Monday, December 28, 2009

Resolutions

When New Year's Resolutions Meet the Reality of Sin and What to do about it.

Message given at Hillview Baptist Church on 12/27/2009
Audio version

Text Version


When it comes to resolutions we like to think of things that we would like to happen in the near future. I resolve that we need to get on board with God and His purpose for our lives. So often we tend to seek out our own way, our own place, our own pleasure, our own desires. We are self-centered to a tee. Even our new years resolutions are ego-centric strokes that make us feel good that we are committing to some self-improvement. This year may I suggest something different. I say it is not about self-improvement, but rather it is time to kill the self. No I did not say kill yourself. I said kill the self. Do I have your attention? Good!
There is something that has a hold of you and is destroying your life. It robs you of joy, peace, and right living. It is a destructive force that has been the root death and wasted lives through out the history of human kind. It is black as the darkest corner of the universe. It is a black hole from which no one escapes, no one comes back from, no light can be in that place, it is hidden form the world most of the time, as you dress up in your Sunday best you cover it's dark blot on your soul.
Worse than cancer it eats away at your very being. It is worse than the flesh eating strep virus which leaves raw open, pus filled gaping wounds. It's stench is more foul than the deepest place of rotting flesh and death filled tombs. Smells like death in this place this morning. Too hard of words? Maybe, but I cannot hold it in any longer. This is the truth unvarnished and in the raw this morning. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not to feel good. It is about resolutions. Will you or will you not choose this morning to finally release the darkness that has overcome you?
It comes in a nice package that says try me I will give you a way, a place to belong, pleasure you cannot know, and your desire. You name it you can have it. Cheap grace indeed. You are in debt financially, physically, and spiritually. There is no way out. You are a hopeless case. Did you get that? Hopeless! You cannot pay back what you owe. You cannot work your way out of this pit. It is the end for you. Dead in your trespasses. You say, "But BJ what about Jesus?" Really! Is Jesus your savior? I say show me. I do not see it! Every once in a great while I see a glimpse. I catch a brief fleeting breath of life. It smells sweet! But now all I see is death and decay. No Death and decay is to optimistic it is worse than that.
Let me say everyone of you has this darkness eating away inside you. If you deny it I am calling you out as a liar. You are either in self-deception or you are in self-preservation. The end result is the same you come out smelling like death. It is only by the pleasure of God that he does not reach down right this moment and completely annihilate you. Oh God we have sinned. We have dishonored Your Name. We have profaned what is called righteous. We have exchange truth for a lie. We have shed the moral constraints that you have given that we might be free; only to discover our bondage is destroying us. You are right when you judge us Oh Lord. You are Holy when You judge us Lord. We are grass to the furnace. I beg of you Lord give us more time. Allow us this grace that we might turn our lives over to you and let you be our light, our rescuer, our Lord.
We are now 4 days beyond the darkest day of the year. The light is returning and each day is going to grow lighter and lighter. With the brightness of the day comes new life.
We are now in the darkest days of the Christian faith. We have hit a winter solace if you will in the life of the church. On leading indicators of the Church we can honestly say that we are in decline. The Church which is supposed to be a light a city in the hill is diminished in her Glory. Why?
It is the loathsome darkness that is within us. We all have tasted it. We have enjoyed it's simple pleasures, we have all mourned over the way that it is destroying our lives. You might be wondering what I am talking about. Are you ready? It is Sin!!!
Sin is destroying our lives, our families, and our churches. It has wrecked havoc on well meaning good intentioned people. Sin has destroyed families, careers, relationships, marriages, and yes churches. I realize that was a dark harsh introduction, but let's face it. Sin is a dark harsh subject. I am weary of hearing about how God Loves, and redeems from sin, while all the while his people are not willing to part from it. It is like the days of old when Israel had her idols of worship. We also have our idols of worship. Don't believe it? Think over the last year. What would you say characterized your life's focus? What is the main thing that held your attention. Can I just say that if it was not God then that thing is an idol. Lest you think you are off the hook, let me ask you what was the second thing? The third thing, and down the list. Let me ask you this, does your focus on these things bring glory to God? If not then it is an idol. Anything that is not of God is an idol and your focus on it your worship of it constitutes idolatry.
Sin perverts that which is good and turns it to self-centered pleasure and happiness. Don't get me wrong I am not here to through cold water on the Joy of the Lord. As if I could even if I tired. The fact is that if you have the joy of the Lord then this sermon would not convict you. You would have His Peace in your life and no darkness would overcome it.
Hold up your hands. Palms toward your face. Look intently into the palms of your hands. Notice the creases, notice the fingers. Look at the finger print. My friends God gave you those hands. They are a gift from Him. Why do you use them for things that do not give him glory. Why have they become instruments of unrighteousness! Put your hands down.
Open your mouth! Stick out your tongue. Bet your mother told you it was impolite to do that and now the preacher is telling you to do it. Your tongue is a gift from God. Why are the words that roll off of it so destructive. Why is so much cursing, vanity, self-serving words the mainstay of our communication, What has happened to the words of peace, love, compassion, sacrifice, edification. I have a chance to meet with couples in my job as a counselor. And the destructive hurtful things that Christian couples say to each other breaks my heart. Why do we talk that way?
Hold up a mirror. If you do not have one then borrow one or recall looking into one this morning. You can do this at home if you like. Go ahead I will give you a moment. Look into your eyes. It is said that eyes are the window to the soul. Science teaches us that the retina of our eyes (that gives us the ability to see) is actually a part of our brain. The connection is so close that the body can move as an object moves toward us before we have the opportunity to see it, that is process seeing the object. This close connection between the brain and eyes, the soul and it's window to the world makes them a very special gift of God. Why then do we allow such filth, and ugliness to flow forth from the world into the content of our brains and pollute our souls with such unwholesome sights. You are committing soul suicide when you do not guard your eyes. What are you watching, does it glorify God?
Stand up. Look down at your feet. These are a special gift of God. They take us from place to place. Even our most sophisticated modes of transportation mostly rely on our feet to control and power them. Feet are very important in where we are going. Why is it that they take us to places God does not want us to be. Where are you going? Does this place bring glory to God?
I could go on, but as you are standing there consider this. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your body, this life, this existence is a precious gift of God. What are you doing with it? Are you using it to bring him glory or are you spending it on your own interests and desires. Sadly I must admit it seems that most (and really all of us at some point) spend it on themselves. What is in it for me. How can I get the greatest pleasure out of this.
