Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Is What You See Really What You Get in Marriage? Part 2

     In the last blog, I wrote about the viewpoint that you bring to your marriage. Do you focus on the positives and the blessings or do you focus on the negatives and the problems, because your perception will quickly become your reality. I want to briefly continue on that thought by noting a couple of other things that are indicative of a skewed or dangerous point of view that can quickly become damaging to a person’s marriage.
     First, do you focus on your mate’s “imperfections”? I put imperfections in quotes, not because any of us are perfect, but because what many deem imperfections in others are typically comparative observations rather than actual flaws. “Why isn’t she thinner?” “Why doesn’t he work harder to provide for this family?” And once your perspective becomes skewed, it becomes even more dangerous if you begin comparing your mate to people that you know and interact with on a regular basis. “My co-worker’s great! He treats me with more respect than my husband ever has.” “The lady I see every day at the gym seems more interested in my life than my wife does.” Once you begin creating fantasy worlds with real people which downplay your spouse while elevating someone else of the opposite sex, Satan is enticing you to embrace a very dangerous viewpoint.
     Second, is your perspective God-centered or self-centered? In years of pastoral marriage counseling, I’ve heard “He/She is not meeting my needs” more times than I can count. Granted we all do have needs that should be fulfilled by one’s mate, but our “I want it all and I want it now,” consumerist, selfish American culture has permeated many marriages. We forget that a Christian’s calling in marriage is to partner with your mate to glorify God, not treat your mate as if he/she is only here to serve your pleasure. My experience is that those who are most adamant about how their needs are not being met by their spouses are typically the most selfish toward their spouses.
     As I said in the last post, having a positive viewpoint is not a cure for problems in marriage, and it is not an excuse to overlook or minimize issues that really do need to be dealt with. It is, however, a powerful barometer of the path you are setting for the future of your marriage relationship.
     God, give us eyes to see what you would have us to see that we may honor our mates and glorify your holy name. Amen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Is What You See Really What You Get in Marriage?

Is what you see really what you get? I guess it depends on what you see. The Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 13 is not a biblical text that is normally used to talk about marriage, but I think there is a really significant application here.
As chapter 13 opens, the Israelites have come to the border of the land God has promised to give them. God instructs Moses to select twelve men, one from each tribe, to scout out the lay of the land before the Israelites proceeded into it. So, for forty days these twelve men moved throughout the Promised Land, observing and learning all they could. At the end of the forty days and with a cluster of grapes so big it took two men to carry it, they returned to their camp to give their report to Moses and the rest of the Israelite nation. Here’s what they had to say:
   We went to the land to which you sent us and, oh! It does flow with milk and honey! Just look at this fruit! The only thing is that the people who live there are fierce, their cities are huge and well-fortified. Worse yet, we saw descendants of the giant Anak. Amalekites are spread out in the Negev; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites hold the hill country; and the Canaanites are established on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan.
   Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, "Let's go up and take the land—now. We can do it.
   But the others said, "We can't attack those people; they're way stronger than we are." They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, "We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it's a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge. Why, we even saw the Nephilim giants (the Anak giants come from the Nephilim). Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers." (Num. 13:27-33, NIV)
Think about it. All twelve scouts saw the same land. All twelve agreed that it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. They all saw the unbelievable goodness of the land, knowing it could provide amply for God's people. Yet ten of the twelve said, "We can't do it. This is an impossible task that will completely destroy us." Only two said, "God is on our side. The land is already ours. We just have to go take it." Same set of facts; totally different viewpoints.
   So the real question is what viewpoint do you bring to your marriage? Do you see your marriage as land flowing with milk and honey, a Promised Land that is a blessing from and blessed by God, or do you see your marriage as a land filled with unbeatable giants that are out to destroy you and your mate?
   Please understand that I am not na├»ve in asking this question. Just because you want to see rainbows and butterflies, that doesn't mean it's going to happen and that you will have a fairy tale marriage. Maintaining any relationship in a healthy and productive way is going to be a challenge, and because marriage is so intimate it can be especially challenging. (If a marriage relationship doesn't present any challenges, it is very likely that one partner is being repressed in some way.) But, we tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you consistently focus on the things that can disrupt and destroy your marriage—finances, personality differences, sexual issues, extended family, work schedules, children, or whatever else—then those things will dominate and define your marriage.
   But you can also choose to see your marriage as a place that your love for God is lived out in your relationship with your spouse. You can focus on the promises of your covenant relationship, the times you laugh together and find joy in each other, and the all the other good things within your marriage relationship (no matter how big or small). You can continually see marriage as a place of blessing and experiencing the goodness of God. Then that outlook will become your default view for your relationship and for your mate.
   One of the surest ways to recognize the point of view you are bringing to your marriage is to listen to the way you talk about your marriage. If you regularly use large, encompassing words in a negative sense there is a good chance you might want to honestly assess what you are allowing to shape your view.
"You NEVER help with anything around the house."
"You ALWAYS blow the budget."
"Do I EVER get the benefit of the doubt with you?"
I could go on, but you get the idea. Carefully consider what you say and how you’re saying it. You could be revealing more about how you view your marriage than you realize.
     Having a positive viewpoint is not a cure for problems in marriage, and it is not an excuse to overlook or minimize issues that need to be dealt with. It is, however, a powerful barometer of the path you are setting for the future of your marriage relationship.
     Do you see your marriage as a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey or a grasshopper crushing giant? It all depends on where you focus.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Month to Celebrate (take the challenge)

     Too often we define our lives by the negative things that happen to us. This trend spills over into marriage too. We concentrate on a disagreement, or on a child who is having excessive difficulties. We let a bad day at work push us into irritability with our spouse. We let money troubles keep us shaken up, or become angry when household chores aren’t done. While those types of things, big and small, do need to be taken care of, if we’re not careful we can allow them to steal our joy in marriage.
     For one month, challenge yourself to find every reason you can to celebrate with your spouse. Celebrate a job promotion. Celebrate a blooming tree in your yard. Celebrate a day off. Celebrate a new flavor of ice cream. Celebrate a child making progress (even if it isn’t as much as you want). Whether it is truly important or superficially silly, the more you celebrate God’s goodness in your life and the more you celebrate with your spouse, the better your relationship will be. And, the more you allow things worth celebrating to take center stage, the more bearable the tough times will be.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012


HE GAVE HER DOG BISCUITS  How many different meanings can you discern from those five words? Did he serve her a traditional dog treat for supper (either as a joke or perhaps out of anger), or did he love her dog so much that he gave her dog a present he knew the dog would love? If he gave biscuits to her dog, were they regular dog biscuits, or biscuits like you might get at Cracker Barrel? Or, is it an incomplete sentence?  What if the dog's name is Biscuits? Then we're left wondering what he gave to Biscuits.
Granted this is a silly little exercise, but it does illustrate a point. Even in the best of circumstances, communication is a difficult process.
In every communication, three things happen:
·         First, there is what is said. What are the actual words that are formed and spoken out loud?
·         Second, there is what is heard. What did you understand to be the actual words your mate spoke? Have you ever thought your spouse just said the craziest thing?  "What do you mean there's a ninja monkey in the front yard?" Sometimes we simply do not correctly understand the words spoken.
·         Third, there is what is interpreted. What did your spouse mean to convey? Are you accurately understanding his/her intention? What does the tone of voice and body language communicate?
Communication is essential to any relationship.  Without communication, a relationship will die.  There is no way around it.  Let me say it again. Without communication a relationship will die.
            As you and your mate talk, are you talking with each other or are you talking at each other? Below are some tips for healthy communication.  As you read through them, consider honestly and carefully how you are talking with your spouse.

Reminder Tips for Clear, Healthy Communication
·         Listen—Most people are tempted to zero in on one specific point brought up in conversation, rush to defend an action or position, or begin to formulate what he/she will say next.  Listen to your mate fully and carefully.
·         Speak up—Say what you think.  If you mate says something you agree with, let him/her know, but also speak up if you disagree with something your spouse says.  You and your mate cannot read each other’s minds, and silence can be incorrectly interpreted as agreement or disagreement.  So, don’t leave it open for your mate to assume you mean, think, or feel something that you do not.  But remember, when you speak up, always speak in love (and always be mindful of your tone of voice).
·         Speak for yourself only—Don’t presume you can answer for your mate.  Resist the temptation to say things like, “Oh, I know how you’ll answer that question,” or “It’s obvious that you think…”  Speak for yourself only.
·         Be specific—If you only talk in generalities, you will tend to have lots of good intentions, but no real direction or solutions.  Also, avoid simple “yes” and “no” answers, or short answers that don’t really tell your mate anything.
·         Ask clarifying questions—Take the time to ask if you don’t fully understand something your mate has shared with you.  Again, you cannot read your spouse’s mind, so make sure you truly understand what he/she is trying to communicate to you.
·         Resist the impulse to lecture or give unwanted advice—Some people communicate from a “fix it” stand point (that is, they want to be problem solvers for their mate) and others communicate from a “vent it” stand point (that is, they know what to do, but they just want to share with their spouse).  Too much “fix it” can shut down communication, and too much “vent it” never leads to positive, marriage-improving action.  Share and find workable goals and solutions together.
·         Remember you are one flesh, not competitors—If some of your conversations involve different points of view, remember that you are covenant marriage partners, not bitter rivals.  Regrettably, in communication, some spouses are more determined to win the argument than they are to do what is best for the marriage.  Make sure you see your conversations as cooperative not competitive.
      Don’t assume motivation—Unless it is clearly stated, you cannot presume to know someone’s motivation, or his/her thought process that led him/her to make a specific statement.

Above all else, remember to practice your Christian life first and foremost at home with your spouse.  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) Remember, without communication, a relationship will die.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Something to Laugh About in Marriage?

            A word about humor: There have been times in my marriage that I have wanted to be mad at my wife, usually because of some hurt, real or perceived. Yet, even in the midst of the conflict, I couldn’t stay mad at her. Not because of some heartfelt apology, or because she admitted she was wrong and said I was right. It was because we started laughing. More than once in our relationship, Lisa and I have laughed our way beyond the anger or frustration of the moment.
Humor is a great component of a joyful marriage. Humor can break tension at just the right moment, make you forget why you’re angry, and help you grow closer together. Just about everyone likes to laugh and likes to be around those who can say just the right thing to make them laugh.
In most relationships, teasing is present. It is a way to laugh together, to blow off steam, and maybe even to alert your partner to something you’d be reluctant to talk to them about in a serious manner. However, knowing boundaries when teasing is critical to a healthy marriage. Sometimes, hearing your spouse say the same thing too often begins to hurt. Sometimes, the things you laugh about together in private are received as insensitive and demeaning when said publicly by one spouse or the other. And sometimes we forget that if the only thing our partner hears is critical teasing without any loving and encouraging words then the discouraging picture painted can very quickly become the reality.
            John was stunned when his parents ended their marriage after thirty plus years. They’d raised their children and should have been looking forward to sharing their golden years together. Instead, Dora was only looking to escape her husband’s constant “teasing.” For thirty years, he’d relentlessly joked about everything from her appearance to her mannerisms to her cooking to her housekeeping. She was sick of it. It destroyed her self-esteem and made her feel hopeless and unlovable. He never realized what he was doing, and she never said anything about it because she didn’t want to be criticized yet again for “not being able to take a joke.”
            A marriage without humor would be a sad and pitiable thing. A marriage polluted with humor corrupted by Satan is often worse. Paul’s admonition to refrain from “coarse joking” which is out of place for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:4), is not just a warning against dirty jokes, but a warning that Satan can distort “humor.” And satanic “humor” can destroy a marriage. How do you use humor? Do you laugh with your spouse, or at your spouse?


Monday, March 12, 2012


     Just about everybody enjoys a pleasant surprise (the key word here is pleasant). In marriage, the element of surprise can inject a lot of fun and laughter into your relationship. Whether it is an unplanned trip or an unexpected date night, or a “just-for-no-reason” gift, surprising your spouse can create laughter, build intimacy, and help feed a positive spirit between you and your love.
     And surprises don’t have to be elaborate or expensive to generate powerful results. A home-cooked dinner of his or her favorite meal, an unexpected back rub or foot rub while watching TV, a note in his or her lunch box, a “because I love you” text or phone call, a message on the bathroom mirror in soap or lipstick, or even just handing him or her an ice cream cone at the door after a hard day at work; things that create pleasant surprises can bless a marriage relationship. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Medicate your marriage with a pleasant surprise for your spouse this week.


Marriage Enrichment Weekend Retreat
Aug. 31-Sept. 2 (Labor Day Weekend)
Limited to 25 couples
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Friday, March 9, 2012

The Primary Calling Lived Out In Marriage

     The primary, most important calling of all Christians is to love God and love one’s neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40). Love for one’s neighbor is the physical manifestation of your love for God. Since God does not live among us in a corporeal form or otherwise engage us in a physical manner, it is easy to profess love for God. Yet your relationship with God is reflected by your interaction with your fellow person. As the image bearers of God, the way we interact with others who are also made in God’s image reveals how fully conformed to the likeness of God we are becoming. “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
     Without a doubt, your spouse is your closest, most intimate neighbor. Regardless of whether a person is initially compelled to marriage for carnal reasons (the desire for sex is, at least in part, a legitimate reason to want to get married (1 Cor. 7:8-9)), spiritual reasons, or some combination of the two, the call of marriage is to love God as evidenced by love for his or her spouse. Although the pursuit of love for God is the primary goal, it is inseparable from the pursuit of loving your mate.
     Within the context of marriage, we must understand the concept of “one flesh” as more than a platitude or a reference only to the sexual nature of humanity. We must see one flesh as the communal calling of marriage in light of God’s call to love him and love your neighbor. Marriage is an entirely unique participation in the divine mystery of a holistic oneness between man, woman, and God that reflects Christ’s relationship with the church (Eph. 5:21-33). In marriage, couples find a joint purpose in God that transcends the couple’s sharing of a home and a bed. Marriage becomes the vessel in which couples grow in holiness together through their shared life in Christ. It is the purposeful reorientation of life toward discipleship as it is specifically expressed in your relationship with your mate. It is a visible, outward manifestation of covenant living, serving, commitment, intimacy, grace, forgiveness, and love. It is the means by which a husband and wife truly become “salt and light” to the world around them.
     Often, it is the person who we should (and do) love the most, our closet neighbor in every possible way, that we take for granted the most.  It's shocking how easy it is to be rude or insensitive to one's mate; how carelessly one speaks or acts toward his/her lover.  Continually remind yourself that you are each other's closest neighbor, and the world will see what you really think of God by how you treat each other.

UPCOMING MARRIAGE ENRICHMENT RETREAT WEEKEND:  Labor Day weekend, Friday, August 31-Sunday, September 2, 2012 at Fall Creek Falls State Park in middle Tennessee.  More info will be posted later.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Welcome to Remembering Our First Love Marriage Blog

For anyone who knows me personally, it doesn’t take long to figure out that I have a passion for healthy, God-centered marriage. Many couples see marriage as more of a social/secular arrangement than as a God-given covenant relationship.  Even many Christian marriages are in reality social/secular arrangements with Christian window-dressing (I don’t believe most couples want it to be that way; they’ve just never been shown there is a different way.)

The benefits of healthy marriages are numerous and well-documented; benefits for the individuals, for families, for churches, and for the larger communities in which the couples live.  Because of this, I have spent many years doing pre and post marital pastoral counseling, led and continue to lead marriage enrichment retreats and workshops, and wrote my doctoral dissertation on “A Vocational Theology of Marriage.”

As passionate as I am about marriage though, I fully recognize that the body of Christ is diverse, and it is wrong to champion marriage as the only God-ordained life.  But, facilitating healthy marriages is my passion and it is my Kingdom calling, and I am confident that I can fill that role while still honoring the unity of the body of Christ.

The goal of this blog is to help couples find a greater purpose in marriage.  Lord willing, through infrequent posts (hey, I know the reality of my schedule), I want to lead couples toward a joint purpose in God that transcends the couple just sharing of a home and a bed.  I want them to recognize marriage as a joint participation in the Kingdom of God that reclaims the concept of “one flesh.”

The post will offer actionable suggestions and questions and discussions meant to make you think about your marriage, your mate, you, and the role they all play in the Kingdom of God.  I hope you'll join me for this journey.