Keeping Your Marriage Together Even in Tough Times-

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore- Psalm 133:1,3b NIV

 No marriage is immune from tough times.

 This is true no matter how compatible the couple or how much they both love Jesus. Marriage is hard because marriages involve people and people are universally weird, sinful and lacking in self-awareness. People do things all the time without understanding why they are doing them. Because the other person in the marriage is also a sinner they tend to interpret their spouse’s behavior and motivations in the most negative way imaginable. This weird dynamic is the trigger for most conflict in marriage. Throw in an irritating virus, a long quarantine, home schooling, financial concerns and the uncertainty that goes along with those stressors and even the healthiest marriages can get bumpy.   

 I will not lie.

COVID-19 has created some challenges in my usually happy marriage. We have experienced more conflict in the last eight weeks than in the previous eight years.  We are not alone. Every couple I know has struggled with conflict or hurt feelings in recent weeks.  Thankfully, the lockdowns are beginning to end. However, Coronavirus is not going anywhere and neither is the financial and emotional stress it has brought to families and marriages. Marriage is critically important to the health of families, churches and all of society. Therefore, married people must find ways to keep their relationships solid under the stress we are all experiencing.  It has helped me to remind myself of the following four realities as we learn to maneuver the new normal. 

 Remember:

 Everyone is stressed-

 I get this is rather obvious but sometimes we forget stress causes people to behave strangely and stressed-out people rarely realize they are behaving any differently than they normally do. Stress changes how we respond to situations and stimuli.  Someone who is typically laid-back and very patient with noise may become outraged when the kids are loud. Someone who is normally okay with disorder and chaos may morph into a controlling clean-freak. A normally tidy individual may become a total slob in stressful times.  The situation we find ourselves in is far more stressful than any most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. No one in our culture has a point of reference for a peculiar virus no one really understands, long periods of quarantine, political unrest, financial strain and the million different levels of fear and uncertainty this pandemic has produced. It is critical we take a step back when our spouse is behaving strangely. Ask questions about how the other person is feeling rather than simply walking away or responding to their unusual behavior in anger (Proverbs 15:1)

 You’re probably acting weird too-

 Self-examination is critical to relationship health.  This is especially true when life is challenging (Psalm 139:23-24, 2nd Corinthians 13:5). Take an inventory of yourself. Are you more withdrawn than usual? More aggressive? Less patient? Checked-out? Hyper-critical? Irritable?  Are you pretending everything is okay when it’s clearly not? Are you indulging in behaviors you normally avoid like drinking, cursing or fits of rage? If any of those things are true, spend some quality time seeking God and asking Him to help you figure out what is driving your behavior. Is it fear? Hopelessness? Anger? Putting a name to the feelings helps us to process our emotions in a healthy way. Once we understand why we are doing something it becomes much easier to stop doing it.

 Understand that everyone will come unraveled at some point-

 Everyone processes stress differently. Some get mad, others become despondent or enslaved to fear.  Some make futile attempts to avoid the thing that that’s causing them pain or worry.  I became emotionally unraveled the week prior to Easter. My private unraveling involved a lot of ranting and raving. I angerly questioned the wisdom of every rule and the motives and intelligence of the people making the rules. After a week of some shockingly aggressive behavior on my part and another week of the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. I spent some time alone with God and came out the other side with a level of peace. I still have bad days but I’m okay. My husband’s unraveling took much longer and looked entirely different from mine, but it was every bit as real and unsettling.  It helps to ne on the lookout for signs of emotional unraveling in yourself and others. Rather than becoming frustrated with your own or your partners response to the stress, take the time to pray for yourself and your partner. Give each other grace.  Look for creative ways to tangibly love your partner and care for each other right now.   

 Talking is always the answer-

 One of the worst things that can happen in a relationship is to make any topic off-limits. Talking through tough stuff is the only way to work through the issues. Push through any discomfort either of you feel and say what needs to be said. Say it in the kindest way possible and always be on the lookout for solutions rather than simply laying blame.

 Stress happens.

 How we respond to stress has the power to make or break our relationship. If we work with our spouse rather than against our spouse and choose to see them as our ally rather than our enemy we will come out of this better people with stronger relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

The Things That Kill Marriages


As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife~ Proverbs 26:21 NIV

My husband Alan and I are old. This reality is demonstrated in the number of years we have been married. We are currently closing in on the third decade of our marriage. The benefits and blessings of a lasting marriage are too innumerable to count. We have both come to really know another person on the deepest level possible in this life and as a result we have come to grasp what both love and forgiveness really looks like. It is also fair to say that we both know Jesus a little better than we would have without the other and without the challenges that marriage brings. 