So what is the cure? What can save us from this body of death? Turn in your Bibles to Romans 7. I want to look quickly at what Paul is writing in Romans 7. I have felt like Paul willing to do good and not being able. I longed to do good, be good, stay good, and yet for all this wanting it seemed that I was helpless to do it. Maybe you feel that way today. You see Romans 7 plays out a war between your will and your flesh. We fight against the flesh which is the root of evil desire. The flesh is sold into sin's power. It is the darkness that permeates our being that lives in the flesh. Sin abounds in the flesh. Sin is at home in the flesh, flesh is at home in sin. They are unified. This is why it is so dark. Darkness, death, unholiness are killing us. They destroy all that is good.
Then we have the will. The will desires to do good. There is a conscience there that says this is not right. We ought not be doing this. Some people will say it is the little voice that says don't do this. How many of you have started an resolution in the past? It starts out with this voice strongly advocating that you do (or don't do) something. You will to do good. You desire to do good. However you are powerless to bring about change in the flesh. You can have apparent victory for a time. But in the end the flesh always wins out. To be honest that is why resolutions fail. You will, but you see as Paul has stated:
So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God's law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.
Romans 7:21-23 (HCSB)
Do you feel like a prisoner? Paul concluded:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.
Romans 7:24-25 (HCSB)
And so most Christians are resigned to live in this life of war between their will and their flesh. They take solace in the fact that we have Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sin. Wretched men and women, living wretched lives, desiring wretched things, engaging in wretched acts, continuing in their wretched way. Always wanting to do better, but never reaching it. But thank God we have Jesus. He will take away my sin.
So is that it? Jesus came so we could live wretched lives and take hope that someday we will escape this wretched life and come home to Him? I say no way. If Jesus only came that we might live wretched lives then our faith, our religion, our hope is nothing more that nice idea with some fantasy hope that someday it will all get better. Where is the power in that? Why do we still struggle to live out the life that God desires? Didn't Jesus come to save us from our sin? Or Is this all a fantasy with a someday hope to make us feel better in our sin? I say no. No more feel good thoughts, while living in sin, I say no more fake hopes in some future redemption, I say no more wretchedness, I say no more wretched lives, I say no more war between my will and my flesh, I say no more prisoner to sin, I say no more failed resolutions, I say no more using my hands, my mouth, my eyes, my feet for putrid self-destruction, I say no more loathsome darkness and sin filled lives. It is time to say no! Amen? Amen
So what is the cure? Turn to Romans 8
Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin's domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law's requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God's law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you. So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. All those led by God's Spirit are God's sons.
Romans 8:1-14 (HCSB)
The whole chapter of Romans 8 is rich with how to live by the Spirit. Let me just point out some of the highlights and you go home and look it over to see what God's plan is for you.
Therefore we have been released from the letter of the law. We (those who have committed themselves to Christ are free from sin and death. It is an established fact. You cannot undo it. You cannot destroy it. It is truth. So the first question is have you received Christ as your Lord and Savior. If not then your first resolution must be to Him. You must resolve to make Jesus Christ your Lord and your savior.
The Spirit's law of life is fulfilled in Jesus Christ sacrifice. He died on the cross for you and for me. He did not do that in order that we could live out wretched lives and then someday go to heaven. He did it so that we could be released from sin.
Notice the change from Romans chapter 7. In Romans 7 we have the inner man (the will) fighting against the flesh. In Romans 8 we have the Spirit joining in. The battle it seems is won or lost in this: What do you have you mind set on? The Spirit or the flesh. You see the battle to conquer the flesh is not won by will power. Romans 7 makes it clear that is a losing battle. No it is one by setting your mind on the Spirit. When we set our mind on the flesh we have death, we are unable to please God, we are hostile to God, and we continue in deadness. On the other hand when we set our mind on the Spirit then we walk in the power of Christ's righteousness. We are made alive, and we are at peace with God! Now tell me which life do you want? The wretched life of Romans 7 or the Spirit filled life of Romans 8. I resolve to live the Spirit filled life! Will you join me?
Romans 8 outlines some key elements that are need to live this kind of life. After repentance we must acknowledge and accept that there is no condemnation in Jesus Christ. All to often we want to continue to beat ourselves up over past sin. You are free accept that freedom and move forward. Next you choose to walk according to the Spirit. You walk with the Spirit. You and God's Holy Spirit are interconnected and no thing that you do is done without the awareness of God's Holy Spirit. Next you set your mind on the Spirit. There is a very important distinction between setting you mind on the Spirit and setting your mind on the flesh. When a person continues to set their mind on the flesh either in indulging in sin or in the will power to avoid sin, They are setting their mind on the flesh. That is important enough that it bears repeating. When a person continues to set their mind on the flesh either in indulging in sin or in the will power to avoid sin, They are setting their mind on the flesh. You can be desiring to do a good thing (avoid sin) and still be setting your mind on the flesh. You cannot overcome the flesh by trying harder. The only way is to set your mind on the things of God, prayer, Bible reading and study, attending church, fellowship with other Christians, worshiping God, and so on. We need God to overcome our sin and Christ's sacrifice coupled with the indwelling of God's Spirit in you allow you to be adopted into his family. We are God's Children and He is our daddy, our father. We must pray in the Spirit. At times that means we do not know what to say, but can only let out a groan. That is OK because God's Spirit is right there to interpret our unintelligent groans into words of power before God. What is more when we pray in the Spirit we pray according to God's will because the Spirit of God knows our heavenly Father's will for our lives.
There is much more that I desire to share with you about Romans 8, but at this moment I would like to wrap this time up with a time of commitment. If you would stand with me. Some of you have already made some resolutions for the next year. I do not want to dissuade you from these. But let me suggest to you that if you are doing this in a Romans 7 manner where you will yourself to do good, the end result will be wretchedness. If however you resolve to set your mind upon the Spirit of God, You will have power to put to death the deeds of the flesh and experience lasting spiritual victory in your lives. There is an added bonus.
And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you.
Romans 8:11 (HCSB)
By setting your mind on the Spirit you will have life in your mortal bodies. To me that is real resolution. The power of God's Holy Spirit working in your life to bring about those long desired resolutions, but in his way, his power, and his time. To God Be the Glory.
Will you resolve with me to make this new year one in which you receive the release form condemnation of sin through turning to Christ. Will you resolve to abandon the losing war in which you will to do better only to lose out again to the flesh. Will you resolve to set your mind on the Spirit of God. Will you resolve to allow God to direct you way, have ownership over your hands, mouth, eyes, and feet. If you do and place your trust in Him, if you set your mind on His Holy Spirit, then this will truly be a blessed year. Let's Pray.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Character

Family

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And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure.
1 John 3:3 (HCSB)

OK look in the mirror of the Bible.  What do you see?  God's desire is that we trust in Christ and sanctify our lives in Him.  Often we are more comfortable to looking at other's shortcomings as I said in the last post.  So what does it mean to focus on your own Character as a husband or a wife?  Let me list share a list:

A husband is to...

Bond with his wife Gen 2:23-24; Mark 10:7
Protect his wife from rash decisions Num 30:8
Satisfy her in the marriage bed and bring joy and pleasure to her Deut 24:5; Matt 5:32; 1 Cor 7:1-5
Take pleasure in his wife for life Prov 5:18
Praise his wife Prov 31:28
Enjoy life with his wife and Love for her for life Eccl 9:9
Never act in secret or deceit (Treacherously) Mal 2:15
Demonstrate love and sacrifice toward his wife Eph 5:25-33
avoid bitterness toward his wife Col 3:19
Understanding his wife's weaker nature (See Here) 1 Peter 3:7
Showing his wife honor as a equal partner before God 1 Peter 3:7

A Wife is to:

Reward her husband with good and not evil Prov 31:12
Watch over her household Prov 31:27
Satisfy her husband in the marriage bed 1 Cor 7:1-5
Not leave her husband
If separated remain unmarried or be reconciled
1 Cor 7:10-11
Commit to husband for life 1 Cor 7:39
Respect and honor her husband Eph 5:22; Eph 5:33; Col 3:18
demonstrate Purity, reverence, gentleness, quietness of spirit. 1 Peter 3:1-6; Titus 2:4-5

This flies in the face of our modern culture.  These gender roles are often ridiculed, maligned, and misused.  That should not be suppressing really.  The distortion of the God's Word has happened from the very beginning.  One way to avoid misusing or abusing these scriptures is to use them as a mirror and not a microscope.  What I am saying is men focus on your character as a husband and the corresponding verses.  And women focus on your character as a wife and the corresponding verses.  When you focus on your spouse's role these passages can be used to destroy your relationship with them (something I am certain God does not intend) or worse as an excuse as to why you are not doing your part. 

Pray over these items as ask God if there is any impure way in your relationship with your spouse and meditate upon the passages.  As God's Spirit convicts you put these convections into action.  It is not enough to feel badly about not fulfilling your role as a husband or wife.  Repentance involves some sort of change.  

Next Post: Focusing on your spouse's needs. 

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Your Character and My Needs.

Your Character:

Don't criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
James 4:11-12 (HCSB)

My Needs:

What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don't they come from the cravings that are at war within you?
James 4:1 (HCSB)

It is interesting to me that when a couple comes to me most often they want to change their spouse.  That is not a slam.  I believe it is human nature to focus on the short comings of others when things are going badly.  Adam did it in the Garden of Eden: 

Then He (God) asked, "Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" Then the man replied, "The woman You gave to be with me-she gave me [some fruit] from the tree, and I ate."
Genesis 3:11-12 (HCSB)

Hmm, Then Eve taking her lead from her husband said:

So the Lord God asked the woman, "What is this you have done?" And the woman said, "It was the serpent. He deceived me, and I ate."
Genesis 3:13 (HCSB)

So from the very beginning humans have been looking for someone to blame so that they can deny their personal responsibility.  The couple says they want to do what is best for the marriage, but really they want to know whose fault it is.

To which I say, "If you are genuinely interested in having a good marriage then please explain to me how point out the flaws in your spouse's character in excruciatingly painful detail over and over and over again is going make them want to spend the rest of his or her life with you?"  Think about it, would you spend much time in a friendship where the person did this to you?  No!  What about in a job where a boss kept running your character into the ground?  Of course not!  Would you attend a church that all you experienced was criticism from it's members?  No you would not.  So then how in the world can you expect your spouse to have warm fuzzy feelings of love, let alone be around you or stay with you when you continue to point out his or her flaws.

Think about this:  What is the goal of your relationship with your spouse.  For most it would be to love, honor, and cherish one another.  So where does character assassination fit in to that goal.  Does focusing on flaws express love?  Is it honoring to point out in the middle of a heated discussion just how much your spouse's personality annoys you?  Do you feel cherished when your spouse does this to you?  I am convinced that God desires that we focus our on own character first and foremost. 

"Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but don't notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself don't see the log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck in your brother's eye.
Luke 6:41-42 (HCSB)

In my next post I will talk more about focusing on your own personal character in relationships (especially in the marriage relationship). 

But I have got needs

Focusing on personal unmet needs is the surest way to breed discontent in your marriage.  If you spend much time there you will discover that your discontent will either lead you to hold bitterness toward your spouse or look to get those needs met somewhere else. 

Often we confuse needs with desires.  We desire emotional closeness with our spouse, but we need to be the husband or wife that God has called us to be.  By focusing on our role in meeting our spouse's needs then we can overcome discontent, bitterness, unfaithful wandering, and other evil desires.  In addition to this we increase the likelihood that our spouse is going to consider our needs as well.  Finally focusing on your spouse's needs is a good foothold to bringing peace to your marriage.  After all it is difficult to be upset with someone who consistently understands and meets your needs. 

I am convinced that God desires that we meet the needs of other's ahead of demanding that our own needs be met:

No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person.
1 Corinthians 10:24 (HCSB)

I will post more on meeting needs of your spouse in my next post as well. 

God Bless You During this wonderful season!

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Listening, Validation, and Edification


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Validation is a very difficult subject to understand.  Often time people believe that validation means giving people a complement that makes them feel good.  That is not validation.  Some people believe simply saying I understand is validation.  That can be, but often it is not.  Validation is what happens with the person you are most likely to go to when you have a problem you want to talk about.  That person validates you because you believe they are listening to you.  Validation then is the communication back to the person that has just said something that indicates you were listening. 

In marriage there are many things that we can do that are invalidating.  Day to day we can use invalidating words or phrases that make the other person feel they are not heard or that they are being told what they think or feel is wrong.  We all do it often without thinking about it.  However, when invalidating words are the norm in communication it will shut down any positive communication that might have occurred.  For example a teenager might come to her parents and tell about some slight that has happened to her at school.  And the parents might say, "I am sure that she did not mean it that way."  or "Don't be so thin skinned."  Those phrase communicate to this teenager that her feelings are not valid. 
There is a better way to respond. In "The Things We Say" document is a list of invalidating phrases courtesy of  Steve Hein (http://www.eqi.org/invalid.htm).  I found this list to be a fairly comprehensive list of invalidating statements that are commonly made by people (I have not researched Steve Hein so I do not endorse his site it is just a good list).  Then I took this list of invalidating statements and added my own validating statements in the left hand column.  My suggestion is that you look them over and see if any of them sound like you and work on replacing your invalidating statements with more validating ones.
The act of listening in itself is validating, but only when the other person believes that they have your undivided attention.  Distractions can lead to the other person feeling invalidated.  So turn off the radio or TV,  put down the magazine or book, get off the computer (my personal weakness), look the person in the eye and focus on listening.  That will communicate non-verbally validation of the person's thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. 
Just as understanding does not mean that you are agreeing with a person, validation does not suggest that you are agreeing with them either.  Validation merely conveys to that person that you have heard and understood them.
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me. For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice. Therefore accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God.
Romans 15:1-7 (HCSB)
In the Bible validation is very similar to edification.  Romans 15:1-7 describes the act of edification.  The act of edification is building up another person that they can be encouraged and press on to right living.  Edification is an act of love acting in the best interests of the other person above self-interest.  Edification creates hope, endurance, and encouragement.  For the Christian this is rooted in the scriptures which is God's main method of communicating with us.  One thing that happens with both validation and edification is a sense of acceptance.  Just as Christ accepted us while we were sick with sin, how much more should we accept and encourage others to better living.   
God uses validation:
God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What's wrong, Hagar? Don't be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy from the place where he is. "
Genesis 21:17 (HCSB)
Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings."
Exodus 3:7 (HCSB)
The Lord said to him: I have heard your prayer and petition you have made before Me. I have consecrated this temple you have built, to put My name there forever; My eyes and My heart will be there at all times.
1 Kings 9:3 (HCSB)
Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their hearts. You will listen carefully,
Psalms 10:17 (HCSB)
I call on You, God, because You will answer me; listen closely to me; hear what I say.
Psalms 17:6 (HCSB)
Jesus used validation:
Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, "I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith!"
Matthew 8:10 (HCSB)
..she said to herself, "If I can just touch His robe, I'll be made well!" But Jesus turned and saw her. "Have courage, daughter," He said. "your faith has made you well." And the woman was made well from that moment.
Matthew 9:21-22 (HCSB)
Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
Luke 22:31-32 (HCSB)
When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said to Him, "You know that I love You." "Feed My lambs," He told him.
John 21:15 (HCSB)
I want to close with this verse:
My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man's anger does not accomplish God's righteousness.
James 1:19-20 (HCSB)
May we Lord in our relationships especially in marriage always quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.  In Jesus Name AMEN

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Communication for Understanding (A Biblical Perspective)

Solomon And The Queen Of Sheba

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The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses. Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of the one who lacks sense. The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.
Proverbs 10:11-14 (HCSB)

The Bible has much to say about communication.  We are wise when we use communication in a godly manner.  However we become foolish when we do not. 

This verse here identifies four aspects of wise communication.  First it is a fountain of life.  We can speak words of life into the souls of others.  Our words literally have power to build up another person.  The second aspect is love.  More importantly a love that covers up offences.  Third is discernment.  To me this means that we think before we speak.  Thoughtfulness is essential to wise communication.  Fourth, storing up knowledge.  I believe that this means that we are actively listening receiving the knowledge of others.  Listening is vital to good communication. 

This is contrasted by poor (foolish) communication.  First is the foolishness of not being open with something that is upsetting you.  When you conceal violence or thoughts of discontent you are storing it up for some future conversation.  These thoughts will be revealed in due time and not usually in a constructive manner.  The second example of foolish communication is responding in hatred and strife.  Thinking before you talk is contrasted by a person that lacks sense.  If you speak foolishly you will receive punishment according to this verse.  The opposite of good listening is running of the mouth.  Then end of running the mouth is destruction.  It reminds me of a saying I heard once:

Better to remain silent and have people think you are a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

I know it is a cliche, but there is truth in it.

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is pure silver; the heart of the wicked is of little value. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.
Proverbs 10:18-21 (HCSB)

We see a similar theme that reinforces what is in the previous passage here.  Wise communication is controlled, righteous, pure, and feeds others.  Foolish communication conceals hatred, spreads slander, runs off with the mouth, is wicked, and lacks sense. 

A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples on a silver tray. A wise correction to a receptive ear is like a gold ring or an ornament of gold. To those who send him, a trustworthy messenger is like the coolness of snow on a harvest day; he refreshes the life of his masters. The man who boasts about a gift that does not exist is like clouds and wind without rain.
Proverbs 25:11-14 (HCSB)

This passage extends our understanding of wise communication.  Timing is everything.  You can say the right thing at the wrong time and the effect be the same as saying something foolish.  We need to be aware of the timing of our words.  Correction is effective when the other person is receptive.  It fuels conflict when they are not receptive.  Speaking to someone who is not receptive is foolish and a waste of time.  Try to understand why they are not receptive and care about their thoughts and feelings. 

People don't care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Wise communication is trustworthy and refreshing.  However foolish communication is like a cloud without rain.  Most of us have grown up with a disdain for rainy days.  However ask anyone that is in agriculture that having a cloud without rain during a dry spell is very disheartening.  In the same way having foolish communication in a marriage that is dry causes despair to set in. 

This passage made me laugh (Solomon had a good sense of humor I think), but it is deadly serious:

A person who is passing by and meddles in a quarrel that's not his is like one who grabs a dog by the ears. Like a madman who throws flaming darts and deadly arrows, so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!"
Proverbs 26:17-19 (HCSB)

That second part is more applicable to marriage.  I have noticed that people will act or speak aggressively and then dismiss his/her spouse's hurt feelings by saying, "I was only joking."  This is a form of invalidation.  Invalidation destroys healthy conversation. 

Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way.
James 3:10 (HCSB)

When we use communication to bring our spouse down we are destroying the effectiveness of wholesome communication.  When "praising and cursing come out of the same mouth" the Bible's edict is quite clear, "These things should not be this way!"

It seems I have some work to do!

I love you Loverly!  I am sorry I do not always do my best to communicate that to you!

God Bless You All

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Lights

My house:

016

The future If my wife and daughter do not get too embarrassed.

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Communicating for Understanding...

...Not to Just to Prove a Point

Via Wikimedia Commons There are many books about communication in marriage: Techniques, strategies, ways to help your spouse listen, ways to make discussion more productive, fair fighting rules, ways to validate, and so on.  At the heart of all these is one central theme, "Do you understand your spouse?"  Not have you figured him/her out, but do you truly understand why they think, feel, believe, act the way that they do.  Most of us do not take the time or effort to understand our spouses.  If we did you would eliminate the majority of conflict that exists in your relationship.  Mutual understanding is the gold medal of communication.  Understanding is often sacrificed for proving a point or being right. 

Often what we think, feel, believe, say, and do makes sense to us.  That is to say there is a valid underlying reason for the things we feel, believe, say, and do.  These reasons make a lot of sense to us personally.  One thing we do not like is things that cause us to feel uncomfortable.  Not understanding why we are the way that we are leads us to feel uncomfortable.  We will accept a bad reason over no reason at all.  That being said our reason is valid.  Now it can be that our valid reason is based on faulty information and/or experiences, but our acting in regard to this faulty information is valid. 

Earlier in the week one in my family thought they heard someone outside late at night.  For me it was a reaction of adrenaline.  I can't say that I was afraid persey, but more in the mode of defense.  I had a valid reason for feeling defensive (the belief that someone was in our back yard).  Then next morning I looked in the back yard and found that some stuff had blown over in the wind causing what sounding like a person outside.  My valid reaction was based on a faulty belief.  The faulty belief though does not make my feelings, thoughts, and actions any less valid.  They make sense to me. 

Often times in marriage conflict our point of view makes sense to us.  We feel valid in that position.  Then our spouse comes out of left field with another positions that sound ridicules (note the invalidating way I put that more on invalidation in a future post).  Then we think (or more appropriately react) base on the assumption that if my position makes sense to me, and I do not understand you position then obviously you are wrong.  When in reality the only thing we have done is to fail to understand.  Communication for understanding begins with the premise that, "Just because I don't understand you does not mean that you are wrong, It simply means I do not understand you!"

Two questions you should ask yourself when you are in conflict:  1) What do I feel and does it make sense?  2) Does the person I am having conflict with make sense?   If you answer no to the first question then it is time to cut off the conversation get alone and sort out your feelings and thoughts.  If you do not understand yourself then it is unlikely that others will as you try to communicate it.  Spreading internal confusion is likely to make the person you are talking to confused.  If you answer yes to the first question but no to the second, then it is time to stop listening to the internal voice saying "but they are wrong" and engaged in seeking understanding.  Until you understand adequately you are unlikely to be helpful and often we increase the conflict by our lack of understanding.  You might try something like, "What you just said was ... I am having trouble understanding.  Could you explain that to me?"  By the way it is no fair to use this language to portray yourself as seeking to understand, but in the end you goal is to point out that the person is confused or wrong.  That is demeaning.  You need to seek genuine understanding for this to work!

"But I don't agree with them!"

That is OK!  Understanding and agreement are two different things.  It seems that marriage is one of the few relationships in which we have an unhealthy expectation that the other person is going to agree with every thought, feeling belief, and action as we do.  The fact is that you are two different people with different backgrounds and personalities.  You will not agree all the time.  If you say you are agreeing all the time then one or both of you are lying.  If you are not lying then chances are you have a spouse that does not tell you everything, but chooses to acquiesce to your position on all matters.  This will ultimately damage your relationship. 

Understanding is the ability to see the other person's reason for the way that they are responding to you.  It is seeing this as being valid even when it may be based on faulty beliefs and/or experiences.  We can understand someone without agreeing with them.  When we express this understanding it keeps the communication channels open and leads to greater awareness and intimacy with the other person.  On the other hand refusing to understand (intentionally or unintentionally) will shut down communication and lead to increased feelings of isolation in the relationship. 

In this way understanding proceeds agreement.  When agreement proceeds understanding then it is forced upon the person and they have to accept it like a surrender at the end of a conflict.  When understanding proceeds agreement then there is a huge opportunity to come together and grow in the relationship.  One huge drawback of this approach is that it takes time and effort, which are often in short supply in strained relationships.  It also requires a high level of self-discipline and self-sacrifice.  However these are worth it in light of a better relationship. 

I hope you all have a wonderful day. 

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Friday, December 11, 2009

What's in it for me?

MINISTER TO GROOM:
Do you GROOM'S NAME take BRIDE'S NAME to be your wife - to live together after God's ordinance - in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart's deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?
GROOM:
I will.
MINISTER TO BRIDE:
Do you BRIDE'S NAME take GROOM'S NAME to be your husband - to live together after God's ordinance - in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon him your heart's deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live?
BRIDE:
I will.

Source : Traditional Wedding Vows

In spite of the altruistic (unselfish) nature of our marriage vows we tend to fall back into the sin (selfish) nature of asking "What is in it for me?"  When this becomes the focus then discontent and the other "d" word are not far behind. 

The success in marriage can be described in economic terms.  If you do not invest into a relationship it will eventually go bankrupt.  The selfish way is to take out more or only the same as you perceive has been invested by your spouse.  The successful way is to be diligent in always investing more regardless of what your spouse is putting in.  This is the realm of unconditional love. 

There is a concept in used marital therapy called social exchange theory.  A person will invest time effort energy into a relationship based on the perceived return.  The rewards and costs are considered and the decision to engage in the relationship is based on this evaluation.  This comparison also includes what a person believes is a realistic return on a healthy relationship as well as a perception of self-worthiness. 

Functionally social exchange states that a person will have high potential to invest into a relationship if it is perceived to have high reward, comparable to other healthy relationships, and/or the person does not believe they are worthy of better.  On the other hand a person will not invest into the relationship if the perceived cost is high, it compares unfavorably to other relationships, and/or the person believes they deserve better. 

There are two norms in this exchange Trust and Commitment.  Trust is the belief that the person will not use the relationship to exploit or take advantage of the other person.  Commitment is the willingness to work on the continuation of the relationship.  When these two are high then there is a stronger social exchange in the marital relationship.  When one or both of these are low then the social exchange is weakened. 

When the perceived benefit of the social exchange consistently outweighs the cost and/or the norms are violated then a person is much more likely to consider the alternatives of that relationship.  This can take many forms, but essentially a person looks to get their needs met in other relationships.  This is not always, but can include extramarital affairs.  At times the perceived benefit versus the cost of being divorced and single outweighs the perceived benefit versus the cost of being married.  When this happens then a person is likely to pursue divorce even though being alone is not desirable, it is better than what is going on at the moment. 

One of the criticisms of this approach is that it puts the relationship in purely economic terms.  It tends to ignore other aspects of the relationship.  That being said I have to say that the concept of social exchange is very useful in improving marriages even if it seems shallow (or selfish) in predicting marital commitment. 

If you do not invest time, energy, thought, trust, and commitment into a marriage then you are investing in the alternative by default.  The success in your marriage is directly related to the amount you invest in the marriage compared to the amount you invest in the alternative.  If a person starts down the road of investing time, energy, and thought into divorce they are by that very act making divorce a more likely outcome of his/her marriage. 

On the positive side if people want to restore and/or enhance their marriage relationship then the formula is quite simple.  Make the investment!  Commit to the social norms of trust and commitment.  If you have fallen down on these, restore trust and commitment and demonstrate trustworthiness and commitment to your spouse. 

There is a book recently that has been popular called "The Love Dare."  I like this book because it adds a spiritual dimension to the idea of investing in a relationship.  The idea of the book is that marriage is a covenant of unconditional love.  When we make the commitment to love in this way we express the value of our spouse from God's perspective.  It also changes our perceived value of the relationship from what is in it for me, to what can I do for you.  When we focus on what is in it for me we sow seeds of discontent.  When we focus on what can I do for you we sow seeds of love that if allowed to grow will blossom into a beautiful thing. 

Social exchange then becomes a tool for restoring and enhancing a relationship when you make a commitment to invest in the other person.  By making the investment God's way you unlock the potential and power for becoming the husband or wife the God desires you to be.  It will lead your spouse to have improved feelings of love, security, and commitment as you win his/her heart though unselfish unconditional acts of love, trust, and commitment. 

God bless you in your pursuit of investing in your marriage. 

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

...Respect

Respect Image by amee@work via Flickr

To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:33 (HCSB)

It is a sad thing when a wife begins down the road of contempt and dishonor toward her husband.  In some ways husbands are unworthy of respect when we act in hurtful ways.  However in the same way that I would tell a husband to love his wife even when she is acting in an unworthy manner I would also tell a wife to respect and honor her husband even when he is acting in an unworthy matter.  This will no doubt cause some to bristle at the thought.  However consider this, if I were to say to the husband "Shape up and maybe she will start treating you with more respect."  I would (in order to be consistent) say to the wife "Shape up and maybe he will start loving you." 

Love and Respect are two essential elements in a healthy marriage relationship.  If both or either are in short supply then the relationship will not be mutually satisfying or rewarding.  Generally speaking women struggle in the relationship to show respect.  Just as men generally struggle with showing love.  A husband may have no doubt that his wife loves him, but there may be times when he seriously doubts whether she likes him.  This is a dangerous place for a marriage.  Without honor in the marriage a husband will look to other places to get this need met.  For many men this is found in career at the expense of the family.  Worse yet some men will be drawn to a kind word or attention from another woman leading to false intimacy.  This is not to excuse unfaithfulness on the part of a man.  Unfaithfulness is a sin that the unfaithful bears the guilt for.  However why put your spouse at risk by neglecting the very thing he needs. 

Interestingly most men will stay in an unloving marriage if he believes that his spouse respects him.  The reverse is also true.  Women will stay in a disrespectful marriage (sometimes to extreme) if she believes that her husband loves her. 

So what is involved in honoring your husband?

Submission is an ugly word in our culture.  We do not like it one bit.  Yet submission is what is needed (commanded really) in the marriage relationship.  For the most part there should be mutual agreement in matters otherwise the marriage would be unhealthy in my estimation.  However in the areas of disagreement there needs to be a person that makes the decision (and bears the responsibility for the outcome).  This willingness to put cooperation ahead of personal opinions is vital to a husband feeling connected to his wife.  It is the way that God designed men and women to live together. 

In our modern culture men have been told that this part of them is wrong and evil.  It is a part of a misogynistic past that served to keep women oppressed for millennia.  In some respects this concept has been abused by male privilege to keep women from pursuing their dreams and potential.  If submission is used by men to keep their wives under his control then I would suggest that this is a subtle form of spiritual abuse (more on this in a future post).  On the other hand if submission is used by women to honor and build up their husbands it becomes a tool of blessing for their marriage. 

Men have a deep need for a since of accomplishment and esteem.  God designed women to meet this need in the same manner that God created men to meet a woman's need for compassion and understanding.  Sometimes it seems that this is childish to say that men need to be told "good job" to feel good about themselves, but unless you think that is a selfish attitude consider this:

His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master's joy!'
Matthew 25:21 (HCSB)

These words resonate in the soul of a man.  To hear someone say "Well done" touches a man's heart like no other statement in my mind.  Honoring your husband in this way will give him a boost that will result in a return back to you in ways that you cannot imagine. 

Men also like to fix things.  We tend to look at problems with a desire to resolve them more than understand them.  We will start a project without having a clear idea of the end, but with the knowledge that we can make adjustments along the way.  This is a source of great frustration for women who desire to have a deep understanding before taking the first or the next step.  Recognizing this difference in men and women if a wife calls upon her husband to fix something, follows successes with recognition, and responds to mistakes or failures with support (not criticism) it is very energizing to a man. 

Men also like activities that are side by side.  This is another way that men and women are different.  A man will enjoy and feel close with his wife if they are able to go to some activity together (sporting event, movie, etc); on the other hand a woman may enjoy the activity, but not feel close unless there is a face to face conversation at some point.  Men don't need to have a deep conversation to feel close to their wives. 

Communication is not men's strong point.  Conversation is actually terrifying to most men.   We are good at faking it when we our trying to find our future mate, but when the real intimate conversation starts (ie with the feelings of infatuation wear off and we have to share our deepest feelings) we are terrified of talking.  Some men are better at communicating about feelings and intimate subjects than others, but the reality is that we are always feeling inadequate in respect to your superior skill in the area of communication.  

Sex is another area that men often feel inadequate.  When we experience shame in this area it shuts us down emotionally.  It is a catch 22 for most men in that they cannot overcome this feeling of inadequacy without talking, but talking  serves to remind them of how inadequate they feel.  This can play itself out in many ways some healthy and some destructive.  We can have the greatest sexual intimacy if we believe that our wives desire us and respond positively to advances.   Also when problems come up we respond better if there is a response of support and encouragement over defensiveness, shame, or blame.   Men will avoid sex all together (which is saying something) if they believe it will lead to feeling inadequate. 

To sum it up then honoring your husband will be the spark that your marriage needs.  It will engage your man in a deep level and will motivate him to love you in greater and more intimate ways.  May God Bless You!

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Love...

Two left hands forming an outline of a heart s...Image via Wikipedia

To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself...
Ephesians 5:33 (HCSB)

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love. There's nothing you can do that can't be done. Nothing you can sing that can't be sung. Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game It's easy. There's nothing you can make that can't be made. No one you can save that can't be saved. Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time - It's easy. All you need is love, all you need is love, All you need is love, love, love is all you need. Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love. All you need is love, all you need is love, All you need is love, love, love is all you need.  -All You Need is Love (Lennon/McCartney)

It is interesting how much we learn from the Bible versus how much we learn from popular culture about life and marriage.  From the Beatle we learn "Love is all you need."  In a way the Beatles are both right and wrong.

You can have a marriage that has high levels of love, but if there is lacking respect is an emotional roller coaster.  The good times are real good and the bad times are horrible.  In it's extreme it becomes so distorted that women will stay in a marriage when their lives are in danger simply because she believes he loves her. 

You can have a marriage that has high levels of respect, but when love is lacking it is a cold relationship.  The couple is polite to one another, but there is a persistent nagging feeling that something is missing.  There is a connectedness that seem to lack.  You share your address, a nice verbal exchange about your day, maybe even your bed.  However you never share your soul. 

If you lack both well...   ...let the fireworks begin!

In God's word he commands the husband to love his wife unconditionally:

Husbands, love your wives and don't be bitter toward them.
Colossians 3:19 (HCSB) 
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her
Ephesians 5:25 (HCSB)

Loving without bitterness and Loving sacrificially.  I have yet to meet the man that does this naturally.  In fact I would suggest that one of the reasons that God commands men to do this is because it does not come naturally to us.  It is a Spiritual discipline.  This love is selfless, caring, compassionate, not rude or disrespectful, passionate, desiring of closeness, peaceable, and uplifting.  This love bears in mind the differences between husband and wife.  Appreciating her fine beauty.  Treating her with the greatest of care as she is more valuable than your most prized possession.  Only God Himself comes before her in this kind of love.  Feeling convicted (I know I am).

This kind of love means that "no matter what you do or say I will always love you."  It is powerful.  A husband that acts in this way will win the heart of his wife. 

It is interesting to me that some how we believe as husbands that we can when the hearts of our wives by being persuasive.  God's word says that we when our wives hearts by being loving.  Really it is a simple message. 

Our own selfishness is what makes this type of love so hard.  When self-centeredness rules the action there is no love!  Self-love maybe, but not sacrificial love. 


Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:7 (NKJV)

SC_Fine China-2 Via Flickr I heard an illustration once about the term weaker vessel.  In life women are like fine china and men are Tupperware.  You treat china as special and you handle it with care.  You use Tupperware for common purposes and if you throw it around it won't break.  It helped me make sense of this passage.  The passage goes on to say that we are "heirs together" hence equal in standing before God, but created uniquely male and female. 

With that being said we can love our wives understanding them.  Now I know a couple of you guys let out a chuckle just then.  Let me just say understanding our wives is a lifelong pursuit.  If it was easy or if it were possible in the first few years of marriage then we men would get bored and look for more excitement elsewhere.  God knows what He is doing when he brought you and your wife together. 

We also need to give her honor.  Honor is respect for her person.  You accept that she is different yet still in the image of God.  You value and appreciate her person.  You cherish the accomplishments that she makes.  You listen and grant (as appropriate) the desires of her heart. 

As husbands we are to love our wives.  When we are obedient to God in this way we are unlocking spiritual power to flow through our marriages.  So what are you waiting for?  "Love Your Wives!"

 

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Marriage Essentials

Marriage Image by jcoterhals via Flickr In my training and more importantly experience of counseling couples I have discovered that there are some basics that are needed in a fulfilling marriage.  These basics are expressing love and respect, communicating for understanding, investing in the relationship, focusing on personal character and the other's needs, and nurturing intimacy.  When couples are able to attend to these areas I believe that they can not just have a relationship that is "OK" but one that is fulfilling!

Love and Respect

I believe that you have to have both love and respect in a marriage relationship.  You can have much love, but if disrespect reigns then you are in for an bumpy ride.  It is a bit like and emotional rollercoaster.  You can have high levels of respect, but if you have little love then there is no warmth, compassion, or passion.  Two people share the same address, but not much more.  On the positive side if you have love and respect then you build one another up and have care and compassion for each other. 

There is a book titled Love and Respect By Dr Emerson E. Eggerichs.  In his book he describes the concept of love and respect.  Generally men struggle in showing love that meets their wife's needs.  Generally women struggle in show respect that their husband needs.  This is the central theme of the book.  I encourage you to read it it is very useful material (though it seems to be more oriented toward men).  One draw back of the book is that it implies from the subtitle "The Love She Most Desires / The Respect He Desperately Needs" that men don't need love and women don't need respect.  Dr Eggerich would disagree with this statement, but would emphasize that men experience respect in the same way women experience love it is their "heart language." 

I believe that men and women both need love and respect, but they tend to value them differently.  Love is expressed in tenderness, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, making peace, uplifting the other.  Respect is expressed in kindness/friendliness, enjoying activities together, appreciating contributions and insight, and celebrating accomplishments.  More on this in a future post.

Communicating for Understanding

With the couples that I see in my office the majority of conflict is rooted in misunderstanding or miscommunication.  I would venture to say that at least 70% and as high as 90% of conflict can be traced back to this source.  Think of it.  If you could eliminate 70-90% of your conflicts what would your marriage be like?  The key to avoiding this is a focus on communication.  How we communicate with each other is vital to whether understanding occurs.  This is a process that requires attending, hearing, receiving, and communicating understanding.  One important point understanding is not the same a agreeing with.  You can understand someone without agreeing with them.  We do it all the time in other relationships.  However, in marriage we have an unhealthy expectation that the other person will always agree with us in thought, feelings, and beliefs in all circumstances.  That is not possible you are two different people with two different histories.  What is needed is not agreement in all things, but understanding (in my opinion). 

Investing in the Relationship

Variables proporcionals Via Wikimedia Commons One way to look at the relationship is to think about it as a bank account.  If you never make deposits and only make withdrawals then eventually that account is going to run out of money.  In marriage it is easy to take your spouse for granted, doing so will slowly teardown a healthy relationship.  Investing takes time, effort, energy, focus, and attention.  Without the investment then there is a emotional drift that can lead to all sorts of problems.  The biggest is infidelity.  Another thing related to investment is that your likelihood of having a successful marriage is directly proportional to the energy that you put into it when compared with the alternative.  Divorce is one alternative.  Stated in reverse you make divorce a more likely outcome when you invest time, effort, energy, focus, and attention to considering divorce.  Or you make an affair more likely when you invest time, effort, energy, focus, and attention into a relationship that is not your spouse. 

Focusing on Personal Character and Other's needs

image One of the quickest way to tell if a relationship is in trouble is to listen to a person describe his/her marriage relationship.  If the person describes his/her spouse's character negatively or goes on about how there are needs that are not being met in the relationship then there is either already trouble or trouble not far ahead.  Let's face it none of us are perfect.  When our spouse's imperfections become our focus telling them about it is not going to make them feel warm a fuzzy about you.  In addition focusing on unmet needs all the time will lead to extreme discontent which is poisonous to a marriage relationship. 

Instead the focus ought to be on your personal character as a husband/wife and your spouse's needs.  Doing this allows you to focus first on something that you have direct control over.  It helps you to put energy into something that you can change.  What is more it is difficult to stay persistently mad at someone who is meeting your needs. 

Nurturing Intimacy

Intimacy is the glue that holds two people together in a relationship.  I have identified four types of intimacy that exist in marriage.  I believe that you need all of them though they may vary in importance across life's circumstances. 

Emotional intimacy is the ability to share life's hopes, dreams, fears, feelings, thoughts, and connection with your spouse.  It is being able to lay bare what is on your mind without shame or fear of retaliation.  Is a peace that comes when all is well in the relationship.

Spiritual intimacy is the oneness that comes from the connection to one's spouse.  It much deeper than emotional intimacy and draws a couple together in spite of the hardships and difficulties of life.  Deep Spiritual intimacy takes three, you, your spouse, and God.  As you draw nearer to God then the two of you draw near together in a shared faith. 

Physical intimacy is non-sexual physical touch and closeness.  I know some guys that just read that are scratching their heads thinking, "I got excited when I saw the word intimacy, but BJ has yet to talk about sex and now he presents non-sexual touch.  What is that?"  Physical touch is probably more valuable to women than it is to men.  It is a gentle caress, hugs, kissing, backrubs, holding hands, arm around the shoulder.  For men physical intimacy usually involves engaging in some sort of activity together.  For example a man will feel physically close with his wife going to a sporting event sitting next to his wife holding her hand.  His wife on the other hand will feel physically close when the two of them sit together and he gently brushes her hair with his fingers.

Sexual intimacy is not sex!  You can have sex and never experience sexual intimacy.  You can also (believe it or not) have sexual intimacy and not actually engage in the act of sex (though it is much more work to do it that way).  For sexual intimacy to occur in a relationship then it must become your focus to please your spouse.  Your energy should focus on what makes the other happy and not what makes you personally happy.  Your sexual energy needs to be directed toward your spouse, when it is not then you are guilty of neglect.  Sexual intimacy is never about control, demeaning, guilt, or shame.  If any of these exist in your sexual relationship then you should talk with your spouse about them. 

 

Over the next few posts I will go into each of these areas (expressing love and respect, communicating for understanding, investing in the relationship, focusing on personal character and the other's needs, and nurturing intimacy) in more depth.  If you have any questions about any of these areas please feel free to post a question in the comment area and I will do my best to answer them.  One more thing, I must admit that even though I have seen these five areas in my counseling practice, my posting here in no way implies that I have arrived at fulfilling these in my own marriage.  I still have much personal work and growth to do.  In fact I have come to the conclusion that when you stop working at growing in your marriage you start drifting.  I pray that God would work to preserve and bring wholeness in your marriage relationship. 

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