Archives For Marriage

 

photo credit: S+J via photopin (license)

photo credit: S+J via photopin (license)

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Ephesians 4:29-5:2

When we think about the sins that destroy a marriage, our minds often turn to adultery or abuse. More often though, marriages decay from the inside rather than imploding in a moment. Years of thoughtlessness, unkindness, and unforgiveness chip away at the joy and trust between a man and his wife.

Many times we don’t treat our spouses with the basic courtesy that we would show to someone we had just met. The civility and kindness that we show in the neighborhood or with our friends disappears the moment we step inside our homes. Many times we treat our spouses with a contempt we would not dare think of demonstrating outside of our homes.

Most couples don’t need a marriage conference, a weekend getaway, or a miracle to rekindle the joy in their marriage. Instead they need to apply one of the most simple commands Jesus ever gave, “love your neighbor as yourself.” What if we started treating our spouses as our closest neighbor and applied the New Testament’s “one another passages to our marriages?

In premarital counseling with couples I spend one session on treating each other with basic courtesy and walk through Ephesians 4:29-5:2. In this passage we see five ways spouses can strengthen their marriages by treating each other as their closest neighbor.

Build Up Your Spouse

When I was growing up Paul’s command to let no corrupting talk come from our mouths was the goto verse for telling Christians not to curse. While this may be a third of fourth level application of this passage, forms of talks exist that do much more damage than dirty words. When spouses belittle, insult, and browbeat each other, they corrupt and corrode the bonds and trust between them. Insults, putdowns, and constant badgering have no place in any relationship, but especially in marriage.

Instead of tearing down, our words must build up and give grace to the person who hears it. This does not mean we only speak words of affirmation like Stuart Smalley. This command beckons us to seek to bring grace and spur our spouses on to spiritual growth even when we must correct them for something they have done wrong. You can point out poor or behavior without being insulting, and it has everything to do with the intent of your words. Words that build up correct with the aim of helping instead of simply venting over hurt feelings.

Be Calm With Your Spouse

Few things will wreck your marriage like a hot temper. Solomon addresses this with his son often in Proverbs because he knows the damage that can be left in the wake of angry outbursts. Paul echoes Solomon’s concerns when he tells the Ephesian believers to put anger, wrath, and malice away from them. Nothing constructive will happen in a discussion between spouses when one is furious.
The biggest issue with anger is that it blinds us to what we are saying at the time. When we lose our tempers, we speak harshly and thoughtlessly, causing horrific damage to the people around us. While this is happening we are completely blind to it, because all we can think about is whatever it is that set us off at the moment. This is why the Bible calls us to be slow to anger and to have a cool temper. We must learn self-control so we don’t destroy ourselves and our marriages.

Show Kindness to Your Spouse

We teach our small children to be kind to others, and then we somehow forget to follow this command ourselves. How often are our relationships marked by a lack of simple civility and thoughtfulness? Our words can be gruff and uncaring. The going out of our way to do good things for each other that characterized our dating relationships seem to fly out the window.

I’m convinced that kindness and thoughtfulness would transform our marriages. Think of the tangible difference it would make in your marital relationship to speak kindly to each other and to look for opportunities to help each other. What would your marriage look like if you both simply sought to put each other before yourself? Taking away harshness and replacing it with kindness would thoroughly change the atmosphere and feel of your marriage. As D.A. Carson said at a conference a few years ago, “The great aphrodisiac in marriage is kindness.”

Forgive Your Spouse

At it’s best, marriage is the union of two redeemed sinners. While Christian spouses will both be experiencing conformity to the image of Christ, there will still be remaining sin in each of their lives and they will sin against each other. What one spouse does when the other sins against them will be what defines the tenor of your marriage going forward. If you harbor grievances and anger toward your spouse for what they have done to you, do not be surprised when it begins to show in the way you interact with each other.

When one spouse hurts the other, the offender must apologize and ask for forgiveness. This is the simple act of taking responsibility for your sin and the damage it caused. Make no excuses, but instead offer an unconditional apology and ask your spouse to forgive you. Then, the offended spouse has a serious choice to make. To forgive is not to simply say, “It’s okay.” What happened was not “okay” and you don’t need to gloss over it with the wave of a hand. You need to forgive. This means you no longer hold this sin against them and will not bring it up again. When you forgive another person, you are saying you will not dwell on it, will not bring it back up to your spouse, and will not talk about it with other people. (This formulation is not original with me, and though I’m not sure of the exact page on which I read it, I believe it comes from Jay Adams’ A Theology of Christian Counseling.) To forgive is to let go of your need for mental or actual revenge and trust that this sin has been fully dealt with in the death of Jesus.

Walk in Love Toward One Another

Finally Paul teaches us to walk in love towards each other. The call here is simple, yet it demands a death to self that does not come easily for us. To walk in love is for a person to put his spouse before himself and to look out for her before he looks out for himself. It is a demand to sacrifice and to do good to him even if it costs her. Love is not a mere feeling, but a settled commitment to the good of your spouse from a heart that cares deeply for him or her.

