Category Archives: Marriage

Recap of PLM Conference: Fix your eyes on Jesus

I just returned home from the Pure Life Ministries annual conference which was such an amazing experience and encounter with God.    Some 480 men and women gathered in Florence, KY to worship the God who has the power – and the desire – to set each of us free from the chains that ensnare us.    It’s an amazing thing to be in the presence of such testimonies and witnesses to God’s redeeming love.

I wanted to take a moment while it’s fresh on my mind to write down a few of the things I took away from the great speakers who shared over the last few days.   I hope this helps me to better apply what I’ve learned and to edify you.

Steve Gallagher referenced the proclivity within each of us to gravitate towards either law bending or law keeping.   He stressed that when both are right with the Lord and walking in the Spirit both are a blessing to the Church.   We need the law benders to upset our status-quo and breath fresh wind into our sails and we need the law keepers to remind us of God’s holiness and demands upon the Christian to obey him.

Steve then did a beautiful job referencing each of the seven churches in Revelation 2 &3, showing what happens when these natural tendencies of ours (law bending or law keeping) cease being surrendered to God.   One thing in particular that stood out to me was pointed towards law keepers, or those of us who can easily become satisfied with having a form of godliness but none of it’s power.    How easy it is to play church and appear to be doing all the right things while our heart is far from God.     I know all too well how easy it is to do this, and how easy it is to fall into a delusion that all is well in doing it.

Dave Leopold built upon this foundation laid by Steve (unbeknownst to either while preparing their messages).  He spoke of how we toil in our own way rather than God’s way.  Building a ministry isn’t always the same, he said, as building God’s kingdom.

Dave’s longing for himself, and his prayer for us, is that we may all prove that we have been with Jesus.  May our very lives – both inner and outer – be evidence that we have spent much time at Jesus’ feet.   Jesus does not desire us to be mere messengers of his message, but desires each of us to become the message.   When he has conquered us, he will send us out to conquer the world in Jesus’ name.

I loved the illustration he shared of the sun.   When we lay out in the sun, we are changed.  Our face let’s the world know that we have been out in the sun.   Likewise, as we spend intimate time with the Son of God, the world will know it.

Dustin Renz shared a powerful message on suffering.   I think he is exactly right that we do not teach or understand suffering within the church.   And yet, the life of Jesus himself as well as all of scripture is full of calls to suffer, even promises that we will.   Dustin shared the following points:

  1. We need to learn to expect suffering.   Jesus promised that we would know trouble in this world.   In fact, the very call to follow Jesus is an invitation to lay down our lives and die.
  2. Suffering shapes us and fits us for service.    James reminds us to consider it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds.   These are preparing us for service.
  3. Learn to endure suffering.   Imagine if Paul had given up after being ship wrecked, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, starved, left to die?   The loss to Christianity would be extraordinary!    We must endure to the end.  Far too often we give up too easily and we have not even come close to experiencing the sort of suffering Paul and countless other Christians have endured.    How many potential testimonies, not to mention our own, are lost because we give up too soon and run back to our sin?

Glen Meldrum shared three snares of the soul which will trip us up time and time again if we are not mindful of them.

  1. We don’t treat sin like sin.   Numbers 33:50-56, God insists that Moses and the people, when they get to the promised land, must drive out the wicked inhabitants and all their idols.    If they do not, they will be “barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides” and trouble you all the days you dwell you there.   Jesus was serious about sin, warning to cut out the eye of the hand that causes you to sin.    Whatever is keeping you from Jesus, get rid of it!   Even if it’s something “good.”
  2. Not being very careful to love the Lord (Joshua 23:11-13).    We must be very careful to love God!   Make it your purposeful pursuit in life to spend time with God and nurture this relationship.  No one follows Jesus by accident.  None of us default towards loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.   Our sinful hearts are easily distracted and get caught up in so many other things that we lose sight of our walk with God.    Be careful!
  3. Idolatry rises up in our hearts.   Things like bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, sexual sin, pleasure, and more become the gods we cling to to.  We become what we worship.   The destruction happening in marriages is from hell.   Satan hates God, and his work is to destroy the image of God in us by replacing it with his own image.  How does he do this?  By causing us to have other gods.

