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Category Archives: In Others’ Words

Gospel Like Jazz

Sometimes I think the deeper I go into the gospel, the harder it is to come up with blog topics. Almost daily my Facebook feed includes a link to a viral blog post about what to wear/what not to wear, what to eat/what not to eat, who’s in/who’s out, how to/how not to, and it just goes on and on. Not to say all these things are bad. Practical blog posts can be really helpful–there are many I have benefited from over the years.

But it occurred to me that blogging gives me an insight into sermon preparation. My husband and I are both pastor’s kids, so we’ve seen our dads study and prep and deliver hundreds of sermons over the years. I think most pastors who seek to be faithful to Scripture end up hearing the inevitable criticism, “That’s all well and good, but how does it apply to me? I need more practical application.” I get it…I like practical application too. This isn’t exactly a critique of that idea. But there’s a line I reach frequently in thinking about blogging, and I ask myself what the priority is. Am I seeking to be faithful to the truth of Scripture and the gospel of grace, and then applying that truth to daily life? Or am I taking an idea or preference, writing a blog post about it, then throwing in some Scripture? I’m learning there’s quite a difference.

I recently heard an interview on NPR’s Here and Now program, in which the host and his guest, Julie Lavender, discussed jazz music. She mentioned one musician, Daniel Bennett, whose work she really respects, and her description of his music stood out to me. She said:

“He will repeat things over and over and over again to give them a lot of meaning. Rather than try to shoot for the moon in a bunch of different notes and progressions and improvisations across a wide harmony spectrum, he will repeat and give greater meaning to things that are repeated over and over.”

I’m no huge jazz fan, but this idea has really stuck with me. The thought of giving something meaning through repetition seems to fly in the face of many of my presuppositions. Wouldn’t repetition cause the melody to become trite or boring? But therein lies the skill of the musician. He isn’t simply playing the same line in the same way every time. He’s adding depth, variety of tempo, instruments, emotion. It’s not just a stagnant melody line, but a layered musical jewel, at the same time simple and profound.

I love this idea for blogging. May my writing be one same melody line, repeated over and over and over again, but played at different tempos, with a variety of instruments, at all times simple truth.

And while I’m at it, shouldn’t this be my life as well? It might make for impractical sermons, blog posts, or coffee dates, but it’s all I’ve got. Christ is all. May it be so, here in this space, in my own home, and in my heart.

 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Phil 3:7-11

On Interfaith Marriage and Weddings

til faith

Over the weekend I spent some time reading Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America by Naomi Schaefer Riley. This book is fascinating in its description of modern marriages, 45% of which are interfaith unions, and the religious beliefs of  various married couples. Riley discusses everything from the wedding to raising children to divorce rate comparisons, and she writes from a first-person perspective based on her own experience of meshing her Jewish background with that of her husband’s Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. Riley points out what she perceives as both weaknesses and strengths of interfaith marriage, although at times I found it difficult to view the “strengths” as such.

This post is not a review of the book, but as I read, one particular quote in the Conclusion chapter stood out to me:

[…] it is easy to see why interfaith marriage is growing by leaps and bounds. We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven; we see marriage as a largely individual decision; we will meet our spouse and marry him or her with little forethought about his or her religious beliefs; when we find a potential partner, we believe the relationship between spouses will be an all-consuming one and that our families and communities do not have any kind of competing claims on our loyalties; we think religion is important but it is for kids and parents, not for young, single adults.(p.205)

As I set the book down, I wondered, “So what do we do with this?”

Parents may be raising their children with certain religious convictions or participation (or not), but we read and hear many reports stating that college students are widely prone to leave whatever faith system they were formerly part of. Whether this means a period of religious experimentation, or, as the author purports above, no importance at all placed on religion, we see it increasingly is not a make-or-break factor in many marriages.

