Breaking Free From Shrink Wrap

June 28th, 2017

Shrink wrap was a genius invention.

The scientific brilliance behind it is that it always shrinks down to the exact size of whatever it has been wrapped around.

Whether it’s a piece of beef jerky or a boat in winter storage, the plastic molecules contour to the shape of the item to preserve and protect it.

Sin has a similar effect to shrink wrap, but not in a beneficial way. On the contrary, our sinful hearts cause damage by shrinking our life down to the size of selfish desires.

In the process, we hurt other people and miss out on the abundant and joyful life that God has available for us.

Think about it:

Husbands and wives, how many opportunities do we miss to deepen our relationship with our spouse because we shrink wrap our marriage down to the size of our selfish demands?

Moms and dads, how many opportunities do we miss to mold our children’s souls because we shrink wrap our parenting down to the size of our seflish comforts?

Friends, how many opportunities do we miss to minister to others because we shrink wrap our relationships down to the size of our selfish preferences?

Neighbors, how many opportunities do we miss to be a light in our communities because we shrink wrap our lives down to the size of an selfishly enjoyable and risk-free schedule?

Is it wrong to enjoy comfort and have personal preferences? Not at all! But at times, these become idols in our heart, and sin shrinks our life down to the size of these selfish idols.

So how do we break free from the shrink wrap of sin and experience the fullness of life that God offers?

1. Think Long Term

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next … Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in.”

If the entire length of our lives on earth is but an infinitesimal blip, we would do well to make daily decisions based on ten thousand years into eternity, and not in the moment of here and now.

2. Look Out The Window

When I was in seminary, my classmates and I would drive through a destitute part of Philadelphia every day. We were so proud of ourselves to be having robust conversations about doctrine and ministry.

It wasn’t until I looked out the window one time to see broken houses, cars and people. I was filling my brain, but I had a shockingly uncaring heart! We would do well to look out the window and be grieved by the pain and hurt of others.

3. Remember What You Deserve

If you take credit for what only God’s blessing could provide, you will find greater delight in being served than serving, and you will have a vigilant eye to how others are treating you.

We would do well to remember our plight as sinners and God’s free gift of mercy on our life. It will keep us humble and grateful, excited to give more than receive.

4. Use Different Senses

God designed us to be physical people and placed us in a physical world. It’s not wrong to enjoy the created world. But through faith, we would do well to define our lives more by what is unseen than by what can be heard, felt, touched or tasted.

Do you see any effects of shrink wrap in your life? I know that Paul Tripp is daily wrestling with a heart wrapped up in momentary, self-centered, entitled and physical desires!

But we’re not left alone. Grace gives us a desire for a clean heart and provides us with resources of help to break free from the shrink wrap.

When we do, the energy of our life will be expended on something much bigger, more beautiful and soul satisfying!

God bless

Paul Tripp

Reflection Questions
Think Long Term: Think of a decision you made recently that would have been altered if eternity was in view.
Look Out The Window: Who is one person in your life right now that you treat with too much insensitivity?
Remember What You Deserve: Think of a specific way that you can serve instead of demand this week.
Use Different Senses: How can you use your enjoyment of the created world as an opportunity for ministry?

June 20, A Prayer about Jesus’ Transforming Love

June 20th, 2017

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil. 2: 1– 4 NIV)

Dear Lord Jesus, still sipping my first cup of coffee, I awake this day celebrating a great night’s rest. Even as you gave me sleep last night, you gave to me in my sleep. You never sleep or slumber. You ever live to advocate and pray for your beloved bride. While we were catching z’s, you were making us like yourself. There is no one like you, O Lord, no one.

How I long for the day when my heart will not even be tempted to share its adoration and affection with any other suitor or wannabe savior. Hasten that day, but until that day, keep changing me in ways that empower me to love well. Since the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love, I boldly ask for greater impressions of your love upon my heart. How else will I consider others better than myself? How else will I love my wife, my children, my friends, my church family, and strangers as you’re calling me to love them?