We walk in love because Christ loved us, and he gave himself up for us. If you think about everything we have walked through, especially kindness, love,and forgiveness, it models the love that God has shown towards us in the Gospel. For the Christian spouse, you must simply look at how God has treated you in the Gospel and model that behavior towards your spouse. You don’t need to drum up forgiveness or love from within yourself; you already know what it means to be loved and forgiven in the deepest way possible. When we apply the Gospel and its implications to our marriages, the possibilities for growth are endless; and what it produces will be beautiful.

Related Posts:
The Marks of a Healthy Marriage

Why the Bible Does Not Have a Lot of ‘Marriage Advice’

For Further Reading:
Sacred Marriage by Gary Chapman

What Did You Expect? by Paul Tripp

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller

photo credit: Rings via photopin (license)

photo credit: Rings via photopin (license)

This week Beth and I celebrated our thirteenth anniversary.  One of the fun things about your anniversary is to look back, not only on your wedding day, but  also on the grace God has shown you throughout your entire marriage. In particular you can look over the entirety of your marriage and see how the Lord has been at work in you.

I thought I knew a lot about marriage when we stood before our family and friends thirteen years ago because I had memorized Ephesians 5 and read some books, but the following months proved I didn’t know much at all. God is good though, and in his faithfulness he has helped us both to grow, mature, and experience a portion of the joy the Lord intended marriage to be when he ordained it in the garden.

The Lord has been teaching me through our marriage, through his word, through talking with other Christians, and by his Spirit over the last thirteen years. Here are four marks that seem to be present in healthy and growing marriages.

Permanence

Anyone can get excited to work on their marriage for a few minutes, but growing marriages require daily work. In his book, What Did Your Expect?, Paul Tripp likens marriage to a garden. You cannot plant a garden, ignore it, and expect to see fruit. Instead, you must do the hard work of pulling weeds and cultivating crops. In the same way, marriages require consistent effort over the long haul. We work on our marriages by cultivating kindness, forgiveness, time together, listening, and a host of other virtues. We must also weed out anger, bitterness, selfishness, rudeness, wandering eyes, and any other sin that effects your marriages.

If you inspect the garden every day to look for growth, you probably don’t see perceptible movement, but over the course of weeks you begin to see fruit. In the same way, we only see growth in our marriage over the course of time and this growth only takes place when spouses are committed to each other for the rest of their lives. Marriages grow because spouses are growing, and many people will not take the time to make the difficult changes that need to be made when they are not committed for the rest of their lives. Marriage requires serious self-reflection, repentance, compassion, forgiveness, and self-forgetfulness. These virtues don’t form in our hearts overnight and it does not happen without painful changes. When you are in your marriage for the rest of your life, you will commit to making the changes you need to make because you value the glory of God and your spouse’s joy.

Teamwork

When I was in high school we played pickup basketball all spring and summer. Many times two guys from the same team would fight each other for a rebound and eventually someone would shout, “same team.” These two guys struggled against each other when they should be working together and had to be reminded they they were on the same side.

We need this same reminder in marriage sometimes. Spouses take out their bad days on each other, snap at each other when the children have been misbehaving, or work against each other instead of working together. In this situation the only answer is for spouses to stop and remember that they are in this together.  We have to remember we have the same ultimate goals for lasting joy and the glory of God followed by a commitment to stop acting as if our spouse is a problem and remember they are our partner.  Many of the obstacles married couples face will be reduced in size when we face them as one. This doesn’t mean they go away, but we go into difficulties with a completely different mindset when we know we are together. Going in to face problems at work, sickness, overwhelming bills, and disobedient children as a united couple give couples support and comfort they don’t have when they are divided.

Thoughtfulness

So often when we have problems in our marriages, we don’t need a seminar to help us because our greatest struggles come from treating each other in an ungodly way. We speak rashly, hold grudges, forget how to show patience and empathy, and speak to each other in ways we would never tolerate if the shoe was on the other foot. Couples work against each other, undermine each other, and forget to show each other even the most basic courtesy.

Many times, the answer is to apply “love your neighbor as yourself” and the “one another” passages to our marriages. After all, isn’t our spouse our closest neighbor? How much would our marriages change if 23 obeyed “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so also should you?” What would kind of practical difference would it make if you showed basic kindness and only treated your spouse the way you want to be treated? We overcomplicate marriage, and think we need some kind of specialized training when we really just need to show love, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. This one change makes overwhelming differences.

Friendship

About ten years ago everyone started talking about the importance of date night for marital health. Especially when couples have small children, getting away for a few hours is an important ingredient in your marriage. We can have fun and enjoy our time together, especially since we don’t have other people to feed instead of ourselves. However, it a couple’s only quality time together is a date night we are missing some of the best opportunities for our marriage to grow. Nothing helps our marriage grow like daily time together. Working on projects together, cooking and cleaning the kitchen together, and hanging out together after the kids go to bed are some of the best times we can have together. This kind of time together over time builds friendship, helps us work out problems together, and gives moments of joy in the midst of tough days.

