:1-2 (NIV) "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets."
    Mat 17:5 (NIV) While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

  • Outside of miraculous visitations and audible voices, our general problem is one of hearing God's "still small voice". What would the Spirit have us do next? This leadership comes through "promptings" to our hearts or minds, which are generally low-risk until we mature. God tells us to call someone late at night; to give someone the money in our pocket; to offer to pray with someone about something very specific that we couldn't have known. Often, we'll go wrong, but if we humbly reflect on our errors we can gain confidence for future promptings.
  • Prov 14:15 (NIV) A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.
  • The problem is that we are on a hostile channel. Our minds can be prompted by God, from our own carnal desires, or from unclean spirits. Some ignore this and naively believe that anything they think or feel is from God, without humility or reflection. This may seem a silly error, but it can become serious when such a person thinks God has told them to "go kill someone". Manson, who still claims to be a Christian, heard from his "god" in this fashion many times.
  • 2 Cor 11:3 (NIV) But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.2 Tim 3:13-17 (NIV) ...evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it... you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

  • Beyond demonic promptings, our routine problem is the flesh. We want to look spiritual, we covet something, we want to defend ourselves. These often get blamed on God, and acted upon. These seemingly silly errors can lead to as much spiritual mayhem and abuse as Manson's delusions did physically. We must learn to walk a straight line before attempting to tightrope across Niagara Falls. Our problem is lack of reflection on past performance.
  • Rom 7:21-23 (NIV) So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.2 Cor 10:3-5 (NIV) For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

  • If we have learned to discern God's voice in small things by acting on God's low-risk promptings and finding them validated with fruit that lasts, then God may prompt us to "tell that person I am going to heal them". At this point of maturity, those practiced at knowing God's voice need not pretend or merely hope. They can speak with authority, conviction, and results (Rom. 12:2). They need not be double-minded or resort to psychological gymnastics (James 1:5-8). They can pray in real faith (James 5:15). For "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).
  • Who's Not Listening Now?

    Jer 6:10 (NIV) "To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it."
    Zech 7:11-13 (NIV) "But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen... So the Lord Almighty was very angry. "When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,' says the Lord Almighty."
    Mat 13:12-17 (NIV) "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: [from Isa 6:9-11] 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.' In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become callused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

    Obeying The Father's Voice

  • Often we ask God to speak to us, only to hear back, "if you are so interested in what I think, then why didn't you do the last thing I told you?" Obedience is the response that keeps the dialog going. If we refuse to do what God tells us in the little things, we risk deafening our spiritual ear. If we refuse to do what God speaks in the big things, we risk his active rebuke.
  • 1 Sam 15:22 (NIV) ..."Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice..." (Mat 21:28-31)
  • Imagine your own son coming to you in great earnestness and saying, "Father, please speak to me. What would you have me do?" You respond, "I would like you to clean your room." Thrilled at the sound of your voice, the child goes off elated, but does not clean the room. Later, he approaches again, "Father, please disclose your will to your humble child." You tell him again, "Go clean your room." Pleased, he withdraws himself again, but does not do what you asked. Yet again, your son comes to you, "Oh great father, I long to do your bidding! Grant me the favor of your wisdom and direction." What would you do at this point? Perhaps a stare would suffice... What does God do when we play this game with Him?
  • James 1:22 (NIV) Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

    Orders From On High

    Isa 30:20-21 (NIV) Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
    John 10:2-5 (NIV) "The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

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    Sunday, September 1, 2013

    The Missing Piece

    I've been feeling some stress lately.  I've been a little tearful and down.  Yes, there have been some things going on.  But I think most of all, I miss sharing those things with Grandma.  Whenever something happens good or bad, the first person I want to call is Grandma!  Without her, I feel so alone.  I feel like a part of me is missing.  She and Grandpa were my mentors.  I looked up to them and they were role models for me.  They encouraged me as I lost hope in marriage, as I struggled through grad school as a single mom, as I felt the stress of having to let go of my little girl when she went away with her dad.  But now, I don't have that person to call, who always knows what to say, who has time for me and loves me like no other.  I have no one call for spiritual guidance.  As a few stressful events have occurred this last week, I found myself feeling very alone.  Even though I did share my heart with people, none could replace Grandma.  I am at a loss…  

    I know she is in a better place.  I know she get's to be with Grandpa again, and I know I will see her again one day in heaven.  But what about now?  What about those times when I really need her?  What shall I do without her to call upon?  There is a missing piece.