The Dancing Puritan

Sunday, February 14, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 14: Change Your Ring Tone






14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here
Day 13: The Journey: Here


Day 14 is simple. Assign a special ring tone on your cell phone for your spouse. When Lori calls me I hear: "O Most Beautiful Among Women." Many times, I have been in a public setting and my phone rings: "Call from O Most Beautiful  Among Women." Its quite a conversation starter and a reminder to me of how blessed that I am.

Scan back through the previous 13 days with your spouse.

Happy Valentine's Day.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 13: The Journey

A few years back--somewhere along our journey

I wrote the following post on 2-15-2014. It is to my wife Lori and about our marriage. For reasons known to Lori and me, it seems especially relevant at this present time in our journey. Read this with your spouse and take 15 minutes to discuss together how "easy is not all it is cracked up to be." On this Valentine's Eve--recount your story together.

It might have been easier, had love never broken the exterior; if like a rock skipping across water, we had only lived life on the surface in a tidy and comfortable romance. If we had embraced the smiles and fought the tears, it might have been easier.

Yet easier, it has not been. We have felt the plow turn the ground and break our hearts. The laughs have been mingled with salty tears.

When we started this journey, we didn't know. People told us of trials to come, but we could not really see them, until we tasted them. We did not think much about going to bed angry, hurt, disappointed, and disillusioned. Seldom did we imagine a life where the rocks didn't simply skip from one happiness to the next.

How can I forget the week that my heart was ripped out? You came home as the week ended. There was nothing that I could say, but you let me draw near to you. Friends had disappeared. A million smiles could not fix me. Your arms got me through. 

Then there was the day, now chiseled deep on our hearts that we called the children to our room. They found a place on our bed. We shared with them a hard story of loss. The news was familiar, but this time it penetrated deeper. We cried, we prayed, we held each other. It was not easy.

What could have prepared us for that season--when we seldom could enjoy one another's company? The days ran into weeks. We will never forget the drops of grace that sustained us. A meal proved to be the bread of life. It was not easy.

But, we have held our babies. We have retreated to quiet places. The waters of the beach have tickled our toes. The sounds of an old hymn have squeezed out the tears and then taken us to the heavens. We have known the grace of God. His grace was there when the flowers wilted and it surrounded us when roses covered the meadow.

It is often so noisy. There is seldom a quiet place. It is not easy. But, how we love the noise; the smells, the colors, the chatter, the music, the requests, and the appointments. Even the unfolded laundry--reminds us of our life together--still unfinished, still wrinkled-- but gathered with love.

It could have been easier. But then, no faith would have been required. And we would not have known the love that we now know. What if our path had not been redirected on that day when we were imagining a time with just the two of us? What if the nest had soon emptied and the birds left for new lands? It would have been much easier. 

And now at night, I pull you close. We keep each other warm. It would be cold, had it been easy. We are close. And through the walls and up the stairs our precious ones rest. It is not easy for them either. They have walked and will travel rocky and lonely roads. It won't be easy, but they will love. They are loved. 

Stay close. Easy is not all that it is cracked up to be. 

Happy Valentine's Day

14 Days of Love
Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here
Day 12: Discussion Points: Here






Friday, February 12, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 12: Discussion Points

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here
Day 11: How to Choose a Gift for Your Spouse: Here

At Spurgeon's College with my beloved wife Lori


My latest post for B&H Academic, "Spurgeon's Valentine," takes a brief look at Charles and Susannah Spurgeon's romance.

Today's Activity

*Read the B&H Post.
*Discuss with your spouse the following points.

1. The disconnect between spending money on romance and broken relationships.

2. Spurgeon said that marriage is "not all sugar" but that "grace in the heart will keep away all of the sours."  Take a minute to consider your marriage. Refer back to "Day 9." How is God's grace displayed in your marriage?

3.  Would angels "find themselves out of their element" in your home? If so, how can that change?

4. What is the "anchor that holds strong amidst trials and temptations" in marriage?

5. Are your wife's clothes "precious" to you? What is your attitude towards clothing, makeup, and other items that are important to your wife? Compare your present attitude to Spurgeon's.

6. Spurgeon sent a letter to Susannah in a box of "Presburg biscuits." What does that tell you about Spurgeon?

7. Spurgeon bought Susannah a table for her bed. Talk about the thoughtfulness evident in that gift.

8. Spurgeon's delight in Susannah's comfort and joy is striking. Do you find delight in working for the joy of your spouse?

9. Spurgeon was in tune with his wife and put Susannah above himself? How is the "tune" of your marriage right now?

10. Would you like for your wife (or husband) to write you a love song? See Day 1.

11. What does Susannah's response to Spurgeon's love song tell you about her?

12. Take the hand of your beloved and pray for one another. We all have fallen short of God's glory. Jesus never did. Wherever you are in your marriage, there is hope. Don't give up. Look to Christ, seek him in prayer, and find a godly married couple to counsel you through any hard times that you are experiencing.