All of these messages, though unplanned to be so, beautifully weaved together this overarching theme for me:  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.  Pursue Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.   Submit to the love – and the rule – of God in my life.  And pray.   Pray like my life and the lives of others depends on it, because it does!

I’m so grateful for this time of refreshment and revival.   It has inspired me towards a deeper repentance and desire to be of service to God and others in ways that for quite some time I have felt unworthy to pursue because of my past failings.    God reminded me this weekend that he has not altered his feelings towards me nor his call.   I’m grateful that my wife was able to join me on this trip and for work he is doing in her life and ours as a couple.   We are both excited to see what God has in store for us in the weeks, months and years ahead.

 

Dear Heterosexual: You are not forgotten

It’s been just over a week since the United Methodist General Conference voted on whether or not same sex marriage and LGBT clergy will be allowed in the UMC.

The fact that this issue has so captivated mainstream thought and life, and has been the key issue of debate every quadrennium in the UMC is quite impressive. Why?  Because according to a Gallup poll in 2018, only 4.5% of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual.   In this study, 95.5% of Americans identified themselves as straight.   What is so impressive is how the sex lives of 4 out of every 100 people has so captivated our consciousness, both within and without the Christian community.

It got me thinking:  What about the other 95% of us?  It can feel as though we have been forgotten.   It can feel as though our struggles and our sins are of little consequence.  With the spotlight so intensely focused on what 5% of the population is doing behind closed doors it’s easy to minimize or even justify our own struggles.

With 95% of Americans uninterested in marrying someone of the same sex it seems strange that nearly 100% of our conversations about sex have little to do with what all of us, gay or straight, are struggling with, such as….

Pornography

I wish we discussed this in the church more than we discuss homosexuality.   I wish this were seen for what it is – the epidemic destroying our lives – and our church leadership took it every bit as seriously if not more than homosexuality.   While we obsess over the 5%, consider these statistics regarding pornography

The porn industry generates 13 billion dollars in revenue in the US alone.
1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
69% of the internet pay-per-view market is pornography
51% of pastors say pornography is a real temptation
64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month
71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents
9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before age 18
Average age of first exposure: 12
68% of young adult men and 18% of young adult women use porn weekly.
This sin, legal to view and purchase everywhere, affects every one of us.  The struggle is real, and it is destroying more families and lives than gay marriage ever will.  Our nation’s legalization of gay marriage pales in comparison to the overwhelming acceptance of pornography in our culture and our failure to address it.

Premarital Sex

Even before pornography began to flourish with the advent of the Internet, virtually everyone was having sex outside of marriage.  A study published by the USA Today in 2006 showed that 9 in 10 women born in the 1940’s had premarital sex.  The median age in 2003 of those having sex for the first time was 17.  Of those interviewed in 2002, 95% said they had sex before marriage.

According to one study, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it’s appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years.

While everyone is talking about who 5% of our population is now allowed to marry, the church has often failed to offer to the struggling rest of us a healthy, positive view of sex and why God intends it to be reserved for marriage. We have failed to offer a positive, affirming, theologically rooted understanding of singleness and celibacy.  We do not teach well what it means to have a body created in God’s image to be used for God’s purposes in unique ways as a single person or as a married couple.   (Read my review of the excellent book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Better yet, get the book!).

Sexting

While our Church directs her focus on who can and cannot get married or be ordained, our youth are floundering as we turn blind eyes and hearts to their struggle.   Sexting, which is sending sexually explicit material through mobile devices, is a growing phenomenon among both youth and adults.  40% of all teenagers have sent and received sexual material through their phones.  You can read more stats here, and this CNN article suggests that over 60% of youth are using apps on their phones to send sexually suggestive material.  It’s worth checking out, parents, to learn ways to safeguard your kid’s online behavior.

I know firsthand the reality of these struggles, and know all too well the pain they bring to bear on all of one’s relationships.  Even more, I know the guilt and shame surrounding these behaviors and I know how easy it is to minimize and justify these things because they are done in secret.  Because so few will admit they struggle in these areas, and because the church spends so much time talking about the 5% rather than the other 95%, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion in our churches regarding sex ( and given our negligence here, it’s no wonder we struggle to speak the truth in love when it comes to the important matter of homosexuality, gender confusion, and more).

The church, when operating as she ought, is a hospital for the broken.  She is to be the place where sinners like you and I, the 100% of us, can be real about our struggles without fear of being shamed or judged so that we might discover the transforming power of grace at work in each of our lives, healing our brokenness and restoring our communion with God and each other.  And yes, that includes our sexual brokenness.

This is not to say the church has nothing to say about marriage, or shouldn’t address the 5% of our population, but it is to say that as we look at the landscape of sexuality around us, we must admit we are deeply broken and in desperate need of healing.   As I read Scripture, it says that judgment begins in the church, not upon those outside (1 Cor. 5:12).  Perhaps the most faithful and God-honoring thing we can do at such a time as this is to look within ourselves and bring to the cross our own struggles and sexual brokenness.   Perhaps the best thing we can do as a church, particularly this day as we enter into the penitent season of Lent, is to beat our chests and cry out, “Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

My hope and prayer for the church is that we are offering places of healing for all people, no matter what their struggle.  I don’t want to see us become so fixated on one sin that we forget that we are all sexually broken.  We all need healing.  We all need to have our minds renewed.  We all need to lay our sexual selves down at the altar and offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2).   We all must remember that our bodies our not our own, but have been bought with a price, and we are to therefore honor God with how we use them.

The one way in which “all means all,” (a refrain often used by those fighting for affirmation and acceptance), is truly accurate is in the sense that we are all broken and are all in need of a Savior who not only can forgive us, but can transform our desires into holy affections, pleasing to God and for the glory of His name.

So, to the 95% of us out there who are struggling, please know you are not forgotten amid the cacophony of voices, both gleeful and despairing, over the results of General Conference.  And you are far from being alone.  I hope you’ll seek out a church this Lent to offer up your own struggle to the lover of your soul, and find a brother or sister to walk alongside you as you both recommit to surrendering your bodies, and what you do with them, to the God who made you.

Faithful: A Theology of Sex

I just finished Beth Felker Jones beautiful book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex.   This book is a must read for every Christian, in my opinion, especially these days where there is no

faithful

shortage of confusion over what it means to have a body that is created by God and is good.   There is a uniquely Christian way to think about our bodies, one that has always been and will always be counter-cultural.   Beth Felker Jones does a wonderful job guiding her reader through the many pitfalls that exist when we either dismiss bodies as unimportant or fixate on them as idols.

One of my favorite lines was this:

When God kills pornication and raises up, from that dead thing, redeemed and good desire, God makes space for true fidelity.

“Pornication” is a suitable substitute for the biblical word porneia, which refers to sexual immorality, but more than that, it is the air in which we breath which distorts our understanding of both sex and the proper, God-glorifying use our of our bodies whether we be celibate in singleness or sexual in marriage.

I appreciated the author’s insistence that our bodies are not meant to be slaves to our desires, and that our desires are, at every level, corrupted to some degree by sin.   We must always be vigilant to bring our desires before God and be ever willing to submit our bodies to his will and purpose.

Also, referencing the quote above, I appreciated how she points the reader to the hope that in Christ, our desires can be transformed and redeemed, that we can be made new and go about living as embodied people, as icons reflecting God’s faithfulness to us through our (peculiar) ways of being faithful to God and each other in both singleness and marriage.

The Church so desperately needs these words today so that we can adequately address the pornication both inside and outside our walls.   Historically, we have been very adept at saying what we are against – don’t do that! – but we have failed to offer what ought to take it’s place.   I commend to you this book as a fitting answer to our growing confusion over what our bodies are created for and how faithful sex matters…really matters.

Brokenness and Forgiveness: Our Testimony

Last Sunday Amy and I were at Scioto Ridge UMC in Hilliard, OH, sharing how God has healed the brokenness in our lives and restored our marriage.   It is our prayer that if you found our blog today God will use our story to give you hope, and to lift your eyes to the One who has made all the difference in the world:  Jesus Christ.

“Brokenness and Forgiveness” from Scioto Ridge UMC on Vimeo.

So You’ve Cheated? Know Your Rights.

One of most common questions I get asked by men (I’m writing this as a man to other men, but the following advice applies to women caught in the same) who have been unfaithful in their marriage (whether through pornography use or a physical affair) is this:

How can I win back her trust?

The answer to that question will vary from couple to couple, but the foundation is always the same.  That foundation gets laid when the offender acknowledges what his rights are, which are these:

Did you catch them?   They are very important, so take a moment to write them down.    To say it another way, in case you missed it the first time, the rights that are yours as the unfaithful one in a marriage are these:

none

Speaking from personal experience, the longer it took me to realize this foundational truth – that I had no rights – the longer I delayed healing and the rebuilding of trust in my marriage.   The moment I stepped out of my marriage in unfaithfulness was the moment I forfeited whatever rights I had.

What sort of rights am I talking about?   Well, at the risk of sounding simplistic, ALL of them.   There are things about a broken marriage which will look different from a healthy one until trust is restored, and the sooner you recognize that the better.   Your marriage is no longer one of equal footing (if it ever was).   So what does this mean in real life?

  • When she hurts your feelings you don’t tell her that she has hurt your feelings.   Most likely she was trying to.   Suck it up.
  • When she calls you all sorts of names and her anger is bearing down on you with both barrels, you bear it.   Don’t assert your “right” to have your argument heard, and don’t try to tell her she is sinning against you with her words or actions.*
  • When she wants to stay up until 3am talking about her fears you listen.  Don’t assert your “right” to get some sleep because you have to work in the morning.
  • When she wants to cancel a family vacation or alter other routine events, comply.  If friends and family object, defend her.
  • When she wants to convert your office space into a scrap-booking room, help her do it.
  • When she wants to look through your cell phone every hour, or have access to your laptop, or wishes to know every move you make every minute of the day, be grateful she wants to be involved in your life so intimately, and thank her for it.

There came a point where I was so broken over the sin I had done and the pain my actions had brought upon my wife that I no longer had the will to rise up and assert myself.    The sooner I stopped asserting myself, the sooner healing began and trust was restored.   The more I fought that, the more miserable we both were. Here is a handy chart to demonstrate that:

degreeofmisery

A person who has experienced true brokenness over their sin, who understands godly sorrow over worldly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10), will willingly lay down their rights.    This is not something any of us can do on our own.  We must have the Spirit of God at work within us, constantly remaking us into the image of Christ, who “though in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).

We must become like Christ towards our hurting wives, and bear them and their pain the way Christ has borne ours.  You, like Jesus, have no rights.  

How long, you ask?  How long until I can eat where I want to eat?    Well, here is a helpful chart I made that depicts the length of time your rights are withheld:

norights

This is not a hard and fast rule, but the longer you have been sinning against God and your wife the longer it will take to establish a good foundation.    Of course, the ideal you are shooting for is where both partners surrender their rights to each other, “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21).     And no, you do not have the right to tell your wife she is to submit to you out of the fear of Christ.   You lost that right, too.    With God’s help, she will willingly give that back to you when you have done the hard work of following the above advice.

Guys, believe me, it’s worth it!

* While the offended party may indeed be sinning against God and you with their anger and bitterness, it’s crucial you understand 2 things:  First, you caused this.   Second, it’s not for you to point this out to her.    Your primary duty is to pray for her and to intercede on her behalf to God, bearing her sins in the way Christ bore your own.    The longer your wife sees her daggers falling on a humble, prayerful, loving target the sooner those daggers will lessen, become duller, and soon cease altogether.