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Hi, this is Pastor Ken coming to you once again with my Monday Marriage Message, thanks for taking the time to join me. If you enjoy these marriage podcasts and find them to be helpful or encouraging, please share them with friends and family.

This weekend I heard a preacher make an incredibly deep comment. The subject He was speaking about was not marriage, but as soon as he made this profound statement, I thought just how fitting it is in the marital context as well. His proclamation; “Gratefulness is the antidote for ungratefulness!” You might be thinking, “Really…that’s it?”, but I promise accepting the truth and consequence of that statement can radically transform any marriage.

What things do you wish were different in your marriage? Go ahead, pause the podcast and take some time to make a list. When the list of things you wish were different is completed, make another list of the things from the first one that you complain about to your spouse, to others, and yes even to yourself. If you have compiled your lists, we are ready to begin again…Among the people you complain to, perhaps you have even been taking these things to God. Certainly there is no problem with that, He invites us to bring our cares and concerns to Him (1 Peter 5:7). However, we must be careful how we do this, God asks us to cast our cares upon Him, but He does not welcome our grumbling. In fact, the bible tells us that the grumbling or ungratefulness of His people is one of the things He finds problematic. His word teaches us that one of the greatest sins of the Israelite people that He freed and led out of Egypt was their ungratefulness. In contrast, Philippians 2:13,14 instructs us to; Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

This is an interesting scripture. These verses don’t even try to make the insinuation that our lives are free of trouble and therefore should be without complaint. This passage takes the difficulties of our lives and yes perhaps even our marriages into account. It says that we should avoid complaining and disputing (ungrateful behavior) in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. In other words, God knows our lives and yes often our marriages are not ideal situations. He understands there are many difficulties we must endure, many problems we have to work through, and yet He cautions that ungrateful actions and attitudes on our part are to be avoided. Why is that? First, the verse just before these says that implementing these instructions are how we work out our salvation. This does not mean that we do these things to obtain our salvation, but that they make our salvation evident. By acting contrary to “normal behavior”, we and others have opportunity to see God’s impact on our lives demonstrated. Second, the verses above tell us gratefulness is the key to us becoming blameless and harmless. This means that when we choose gratefulness over ungratefulness we respond differently. We don’t allow ourselves to further the difficulty of the situation, rather we become a part of the solution. Studies have long shown that an attitude of gratefulness prompts positive responses, which in turn foster positive outcomes. Choosing to be grateful when a complaint would seemingly be more appropriate, allows us to respond to challenging circumstances and difficult people in ways that will move to heal rather than further the hurt. Finally, when we choose gratefulness, we stand out. It’s easy to be ungrateful for problematic situations; anyone can do that. It is normal to be ungrateful for perplexing circumstances. No one thinks we’re unjustified if we complain about the difficult relationships in our lives. However, as Christ followers, indwelled by His Holy Spirit we are enabled and instructed to respond differently than the world around us.

When you consider it carefully, gratefulness and selflessness go hand-in-hand. The same correlation can be made for ungratefulness and selfishness. When we are being ungrateful, essentially we are saying we don’t like what we are enduring or how we are being treated. Our attention is on what we don’t think we deserve, what we don’t appreciate that others are doing, or how we want to be treated differently. This kind of inward attention is clearly selfish. However, when we employ the antidote for ungratefulness and choose to be grateful, our position and direction change. Gratitude flows outward toward others and upward toward God. Rather than being inward focused on ourselves, gratitude makes us outward focused on others, in other words, more selfless.

Interestingly, selfishness causes tunnel vision, whereas selflessness dramatically widens our view. The former asks the question how am I being affected by the situations and circumstances around me, the latter asks how can I affect the situations and circumstances I encounter. The first seeks to be helped, the second, looks to see how it can be of help. If you have heard me make note of it once you have heard me proclaim it many times, Marriage is intended to be reflective of God. Clearly, God is selfless. God created everything we can comprehend, and then gave it all to us to use and enjoy. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof Psalm 24:1 says, and He uses it all to provide for us and sustain us each and every day. Most impressively, God made the ultimate sacrifice by allowing His son to die in our place so we could live eternally with Him. God is selfless in every way, and so, our marriages, intended to reflect Him are also purposed to reflect selflessness. Selflessness is the atmosphere in which a marriage breathes easily. Selfishness on the other hand sucks the very breath out of marriages. It develops an environment that will slowly deplete the life of any marriage, ultimately bringing it to a slow and painful suffocation. When you consider that ungratefulness promotes selfishness and gratefulness supports selflessness, gratitude becomes the antidote for much more than ungratefulness alone.