Ray Rhodes leads marriage workshops and Bible conferences. He is the president of Nourished in the Word Ministries.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 11: How to Choose a Gift For Your Spouse

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here
Day 10: Keep it Simple:Here




How do you choose the right gift for your spouse?

1. Ask, at various times throughout the year, what gifts that they would enjoy receiving. I have asked these questions: "If money were no issue, what gift would you enjoy receiving?"Since money is an issue right now, what is something inexpensive that you would really enjoy?


2. Keep a list: Putting together a list is easier than you might imagine. Of course write down the gifts that you discover from #1 above. However, you probably do not want to be asking your wife/husband just before a special occasion what they want? Learn from everyday listening. I often hear Lori mention some item or activity that she would enjoy. However, hearing alone is not enough. I need to write down what I hear. You might consider keeping a pocket notebook for writing down gift ideas. My wife keeps a list on her phone for everyone in our family. Write down sizes that you will need for clothing and apparel.


3. Involve your children. Your children are your secret weapons and they will likely enjoy helping you choose a gift. I like to buy clothes for Lori. I have often called or sent a text message to one of my daughters asking for advice while I was out shopping.


4. Ask their best friend. I will play the part here. Hi good friend of Lori. Has Lori mentioned anything to you that she would enjoy? Clothes? Trip? Date night to restaurant? 12 gauge shotgun?


5. What would you like to buy your beloved? Think outside the blender or white dress shirt box? Go beyond even candy and flowers (but keep them in your arsenal). Nostalgic gifts work for some people. Does your spouse ever talk about items or places that they really enjoyed when they were younger? Ebay is your friend. For example, if your husband enjoyed going to a favorite place on vacation when he was a boy, get him an item connected to that place. Lori often went to Savannah, GA when she was a young girl. It would be relatively easy for me to find something unique to Savannah to get Lori for a special day.


6. Give a gift that requires effort on your part. Try to avoid last minute shopping and just picking up the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe your neighborhood grocer has just the item and if so, that's great. However, be willing to drive a few miles extra and pay a few dollars more to get the right gift. The "right" gift is the one that is given joyfully, lovingly, thoughtfully, and skillfully.

7. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise. Lori and I still remember with great joy, gifts that came with an excitement of surprise. On our 25th Anniversary, I planned three days of activities for us (they did not take the entire day, but parts of three days). Lori did not know from one minute to the next what was next. One day I took her to breakfast at one of our favorite places in Dahlonega, GA. We walked around town after breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning at home. The next day we had lunch and a tour at a winery. We closed out the day by going to a dinner and movie restaurant. On day three, we celebrated at a fine restaurant near Atlanta. I worked out a plan ahead of time with the waiter. When he brought dessert to our table, he also brought a gift that I had wrapped and given to him for Lori. Lori opened up her box and received her new earrings.

Before each event I gave Lori ample time to get ready. I told her what to wear but not where we were going. I planned our dates without Lori having to make any decisions. She liked that. She still likes for me to lead the way in planning our dates.

8. Have Fun. A handwritten note and a candy bar with love is better than a diamond ring and joylessness: "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it." (Proverbs 15:17).

G: Generosity: Be generous, not stingy. Yes, be wise but always generous.

I.  Invest: Invest time and energy in knowing your spouse and gift-giving will come easier.

F. Focus: Your list will help you to focus on specific items and keep you from random shopping.

T.  Thoughtfulness. Be thoughtful. What does your husband enjoy? What is his favorite color? What would he do if he had an afternoon to himself? What makes him laugh?

Gifts do not have to be expensive. With a little creativity, a gift may be very inexpensive (thought it does cost time, energy, effort, thoughtfulness). Enjoy giving. Because of God's love, He gave his only Son (John 3:16). The gospel is ample motivation for giving cheerfully to your spouse.




Wednesday, February 10, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 10: A Simple Plan for Building Your Marriage

Remember

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here
Day 9: Grace: Here



Earlier this week I heard a gentleman say: "When I was younger, I was fascinated by complexity." He is a business man and he was recalling a time in his life when he dreamed of "layers and layers" in his organization. Now his philosophy is to "keep it simple."

Keeping it simple is also a good approach to marriage. Here are a few suggestions.

S: Stay close: Marriages are more likely to be successful when both partners stay close to one another. This is not always a matter of proximity, but a matter of intentionality. What I mean is that even when close face-to-face contact is impossible, you still pursue closeness through communication. There are "little foxes" that must be caught so that they will not "spoil the vineyards." (The Song of Solomon 2:15). You must always be on guard so that your heart and loyalties are not divided from your spouse. Stay close through phone calls, emails, text messages, handwritten letters, and by spending time together. Talk to one another by lovingly and courageously facing challenges together.

I: Invest in a Calender:  It has often been said that "if you do not know where you are going, any old train will get you there." To survive in our busy culture you will need to have, use, and often refer to a calendar. Take a year-long approach and build in special times for your marriage. Lori and I have enjoyed 4 marriage retreats over the past 10 years. These were all non-programmed retreats. Our new approach is to schedule one marriage retreat each year for the remainder of our marriage. Retreats, date nights, and other marriage building exercises will not happen unless they are scheduled.

M Measure Progress: Your calendar you will reveal your priorities over the next 12 months. For example, if your goal is to attend a marriage retreat/event each year, what steps will you take to go from plan to reality. Write your marriage goals and priorities down for the next year and note your progress or lack thereof, Determine a way that works for you to measure progress.

P: Pursue Opportunities: Along with your calendar, work and a plan to measure progress, it is important to be proactive in pursuing opportunities. You may think that it is impossible to pull away for a week with just you and your wife, or to even schedule a monthly date night. Lori and I have 6 children and we understand the difficulty of getting away together. However, we also understand the greater difficulty of not getting away.  Do an Internet search for Christian marriage events, and sign up for one. Just do it. A little bit of research may lead you to some very inexpensive options.

L: Learn Together: Have you ever read a book with your spouse? Find a good book and purchase two copies and determine a page count for individual reading over a period of a couple of days. No one is allowed to exceed the agreed upon page count. On the third day, read out loud together (and then repeat the process). Two things are accomplished: 1. You are learning from the same book--a unified approach. 2. Your out loud reading will encourage conversation based on your reading.

E: Enlist Help: Have you ever had a mentor? One of my goals for 2016 is to pin-point an older married man and to ask him if he will serve as my mentor. I want this older man to talk with me about his marriage and to provide counsel to me out of his knowledge of the Word and from his experiences. Pray for and seek out a godly mentor.

Activity

Its SIMPLE. Stay close to one another. Prayerfully make priorities and plans by investing in and using a calender.  Develop an easy approach to measuring progress. Read over your priorities and plans every month and consider what steps you are taking to achieve them. Pursue opportunities to build your marriage. Learn together through reading and discussing the same book. Enlist help by finding an older couple who are willing to mentor you.

Read the following verses together tonight.

Stay close. Song of Solomon 2:8-17, 3:1-4, 8:13-14
Invest in a calendar. Proverbs 21:5
Measure progress. Proverbs 24:3-4
Pursue Opportunities. Ephesians 5:16
Learn together. Ecclesiastes 4:9
Enlist help. Proverbs 15:22

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray leads marriage events at churches and other venues. 






Tuesday, February 9, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 9: Grace



Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here
Day 8: Friendship: Here



I am writing near a fireplace in a rustic den as the snow outside falls gently to the ground. Earlier this morning, I walked over to the dining room where hot coffee was waiting on me. I took my coffee to a sitting room where I read the Bible and spent a few minutes journaling. My thoughts centered on the word “grace.” Each morning before an open Bible, I am confronted by my need for grace.

Before this night is over, I will look deeply into the eyes of my wife Lori. I want to see her, really see her. I know a few of Lori's burdens, but I imagine that a number of her challenges are hidden from my view. Perhaps she does want to put anything else on me. Maybe I have built walls that seem impenetrable. I have often been too been busy or too distracted to notice what her eyes, if not her words, were telling me.

What does Lori need from me? She needs grace. How foolish of me, a recipient of the lavish grace of God, to ever withhold grace from my dear wife. I need grace from her. How utterly thoughtless I am when I fail to be a conduit of God's grace into Lori's heart.

This evening, look into the eyes of your spouse. Look deeply. See, know, and discover them. See them through the eyes of grace.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace. 
I Peter 4:10

Activity: Show Grace!

G: Generosity. Are you a generous person? Or, do you withhold love, intimacy, and good gifts that you have the opportunity to share? Don’t try to save up generosity, open your heart to your spouse. Recently Lori needed new shoes. She felt that I did not want her to get new shoes. I don't know exactly how I communicated to her that "her old shoes were just fine" and that "new shoes could wait." But something I said, or didn't say, led her to think that I didn't want her to have the shoes. When I discovered how she felt, I was horrified. Though we do not have a lot of money, I want to display a generous heart to my wife and children.

R: Rest.  My guess is that your beloved works hard. Beyond their workplace responsibilities, or their homemaking duties, they carry other burdens. What can you do for them that will provide a place and time for refuge so that they can experience restorative grace?

A: Acceptance. Life comes quickly. Dreams can be lost in a moment.  Rejection is around the next corner. You are married to a person who, like you, falls short and needs forgiveness and acceptance. Our arms are designed, in part, as a safe place of acceptance. Let your husband/wife know, verbally and non-verbally, that they are accepted.

C: Compassion. Whereas acceptance works to restore confidence, compassion enters into the brokenness of your spouse and lets them know how much you care.

E: Encourage. You encourage your spouse when you stir up courage in their heart. Encouragement offers hope, indicates belief in, and strengthens the one to whom it is directed. Discouragement is no respecter of persons and it can lead to utter despair. When you encourage your beloved, you are instilling hope into their heart. They need one person, at least, who believes in them.

Grace:  Generosity, Rest, Acceptance, Compassion, Encouragement.

Read the following verses with your spouse before retiring to bed tonight.

God generously gave his Son (Romans 8:31-39). God offers rest to his sons and daughters (Psalm 23, 127). To know Christ is to be accepted (Ephesians 1:5-6). God is compassionate beyond compare (Psalm 78:38-39). God encourages us that we might encourage others (Romans 15:5-6).

Romans 15:5-6New International Version (NIV)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries.



Monday, February 8, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 8: Friendship

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here
Day 7: Work on the Inside: Here






There is an ending for everything under the sun. People come and go; jobs change; events transition and children get married. Things, once so seemingly permanent on our calendar and in our traditions, transition to something else. And then there is a final transition when life is swallowed up by death and then death gives way to life eternal.

Everything changes. One moment we are holding the hand of a loved one and the next they are gone.  They move away to that far-away land. They are not coming back.

One day we will have a last friend.

For C.S. (Jack) Lewis that last friend was a lady from New York, Mrs. Joy Davidman Gresham. They first became acquainted when she wrote to him. Lewis was accustomed to getting letters from American fans. The letters from Joy were distinct and captured his attention.

Joy Davidman was born a Jew, declared herself an atheist at the age of 8, and later became a member of the Communist Party. She was a teacher and a writer of poetry, novels, and scripts. She married a Communist, William Gresham, in 1942.

Joy discovered The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce by Lewis. The struggles of her husband and their marriage led Joy to a sense of helplessness and humility. She was converted and became a Christian. Though she and her husband both professed Christ, their marriage continued to fail and they eventually divorced.

She travelled to England for a brief visit in the early 1950s and Lewis invited her to Oxford.

She was fascinating to C.S. Lewis. He wrote: "Her mind was... quick and muscular as a leopard. Passion, tenderness and pain were all equally unable to disarm it."

In 1953 Joy moved to England with her two sons. They visited Jack and his brother Warnie Lewis in their home for four days in the winter of 1953. Lewis wrote to a friend: "Can you imagine two crusted old bachelors in such a situation?"

Joy continued writing and in 1955 her book, Smoke on the Mountain, based on the Ten Commandments, was published. Lewis wrote the foreword.

She moved to Oxford in the summer of 1955 and regularly visited with Lewis. Their friendship grew through numerous challenges.

In 1956 Joy's permit to live in Great Britain was not renewed.

She married C.S. in April of 1956. Lewis called the marriage "a pure matter of friendship and expediency." They did not live together and their marriage was an act of friendship, that Joy might remain in England. Lewis saw the marriage as a civil marriage distinct from a marriage in the "Christian sense." The distinction between civil marriage and church endorsed Christian marriage was a position that Lewis held prior to meeting Joy.

Joy suffered from hip problems that became so severe that she had to be hospitalized. She was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Lewis remarked, soon after he heard the news of her cancer: "No one can mark the exact moment in which friendship becomes love."

Humphrey Carpenter wrote:

  ...The days of talking about the marriage as a mere expediency were over, and Lewis and Joy determined that they must be married in the eyes of the Church. Warnie too had been won over. 'Never have I loved her more than since she was struck down,' he wrote in November 1956, shortly after the cancer had been diagnosed. 'Her pluck and cheerfulness are beyond praise...God grant that she may recover.'

C.S. and Joy were married, in the Christian sense, at her hospital bedside on March 21, 1957. Her death was considered imminent, but prayers were offered for her healing. She recovered. By the summer of 1958 her cancer was in full remission and she walked rather freely, though with a limp. Even the doctors, considered her recovery a miracle.

Lewis discovered romantic love. He remarked to one of his friends, "Do you know, I am experiencing what I thought would never be mine. I never thought that I would have in my sixties the happiness that passed me by in my twenties."

With Joy now in the home of C.S. and his brother Warnie, she brought a woman's touch to their world. Warnie wrote: "What Jack's marriage meant to me was that our home was enriched and enlivened by the presence of a witty, broad-minded, well read, tolerant Christian whom I had rarely heard equalled as a conversationalist whose company was a never ending source of enjoyment."

The marriage had a profound impact on C.S. Lewis.  He was different in the best sense of the word.

By October 1959 the cancer returned. Her pain increased and yet she continued to persevere.

In May, Jack. and Joy were on a dinner date. He recalled, "how much happiness, even how much gaiety, we sometimes had together after all hope was gone."

On July 12th, 1960 Joy and Jack were playing Scrabble. Lewis wrote of that night: "How long, how tranquilly, how nourishingly, we talked together that last night!"

By midnight on July 13th, after a day of horrific pain, Joy died.

Lewis struggled greatly in the days following Joy's death but eventually the grief began to subside. His own health declined. In 1963 he had a heart attack but recovered. He said: "I can't help feeling it was rather a pity I did survive. I mean, having glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one's face and know that the whole process must some day be gone through again, and perhaps less pleasantly."

On Friday afternoon, November 22nd, 1963 C.S. Lewis died. His brother Warnie, his best friend for all of his life, was at home with him.

His death resulted in the death of the Inklings as well.* As one friend said, "He was the link that bound us all together."

Joy changed everything for C.S. Lewis.  She was his last friend. She was the friend that gave him what he had missed for so long. She gave him the friendship of a wife. She put a spring in his step and was a source of joy to his heart. His last friend became his best friend.

Activity


C.S. and Joy's friendship began with their correspondence with one another.  They were both writers and they both were Christians. Joy had a robust personality, a brilliant mind, and she was an excellent conversationalist. C.S. and Joy enjoyed talking, reading, playing games, and found happiness in one another. Joy made Lewis a better man as she encouraged him in his work. Lyle W. Dorsett writes: "Joy Davidman pushed him to take up non-fiction once more [he had stopped writing non-fiction] and as a result she helped him produce Reflections on the Psalms (1958) and she enthusiastically talked him out of a writer's block so he could finally go forward with his long-time coming Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer." Dorsett continues: "In the final analysis, then, those of us who thank God for the way C.S. Lewis has been our teacher through his books, must also be grateful for Joy Davidman Lewis. Without her the Lewis collection would be smaller and poorer." (Dorsett quotes: Here).  

How can you encourage your spouse today? Are there ways that you can push your husband forward in his work? How would reading to and with your wife strengthen your relationship with her in positive ways? Every person faces challenges in their work, relationships, and they sometimes feel overwhelmed? Is your home "enriched and livened" by your investment of prayer, energy, creativity, and laughter? Ask God for help and pour your life into your beloved companion.

Some of the information about C.S. Lewis in this column is adapted from The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, pages 233-252.

*The Inklings were a group of literary friends that met regularly in Oxford to discuss literature and to express friendship.

This post was adapted from a 2013 column published at "The Dancing Puritan."





Sunday, February 7, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 7: Work on the Inside

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here
Day 6: The 30-Day Challenge: Here


Day 7

King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. (SOS 3: 9-11).

Solomon's carriage was designed for "the day of his wedding" (11). Built from the wood of Lebanon, shining with silver and gold, and with the royal color purple covering its seat, Solomon's carriage delievered him to his wedding in great glory. However, the most important characteristic of his carriage was its interior "inlaid with love."

A beautiful wedding service is a sight to behold. However, pomp and circumstance may delight wedding attendants, but they cannot sustain a happy marriage. Just as a lovely gown may conceal an unhappy bride, so a loveless marriage may be hidden from view by a decorative veneer.  

Your life must be "inlaid with love" if you are to love your spouse. There must be something behind your love-letters, journaling, song writing, and kisses (see previous blog posts) for your marriage to honor Christ and bless your spouse. You must work on your interior––your heart: "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23). 

Activity

Work on the interior of your life.

Private Worship: Go to a quiet place and pray. Pray with an open Bible, a pen, and a journal close at hand (See Donald Whitney: "Have a Real Prayer Closet." Here).  Alone with God, read and meditate on a passage of Scripture, and allow it to inform, encourage, and direct your prayers. 

Congregational Worship: Building an interior that is "inlaid with love" does not happen in isolation. God designed you for community. Tim Keller in his book Prayer writes "if we ponder the very beginning of the Lord's Prayer--'Our Father' . . . it shows us that we cannot know God only on our own but must do so in community with others." 

Today is the Lord's Day. It is a day for stirring up love by gathering with fellow Christians for congregational worship (Hebrews 10:24-25). 

You love your spouse when your heart is "inlaid with love." An interior of love is crafted in the closet of prayer and by gathering for worship with your local church.

Ray Rhodes is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries.







Saturday, February 6, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 6: 30-Day Challenge

Day 1: Write a Song: Here
Day 2: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day 3: Kiss: Here
Day 4: Meet: Here
Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember: Here

Go back and read yesterday's entry for a reminder of what love and marriage are all about.

Day 6



Several years ago I determined to read a chapter from The Song of Solomon each day, journal from my reading, and write my wife Lori a love-letter every day for 30 days. The 30 days turned into 60. I continued writing after the 60 days, but not every day. I still write Lori love-letters, just not as frequently. She has a special place where she keeps all of my letters.

Today, I am challenging you to write a letter to your spouse, every day, for 30 days. Start today! Base your letter on a chapter, or section of a chapter, from The Song of Solomon (SOS). When you have read all of SOS, simply start again. I have been reading Solomon's Song for years, and it never grows old.

Here is a sample, not of a letter, but of a journal entry based off of SOS. Remember, I am just drawing some points of application from SOS. I am not engaging in in-depth exegesis when I journal. These are sort of "first thoughts."

Journal Entry

I want Lori to be filled with so much joy in our marriage that she wants me near (2) and when I am traveling, for her to look forward to my return. How can I love Lori in such a way that she will always miss me when I am away from home (or even downstairs in my study)? How can I love her with a love that is "better than wine" that is inseparable from a sweet-smelling life?

1. Kiss Excellently (1:2). Practice makes perfect. Don't miss an opportunity to kiss. The words over our bed are "Always Kiss Me Goodnight." 

2. Love Exceptionally (1: 2-3). A woman that is loved will generally want to be kissed by the one who loves her. Never stop cultivating godly character and sacrificial love. Mediate deeply on the gospel.

3. Date Excitingly. (1:4, 2:4, 8-14)"Draw me--Let us run." Cultivate such a life that she will want to be with me and go places with me.

4. Speak Extraordinarily (1: 9-17, 2:8-17). Let the musical language in Solomon's Song inform how I talk to Lori.

5, Romance Exclusively. Note in SOS how often the words "my love" and "my beloved" occur. There must be no competitors (not children, friends, hobbies, and certainly not any other ladies) for my relationship with my beloved. Never give Lori any reason to doubt that I am a "one-woman-man." Guard against being flirtatious and always be wise in any dealings with other ladies.

I often begin my days by reading Psalms and trying to get my mind and heart focused on God. I follow by reading a selection from Tim Keller's book Prayer. I close by reading from SOS and writing down my thoughts. I want to begin my days focusing on God and thinking about my relationship with Lori. It is my desire that our marriage increasingly give a positive testimony of Christ and His Church.

Let me know if you take the 30-Day Challenge. Follow me and send me a message on FB: Here: Here and Ray Rhodes@NITW1 on Twitter.

Friday, February 5, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day 5: Read, Journal, Share, Remember.

Day One:Write a Song/Poem: Here
Day Two: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day Three: Kiss: Here
Day Four: Meet: Here



A happy marriage is a wonderful gift but a terrible god. It is only when God is supreme in one's life, that His gifts can be received and enjoyed. Marriage, like everything else, is for the purpose of glorifying God. A godly marriage, glorifies God by positively displaying the gospel of Christ.

If you make a happy marriage the ultimate treasure of your life, then your marriage will never be as happy as it could be and your treasure will not satisfy. If God is the treasure of your life then, happy marriage or not, you can bring the aroma of God's joy and the sweetness of the gospel into your home, regardless of how your spouse responds to your acts of love. This is important to remember as you participate in the 14 Days of Love. Love flows from the gospel. When did Christ set his love on us? Christ loved us while we were sinners and enemies (Romans 5:6-11).
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also out to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (I John 4:7-12)

The only way that you can truly love your spouse is by embracing the gospel of God's love for you in Christ. The motive for loving your spouse is the gospel and not a response that you may desire from them. In other words, regardless of how your spouse responds to your acts of love, you are to keep on loving them. Ultimately, love for your spouse is not first of all about them, it is about God. You love them for God's glory, and you trust that God will supply your need for love through Christ.

With that foundation, here is today's activity.

1. Read chapter one from a godly book on intimacy in marriage. Several years ago I wrote a book, The Marriage Bed (available Here in paperback). You can also download it HereThe Marriage Bed is a very brief booklet that includes a seven-day-plan for cultivating intimacy in marriage. Ask your spouse if he/she will read the book with you. Perhaps you could read out loud before bedtime each evening.

Also read chapter one of The Song of Solomon.

2. Journal. For several years I have kept a marriage journal. Much of my journal is devoted to my reflections on The Song of Solomon (SOS). In days ahead, I will share with you practical ways to use SOS to cultivate joy and intimacy in your marriage. Some couples see SOS as a help to "Save Our Ship [marriage]." Others see it as a means to "Strengthen Our Ship." Everyone can learn how to "Sweeten Our Ship" through reading and applying Solomon's Song. Write your thoughts from SOS and from the marriage book in your journal.

In my journal I have personal notes to myself, thoughts about my wife Lori, various other applications from SOS, and poems.

3. Share. Share some of your affectionate thoughts with your beloved. Read to them a selection from your journal or write them a note with a few "nuggets of gold"  from your day's reading. Let them know of your love and of your desire to love them better.

4. Remember the Gospel. Look to Christ to supply your needs and from your faith in Christ, serve your spouse. What is one thing that you can do today that would encourage him/her? It may well be something that you do not want to do (Ladies: Shine his shoes. Guys: Vacuum the Den). Remember that your worth, hope, and life is found in Christ alone. Such knowledge frees you up to love and serve your spouse joyfully and sacrificially.

Tomorrow: A 30 Day Challenge.










Thursday, February 4, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day Four: Meet

Day One: Write a Song: Here
Day Two: Pray, Tell, Pray: Here
Day Three: Kiss: Here



In a letter dated December, 1855, Charles Spurgeon wrote to his fiancée Susannah: "Sweet one, How I love you! I long to see you and yet it is but half-an-hour since I left you. Comfort yourself in my absence by the thought that my heart is with you."

Separated only 30 minutes, Charles was already missing Susannah. 

The man and woman in The Song of Solomon longed to be together. 

She Says
Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions? (1:7)

He Says
If you do not know, O most beautiful among women, follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young goats beside the shepherd's tents. (1:8) 
He says 
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely. (2:13-14).

Later . . .
He says
Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. (7:12)

The final two verses of SOS further indicates their desire to be together.

He says
O you who dwell in the gardens, with companions listening for your voice; let me hear it. 
She says
Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices. 
People, who love one another, want to spend time together. And they find creative ways to rendezvous.

Activity

Spend 10 minutes today planning a meeting. Share hints with your spouse without giving away all of the details of your plan. Be creative.

A Few Ideas

Write your beloved a note and say, in your own words, "I want to hear your voice and see your face." Write about flowers, vineyards, fruit, perfume, and gardens.

Meet your spouse during lunch break. Pack a picnic lunch and spread a blanket at a nearby park. Send him a text message with directions to your location. 

Surprise your husband when he comes home from work. If you have young children, consider hiring a babysitter. When your husband arrives at home, meet him at the door. Welcome him with a kiss. Have a candlelight dinner prepared. Take his hand and walk with him to the table. 

Surprise your wife. Send her a text early in the day. Tell her that you have plans with her for dinner and that she should not prepare a meal. Let her know how to dress for the evening and either take her out to dinner or bring a meal home. 

Throughout the day, text and email your beloved. Write handwritten notes and strategically place them where your husband/wife will see them. Be descriptive. 

Have fun and don't forget the music. I recommend Norah Jones or Jazz Piano Radio on Pandora.  








Wednesday, February 3, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day Three: Kiss

Day One: Write a Song/Poem for your Spouse. Here
Day Two: Pray, Tell, and Pray. Here

Day Three: Kiss!
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers. The Song of Solomon (SOS) 1:2-4.
Isn't it wonderful that Solomon's best song opens with a stanza about kissing? The lady in SOS daydreams about kissing: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth." And then she speaks directly to her man: "For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out . . ."

Let him . . .

For your . . .

Kissing is a big deal in SOS. Is it a big deal in your marriage? How often do you go through an entire day without giving or receiving a kiss? Really, that often?

It has often been surmised that kissing is a more intimate act than full sexual intimacy. Lip-to-lip kissing connects at the point of communication, the mouth. Kissing is the natural precursor to complete sexual expression because it says, "I care about you. I want to communicate with you. I want to be near to you."

Kissing, though the natural precursor to sexual intimacy, is good all by itself.

In the first chapter of SOS, there is no hint of sexual expression. Yet kissing is there. Love is described. Beauty is communicated. Perfume fills the air and poetry, along with kissing, is on the lips.

Kissing is sacred. Let me put it like this: It is a godly thing to kiss your spouse. It is spoken of in the most positive of terms in SOS.
Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. (4:11).
The woman in SOS desires to be kissed by the man who loves her. His love for her is "better than wine." Wine was a precious commodity in Solomon's day. It was rich and sweet. Before wine could touch the lips, vines had been carefully cared for and pruned. The grapes were then gathered, pressed, and aged.

Love and joyful kissing go together. That is one reason why sexual immorality is so foolish. When a person engages in sexual immorality they are bypassing love and focusing only on physical and/or emotional pleasure. But true love is cultivated by hard work, pressed by trials, and matures over time. As love grows deeper, kissing becomes sweeter and richer. And kissing can continue even when   other aspects of intimacy diminish due to physical disabilities.

Activity

Kiss.  Try the "15 Second Kiss" experiment. Link Here: KISS

Get in the pathway of your spouse, face them, and kiss them. Kiss them several times a day and let one of those kisses be for at least 15 seconds.

Love.  Loving your spouse is not predicated on them displaying love to you. Loving your spouse is predicated on knowing and loving the gospel (I John 4:19).

Desire. If your desire for your spouse is not very strong right now, ask God to help you. Often you will find that praying for and doing loving things for your spouse will help to stir up desire. The lady in SOS longed to be kissed by the king because his love for her was strong. Perhaps your "king" is not displaying love towards you. If that is the case, remember the KING. His love is everlasting, overflowing, and is truly better than the best things of life.

Remember, marriage is about the gospel. Look to Christ, bathe in the gospel, and kiss your spouse.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries.





Tuesday, February 2, 2016

14 Days of Love: Day Two: Pray and Tell



Do you pray for your spouse? Do they know? Do you pray with your spouse? Today's activity in our 14 Days of Love emphasis (join here on Facebook by message) is praying, telling, and praying again.

One reason that more couples do not pray together is that they do not understand how essential prayer is to a godly and joyful marriage. Tim Keller writes about studying prayer in the Psalms. His research helped to prepare him for challenges after 9/11 that he would face as a pastor in New York and also for family trials. Tim's wife Kathy was suffering from the effects of Crohn's disease and Keller himself was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. (1).

Keller writes: "At one point during all this, my wife urged me to do something with her we had never been able to muster the self-discipline to do regularly. She asked me to pray with her every night. Every night." Kathy urged her husband "if we don't pray together to God, we're not going to make it because of all we are facing. I'm certainly not. We have to pray, we can't let it just slip our minds." (2).

Keller reflected:
For both of us the penny dropped; we realized the seriousness of the issue, and we admitted that anything that was truly a nonnegotiable necessity was something we could do. That was more than twelve years ago, and Kathy and I can't remember missing a single evening of praying together, at least by phone, even when we've been apart in different hemispheres.  (3)
Kathy Keller, in the midst trials, knew, what many of us fail to see, that without prayer we are not going to make it. At least, we are not going to make it in a joyful, productive, Christ-exalting and marriage-building way. Prayer is God's chosen means to imprint his character upon our hearts. It is also his way of providing enabling grace for every trial and windfall.

The Song of Solomon does not directly reference prayer. However, it does illustrate the importance of tenderly loving one's spouse. To the woman, her husband was the one "whom my soul loves." (3:1). For the husband his wife was "my love." (4:1) Marriage is about Jesus and his love relationship with his church. Jesus prayed for his church: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17)  Later the apostle Paul wrote: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word." (Ephesians 5:25-26)  It is obvious in Scripture that when one loves another, they will pray for them.

Let me ask you again. Do you pray for your spouse? Do they know? Do you pray with your spouse? If you really believe that you are not going to make it, in the way God intended, unless you pray for one another, then you will pray.

Activity

1. Stop what you are doing and pray for your spouse.
2. Tell your beloved that you are committed to praying for him/her each day.
3. Ask your spouse if he/she will pray with you before retiring to bed at night.
4. If they say yes, pray with them. If they say no, still pray for them and for your marriage.

Question from wives: Is it ok for me to ask my husband to pray with me? Yes, of course. A Christian husband should not mind you asking and, though he may feel inadequate for some reason, he will ultimately not mind praying with you. Be patient, kind, sensitive, and encouraging.

Another Question from wives: Is it ok for me to lead prayer if my husband does not want to pray, or if my husband simply wants me to sometimes lead the prayer, or if my husband is not a Christian? Some women feel as if they are never to initiate intimacy, Bible reading, or prayer. If your attitude is godly, humble, and submissive, then there is no reason why you cannot lead the prayer, on occasion. Certainly husbands are to lead their wives in all things, but that does not mean that wives are to be passive regarding practicing spiritual disciplines in the family. In many marriages both husband and wife pray together each morning and/or evening. If your husband is not a Christian then ask him if you can pray with him (and you lead the prayer) regularly. It is interesting to note in The Song of Solomon, that the lady speaks more than the man. She is portrayed as sometimes initiating physical intimacy.  She is not afraid to make her requests known to her husband concerning her desires. While a wife should never attempt to usurp her husband's authority in the home, there is no reason why she should not be actively engaged is promoting spiritual disciplines in her home.

Now, I have to be honest, confess, and make some changes in my marriage. I pray for my wife. I pray with my wife during family worship times and meal-time blessings. However, I rarely pray with my wife--just the two of us. Three ways that I will love my wife today: 1. I will pray for her. 2. I will tell her that I prayed for her. 3. Before we go to bed tonight, I will pray with her.

One more thing. Be biblical and be brief. Use the Bible (especially Psalms to help you to pray) and offer up a simple prayer to God for your spouse, your marriage, and your family.

1. Tim Keller, Prayer. (New York: Penguin, 2014), 9.
2. IBID., 10.
3. IBID.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries.