If Love is God, Love Will Fail

I was never any good at romantic love. I feared falling in love — being vulnerable with my emotions. I knew whoever I married would need to be a worthy man according to Scripture, but also someone I could fall in love with, and that second part scared me. As I dated my husband, two big questions hovered over our relationship:

Was he godly? Yes.
Do I love him? Yes, I do.

But it did not end there, like I had thought it would. Because I had overcome my fear of falling in love and “took the plunge,” I thought I had arrived. I thought we had arrived. Instead, I realized that, though I had fallen in love, I did not know a thing about true love. In fact, God walked me and all my fears about love through the door of romantic love on my wedding day in order to teach me about his true and lasting love in new and deeper ways.

Two Loves

There is a clear distinction between biblical love and romantic love. Biblical love is unnatural to us, so it is always worked in us by the Holy Spirit. No one loves like God without God’s help. Romantic love comes more naturally to us, and therefore happens easily.

Romantic love is a good gift of God’s common grace meant for our enjoyment, and it is good for this type of love to develop into marriage. Biblical love is a different category altogether. At its core, biblical love is selfless, committed to truth, and driven by a divine work inside of us. It never happens unless we draw near to God in Christ. Biblical love can also be expressed and experienced in any relationship, while romantic love is exclusive — designed to be expressed and experienced (at least ultimately) with one person in marriage.

Romantic feelings only scratch the surface of God’s design for us. They give us a glimmer of the ecstatic feelings God has for us, the kind of feelings that lead him to sing over us (Zephaniah 3:17). Biblical love takes us even deeper into that wondrous love. Our love for one another models his covenant love for us — a love so zealous to uphold his covenant with us that he will die for us, even when he had every reason to leave us.

Death is at the center of God’s love for us, and death is at the heart of all biblical love. The covenant vows we make on our wedding day are a death sentence of love. We vow to die to self, in every season of marriage, for the other — to keep the covenant at all costs, doing whatever it takes to serve our spouse’s joy in Jesus.

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Made for community: The church, marriage and dying to self

I recently took my son to see “The LEGO Batman Movie,” and I was struck by its depth. Batman teams up with LEGO to show, not just the dark side of Gotham City’s villains, but the dark side of the dark knight. The LEGO cartoons always seem to depict Batman in a unique way from the other superheroes: as the loner. He likes to work alone and is portrayed as emotionally distant, egotistical and self-preserving. He’s afraid of being close or needing anybody in his life, especially emotionally. But by the end of the film, relationship and community trump individualism. Batman takes a long look inside himself and changes.

Individualism in America

Batman is one example of individualism. According to Britannica, individualism became a core part of American ideology by the 19th century. As James Bryce, British ambassador to the United States, wrote in The American Commonwealth in 1888: “Individualism, the love of enterprise, and the pride in personal freedom have been deemed by Americans not only their choicest, but [their] peculiar and exclusive possession.”

In her article for The Federalist, Heather Judd, traces back the history of individualism to the Enlightenment, where truth derived from reason and the self was exalted. Then, the Industrial Revolution centralized work in factories, which relied more on the individual for work instead of the family unit. Judd then brings the history to our present reality:

By the mid-nineteenth century, transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau turned from rationalism but continued to extol the self-sufficiency of the individual. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have dutifully followed the path they blazed, separating the individual from society, then family, and now even the self, as we question whether we have any inherent identity apart from our transitory desires and feelings.

Judd goes on to say that these historical shifts have brought our culture to a place where we navigate life from the perspective of the individual. These roots go down deep. Our country was established with the desire for independence and self-government, for good reason. And more than that, our first father and mother sought independence from their Creator. But that’s not the calling our heavenly Father has for us spiritually.

Read the rest at The ERLC >>

The Captivating Power of a Good Family

The more books I read to my kids, the more movies I watch with them, and the more Disney Junior shows they consume, I see one clear gospel message: “Believe in yourself.” But a close runner-up to this message would be a gospel about family, for instance in the powerful and popular new show, This Is Us. Many movies today, for every age and demographic, bring the moral of the story back to the family.

The workaholic dad finally finds his meaning in his family. The working mom that barely gets it all done realizes her life is really about her family. The rebellious teen ends up finding healing in his family. It’s a typical theme, moral, or virtue that is lifted up as one of many gods of our age. The family is often portrayed as the salvation of mankind. Family is where we find ultimate meaning.

It’s good, clean fun to believe in family, so nobody questions it. As Christians, we can agree with the value of family in movies and television, because we know the God who designed and blessed the family structure.

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

Chasing Happily Ever After

There is a story little girls grow up with. The one where a handsome young Prince defeats every obstacle to save the Princess in distress. This is the stuff of fairy tales and a lot of older Disney movies. Now those movies have evolved into something where the Princess is strong, not helpless, and where she is in control as opposed to things just happening to her. She even does some of the saving now. Overall, this is a good shift of the classic narrative structure, because it shows the stronger side of femininity for little girls and lets them know they shouldn’t look for ultimate fulfillment in men. We can’t place our hope in another character in the story, but it must be placed in the creator of the story itself.

The story of the Prince saving the Princess and living happily ever after is reflective of a longing inside of us. We want this to be our story. We want the happily ever after. So we search for it in a man, in a relationship, and in a marriage. But when we bank on finding ultimate happiness in a boyfriend, fiancee, or husband we place them on a pedestal and put burdens on them they were never meant to bear. I didn’t realize I had put my husband on a pedestal until five years of marriage when he came crashing down. I was deeply hurt and he became a broken statue on the floor. I found out the depth of his sin, as well as my own, and reality could not measure up to the fairy tale. I felt like I had lost my happily ever after. I wrongly assumed my husband would fill that longing for my happily ever after, and I also wrongly viewed him, and his role, as more akin to Christ himself. My husband is called to be like Christ, but he is not Christ. I didn’t have this straight when I married him.

Read the rest at Young Wives Club >>

Dream Weddings and Our Search for Wholeness

The gleam of a sparkly new ring, the rustle of satin and lace, promises made in tender budding love, and the glistening eyes of the groom as he beholds his bride are what make up the wedding dream. It’s the archetypal story of the princess who finally found her prince charming, and it all feels so perfectly magical. Weddings have long been a symbol of covenant relationship, but they seem to have morphed into something different, something more of an obsession. The dream wedding has become the utopia we all long for. It’s become the mirage we all envision and long for in this dry desert of a world—we think surely this will make me happy; surely now I will be complete. But as we walk through to the other side, we find ourselves still in the desert. We find ourselves still battling feelings of being incomplete, undone, and unsettled. Was it the wedding that failed to deliver? Was it the wrong bride/groom match-up? Was it the wrong timing? Nagging doubts demolish the fantasy of the dream wedding once real life resumes. The whole thing sets us up for a very disappointing post-wedding reality, scattering around us the casualties of disillusionment in the form of divorce.

But that sad reality is not what we think about, often because that’s not what the culture-at-large focuses upon. Our cultural wedding obsession is evident in the vast amount of reality shows dedicated to the big day. According to psychotherapist and divorce coach Micki Wade, “Shows like ‘Bridezillas’ and ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ have encouraged a cultural fascination with weddings, but it is our own entitlement that causes us to obsess over a one-day event…There is a much more materialistic emphasis today on the wedding.”

If you’ve ever planned your own wedding, or helped someone planned one, you know the cost is high. Each year in the United States, about 2.5 million people get married, and the industry is estimated to be $60 billion ($300 billion globally). The average wedding cost in the United States is $26,645. Couples typically spend between $19,984 and $33,306, but most couples spend less than $10,000. Money is where it’s at in the wedding industry. A quick scroll through Pinterest will help you find anything and everything wedding related: centerpieces, dresses, bouquet arrangements, photo booth ideas, favor ideas, themed cakes, table settings, and the perfect candy and dessert table spreads. Weddings are no small affairs and become the focal point for a couple once they decide to commit.

“The wedding is, on the one hand, a healthy way of making a public commitment to each other and acknowledging that you’re part of a web of family and friends that helps to nourish the relationship,” says Stephen Fabick, a consulting psychologist who specializes in conflict resolution. Planning the big day together can also build teamwork as a couple, preparing for a unified life. But when the main focus is the wedding, and not growing together as a couple, then the couple is set up for disillusionment, just like Fabick continues to say, “But on the other hand, it preps like a cancer, where the focus is on the show and not the long-term or reality of the relationship.”

In addition to the burgeoning wedding industry, we can also see this wedding obsession play out in the tabloids littering store checkout lanes. Personally obsessing over our own weddings isn’t enough; we also obsess over the preparation and planning of countless celebrity weddings, even those across the pond. Remember Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding? They literally embodied the archetypal story of Prince and commoner-turned-Princess; hopeless romantics everywhere swooned. And then there was the highly publicized wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries the same year as Kate and William. Although Kim and Kris are far from royal status, their following is just as grand. Both weddings were major media events, with coverage on everything from the dresses to the guest lists to the receptions. Sadly, it only took 72 days for the Kardashian–Humphries marriage to end in an equally publicized divorce. And here we have the cultural dichotomy of wedding obsession and the common reality of painful divorce.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

Marriage is Not About Me

All my girlfriends were in a desperate frenzy to find a husband, and I was the fish swimming against the current. I gave a resounding “yes” to Paul when he said, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Corinthians 7:7).

But my upstream swim was due to a dark cloud of fear blocking my vision. I was afraid of marriage. I was afraid of getting hurt.

Though I wanted to remain single (sometimes selfishly), God kept putting marriage on my heart. I sensed he wanted to give me a gift, but in my heart I kept resisting him. To me, marriage looked mostly bleak and dark. I didn’t want to be put in a vulnerable position, because I wanted a life without personal pain and heartache.

Then I met my future husband.

As I confronted my fears in our dating relationship, I kept walking ahead with faith in my Father. God gave me peace to trust him on that path, and the end result was marriage.

But a few years into marriage, I began to question again whether it was truly a gift. Aren’t gifts supposed to make you feel good?

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

If He Does Not Love Jesus, He Will Not Love You

Latest article up on Desiring God >>

Growing up in church as a young single woman, I heard a phrase about men I might date, “Make sure he loves Jesus more than you.”

I thought, “Well, of course,” and glossed over the cliché without really thinking about it. Adam, walking in the garden with God, would have been perplexed by that advice. For him, there would have been no competition for his heart and mind, because God gave Eve to him in a perfect and sinless world…

A Dangerous Fairytale for Future Wives

As little girls we might have pretended to be a damsel in distress — held hostage by a fire-breathing dragon, and saved by a knight in shining armor. We grow out of pretending, but as women we still tend to gravitate towards romantic books and movies.

The thing we love most about a fairytale romance is the happy ending. No matter what the ups and downs, the guy and girl always make it in the end and achieve romantic bliss. It’s so neat and clean, and perfect. Yet, the romance books and movies are just pretend. They deliver us a modern fairytale: the American Dream that comes with a successful career, two children (a boy and a girl, of course), a faithful and devoted husband, good health, and an abundance of wealth and material possessions.

But what happens when reality doesn’t line up with our hopes and dreams? What if the real story of our life and marriage disappoints us? Is our knight in shining armor who we thought he was when we married him? Can he save us from the dragon?

Read more at Desiring God >>

The Daily Work of the Spirit

Growing up in the church I was familiar with ministry nights. I also grew up experiencing the full gamut of Christian conferences and retreats. These events included extended times of prayer and worship accompanied by serene guitar strums and low lighting. Sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit felt as effortless as the melodies falling softly on my ears. These felt like special times when God would reveal himself to me in my stillness, and the Spirit would convict me of sin and help me set my sights on Christ.

These organized events can be refreshing and beneficial, but I’ve realized I should be seeking ministry from the Holy Spirit at all times. The Spirit’s ministry doesn’t have to be still, quiet, peaceful, and at a scheduled time. The Holy Spirit works in the mundane everyday moments of life — the nitty-gritty daily grind.

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Do Not Fear the Hard Things of Marriage

The picture in my head was clear, the image of a sheep being guided along from the rear by its shepherd. The sheep stayed the course on the straight path by the taps of the staff to its hindquarters. I heard the Lord say: “Do not fear, I will guide you and protect you.”

God was speaking to my heart as I confronted my fears of marriage. I was dating my husband at the time and fear tethered me back from going forward in the relationship. I was afraid of putting myself in a vulnerable position, because it could possibly lead to hurt. I wanted a life devoid of personal pain and heartache. I wanted to take my own hands and shelter my heart, instead of placing it into the hands of my Father…

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Dispelling Our Fear of Submission

Before I was married, I thought fulfilling biblical roles in marriage would look like a paint-by-number picture. My husband and I would both know exactly what to do, and our marriage would take off in the right direction on its own.

Now I see roles in marriage more like an inspired work of art: It takes time, thought, practice, some messy spills, and mental roadblocks. But with each brushstroke applied to the canvas, a picture of colorful beauty begins to take shape. Unlike the hard and clear-cut lines of a paint-by-number picture, the colors on this canvas bleed together in a way where distinction isn’t always obvious, but a glorious harmony emerges.

Before marriage, I also viewed the submissive wife as a shadow which loomed over me as Scrooge’s ghost of Christmas future. In my misconceptions, Ephesians 5 sounded like the rattling of Jacob Marley’s chains. Yet, three things helped me to dispel the fear of submission.

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Adversity Can Drive Our Affections to Christ

I didn’t want to get married. But I knew I was turning away a gift from God. Fear was gripping my heart as I resisted the gift of marriage. I knew it would be hard work and I would get hurt in the process. I thought thinking about marriage in terms of a gift meant adopting a sentimental view: a dozen red roses, date nights, dinner and wine, romantic picnics, and late night pillow talk. Maybe the romanticized view of marriage would elevate my negativity? After five years in my marriage I’m just now learning what that gift actually means.

Read More at For The Church >>

Helpers for Unfinished Husbands

My husband recently saw the spectacular Victoria Falls in Zambia. I said my husband because I was not there to witness the beauty and glory of such a sight, although he did text me a photo. I was grateful for the kind gesture, but it did nothing to keep me from longing to be there in person.

I could see sunrays beaming through the upper half of the falls, creating a rainbow in the watery mist. Yet I couldn’t hear the thunderous crashes of the water careening into the ocean below. I couldn’t experience the feelings that well up when our senses are bombarded with wonder like a massive waterfall. I saw a fraction of the majesty on my phone. I love that he sent me the photo, but it was a poor representation of the real thing.

In much the same way, my husband is called to represent the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ in our marriage. But I have to remember he’s just a photo — a representation, an image, a sketch of the real thing. Our husbands have a great and glorious calling to be like Christ for us.

Read more at DesiringGod.org >>

Give Your Suitor Some Grace

He wasn’t putting himself out there. His indirect attempts at prompting my admissions were not working. I stood firm and resolute. He kept prying.

It was our third date, he was putting the feelers out, and I wasn’t having it. No way would I be the first one to jump in the water. I expected him to directly broach the topic of our relationship with me. I wanted him to tell me his feelings first and initiate an official relationship. Yet we were at a stalemate. The awkward silence swallowed our fun evening as it came to a close.

When we parted ways, I became angry and began to doubt him. “Maybe he’s not the kind of guy I want?” “This isn’t going to work out.” “He’s not leading and initiating like he should.” My harsh judgments were growing like a hard shell around my heart, and I began rejecting him internally. I thought it would end before it had even begun….

Continue reading this post at DesiringGod.org >>

Is Marriage a Cage?

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Marriage? Nope. Not for me. I was the fish swimming against the current when all my girlfriends were swimming in a desperate frenzy for the destination. I was like the Apostle Paul, happy being single and wishing all the fish would realize singleness is a gift. I appreciated Paul’s enthusiasm for the single life, but I overlooked his encouragement for the gift of marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:7.) My upstream swim was due to a dark cloud of fear blocking my vision.

I believe my fear stemmed from a few sources. The church I grew up in held strong views of biblical manhood and womanhood, especially the woman’s role of submission in marriage. I believed in these truths only as concepts, but as real life personal application it felt daunting.

I also think the subtle cultural grasp of feminism was grabbing at my heart and mind. I was in college at the time and many of my professors were influencing the classroom with their worldview. Though I was scared of applying biblical womanhood in my life, and my college professors had a strong feminist mindset, the fault did not lie with all of them, but with me.

Courtney Reissig, author of The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design, states fear as the root of feminism by saying,

“But what feminism tried to do was empower women to rise above their circumstances in their own strength, in many ways owing to these very fears of vulnerability…Feminism answered the fears that women faced by putting women in control of their own destiny, by making women the final authority in their lives. And it’s easy to do isn’t it? We feel like if we have some semblance of control than we can’t be hurt, we can’t be disappointed, or we can’t be given over to our fears.”

My heart was fearful, because I desired control of my life. A godly relationship and marriage was a threat to my happiness from my perceived control over my life and identity. Control was the root desire I craved, which resulted in fear. I wanted control over my heart too. I was overly guarded. I barricaded my heart from vulnerability, because I knew a relationship had the potential to hurt me. To me showing emotion was a sign of weakness, and I took pride in the lack of it.

Freedom and a Cage

I felt like singleness was freedom and marriage was a cage. I thought my future husband would squelch my gifts, and I would be resigned to a frilly apron in the kitchen baking chocolate chip cookies. Yet, today I am married. How did that happen? Only by the faithfulness of God slowly chiseling away at the rock of my stubborn heart.

He was my good Shepherd who disciplined me with his staff to protect me and kept me within his boundary lines. He guided me through the shadow of the valley of uncertainty. He did not leave my side. I could trust him. He was giving me a gift to bless me, and I was pushing it away. I thought marriage would trap me in a cage, but I was already caged in by my sinful fear. I finally realized Christ was the remedy for my fearful heart.

Throughout my dating relationship with my husband God continued to guide and discipline me. He had my best in mind and wanted me to see it as his best. He showed me that marriage is not a cage, it is a blessing; a gift he gives to make us more like him. The only cage is a heart trapped in bondage to sin.

Marriage is also a picture of Christ and his Church; a picture of submission and service. Christ led through service to a cross of sacrifice, and we as his Church respond in humility and appreciation for his service and sacrifice. God was calling me to live out this beautiful picture all through his sufficient grace.

My identity as a wife is cloaked in the ultimate identity I have in Christ. My gifts are not squelched, but they are being poured out in service for others in my home. My gifts are being used not only in my home life, but in my local church, and even through some of my writing. Other seasons will come for using more gifts as well. I don’t have to ‘break free’ from a family to experience the freedom I have in Christ. He’s broken the cage of my sin and set me free to live for him.