One of the sadder realities of a lasting marriage is that over the years we have seen a lot of Christian people we have genuinely loved and respected fail epically at the art of staying married. Besides the obvious and widely understood reasons for marital failure (infidelity, selfishness, finances and in-law issues) most marital failures are the sad result of just a couple (well seven) behaviors and attitudes which always lead to break in relationship. If broken relationships are not mended properly the end result is death of the relationship. Those behaviors include:

Lies-

The ways humans can be deceitful are nearly infinite. They include (but are not limited to) hiding things, emotional affairs, fabricating stories, infidelity, not telling the whole story and helping children to hide sin from the other parent. All deceitfulness is sin (Exodus 20, Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9) and sin poisons marriages. Commit to keeping it honest in your marriage. This commitment will undoubtedly force you to suffer through some uncomfortable moments of truth-telling but overall you will have a healthier, happier more rewarding relationship.  

Disrespect-

With all due respect (no pun intended) to Emerson Eggerichs, author of the popular book Love and Respect, romantic love simply cannot exist or survive without respect for the other person being present in the relationship. Mutual respect is an integral part of love. Relationships lacking in mutual respect die ugly, horrifying deaths (1stPeter 2:17).  Furthermore, contrary to popular belief even touchy-feely, girly-girl types of women need to FEEL respected in order to FEEL loved. We show respect to our spouse by watching our words and being careful about the tone we use. Husbands and wives who respect one another do not make decisions without consulting the other partner and they are always careful to speak well of their spouse to other people.  It is also critical that both the husband and the wife endeavor to behave in a way that is respectful in order for marriages to go the distance (Titus 2:2, 1stTimothy 3:11). 

Pornography addiction- 

I am convinced that at the heart of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Once an addiction takes root in a person’s life the addict gets something from the addictive behavior that they should only get from God (a sense of wellbeing, relief from stress, comfort, peace). Because idolatry is a serious sin, God cannot bless the relationships or life of someone who is willingly bowing down (metaphorically speaking) to a false God (Exodus 34:17,1st John 5:21).  Further complicating the whole messy mess pornography is the act of inviting a third party into a relationship that was intended only for two people (Exodus 20:14, Hebrews 13:4). Even if the spouse is unaware of the pornography there will be spiritual and emotional consequences to viewing pornography. Intimacy will be compromised, walls will form and trust will be broken. These things can happen without the other person even understanding the nature of the problem. Just don’t. 

Lack of self-awareness on the part of one or both parties- 

Seriously. If a person is not aware of their own behavior and how their behavior is affecting other people they will never fix the problems in a relationship. Self-awareness comes through the practice of regular self-examination (1stCorinthians 11:28, 2ndCorinthians 13:5) and by looking for clues that we are loving our spouse in a way that makes them feel loved and cared for. 

Refusing to change-

No one knows it when they say “I do” but marriage is simply an invitation to change the attitudes and behaviors in our life that desperately need changing. For married people marriage is the tool that God uses to reveal our selfishness, pride and relational shortcomings. If we respond to those revelations by changing our ways, marriage becomes the tool God uses to mold us into the people He wants us to be (Colossians 3:5-12). When we refuse to change the things in our life that cause us or others pain we are effectively refusing God and everything He wants to do in our lives. Refusing God always invites bigger trouble and more pain.   

Unforgiveness-

“I forgive you” is more than just a syrupy sentiment or some empty words we utter to get the positive feels back in our relationship. Forgiveness is the choice to completely let go of hostility, resentment and the right to seek revenge for legitimate wrongs committed against us by another person. Forgiveness is without question the most arduous, gut wrenching, pride busting thing Christians are ordered to do (Matthew 6:15). It is also simply a fact that no marriage will survive without forgiveness.

Expecting everything to be fair and equal-

It won’t be, so the wise thing to do is to get over the notion everything should be fair and equal quickly (Luke 6:38). Marriage is not a fifty/fifty proposition. In a healthy marriage each partner is doing their best to give one hundred percent all the time but no one in the relationship EVER keeps score because scorekeeping always signals the beginning of the end of every marriage.  

Four Ways Churches Encourage Sexual Sin

Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. So, watch yourselves~ Luke 17:1 & 3 NIV

 Most of the stupid things people do are not done deliberately.  Most people just kind of fumble around blindly doing stuff without putting a whole lot of thought into the long-term consequences of their actions.  