Consider of all of the problems that arise from selfishness in a marriage. Many of the things you come up with in response to that query, may have been found on those lists I asked you to compile at the beginning of this podcast. When we consider the things we complain about in our marriages, they are likely fueled by selfishness. When you also consider that ungratefulness on our part only serves to further selfishness in the relationship, this time from our direction, the importance of a grateful heart becomes increasingly evident.

James wrote that we are to count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4). In his letter, James laid out the strategy for a obtaining a grateful heart in adversity. He said that we could be joyful in our various difficulties knowing that a grateful response to these problems will develop our patience. What I believe James was saying is that the more we choose gratefulness as a response to problems, the easier gratefulness in the face of difficulty becomes. Most of us have proven this to be true on some level in our own lives. As experience teaches us that certain problems are not “the end of the world”, our level of patience with those particular problems increases. We may even come to a point where something that formerly would have caused great difficulty for us, is now responded to as if it were no big deal at all. I think James meant for us to understand that the more we respond to trying circumstances with joy and gratefulness as God desires us to, the more prone we are to follow His Holy Spirit’s prompting in our additional responses to that difficult situation. As a result, the positive outcomes bring about a patience in trials yet to come. James went on to say, when fully developed patience make us perfect and complete. Apparently, God wants to utilize the difficulties in our lives and in our marriages as a refining process to bring about the changes necessary to make us more fully reflective of Him.

Questions to answer:

  • In light of God’s instruction found in the scriptures we looked at today, what items from your original list of things you wish were different in your marriage have you been responding to incorrectly?
  • When your spouse is ungrateful toward you, what response does that elicit in you?
  • With that in mind, how might gratefulness on your part toward your spouse impact situations the two of you encounter more positively?

Actions to take:

  • Discuss the correlation between gratefulness and selflessness and the connection between ungratefulness and selfishness. Talk about how these connections have impacted your marriage both positively and negatively.
  • If you have listened to past podcasts about the primary relational needs of Love and Respect Husbands, discuss how gratefulness & ungratefulness on your wife’s part impacts your view of the respect she has for you. Wives, discuss how gratefulness & ungratefulness on your husband’s part impacts your view of the love he has for you.
  • As a couple, seek each other’s forgiveness for ungratefulness toward one another, ask God to forgive a selfish and ungrateful spirit that has perhaps resided in your marriage, and ask Him to help you together to do a better job of reflecting Him and His ways.

So now, with a grateful heart toward each other and toward God for all He has done and continues to do in the perfecting process of your marital mirror…Go Be Awesome!

Hi, this is Pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…Fat Man’s Misery

Lest anyone believe I am being insensitive or have stooped to “fat shaming”, let me put that to rest right away. The title for this post comes from the name of a very narrow passage in the subterranean recesses of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. I was actually surprised that a quick Google search revealed that the name of that passage has not been changed. I guess social justice doesn’t really run that deep after all.

I was introduced to “Fat man’s misery” as a young boy. Somewhere around the age of twelve my parents took me and my two brothers to Mammoth Cave for a vacation. We enjoyed tent camping, campfires, and spelunking for an entire week. Mammoth Cave, aptly named is the world’s longest known cave system and has several different tours available for visitors. While there we did many things that left lifelong (to this point anyway) impressions on me. The 40 plus years since I was there have not taken from me vivid memories of that vacation. One I will never forget was my first experience with total and absolute darkness. My parents allowed my younger brother Gary and I to take a children’s tour without them one afternoon. Following a park ranger with lanterns affixed to helmets on our heads we crawled through a small entrance to one of the innumerable recesses that make up the entirety of Mammoth Cave. After a walk inside of perhaps 200 or 300 yards, the guide had us sit down on rocks, be completely quiet and one by one switch off the lights on our helmets. Lastly, the ranger turned off her light and the darkness enveloped us completely. It was a surreal experience. I recall expecting that my eyes would adjust to the darkness and I would regain at least some ability to see, but that never happened. I remember thinking that I understood what it must be like to be totally blind. I also remember beginning to feel uneasy and insecure in the total darkness and silence. Though the spiritual depths of this are begging to be explored, and maybe I will in a later episode, I want to move on to another memory from that family trip.

During another tour of the caves we took as a family, we followed our guide as a group of people made their way down a long set of steel stairs to one of the entrances to the cave. About an hour later, we emerged in a completely different place in the forest hundreds of yards from where we began our journey. There are several things from that particular tour that I remember. There was a huge room where the “ceiling” was several stories above. That room, named “The Cathedral” was so called because of its size and sound echoing acoustics. I was surprised and somewhat shaken to learn several years ago that the “ceiling” weighing many thousands of tons had come crashing to the floor. Weird to think that as a young boy I had stood under that very space looking up at all that rock, now understood to have been somewhat precariously perched above us.

