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Friday, August 7, 2009

My Journey Through the Book, "Love that Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace"

I just finished reading a fabulous book on marriage called “Love that Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace” by Gary and Betsy Ricucci. The book is gospel rich, grace saturated, humble and honest. Husband and wife, Gary and Betsy Ricucci, wrote it in tandem, interweaving between each other’s thoughts throughout the book. While reading it, I felt like I was visiting over coffee with a loving, godly, wise, older couple whose heart’s desire is to encourage other couples through Scripture and by sharing from their own real life trials and errors. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or condemned as I sometimes do when reading books about marriage or gender roles, the book left me feeling encouraged and hopeful.

The topics in this book are fairly familiar topics for marriage books—the roles of husband and wives, communication, conflict, romance, and physical intimacy. However, the difference between this book and some other books I have read on marriage is that the practical really flows from the theological. The authors demonstrate that imaging God in all the practical aspects of marriage flows out from knowing God and experiencing the gospel. The ability to show grace to our spouses flows from knowing and experiencing God’s grace for us. Our ability to love our spouse as God calls us to love our spouse must flow from these truths: 1) Apart from God’s mercy on us, we were once poor, naked, wretched, and blind and without hope; 2) God is completely good and Holy; 3) God, in His pure goodness and deeply sacrificial love, chose to make us His children in spite of our selves; 4) even though we are still fallen and prone to sin, we are gradually and patiently being transformed daily by God’s power and out of His kindness; 5) God wants us to honor Him by loving others as He has loved us……if we do not recognize these facts, we will not be able to love our spouse with patience, mercy, grace, persevering commitment, sacrificial service, and hope. We can only love in the way that God asks us to love because God has first loved us. 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”

The Ricucci’s book created a hunger in me in three primary practical ways—1) to grow in my knowledge, experience, and understanding of the gospel of God; 2) to grow in tangibly loving my husband with the sincere, unconditional, and sacrificial servant love that Jesus shows me; and 3) to live a life of openness and honesty with my brothers and sisters in Christ and to live in such a way as to invite these brothers and sisters to speak the truth of Scripture into our lives.In reading the Ricuccis’ book, I am reminded of what hope there is in grace! When my life and my marriage becomes a list of do’s and don’ts, I get overwhelmed and fail. Grace, however, produces freedom and fertile soil for Biblical fruit. I was also reminded that our Great God is glorified much through grace! Ephesians 1:3-6 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Another extremely valuable aspect of the Ricuccis’ book is their emphasis on Biblical community. Throughout the book, the Ricucci’s discuss the importance of transparency and accountability with other believers who can speak the truth of Scripture into their marriage. They even include Biblical community in their list of three “Defining Questions of Biblical Marriage” at the beginning of their book--the three questions they believe to be the “Defining Questions of Marriage” are: 1. Does Your Marriage Find its Purpose Primarily in God?; 2. Does Your Marriage Find its Hope in the Gospel of Grace?; and 3. Does your Marriage Find its Home in the Local Church?

I found this last question unpredictable and refreshing. I am starting to see that living a life of openness and honesty with my brothers and sisters in Christ and allowing these brothers and sisters to speak into my life IS an important way that I grow in grasping, experiencing, and living the gospel. It is also an important way that I can grow in servant love for my husband—particularly since I can be so blind to my own sin in this area or I can get so full of despair in this area. Sadly, I have not experienced very much of this type of Christian accountability in marriage. I wonder why this is. I can only imagine it is because marriage is so full of highs and lows, joys, sin, and challenges--marriage is where the rubber meets the road in so many ways. My own selfishness, lack of a servant heart, and lack of graciousness is most fully displayed in my marriage. Exposing these things to others involves risk. Exposing myself—particularly my heart and actions in marriage--does not make me look good. As we open up to others, we can find ourselves judged, rejected, scorned, or ridiculed. We can find that others are not trustworthy or discreet with what we share. Or we can find that others do not reciprocate with vulnerability, honesty, and humility about their own struggles (which can further feed our despair and shame). Don’t get me wrong—we ought to be discerning and wise about what information to share with whom—I am not suggesting that we share personal details from our marriage with everyone or that we indiscriminately accept advice from everyone (and certainly I am not suggesting that we share anything about our marriage without permission from our spouse!). Yet, I deeply want to experience true, deep, and mutual accountability with another couple who loves the Lord, who loves us, who is honest and real with us, who knows and values Scriptures as the authoritative standard by which we are to live our lives, and who will lovingly and graciously hold us accountable to that standard (and for whom we can do the same). The more I grow as a Christian, the more I long to know and be known. I long to know God as I know He already knows me. I also long to know and be known by His people because this is a primary way that I honor and image God and because it is a primary way that God grows and conforms me to His image. I want to be conformed to His image! I want to be helped in the ways that I am not yet conformed to His image—I want to be helped by being continually and lovingly reminded of His glorious truth in Scripture!

I’ll conclude this post with what Gary and Betsy Ricucci call “packing and traveling tips” for the “marriage adventure”. This is from page 156, the last page of their book:

First of all, don’t begin any leg of the journey with a focus on all that you have to do! Concerns like that are probably motivated by self-sufficient pride. Begin with what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. That’s humility and faith. The gospel redeems the past, provides for the present, and prepares for the future. In marriage, it is God’s activity through the finished work of Christ, applied in our lives by the indwelling Holy Spirit, that encourages and enables us and ensures our future. Every journey must begin here.

Study and know the Word of God. It is God’s lamp for your feet and a light for your path (Psalm 119:105); his water for washing, purifying, and refreshing your soul (Ephesians 5:26-27); his compass for discerning the direction of your heart (Hebrews 4:12); and his field guide, if you will… perfect, authoritative, accurate, and powerful to equip and take you each step of the way (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Be a humble learner, Grace will always follow.

And finally, don’t travel through marriage alone. Don’t travel isolated from one another, or isolated as a couple from the local church. Being alone wasn’t good in the garden (Genesis 2:18), and it isn’t a wise way to take a journey today (Proverbs 15:22). Being alone separates you from God’s means of growth and blessing (Proverbs 18:1; Romans 12:5: 1 Corinthians 12:18-21; Ephesians 4:15-16). And failing to meet with other believers is a bad and dangerous habit that leaves you vulnerable (Hebrews 10:24-25). Jesus is building his church, not isolated wilderness wanderers. God wants your journey to be shared.
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the Ricuccis. Please continue to bless their marriage and to use them to edify your Body. Thank you for marriage. Thank you for all that you are teaching me through marriage. Please remind me daily that marriage is not the end-all, but rather it is a means of bringing you glory (by bringing us joy, by teaching us about your character, by revealing our sin to us and our need for you, and by providing opportunities for repentance, grace and transformation by your power!) Please help me grow in sincere, sacrificial, servant love for Kristian. Please help me to die to my selfishness and pride. I pray that you would bring into our lives real community and genuine mutual accountability with brothers and sisters in Christ in the area of growing in our marriage. May you be glorified in our marriage in every way. In Jesus Mighty Name, Amen.

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