 Sadly, this is even true of some Christians.   

  Too many Christians make decisions out of impulse or reflex. This unfortunate reality has merged with a tendency to look at what the culture is doing rather than thinking through issues from a Biblical perspective.

 Sadly, these predispositions always play themselves out in one of two equally wrong responses. Either Christians do a “Christian” version of whatever is popular with the culture; or conversely, we go so far in the opposite direction of what the world is doing that we become a peculiar, cartoon-like version of what God intended the Church to be.

 Nowhere is this truer than in the area of sex.

 On one end of the spectrum, there are churches that have lowered their sexual standards in an effort to help unbelievers feel more comfortable in church settings. As a result, these churches have unwittingly adopted the same attitudes towards sex that non-Christians have. In other situations, Christians have been guilty of embracing a slightly more “Christian” version of a worldly standard. For example: many believers do not care if an engaged couple has sex before marriage (as long they are careful keep it on the down-low). However, many of these same people are appalled at the mere thought of two Christians living together before marriage.

 Conversely, there are churches whose identity is built around preventing sexual activity of any kind from taking place in the lives of unmarried people. Those churches (and Christians) spend more time addressing the spiritual threats of swimsuits, hand-holding and premarital front-hugs than they do discussing salvation and related issues such as repentance and discipleship. This is not only a serious derailment from the churches principal mission (Matthew 28:17-20, 2nd Timothy 2:4, Matthew 10:8) it also makes Christians look like a bunch of sex-obsessed weirdos.  

 Sigh.

 The absurdity of all this aside, perhaps the biggest problem with how churches handle sexuality these days is that we have gotten to a place where we encourage sexual sin in four ways:

 The church is far too soft on the sin of adultery (especially where men are concerned)-

 The immense pressure placed on Christian women to forgive their cheating husbands simply cannot be overstated. Women are too-often coerced by well-intentioned but ridiculously overeager clergy to forgive their husband’s infidelity (and restore the relationship) right away. This typically happens long before the woman has processed her grief or the man has demonstrated sincere repentance. This has resulted in a shocking number of Christian men (and some women) who appear to have no qualms about committing adultery over and over again (Proverbs 6:32). It has also created a subculture of women (and a few men) who have been shamed into doing something they are under no biblical obligation to do (Matthew 5:32). Forgiveness is always required of Christians (Matthew 6:15). However, marital reconciliation should only take place if the injured party is truly willing and the adulterer (male or female) has demonstrated sincere repentance and a readiness to grow into a better spouse and Jesus follower.  Anything less simply encourages sinful behavior in the church by minimizing the consequences of sin (1st Corinthians 5:11).

 We do not treat pornography like the sin that it is

 If I hear one more Christian (male) leader refer to pornography as “just pornography” I will need to be medicated and/or physically restrained. Sixty-eight percent of Christian men routinely view pornography precisely because it is treated as a lightweight and trivial sin. Choosing to view pornography is not only a categorically icky form of sexual immorality (Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 13:4) it is also a clear violation of Matthew 5:28. Like most sins, the sin of viewing pornography leads to other sins such as hypocrisy, adultery, dehumanizing others through lust, spiritual and social isolation and even an inability to perform the “marital duty” (1st Corinthians 7:3).

 Some churches are inclined to cover-up pedophilia-

 The Catholic church has gotten a lot of bad press over this issue recently. However, it is far from unheard of in Protestant and Evangelical churches.  A valued leader gets accused of touching a child inappropriately and the church decides to deal with the problem “in-house”. At that point the whole messy mess gets swept under the rug or the leader is simply asked to leave the church. This is never okay. Every accusation should be thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities (the Elder or Deacon board is NOT the proper authorities). Yes, this is hard, yes it makes the church look bad but not nearly as bad as it does when the church covers-up sin. 

 We don’t help young adults to date-

 The Bible is clear that marriage is a noble and necessary thing (Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 18:22, Hebrews 13:4). That being said, for some inexplicable reason there is a ton of shame in the Christian culture surrounding Christians participating in the process of finding a spouse (dating).  Because dating is taboo in many Christian churches most churches do not give Christian kids a lot of instruction on how or who to date and there are literally no opportunities for Christian young people to get to know each other inside the church. As a result, most young people date outside of the church which leads to a lot of missteps (Tinder, bars, campus parties, drunken hook-ups). Those missteps inevitably end in sexual immorality and sometimes even a departure from the faith. Maybe it’s time for churches to be intentional about setting-up opportunities for young Christians from similar denominations to get to know one another so they can get married; rather than shame them for having a natural desire to find a spouse.

Seriously. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Sex- Why the Words We Use Matter

In spite of all this you say, ‘I am innocent; He is not angry with me.’ But I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned’~ Jeremiah 2:34-36 NIV

 It really kind of goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that the world we live in is a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess right now.

 Church attendance is down, biblical ignorance is up and Christian kids are leaving the faith faster than rats abandoning a sinking ship. Thanks to rampant immorality at every level in church leadership Christians have completely lost their moral authority in the culture and (short of a miracle) we will not be getting it back anytime soon. Those are just the problems inside the church. The problems outside the church are bigger, messier and will be even trickier to solve.

 Gender confusion is officially the new normal. Being born with a penis or a vagina is no longer something to be considered when we evaluate whether or not an individual is male or female and it is considered anti-science to suggest that there might possibly be fewer than sixty-three genders (Genesis 1:27). Mental health professionals and many educators are working overtime to eliminate the notion of masculinity as it is now thought to be toxic. Despite that fact gender reassignment surgeries are the latest rage among high school girls.

 Drug use has become appallingly common among every age group and social demographic. Divorce has become so routine that social commenters have coined the term “starter marriage”.  It is now considered an act of hate speech to suggest that anything some people find pleasurable is somehow morally wrong.

 Sigh.

 I do not pretend that I know everything there is to know about everything. Most of the time I am painfully aware of the fact that I really don’t know what I don’t know about most stuff. However, there is one thing I do know for absolute certain. There is simply no way we will get out of the mess we’re in until the church takes the lead and gets back into the business of calling sin, sin.   

 The problem that’s developed with Christians reframing sin in new (and far less offensive) terms was brought to my attention recently when I was asked to review a Bible study/curriculum intended to support, educate and guide women whose husbands have been routinely sexually immoral (adultery, pornography, homosexuality, etc.). All the women going through the curriculum have professing Christian husbands who are attending a similar study.

 The authors of the curriculum clearly have good intentions and it’s evident they want to help women who are suffering through no fault of their own. Good intentions notwithstanding, the execution of the program fails epically short. This is mostly due to the language the writers elected to use. Rather than labeling the men who have willfully chosen to disobey God and break their marriage vows with terms like ne’er-do-wells, reprobates or adulterers (Hebrews 13:5, Hebrews 12:16, 1st Corinthians 6:18-20). The men are simply referred to by the sanitary term of “sex addicts”. If the men begin misbehaving after a period of repentance their behavior is called a “relapse”.  

 The women are instructed to be endlessly patient with their straying husbands and to do everything within their power to keep their marriages intact. Not once were the women (who were sinned against) coached to treat their stubbornly unrepentant husbands like unbelievers or to go to the elders of their Church and ask for church discipline to be applied to the cheaters (1st Timothy 1:20, 1st Corinthians 5:5). Instead the women were encouraged to “make a safety plan” in the event of a “relapse”. None of the safety plans included putting the guy out on the street until he gets his act together and repents permanently (Exodus 20:14, Proverbs 6:32, Matthew 5:27-28, 1stCorinthians 5:9-11).

 Insert eye roll here.

 I understand that most of the men we refer to as “sex addicts” have experienced serious childhood trauma. The writers of the curriculum do an excellent job of explaining the roots of addiction and how childhood trauma tends to create addictive tendencies in some people. That being said, there was precious little said about taking personal responsibility for sin, the need for ongoing repentance or the role obedience to the Holy Spirit plays in living a life of holiness. Nor was there much said about God’s ability to permanently transform the heart (and behavior) of a sinful human being.

 Sadly, there are examples everywhere of framing sinful behavior in more positive terms. Drug use is a disease, drunkenness is alcoholism and most sins are now called “mistakes” or “moral failures”. Language matters and the language we are choosing to use in the church is at least part of the reason Christians are not taking personal responsibility for their sin. Sex addiction sounds like a malady to be cured while “sexual immorality” sounds like the terrible choice that it is. No one can fix a problem they refuse to name or be honest about. Truth-be-told, men who cheat on their wives are not sex addicts. They are people who have chosen to let their sin nature run wild and they will be judged for it if they refuse to repent (Hebrews 10:30, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10).

 The church does no one any favors by withholding that fundamental truth (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Seven Behaviors Guaranteed to Kill Your Marriage-

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction~ Proverbs 17:19 NIV

 Marriage season is upon us once again and because my husband and I have reached the stage in life where we get invited to attend a lot of weddings I have been thinking quite a bit about the subject of marriage.  More specifically I have been thinking about why some marriages go the distance and others don’t.

 Contemporary wisdom tells us that prevention is key to avoiding marital shipwrecks.  Finding the right person, getting the right counseling beforehand and “being ready for marriage” are exalted as the gold standard of divorce prevention. It would be the height of foolishness to argue against the need for relational compatibility and pre-marital counseling. The importance of those things is obvious, and while I don’t think anyone is ever truly “ready for marriage”. Reaching a certain level of maturity before getting married is without question helpful to the over-all success of any marriage.  

 That said.

 All the pre-marital preparation in the world will not overcome stupidity, meanness, willful sin or relationship mismanagement. What we do after the vows are said is every bit as important (if not more so) than what we do before they are said. There are a number of common blunders people make in marriage that go way beyond mere mistakes, poor choices or communication snafus.  They are behaviors and attitudes that will literally kill a marriage if they are not corrected (and repented of) quickly.  

 The seven marriage killers are:

 The silent treatment-

 The silent treatment is a control tactic used by narcissistic people to bring about change they want to see in the relationship without actually discussing issues or compromising on solutions to problems. The silent treatment is at best, a sign of serious emotional immaturity and at worst it is a serious form of abuse. Those who use it need to understand that it tends to backfire over time. In the beginning of a relationship most partners will respond to silence by doing whatever they think needs to be done to get the conversation started again and the relationship back on track. That said, healthy people will eventually tire of the game playing and begin to distance themselves emotionally from the silencer, if emotional distance is not course-corrected in a marriage divorce is almost always inevitable. It all comes down to learning to use your words and being willing to compromise (Ephesians 5:21). It’s what grown-ups do in grown-up relationships.   

 Pornography-

 Conventional “wisdom” tells us that pornography is only a problem if one party in the relationship objects or if one person looks at pornography without the other being present. This “wisdom” is worldly idiocy. Nothing does more to create an environment where sin can flourish or erodes trust between two people more quickly than pornography (Exodus 20:14). Looking at pornography is the act of bringing other people into the part of the relationship that was intended (by God) for only the husband and the wife. Bringing pornography into a marriage directly contradicts the command given in Hebrews 13:4 to “keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled”. Pornography is not an acceptable or smart way to “spice things up”.

 Deceit-

 Deceitfulness can take on many different forms including emotional affairs, physical affairs, hiding financial information or just generally keeping secrets from the other person. Whatever form deceitfulness takes it puts up walls in the relationship and destroys trust. Marriages simply will not survive without trust.  (Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Proverbs 17:19, Deuteronomy 5:18).

 Using sex as a weapon

 Sex is one of those sticky-wicket issues that most couples avoid talking about to the detriment of the relationship. Don’t. Sex is one of the key reasons most people (especially Christian people) get married so it ought to be discussed. Do not get in the habit of withholding sex as “punishment” for real or imagined offenses. It’s not nice and it’s not biblical (1stCorinthians 7:4).

 Disrespect-  

 Disrespect covers a whole range of behaviors. It encompasses screaming, rudeness, spitefulness and not taking the other person’s desires, preferences or needs into consideration.  The worst and most damaging kind of disrespect almost always involves the words we use (Proverbs 12:18, Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:29). Cursing, belittling or name-calling during a conflict is a surefire way to kill romantic love quickly.  If we all just obeyed the command Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12 and treated our spouse how we want to be treated the vast majority of marital problems would disappear overnight.

 Abuse-

  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer (Malachi 2:15-17). If it’s a problem in your marriage get help immediately.

 Refusing to become a team-

 No marriage will survive unless the husband and the wife are both one-hundred percent committed to the good of the other. Once we say “I do” it ceases to be about us and becomes about the two of us (Matthew 19:5-6). Teamwork in marriage means willingly sacrificing our own personal wants, needs and desires at least some of the time for the good of the other person and the relationship (Ephesians 5:20-33) . If at any time sacrificing becomes habitually one-sided the team will crumble and so will the marriage.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healing a Sick Marriage-

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

 My husband and I have been married for nearly three decades and our marriage, like most marriages has gone through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. Through the good and the bad I have concluded that there is nothing in this world quite as good as a great marriage. Nothing is better or more rewarding in this life than the closeness, camaraderie and fun of a healthy, happy marriage. Conversely, a bad marriage is nothing short of a living hell. There are simply no words to describe the awkward agony of waking-up every single day of your life next to the person you least want to talk to.

 It just sucks.

 All marriages (even the really great ones) inevitably go through at least one season where communication halts and the relationship feels doomed. During this period both parties inevitably wonder if it’s even worth it to keep trying.

 Like many young couples, that season came fairly early on in our marriage. We spent the better part of a really miserable year either squabbling bitterly over the most stupid stuff imaginable or giving each other the silent treatment over the same stupid stuff. Needless to say we were not living our best life. However at the end of that really awful year, we had worked through a horde of really thorny issues, our relationship was stronger and we were both better, happier people.

 Marriage matters. Therefore everything that can be done to fix a bad marriage should be done. Every marriage is different and every situation is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fixing a bad marriage. However, the following five recommendations can be a game-changer in even the most broken relationships:

 Choose to be kind no matter how the other person responds-

 Kindness is a quality conspicuously missing in unhappy marriages. Too often we wait for the other person to be kind before we show kindness. This sort of willful pride and stubbornness never yields positive results. In order for a healing process to begin, one person has to humble him or herself and commit to speaking kindly to—and doing thoughtful things for—the other person. Even if the other person acts like a jerk at first. Usually, the other person eventually responds in kind and the marriage gets a new beginning.    

Lay down your weapons-

 Each half of an unhappy couple has their own arsenal of verbal weapons they use to emotionally pummel their spouse. It might be calling the other person hurtful names or constantly reminding them of a past sin or bringing up a character flaw. Whatever it is, at the root of any arsenal is one of two things: either the sin of unforgiveness or pure meanness. Either way I advise immediate repentance.

 Nix the silent treatment-

 Not everyone uses the silent treatment. Those who do, use it to shut down conversations they are too immature to have or as a tool to get their own way. People who employ this method have learned that if they clam-up for long enough, more often than not, the other person will eventually acquiesce to whatever they want just to end the awkwardness. The silent treatment is a self-indulgent, passive-aggressive power play that not only destroys marriages but friendships and even the parent-child bond. It’s dangerous because eventually the other person will weary of the perpetual game playing and either walk out on the relationship or stay, adjust to the silence and begin living their own life. Either way the marriage is over. If one or both parties need time to calm down, that’s fine, as long as things eventually get talked out.

 Call sin what it is and and make the choice to repent-

I am thankful for the modern psychology movement because it has helped us to understand the reasons why people do the weird, sinful things people do. That said, psychology has also helped to create an environment where we blame our sin on other people or trauma, rather than our own choices. It is not uncommon for Christians to blame genetics, stress, or a bad upbringing for behavior the Bible calls willful sinfulness. The bottom line is that no matter our experiences we are all responsible before God for what we do and don’t do. We all have the ability to make changes. Change begins with the acknowledgment that our behavior is sinful, even if the behavior or attitude has a genetic component or came about as a result of trauma. This must be followed-up with a commitment to obedience and permanent repentance.

 Look at you-

 One characteristic common to all bad marriages is that both parties almost always have their focus firmly fixed on the bad behavior of their spouse. Conversely, both parties are also unwilling to own-up to their own bad habits, problems. No one on a bad marriage is willing to acknowledge how their sin is creating chaos in the relationship. If you want to fix your marriage, stop focusing on what the other person is or isn’t doing. Instead, make a commitment to pray about what you need to change or begin doing so that you can become the husband or wife God wants you to be.

     

Me, Myself and I Do

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God~ 2nd Timothy 3:2-4 NIV

 I was recently struck by a painful reality. The nature of the times we live in is such that the instant I dare to think I have finally seen it all, something new (and unimaginably bizarre) comes along and reminds me all over again that the human race never stops inventing crazy crap to do.

 My latest epiphany came in the form of a strange new movement: sologamy. Otherwise known as the act of marrying oneself.

 Seriously, it’s a thing.

 There is a website (imarriedme.com) that sells kits for those folks (kits start at $50.00 and go as high as $230.00) interested in making the ultimate commitment to self-love. The individual making the promise to love him or her self till they breathe their last breath procures the kit and clothing befitting the occasion (some purchase wedding dresses or rent tuxedos). Guests are invited to observe as the person recites their vows while gazing into a handheld mirror. The service can be completed with or without a pastor or Justice of the Peace officiating. The vows are followed by a reception where the attending guests celebrate the happy individual and their promise to satisfy their own best interests above all others.

I am not making this up.

 Then, I suppose, (I have no actual data on this) the newly committed solagamist goes off on a solo honeymoon trip to memorialize their newly minted commitment and to get to know them-selves better.

 Sigh.  