So, Jesus, what encouragement do I have from being united to you, and what comfort do I find in your love? More than can be measured! It means that the Father loves me as much as he loves you, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t add to it or take away from it. It means that all of my sins— past, present, and future— are forgiven. It means that I’m enveloped in your righteousness, already declared to have passed from judgment to life. It means I’m guaranteed, one day, to be as lovely and as loving as you are.

It means all these things and many more. It means I can love people and not expect them to give me what you alone can supply. It means I can serve people and not hold them hostage to my selfish ambition and vain conceit. It means I can become more intrigued than irritated with others, more restful than rigid in their presence, more caring than critical of them. Indeed, Jesus, I want to love to your glory, by your grace. I pray in your merciful and magnificent name. Amen.

Treasures, Birds and Flowers by Paul Tripp

May 17th, 2017

I love a good picture book. As the father of four and now a grandfather, I’ve seen my fair share of illustrated stories.

I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but the best picture book of all is the Bible. God, the great Author of life, employs everyday, earthly illustrations to communicate his invisible, spiritual truths to the reader.

While these pictures are splashed across nearly every page of Scripture, Jesus draws three in particular in Matthew 6 that have helped shape my personal life and ministry.

TREASURES

When we hear the word treasure, we typically think of some hidden chest of gold or a rare gem. But a treasure can be a valuable possession of any kind. Jesus warns, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”

This word picture is meant to remind us that we weren’t created to find our ultimate satisfaction in the temporary treasures and pleasures of the here and now. Affection from another person, possessions, and success in life are not ungodly by any means, but they are not eternal.

The next time your eye catches a glimpse of a treasure, allow your heart to see the warning label so that you don’t invest all your time, energy and money into something that will rust.

BIRDS

In this passage, birds represent anxiety, or more accurately, a life free from it. Think of how small a creature a bird is. Because of their size, they can control almost nothing.

We mistakenly believe that because we’re humans, we can control our lives. While it’s important to be responsible and make plans, Jesus encourages us to let go of our delusion of control and entrust our lives to the One who rules the universe.

The next time your eye catches a glimpse of a bird, allow your heart to remember how little time and space you control so you can rest in how much you are guarded by the Creator of time and space.

FLOWERS

Flowers are similar to birds, but there’s a final element illustrated here: the difference between want and need. It’s not wrong to want certain pleasures and comforts of earth, but we must be careful to not name it as a need.

Needs, if they’re not actually needs, become dangerous. We feel entitled to them, we feel we have the right to demand them, and then we judge the love of another (typically God) by his willingness to deliver.

The next time your eye catches a glimpse of a flower, remember that God knows and has provided for everything that is essential for your life.

God bless

Reflection Questions
Think of the excitement that a young child has reading their favorite picture book. What can you do to stir up that level of excitement for reading the Bible?
Pick one of the three illustrations that you feel most convicted about. How have you given evidence this week that your heart needs to be reminded of that area?

Do You Really Want To Change? by Paul Tripp

April 26th, 2017

Have you ever said, “I’ll never do that again!” only to make the same mistake a few days later?

If you’re a Christian, at some point in your walk with God, you’ll feel stuck in the same cycle of sinful decisions and foolish mistakes.

So how do we get from where we are to where God wants us to be?

Well, we need to start here: sometimes, we don’t actually want to change.

It sounds harsh, but I’ll lead the way.

Maybe that selfish pleasure is just too pleasurable for me. I know the Bible says I shouldn’t pursue it, or at least not allow it to dominate my calendar or wallet, but there are times when my heart simply loves the creation more than the Creator.

Then there are other times when I really do want to change, and I just feel stuck.

There are 4 “C” words that help me in my struggles.

Ultimately, these four action words won’t produce change in me. Only the power of Holy Spirit and the grace of God will produce lasting heart change.

But these 4 C’s remind me of how I can position my heart closer to the Spirit and Grace of God.

Here they are:

1. CONSIDER: The psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart … see if there is any offensive way in me” (139:23–24). The first step to change requires us to look intently into the mirror of God’s Word (James 1:23-24) and consider – or examine – what the Bible says about us.

2. CONFESS: If we accurately consider what the Bible says about us, it will be very tempting to run away from the verdict, or lessen the blow by making excuses and shifting the blame. Change only happens when we confess that we’re the primary problem (like David, in Psalm 51:10).

3. COMMIT: Once we’ve considered and confessed, we ought to be grieved by the reality of sin. That grief should spur us into action. Commitment can take a variety of forms, but there needs to be some plan to move from where we are to where God wants us to be.

4. CONTINUE: This will sound obvious – change has not taken place until change has taken place. At some level, we all stop short. We talk about change, we create an action plan, but then we never follow through, or we give up with discouragement.The process of heart and life change is a process, not an event!

So brothers and sisters, continue to consider. Continue to confess. Continue to commit. And continue to continue. The gospel of Jesus Christ provides us with the hope and help we need to keep pressing on!

Surround yourself with believers who will walk with you. Seat yourself under good preaching. Dive into the Word and pray, even when you don’t feel like it.

There is a day when sin will be eradicted. Until then, our Lord has given us everything we need. Stay encouraged, and watch the Lord bless you with a harvest of good fruit!

God bless

Paul Tripp

Reflection Questions
In what ways have you been ignoring, or apathetic to, the diagnosis of Scripture in your life?
Where are you pointing the finger and blaming others for the sins of your own heart? Be specific.
What are some practical steps that you can take to wrestle with the passions of the flesh?
Identify a brother or sister who is discouraged. This week, how can you be their spiritual support and spur them on to good works?

What Are You Hoping For? by Paul Tripp

April 26th, 2017

What do you hope will happen today?

Maybe your hope is something simple. You hope that today’s forecast is warm and sunny. You hope that your packed lunch contains a personal favorite. You hope that the train isn’t as busy so you can catch up on some reading.

Maybe your hope is more significant, potentially even life-changing. You hope that you will get that raise or promotion at work. You hope that the medical tests will come back clean. You hope that God will activate a heart of faith in a lost and wandering loved one.

All human beings hope for something. God has hardwired us this way from the beginning of creation. Unlike animals, who live by pure instinct and moment-by-moment reaction, we project our lives out into the future to imagine things as we would like them to be.

There are three elements to our hope – assessments, objects, and expectations.

First, we look around and ASSESS that something or someone could be better than it is. If things were as perfect as they could be, we wouldn’t need to hope.

Second, we must have an OBJECT on which we bank on hope on. Hope is never abstract. We’re always asking something or someone concrete to fix what is broken or to deliver what is desired.

Finally, our hopes have EXPECTATIONS of what could be if the object of our hope pulls through. Sometimes our expectations are realized, and other times, our expectations leave more to be desired.

According to the Bible, there are ultimately only two places to look for hope.

We can either search for hope HORIZONTALLY in the situations, experiences, physical possessions, locations, and relationships of everyday life.

Or, we can search for hope VERTICALLY in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the promises and truths that he provides in his Word.

When we look for hope horizontally, we’re relying on items or people who suffer from the same degree of brokenness as we do. At best, they can provide fleeting pleasure, but they always result in disappointment, or at worst, addiction.

On the contrary, vertical hope is summarized by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:5 – “hope in God will never put us to shame.” It will never embarrass us by failing to deliver!

You and I already know this, but it’s worth repeating every day: lasting, satisfying hope is only ever found vertically.

Only in God is your hope sure and secure. Only he can provide you the life that your heart seeks. Only he can supply your soul with the rest that it needs. Only he can deliver the internal peace that is the hunger of every human being.

In his brief words, the Apostle Paul confronts us with this thought: if your hope disappoints you, it’s because the object of your hope is horizontal!

God bless

Reflection Questions
Where have you assessed that life is not all that it should be? How much of your assessment was made out of holy discontent? How much out of selfish desires?
What temporary earthly objects do you tend to place your hope in? How have these failed you in the past? Be specific.
How does vertical hope in the person and work of Christ give you strength and peace for what you’re experiencing right here, right now in this broken world?

Why I Go To Church by Paul Tripp

March 22nd, 2017

Church is wonderful. Church is important.

Church is meant to remind us of the miserable condition in which sin left us and our world, and of the glorious rescue of redeeming grace.

The songs we sing, the Scriptures we read, the sermons we listen to, and the prayers we engage in are all designed to keep us from ever taking the person and work of Jesus Christ for granted.

Despite all of this, there are some Sundays when I don’t attend church with a good attitude.

I know you are more like me than unlike me.

While there are many Sundays that we are excited for church, there are those “other Sundays” when you just don’t want to be there.

On more Sundays than I wish to admit, I grumble my way into the worship service. There are some weeks when I’m just running through the motions, going to church because I’m supposed to.

(Sometimes I go because my wife makes me! But I know that has never happened to any of you…)

But on these Sundays, something happens: the glory of God confronts my fickle heart.

God ordained for us to gather for worship because he knows us and the weaknesses of our grumbling and easily distracted hearts. He knows how soon we forget the depth of our need as sinners and the expansiveness of his provisions in Jesus Christ.

He knows that little lies can deceive us and little obstacles can discourage us. He knows that self-righteousness still has the power to delude us.

So in grace, he calls us to gather and consider glory once again, to be excited once again, and to be rescued once again.

It’s not only that these worship services remind us of God’s grace; these worship services are themselves a gift of grace.

Going to church is designed to confront you with the glory of the grace of Jesus so you won’t look for life, help, and hope elsewhere.

Are you allowing yourself to be confronted?

God bless

Reflection Questions
Why are you not excited about worship services sometimes? Examine your own heart and resist finding flaws with your church.
What temporary earthly glories tend to get you more excited than the Glory of the God?
What practical steps can you take to get more excited about the Glory of God?

The Direction of Words by Paul Tripp

March 8th, 2017

There are many verses in the Bible that encourage me and fill my soul with hope. But then there are other verses that scare and sober me.

Proverbs 18:21 is near the top of that latter list.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (ESV).

I like how The Message summarizes it: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit — you choose.”

That verse compels me to wrap duct tape around my mouth. Why?

Because my words – and your words, too – are never neutral.

The Bible says that our words are either moving in a life direction, or they’re moving in a death direction. What we say either builds up or tears down.

There isn’t any middle ground.

I don’t know about you, but I often speak as if my words exist in a happy neutrality. It’s uncommon for me to think before I speak, “Is what I’m about to say in this moment going to bring life or bring death?”

But the Bible says that every word we speak is moving in one of those two directions. So how should this spiritual reality change the way we live?

I can see four ways:

1. Think more: Jesus says that we’ll give an account for “every careless word” we speak (Matthew 12:36). That same Jesus will speak perfectly on our behalf on the day of judgement, but we still need to take the time to consider the direction of our words before they roll carelessly off our tongue.

2. Speak less: Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” In other words, the more you and I say, the higher the probability we have of bringing death and tearing down. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all.

3. Rest in God: If you’re anything like me, there will be many words that you wish you could take back. But God’s timing is always right. He chooses to reveal these things to us at just the right moment, and he forgives every careless word we have spoken and will speak.

4. Forgive others: If we’re going to rest in God for our own careless words, we need to give others the same grace that we’ve received. Be patient and forgiving as God reveals to others what he has revealed to you.

May we take advantage of the grace offered to us and move our words in the direction of life!

God bless

Reflection Questions
Identify some careless words you spoke yesterday. How could you have given those words “life” instead?
Think of a time when it would have been wiser to stay silent. What was the result of you speaking?
What do you regret saying, either recently or in the distant past? How can you preach the gospel to yourself about that regret?
Who is currently agitating you with their careless words? How does the gospel inform and transform the way you respond to them?

The Confrontation of Words

March 1st, 2017

When was the last time someone confronted you of sin? How did you handle it?

When was the last time you needed to confront someone of their sin? Did you try to avoid it?

If you’re anything like me, the thought of confrontation or rebuke can be very uncomfortable. But, the concept is an essential part of God’s plan for Christian community and spiritual growth.

Hebrews 3:13 says, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (ESV)

So why is biblical confrontation so difficult for us? First, we have misinterpreted confrontation as negative when it should be positive.

The word “exhort” means to encourage. Our message in confrontation should spur others on to good works, not discourage them: “Don’t give up! There is hope and help for you! The good life is found within the boundaries of the Word of God! Believe in the Bible’s promises!”

Then, there are two things we need to be aware of when we’re confronted:

We defend our identity too much. When confronted, our reputation of being a “good person” is threatened. But the sacrifice of Jesus says that our worth is defined completely by him, and not us.

We love our sin too much. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Maybe we need to be brutally honest and confess that, at times, our hearts treasure the confronted sin more than Christ.

Finally, there are three mistakes we make when confronting others:

We forget that there are two sinners in the room. The Apostle Paul declared that he was the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). But often when we confront, we forget that we struggle in similar ways and share an identity with the person whom we’re confronting: a sinner, saved by grace.

The Bible is used as a club and not a mirror. The goal of confrontation is not punishment or intimidation, but revelation. We should want others to see their sin and the beauty of God’s way, not feel crushed by what they’ve just heard.

We confuse our kingdom with God’s kingdom. Chances are, the sin you’re confronting has hurt you, and it’s very hard to separate personal irritation with God’s desire for restoration and forgiveness. Our role in confrontation is not to get the person to submit to our agenda, but to God’s alone.

So the next time you’re confronted, fire your identity lawyer and be honest about your sin. And when God calls you to confront someone, be gentle, humble, and an ambassador.

Biblical confrontation isn’t something to be avoided, but to be cherished!

God bless

Paul Tripp

Reflection Questions
List two or three specific ways that biblical confrontation can make your relationships more beautiful.
How did you respond poorly the last time someone confronted you? How can you be less defensive and more humble?
Critique the way you confronted someone recently. How can you do better next time?

23 Things That Love Is by Paul Tripp

February 15th, 2017

Valentine’s Day is over. That means all those advertisements for roses and chocolate-covered strawberries and pendants are over, too. At least until next year.

What’s the main message in those advertisements? “If you love your spouse or significant other, you’ll purchase our special item.”

I have no problem with that. Luella and I gift each other regularly with romantic gestures, not necessarily on valentine’s day.

But those gifts are signs of our affection for one another; they are not love.

So what is love? There is certainly no shortage of searching for it or attempts to define it.

For those who believe in Jesus, we don’t need to search any further than the Bible. The Scriptures are the timeless source of truth, written by the God who is by very definition love (1 John 4:8).

So today, I want to take a break from our series on words and think about love. Although, if you pay attention to what you’re about to read, nearly everything applies to the words you speak.

Below are 23 biblical applications of how to love your spouse, your child, your neighbor, or anyone else God has put into your life.

Don’t try to memorize or apply all of them at once! Instead, just focus on one or two that the Holy Spirit convicts you of.

Print this list off. Save it to your phone. Come back to it regularly and honestly examine your words and actions. The new morning mercies of Jesus forgives your failures, and his grace empowers you to grow in areas of weakness.

You have been welcomed into eternity by the God of Love, and he welcomes you right here, right now to love others in the same way.

God bless

Paul Tripp

1. LOVE IS being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of others without impatience or anger.

2. LOVE IS actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward another while looking for ways to encourage and praise.

3. LOVE IS making a daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses.

4. LOVE IS being lovingly honest and humbly approachable in times of misunderstanding.

5. LOVE IS being more committed to unity and understanding than you are to winning, accusing, or being right.

6. LOVE IS a making a daily commitment to admit your sin, weakness, and failure and to resist the temptation to offer an excuse or shift the blame.

7. LOVE IS being willing, when confronted by another, to examine your heart rather than rising to your defense or shifting the focus.

8. LOVE IS making a daily commitment to grow in love so that the love you offer to another is increasingly selfless, mature, and patient.

9. LOVE IS being unwilling to do what is wrong when you have been wronged, but looking for concrete and specific ways to overcome evil with good.

10. LOVE IS being a good student of another, looking for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so that in some way you can remove the burden, support them as they carry it, or encourage them along the way.

11. LOVE IS being willing to invest the time necessary to discuss, examine, and understand the relational problems you face, staying on task until the problem is removed or you have agreed upon a strategy of response.

12. LOVE IS being willing to always ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.

13. LOVE IS recognizing the high value of trust in a relationship and being faithful to your promises and true to your word.

14. LOVE IS speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack the other person’s character or assault their intelligence.

15. LOVE IS being unwilling to flatter, lie, manipulate, or deceive in any way in order to co-opt the other person into giving you what you want or doing something your way.

16. LOVE IS being unwilling to ask another person to be the source of your identity, meaning, and purpose, or inner sense of well-being, while refusing to be the source of theirs.

17. LOVE IS the willingness to have less free time, less sleep, and a busier schedule in order to be faithful to what God has called you to be and to do as a spouse, parent, neighbor, etc.

18. LOVE IS a commitment to say no to selfish instincts and to do everything that is within your ability to promote real unity, functional understanding, and active love in your relationships.

19. LOVE IS staying faithful to your commitment to treat another with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when the other person doesn’t seem deserving or is unwilling to reciprocate.

20. LOVE IS the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of a relationship without asking for anything in return or using your sacrifices to place the other person in your debt.

21. LOVE IS being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm a relationship, hurt the other person, or weaken the bond of trust between you.

22. LOVE IS refusing to be self-focused or demanding, but instead looking for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when you are busy or tired.

23. LOVE IS daily admitting to yourself, the other person, and God that you are unable to be driven by a cruciform love without God’s protecting, providing, forgiving, rescuing, and delivering grace.

What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage!

February 14th, 2017

Expecting the Expected

Jim got sick and had to forsake his climb up the corporate ladder. This brought stress into his marriage to Jen that he would never have anticipated. Brad and Savannah got busier and busier and quit communicating as they should, and their relationship paid the price. Brent struggled with a secret sin for years, and when Liz discovered it, it almost ended their marriage. India and Frank always seemed to be in a battle for control. It was an exhausting marriage to be a part of. Alfie and Sue never seemed to be in the same place spiritually. Jared and Sally had an infectious affection for one another, but their financial woes brought much stress to their marriage. Jung’s mother pulled her into loyalty battles again and again. It caused lots of conflict between her and Kim.

There are two observations to make about all these marriages. First, none was a bad marriage. No one was about to walk out. No one had been unfaithful as yet. There had been no abuse or violence. But none was experiencing what God had in mind when he created their union in the first place. And all of them were surprised at what they had to face as a couple.

Second, everything that each couple faced is predicted by command, principle, proposition, or perspective in the Bible. These couples should have expected the expected. If they had approached the Bible as a wonderful window onto their marriage, they would have known what to expect and not been surprised at what came their way.

So what are the essential wisdom perspectives that Scripture gives us that enable us to have realistic expectations for our marriage?

1. You Are Conducting Your Marriage in a Fallen World

We all face the same thing. Our marriages live in the middle of a world that does not function as God intended. Somehow, someway, your marriage is touched every day by the brokenness of our world. Maybe it simply has to do with the necessity of living with the low-grade hassles of a broken world, or maybe you are facing major issues that have altered the course of your life and your marriage. But there is one thing for sure: you will not escape the environment in which God has chosen you to live. It is not an accident that you are conducting your marriage in this broken world. It is not an accident that you have to deal with the things you do.

God decided to leave you in this fallen world to live, love, and work, because he intended to use the difficulties you face to do something in you that couldn’t be done any other way. You see, most of us have a personal happiness paradigm. Now, it is not wrong to want to be happy, and it is not wrong to work toward marital happiness. God has given you the capacity for enjoyment and placed wonderful things around you to enjoy. The problem is not that this is a wrong goal, but that it is way too small a goal. God is working on something deep, necessary, and eternal. If he was not working on this, he would not be faithful to his promises to you. God has a personal holiness paradigm. Don’t be put off by the language here. The words mean that God is working through your daily circumstances to change you.

So, somehow, someway, this fallen world and what it contains will enter your door, but you do not have to be afraid. God is with you, and he is working so that these grieving things will result in good things in and through you.

2. You Are a Sinner Married to a Sinner

You and I just don’t get to be married to someone perfect. It seems true when you read it, but even though this seems obvious, many people get married with unrealistic expectations about who they are marrying. Here is the point: you both bring something into your marriage that is destructive to what a marriage needs and must do. That thing is called sin.

Most of the troubles we face in marriage are not intentional or personal. In most marriage situations, you do not face difficulty because your spouse intentionally did something to make your life difficult. Yes, in moments of anger that may happen. But most often, what is really happening is that your life is being affected by the sin, weakness, and failure of the person you are living with. So, if your wife is having a bad day, that bad day will splash up on you in some way. If your husband is angry with his job, there is a good possibility that he will bring that anger home with him.

At some point you will be selfish. In some situation you will speak unkindly. There will be moments of jealousy, bitterness, and conflict. You will not avoid this, because you are a sinner and you are married to a sinner. If you minimize the heart struggle that both of you have carried into your marriage, here’s what will happen: you will tend to turn moments of ministry into moments of anger. When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change. So, he will cause you to see, hear, and experience your spouse’s need for change so that you can be an agent of his rescue.

3. God Is Faithful, Powerful, and Willing

There is one more reality that you have to include as you are trying to look at your marriage as realistically as possible. Not only must you consider the fallenness of the world you live in and the fact that both of you are less than perfect, but you must also remember that you are not alone in your struggle. The Bible says that God is near, so near that in your moment of need you can reach out and touch him because he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27). Yes, you live in a bad neighborhood (fallen world), and the two of you are less than perfect (sin), but in all this you are not left to your own resources. The God who determined your address lives there with you and is committed to giving you everything you need.

Consider for a moment what the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us. First, it teaches us that God is faithful. Centuries earlier, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, God promised that he would crush wrong once and for all. So he sent his Son to defeat sin and death by his crucifixion and resurrection. He made a promise, and he controlled the events of history (large and small) so that at just the right moment Jesus Christ would come and fulfill what had been promised.

But the open tomb also reminds us that God is powerful. He is powerful in authority and powerful in strength. Could there be a more pointed demonstration of power than to have power over death? By God’s awesome power, Jesus took off his grave clothes and walked out of that tomb.

The empty tomb points us to one more amazing thing. It teaches us that God is willing. Why would he go to such an extent to help us? Why would he care to notice us, let alone rescue us? Why would he ever sacrifice his own Son? Because he is willing. You and I need to recognize that his willingness was motivated not by what he saw in us but by what is inside of him. He is willing because he is the definition of mercy.

Not Alone

So, when you are sinned against or when the fallen world breaks your door down, don’t lash out or run away. Stand in your weakness and confusion and say, “I am not alone. God is with me, and he is faithful, powerful, and willing.” You can be realistic and hopeful at the very same time. Realistic expectations are not about hope without honesty, and they are not about honesty without hope. Realism is found at the intersection of unabashed honesty and uncompromising hope. God’s Word and God’s grace make both possible in your marriage.

Are your expectations for your marriage realistic?