The book described spouses from various backgrounds (LDS, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, mainstream, evangelical Christian) in marriages with those from other backgrounds. Many of those interviewed thought of their religion very little until time to make decisions for the wedding or when determining how to raise children. I found the author’s description of how couples celebrate holidays (such as Christmas) fascinating. She writes, “I have heard many interfaith couples use the analogy of a birthday party to explain the celebration of holidays to children: You can help your friend celebrate his birthday by going to his party and singing and eating and giving him a present. It’s not your birthday, but you can still participate. We can help dad celebrate Christmas even if it’s not our holiday.” (p.99)

I confess it’s difficult for me to imagine all of this. I know there are many couples who experience changes after marriage in their religious identity–some deny the faith they formerly claimed, others convert–but the thought of starting out marriage from such different points of view seems to be an enormous challenge.

Of course, the assumption in all of this is mentioned in Riley’s quote above: “We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven;” This belief opens us up to marry whomever we wish–if he/she is a good person, why not? But then the questions come:

“Should we have mass at the wedding if one spouse is Catholic and the other Protestant?”

“Should we mention the name of Jesus if one spouse is Christian and the other Jewish?”

“Is it possible to raise our children in both faiths? If not, how do we choose which one?”

So how do we respond to this in our own churches and homes?

I can’t speak to other faith traditions, but I can just a bit to evangelical Christianity. So here are a few reasons why I think we’re increasingly seeing interfaith marriage as a possibility in the Church:

First, we don’t know what Christianity is. We don’t know what it means to truly follow Christ. We’ve reduced our “faith” to a common experience–to traditionalism. If this is the case and if all the “take up your cross” and “deny yourself” (Matt. 16:24-26) stuff is merely a suggestion for the truly devout, then Christianity might just be compatible with various religious systems. But if “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil 1:21), then our lives mean far more than many of us realize.

Second, we don’t know what marriage really is. What does it truly mean? If it’s a social construct, then by all means we should marry whomever we wish. But if, as the Bible states, it was created by God to demonstrate a far greater reality, then our marriages mean far more than many of us realize.

But maybe you’re reading this and feel I’m simply stating the obvious. And here’s where the third observation comes in. IF the Christian life is about more than moralism and tradition, and IF marriage is meant to represent a far greater reality, how do these truths apply to our weddings?

The third truth is this: We don’t know what a wedding is. We don’t realize that not only did God create marriage, He orchestrated the first wedding. Running through the pages of Scripture is the beautiful metaphor of marriage, a picture of an intimate, loving husband and His bride, awaiting their ultimate union. Our weddings should reveal this expectancy and excitement, the tension of the already/not yet of the Kingdom. Marriage is common grace, God’s good gift to the world, but Christians should “get it” in a different way. And if we did, our weddings might reveal this truth to all those in attendance. We might rejoice in the greater reality of what we’re truly doing. And we might see how incompatible this reality is with faith systems that deny the deity of Christ–our true Bridegroom.

So I write all this not to motivate us to despair or try harder, but to encourage us to truly see Christ and point others to Him. We shouldn’t respond in fear of the future of evangelicalism, but maybe with a mix of hope and sadness. Love compels us to see what our friends and children are missing–we’re not fearful for the future of a “system” from which they’re turning away, but rather heartbroken that they haven’t truly seen the love of Christ.

From the outside, we may seem exclusive or intolerant. But the love of Christ compels us to share with others this great truth–Christ is all! A life, marriage, or wedding without Christ misses the point. This realization spurs us on to love and good deeds, powered by the gospel truth and the Holy Spirit to demonstrate through our imperfect lives and marriages that there is a far greater reality to come. So as we await that reality, we invite others to the ultimate wedding celebration to come.