 I struggled a little bit with where exactly to go with this post. On the one hand, the whole concept of marrying oneself is just a silly, frivolous and rather sad trend. It’s easy to argue that solagamy is really not significant enough to bother getting worked up over. It really is tempting to dismiss solagamy as just another weird example of 21st century self-indulgence run amok.

 Nevertheless, the trend of solagamy (and it is rapidly becoming a trend) says some significant and scary things about where we are at and where we are going as a culture.

 I find this peculiar trend troubling for a number of different reasons and on a number of different levels.

 The decadence of a ceremony that celebrates commitment to self-love leaves me with a skeezy, almost dirty, feeling. The uninhibited hedonism is disturbing. Then there’s the sad reality that marriage has been dumbed-down to a place where many in our culture sincerely believe that a wedding is just a big fancy party we throw for our own pleasure and an occasion to show-off our event planning skills. All that being said, mostly I just feel a soul-wrenching sadness that so many in our society have become so lonely and isolated that solo weddings are actually becoming an industry.

 Sigh.

 Sadly, it’s not just the world of romance and weddings that has been affected by our collective love affair with self. Instilling self-esteem (another term for self-love) in their children is now the number one concern of today’s parents, beating out almost every other parenting concern including teaching their kids right from wrong and ensuring that their children are educated well enough to enter the work force. It’s not just parents who are concerned with self-esteem. According to forbes.com, Americans spend a whopping eleven billion dollars on self-help and self-esteem books every year. We are encouraged in obvious-and not so obvious- ways to find ourselves, love ourselves and do right by number one, because if we don’t no one else will.

 All this self-adoration is a far cry from the biblical mandate to “lose yourself” (Luke 17:33) and the biblical call to put the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3, Romans 13:8). Self-worship (and that is what this is) is as different from “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:30-33) as cats are from kangaroos. The biblical mandate presupposes that we already think enough of our selves and care enough for ourselves to set a reasonable standard for how we ought treat others. The self-esteem movement assumes that we need to focus more attention on ourselves before we even begin to think about anyone else’s needs or wants.

 As Christians we may or may not be able to change the trajectory of our self-focused culture (2nd Timothy 3:2). However, we can model healthy self-care (a biblical concept) and show people that it is possible to be happy, fulfilled and cared for without having a romantic relationship with ones self.

Why Marriages Fail-

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate~ Mark 10:7-9 NIV

 I recently had a conversation that can only be described as a full-scale bummer.

 A friend informed me she and her husband were splitting up after more than two decades together (she did not initiate the divorce). This news was depressing on at least a dozen different levels. We’ve known these people a long time, our kids grew up together, we love them both and two decades is a long time to invest in something that has clearly failed. This couple has adult children who are grieving deeply. Both the husband and the wife are professing Christians and the split has tested the kids belief that God is good and that love can overcome any obstacle.

 This sad news got me thinking about the subject of marriage in general and why marriages fail in particular. It occurred to me that although most folks know going-in that marriage takes a lot of energy and hard work, virtually all marriages begin on a hopeful note. No one I have ever known (or heard of) has entered into marriage anticipating failure or hoping things don’t work out.

 This truth begs the question: 

If most folks know from the very beginning marriage will not be easy then why do so many marriages fail with such depressing regularity?

 Everyone knows the statistics: roughly one-third to one-half of all marriages in America end in divorce. The most common reasons given for divorce are lack of sex, infidelity, money problems and poor communication.

 Only a crazy person would argue with a statistic. I do dispute the statistics. I do dispute the reasons given for divorce. The causes given for divorce are actually just symptoms of the actual causes of divorce. We will never change the divorce rate until we get real about why people divorce.

 Marriages struggle and die not because of big problems that cannot be worked out. Relationships struggle and die for three far less discussed reasons.

 It begins with

 Selfishness-

 According to the trusty word wizards at Dictionary.com selfishness is defined as “ being devoted to or caring only for one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc. regardless of others”. When we carry an attitude of selfishness into marriage it manifests itself in a lack of thoughtfulness or consideration for others. A friend (who has since repented) confessed that for years he bought his wife a big beautiful chocolate cake every year on her birthday. Not because she loved chocolate (she hated it passionately) but because he loved chocolate and it was a good excuse for him to eat the kind of cake he liked. Over time selfishness erodes positive feelings and leaves the other person (no matter how long-suffering they may be) feeling hurt and possibly even vengeful towards their spouse. If by some miracle the marriage survives, the love won’t.

 Ignoring Ephesian’s 5:21-

 Most Christians have heard the commands given to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33. Women are told to submit to their husbands and husbands are commanded to love their wives. What most Christians don’t know is that the verse directly preceding those verses (Ephesians 5:21) commands spouses to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Mutual submission is the act of adopting an attitude of mutual cooperation and compromise in all things. Submitting to one another in marriage may mean having sex more often than you would prefer or doing chores that don’t necessarily appeal to you after a long day at work. Mutual submission means giving rather than taking and not holding a grudge over what you don’t get.

 One or both partners refuse to change-

 Marriage has been called “the ultimate growth opportunity” and it is, as long as both parties are willing to hear uncomfortable truths about themselves and then work on their issues. Truth-be-told Christians are more capable of growth and change than any other people on earth because they have Holy Spirit helping them and guiding them in all truth. When a Christian refuses to change ultimately they are choosing to be obedient to the Holy Spirit which is incredibly foolish and an indicator of immaturity.

 A wise pastor friend said “any two reasonably mature Christians can make a marriage work if they are BOTH willing to put in the necessary effort.” He understood a truth that can be a game changer in relationships: divorce is unnecessary if both parties are willing to die to self and submit to God.

 

 

 

s

When God Calls You to Love a Jerk

To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you~ Luke 6:27-28 NIV

 Pretty much every Christian I know (myself included) likes to pontificate endlessly on the topic of love.

 Why on earth wouldn’t we?

 In a world that is increasingly more hostile towards Christians and their faith, love is one of the few doctrines left that everyone likes discussing. Sin, judgment, obedience and hell are sensitive, uncomfortable, sticky-wicket kinds of issues that are all-but certain to offend pretty much everyone. However, no one can quarrel with the whole notion of loving people.

 That said, even a hasty analysis of the comments section of any news article or blog piece posted on the Internet clues us in to the fact that although most people love the idea of love, and we adore quoting scriptures concerning the importance of loving people, we struggle mightily with the implementation of loving people.

 The Christian standard of love is outrageously high and almost impossible to achieve, mostly because some people are jerks and God calls us to love them anyway. Scripture commands we love people who do not love us back and those who openly despise us. We are also instructed to love people who make fun of what we believe, insult our intelligence and tell lies about us (Romans 12:9-21).

 This is quite obviously easier said than done.

 There is no question that loving people (even nice people) is a concept that is far less painful to achieve in theory than in practice. That said, it’s easier to love a person when there is relationship in place or an emotional bond that has already been established.

 Showing love to a wayward child or a spouse with a less than pleasant disposition is somehow much easier than trying to muster up some emotional warmth or caring for a heartless, egomaniacal boss or an intellectually pretentious brother-in-law/college professor/auntie/co-worker. The one who cannot seem to stop themselves from insinuating that the only possible motivations anyone could possibly have for voting for a particular political party would be racism, homophobia or a criminal level of stupidity. It’s even harder to muster grace (let alone love) for the media personality who is constantly undermining decency and openly supporting actions and attitudes wholeheartedly contrary to God’s way of doing things.

 Sigh.    

 Thankfully, authentic Christian love is more about making a choice than manufacturing a feeling. We can choose to behave in a loving way towards people we don’t particularly like. In the process we might actually change hearts and minds in a way that hateful and nasty rhetoric or sidelong glances never will.

 Loving jerks needs to begin with some honest self-examination. Sometimes we are the innocent victims of jerks and other times we are the ones acting like a jerk. Even Christians are capable of less than Christian behavior from time-to-time, especially when someone is intentionally pushing our buttons. Any time we feel offended or hurt, it’s a good time to prayerfully evaluate our own actions and attitudes to see if we are doing anything that is contributing to the problem.

 Nothing about honest self-examination is pleasant or easy, however it is necessary if we want to grow and mature spiritually.

 Sigh.

 If after some soul-searching we discover we are indeed part of the problem, then we need to repent. Repentance is all about changing how we think about the person who has hurt us. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t like we need to look for positive qualities. We also need to cease any hurtful actions on our part such as gossip, ugly or passive-aggressive comments, and writing rude things about the person on the Internet. Genuine repentance always includes praying for the person who wronged us.

 Praying for the person who offended or wronged us really does make any repenting on our part that needs to be done easier and less painful, and prayer actually has the capacity to change the heart of the other person.

 Bonus.

 Then God calls us to the truly hard thing, blessing those who curse us and actually doing good to those who have wronged us. Doing good is about more than an absence of malice. It’s about thinking through to what Jesus would do to the person and then doing it.

 Love is an action.