The time we need together everyday must be intentionally carved out. No one ever magically “finds time” for important things because if something is truly important we must make time for it. This means aligning schedules and cutting out extra activities if necessary. It involves getting kids in bed or in their rooms at a decent hour or getting up before the kids wake up to have breakfast together. Whatever form it may take, repeated quality time builds a truly loving and lasting friendship.

We don’t talk enough about the role of friendship in marriage. We think of friends as the people who live outside of our own homes, but if we are in union together shouldn’t our spouses be our closest friends? Shouldn’t this be the person I want to spend time with the most and be more willing to confide in than anyone else? If this is not the case, if we want to run from our spouses instead of spend time with them, it serves as a reminder for us to walk in repentance and forgiveness towards them. If years of anger and hostility have driven a barrier between spouses, the answer is to repent, forgive, and reconcile with them so the barrier is torn down and the friendship restored.

These are not all of the marks of healthy marriage, which is why there will be a part 2 soon. What are some of the marks you have seen in healthy marriages?

Related Posts:
Husbands, Be a Patient Listener

Husbands, Be Quick to Forgive

For Further Reading:
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller

The Mingling of Souls by Matt and Lauren Chandler

Persevere in Parenting

Photo by Rachel Morris Photography

When people ask me how old my kids are it’s fun to see the looks on their faces when I keep listing children after they think I should be done. We currently have four kids. All are under ten and two are toddlers. We’ve learned a lot about parenting through the years and keep encountering new areas where we need to grow. Below I want to share a few things I think are important for parenting your kids during their younger years. This list is not close to be exhaustive, so please feel free to add to it in the comments. (Also, there were a few things I wanted to say that Steve McCoy said much better than I could.)

Enjoy This Time

I know this is a pretty cliched thing to say, but you really do need to have fun during the times when your children are small. They do funny things, say funny things, and learn new things all the time. Play games, read books, and snuggle; you’ll treasure these for a lifetime. Every stage has joys and difficulties, but if feels like the joys of your children’s younger years are especially sweet. Enjoy them.

Prioritize Your Marriage

If you are married with children you must make your marriage a priority. You live in covenant together and have been called to love and cherish each other. If you neglect each other for the children you will start to resent each other and you will not be able to work as if you are on the same team. Get the kids in bed so you can spend time together each day and find babysitters so you can get an occasional date night you. You will experience greater joy, you will work together better as a couple and your children will experience a more joyful home.

Read the Bible to Them

Start reading the Bible with your kids when they are young. You will need to make time for this because everything in your life will conspire against it. Don’t think you will magically find the time; you must intentionally carve it out. When they are little start out with the Big Picture Story Bible or the Jesus Storybook Bible. These will take them through all of the major events in Scripture while focusing on how they point to Jesus and what he did for us. You will also find that your children will be able to start memorizing Scripture earlier than you think.

Read Other Good Books Too

Reading is a great way to spend time with your children while developing their imagination and vocabulary. Our favorite time to read with the kids is right before bed. It establishes a routine that has them sitting still and calming down. You will find they love the routine and it becomes a good indicator to them that it’s time for bed. As they get older, start reading through longer series like The Chronicles of Narnia. I doubt I’ll ever forget the reaction of my oldest daughters when they realized Aslan was alive and Mr. Tumnus was no longer a statue.

Make Family Dinner a Priority

If you asked me to close my eyes and name one item from my childhood it would not be any of my toys or gaming systems; it would be my family’s dinner table. Around that table day in and day out we talked about life, laughed, and told stories. I treasure those memories and want to create them with our kids as well. Family dinner establishes a routine, provides great time together, and ensures you will all eat healthier. When get around the table we tell funny stories, talk about what’s going on their lives, and have great conversations about all kinds of topics. In addition, cleaning up from meals teaches your kids responsibility and the importance of pitching in to help. It also provides a good time to stop and have family devotion after.

Discipline Consistently

The hardest thing parents do is to be consistent in loving discipline. By discipline I don’t just mean our children facing consequences for disobedience, but in patiently teaching them about life. Parents will be tempted to waffle back and forth between being too permissive or too strict. Sometimes we are slack and lazy in our parenting and other times we correct our children too quickly. Instead we must learn to teach and correct our children with wisdom, patience and love. This means laying down clear expectations for what they are to do, and when they are younger this means they must learn to obey the first time you tell them to do something. Also, don’t correct them harshly for making mistakes. Teach them through mistakes. Correct and discipline when they disobey.

Give Yourself Some Grace

People are great in peddling out guilt for your parenting choices and you will easily take this guilt upon yourself. Many people, including people who have never walked where you are walking will impose superficial standards by which you should evaluate yourself. Jesus frees you from unrealistic guilt and his burden is light. Love your children, teach them, play with them, and discipline them. If you need to let them watch TV so you can get a nap or get McDonalds for their dinner because you are too tired to cook everything will be okay. There’s grace for your big failures too because of Jesus’ death. Trust in his grace; you are going to need it more than you ever imagined.

