Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Can Self-Help Marriage Resources be Beneficial

Are you willing to change whether or not your husband/wife changes? The answer to that question will determine whether or not DVDs, audio tapes, books or blogs can be of any lasting benefit.

Paul Tripp
The all too typical marriage counseling session starts with one or both parties coming to the session begrudgingly. The only reason they have consented to come is in the hopes that the counselor can change their spouse. The counselor is incapable of changing anyone. The individual must have the motivation to change.

It is possible that if one spouse changes the other “might” sense that things are different and may come around to making necessary changes. As husbands and wives the Bible commands us to respond to our husbands/wives in specific ways whether or not our spouse fulfills their covenantal obligation.

1Peter 3:1-2 serves as a reminder that even if just one spouse is determined to be obedient to God it can affect the marriage. “ Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” The same concept applies to husbands, they too can win their wives over by loving them as much as they love themselves.

So if you and/or your spouse is willing to change, in order to have a marriage that glorifies God then there are some good products on the market. There are three DVDs I’d recommend: “iMarriage” and/or “Staying in Love” by Andy Stanley; and “What Did You Expect” by Paul Tripp.

Andy Stanley
There are four books that make the top of my list. They are Paul Tripp’s What Did You Expect; Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say I Do; Larry Crabb’s The Marriage Builder; and Gary and Betsy Ricucci’s Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace.

The only audio tape that I have heard recently that I would recommend is a 17 year old series done by Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer in New York.

If you have any recommendations that I can add to my list I’d love to review them.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Find a Few Difficult People to Help You Grow

In his book The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg points out that other people don’t create our spirit; they reveal our spirit. He goes on to say, “In fact, if God wants to grow some quality in you, he may send you a person who tempts you to behave in just the opposite way.” If you need patience God might bring someone into your life that triggers your impatience. If you need to be more forgiving He may send someone into your life who requires much forgiveness. This may be the same person; it may even be your spouse.

At this point you might be asking, “Why does God allow difficult people in my life”. Ortberg’s answer – what other kind are there? So then you might ask, “Is there a plan ‘B’? Or, couldn’t I just join a support group?” Just remember you may be the difficult person that God is using to grow someone else.

One reaction to people who push our buttons is to want to “fix” them, to make them more like ourselves. What we need to realize is that we are incapable of fixing or changing another person. We may have some influence when it comes to changing someone’s behavior but ultimately only God can touch the deepest part of another person. So in some manner of speaking God stands between you and the person who is a “life-drainer”. A Life-drainer is a person who adds to your anxiety, invites you to cynicism or contributes to you becoming defensive or exasperated.

Here are some random thoughts for dealing with the difficult person:
• Ask yourself what is going on inside of me? Why does this person trigger this negative reaction in me? Are you jealous or envious? Are you seeking control? Is this really about the kingdom of you – your needs, your wants and your desires?
• Pray to be able to forgive the person. Pray that the Lord will reveal to you why He has brought them into your life and what He may be seeking to change in you? Pray that if you can be of help to the person that God will guide your thoughts, words and actions.
• We can remember that God brought this person into our life for a specific purpose.
• We can display empathy. We can take the time to imagine what they may be going through. We can ask what would help them become the best version of themselves. And in turn you may become the best version of yourself.

This is one way of interpreting what Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ’Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you… If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Forgiving As God Does

In his book Marriage Matters, Winston Smith suggests that we should “embrace what Jesus has done for us and extend that in thought, word, and deed to others. This is the essence of forgiveness.

You are not forgiving the other person because they deserve it. You are doing it because you have been forgiven much. And if you need a more self-centered reason it is because if you withhold forgiveness it will eat at you like a cancer.

Smith goes on to say, “Think about forgiveness in terms of four basic decisions that reflect the way God forgives us.”

1. God decided to release us from the penalty of our sin. Just as God does not dwell on our sin or bring it to His mind, we are to refuse to dwell on how we have been wronged by our spouse.
2. God decided to sacrifice in order to forgive. God decided to absorb the cost of our sin. Repairing the relationship means accepting the wound and choosing to draw near to the one who has harmed you. God does not seek revenge or look for opportunities to pay us back, nor should we look for a way to get back.
3. God decided to accomplish good even through our sinfulness. God doesn’t just forgive our sins, he promises to use even our worst failures to do good in our lives and in our relationship with him. When we forgive our spouses we trust God will work for our good and the good of our marriage.
4. God decided to allow us to grow. God didn’t simply forgive us once and place us on eternal probation. He knows we will continue to battle with sin even as He helps us to grow. Likewise, it is important to remember that when we forgive our spouses they will not become perfect. Their failure will not be a once and done event. As we allow them to grow our ability to forgive also grows.
Forgiving means that we refuse to bring up the matter again in a harmful way. It means that we don’t gossip about the issue with friends and family. Your decision to forgive is a decision to do everything you can to keep the incident from standing between you and your spouse. Perhaps above all it is a conscious decision to trust that God is up to good.

Friday, 17 December 2010

What Shamu Taught AMe About a Happy Marriage

Recently I was made aware of an outrageously funny article written by Amy Sutherland entitled “What Shamu Taught Me about a Happy Marriage” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/fashion/25love.html . Apparently Amy was in the process of doing research for a book she was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers. She came to the realization that the techniques being used by the trainers might prove to be useful as behavior modification techniques for her husband.

After citing several of her husband’s typical infractions she added “These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less,…a mate who would be easier to love…. So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse.

“The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.”

Trainers use L.R.S. (least reinforcing syndrome) to elicit the desired response from animals. When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn’t respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

So when her husband Scott went into one of his tirades when he couldn’t find his keys, Amy just went on working in the kitchen, ignoring the commotion around her. On the other hand to reinforce behaviors that were desirable she employed “approximations”, which is what trainers call the rewarding of small steps toward learning a new behavior. Thus if Scott managed to get one sock in the hamper she would immediately affirm him. Over a period of time the more annoying habits began to dissipate and positive behaviors became evident.

Apparently she learned one more thing from the trainers ,i.e. eventually the animals understand their training regimen so well that they begin to use it back on their trainers. Scott did the same, as he applied L.R.S. to Amy as she was grousing and complaining. She quickly realized the tables had turned and she was the one now being trained.

I wonder if the Bible was one of the books that Amy picked up for the writer of Proverbs said that “a quarrelsome or nagging wife is like constantly dripping water.” Nagging didn’t work back then and it doesn’t work now. I wonder if Noah discovered L.R.S?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What Does a Healthy Marriage Look Like

Winston Smith is an author and faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.

When you saw the title of this blog what was the first thing that came to your mind? Perhaps you listed such things as spending quality time together, exceptional communications, extremely high level of trust, affection, intimacy, good conflict resolution skills, putting the needs of the other person first, and the list goes on. None of these answers would be wrong; in fact they would all be elements of a healthy marriage.

I felt that on the one hand Winston’s answers were surprising and on the other hand profound. They were surprising because the things I listed above are the ones that came to me instantly. As you can tell, I am into the simplistic and obvious while Winston is in to the more cerebral and deep.

