Thursday, January 26, 2012

Marriage Matters: Worship Changes Marriage

Jesus makes the point for us in Mark 12:30-31 that love for God and others (namely your closest neighbor and that's your husband) is all-consuming and deeply connected. There is no part of life that falls outside of one's heart, mind, soul and strength. This all-consuming kind of love is called worship, declaring the worth of something or someone. A life of worship (not just Sunday morning) but a life of worship is to have one's life totally oriented around the God of the bible. That means the way we love our husband finds its foundation and expression in how we worship God, because worshipping the God of the bible always leads to transformation and change. So this greatest commandment is not just an obligation for us but the path to meaningful change in marriage.

Everyone has faith in someone or something. Psalm 71 tells us, "In you, Lord, I put my trust. For you are my hope, O Lord God; you are my trust from my are my strong refuge, you uphold me, you are righteous, you teach me, your works are wondrous, you are powerful...who else is like comfort have redeemed me." Substituting anyone or anything for this assurance, loving or delighting in anyone or anything more than this God is idolatry. Don't ask yourself if, ask yourself what?

Play the "Which Would You Rather" game that I play with my grandchildren. For them it's which would you rather, Lucky Charms or ice cream? Ice cream or a bicycle? A bicycle or  Narnia book? Narnia or Disney? You play it this way: which would you rather, wealth or God? Approval or God? Comfort or God? My children or God? My husband or God? You can often determine what your idols are by seeing what makes you angry when you are denied what you want or what you think you deserve. Idols all serve self. They may require the participation of other people or things but they ultimately are about self and exalting oneself above God. God made us to worship Him and even in our rebellion against Him we cannot stop worshipping, we just seek a "worshipful" way to serve ourselves. Don't kid yourself. See? "Lucky Charms: America's #1 Source of Whole Grain." Right. So healthy and ultimately for my good.
So what's the danger? It's far worse than what you see at left. Psalm 115:3-8 tells us idols have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; ears, but cannot hear, hands, but they cannot feel, nor can they utter a sound. Those who make them will be like them and so will all those who trust in them. We will become like that which we worship. Which would you rather? Idol or God? Death or Life? That's pretty clear, isn't it? As much as you love your husband, he is not designed by God to be your everything, your everyone, your security, your savior. God is kind to tell us this. He is kind and merciful to bring us to Himself and to command us to find in Him our all in all.
Do you find hope and help in the Psalms? God tells us in Psalm 115 that He remembers us and will bless us. He will bless those who fear the Lord--great and small alike. If we worship Him He will bless us. How great is the Father's love for us that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3. If we worship God, He will change us until one day in glory we will be like Him. That is our hope. If our marriages are going to change, then change must begin through God with me. We must forsake our fears and desires that we have made into idols and be filled with God alone.

And you know what that means. Friction! There you have it. I'm headed one way, my husband the other. He's got an angle. Doesn't everyone? Everything is an uphill struggle. And like that equation, I don't understand it. Tim Keller tells us that love is hard to give and hard to receive. He's got that right. When we marry we are under the notion that there has never been another love like ours, we both like and dislike the same things, we're totally on the same page, and his mother doesn't drive me that crazy.  "Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love? Everyone ends up marrying the wrong person because two sinners marry and marriage profoundly changes both of them." Go, Tim.  "Marriage is meant to be a beautiful illustration of the gospel. And the reason marriage is so painful and yet so wonderful is because the gospel that it illustrates is also painful and wonderful. We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harsh; it gives information but in such a  way that we cannot really hear it. God's saving love in Christ 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 love and mercy alone."

Christian love is not blind. It is the only love that allows us to see ourselves and one another as we really are and choose to love all the more. We love because God first loved us.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Marriage Matters: Making Change

The author of "Marriage Matters" Winston Smith makes a bold claim in his title, "Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Moments." Is that kind of change really possible? And what in the world are ordinary moments? They are the normal day to day occurrences that cause us frustration, disappointment, anger and sadness, especially in the marriage relationship. Hint: whatever your spouse routinely does that makes you crazy. While you're at it, don't forget that it's the things you do that make HIM crazy. (Have you ever asked him what those things are?) And yes, extraordinary change is possible. We often find that difficult to believe because our ordinary moments are habitual in nature, we grow tired of fussing about them, are weary with dealing with them, or perhaps have lost hope that anything(one) will change.

 Most dangerous is the assumption that God is not interested in the minute details of your married life.  If you've prayed about these kinds of moments that cause you to want to pull your hair out and it seems as if God has not answered or is not listening, it's very easy to become discouraged. But a growing indifference to marriage and the God of marriage is like skating on thin ice.
Are you one of those who is not opposed to change as long as someone else is the one who has to do the changing? Sounds like an Israelite to me. The road to the Promised Land is long and treacherous, marked with many unknowns. Paul's Damascus Road experience sounds a lot more appealing. Change and make it quick. Especially if the change we're talking about is the change we desire in our spouse. Hope this won't just burst the balloon too terribly, but the Damascus Roads experiences are a lot less common that the wilderness treks to the Promised Land.

Read 1 John 4:7-12 and consider the three ingredients necessary for change in the ordinary moments. 1.Marriages change when we recognize God's agenda for so-called ordinary moments. God's presence makes a big difference in situations where we don't feel loved or don't respond in loving ways. When we find it hard to love we need God all the more. A lack of love should cause us not just to look closely at our marriage, but at our relationship with God. If God is indeed love (and He is) then He surely is part of the solution.

2. Marriages change when we're willing to love in practical, Christ-like ways, especially in the difficult moments. Love became a human person named Jesus who lived among us. Love in the long haul is not romance, a feeling, or experience, but a person. Jesus came, spoke, and acted in ways that made love a visible life and action in front of us. This requires a deep connection to Him, a dependence on Him and knowing what love looks like in the heat of the battle. Jesus' love informs us, motivates us, gives us a living example of what love is, and an assurance that the battle has already been won.

3. Marriages change when we're willing to love consistently, over time, not because my spouse changes, but because I am in a growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Change is that God lives in us and becomes visible in us. John is saying that He lives in us and His love is being made complete. Are you willing or able to offer up your own selfish needs and desires for change? Or, perhaps are you becoming highly skilled in gritting your teeth?

God has so much more to offer us in the ordinary moments of life. And besides, a life of teeth gritting will run up your dental bill. Most of life is lived out in ordinary moments. But we look to love and serve in big flashy times and places when actually it's day to day faithfulness and deep love in the ordinary moments that is so costly, but life-changing. It's not that our expectations are so high, it's quite the opposite. We are so distracted and discouraged by the annoyances of ordinary moments that we fail to see how God is using them to change us.

Have you ever read about the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22? He comes to Jesus with some good questions that Jesus responds to with questions of his own. Jesus asks the rich young man to love his neighbor in a way that he hasn't considered before. And it's tough. Real tough. As Winston Smith says, "God is love is more than a nice thought." Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Who is your closest neighbor? Your husband. Yes, marriage is waaaaay more than romance, having babies and playing house. If you are a Christian professing faith in Jesus, your marriage and every relationship is a spiritual matter. That's a game changer. And a heart changer. And a life changer. Like the rich young ruler, we think we are spiritually minded and doing a fairly good job with what we have and know. Jesus says, "Not so." The rich young man looked into the face of incarnate love and walked away. Sad. Very sad.
Jesus is not cold, unsympathetic or indifferent to this man's plight or to yours and mine. He is the Great High Priest of Hebrews 4:14-16 who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, was tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin. The scriptures say that we can have confidence to approach the throne of grace to find mercy, strength and help in time of need at the very moment in which we need it. Dr. Duncan told us a few weeks ago that God gives us mercy in four ways:
1. By removing the trial or temptation all together.
2. By giving strength to endure the trial.
3. By changing our heart and attitude toward the trial.
4. By changing our heart and attitude to our own response in the trial.
As we seek extraordinary change in ordinary moments in our marriages it is vital to understand that we neither seek nor find alone and we do not find that change somewhere within ourselves and our own strength. Our Great High Priest Jesus is our intercessor, source, and sufficiency.

Next week: Marriage Reveals What We Worship

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Marriage Matters: A Giraffe is Beautiful But Not Suitable

First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS, hosts a weekly bible study for moms of young children. This semester we are studying Winston Smith's excellent book "Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Moments." With the permission of the leadership team I'll post weekly summaries of our large group meeting. I am indebted to Smith, Timothy Keller and Wayne Mack for many of the thoughts, ideas, and principles included in the lectures.
Bookstore shelves, both Christian and secular, are lined with titles on the topic of marriage. Mostly angst-filled titles that can sometimes be almost humorous if they weren't so sad. Statistic after statistic shows marriage to be in a continual decline. Living with a significant other without the benefit of marriage, the divorce rate, and the rate of those never marrying are all on the increase.
Could it be for those of us who are professing Christians that many of our frustrations, sadness, and lack of fulfillment in marriage could be partially due to the fact that we do not understand or fail to believe what the Word of God has to say about marriage? Coupled with the fact that it is two sinners who jump the broom (those two above look so unsinnerlike) there is little wonder that we meet up with difficulty. Let me say at the get-go, the same statistics show that those who are married experience a significant level of satisfaction in marriage. Yea team! So....this is why we're looking today at what the bible teaches about the establishment of the institution of marriage in the book of Genesis chapter 2.

In verse 2 God makes a startling statement. "It is not good." It's startling because thus far every creation of His has been followed with a resounding, "It is good." God has made no mistake. He instead makes a statement that it is not good for man to be alone. That's what is not good. Man has need and God states it within earshot of Adam.
God brings the animal parade before Adam who exercises his dominion over them by naming them all and in the process it is reinforced to Adam that there is none suitable for him.  Yes, the giraffe is beautiful, but it is not suitable for Adam.
Vs. 21 "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam and he slept; and He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh in its place. The the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman and He brought her to the man and Adam said, 'This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.'" Note the intimacy of this creation. She is a perfect fit for him because God made her and made her from him. There is something intrinsically familiar and glorious about her which delights Adam and prompts his song of love.

What does it mean to leave father and mother? 1. To relate to them in a different way. Whereas children are commanded to obey their parents, adult children are to honor their parents. 2. To be more concerned about your spouse's ideas, opinions, and practices that those of your parents. 3. To not be dependent on your parents for income, affection approval, assistance and counsel. 4. To deal with any bad attitudes that you may have about your parents in order that those attitudes will not affect the way you relate to your spouse. 5. To be more concerned that your spouse is growing in godliness than what your parents may think of him. 6. To make your relationship with your spouse a priority over that with your parents, your children, your friends, your interests, your career, etc.
What does it mean to cleave or be joined? 1. It means making a binding covenant to one another before God and witnesses that should not be entered into lightly. It is a binding covenant that  is the most serious and solemn promise that you will ever make for it binds the two of you into a oneness that changes your very being. 2. It means it is a deliberate choice and vow of faithfulness that you are willing to make. 3.It means forsaking all others emotionally, physically, sexually and spiritually. The scriptures tell us that the heart is wicked above all things. Given the opportunity any of us is capable of anything and the evil one who roams around looking for whom he may devour loves to prove that with marital infidelity. Please heed this warning: If you are flirtatious or looking for emotional, physical, sexual, or even spiritual fulfillment in a man other than your husband, you are playing with a raging fire that will consume you and your family. Being joined to your husband means being so united to him that there is neither space nor a place for anyone or anything that would threaten that oneness.

4. Being joined to your husband means leaving your former way of life, your self-interest and promotion, and your self-importance and putting him and his well-being before your own.
What does it mean to be one flesh? 1.Sexual union is a culmination in a sense of all other aspects of oneness in marriage. It is both a means of expressing oneness and of sustaining oneness. Just as grace promotes grace, intimacy promotes intimacy, oneness promotes oneness. 2. It is intended to be a pleasurable means of communicating a husband and wife's irrepressible love that is so intense that each wants to be totally enveloped by the other. 3. There is no loss of identity in marriage. It is in this union that the identity of the other is meant to be realized, valued and exalted in the way that the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit exalt one another. 4. It is a concrete way of expressing the selfless and extravagant love of God for His church. All that I have and am is yours. 5. It is the expression of Eph. 5:25 that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.
Next week, How God Works in Ordinary Moments for Extraordiary Change: The Mayonnaise Jar  Or  the Great Hamburger Debacle of 1994.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Itch to Stitch

Sometimes I think this warning label needs to be affixed to the boxes that house new sewing machines, for sewing is pretty much an either/or kind of thing. For those who love it, sewing is therapy of sorts. For those who don't, well, let's just say I have seen sweet girls driven to tears at the prospect of having to wind a bobbin and attach side piece C to front A. It's not worth it. Find another hobby, another form of therapy, another....obsession.

My mother, who hails from a long line of seamstresses, began teaching me to sew when I was about eight years old and I have loved it ever since. Walking into a fabric store is like taking a trip to a candy store. All of those stacks and bolts of crisp colorful fabrics just set my fingers on fire!  Like these fabrics from Poppyseed which you can find here:

As soon as all of the Christmas decorations are tucked away for another 11 months, I begin plotting and planning my next sewing project. Where shall I go from here?
Look at what Aimee Ray makes over at
She is something else!
You'll want to visit her etsy store from there.

Or since there's another baby on the way, I could be useful and start on Baby Miller's layette.
 Look at these luscious blankets from
I love them.
Notice the fabulous mitered corners which remind me of how I learned to make blankets like these.
My friend, P, and I were making our maiden voyage to Paris and she explained to me on the eight hour flight how to make this blanket. I thought I understood. Our internal clocks were totally out of sync that first night and at about three in the morning I asked,
 "Are you awake?"
"Tell me again how to miter that corner."
Isn't that what everyone talks about at three in the morning?

But then I could try my hand at quilting. I've never done that.
Maybe I'd be the one winding the bobbin with tears spilling out as I connect the 4,500th piece to the remaining 8,942 pieces.
Another gorgeous piece from Cluck, Cluck, Sew.
P and I took a field trip yesterday to the fabric store. It seems that Santa brought her a serger and all she had to do was go pick it out. I'm not in the market (or I don't think I am) but I went along for moral support and to look at all of the "candy" on the shelves.
I'm pretty sure that P not only has the itch to stitch, but the urge to serge as well.

Meg is very concerned that Shirley Cate doesn't have one of these dolls and did her best to talk me into making one for her for Christmas. Maybe for her birthday this year.
They all have names.
Cynthia, Lydia and Gloria.
And then there's Sylvia at the top of my blog.

I love taking photos of sewing projects outside in the sunshine on the shrubs. Somehow that makes the colors pop. Cynthia and all of the birds nesting on the tree was inspired by Psalm 91:4. He shall cover you with His feathers. Under His wings I will trust.
Lydia is, of course, the story of the apostle Paul meeting her by the river where a group gathered to worship. She heard the message of the Gospel from Paul and she and her household (on the front of the doll) were saved.
Then there's Gloria, the song of the angels at Christmas. P and I had just met a lady in Amboise named Gloria who had wild blond hair. So does this Gloria.
Anyway, I could get started on a doll for Shirley Cate.
Got any name suggestions?

Charlotte Lyons over here:
has a host of beautiful embroidery projects that have just been calling out to me.
You must look at her blog and etsy shop.
Her samplers are incredibly beautiful, colorful, and bring a good dose of new year's cheer.
"I bring you love."
She certainly does.
You know what else is around the corner? Spring. Easter dresses and pretty spring clothes for little peeps. I could be industrious and get after that, too.
 This is my favorite little dress pattern. Children's Corner Carol.
We call it the house dress.
When you're trying to dream up appliques or embellishment for children's garments, take your sewing mind out of the box. Look for ideas in children's books, on scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, greeting cards, or in this instance, a tea towel.
Truth be told, I'm going to sew a button back on Spike's shirt and then work on bible study for Wednesday.
And when I take a break I'll go look at this and start imagining all of the cute jumpers I could make thanks to the very creative Cottage Home.
What are you itching to stitch?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

No More Turkey

Our choir director once commented that singing Christmas carols after Christmas was like eating day old turkey. Enough is enough. Christmas photos could be like that, too, I guess. This is really late or actually could be seen as the first Christmas post for 2012. I'm just bobbing up for air, hence the delay and then I'm on to new things!

December begins with birthdays in our family. Erin, Pop, Peter and Grandmuvver.
Let me introduce you to another of our cherished family traditions.

And you thought the children were going to help him blow out candles.
How much fun is that?
No! They all stick their finger in the cake.
And who taught them to do this?
The original Mr. Party.

The children are not allowed to do this anywhere else for obvious reasons.
But at Pop's house it's no holes barred.

One of the best blessings of our Christmas celebration was having Grandmuvver, feeling good, health restored, full of her normal zip and zing and with us.
It took Shirley Cate approximately 7.5 seconds to get in the swing again with Grandmuvver.

Once the little Beilman children arrived the spying and bartering from the Christmas shelf began.
Charlotte eyes that little bug in a box and the selection process proves to be a nail biter for Emily.

The happy Miller family on Christmas morning before heading to church at our beloved First Presbyterian Church of Jackson. Erin's arms will be full, too, next Christmas!

"Blessed is the man whose quiver is full."
Amen, brother.
Charlie, Benj, Jack, Shirley Cate, Meg, Charlotte and Emily

 "His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again."

And blessed is the girl whose stocking is full, too!

Pop would not miss being in the middle of all this for anything.

Are you ready for the next little bit of fun at our house?
It's called "Slap the Turkey."
Never slapped one?
You don't know what you're missing.

Notice the rhythmic vigor with which Emily slaps this bird.
Emily's expertise is sure to improve the bird's flavor.

Young Charles considers creating an instructional video for those reluctant to participate or mystified by the time honored tradition.
"Approach bird with caution, yet with confidence and purpose."

Slapping out the beat to a favorite song for a round of "Name That Tune" always provides a moment of levity during the stress of meal production.
In this case, the theme song to Bonanza.
Wouldn't that have been your choice?
Just notice that expert wrist motion.
Good job, Chach.

 Stay tuned (for eleven months) for the instructional post on creating this dessert,
 Boule de Neige.
That's another story involving El Dorado, Arkansas, a microwave, and a man who demonstrated how to field dress a deer on live TV.
Until then all you need to know is that each bite of this dessert fulfills your yearly requirement of chocolate, butter, and heavy cream.
If it doesn't kill you, you'll really enjoy it.

After all of the activity Benjamin chose to go incognito for a while.
I understand, Benj.

Who needs candy canes, Christmas cookies, fudge, or Boule de Neige when you've got these two gumdrops?
A sweet love fest this Christmas.