The Happy Dinosaur

Several years ago, while attending the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Annual Meeting, I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend I had worked with in Alaska.  We hadn’t made a connection in quite some time, but Dean is the kind of friend you can easily pick up the conversation with no matter how long it’s been between visits.  This salt-of-the-earth fellow shocked me when he announced that he was divorced and remarried since we talked last.  As we compared notes about other co-workers from our Alaska days, Dean observed, “I think you are the only one who is still married to his first wife.  How does it feel to be a dinosaur?”  I wasn’t sure what to say.  I didn’t want to make light of his situation and the pain involved, but all I could say was the first honest thought that came to my mind, “It feels good.”

Yes, it feels good.  It feels good to keep your promise.  Again, not to ignore or minimize the circumstances and pain of divorce, but it feels good to be a dinosaur, if that is what keeping your promise is called.  I am also probably the happiest dinosaur you know.  But the happy part is a long story for another time.

A promise is a powerful thing.  I hate to break a promise.  I have and it hurts.  Why is breaking a promise so painful?  As Michael Card observes in his book Immanuel:  Reflections on the Life of Christ, when you make a promise you give away a part of yourself.  Something as simple as “I’ll be there at 3 o’clock to pick you up” gives a part of yourself to another person.  And something as serious as “I promise to love you for the rest of our lives” gives yourself completely to another person.  That is why divorce is so painful.  In marriage, you are giving yourself to another person.  In divorce, you have lost something you will never get back.  You have lost a part of yourself.  God’s intention in marriage is to give yourselves away to each other and to never get it back.  May I encourage you?  Keep your promise.

The Power of the Resurrection

As much as we celebrate the power of the cross, we mustn’t neglect the power of the resurrection.  Many have died on a cross -though only one as the Son of God – but the spectacular coming-back-to-life is the experience of Jesus alone.  God the Father confirmed the power and sufficiency of Christ’s death to forgive sin and His identity as God’s Son, the sinless One, by raising Jesus from the dead (Rom 1:1-4).  The resurrection sealed the deal and confirmed our salvation won at the cross.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy had caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet 1:3).

In Philippians chapter 3, the apostle Paul writes, “Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:9-11).

In one verse, Paul takes the power of the cross; “the fellowship of His sufferings” and “being conformed to His death” and puts it together with the power of the resurrection in his desire to know Christ in His fullness.  Paul follows a similar pattern in Romans 6:5, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”  This hearkens back to the previous verse in chapter 6, “As Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

To walk in newness of life.  Somehow we have landed on my favorite word in the New Testament; the word new.  Nothing goes together better than the words “new” and “resurrection”.  We were raised with Christ to experience all the “new” that He has promised His children.  So as we approach this Resurrection Sunday, take a minute to thank the resurrecting Father for both the privilege and responsibility, and might I add the godly desire, to walk in the power of the resurrection.

The Power of the Cross

It is nice to talk about good communication in marriage, developing your family identity, and “building a cathedral,” but without the power to make this part of our daily experience these are just romantic notions.  Each of us carry inside a remnant of the old nature – somehow still active even though it’s dead – that seeks to thwart our godly efforts.  The Bible summarizes its manifestation as selfish ambition.  How do we find the power to overcome our nearest enemy:  ourselves?

In Luke 9:23, Jesus warns His would-be disciples, “And [Jesus] was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’ ”  The concept, taken from this verse, of “bearing one’s cross” is a prevalent theme in the literature of Christian discipleship.  We often take the term to mean putting up with some physical infirmity, dealing with a challenging relationship, or some other difficult situation.  But to Jesus’ first century audience the meaning of “bearing one’s cross” cut much deeper and was explicitly vivid.  Being 2000 years removed from the cross as an instrument of execution has so softened the intensity of this phrase for us that we almost miss its potency.

It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for a convicted criminal to literally “bear his own cross,” carrying the crossbeam of his cross through the streets to the place of execution.  Jesus Himself suffered this fate.  When Jesus spoke these words, this literal “cross-carrying” was what his hearers visualized.  The equation of “cross equals death, not difficulty” was common in their experience.

I believe we can take at least three applications from Jesus’ command to take up our cross.  The most direct is this:  as a disciple of Jesus we must be prepared for physical death that may result.  This was not only the outcome for some of His listeners that day (nearly all of the apostles), but continues to be the experience of Christ followers in many places.  That Jesus had this in mind is clear from the verse that follows.  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Lk 9:24).

Application two is hinted at in the preceeding phrase of verse 23, “He must deny himself.”  Similar to the cross representing physical death is the idea that the cross represents death to self, death to selfish ambition, death to your own hopes, dreams, and plans, even death to relationships that hinder one’s discipleship loyalty (Lk 14:26).  The word “daily” following the command also fits this application as it suggests this death is a continuous and ongoing aspect of discipleship.  Taking up our cross in this sense does indeed defeat our last enemy:  ourselves.  Our desires and agenda are now subservient to the call of Christ.