Don’t Fall into the Competition Trap

If you love your children, teach them, and discipline them faithfully you are doing the most important things you can do for them. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you have to do everything for your kids the super parents are doing for theirs. You also need to brutally murder your notions that your three-year old is “falling behind” when he not doing everything other kids his age can do. Your kids don’t have to pick a specialty when they are six. You will suffocate them if you think like this.

Losing Your Temper is Sinful and Counterproductive

Parenting can be tiring and frustrating. Yes your kids are cute, but they wake up in the middle of the night. They disobey, make messes, and throw fits. You will be tempted to lose your cool. Instead, write “the anger of man will not achieve the righteousness of God” over all of your parenting. Losing your temper is a sin against the Lord and will transfer your child’s attention from their wrong behavior to your anger. It accomplishes nothing but scaring them and an unacceptable way of handling their stress and frustration. If you do lose your temper, repent to the Lord then repent your children and ask for their forgiveness. Don’t blame them for your sin. This will model the Gospel for them and serve as a great check the next time you think you might be about to lose it.

For Further Reading:
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

meaning-marriage

This Summer Beth and I will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary. Our marriage has been a source of great joy to me and has been the single greatest ingredient in my growth as a man and a Christian. In marriage I have seen my character grow and seen the ugliest aspects of my character come to the fore so I can repent of it.

I find myself consistently looking to the wisdom of couples who have been married longer so I can continue to grow as a husband. Since it’s release a few years ago, have turned to Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage multiple times. Their work never ceases to challenge me, and I wanted to share my favorite quotes below.

“When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.”

“A marriage relationship unavoidably entails self-denial, even in the most mundane day-to-day living. It is impossible to have a smooth-running relationship with even one person, let alone two, always feeling that his or her desires should have preeminence because of all he or she has been through in life.”

“If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility.”

“Marriage has the power to set the course of your life as a whole. If your marriage is strong, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are filled with trouble and weakness, it won’t matter. You will be able to move out into the world in strength.”

“It is the illusion that if we find our one true soul mate, everything wrong with us will be healed; but that makes the lover into God, and no human being can live up to that.”

“Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.”

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

“Only if you have learned to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit will you have the power to face the challenges of marriage.”

“Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other. And that is the hardest yet single most important function of being a husband or a wife in marriage.”

“But Smedes argues eloquently that promising is the means to freedom. In promising, you limit options now, in order to have wonderful, fuller options later. You curb your freedom now, so that you can be free to be there in the future for people who trust you.”

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.”

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.”

“Our culture says that feelings of love are the basis for actions of love. And of course that can be true. But it is truer to say that actions of love can lead consistently to feelings of love.”

“The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice. Jesus gave himself up; he died to himself to save us and make us his. Now we give ourselves up, we die to ourselves, first when we repent and believe the gospel, and later as we submit to his will day by day. Subordinating ourselves to him, however, is radically safe, because he has already shown that he was willing to go to hell and back for us. This banishes fears that loving surrender means loss of oneself.”

“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.”

“The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom—and speak of them—and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it.”

“Over the years you will go through seasons in which you have to learn to love a person who you didn’t marry, who is something of a stranger. You will have to make changes that you don’t want to make, and so will your spouse. The journey may eventually take you into a strong, tender, joyful marriage. But it is not because you married the perfectly compatible person. That person doesn’t exist.”

“The deep happiness that marriage can bring, then, lies on the far side of sacrificial service in the power of the Spirit. That is, you only discover your own happiness after each of you has put the happiness of your spouse ahead of your own, in a sustained way, in response to what Jesus has done for you. Some will ask, “If I put the happiness of my spouse ahead of my own needs—then what do I get out of it?” The answer is—happiness. That is what you get, but a happiness through serving others instead of using them, a happiness that won’t be bad for you. It is the joy that comes from giving joy, from loving another person in a costly way.”

Every year we hear about “the war on Christmas.” Journalists tell stories of towns taking down their nativity scenes and schools refusing to use the word “Christmas” in their holiday plays. These actions taken by well-meaning employees hoping to avoid offending people and stay out of court do not constitute the real war on Christmas. The greatest war we face each Christmas is the consistent battle to shun commercialism and embrace this remembrance of Jesus’ birth.

The Bible never says, “thou shalt celebrate Christmas,” but in God’s providence the appearance of this holiday on the calendar provides us with a great opportunity as families to connect, learn, worship, and delight. Here are some ways you can make the most out of Christmas Day.

Eat

The family dinner table provides great opportunities to connect as a family. Since the Christmas season is a time to rejoice, feasting around the table is a great way to do that. Have everyone share a great Christmas memory or tell stories, but make this a great time of connecting. Also invite over any families in your church or neighbors who may not have families with whom they can celebrate Christmas. This is a great way to be a blessing to a friend.

Read

We should not let Christmas Day pass by without reading one of the narratives of Jesus’ birth in either Matthew or Luke. One great way to do this is to read it right before opening presents together. This helps to remind your family that we give gifts to each other because God gave us the greatest gift imaginable in his Son.

Sing

Singing together as a family can be uncomfortable if you have never done it before, but overcoming this awkwardness is worth it. The great Christmas carols contain deep truths about the Gospel message in memorable tunes. Our families favorite is “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” which exults in Jesus’ identity and mission.

Pray

Take a few minutes to pray together on Christmas Day. It is entirely appropriate for our prayers to center on thanksgiving to God for his gifts. We may also have burdens we want to unload on the Lord together as a family, but we should especially focus on thanking him together for the gift of Jesus and the life he brings.

Unplug

The technology which keeps us connected to the outside world often keeps us disconnected from the people around us. You have very little reason to be constantly on your phone Christmas Day. Post the family picture on Facebook and then unplug. Take the time to make memories with the people around you.

Enjoy

Christmas brings tidings of comfort and joy, so enjoy it. Rejoice over who God is for you in Jesus and relish a day you don’t have to go to work. If your day is loud and filled with family, be thankful God has blessed you with so many people you can love. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly, so this encourages us to have abundant joy on the day we celebrate his advent.

How else can we enjoy our celebration of Christmas?

Related Posts:
Why Christmas Needs to Stop Encroaching on Thanksgiving

For Further Reading:
The Expected One by Scott James
A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester

Not Walking with Jesus

Men face many enemies in the quest to raise our children and greatest enemy stares back at us in the mirror every morning. Our own personal sin and selfishness wars against us. We wrestle with the temptation to either pamper our children our neglect them. We waver back and forth between permissiveness and control. Our children ask for more of our time but we struggle to give it to them because our face is buried in our phones.

A man must continue to grow as he grows older, and this only happens by growing as a Christian. We possess no power to change ourselves over the long haul because the sin in us is too deep. We need the forgiveness and restoration which comes through faith in Jesus as well as the transformation he works in those who belong to him. We call this process sanctification and it happens as a man hears from Jesus through his word, depends on him through prayer, and acts on what he learns through obedience. When he fails, he repents and gets up again by the Spirit’s power.

This process of repentance and growth produces lasting change in a man. The man who was irritable grows more gracious, the anxious man becomes more peaceful, and the timid man finds himself more courageous. Therefore, fathers must make the time to read the Bible to hear from God, spend time with him in prayer, and find brothers who know him and can help him as he walks through fatherhood.

Not Loving Your Wife

Not all fathers are married, but many are. If you are married, your relationship with your wife is second only to your walk with Jesus. You must take heed to Paul’s command to, “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” You do not push the pause button on this injunction because children have been born, but instead you double down on it. For the husband, this means you daily look for opportunities to serve your wife and to prioritize making time to spend with her. Rather than allowing the kids to stay up until all hours of the night, you work with your wife to get them into bed so you can spend time together. Instead of walking in the house and plopping in a chair to watch sports, the wise husband comes home ready to engage his wife and help her in any way he can.

For several years the prevailing wisdom was that the health of a marriage depended on a consistent date night. While I still believe making time to do things together without the kids is important, I’ve come to see the daily time as having greater importance than date night. The consistent time together day after day creates a strong bond than many hours together spread out weeks apart.

Before the birth of our first child someone told me, “the best gift you can give your daughter is to love her mother.” Ten years and four children later this statement proved itself to be true. A strong relationship with your wife builds a safe environment in which your children can thrive.

Not Making Time for Your Kids

Everything about our culture makes war on the man who wants to spend time with his children. Long commutes, smart phones, homework, and the outrageous demands of youth sports leagues set up for men to have minimal interaction with his children. Therefore a father must take control of his family’s schedule in order to prioritize quality time with his children.

Many men believe they will “find” the time to spend with their kids only to find it does not happen. Those who want to find time must instead begin to make time for connecting. This begins with Dad being all the way home when he is home. Dr. D.A. Carson wisely counsels us, “Don’t fritter. When you work, work hard; when you are not working, quit entirely.” Following this advice will create ample time to spend with our children and reduce much of the frustration our children experience with us. When Dad gets home but still needs to answer emails, our kids don’t understand why we need to keep working when we get home. They become irritated with us because we are working and we get angry with them because they won’t leave us alone. The only answer is to work until you can finish and then come home and be completely at home. Turn off the phone or put it in another room. Work when you’re at work and be home when you’re at home.

Men should also create opportunities for connecting with their children in the ordinary rhythms of life. These opportunities come around the dinner table, in the living room, and in the front yard. Eat dinner together as a family with mobile devices in another room so you can talk and laugh. When you have yard work to do, involve your kids and let them help. It will take longer and won’t be done as well, but that doesn’t really matter. The wise Dad would rather have shrubs trimmed too closely with his children than to have a perfectly manicured yard while the kids sit inside.

Every father must learn the key word, “intentionality.” Growing as a Christian, connecting with your wife, and enjoying children cannot happen by accident. The pace of life in our culture refuses to allow it. Men, I challenge you this week to spend time in prayer with an open notebook. How will you begin to prioritize time for growth, time for your bride, and time for your children?

Related Posts:
Parents Keep a Cool Head
What I Learned about Life from My Father

For Further Reading
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

Nancy Jo Sales talked to singles in Manhattan, Indiana, and Delaware about their experiences with dating and hookups for her Vanity Fair article, “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.” In the article, which I must warn you contains a fair amount of graphic language, she shares how the rise of dating apps like Tinder have pushed us past traditional dating rituals and into the era of fast, meaningless hookups. Hookup culture is nothing new, but she argues the rapid acceleration of technology has in turn rapidly ushered in what one interviewee called, “the dating apocalypse.”

Sales’ article reveals troubling trends arising from this new culture and in doing so inadvertently shows the beauty of the Gospel, marriage, and the Christian sexual ethic.

Selfishness v.s. Selflessness

One of the article’s most revealing moments occurs in a conversation with two men she calls Nick and Brian. (Sales says she changed some names for the article.) Neither Nick nor his friend John have had girlfriends in the last several years. In fact Nick, who lives with his mother, bragged that he recently slept with three women in four nights and only spent $80 on the three girls combined and John boasted of his ability to get a woman’s number on Tinder only from sending her emojis. Brian broke rank with his friends and had a girlfriend for a while before she broke up with him before she found out he was cheating.

None of the three guys are remotely interesting in being in a relationship anymore. Nick would rather hookup than be in a relationship because “I don’t want to deal with all that- stuff,” and Brian echoed the sentiment saying, “You can’t be selfish in a relationship. It feels good just to do what I want.” We should at least give these men the credit for being honest. They want the benefits of a relationship, sex, without the woman asking them for anything in return. The selfishness demonstrated by many young men in our culture that one woman interviewed in the article talked about how surprised she was when one guy drove her home the next morning after they hooked up.

Contrast this unrestrained selfishness with the Christian vision of marriage and relationships. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christian marriage pulls people away from their innate selfishness, which few cultures regarded as a virtue before ours began to exalt it as something to be admired. In his words to married Christians, Paul points to the example of the greatest man who ever lived. Paul commands husbands to love their wives in the same way Christ loved his church. How did Jesus love the church? In his life he came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In his death on the cross, Jesus sacrificed himself for his people to bring them back to God. He laid down his life for the good of those he came to save. Eschewing relationships and using people for selfish ends leaves us as people with poorly developed character. Marriage forces a person to look in the mirror and recognize how deeply rooted our selfishness really is. Rather than coddling our selfishness, the example of Christ calls us to crucify our selfishness and grow in sacrificial love for the sake of another. Then, in the ultimate coup in our selfish culture, we find that putting our selfishness to death and looking out for others is the path to genuine joy.

For my entire life I have heard people say that a male who looks at pornography and sleeps with every willing woman is, “just being a man.” May I be honest about this? The male who consistently consumes pornography and uses women solely to fulfill his sexual desire is the exact opposite of a man. He’s a selfish pervert who exploits the vulnerable for his own interest. Men recognize they were made by God and exist for him and not for themselves. Because they know they are dependent upon the sacrificial grace of Jesus, men sacrifice for others instead of using them. Men know they were made in God’s image to tend and cultivate the earth, so they take responsibility rather than avoiding it. Men embrace Jesus’ call to look out for the least of these, so they protect and care for the vulnerable instead of using them to fulfill their selfish desires. When men come face to face with the reality of their selfishness, perversion, sin, and exploitation they repent rather than excusing what they have done.

The Devastating Effects of Pornography

(Warning: There will be some frank discussions about sexuality in this section.)
One particularly graphic section of Sales’ article recounts a discussion with a gathering of college on the front porch of an off-campus house one morning. On this particular Sunday morning these University of Delaware students were recounting the events of the previous night. Some of them talked about their hookups and it led into a discussion about hookup culture and sex on their college campus. Among the topics covered were the number of young men who experienced some type of sexual dysfunction. Several of the girls recalled instances of young men who were unable to “perform” and they placed the blame on the over-consumption of porn among this age group.

This group of sorority girls actually hit on something an increasing number of people have noted of late. Pornography rewires the brain and make it more difficult for men to enjoy intimacy with actual women. The brain releases dopamine when we encounter an enjoyable behavior we want to repeat. The more enjoyable the experience, the higher the level of dopamine that is released. (Contrary to popular belief, it is dopamine, not testosterone, which provides the main fuel for the male sex drive.) The brain initially reacts to pornography the same way it responds to an actual sexual act. Yet if a person watches the same type of pornography over time they will need to seek a more extreme form of pornography to satisfy the urge for a dopamine release the brain craves. The result is that over time the consumption of pornography rewires the way the brain works. It should be no surprise then to find men who consume pornography growing bored or frustrated during sexual acts with a real woman because they do not involve the sensationalized scenes their brains have grown accustomed to desiring.

This phenomena shows why, in a turn of events our sex-crazed culture would never expect, research has shown that married men report being more satisfied with their sexual experiences than their single counterparts. God did not create sex to be enjoyed outside of the union of husband and wife; and he especially did not create it to be a spectator sport. The married man and woman are no longer two, but instead they are joined together as one flesh before God. They experience a unity of life which includes all of who they are. Sexuality is not the sum of their relationship, instead it is part of the larger picture of their union. Furthermore sex within marriage frees people from the guilt, shame, manipulation, and potential embarrassment which plagues sexual relationships outside of marriage. Sexuality within marriage becomes a vehicle for unity, service, and the expression of shared love.

The Beauty of the Gospel and Marriage

I highly doubt Nancy Jo Sales intended to show the beauty of Christian marriage when she began interviewing twenty somethings about Tinder, dating, hookups. As she writes about manipulation, embarrassment, and selfishness of the hookup she demonstrates by contrast why Christian marriage provides the best context for human joy and flourishing. Christian marriage pictures the great love story between Jesus Christ and his church. Through faith in Jesus who died for us, the infinitely holy God sees redeemed sinners as a beautiful bride adorned for her wedding day. We bring him our sin, shame, and filth and in exchange he forgives us, adopts us, declares us righteous, and promises we will reign forever with Christ. Because of our overwhelming over the grace we have received, Christians love God and live our lives to bring him glory. As a husband loves his wife sacrificially, he points to the reality of the sacrificial love of Christ for his people and the wife points to our love for God as she loves and trusts the leadership of her husband.

Among the many things which saddened me in “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse,” I was most struck by the cynicism of the young women Sales interviewed. Their words reveal they know they should be loved, cherished, and respected; but they have given up on this happening and settle for being flattered by a guy who drives them home the morning after or texts them the next day. It demonstrates how sin, rather than giving us the joy it promises, leaves us cynical, jaded, and used. The Gospel of Jesus Christ delivers what it promises. The God who created the world knows us more deeply than anyone in the world and loves us more deeply than anyone. He sees the ugliest depths of who we are and responds with faithful love and grace. In him we do find the hope and the joy for which we spent our whole lives searching.

Related Posts:
Husbands, Be a Patient Listener
Husbands, Be Kind to Your Wives

For Further Reading:
Finally Free by Heath Lambert
What Did You Expect? by Paul David Tripp

This is the fourth post in the “How to Grow as a Husband” series. You can click the links to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.)

One of my favorite lines about communication between significant others comes from the movie Dumb and Dumber. When Harry explains to Lloyd why a girl broke up with him he said, “She gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her enough or something. I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.” Unfortunately this hits way too close to home for many husbands. Default mode for us often means halfway listening to our wives, waiting on them to finish so we can talk, talking over them, or not really listening to what they are saying and jumping to improper conclusions.

The art of patient listening is not foreign to the Christian husband. He experiences patient listening every day of his life. Because Jesus has given his life for us and sits at God’s right hand making intercession for us, God hears us when we come to him. He invites us to come near to him and inclines his ear to hear us. Christians also experience the patience of God as he encourages us to bring our requests to him continually. In addition God patiently forgives us when we ask and has been forgiving the same sins in many of us for a long time. God’s patience towards us is not begrudging. We are his children and he delights to hear us and be patient with us.

In addition husbands heed the command to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Many times this sacrificial love does not mean taking a bullet for our wives, but loving them everyday in a sacrificial way. This means we listen when we are tired, empathize when we have difficulty understanding, and patiently seek to understand before we jump to conclusions. This kind of listening is not a burden for the Christian husband, but rather should be something we seek to do from a joyful posture towards our wives.

Give Her Your Full Attention

Men, when your wife wants to talk to you be sure you give her one hundred percent of your attention. Mute the television, shut off your phone, or put down the book you are reading. Look her in the face and show you are hearing what she is saying. This does not mean fake nodding, but a posture which lends itself towards active listening.

For many men this means we need to learn how to leave our work at the front door when we come home. Pick a spot on your commute where you will turn off the radio and take a few minutes to pray. Ask the Lord to help you be fully home when you get home. Leave your laptop in the car if it will be a distraction. Put your phone on a shelf or plug it in if you are tempted to scroll instead of talking. When you are at work be completely at work. Then when you come home be there completely.

Give Her Your Ear and Not Your Mouth

Resist the urge to jump into the conversation with your opinion about what your wife should do or how she should feel. Too often we formulate our next sentence while she is still speaking. Instead, resolve not to speak until you have fully heard what your wife is saying. Ask her appropriate follow up questions so you know you understand what she is saying. Hold off on your opinion until she invites you in.

I realize this sounds like something our second grade teacher would tell us about listening to another person, but how many of us have developed poor listening habits? Maybe this is a good time to work on our listening skills with every person, but our wives in particular need our listening ear.

Conversations with our wives are a joy and are not a burden. In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller says “Your spouse has got to be your best friend, or on the way to becoming your best friend, or you won’t have a strong, rich marriage that endures and that makes you both vastly better persons for having been in it.” Our marriages should be marked by a growing friendship, and we build friendships through talking and shared time together. The discipline of patient listening grows our marital friendship and produces joy in our marriage.

Related Posts:
Why the Bible Doesn’t Have Much ‘Marriage Advice’
What Happens When Your Marriage Doesn’t Have an Eject Button

For Further Reading:
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler
When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey

This is the fourth post in the “How to Grow as a Husband” series. You can click the links to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)

I don’t remember the first person I heard say it, but one of my favorite reminders about marriage is that it is “the union of two sinners.” Now, if the husband and wife are Christians, it is the union of two redeemed sinners, but even then they are still people who wrestle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The question in marriage is not whether or not husbands will disappoint and offend their wives and vice versa, but whether or not we can forgive when an offense is committed.
Husbands, there will be times when your wife offends you. She will definitely disappoint you and hurt you along the way, just as you do to her. When this happens, there are two questions you must answer.

Can You Overlook the Offense?
So often we can be hypersensitive when it comes to our spouses and carry our feelings on our shoulders. This causes us to take little statements the wrong way and to overcompensate by getting angry quickly. Joy in your marriage cannot exist when you over overly sensitive and quick to anger. You will lash out in your anger and your marriage will be filled with bitterness and unresolved frustrations.

Recognizing this propensity in men, Solomon tells his son in Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” The first half of this verse speaks to our tendency to fly off the handle over words and situations when we don’t have the full story. Wisdom demands that we learn to have a cool spirit and think before we get angry about something that is said to us. Did you fully understand what was said to you? Were there extenuating circumstances you should take into account about what was said? Don’t get angry or offended until you have fully considered what your spouse meant by what they did or said. Even then, don’t fly off the handle, but give consideration to what you should do next.

Can you overlook the offense? Solomon reminds us it is a glory to overlook an offense. This means that a man is willing to let go something that has been done against them without saying anything or trying to get the other person to apologize. When you overlook an offense, you simply choose to do nothing, say nothing, and get no revenge. If at all possible, this is what a husband must do if at all possible. Only when you cannot let something go should you move to the point of telling your wife what they have done to offend you and ask them to apologize.

Can Your Forgive?
If you cannot overlook an offense, you should sit down with your wife and talk to her about what she has done to offend you. In doing so you should avoid unjust accusations or berating her. Simply sit down and explain the problem. Don’t expect her to respond in that moment and give her time to process what you have talked about.

Then, if your wife comes to you and apologizes, you must remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” When you come to God in simple faith and ask him to forgive you, he does. Because lived the perfect life you could not live and died the death you should have died, you can be forgiven. This forgiveness is full and free. God does not make you beg for forgiveness or prove that you will never fail again.
In the same way, husbands you must forgive your wives when they wrong you. You will ask them to forgive you when you wrong them, and you must be willing to offer the same forgiveness. Do not make her earn your forgiveness and do not withhold it as punishment. Forgive freely as you have been freely forgiven. This means you will no longer dwell on this offense and will not bring it back up to her or to anyone else.

A beautiful thing happens in marriage when you forgive in this way. There will be no unresolved issues between you and there will be no lingering bitterness. Asking for and granting forgiveness becomes one of the most important aspects of your marriage because you clear away the garbage between you and walk in joy towards each other. This kind of forgiveness both increases your joy in marriage and brings glory to God and his forgiveness.

Related Posts:
Why the Bible Doesn’t Have Much ‘Marriage Advice’
What Happens When Your Marriage Doesn’t Have an Eject Button

For Further Reading:
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler
When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey

(This is the third post in the “How to Grow as a Husband” series. You can read the first two posts here .and here.) When two people live together in the covenant of marriage, they will inevitably irritate, offend, and hurt each other. No union of two sinners, even redeemed sinners, exists where this does not happen. The husband must answer two simple questions. Will I acknowledge when I am wrong and seek forgiveness? And will I quickly forgive when I am wronged?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Be Quick to Seek Forgiveness
Men you will hurt your wives. Sometimes this happens through careless and thoughtless words, but unfortunately there will be times where the hurt happens with forethought. I spoke of this briefly in the last post about kindness, but we need to spend a little more time on it in this post. Accept responsibility for your actions, not seeking to make excuses or paint them in a different light than they deserve to be in. When you wrong your wife in word or deed the responsibility is your’s alone and you should own up to it.

The last thing I want to do is to give you a script for apologizing, but there are proper and improper ways to apologize. First of all, do not say “I’m sorry.” Too often the words “it’s okay” are spoken in response to this and dealing with the offense gets kicked down the road a little farther. Also do not say “I’m sorry if…” The responsibility for your actions does not lie in the reaction of your wife to what you said. If you were wrong, the responsibility belongs to you. (If your wife was wrong in whatever happened, she should apologize as well, but the goal of this post is not for you to figure out how to get your wife to admit her guilt. It’s about you dealing with what you did.)

“I was wrong when I _________, will you forgive me?” Your apology should look like this. Acknowledge where you were wrong and be specific since your goal is reconciliation and not smoothing over your conscience. This also reminds you that your sin is not just against your wife, but also against the Lord. Admitting your sin to your wife moves you down the path to genuine reconciliation.

Some Questions to Consider
Are you quick to admit when you are wrong?
Do you take the initiative to reconcile with your wife when you are wrong?
Do you name your sin or are you vague about it?
Do you take full responsibility for your sin against your wife or do you try to blame it on her?

Related Posts:
Why the Bible Doesn’t Have Much ‘Marriage Advice’
What Happens When Your Marriage Doesn’t Have an Eject Button

For Further Reading:
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller