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God's good hand was upon this year's "Perfect Peace" Marriage Conference. Initially we were going to rest the conference this year, but God provided a benevolent underwriter to cover the cost of the conference not covered by the sign-up fees. With just a few months before the conference, God placed Pastor Brad Nelson on my heart to preach the conference. That was certainly of the Lord as God gave Brad just the thing our churches needed to hear!

Pastor Brad challenged us right from the beginning of the conference to give up and surrender our life to Christ afresh. He challenged us from God's word in Mark 8:34-37 with three calls to the Christian.

And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  35  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.  36  For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  37  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Mark 8:34-37  

1. We are called to lay something down. This was a charge to die daily. Not just the big sacrifice or our life, but the daily sacrifice of obedience. 

2. We are called to pick something up. This was the charge to take up our cross and die to self. Counting the cost and reckoning our life dead indeed to sin and alive to God through Christ.

3. We are called to live something out. This was the charge to walk where God calls us to walk even when it means it's painful. We are called to suffer, we won't avoid it, so we need to seek his grace and peace to suffer well.

Pastor Brad's admonition the first night was to surrender to God so we could serve like Christ.

The second session on Saturday Pastor Brad challenged us to have a servant’s heart. His text was Philippians 2:3-8

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.  4  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.  5  Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  6  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  7  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  8  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:3-8  

Pastor Brad challenged us from God's word to serve God and our spouse ahead of ourselves. One of the verses that really stood out to me was Proverbs 13:10. Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom. How many marriages are destroyed because of pride? The contention is the symptom, pride is the root of the problem. A servant has no pride, they put the needs of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ and others ahead of themselves. This is the heart of a servant and when we have this heart, we are at peace, even when we don't get what we "want".  Brad pointed out that our natural man is selfish but the Lord Jesus Christ who lives in us is the model servant. As we follow his lead by yielding to the Spirit, we too have what it takes to serve our spouse with grace and power as the Lord Jesus Christ.

The third session was focused on our mind. So Pastor Brad covered our need to Surrender, to Serve and lastly to Stay focused on the Word of God. HIs base text was the text for our conference in Isaiah 26:3.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Isaiah 26:3 

Pastor Brad had several important points in his message to help us demonstrate service. He started with the example of Jesus in John 13:2-17 where Jesus washed Peter and the disciples’ feet. From there he reminded us of the following:

1. Part of serving your spouse is allowing them to serve you. He reminded us how Peter allowed pride to get in the way of Christ's will in serving him.

2. None of us are deserving of Jesus' service and yet he gives it anyway.  This point really preached as we serve others including our spouse because we love them and God and not because they "deserve" it.

3. It all comes back to the gospel. God gave all and often gets rejection in return. He loved the world anyway.

4. Jesus has given us and example to follow.

5. Our mind must be stayed upon the example that he has set. This is what allows the thoughts of our heart to become the action in our lives.

6. Who are we really serving? If we are self-oriented, we will have a bad marriage and there will be conflict and contention. If we are spouse oriented we will fare much better in our marriage, but we will be inconsistent because we are frail. If we are God oriented we will have the best possible marriage because we look past the disappointments of this life in our relationships and see Christ. His next point built on this. 

7. In a sense we look past/thru our spouse and see the Lord Jesus Christ.

8. When I am serving the Lord. my spouse’s behavior/response is secondary. Our main objective is the please the Lord (The Lord is always worthy of my service) See Ephesians 5:25, 22

9. If my mind is not stayed on serving the Lord, then I will stop serving my spouse when I don't get the response I'm looking for. This can become a form of manipulation.

10. Even if you have a "one sided marriage" which some, sadly, do. The godly party can give knowing that God is pleased and glorified, and they can rest in the reality that they are growing closer to Christ with each effort to love and serve their spouse unconditionally.

11. Jesus links "happiness" to service in John 13:17. Pastor Brad pointed out that there is a big difference between knowing these things and doing them. When we "do" them we are happy because we are in the will of God, and he is pleased.

All that wonderful teaching was before lunch!   After lunch we returned and had a breakout session where Pastor Brad spoke to the men and his wife Kerrie spoke to the women. The content of that isn't necessary for this transmission but suffice is to say, it was a great opportunity for every couple to apply practically the things we learned that weekend.

Not only did God provide a great preacher, but he also provided a great group of people! In all there were seven churches represented from as far north as Kirksville, Missouri and as far south as Mount Vernon, Missouri. 41 couples registered for the event. God also provided more space for the extra people who signed up without extra cost! We appreciate the manager's hands on involvement in making sure the event was a great success.

If you have never attended the annual marriage conference, I would encourage you to plan on it if you are married or engaged to be married. You have never been married too long or know too much not to benefit from prioritizing your relationship with Christ. Next year we plan to host another conference and we would love to have you join us!