The Gospel and Sex

'Mazzali: SWEET bed' photo (c) 2007, Mazzali - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/We’ve talked on the blog before about pre-marital counseling, and I’ll be writing about it again soon. One of the facets of most counseling sessions is a conversation on sex. Maybe we talk about the purpose of it, what inhibits it, how we use it to negotiate or how we come to it selfishly. Frequently, though, sex is separate from our other gospel-centered marriage counseling. I know I’ve read plenty of articles or book chapters meant to motivate me to serve my husband through sex. These things might work for a time, but I’ve realized they only go so deep. We know we should do it, but the “why” is left at “because he needs it,” and the “how” is “by being open and vulnerable and willing.”

But these statements leave us still wanting something deeper. I can’t muster up the courage to be vulnerable and open with my husband. I can tell myself I need to, but that only makes it harder, stacking feelings of guilt on top of each other and making it even more impossible to be vulnerable.

My dear friend, Marci, wrote a fantastic article about this topic that is a must-read–whether you’re engaged to be married, newlyweds, or married for years. Even for teens it’s a great description of the purpose and beauty of sex.

Here’s one quote that captures the angst we often feel as we look at sex in marriage:

Christian couples want to be uninhibited with each other but it’s not safe. We have perverted what God intended to be pure and we’re not quite sure how to go back. Both husbands and wives long to return to the garden of Eden when the two could be naked together and unashamed, but our sin keeps getting in the way, marring our marriage beds with shame and mistrust.

I encourage you to take the time to read this post today–it is joyful and freeing good news!

Gospel-Centered Sex? by Marci Preheim

Book Review: Found in Him

I confess I’m not a great book reviewer. My reviews are far more subjective than objective, and I struggle to point out negative aspects. So normally I just review books I agree with and love.

And…today is no exception. While writing A Christ-Centered Wedding, I did a lot of research into and thinking about what our marriage union with Christ really means. When I heard that Elyse Fitzpatrick was writing a book on this very topic, I was anxious to read it, only to discover it wouldn’t be out until well past the due date for our book. This was probably a gift from the Lord so that I wouldn’t be tempted to plagiarize all of Fitzpatrick’s book.

I had the honor of hearing the author speak last year at the True Woman conference in Indianapolis. When we go to conferences, there is a tendency for us to make mental to-do lists of what we need to do and change when we return home. We hear a convicting message, determine to change things, and go home with renewed resolve. Or maybe it’s just me. But then Elyse Fitzpatrick spoke on our identity in Christ and talked about her desire to give women “No fluff, no bricks, just Good News.” I walked away refreshed, encouraged, and knowing how dearly I was loved in Christ.

This is the same feeling I had after reading Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with ChristThe entire book is about Christ. We’re so used to the “now that you know this, go do this” section of books that I kept waiting for it. But it wasn’t there. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 deals with the incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ; Part 2 with our union in and with Christ.

This is a book that needs to be slowly chewed and reflected on. I received a digital copy from the publisher in exchange for a review (which is not required to be positive), but I will be ordering a hard copy just so I can write all over it and come back to it, a bit at a time, to really think it through. Fitzpatrick’s writing is accessible and understandable, but not watered down or overly sentimental. It’s like someone walking you through Scripture and constantly reflecting–“Can you believe this? This is the Christ who has loved you. This is what He did and is still doing.”

My eyes were opened and my heart rejoiced as I read about the deep significance of Jesus’ faithfulness and the purpose of His perfect life. I better understood the resurrection through the lens of childbirth. In fact, here’s just a small quote–I highlighted half of the book on my Kindle, so I’m really restraining myself not to share quote after quote:

When we read that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9), we really don’t have much of a clue what that means, do we? Think of it: a virgin shall conceive. A desolate unmarried man sings because he gives birth and sees his children. A new humanity is born in a new garden, but this time it is not from the dust of the earth but from the flesh of God, once dead but now alive, that they come. God labors! The Son cries out in pain, and we are born again! He thought nothing of the shame of the cross because of the joy of our birth in him (Heb. 12:2).

There is some great stuff in the second part of the book, as well. The author discusses what it means for us to be the bride of Christ and spends some time reflecting on the fact that in Christ we are all (male and female) in a way feminine in comparison to the masculinity of God. This might be a somewhat controversial concept, but in context it points us to rejoice in the loving Bridegroom and our union with Him:

Whenever anyone got around Jesus they felt both welcomed and in need of protection and provision, and they all came to know that he had initiated the relationship and was completely in charge.

The final chapter is as close to a “to-do list” as it gets, but in fact it’s much more like a “to-think-on” list. It’s an application in a way, as if to say, “If all the preceding thoughts are true, what implication does this have for my daily life?” But, unlike many other books and teachings, it’s not focused primarily on change. As Fitzpatrick writes:

For many people the entire point of Christianity is found here in the topic of change. No matter how one might define that word, many of us are primarily interested in how to get better, to be better, and to do more. Rather than spending most of our time reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ, the majority of messages and books in the Christian marketplace are about what we’re supposed to be doing. The deep and life-transforming message of the incarnation and our union with Jesus is trampled under the stampede of believers trying to find the secret to being a better you.

So this final chapter shows how doing just that–reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ–powers and inspires us in daily faithfulness.

I love that this book came out in time to meditate on it before and during the Christmas season. I highly recommend it. It’s not just a “woman’s book,” but Fitzpatrick’s writing style is such that I think anyone would greatly benefit from a thorough reading. Maybe an early Christmas gift for a friend or family member (or yourself?).

Blog Silence & A Link Roundup

So it’s been a little quiet around here lately. I’ve been prepping a couple of Bible study lectures to share with the women in my church, and I seem to only get inspiration for one thing at a time. Thus, the lack of posting here.

Next week I plan to start posting again. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite things around the web from the past couple of weeks:

Naming Children – my friend Kyle writes about the names parents choose for their kids, inviting us to decide if it’s gotten out of hand. Hilarious writing here, people.

I See You and I Judge – by Jan Quick, on women and judging and shame and the solution

That One Sin – by Lindsey Carlson, on how we easily become defeated in our struggle against sin, and that one sin that just keeps coming back.

The Secret Women’s Porn Problem – by Trillia Newbell. It’s not just a man’s issue, and we need to be talking about it more. The first-person accounts in this piece open a window to see how this addiction starts, but the stunning part comes in Trillia’s thoughts at the end–freedom in Christ.

Also, I’ve had a couple of posts up on other websites if you’re interested in checking those out:

Tissues, Lassos and Labcoats: Lessons in Repentance – at True Woman I tell a childhood story and how it taught me I don’t have to fear confession of sin

Birth Choices, Baby Care and the Wisdom of God – at CBMW Karis I share how something my friend Mandi said completely changed my perspective on raising my kids

Finally, here’s a book I’m in the middle of. I’ll be posting a full review soon, but in the meantime you can check it out:

found in him

Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ by Elyse Fitzpatrick

In-Law Week: Wrapping it Up

We’ve reached the end of the series on in-law relationships. Thank you so much to all who contributed to this series. Today I’m just going to post links to the various posts and resources, and then leave us with a few quotes and thoughts from friends.

First, what’s the purpose of this relationship?

What’s the Goal?

Here are three guest posts and one extra link on showing grace and the love of Christ to our in-laws (relevant for every relationship):

Guest Post by Kim Shay, whose mother-in-law was instrumental in her conversion

Guest Post by Rachel Lonas, who didn’t fit her mother-in-law’s expectations, but was shown love and grace anyway

Guest Post by Kyle Castro, whose in-laws gave him a second chance at family

The Generosity of Centered Love, by Beth Impson

Then, some thoughts on what causes these relationships to get off to a rough start:

How Do We Go Wrong?

But what about those relationships that just aren’t working? Is there hope?

