Falling into fear…

Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 
Falling back into fear- yuck. That does not sound like a place we want to be. Fear takes hold and enslaves us. Anxiety disorders are the number one most often diagnosed mental illness in the US. Even those of us not diagnosed with anxiety disorders can find that anxiety debilitates us. We fear failure, we fear loss, we fear our past coming to find us, we fear for our children and family members, we fear the disintegration of society, we fear for our health, we could go on and on and on. Fear is so much a part of our response in this world that it seems normal. Many people have no idea how they would live without fear and worry. This is a picture spirit of slavery that Paul writes about.
How does fear affect our marriages? It pulls us apart. It makes us feel isolated, we turn to blame and accusations. We feel unheard because our spouse isn’t responding with worry and fear over the same things, or in the same way, that we are. Everything feels out of control when fear reigns in our hearts.
But Paul shares with us the gift we have in Christ. Not only are we, in reality, truly and absolutely freed from all fear and anxiety by the cross of Christ and the waters of baptism. Christ bears every single burden in his person for us. He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Paul has also given us an invitation. In times of fear and trepidation we can cry out to the Father who loves us beyond measure. As a couple we can cry out, “Father, help!” We come to Him together in prayer and studying His Word. It changes things. Worry and fear come and go, but Christ reigns.

As a couple, bring your fears to Him in the presence of one another. Be honest and bear each other’s burdens, giving them to the God who already carries them for you.  

The Parable of the Prodigal Church Worker

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Most of you could probably tell someone the parable of the prodigal son by heart. Two sons, very different. One sets off for the distant land and follows the desires of his flesh. It goes badly. The other son never sets off, but is just as lost in bitterness and judgment. We have been these sons. We each have had our distant country. This distant country may have looked obviously steeped in sin, or maybe it was the less obvious distance we have put between ourselves and those who love us. We may have made ourselves inaccessible to those who need us or who know the truth of the darker places in our lives. This too is a distant country of inauthenticity and dishonesty. Often we travel far from God because other things look so much more interesting- even things like church and ministry and theological study.
Other times we stay home with the Father, but lack any real relationship. We go about our work (even church work) but our actual relationship with God comes in a distant second, third or fourth to all that needs to be done. We even railroad through, closing our ears to God’s words of grace, in favor of legalism and comfortable judgment within our hearts.
But still, we are sons. God has declared it. We are his children. And oh “the great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” It is a declarative statement. It can not be taken from us. The God of the Universe calls us His children, even when we are in a distant country, even when we are traveling on the road home, even when we are the prodigal son’s older brother, even when we are embracing the Father in all of His lavishness. The Father’s love is not dependent on the children’s behavior. This pours out of us into our marriage and home. We lavish this same grace and love onto our spouse and children. We lavish this same grace and love on those entrusted to us in our congregations and ministries.
We are sons and that fills our roles are fathers, as mothers, as husbands, as wives, as teachers, as neighbors, in every role, in every moment. We are sons- that is what we are!

This is my Dad, a lavisher of grace and mercy.

The Resurrection Spirea bush and what it has to do with my marriage…

Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Have you ever watched anything die? Helpless before your eyes? Master gardeners we are not. We like to landscape around the back patio, but our soil is rotten and we are constantly trying to just keep things alive. One year we planted a Spirea bush with gorgeous pink blooms. It was so beautiful for one year. The next year we could not do anything to keep that thing alive. We tended it with waterings and special nutrients. We moved other plants out to give it more space. Once it seemed better, the bugs came. Little tiny insects intent on destroying. We tried every natural remedy known to man and finally brought out the big guns- chemical powder. We had to douse the plant in the powder. The bugs were everywhere. By the end of the summer all that was left of our beautiful bush was brown, dried up, twiggy death. We mourned a bit and walked away. We gave up on gardening and moved on with life.
The next spring, while drinking a cup of morning coffee on the back patio, Dave says, “I think I see flowers.” I walked over to the bush and sure enough, there they were- beautiful little, tiny pink flowers pocketed away on one section of the bush. A beautiful little secret waiting to burst forth. Two weeks later, the bush was huge and covered in gorgeous blooms, stronger and brighter than ever. We call it the Resurrection Spirea, died and risen before our eyes. A work of our Creator.
That bush shares a lesson with us related to these verses. Sometimes things need to die, we need to die, desires in our flesh must die for us to Live. Those desires of the flesh, they eat up everything. They destroy our hearts, relationships, families, and churches. When we follow our flesh we work 60+ hours a week, we spew hurtful words, we are inpatient and ungracious with those we love. But we were put to death in our baptisms by the Creator. We rise with Him and He continues to put to death daily, in us, through the Spirit, the inpatient, the unloving, the selfish, and the dishonorable. We are free. We are Alive in Christ and therefore, different things matter. People matter, relationships matter, He matters. We emerge brighter and stronger, filled with His Life instead of our own attempts at counterfeit life. We grow and flourish under His loving care.