Reflection Over Resolutions

It’s New Years Eve, many people are making resolutions about all sorts of things covering all areas of life. They will be forgotten by March. At least mine usually are.

I’m not doing New Year Resolutions this year. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, but I have taken a different approach this year. For the last week (thankfully, I have had some time off for rest and renewal) I have spent a lot of time reflecting, instead of a lot of thought power on resolutions that I will forget.

For me, it has been very good for my soul. Much better than my usual approach. Probably because my time is spent thinking about myself a lot less and God a lot more. Instead of “self-improvement” it is “Look at how good God is and how gracious he has been.”

I have spent some time reading and meditating on Psalm 104 this last week. Maybe, just maybe, having a great 2015 has more to do with reflecting on the glory of God than pumping ourselves us to try to “be a better you.” I’ll start it off for you… hope it does your soul some good as well.

O Lord My God, You Are Very Great

104 Bless the Lord, O my soul!
    O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
    covering yourself with light as with a garment,
    stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
    he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
    his ministers a flaming fire.

He set the earth on its foundations,
    so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
    the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
    at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
    to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
    so that they might not again cover the earth.

7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years Of Marriage

10354242_618368269638_9206664628909681954_n

You should probably not read his blog post. A lot of wiser, godlier people have been married much longer than I have and have a lot more wisdom to share. With that said, I try to walk faithfully to the Lord and am always seeking to learn. I fail miserably, but praise Christ that his mercy is never ceasing and he pours oceans of grace on me. Anyway, if you haven’t stopped already it must mean you want to see what I have to say, for whatever the reason.

My wife and I celebrated our 7 year anniversary on December 1st of this year. It seems like we go married both yesterday and decades ago. I have certainly learned a few things on the way and I thought I would share it with the world. Hopefully, the world will decide to share their wisdom with me in the comment thread, despite comment threads typically being where wisdom goes to die.

Here we go…

Marriage Is Indeed A Profound Mystery, one that must be wrestled with. I know what you are thinking, “Of course it is. The Bible tells us it is a profound mystery.” Well, reading it in my Bible and trying to live in the ambiance are two very different things. The great mystery of marriage the Bible speaks of is that at the very heart of marriage, “the two shall become one flesh,” is the reality that it refers to the relationship between Christ and the church. When you are young and headed for marriage you are thinking about sex, the potential of kids, sex, where God is going to lead you and your spouse, fun things you can do together (yes, I really just mean sex again), you get the point.

What you aren’t thinking about is that your new covenantal relationship represents the greatest relationship ever established in the history of the world. Heck, you really don’t even care to spend too much time understanding what makes the relationship a covenant and why that carries so much weight and practical instruction. So, you go about marriage quite poorly for awhile (really talking about myself here) and you come to the point where you feel like your marriage is on the brink and you have to start back at ground zero, “the two shall become one flesh.”

You And Your Spouse Are Wicked. I am a pastor, you probably saw this one coming. Problem is, I always heard and believed it as well, but never knew the damaging impact it would cause my marriage. Pride. Selfishness. Lust. Insecurity. Anger. Harsh Words. And on and on can all take a serious toll. When sinners say I do you can get a real mess on your hands quickly. The fundamental flaw of every marriage is the reality that we have sinful hearts that are always creating idols. It is never really about communication principles. Not saying you don’t need to learn how to understand and communicate with your spouse, you do. But if you go to marital counseling and that is the deepest it gets…. RUN.

Things Untouched Come Back With A Vengeance. And it hurts, bad. My wife and I didn’t address a couple things well early on in our marriage. For several years we left these things untouched until the consequences of the bad choices/lack of choices had created a great chasm in our marriage. I’ll be honest, most of this came from me abdicating leadership early on. I didn’t want to “fight that battle.” Really, I was an ignorant coward. I told myself, “If I just let it go, it will be fine.” Wrong. Even when it is hard and it hurts, it is only fine when Meredith and I simply don’t leave something untouched. Thankfully, we now deal with the hard, uncomfortable, and painful things head on. We got tired of getting whipped when untouched things came back with a vengeance.

A Culture of Repentance, Forgiveness, And Grace Must Be Established. Honestly, this is probably my biggest lesson learned. Listen, just because you and your spouse are both Christians doesn’t mean this culture automatically gets established. You are both wicked, remember? I sure didn’t. I assumed this culture would get created on its own because we both love Jesus and Jesus is all about repentance, forgiveness, and grace. Doesn’t work that way, not for us at least.

Once several years ago I spoke very harshly to Meredith in front of a pimply faced teenage stranger. The look on his face said it all, “Did you really just do that?” Yes, “Pastor Matt” sure did. I remember thinking, “Well, that was dumb, but she will be fine.” That is when God stepped in. The Holy Spirit convicted me in an undeniable manner and I apologized thirty seconds later, repented for allowing an unhealthy culture get established in our marriage, and vowed to make sure repentance, forgiveness,and grace was the culture of the future.

Happily, while we aren’t perfect here, I can at least say that culture is established in my home and it has been the single biggest difference maker in my marriage. Funny how the biggest difference maker are the very things that are the foundation of the relationship between Christ and the church, huh? Profound mystery indeed.

Kids Can Be A Great Excuse For Keeping Marriage Mediocre. My wife got pregnant with our first son, Caleb, quite a bit earlier than we had planned. Caleb was born when I was 20 and Meredith was 21. Three years later we had Calvin, our second son. One thing that has made itself painfully obvious is that for a long time we allowed our kids to be an excuse, heck as a distraction, so we didn’t really have to address some issues in our marriage.

One of my mentor’s wife, Tanya York, put this on Facebook a little while back and she nailed it:

I love my sons as deeply as a mom could possibly love. I love that God gifted me with responsibility to guide and encourage them as they grew into adulthood. The balance of loving them over worshiping them is a battle every parent must win. If your Facebook, Instagram or Tweets all focus on your children and your marriage is less than fulfilling… There just MIGHT be some correlation. You might need a reset.

The kind of shaping your kids might need the most is seeing a model of a healthy and deeply devoted love visibly displayed before their very eyes between a husband and a wife. Love that is more valuable over all others. This teaching opportunity has a very short window.

Pain Is As Necessary As Joy. Man, I sure got this wrong. Thankfully, my marriage does have a lot of joy in it. But, had a picture of marriage being the most joyous thing on the planet. Marriage came very difficult to me. I could say it was because I didn’t have a biblical, godly marriage modeled to me in my youth and sure that might have had something to do with it, but my own heart is the biggest culprit. So, I walked into marriage thinking bliss and joy… and sex. Instead I was met with difficulty and pain. Bitterness and regret was always begging to get in.

Praise God that his grace to me showed me the pain in my marriage wasn’t a sign to get out, despite that being how most people interpret it. Pain in my marriage was God showing me I had a long way to go in my sanctification. Pain in my marriage has made me cling closer to Christ, wrestle with how to better serve and lead my wife, and been God’s primary instrument in making me a quick repenter. If your marriage never has joy you certainly are going to be miserable. But, as your experience tells you, marriage isn’t 98% joy and 2% pain. Therefore, see the pain in marriage as what it is… God’s grace to you. Pain is as necessary in creating a healthy, Christ-centered marriage as joy. They aren’t enemies. Pain and joy are God’s sanctifying tools to create a marriage that truly can be a beautiful representation of the relationship between Christ and the church.

Marriage Is Worth Fighting For. Nothing I said above really matters if I didn’t learn and really believe this last one. There have definitely been moments when I thought, “Is all of this really worth it? Is staying together really worth the work it takes to deal with all of these things?” Well, the profound mystery thing kept coming up. Was it really worth the King of the universe to sacrifice everything to deal with me and my sins? If I was him, I would probably have said, no. I’m glad I am not Him. I am glad I have a God whose love transcends and who pursues wicked sinners with a resolve that gets his Son crucified and buried. I am also grateful for a Christ who has the type of power to raise from the dead.

The same grace and power that we see in the gospel is the same grace and power that convinced me my marriage was/is worth fighting for. Our marriages, my marriage, is a testament to the glorious gospel of grace whether I asked it to be or not. My marriage is also the primary tool that God has used in my life to make me more like Jesus. Represent the gospel? A tool to be made more like Christ? Those two things alone are reason enough for me to fight for my marriage, even when it feels weak and pathetic. Just like I was weak and pathetic when Christ rescued me. There are several other reasons, but those two are the foundation.

Rejoicing Over A Painful 2014

At the end of 2013 my wife wrote a Facebook post saying she was most hoping for an “uneventful” year in 2014. For details that aren’t worth getting into now, her prayer to God for a year that could be called uneventful made a lot of sense. With that said, I should have known what was coming…

On the outside this last year might seem pretty uneventful. We didn’t move, have another child, etc. Yet, family and friends who are closest to us know that 2014 was probably the most difficult year my wife and I have experienced together.

For me, personally, it was emotionally the most difficult year I have walked through since I was 14 and my parents divorced. Honestly, this year may have been harder than that. It is always difficult to compare things so recently pressed into the heart and mind to things more than a decade old. Nonetheless, I had no idea what God had in store when 2014 started. Let’s just say I had never seen so many curve balls and I didn’t expect so many of them to drill me in the face.

In our marriage, Meredith are in a better place than we have ever been. Our marriage is without a doubt at its healthiest point. What does it take to make things healthy? Confession. Repentance. Grace. Forgiveness. To sum it up, heart change. Typically, when it comes to sanctification and heart change, pain is the conduit.

Yeah, 2014 involved quite a bit of pain. Sadness ruled my heart for several months and that spilled over into my home. Thankfully, I am a few months on the other side of the sad season that dominated most of my year and I can see God’s grace. Not only am I more mature man, husband, and pastor, but I am seeking the things above with a deeper tenacity.

My marriage, if I was okay with comparing it to other peoples, seemed “fine.” Meredith and I realized that as we settled for mediocre in reality it would take us to the brink.. In not settling, we had to address things that were difficult. Thankfully, grace prevailed.

Philippians 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is hard to have a posture of rejoice in the Lord always in seasons of sadness, pain, and hurt. It is also incredibly difficult to not be anxious about anything. To be honest, for most of 2014 I felt, ” I am not abiding in Christ very well in this season. My heart is overwhelmed with anxiousness. I feel like a total failure in how I am handling this season in my life.”

The reality of life tells me 2014 was not my last difficult year. In fact, I am confident that I will have many more painful years and years that carry a much deeper pain. Thankfully, because of what God chose for me(and Meredith) to walk through this last year I now have better depth to walk in greater dependence on the Lord.

Yes, after possibly the most difficult year in my life, I can gladly “Rejoice in the Lord.”

The Grace Of Gathering With The Church

This morning was a unique, even special Sunday for me.

As my wife pointed out with glee, my family got to all go to church together today- IN THE SAME CAR!

10360697_627084382178_8191000113238462364_n

My church moved our Sunday services to Christmas Eve Eve (deep breaths for all you Lord’s Day literalists!).This means, it is the one week a year that my home church doesn’t have services and so I get to “attend” church like a normal person. One thing pastors lose is the opportunity to participate in church gatherings with their families. I never realized how much I took that blessing for granted.

Like most people, I also used to take for granted the fact that I get to gather with the church at all. The difficult part now is that on Sundays I have a million things running through my head, overseeing dozens of volunteers, and taking care of all of my responsibilities. It makes it impossible to simply sit, rest, and appreciate the grace of God in allowing me to gather with church family. There is a real peace that comes from gathering under Christ- who is our peace- with our adopted brothers and sisters in Christ.

Well, this morning got to be different for me. It was a joy to get to gather with the church. It felt like peaceful rest. It felt like a lot of grace. Let’s not take this grace for granted.