Be honest would you have thought to mention that one of the elements of a particularly healthy marriage would be the extent to which we were able to help our spouse grow and mature in their Christian walk? Assume that nagging and criticism are not the preferred methods. Are you able to identify areas in the life of your spouse that you can speak into that would make him/her more like Christ AND can you do it in such a way that they will seriously consider your input and not get defensive? Yet this is the first area that Winston mentions. What might be some of those areas? Perhaps spending more time in prayer, praying together as a couple, having a consistent quiet time with the Lord, spending more time in the Word, volunteering, tithing, being more patient, sharing one’s faith, being other centered, etc.

Winston really pushed the envelope with his second reflection on this topic. You want me to speak lovingly to my husband/wife who has just criticized me in public? You want me to do something that will bless my husband/wife when they have just hurt me or sinned against me? Are you nuts?? I’d love to say that Winston is “proof texting”, i.e. twisting a verse from Scripture to mean something that supports your point of view when in fact that is not the literal meaning of the text. I’d love to, but I can’t. Sure the Matthew 5:38-48 passage deals with ones enemy but are we to then say that we should treat our enemy better than our husband/wife?

This marriage business is tough stuff.

Monday, 13 December 2010

What If Clark Kent Had Married Lois Lane?

How well do we think the mighty man of steel would have done as a husband and father? Marriage may have made leaping tall buildings at a single bound and bending steel in his bare hands look like child’s play.

If you let your mind run amuck you can conjure up all kinds of goofy scenarios. If you could eavesdrop you might have heard:
“Clark, I’m not going to tell you again, stop wearing the cape to bed.”
“Clark, I just said take out the garbage, I didn’t mean take it to Jupiter.”
“Lois, are you certain there was no kryptonite in the oatmeal?”
Teacher to principle, “I’m afraid the child is delusional, he thinks his father can fly.”
“Clark, I love to go out to dinner with you but do we have to take that phone booth everywhere we go?
“Lois, have you seen my blue tights? I thought I put them in the wash?”

One of the powers that would come in most handy in marriage was Superman’s ability to turn back time by speeding around the earth in reverse. If after hearing a hurtful word come out of our mouths we could turn back time to before it was uttered. Fortunately God has provided something that works even better – it’s called grace. “As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” He chooses to forget. In a healthy marriage there is a lot of choosing to forget.

Unfortunately you and I don’t have the ability to erase those things that we say or do, those things we wish we could take back. However we do have the ability to make things somewhat better moving forward. When we come before the Lord with a repentant heart and ask Him to forgive us for our careless words or actions He does so immediately. In actuality He had already forgiven us but the process of repentance restores a right relationship with Him. By then going to the person that we injured and asking them to forgive us we can potentially restore or strengthen our relationship on the person to person level.

God’s approach requires humility and a dependence upon Him for the strength to do what is right. As difficult as I find God’s plan, in reality it is easier than flying backwards, at least for me.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The World is God's Theatre

In a recent article in World Magazine Marvin Olasky used a very interesting phrase. He said “The world is God’s theatre and our classroom.” That got me to thinking which doesn’t come all that easy.

To expand on Olasky’s analogy it would mean that God wrote the script of this one act play called life. He wrote the beginning and the end. He wrote the plots and sub-plots and He knows how the story will end. He wrote the part that each and every one of us would play. He is directing and  producing the play. He is the casting Director, deciding who will get exactly which part. He didn’t require try outs because he created us to play the part that we have been given. He gave us the looks, the intelligence, the gifts, talents, skills and abilities that would enable us to play the part successfully. He designed the sets, i.e. He constructed the world inch by inch to His specifications. The oceans, the placement of the equator, and all the land masses are arranged just the way He wants them for now.

Not only is the world God’s theatre but it is our classroom or acting class to carry over the analogy. It is where we learn the skills required to play the role we have been given. It is where we can learn more about what the Director expects of us. It is where we can rehearse our part, learn our lines and get into the character that the Director /Writer created for us.

So what does this have to do with marriage? First I’m becoming more and more convicted that most of us don’t understand or acknowledge who God really is. If we were an actor desperate for work we would do almost anything to even try out for a bit part. The fact that we have been personally chosen by the Director, Producer, and Casting Director should make us desirous to please him in every way possible. He intentionally wrote us into his play. How can we argue with Him about the role He designed for us? It is out of gratitude, respect, love and awe for the Director that we should want to do anything He asks of us, even if it means putting our spouse’s needs above our own.

When we approach Him with the humility and reverence He deserves we will play our part well even if it isn’t the part we would have chosen.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Eyes Wide Open

In Paul Tripp’s latest book What Did You Expect? his chapter entitled “Eyes Wide Open” provides some interesting insight as to how a onetime seemingly good marriage can go bad. He suggests that we have to locate the “potholes” in our marriages that have the potential of bumping your marriage out of alignment. For those of you unfamiliar with the term pothole, they are the large holes in the roadway that when driven over by your car might put your wheels out of alignment.

The first culprit is “visual lethargy”. This occurs when we fail to see the good in our partner that once was so obvious to us. From the sparkling eyes and great smile to the sense of humor or unexpected kindnesses that we now take for granted, we simply don’t notice some of the things that we so cherished when we first married.

Another robber of marital bliss is “habit inconsistencies”. Perhaps when you first married you spent much time together, talking about everything. You vowed to never let the sun go down on your anger. You were quick to forgive and to be appreciative for thoughtful gestures. Perhaps the man still opened the car door and the wife went out of her way to prepare something special. Now there is minimal conversation, going to bed angry is the norm, forgiveness is no longer requested or given and the last time a car door was opened Nixon was President.

Laziness is another contributor to the demise of a marriage. Marriage takes work and it requires attention. Just as we would regularly maintain an automobile so too we must do those things that keep our marriages running smoothly. Regularly scheduled date nights, an occasional love note placed somewhere strategic; flowers for no good reason, a specific time set aside each week to just talk and a thoughtful gesture are some of the ways to keep a marriage from going stale.

We are reminded throughout Scripture that we have an enemy. He doesn’t appear in a red suit, with horns and a pitch fork. He encourages us to work late nights at the office at the expense of our family; he makes us feel guilty if we take time for our marriage instead of taking our children to every event and activity imaginable; he goads us on to getting overly committed, overly tired, and always feeling in a rush and frenzy thus affecting our mood. He finds imaginative ways to drive a wedge between you and your spouse such that you begin to live parallel lives. The intimacy goes and the little annoyances that never bothered you are all of a sudden a big deal.

We are in a war, let’s open our eyes and see that the enemy is not the one lying next to us in bed.

Monday, 6 December 2010

God Doesn't Make Suggestions

One of my favorite writers is Doctor Bob Snyder. He heads up the International Health Services organization and is author of Lessons Learned on the Journey. (www.lessonslearnedonthejourney.com)

Recently he wrote:

"Early in my life I learned a valuable lesson – to distinguish between a suggestion and a command. Initially I did not understand. I learned quickly when my parents disciplined me for interpreting a command as a suggestion! A command was non-negotiable and my feelings or my circumstances were not to be used as an excuse.

Treating the commands of God as suggestions is not wise either… Ignoring God’s commands also comes with consequences."

While there are many verses in Scripture that can be applied to marriage there are a few that are specifically designated as such. 1Peter 3:7 commands husbands to understand their wives; and the Book of Ephesians, verse 5:25 commands husbands to have the same love toward their wives that Christ has toward His Church. Wives too are given a specific command, that to respect their husbands. (Eph. 5:33b) 

Now I am not suggesting these commands are easy to carry out. What one husband would call respect may differ greatly from what another would consider being esteemed, admired, and honored. How one wife would describe what it looks like to be loved unconditionally as Christ loves His Church and to be truly understood by her husband might look totally different from one woman to another.

Back to Bob’s point, these are commands not merely suggestions. Here’s what boggles my mind. Thousands of Christians seek marriage counselors, read self-help books and spend millions on divorce attorneys every year. I venture to say not one of these people tried to apply God’s commands for 60 days. Now I’m not against reading a book on how to be a more effective communicator, or going to a Christian counselor to learn how to glorify God in the midst of a conflict. But if God gives us a command and we choose to totally ignore it why should we think that our marriage will go well or that some other source of information is going to be superior to the Word of God. “Ignoring God’s commands comes with consequences.”

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Helping Quiet Spouses to Communicate

David Powlison is on the faculty of The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, a counselor and author. He fielded a sincere question from a wife who acknowledged that she and her husband tend to be very quiet. She wanted to know what they might do to get the conversation flowing. Here is what David had to say:

It would appear that the couple that posed the question being addressed by today’s video has similar wiring. Perhaps they are both introverted and introspective people for whom conversation takes a certain amount of energy. This is not a barometer of the love they may or may not have for one another. David Powlison’s suggestions for such a couple are practical, i.e. develop a list of open ended questions that you can ask one another. This may seem contrived at first but if the experience proves to be enjoyable it may become a more natural part of the couple’s routine.

More often than not, the husband or the wife desires to engage in conversation regularly while his/her counterpart does not. As a generalization it tends to be the man who prefers one word answers to a question that should fill at least a paragraph. Personality and gender differences can contribute to a less than satisfying level and quality of communication between couples. While it is good to acknowledge the differences in wiring that exist those differences are not to be used as an excuse for poor communication.

The Book of Ephesians 5:33 calls husbands to love their wives as they love themselves. If the way the wife feels connected to her husband, the way she feels cared for and loved is to engage in a conversation then that is what the husband needs to learn to do. There is a better than average chance that this was not a problem during the dating years. Of course the Scripture passage commands the wife to respect her husband. It might mean that he needs a few minutes of down time when he first comes home.

Again as a generalization, women tend to be more relational and conversational. Men tend to be more task focused and less conversational. Some people tend to be more introverted and some more extroverted. In fact these differences may have been what attracted you to one another. When the man asks, “Who’s going to pick Johnny up from practice?” to him that is a conversation. Couples who love one another learn to “negotiate” a level of conversation that is satisfying to each. It may start out rather stilted, i.e. agree to talk for 10 minutes immediately following dinner. Hopefully it will gravitate to something less contrived.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Who in the BIble had the Best Marriage?

In his latest book The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg poses a most interesting question, i.e. “Who in the Bible had the best marriage?” Then in typical Ortbergian style he writes, “Adam and Eve had their honeymoon in paradise, and it all went downhill from there. Abraham lied that Sarah was his sister – twice- and impregnated her servant, Hagar. Isaac and Rebekah spent their marriage battling because he favored Esau and she favored Jacob. Jacob had children by two wives and the wives’ servants. About all we know of Moses’ wife, Zipporah, is that they had an argument over circumcising their son and she called Moses a ‘bridegroom of blood.’ David was a disaster as a husband; Solomon was worse. When Job’s life got hard, Mrs. Job told him to ‘curse God and die!’ I am not making this up; someone online said they thought the best marriage in the Bible was between Noah and Joan of Arc.”

He goes on to say that in fairy tales life is difficult until you get married and then you live happily ever after. But nowhere in the Bible do a couple get married and then live ‘”happily ever after.” Marriage doesn’t save anyone. Only Jesus does that.

So what is John’s point? The Bible is remarkably transparent about the flaws and brokenness of the marriages of practically every character. Yet in the church we feel that we cannot let others know that as a couple we are struggling; that we haven’t slept together in months or years; that we cannot hold a civil conversation; that we are constantly angry, etc. We arrive on Sunday morning with an airbrushed persona hoping those sitting next to us won’t detect that all is not well in paradise. John’s point is that we should find a church where we can be real, a church where you are encouraged to draw upon the experiences of others who have walked in your shoes and been victorious. Find a church where you would not be treated like a leper but like a child of God, saved by grace. Seek a Christian counselor IF you are willing to be changed by the Word. There is no room for pretense in a church community that is gathered around the cross.

John concludes this section by saying, “In the Bible, marriage is not the fulfillment of our dreams; it is a place where we learn.”

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Can a Marriage Survive Infidelity

The answer to the question is absolutely, but it will require a fair amount of work on the part of the one who was unfaithful and the one who feels like the victim. To me, repentance is the first indicator as to whether or not a marriage can be salvaged. Does the one who was unfaithful seek to restore his/her relationship with God? Next the one who has been unfaithful has to ask the one he/she hurt for forgiveness. Ultimately forgiveness must be given if the marriage is to move forward but it may not come immediately.

Unfortunately when it is the man who has been unfaithful he tends to treat the healing process as a task to be completed. “I repented, I asked for forgiveness, now can’t we just move on?” Or he might say, “It has been six months, why does she keep bringing it up?” Men tend to underestimate the importance of trust in a marriage relationship and just how long it will take to re-establish the trust. Men don’t seem to understand the emotional roller coaster that his wife will most likely experience. She might go from crying hysterically one moment to wanting to gouge out his eyes the next. She feels among other things degraded, deeply hurt, embarrassed, ashamed and betrayed.

If the wife has been unfaithful the man’s pride tends to take over, it is a blow to his ego. Husbands, as a rule, are less willing to forgive.

In most cases the attraction to the other party did not begin as something sexual. The other person most likely filled an emotional void.

Counseling can be helpful, but here is what I have found. The focus during the sessions tends to be on the “guilty” partner and initially, rightly so. The sticky part is when you need to discuss what led up to the infidelity. At this point the victim often gets defensive. Nothing excuses the infidelity. It is always a conscious decision which is wrong in the eyes of God. And most likely the wounded partner will take a long time to get over the affair, if they ever do. All that said, the couple needs to be able to come to grips with what has brought them to this point in their marriage. Most likely one or both have neglected their relationship and their relationship with God. There is an excellent chance that the love and respect that is so crucial to a Godly marriage has long since vacated the marriage.

Can a marriage survive infidelity? With God’s help all things are possible, particularly since He wants you to have a marriage that will glorify him. As a couple turns their marriage over to God and begins to re-build their relationship by applying Biblical principles they can have a stronger marriage than they ever dreamed possible.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Marital Intimacy

David Powlison, author and faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation gets up close and personal.

David is brutally honest as he depicts many marriages. He likens the couples to cars on a highway. In some cases the couples are headed toward one another, driving down the center lane, a crash is imminent. Other couples are driving in complete opposite directions, away from one another. Still other couples are driving on the same side of the highway but constantly passing one another.

Among other things, 1Corinthians 13 tells us that love is to be patient and kind; instead all too often it is destructive. We are quick to justify our own behavior and blame our husband/wife for their failings.

Here is the key –it is not that we don’t love our spouse enough; it is that we love God too little. The Parable of the Sower (the Book of Luke 8: 5-8) reminds us that our relationship with the Lord parallels our relationship with our husband/wife.

If someone’s heart is hard it is like the seed sown by the farmer that lands on the hard path, the seed will not grow. We will be embittered toward our spouse and there is no vertical relationship. Seed that falls on the rocky soil is likened to a marriage where disappointment reigns. The relationship with the Lord is shallow and superficial. Seed that fell among the weeds and thistles manifests itself as a marriage which is overcome by distractions. The couple keeps busy doing and running. They are distracted by the trappings of the world. These things choke out the relationship with the Lord. Where there is good soil the husband/wife exhibit humility, and a contrite and repentant heart. They look to the Lord as their source of strength and recognize that it is they that need to change not their spouse.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Fundamental Attribution Error

Okay, he’s lost it now. What on earth is a “fundamental attribution error” and what could that conceivably have to do with marriage?   

Dr. Lee Ross
If you have read this far, I’m ahead of the game. Stanford psychologist Lee Ross coined the term that basically means “we err in our inclination to attribute people’s behavior to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in.” Marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis said, “Most people attribute their marital problems to some deeply engrained personality characteristics of their spouse.” She then goes on to cite an example of a wife who might say, “My husband is a stubborn person.” The reality is this husband’s stubbornness surfaces only when they talk about a new approach to parenting while in most other contexts he appears to be willing to discuss new ideas and make changes. Mr. Ross’ point is that often our behavior is determined by the situation we are in, not necessarily indicative of who we are as a person.

According to Mr. Ross’ theory I would suspect that If you found yourself in a very unhappy marriage then your behavior might reflect your dissatisfaction. Psychologically speaking that may explain your mood and how you behave. However the rationale doesn’t excuse the behavior any more than it excuses the husband’s behavior for his stubbornness. And God might suggest that you stay after school and write out Ephesians 5:21-33 one hundred times and then put it into practice.

Michelle Weiner-Davis

From God’s perspective I doubt that our circumstances are ever a legitimate reason for violating His Word. Ephesians doesn’t say husbands love your wives unless they are having a bad hair day in which case it is alright to respond in kind.

Nor does it say, wives respect your husband unless he throws his clothes on the floor in which case treat him like the obvious slob he has become.

As Christians we should be quick to show grace. As “new creations” we have the ability to make choices, so our situation is never a justification for a behavior that would not be glorifying to God.    

Bad Hair Day

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Can My Marriage Change if My Spouse Doesn't Change?

Winston Smith, author and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation addresses a difficult and challenging question.

Many couples never get beyond thinking “if my spouse would only change” we could have a decent marriage. IF one partner or the other comes to the realization that their spouse will not change, more often than not the next thought is can I tolerate this marriage for the rest of my natural life or is it so painful I want out. Far fewer get to this point in their thought process and consider “if I change perhaps my marriage might be better.”

Let’s kick it up a notch. The Bible commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church, to love their wives as they love their own bodies. It doesn’t say love her if she encourages you and supports you. It doesn’t say if your wife is a great lover, friend and confidant that you are to love her. Your love is to be unconditional, therefore if she never changes, never meets your expectations or desires, you are called to love her.

Wives you are commanded to respect your husbands, translated reverences, notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and ]that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly. Just as the husband’s love for his wife is not to be based on her performance so it is with the wife’s obligation to respect her husband. The Bible calls husbands to lead, to protect and to provide for his wife. Whether he does any of these things or not she is to respect him.

Why on earth would a husband continue to love his wife if she continues to nag and criticize him, i.e. show him no respect? Why on earth would a wife continue to respect her husband if he in turn failed to demonstrate love? The answer is found in verse 21 of Ephesians five. We are to demonstrate love and respect out of reverence for Christ. It is because He has loved us unconditionally in spite of the fact that we continue to disappoint, that we continue to sin, and that we continue to seek to do our will instead of his.

Winston’s point is valid. If we as husbands /wives begin to act in a way that is consistent with the Biblical mandate there is a very good chance that our spouse will respond. Just don’t think it will happen over night.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Is There a Doctor in the House?

A recent blog I read suggested that a couple might find it beneficial to seek a professional counselor when they appear to be at an impasse. In part, because our communication skills are not always what they need to be, the perceived problem is not always the real problem. This is sound advice, with a qualifier.

If you felt that you needed a heart transplant or bi-pass surgery would you seek a brain surgeon or contact your family doctor to perform the operation?- hopefully not. When it comes to relational issues, issues of the heart, I would suggest a Biblical counselor is uniquely suited to address the couple’s concerns.

Some counselors have been successful using behavioral change methods, i.e. requiring date nights, skill based homework, etc. Though behaviors may change this does not normally get to the core issues that underlie the initial cause of conflict. It has been said that until you fix the couple’s vertical relationship you can’t fix the couple’s horizontal relationship. More specifically it has been suggested that our problems in relating to our spouse are often a reflection of our problem relating to the Lord.

When we peel away the layers of the onion surrounding most marriages that are in distress we find that something or someone has usurped God’s rightful place in the heart of one or both partners. In addition we all tend to be self-centered. Our love for one another becomes performance based, I will if you will. Very few people are introspective enough to identify the “idol(s) of their heart”. A Biblical counselor can help each person identify who or what has replaced God and then help the couple identify what they need to do.

A Biblically based marriage is first God –centered and then other-centered. The Book of Luke, chapter 10, verse 27 summarizes what is needed to have a God glorifying marriage, ”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” Your husband/wife is the closest neighbor you have.

Marriage was not designed by God for man’s happiness but for His glory. And when things do not seem to be going right it is reasonably safe to assume that we have mistakenly come to believe that marriage is all about us.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Essential Ingredient

What one word describes the one essential ingredient of a good, Godly, healthy, perseverant marriage? I’ll bet you won’t get it in 30 guesses.

According to Paul Tripp, noted Christian author and lecturer, the essential ingredient is worship. He contends “a marriage of unity, understanding and love is not rooted in romance but in worship. (For) worship is first your identity before it is ever your activity…We are inescapably worshippers… We all worship something. The worship that shapes your life does not take place on Sunday but on Monday through Saturday.” 

He goes on to say “We live in little moments. If God doesn’t rule us in little moments God is not in your life. The character of your life is set by 10,000 little moments, not by four or five huge events. God is a God of little moments; He enters them with truth and grace.”