As a part of that tour we meandered through a series of fissures in the rock that had been worn into smooth paths. Sometimes the “walls” were wide and ten or twenty feet apart, other times much closer maybe a four or five foot span. At one place, the path narrowed to about fifteen or eighteen inches and the walls were only about four and a half feet high. This part of the path, known as “Fat Man’s Misery” was so named not only because it is so narrow but also low and requires one to bend over to pass through. I can only assume that some people have had to turn around and return the way they came, unable to navigate “Fat Man’s Misery”. Even then at my young age that experience caused me to consider Matthew 7:13-14 that I had heard about in Sunday school. That scripture reads as follows in the New King James Version, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, there are few who find it.

Obviously, that particular passage came to mind all those years ago in that cave because the way in front of me was so narrow and difficult to traverse. I remember thinking however, that this narrow path in front of me was the only way to the destination…the exit of the cave. In my way of boyish thinking, if you wanted to get to the preferable destination then there was only one choice…forward. I remember pondering this scripture as a boy and wondering the same thing about eternity. If eternal life in Heaven was only through the narrow gate, even if the path was difficult, why would anyone ever choose anything else? What allure could the wide gate with the easy path have?

I like the way the paraphrase “The Message” puts these verses. It says, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. The reason I like this particular paraphrase of this scripture is because it so accurately reflects our present societal reality. Overwhelmingly we respond to surveys that we are people of Christian belief. Though it is declining somewhat, just two years ago 65% of American adults considered themselves to be Christian. I can say with a good deal of certainty that 65% of the American adult population is not looking for the narrow gate and the difficult path. The fact is that it didn’t matter to those people who were unable to navigate “Fat Man’s Misery” what percentage of others couldn’t either. They were the ones that found themselves unable to arrive at the destination they desired. They were each for all intents and purposes a statistic of one. The same is true for us in regards to our relationship with Jesus. It is called a personal relationship because it is necessarily personal. It will be developed to the degree that we allow and desire to see it developed. There are all kinds of things in life that seek to take our attention but when all is said and done there is only one way to eternity with God…having a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ. With such important implications that relationship should get the Lion’s share of our focus.

In his gospel, the Apostle John records that Jesus himself said this.  In John 14:6 Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. Jesus was clear there is only one way to the destination of eternal life in Heaven with Him. He is The Way, indicating that there is no other. Why? Because He is The Truth. Truth is an absolute. There is only one truth and the ultimate truth leads to life…Eternal Life. So, why is it so difficult? Why so narrow? Essentially, we make it so. It is one of those things of which I like to say it is difficult but not complicated. It isn’t complicated because the process is simple…Make Jesus Lord. It is difficult because we have to slip off of the throne of our own lives and allow Him His rightful place there. In the natural, we don’t want to do that. We like to be in control. We like to make the rules. We like to decide the direction we will go. Simply put, we like to think we are in charge. The gate to destruction is so wide because people want to believe they can make the rules, they can be in charge of their own lives…they can be their own lord and sit on their own throne…and if they are “Basically good people”, they will get to go to heaven someday.

Jesus said that’s not how it works. Only those who are righteous can spend eternity…or even a nano-second for that matter in the presence of God. Romans 3:22-25 lays out plainly that because of our sin we have a problem, but through genuine personal relationship with Jesus (the way the truth and the life) we have been gifted a solution. Those verses read as follows in the New Living Translation, We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood (in our place).

You are also a statistic of one. When faced with the narrow gate and the difficult path will you turn away and go back the way you came, or will you follow Jesus. Just as our guide knew the way out of the cave and led us back into the light of day, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Following Jesus is the only way to emerge in eternal life with God.

So now, entering the narrow gate with a smile on your lips and a grateful heart that Jesus has made a way for you…Go be awesome!

Hi this is Pastor Ken and this is my Monday Marriage Message. This is will be the seventh and final installment in the series looking at Marital conflicts…Worldly Wisdom vs. Wordly Wisdom.

In this edition, we will look at the Worldly Wisdom position that “The Ends Justify The Means”. Most of us understand that concept and many intuitively and internally shudder when we consider it, knowing there is something we find unsavory about the idea. Even so, on some level most people subscribe to it just the same. We drive faster than the posted speed limit because we have places to go, people to see and things to do. Social media has such a hold over us that we feel compelled to “Check it…just for a second” even though we are being paid and trusted by an employer to be doing other things with our time on the clock. The justifications don’t stop there. In marriage many are willing to allow the ends to justify the means. Maybe we tell our spouse “Little white lies” because telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth might leave us vulnerable to their criticism. Perhaps there is an expenditure that we know our spouse wouldn’t approve of, but it is justified because we really want what we have our eye on. It may be that we join in at work or with friends as conversations center around our distaste for the things our spouses do. Even if we don’t feel right about it, we justify that everyone is doing it, and we want our friends or co-workers to find us acceptable. These are some examples we might view as benign, there are others that are engaged in every day that are much more harmful. People use all kinds of justifications for engaging in activities that have the potential to be incredibly detrimental to their marriages.

Wordly Wisdom insists that the ends do not justify the means. Jesus said that our yes needs to be yes, and our no should clearly mean no. (Mathew 5:37) We often interpret this scripture to simply mean that if we say yes or no we shouldn’t need to add anything to illustrate that we really mean what we say. However, a deeper understanding has to include the overall effect this has on our integrity. If we avoid wishy-washiness, and if our yes always means yes and if our no always means no, we won’t need to swear by anything else…people will simply be able to count on us. Perhaps most importantly, our spouse. If we are consistent about what we choose and the things we are not willing to allow in our lives, our spouse can enjoy the confidence that our every action, thought and word is for their benefit and blessing.

Wordly Wisdom also argues that the ends do not justify the means, but in fact, it is we who are supposed to end up justified. In other words, God wants to use our marriages to guide us into a life of justice and righteousness. In his book, The Joy of the Sacred Marriage Gary Thomas suggests that God is far more concerned that our marriages make us holy, than that they make us happy. He rightly says God uses our marriages perhaps more so than any other experience in life to move us toward holiness. I simply say that according to Genesis 1 and 2 God designed marriage to reflect His image and likeness. Our marriages are purposed to be a mirror God can look into and see Himself. To Gary Thomas’s point, God is holy and therefore we are to be holy also. 1 Peter 1:13-16 says, So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” Here we are being told that the point of our lives and in fact our marriages is to be holy like God is holy. We are supposed to be clean and clear mirrors that God can look into and see himself. When we accept the worldly view that says the “Ends justify the means”, we risk allowing our mirror to become dirty, clouded, scratched up and far less capable of producing a good reflection of our God.

What about the dirt, scratches and the cloudiness we have allowed to accumulate on our marital mirrors because we have accepted that in certain situations, the ends justify the means? Thankfully, God has an answer for that. 1 John 1:9 tells us that If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. God desires to forgive us for the dirt and damage we have inflicted on our mirrors. He promises that if we ask him to, He will clean us of all of the dirt we have allowed to rest upon us. In Ephesians 5:16 He lets us know that He even wants to help us redeem time. Though most of us would like to have the ability to do so, we simply can’t go back in time and fix errors we have committed. However, we serve a God who can take those errors and transform them into wisdom essentially redeeming the time in which the errors took place. So, there is even a plan for the dirt and many of the scratches we have allowed to cover our marital mirrors.  God wants to forgive us for every scratch, every bit of cloudiness and all of the dirt we have allowed to accumulate there. He not only wants to wash our mirrors clean so that he can see Himself more clearly, but He will even buff out some of the scratches so they don’t take away from His reflection either.

Some scratches are too deep to buff out and eliminate completely. Some marital mirrors have been through too much and some of the damage remains even after forgiveness and a good cleaning. So what do we do about that? God has a plan to address that damage as well. Romans 8:28-30 offers a promise to take the deep scratches and the chipped portions of our marital mirrors that have happened as a result of allowing the ends to justify the harmful means and even use those to justify us, and help us better reflect God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Thank God for His miraculous marital mirror restoration abilities!

Though God has graciously offered to restore our marital mirrors, He also asks us to refrain from damaging them further. The Apostle Paul Spoke to that in Romans Chapter 6:1-11 There Paul wrote, Well then, should we keep on sinning (in other words, damaging our mirrors) so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

God wants to look into the mirror of each of our marriages and see an unblemished reflection of Himself. He is Holy so what He expects to see when He looks at your marriage, my marriage…is holiness. He promised to forgive us of the dirtiness of sin we have so carelessly splattered all over our mirrors and once again make us clean. He has enabled us through the redemption of time to have some of the lesser scratches polished back out. He has also said that if we will allow  Him to, He even wants to use the deeper scratches and chips to cause us to reflect Him even better. God also hopes we will be very careful with our mirrors going forward, and that we will realize just how valuable they are to Him

Questions to answer:

  • Has allowing the end to justify the means created problems for your marriage?
  • What difficulties has this caused the two of you in your attempts to reflect God like you want to?
  • If you make the priority of your lives as one to reflect the One who gave it to you, what differences could that make in your marriage?

Actions to take:

  • Gratefully give God thanks for His desire to take the imperfections of your marital mirror and restore its ability to reflect Him…then make reflecting God THE priority of your marriage.

So now, taking incredible care of your marital mirror so it can do what it was intended to do and reflect God…GO be awesome!

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