Application three moves beyond this specific verse to look at the over-arching message of the New Testament.  When we take up the cross, we are not only embracing its death-to-self message, we are also embracing its power.  We generally ascribe the “power of the cross” to the one time event of our justification.  We rightfully acknowledge that Christ’s death on the cross was powerful and sufficient to deliver us from the penalty of sin.  But could the power of the cross also be our ongoing experience?  The answer is a resounding “Yes!”  I refer you to the first several posts in this blog that examine the practical ramifications how Christ’s death ushered in everything new about who we are and empowers us to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

As our Good Friday remembrance approaches, may I encourage you to take a minute to thank our Savior not only for His one time gift of redemption but also for your new identity in Christ, your new nature, your new heart, and the ongoing presense of His Holy Spirit.  In these gifts we experience the power of the cross every day.

Destroying Walls

The sequence in the following paragraph is meant to be read slowly.  Think about each step and ask yourself, “Has this been my experience?  Have I contributed to taking our marriage in this direction?”

Poor communication in marriage leads to a downward spiral of misunderstanding (hurts or offenses left unsettled), which lead to assumptions (private thoughts that are repeated in our minds), which leads to walls (practice in keeping each other at a distance in those tough subjects), which leads to quietness (no longer a desire to find joy in each other’s company), which leads to emotional separation (“I don’t really need you after all”).

How do we break this chain?  By going through the hard conversations that improve our understanding of each other.  Only then will we arrive at the beautiful place of oneness that we desire in our marriage.  Demanding my point of view builds walls.  Looking out for the benefit of my wife melts conflict.  We don’t always have to win.

Are you a wall builder or wall destroyer in your marriage?  A wall builder starts with a foundation of selfishness and adds bricks of complaining, nagging, lack of communication, a 2% focus, exhaustion, lack of physical touch, outside interests, boredom, and laziness.  When the wall has been built, where will we go for love, romance, respect, sex, etc.?  We will not look for it in each other and who can blame us?  Wall destroyers, on the other hand, use the weapons of humility, respect, forgiveness, open communication, listening, service, physical love, affection, and romance to tear down Satan’s strongholds, destroy the walls that separate us, and energize our marriage.  Are you a wall builder or a wall destroyer?

“That’s Not What I Heard”

“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.”  I mentioned last post that my number one goal in communication as a couple is understanding my wife, not proving my point.  Assumptions and having a predisposed opinion of what our spouse is thinking or going to say is a destroyer of good communication.  Sometimes we need to dig for the speaker’s intended meaning.

Let me tap into an illustration from our short story, The Artist and the Minstrel (also available in Amazon’s Kindle store for your smart phone or reading device), to highlight the need to understand as the speaker intended.

“It’s Friday evening.  Rhonda and I agree that we should spend our Saturday working on the landscaping.  The flower beds need to be weeded, raked out, and have a general good clean up.  Saturday morning arrives.  The artist sees the finished project in her mind and knows the diligence it will take to get there, so she is early out in the garage gathering the tools.  The minstrel decides to sleep a little later.  After all, he has been going against his nature all week rising early for the drive to work and enjoys the little extra sleep.  When he does get up, the minstrel decides to make pancakes for breakfast, something he thinks everyone will enjoy on a Saturday morning.  He can’t understand the artist’s frustration when he tries to deliver her some pancakes in the back yard.  He thought he was doing her a favor.”

“Before going out to join his wife, the minstrel gets a call that one of the kids who was at an overnighter needs to be picked up.  He runs the errand and on the way home remembers he was going to get a haircut today.  So he drops junior off and goes back to the barber shop.  After looking for some lunch, playing a game with one of the kids, and checking the college football scores, the minstrel emerges from the house ready to join the artist in her work.  For some reason the artist blows up and the afternoon’s work is done in silence.  Why is the artist never happy?”

“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.  When Rhonda suggested we work in the yard tomorrow, she was saying, ‘Let’s focus on the landscaping tomorrow.  That means we rise early, work diligently, and make it the number one goal above all others until the job is complete.’  What I heard her say was, ‘Tomorrow, when we have some free time, when we are not doing anything else, let’s go outside and work on the landscaping.’  The listener did not understand the words of the speaker as they were intended to be understood.”

Now granted, the listener may have been motivated by stubbornness or laziness and just didn’t want to hear, or allowed his personality bent to interfere with hearing, but that discussion is for another time.  As you seek to improve your marriage communication, remember this, “Good communication only happens when the listener understands the speaker in the way the speaker intended to be understood.”  Communicate for understanding.  Ask clarifying questions for understanding, not to prove your knowledge.  Then your conversation will contribute to your oneness instead of being a wedge that drives you apart.