I never know which direction this weekly adventure known as the iPod Devotional will take me. The usual procedure is to grab dog friend Hannah, set the trusty iPod to shuffle and head out for a morning walk. I just walk until a song hits my heart or sense of humor. Today was both. The song that popped up is meaningful but recent context made me smile.

My pastor at Waterbrook Bible Fellowship in Wylie, Texas decided to preach a four week series from 1st Corinthians, chapter seven. For reasons unknown Pastor Jeff Denton chose this on purpose. The text deals with sex in marriage, the sin of sex outside the marriage and the always fun topic of divorce. So when Andrew Peterson’s song “Dancing in the Minefields” cued up on the iPod today I thought of Pastor Jeff and chuckled. He has truly been dancing in cultural and relational minefields by addressing these difficult verses unflinchingly. His messages have been full of truth and grace. Both are needed in full measure to address such loaded topics. Have I mentioned he chose this series on purpose? But seriously, if the church cannot honestly and gracefully address these topics then our faith is limited in its relevance. I can assure you that Scripture does not shy away from tough topics. We are the squeamish ones that prefer Biblical texts that don’t meddle in our actual lives.

A good marriage is hard work. A great marriage is the hardest of all because it requires the equally selfless devotion of both parties. Peterson’s lyrics are powerful.

"I do" are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I've heard
Is a good place to begin

'Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it's an easy price
For the life that we have found

Laying down your life for another does not dovetail very well with a culture that screams that we “deserve” to be fulfilled and have a “right” to personal satisfaction and happiness. The cruel irony is that fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness are ultimately found in sacrifice, serving and giving. Andrew Peterson poetically captures the difficulty of this journey.

                                                                And we're dancing in the minefields
                                                                       We're sailing in the storm
                                                                  This is harder than we dreamed
                                                         But I believe that's what the promise is for

One of the points that Pastor Jeff made during his most recent message continues to rattle in my heart and mind. He has counseled hundreds of couples over his years of ministry. One of his observations convicted me not only in my marriage but in all of my relationships. Jeff noted that “it is never productive to be critical of your spouse”. I think most of us would agree that is true. But it is so easy when you spend so much time together to become critical of differences and idiosyncrasies that your mate possesses. The danger is mortal. Being critical of your spouse creates an opening for Satan that he will rarely pass up a chance to roar through.

It is not just marriage that criticism destroys. I can also do incredible damage in my community of believers by being critical. This has been a struggle for me because being critical comes quite easily to this wounded sojourner.

Grace is changing me. Slowly. Emphasis on slowly. I am learning to look at others through lenses of grace. To quote my friends from the book “The Cure” I am beginning to see my community of believers not as “sinners trying to become saints by more right behavior but saints who still sometimes sin”. It is an important distinction. We are all saints who are righteous because of Christ alone. We still sin. We need grace. All of us. So when my brother sins grace compels me to run toward him and not away. Grace does not allow me to condemn and judge. He needs grace to be restored as I will need that same grace soon. Likely very soon.

Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth about hardships and the message he received from the Lord.

              “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12, NLT)

I have come to know some of my fellow believers well enough to see what lies behind the Sunday morning mask. I see that they are insecure, needy, selfish and unpredictable. They are just like me. Jesus told the story of a father who runs to embrace his child who has made terrible mistakes. He doesn’t wait for them to crawl back and grovel. At the first turn of repentance he sprints to them and throws a party. That is grace. That is what a critical spirit destroys. Paul wrote this in the Epistle to the Colossians about having a spirit of love based on understanding the Good News.

For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace. (Colossians 1, NLT)

So I will dance in minefields of relationship with my bride, my family and my community. It is a dangerous place at times. And there is no place I would rather be.