Guest Post by Marci Preheim – for when your marriage isn’t big enough for the three of you

Finally, here are some thoughts from a few friends about their relationships with their in-laws:

On the Initial Meeting:

My first encounter with my MIL was me taking the first step in writing my future in laws a short thank you note telling them how grateful I was to them for raising my husband in a godly home and with character that I admired and had come to love. I told them that I had been praying for a man like him and was really looking forward to meeting them (Was invited up to MI for Thanksgiving) Not sure what prompted me to do that other than I really did feel grateful and wanted to express it to them. Anyway, when I got there she welcomed me with a huge hug and seemed genuinely happy to see me. When she showed me the room she had set up for me, there was a gift bag with a blanket, a light sweater and some University of Michigan slippers. (She thought since I was coming from FL, that I might be cold since I wasn’t used to the weather.) – Theresa

On TV Viewing and In-Law Relationships:

Daughter-in-Law: You need to IGNORE hat the world says about MIL’s, block “Everybody Loves Raymond” on TV, it will only poison you towards your MIL. You may be landing a great MIL, sometimes that relationship just takes time to blossom! 

Mother-in-Law:  Be patient. Watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” and vow to NEVER EVER be like Marie. Wait for your DIL to ask for your advice, or start up conversations and see if it leads to her asking you for help/advice. – Melissa

On Bringing Together Families:

I always keep the story of Ruth in my mind & on my heart—-especially on the bad days. I included verses from Ruth in my wedding vows that I wrote: “your people shall be my people”. I meant that when I said that to my husband almost 33 years ago. – Wanda

I hope this series has been an encouragement to others, as I know it has to me. I’m still irrational about giving up my son one day. But at the end of the day, he was never mine to begin with. I’m so thankful for the love of Christ that draws us into His family and brings strangers together. Our physical families may never be close and our in-law relationships may be fraught with pain. But His bride–the church–is our eternal family. And He is our brother, our friend, our bride-groom and our savior. What joy there is in knowing Him!

 

This Marriage Ain’t Big Enough For the Three of Us: Guest Post by Marci Preheim

Up until now, the guests posts featured during In-Law Week have all been positive accounts, detailing how each writer’s in-laws showed grace and the love of Christ to their new family members. This was undoubtedly not always easy, especially considering how each person did not exactly fit the mold of their new family’s expectations. 

But maybe you’ve been reading and you’re thinking, “That is not my experience at all. I’m trying and trying to love, but it’s a one-way street and I’m exhausted.” Today’s post is for you. My guest today (and precious friend), Marci Preheim, shares some loving, grace-filled wisdom for how to handle those intense in-law relationships (or ANY difficult relationship). 

Romans 12:18 says this: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The first two clauses in this verse speak volumes. They reveal this truth: 1) it is not always possible to live at peace with everyone, and 2) you cannot control other people’s behavior. You can only control your own.

This little verse has brought comfort to many young newlyweds who have found themselves in a surprisingly difficult in-law relationship. My best-friend (I’ll call her Jane) and I used to joke that, until we got married, we had never met anyone that we could not MAKE like us. We used to flip our hair back, look in the mirror together and laugh: “What’s not to like about me?” Even though we were being facetious (and obnoxious), there was some truth to our jesting. You cannot MAKE someone love you.

I suspect there is very little written about the difficulties of in-law relationships in Christian circles because no one wants to dishonor their parents or their spouse’s parents. After all, most writers write about what they know—what they have learned from experience. Many articles I have read about in-law relationships sum it all up with an exhortation for mutual love, and boundary setting. They give examples of Christ-centered respectful relationships that we should all pattern our lives after. For those who have exhausted every effort to live at peace with their in-laws to no avail, these exhortations are like a dull knife to an already sensitive wound.

Jane’s mother-in-law is one of those ladies in the church who cooks and serves and has people over for dinner and spoils children with sweets and gifts. Everyone loves her. There was a little evidence during the wedding planning that mom-in-law had a controlling side. She gave her opinion much too readily and could snap your head off without warning. Jane wrote it off as wedding stress. Things settled down after the wedding. It was smooth sailing. . .until babies came along.

All of a sudden a tolerable relationship turned unbearable. Jane and her husband had moved six-hours away from his parents (which was a crime in itself), but when babies came along so did the expectations. Mom-in-law decided she was going to visit every six weeks and stay for a week each time so she and her grandbaby would be close. This was hard on Jane, but she wanted to honor her mother-in-law. Gradually with more visits, came more expectations. Jane began to feel like she and her husband were just two more children for his mom to parent.

Men don’t often see the complexities of female relationships. Jane’s husband thought his wife could use the help and he enjoyed having his mom’s cooking and affection. His mom behaved well when he was around, but when he wasn’t, she was cold and critical to Jane. She made Jane feel like she was an unworthy mom, wife, and person for that matter. She unapologetically slandered Jane to other family members. Jane felt guilty for not wanting her around. When she broached the subject with her husband, he suggested that she might be over-reacting. He urged her to be selfless, grateful for the help, and asked her to keep the peace. After all it was only one week out of every six.

I can almost hear the female voices of those reading this article. Trust me, every word of advice that is about to drop out of your mouth, Jane has tried. What do you do when you have done everything possible, as far as it depends on you, to live at peace with your in-laws? The more Jane sacrificed, humbled herself, kept quiet, the more intrusive mom-in-law became.

When we talk, in Christian circles, about loving one another and sacrificing for one another, what does that mean? Should Jane honor her mother-in-law by letting her take leadership over her home once every six weeks? Are we commanded, as Christians, to let other people take control of our lives for the sake of peace? There is not time to sacrifice to this extent for everyone in our family, in the church, in the world. How much sacrifice is enough?

In my own (much less severe) relationships with extended family, I have had to take refuge in the Lord. I have had to cling to Him as my rock and my salvation (Psalm 62:6). There are times when I have felt such immense pressure to do something, and yet when I ran to the Lord, His word said: Wait. . .wait. . .wait! “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him. . . Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

Dealing with in-laws (or any difficult relationship for that matter) cannot be remedied with a simple command to love and sacrifice for others. Most of the time, these relationships reveal our utter inability to do so. Our confusion should drive us to the cross—to the only One who ever truly loved sacrificially. James gives us this invitation in his epistle: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). The hard part is waiting for the answer and believing it will come.

I don’t have to give communication tips or a flow chart of who’s responsible to talk to who about what. In difficult circumstances people naturally pull out every tool in their arsenal of wisdom—human or spiritual. Sometimes Christians act in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they explode with their own impatience. We do anything to escape suffering. At the end of all this striving and effort a sweet surrender to the Lord can be found. It is the moment you cry uncle and hand it over. It may be a moment by moment surrender, but it is the kind of surrender that trusts that someone else sees the situation. Someone else has the power to fix it but has chosen, for some good reason, not to. Someone else will care for me until it is fixed. I don’t have to do anything.

I give the same counsel that the Psalmist gave to himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. . .My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. . .Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 43:5, Psalm 62:1, 8).

Marci 19Marci Preheim was born in Lincoln, Nebraska but moved to Hollywood, California as a teenager. It was there, at the age of 21, that she came to know the Savior through the ministry of a local church. Within a couple of years of her conversion she became involved in a women’s prison ministry and discovered her passion for sharing the gospel publicly. Marci has been married to Arnie Preheim since August of 1993. Shortly after their marriage, Arnie and Marci moved to Nashville, Tennessee. They have 2 children, Brock (born in 1995) and Paige (born in 1998). Marci regularly teaches the women’s Bible study at Community Bible Church. For ten years, she has also led a monthly chapel service for women at the Nashville Rescue Mission (Hope Center for female recovering addicts). You can find more of her writing at marcipreheim.com and in her book, Super(free)Woman: From Fundamentalist to Failure to Faith.