Luke 6:43 states “…each tree is recognized by its own fruit…out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Thus the heart is the causal core of our personhood. Our words and behaviors are caused by what is inside of us, not what is on the outside of us. When we think the source of our problem is outside of us, we stop seeking God’s help. The source of our motivations thoughts, emotions, and will is the heart.

Unfortunately this is getting a little clearer and a little personal. So anything that influences my response or my behavior, particularly in one of life’s small moments, is what I am worshipping at that time. And if I am worshiping anyone or anything more than I am worshipping God then my response will most likely not be loving, kind and other centered. So if I ignore my wife when the ball game is on, or I lose my cool because the computer is malfunctioning, or I forget to take out the trash though I have been asked umpteen times, I am worshipping at the altar of me.

Conversely if I am worshipping God my wife would come before the ball game, I would approach the computer malfunction as a problem to be solved and the trash would be out the door without my wife having to remind me. So it is in the mundane that I show my allegiance to God. It is during those times when I put my needs ahead of someone else’s that I am worshiping me; when I give a few dollars a week in the collection plate I am making a statement about what is important to me, when I work long hours and neglect my family I am telling everyone what is most important to me.

Was this posting supposed to be comforting?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Sexual Sin

With each succeeding generation it seems as though we experience gains in medicine and technology. One only needs to witness the iPad and the breakthroughs in cancer treatment to realize that things will never be the same. Sometimes these advancements come at a cost. At one time men would have to go out of their way to have access to pornography. They would have to visit the seamier areas of town and run the risk of being seen, today they just need a smart phone to have instant access to the crudest of visuals. And now it is not just men who are the voyeurs.

The problem for those of us who consider ourselves to be Christian is that we know when we are doing something that would not bring glory to God and yet we continue our destructive behavior. So it is with pornography. The following video clip features Winston Smith, who is on faculty with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. He advises how we might approach someone who has this addiction and is refusing to give it up.

Unless we feel convicted about our sinful behavior and turn toward God and repent we will be unable to shake free from the bondage that we are in. The person caught up in this sin must take aggressive measures, not dissimilar from one who is trying to lick their addiction to alcohol. After taking it to the Lord they must tell at least one close friend, someone who will hold them accountable. They should seek counseling or a support group. They should have filters put on their computers (www.safeeyes.com or www.covenanteyes.com ) or check out www.settingthecaptivesfree.com . We must remember we are in a battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph. 6:12

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Romance versus Love

The following excerpt appeared in a Joni and Friends morning devotional:

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another."
- 1 John 3:11

The romance has gone out of my marriage. Instead, there is love. Romance used to say, "I'll do absolutely anything for you," but love goes a step further and says, "Yes, and I'll prove it."

Romance is fleeting, but love is long.
Romance is flying, but love is a safe landing.
Romance seeks perfection, but love forgives faults.
Romance anguishes as it waits for the phone to ring to bring a voice that says sweet things, but love is the anguish of waiting for a call that assures you someone else is safe and happy.
Romance is suspense, anticipation and surprise, but love is dependability.
Romance is dancing in the moonlight, gazing deep into desired eyes, but love is saying, "You're tired, honey, I'll get up this time."
Romance is delicious, but love nourishes.

I truly believe this is one of those times when, as the expression goes, “you can have your cake and eat it to” (whatever that means). I think Anonymous has given us a beautiful picture of what it means to love another person. Love must be a verb and love must be other centered. That said, romance can remain a vital part of the relationship. In fact, I believe the more in love a couple is the better making love will become. Intimacy implies vulnerability, and the more trusting the relationship the more vulnerable one can become. When I can put my wife’s needs ahead of my needs and she can put my needs ahead of hers, magical things can happen.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Has Abnormal Become Normal?

For many years we have owned a grandfather clock that chimes every fifteen minutes and gongs on the hour. I must admit I rarely hear the clock unless I am in the same room. I have driven some routes hundreds of times and yet fail to see things that someone new to the area would observe. I have become de-sensitized to the sights and sounds of everyday life.             

The same thing can happen in our marriages. There are many couples who think their marriage is okay, in fact it is probably fairly normal. In reality what has happened in many cases is that what couples should consider as abnormal has become their new norm and they have quit seeing and hearing what has become of their marriage. The problem for these couples is not that they are dissatisfied with their marriage. The problem is that they are satisfied with marriages that fall far short of what God intended marriage to be.

Paul Tripp offers several metaphors to describe how we neglect our marriages. “Many of us are way too skilled at living with plan B. We are all too good at painting over cracked walls, at working around broken plumbing, and at rigging dysfunctional wiring. We are all too good at getting along, making do, and hoping for the best. We are all too good at talking ourselves into the belief that things will get better, that our problems aren’t really that big, and that we are better off than many couples.”

“We act like what is broken is not…We are comfortable when we should be concerned. We are passive when we should be active. We are satisfied when we should be dissatisfied. We get up each morning and make things work the best we can, but our best falls way short of God’s best.”

You may be saying, “thanks for pulling the scab off big shot, so what do you recommend?” First of all I don’t recommend settling for less than having a marriage that glorifies God. I’d love to say, “Go see a Christian counselor and that will solve your problem.” I’d love to but I can’t, though it might help. I would say that you and your spouse should read a book like Paul Tripp’s What did You Expect or Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say “I Do”. Agree as a couple that whatever it takes you will work together to achieve the kind of marriage that brings you both joy and brings God a smile. 

Monday, 25 October 2010

Seek a Marriage Counselor IF

Marriage counselors do not save (many) marriages that have had years of neglect or suffered a severe blow. By the time a marriage is on life support in most cases it is too late. Statistics claim that over 70% of marriage counseling is ineffective. If that isn’t bad enough, supposedly 75% of couples who sought counseling felt they were worse off.

Given these statistics why would anyone in their right mind seek marriage counseling? The answer - you might be one of the 30% who is helped. However, I subscribe that your odds improve greatly if you see a counselor long before the divorce papers are sitting on the dining room table. There are a growing number of couples who are seeking help long before they get to this point. They focus on resolving a particular problem or learn more effective communication skills, or develop a more God honoring way of handling conflict. These couples have a reasonably good marriage but they know that it could be better.

Why doesn’t counseling have a better track record? Answer – by the time most couples agree to go to counseling the proverbial horse is out of the barn. Often the couples are polarized, i.e. convinced that the majority of the problem lies with their spouse. When a partner’s real agenda is to have the counselor “fix” his/her spouse it is a waste of everyone’s time. Too often at least one of the partners has decided to get a divorce but as a “good will” gesture agrees to counseling just to say they tried it and it didn’t work.

Much of the marriage counseling I’m familiar with seems to focus on the issues at hand, which often fans the flames of discontent, or uses behavioral change, i.e. go on date nights, etc as a means to re-establish a loving feeling. These approaches have helped some people. But I’m convinced that lasting change occurs as a result of a heart change. It begins with going to God and asking him to forgive you for the hurt you have inflicted on your spouse. It then requires going to your spouse and asking them to forgive you for what you have done. Finally enter counseling with the attitude that with God’s help “I” need to change. It doesn’t matter if you are 10% of the problem or 80% of the problem. When both a husband and wife approach counseling in this manner a huge change can take place.

Friday, 22 October 2010

How Is Your Vertical Relationship?

When you see an athlete who excels in his/her field you can be fairly certain that they have mastered the fundamentals. While in training basketball players shoot hundreds of foul shots, focusing on their release and the rotation of the ball. Golfers hit hundreds of balls, making sure their grip and alignment are correct. Football players and coaches watch game films to see if they can detect a flaw in execution.

What would be some fundamentals that must be in place if we are to do marriage well? I think one of the most profound insights I’ve read with regard to marriage comes from Paul Tripp in his book What Did You Expect? He said, “I have become more and more persuaded that marriages are fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally. We have to deal with what is driving us before we ever deal with how we are reacting to one another. Every relationship is victimized in some way when we seek to get from the surrounding creation what we were designed to get from God. When God is in his rightful place, then we are on the way to putting people in their rightful place.”

Thus a key fundamental to having a strong marriage is to have a strong relationship with God. Paul goes on to say that it is only when we look at our husband/wife and see the glory of God’s creative artistry that we will treat them with the dignity and respect that a healthy marriage requires. In addition it is crucial that we worship God as sovereign and celebrate the different way of looking at the world that our spouse has blessed us with, or we dishonor God by trying to rewrite his story. Finally it is imperative that we extend to one another the grace that has been extended to us. “It doesn’t take long to realize that you have married a sinner, and what you do when you make this discovery will determine the character and quality of your union. You will only respond in a way that is right, good , and helpful to our spouse’s sin, weakness, and struggle when you are celebrating the transforming grace of an ever-present, always-faithful Redeemer.”

So we must see and appreciate the marvelous creation that God has brought into our life and extend to them the unconditional love and grace that we receive from the One who died for us. Now you are ready to work on your marriage.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Rippling Affect of Sin

Most likely you have heard the term “victimless crime”. This is supposedly an act which is considered illegal but where no one “really” is injured physically or materially. I think many of us have the same attitude with regard to sin. I believe many of us think there are victimless sins such as laziness. At the risk of shattering the illusions that many have of my near perfection let me share a personal example.

I tend to get highly irritated at things and indirectly at clueless people. For example when I click on my internet connection icon I expect to be connected to the internet. I do not appreciate the message “no server found”. Like it is my fault the server is lost, I didn’t misplace it. And, it is best to keep your distance if I am attempting anything that requires mechanical aptitude unless of course you want to hear my diatribe regarding the moron who designed the instructions which I am unable to follow. Then there are those people who I perceive are oblivious to the fact that anyone else is taking up space on this planet. Consider the perfectly healthy woman who is pulling into a handicapped parking place while talking on her cell phone. At such times what I am muttering under my breath would not be words fit for Christian radio.

Okay already so what do my shortcomings, as few as they may be, have to do with victimless sins and marriage? First of all there are no victimless sins. I had only been married a few weeks when I had one of my mini tantrums aimed at our computer. I glanced over to see the look of horror on the face of my bride. She knew that I was not angry with her BUT she said that my anger “splattered” over on to her. What a great phrase. How often does our irritation, anger, guilt, jealousy, or pride spill over on to our loved ones? How about the wife of the husband who spends many an evening watching pornographic material on the internet, does she consider that a victimless sin? The point is we don’t sin in isolation; there is a rippling affect that manifests itself somehow, someway in our behavior that ultimately touches those around us. When as a married couple we let the sun go down on our anger as we go to bed and turn away from each other is there a victim – you bet, we both lose.

Bottom line is that all sin is first and foremost an affront to God but rest assured someone else is also affected.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Missing Ingredient

Have you ever baked something only to come to the realization that you omitted an ingredient? Some things you might leave out, like vanilla, and you may not be able to tell much difference in the end product. If you leave out baking powder you will not like the results.

So it is with some seemingly good marital advice if key elements are left out. In a recent posting Mort Fertel (Marriagemax.com) recounted a portion of a wedding service that he and his wife were privileged to overhear. On the surface it sounded like very sage advice. The pastor’s message to the couple went something like this:

You decided to spend the rest of your life
together because of your FEELINGS. But the rest
of your life together will be decided by your

"Take a good look at your hands," the pastor
requested of them. "Because it's what you DO in
the years ahead that will determine what you SEE
in each other's eyes." 

In other words, what you see is NOT what you get.
What you DO is what you will see.
We all want to gaze into our spouse's eyes and
feel the depth of their love. But in the long
term, those looks are not because we met Mr. or
Mrs. Right; it's because we did RIGHT and because
we earned the right over time to see that love in
each other's eyes.
The advice is spot on, the problem is that we are incapable of behaving in such a self-sacrificing way without submitting to God. In Mark 10:18 Jesus said, “Why do you call me good?... "No one is good—except God alone.” Yet with the help of His Spirit who dwells in us we can do good. The ingredient that is missing in this message is to encourage the couple to put God at the center of their marriage. Try as they might, regardless of their good intentions, this couple will fail if they attempt to apply this wisdom in their own strength, and with their own power.

Friday, 15 October 2010

You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling

“I just don’t think I love him/her anymore.” If you have uttered these words and are a Christian you have a dilemma. Do you invoke the “D” word, do you live the rest of your life in a relationship that is unfulfilling, or do you do whatever it takes to make your marriage one that would glorify God? Apparently fifty percent of those who consider themselves Christians are choosing option one. It has been suggested that another 25-30% are opting for living a parallel life, where there is little communication, and there is little joy.

I would guess that from God’s perspective neither options one or two would receive His blessing. First Corinthians 10:31 tells us that “whatever we do we should do it all for the glory of God.” I believe that would include marriage.

Option three, i.e. do whatever it takes to bring joy back into your marriage will take prayer and hard work. But where do you start?

Start with prayer. Take your hurt, your pain, your frustrations and disappointments to the Lord and ask Him to change your heart toward your husband/wife. That’s right, don’t waste your time asking God to change your spouse into the person you want them to be, that is not a prayer He will most likely honor.

Love must be a verb, i.e. take specific, observable, concrete action. Conventional wisdom says that feelings follow action. Begin doing loving things and in time your feelings may begin to return.

Another suggestion is to focus on a time when you were happy as a couple. Too often we focus on the negative aspects of life. Philippians 4:8 tells us that we are to think about such things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.” There is a reason that Paul doesn’t tell us to “think upon” all that is wrong with our life. What glory does God get in that?

Finally stuff your expectations back into the desire box where they belong. Most of us come to marriage with certain expectations. Whether we have a preconceived notion of gender roles, an illusion about what romance consists of, or what we believe we are entitled to as a husband/wife it creates the wrong atmosphere for contentment.

If I expect you to do something it is the same as saying “you owe it to me”. If you do what I expect – you have only done what you are supposed to do. No one gets applause for doing what they are supposed to do. If you fail to meet my expectations you have let me down and disappointed me. That is a formula for disaster because it is a no win situation. Expectations start out as desires. Let your expectations remain as desires and be appreciative when your husband/wife fulfills a desire.

“…glorify God in all that we do”, that includes marriage.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Pogo Was Right

Pogo was a once popular cartoon by Walt Kelly. One of the most famous lines ever coined was “We have met the enemy and he is us.” If you have ever done or said something you wish you could take back, you can relate to Pogo. Surely there was a time in your life when you wished there had been a “delete button” to erase what you said in frustration or anger. The Book of James talks about how a tiny bit in the mouth of a horse can be used to move such a large animal and how even large ships are steered by a small rudder. And so it is with the tongue, one of the smallest body parts “it corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)

This is strong language but if we have ever been the recipient of a hurtful barrage of unkind words we realize how devastating such an experience can be. Often what is worse is that the person who hurt was speaking out of anger and/or frustration, they didn’t really mean what they said. (Or perhaps you didn’t mean what you said.) I have had to confess in recent times that I suffer from an illness, MMIFTMB. In lay person’s terms “my mouse is faster than my brain”. I’m sure that if James was writing this same text today he would include e-mails, and text messages as other forms of potential hurtful communication.

The reality is that we have little or no control over the emotions we experience. Emotions in and of themselves are morally neutral, not right or wrong. However how we respond to those emotions can make a huge difference. Even in times of war there are international terms of humane conduct set up by the Geneva Convention. Perhaps we could avoid critically wounding another person by our words by following a few simple terms of conduct. First of all never attack a person’s character, i.e. you are stupid, you’re just like your father/mother, you have the IQ of an emotionally challenged squirrel. Second, refrain from generalizations, i.e. you never, you always. Such comments beg for rebuttal. And finally try to refrain from bringing up past hurts. Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”

Monday, 11 October 2010

What if 1Corinthians 13 was Life's Final Exam?

I was never the sharpest tool in the shed so I dreaded exams in school. The ones I liked the best were true and false because I figured I had a fifty percent chance of getting the right answers. I really liked it when the teacher said, “Now grade your own paper.” This gave me an incredible sense of relief since no one else would know how many I missed.

I was inspired by Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love to examine how well I met the criteria laid out in 1Corinthians 13. I thought what if this was a true and false test, how would I do? I proceeded to put an “I” in front of the 15 descriptors of what it means to love. In part it looked like this:
I am patient – True or False
I am kind - True or False
I am not proud – True or False
I am not self-seeking – True or False
I keep no record of wrongs – True or False
I always trust – True or False

Well you get the picture. I figured if I did particularly well I would need to go back to “I am not proud”. Here would be the clincher – give this to my wife and ask her to be brutally honest as she worked her way down the list and ask her to give me her assessment of how well I fulfill the requirements of one who is loving.

Then I had this crazy thought. What if this was Heaven’s version of the SAT and my score, as determined by my wife would determine whether or not I was omitted. Fortunately this is not the case but God has every right to say to me “I gave you the questions that would be on the test. All I asked was that you love me the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and that you love your neighbor as yourself.”

If my entrance into heaven were reliant on my passing this test it would give new meaning to grading on the curve. Even though my eternal destiny depends entirely upon my acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior, at some point I am going to have to face my Creator and most likely he will ask me, “Did you love Me and did you love your wife as you loved yourself?”

Friday, 8 October 2010

Created for Him

The Book of Colossians, chapter one, verse 16 states that “All things were created by Him for Him.” There are a number of Biblical passages for which the interpretation seems to be up for debate. I don’t think this is one of them. It is hard to mistake the meaning of “All”. The word “things” seems fairly inclusive. The capital “H” in the word Him, particularly when found mid-sentence, would most likely refer to God.

Now if you are still reading you are probably thinking “thank you for the Sesame Street- esque version of verse 16, so what’s your point?” I’m reasonably good at stating the obvious. It means that your marriage was created by God for His purpose and that His purpose is always to bring glory to Himself.

Since God has never created anything that is mediocre why are so many couples so unhappy? If marriage is designed to bring glory to God why are so many Christians seeking divorce or living lives of “quiet desperation”.

Could it be that we are not following His design? There are many passages in Scripture that can be applied to marriage and many Biblical principles that if applied would enhance our ability to love one another but for me one verse best summarizes it all.
Ephesians 5:33 says, “However, let each man of you [without exception] love his wife as [being in a sense] his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [[a]that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and [b]that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly]. Amplified Bible

If this verse were taken literally it would put marriage counselors out of business. Can you imagine any wife needing a counselor if her husband demonstrated that he loved her as much as he loves himself? He would constantly put her needs ahead of his needs, he would be in tune with all her desires and he would want only what is absolutely the best for her. And how many husbands would seek counseling if he always felt honored, esteemed and admired? This last part could be a trick question because husbands rarely seek marriage counseling.

I truly believe that regardless of how damaged a relationship may be that if these principles were put into effect today it would radically change the marriage – what do you think?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Loving Versus Enabling

Winston Smith, counselor and faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation answers the question “What is the difference between enabling someone and loving someone?”

Enabling is something I do for me as much if not more than for the other person. Typically enabling is a fear response. Either I want to rescue the other person from something unpleasant or I want to spare myself from the unpleasant treatment at the hands of another. Love is other centered which may mean that I do not protect them from the unpleasant consequences of their actions. Love does not respond out of fear but out of grace and compassion.

Sometimes the line gets a little blurred. We stop at the liquor store for the person who is suffering from chronic pain or we buy cigarettes for our spouse who is suffering from emphysema because they get very angry if they run out.

I would go so far as to say that when we enable someone it is unloving. If someone has a problem with anger or they are alcohol dependent or abusive, etc. we do not help that person by overlooking what they are doing and/or making excuses for them.

Most often the behavior in question is not contained, i.e. it affects many people not just the one doing the enabling. The person’s children, co-workers or spouse could be adversely affected.

You need to stop and ask yourself “Self – is this really the most loving thing I can do for this person OR am I doing it to avoid some form of unpleasantness?” If your response is the latter, seek help both for yourself and the person you have been enabling.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Personality Versus Character

Mort Fertel ,author of Marriage Fitness, recently sent out a quotation that seemed remarkably profound.

"The difficultly with marriage is that we fall in love with a personality, but we must live with a character."
- Peter Devries

Mort went on to say "Personality is easy to understand. Your personality is how people experience you. It's your public persona. But what is character? And why is character so crucial in your marriage? Character is who you are when no one is watching.”

I thought that this was an interesting distinction. Though I may try to project a certain persona to the “outside world”, the reality is that such an attempt will be short lived. Why, because it is what is in my heart that determines my real character.

Perhaps Proverbs 4:23 captures it best “Above all else guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.” What this verse tells me is that it is not the external circumstances that cause me to act in a way that is unlike the kind, gentle, compassionate, humble person that I am but what is in my heart. I flip out when I’m in the fast checkout lane and the moron in front of me has a full basket of groceries. My impatience flares when any self-centered idiot with a cell phone up to his/her ear acts like the roadway should belong to them. Wow – where is all that hostility coming from? – My heart! The external circumstances only bring out what is already residing in my heart. I need to ask myself “Self, why are you reacting the way you are?” The honest answer to that question is that it is all about me -my wants, my needs and my desires.

In the final analysis isn’t that what causes conflict in our marriages. James must think so or he wouldn’t have written “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?

We have expectations that our husband/wife have not met; we have desires that our spouse has not fulfilled; and we have dreams that now seem unattainable. Though my character does show when no one else is watching, it also shows when I am with the people I care about the most.

Negative feelings are like an alarm system, they identify something about the condition of my heart. If I am feeling angry, frustrated, impatient, hurt, frightened , resentful, jealous – okay I’ll stop already. I must dig down and identify the heart issue that is underlying those feelings,and then I must ask God for the ability to heal. 

Friday, 1 October 2010

Build Your House Upon the Rock

In the Book of Luke, chapter six, verses 46-49 Jesus lays down a simple statement with profound implications. Basically he is saying, “If you hear my words and obey them, you will find that you can withstand the difficulties that life brings. In other words you will be building your marriage on a firm foundation that will help you weather the storms of life. If on the other hand you hear my words an ignore them you will be overwhelmed by the circumstances in which you find yourself. And thus you will be building your relationship on sand which can be washed away by the torrential downpours that life brings.

Or if you are less circumspect you may prefer the words of that great theologian Vince Lombardi who said, “Gentlemen this is a football.” Legend has it that at the start of each season the genius coach of the Green Bay Packers would start his training by reminding his players that perfect execution of the fundamentals would produce victory.

Building your house, i.e. your marriage, on the Rock, namely Jesus Christ, will produce a victory for you and your husband/wife. For the Rock refers to making decisions based on God’s will and doing things His way. The Book of Ephesians is a good place to start, specifically chapter five, verses 21-33. This is the foundational verse that applies to marriage in Scripture. It says that husbands are to agape their wives, i.e. express unconditional love toward their wives. And wives are to have unconditional respect for their husbands. By unconditional I mean that the love/respect you display is not based on the performance of your husband/wife. The husband is called to love his wife regardless of whether or not she is respectful. The wife is called to respect her husband regardless of whether or not he demonstrates love. This is tough stuff.

If you choose to build your house/marriage on the “ground” and not on a firm foundation storms will erode the ground on which you have built your relationship and to quote a familiar song “it will go slip, sliding away.”

Vince Lombardi believed that if his team executed the basic fundamentals of the game better than the opponent they would win every game, given enough time. Scripture provides the fundamentals by which the “game” of marriage should be played. A couple who studies that playbook will absolutely achieve victory.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

I Want Someone Who Will Complete Me

If you are one of those people who got married in an effort to be completed – ding, ding, ding – it’s not going to happen. To paraphrase a line from the movie “Cool Runnings”, if you are not complete without marriage, you’ll never be complete with it.

In all honesty it depends on how you define “completes me”. For God recognized in the Garden that Adam needed a helper, someone of his own species to do life with. Not only was it not good for man to be alone but they were created male and female in the image of God. Thus it says to me that neither man nor woman alone is capable of reflecting the nature, character and qualities of God, but combined we come closer.

If your definition of “completes me” is more along the lines of “I have been unhappy with who I am. I have a void in my life that I have not been able to fill” then you don’t need a husband or wife but a Christian counselor.

We are only completed in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We feel most complete when we are using the spiritual gifts, the talents and abilities that God has given us in the service of others. We feel most complete when we are in His presence, be it in prayer, worship or in His Word. It would stand to reason that we would feel most complete when we adhere to the Great Commandment, i.e. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Isn’t it interesting that we are most likely to feel complete when we put God and others first. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to offer his life…” When we stop navel gazing we feel complete. When we help others, we feel complete. When we truly worship and give thanks to the all mighty, magnificent God, we feel complete.

To the extent that you can put your husband/wife’s deal ahead of your deal, that you can “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but consider others better than yourself” (Phil 2:3) to that extent you will find completeness in marriage.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Is "Ever After" Too Long?

A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “Divorcing After 40 Years of Marriage” cited the recent break up of Al and Tipper Gore as becoming more the norm. There appear to be no shortage of reasons for the breakup of couples who have been married for twenty years or more including the fact that we are living longer, the discovery of Viagra, women in the work force, intimacy has become a vague memory, financial stability and needy grown children.

Didn’t God know all this? And what’s this “until death do us part” malarkey – what was God thinking? I find it interesting that we use our increased longevity as a reason for divorce. It is like marriage was a sentence that got commuted because we died. It’s like saying if you are going to extend my sentence by an additional ten to twenty years I’m going to make plans to break out.

As a general rule, intimacy becomes a vague memory because there are problems in the marriage not because there are performance issues that can’t be addressed.

I can’t imagine dissolving a thirty year marriage because of having a thirty something child who is a leach that drains the blood out of his/her parents marriage. Quit enabling the kid. No doubt they have made some bad choices and that necessitates dealing with the consequences if they are ever to learn from their mistakes.

Women in the workforce and financial security seem to be tied by a pseudo umbilical cord. This contends that men are only good for security and an occasional one night stand. There is no question that women should be encouraged to find fulfillment by using the abilities, skills and spiritual gifts that they have been given. Check out Proverbs 31:10-31. The wife described therein is obviously incredibly capable but she is not using her vast skills to gain independence.

Partners in a God centered marriage are not looking for an exit strategy, they are praising God and thanking Him for each day they have together. This is what God wants for each of us who have said “I Do”. 33However, let each man of you [without exception] love his wife as [being in a sense] his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [[a]that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and [b]that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly].

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

So You Want Your Marriage to Get Better?

I would love to win the Pennsylvania lottery but I never buy a ticket. And your response to me is “Dah” or something equally as insightful. Well I see many couples who want their marriage to be better than it is but aren’t willing to do what it takes to make it better. Now I ask you, does that make any more sense than my desire to win the lottery?

In many cases when a couple comes for counseling one member of the couple, if not both, come begrudgingly. Some come to get their ticket punched, i.e. they can say that they tried counseling but it didn’t work. In the vast majority of cases one of the partners is coming so that the counselor can change their spouse. Occasionally a counselor will be blessed with a couple who is willing to make the changes necessary to significantly improve the quality of their marriage.

In my opinion improving one’s marriage starts with individual’s relationship with God. Most problems in marriage stem from “problems of the heart” and God is the only one who can change a person’s heart. All too often it seems as though God is an appendage to one’s life, an afterthought. Real change occurs when God is placed at the center of one’s life /marriage. When God remains on the periphery of one’s life He has little influence, it is still about the kingdom of me. When God is the primary influence I am more apt to ask “What would God want me to do in this situation?”, and that will change the outcome dramatically.

You see when God is in first place in your life then it is easier to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should not only look to your own interests but also the interest of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4) As long as the kingdom of me is still in charge it will negatively impact every relationship. Once we surrender our hearts to God and ask Him to help us to change those things about us that grieve him, then we are on our way.

How do you know you have surrendered to God? You have a desire to read and memorize his Word. You begin to read other Christian books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan. You come to church to worship God and be fed, not because it is just the right thing to do. You get involved in a study group and/or an accountability group. You begin to pray every day. And you reflect the love of Jesus to those you live with and those who you meet on the street.