Marriage Posts

Navigating Conflict

You will fight when you get married. I hate to disappoint you, but it’s inevitable. It may not happen on your wedding day, but when conflict happens – not if, but when – it can either be really healthy or really miserable, depending on whether you’ve learned how to handle it.

Sinning in Anger

Have you ever found yourself instantly reacting, motivated by anger and pride? You launch out in a tirade, and after a while you start looking around and go, how did I get here?

It’s hard to be angry and not sin.[1] It’s an easy verse to quote, but it’s very difficult to live. Once you sin, the issue becomes you and not the conflict situation. And once you say something, you’ve said it. You can apologize from now ‘til Jesus comes. You can crawl for miles on your hands and knees through busted glass as penance for what you said, and your spouse can even forgive you for it. But once you’ve blown up on your spouse, there is shrapnel and scar tissue there from words that were spoken in anger.

Very seldom, if ever in my life, have I said something in anger, and then looked back on it and thought, Wow, that was really good. God must be really pleased with me for what I just said. Because “Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood.”[2] James says to be slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to become angry, because the anger of man doesn’t accomplish the righteousness of God.[3]

And what do we expect? Do you think you’re going to raise your voice, bow up at your wife and she’ll go, “My bad. When you clenched your jaw like that and raised your voice, I realized you were right.” It’s not going to happen like that. Proverbs tells us, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”[4]

Losing Perspective

Another problem with reacting is you lose perspective. When you react, the language often turns to unhealthy, polarizing language that becomes accusatory. “You always!” “You never!” “You do this every time!” The natural reaction when someone is attacked is to get defensive, and at that point, it’s on. You’re in battle mode.

But marriage isn’t about pushing that woman or that man to the degree where they’re looking around waiting to get sucker punched. That’s not the oneness God intended in a marriage.

Force Meets Force

If you begin to attack your spouse, you may find yourself besieging them like you’re trying to sack a city, because a “brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.”[5] Force is met with force.

What is my natural tendency when the flashpoint comes and she raises her voice? I raise my voice. She takes a shot, so I’m going to take a better one. She comes at me and manipulates, and I confront and isolate. It’s back and forth, like trench warfare in World War I. She’ll show her head and I’ll take a shot. I show mine and she takes a shot. That’s not healthy. That’s not what God designed.

There is another way.

Learning to Respond

I don’t know about you, but my sin nature really wants to be right. I want conflict to be her fault, not my fault. Never my fault. But with humility, I’ve got to learn to respond, not have to be right. Bottom line: Win the fight, lose your marriage. The goal isn’t to be right. The goal is to be one.

Instead of reacting and trying to be right, we have to learn how to respond. It’s a learned trait. To respond is to be driven by the Spirit. It’s seeing the flashpoint of conflict, and instead of your flesh driving you and letting things blow up, you ask the Lord for help to slow it down and live like He wants you to live. As soon as you defer to the Spirit of God, the fruit of the Spirit begins to show. When you allow the Spirit of God to lead in conflict, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control[6] come out.

I have never had a fight with my wife that continued to escalate because I was peaceful or gracious or loving or kind. When I allow God to live through me in my conflict with my wife, it’s like immediately pouring water on the flame.

Conflict can be a good thing, if handled well. Without it, you’ll never know about forgiveness or appreciate grace the way you will when you work through it with your spouse. If you never conflict, you’ll never know the kind of love that deepens a marriage to a level it could never reach otherwise.

[1] See Ephesians 4:26-27
[2] Proverbs 27:4 (NASB)
[3] See James 1:19-20
[4] Proverbs 12:18 (NASB)
[5] Proverbs 18:19 (NASB)
[6] See Galatians 5:22-23

Living With Intentionality

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Recently I had the privilege of doing my friend Harold Penner’s memorial service. H.P. was a church planter, a pastor at heart, a businessman, and he was a founding advisor of The Well. We built a relationship when I was a college pastor, and I started talking about this church I really felt like I needed to start. I shared a lot of the vision with him, and he really became a Jethro figure to me – a mentor, a sage and a guy who just believed in me.

The week before the first service at The Well, I remember thinking, “Holy smokes. Next week is our first service. This is dumb. This is not a good idea.” My wife was pregnant with Peyton at the time, and Harold was the guy who believed in me and the vision for The Well. He kept admonishing me, “You can do this. God is with you. Go for it!”

Harold was a very unique man. He was godly, full of joy and wisdom, and he had a mischievous way about him. He was probably the finest man I’ve ever met. He loved life and people, and was serious about his relationship with Jesus. His capacity for people was beyond reach; he had such a crazy love for folks.

He was also very intentional about what he did. Most people live for the moment. They simply take what life gives them and then seize the day. H.P. was different. He not only had the capacity to choose joy in the moment but he could snap moments together with intentionality. He moved very strategically. He invested with intent. He planned with the next several steps in mind. And this intentionality shaped those he influenced. Whether it was his business, which he was wildly successful at, or his kids, his grandkids, or his wife, he was intentional.

Having the opportunity to do his memorial service was a highlight of my ministry. It was a powerful reminder of the results of a life lived on purpose. Scanning the crowd I saw the men and women he had influenced. They were there to pay their respects, but they were also a testimony of his influence.

It made me rethink my life. What am I doing to influence others? What steps am I taking today to help point someone toward Christ? Am I setting up strategic opportunities to invest in people and help them live out their calling – with intentionality?

I want to make sure I’m making strategic investments into my marriage. I want to set a plan for my kids and work with them, as they become solid women of God. I want to lead The Well on purpose, making strategic moves and taking intentional risks to better create a culture of influence.

It also made me consider the various seasons of life that are represented in our context and how we could all move toward a more intentional life:

  • Singles: What would it look like for you to develop a theology of relationship of the right type of person? What would be different if you strategically invested your time and energy into becoming that type of person yourself?
  • Marrieds: How could your marriage look different if you strategically invested in your most important relationship? How would your time look different? What rites of passage or marked moments could you capture with your spouse? How could you make intentional deposits into their life?
  • Parents: Children are a gift from the Lord. How could you intentionally steward that gift? What steps could you take to breathe life into your kids? How could you strategically help them grow and develop into men and women of God? What schedule changes could you make to free up your time to be present with them? What would it look like to put away the devices (phones, iPads, computers, TVs) and strategically invest in the lives of your children? We are responsible to steward their growth and development, and we cannot outsource their spiritual growth.

I think the takeaway from Harold’s life is to do life on purpose. Let’s be intentional and strategic, knowing that when we plan we must plan in pencil because God still has the authority to change whatever plans we’ve worked so diligently to create. But at least we’ve planned something. If you draw that bull’s eye on the wall, it gives you a target to move toward versus doing nothing and seeing what happens. Let’s not just accidentally do life. Let’s be intentional and steward well what God has given us.

Are You an Affair Waiting to Happen?

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Affairs don’t happen overnight. They’re not issues of lust. They’re not. At the heart, they’re issues of neglect. It’s not like a guy wakes up faithful to his wife one morning and then, all the sudden, the next day, he’s like, you know what I’m gonna do today? I’m gonna totally blow up my life and have an affair. No. It’s over time.

When you or your spouse are neglected at home and connected elsewhere, you’re walking down a very short road that ends in disaster. It’s like the proverb of the sluggard. It’s a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.[1] It’s his neglect and it’s her neglect. And it’s not merely about neglecting your spouse or neglecting your family. It’s one or both of you neglecting your time with God.

What does your daily time in prayer and in the Word do to protect you from adultery? It guards your heart. It renews your mind. It screams of conviction. As you turn the page and you read about inappropriate relationships, as you read about being faithful to your spouse, as you read about being morally pure and holy and righteous, it challenges you. If you find your daily devotion with the Lord being something that is in the past or infrequent, you might want to check that, because that’s a symptom of a road leading to moral failure.

When I went to seminary I was in a class with Dr. Howard Hendricks. He’s now with Jesus. I remember he interviewed men about how they fell morally, and he looked for patterns in their stories. I recently came across an article that reminded me of the specific details. Of the almost 250 men he interviewed, none were involved in any kind of personal accountability, their daily time of prayer, worship and reading their Bible was practically nonexistent, the vast majority became sexually involved with another woman after spending significant time together, and without exception, each of them were convinced it would never happen to them.[2]

Friend, if you think it can never happen to you, “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”[3] We are not immune. None of us. You are vulnerable. The pattern holds true. Be cautious. You must hold your marriage sacred at all times.

If a husband isn’t tender to his wife, and there’s conflict where he said something harsh to her but they haven’t reconciled, she is vulnerable for an affair like you cannot believe.

Some dude – her trainer, her Pilates coach, the dude who makes her wheatgrass shot at Jamba – somebody will be kind to her. And that will speak to her soul. She will hear that and eat it right up. And she’ll go back another time. She’ll drive all the way across town to go to that Jamba Juice just to see that joker again. Why? Because he’s speaking into her life where her husband should be.

The same is true for the ladies. If you disrespect your man, I promise you, somebody will respect him. Somebody will think he’s special and talented. If you won’t tell him he’s handsome, somebody will. And at some point in time, he’s an affair waiting to happen too.

I remember talking with some dear friends who had experienced this, and that’s exactly what they talked about, that this other person made me feel special, they made me feel important, made me feel good about myself. Now you juxtapose that to a home life where you don’t feel special or important, and you’ll run to that every single time.

To the singles, one of the most important things you can do is learn right now how to control your vessel, your body, in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion like those who do not know God.[4]

The patterns you create today are the patterns you bring into your marriage. So if there’s ungodliness and indulgence today, there will be ungodliness and indulgence in your marriage. A ring doesn’t change that. Who you are becoming is who you will be as a husband or as a wife. So watch over your heart, watch over your body, watch over your spiritual life.

If you’re married, there is no greater value in your life than the cultivation of your relationship with Jesus and therefore, your spouse. There’s no ministry event that’s important enough, there’s no appointment that’s important enough. And if you leave your marriage with unresolved conflict, you leave a gap, a hole, a wedge for Satan to enter into your marriage and cause division. Your spouse has got to be your priority, because if that falls, everything falls.

We have to be hyper diligent to pursue greatness in our marriages. It’s not enough for us to have good marriages. We should have great marriages. But you have to work on it. It takes time. It takes some humble pie. It takes grace. And it takes a commitment together to always be on guard and not let anything or anyone come between you.

 

[1] See Proverbs 6:9-10

[2] http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-pattern-among-fallen-pastors

[3] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV)

[4] 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5

A Mouthful of Gravel

Mouthful-Gravel

Most people in Christian circles say, “don’t have sex until you’re married” or “don’t have sex with anyone other than your spouse.” But I can do all kinds of things without having sex.

We need to make sure we’re broad enough in the definition of adultery to recognize the reach of adultery. I want to make the argument that adultery is anything a godly married person wouldn’t allow or wouldn’t be allowed to do with someone other than their spouse, and there are similar parameters placed on all of us. I am in danger of committing adultery if I allow my heart, my mind, my body to pursue anything or anyone other than my spouse. The issue’s not if you’re married or single, but is that person your spouse or not?

Have you ever had that moment where on the outside it looked to be perfect? He or she said the right thing and the moment was right with candlelight, smooth music, one thing leading to another, like the thing movies are made of, and just like Eve, you grabbed that fruit and you ate. And you ended up with a mouthful of gravel.

Proverbs 5 says the adulteress is smooth and her lips drip honey, yet the results are bitter.[1] When we disobey God sexually, it’s always going to be catastrophe. Don’t even go near the door of the adulteress or you will give your vigor to others and your years to the cruel one. Your body will be consumed because you didn’t listen to instruction.[2]

Marital love can be glorious. It can be intimate, it can be beautiful, it can be refreshing, and it can have, no pun intended, legs to take you decades into your marriage. It’s not a ball and chain. The proverb continues and it gets very personal. Let your fountain be blessed. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. Let her breasts satisfy you. Let her love exhilarate you.[3]

God has given you a refreshment of sexuality. It is precious and He has entrusted it to you. Think of it for a moment as holding a cup of coffee in your hands. You can choose to disperse it abroad, but that’s not why He gave it to you. He gave it to you so that one day, someday down the road, a spouse will drink of what you have and will be refreshed by it. But if you give what God has given you to everyone else, the day will come when you get married, and you’ll go to give yourself to your spouse, and you’ll tip over an empty cup.

Don’t let your waters be dispersed abroad.[4] He doesn’t deserve it. She doesn’t deserve it. I don’t care if you feel like you’re in love or not. First ice up that finger. Get married and then have a party with each other. “Drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers.”[5] Have naked weekends, have naked vacations, do whatever you want with each other. But until then, listen to understanding and wisdom. Observe discretion[6] and just say, that’s enough.

I don’t care where you’ve been. I don’t judge you for where you’ve been. I am the last one who should judge you for that. But there has to come a point in time where you say, that’s enough. I’m not going to keep doing that. I don’t care what the world says. The world says, what if he’s no good in bed? You don’t understand. God rigged it that if you’re never with anyone else, it’ll be the best sex you’ve ever had for the rest of your life. That’s the point. But the frame of comparison is sin. So take what God has given you and don’t share it with anyone but your spouse. And then enjoy your time together for the rest of your life.

 

[1] Proverbs 5:3-4

[2] Proverbs 5:8-13

[3] Proverbs 5:18-19

[4] Proverbs 5:16-17

[5] Song of Solomon 5:1

[6] Proverbs 5:1-2

The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do As a Leader: Part II

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This article is a follow up to another article I wrote a couple weeks ago. Read The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do As A Leader: Part I here. 

 

I was bracing for impact. I thought this was going to hurt us bad. I thought people were going to leave.

Most of the time in church when someone falls morally, it’s one of two things. It’s either this real mysterious so and so left for personal reasons, and no one really talks about it, and their office is now cleaned out, and their home is for sale and they’re gone.

Or, it’s a public witch hunt where the offending party is asked to confess their sins to the congregation and brace for public execution.

So either they’re fired or it’s hidden. Either way, it’s neither completely honest nor healthy.

The challenge is the church tends to gravitate toward these two extremes. And that doesn’t help the congregation grow, or help people see what church discipline should and could look like. It’s failing to educate the body.

Elders who continued to sin were warned by Timothy to confront them publicly so others will be fearful of sinning. This wasn’t just about my worship director, and my friend, this was about every staff person we would ever have for the rest of our tenure of our church. So I’m making a statement, one way or the other.

I was going to be honest, candid, forthright, upfront and clear.

I told the church. I told them what happened, what went down, and this is what we’ve done, but we are going to love them and try to restore them into the body, restore their marriages, and restore their spiritual lives. That’s what restoration looks like. It wasn’t about employment at that point. And I was very forthright to the congregation. No sweeping it under the rug. When you are in a platform ministry, the standards are higher. There’s very little margin for error in ministry; your moral life is your ministry. And the higher you climb, the narrower the margin. And the more public you are, the more public your fall has to be. You can’t hide a fall. You lose trust with your congregation. People want to follow a leader of a church that’s willing to be honest even when it hurts.

People saw that we were going to be honest, and we grew.

Pastors, don’t worry about keeping or losing people. It’s about keeping or losing the blessing of God in your church. If you begin to compromise or hide sin in your midst, you can forget it. God will move on.

 

How One Word Can Change Everything

The hardest thing about marriage: you thought you were marrying a spouse who would be there to meet your needs – but really, you were marrying a spouse whose needs you were going to have to meet.

And it’s one of the biggest disappointments people have.

Dudes think, great, I’m going to marry this gal and she’s going to cook for me and clean for me and break out the gifts from her lingerie shower. I’m now married and it’s awesome. But she’s not going to cook the way you wish she would. And she’s probably not going to clean the house as much as you would like. And she’s probably going to put on the don’t-you-dare-touch-me pajamas with a double knot – and that’s marriage.

The divorce rate is what it is because people are so narcissistic and self-centered that they think it’s all about them getting their needs met. It’s just not working out. I’m just not happy. So I’m going to divorce.

Who told you the goal of marriage was for you to be happy? How selfish are you? You can create this narcissistic expectation of marriage and the whole thing falls apart because you realize you were completely wrong.

So what do you do with that?

The longer you’re married, you should begin to see that your husband or your wife is there so that you take initiative into his or her life to help them to be all that God created them to be.

And what makes a marriage fantastic is when you can say to your spouse, I’m sorry. I’ve been so selfish. It’s been all about me. Will you forgive me? And they do. When forgiveness or apologies are reciprocated with grace and forgiveness or restoration, that’s what makes a marriage fantastic.

My marriage with my wife is awesome. Not because we never fight. It’s awesome because when she realizes that she’s being selfish and apologizes, or when I realize that I’m being selfish and apologize, there’s a guarantee of restoration.

The challenge is to take the first step. I know if he or she would apologize first that would make it easier for you. If they would, then I would… But there you are trying to control or manipulate the situation. How about you humble yourself and you be willing to enter in with your spouse and say the hardest thing you’ll ever have to say in in your marriage: I’m sorry. I apologize. I did this. I own my part.

Song of Solomon Chapter 5

It’s a classic story of conflict because it comes right after the honeymoon. The couple just had sex and it’s as graphic as you can get. I can’t even teach it the way it should be taught because people would freak out. And the very first thing that happens after incredible intimacy is they fight.

He comes to the door. He’s locked out. She’s says, I’ve already taken off my dress. How can I put it on again? I’ve already washed my feet. How can I dirty them again? Meaning, not tonight, I have a headache.

So the guy, instead of yelling at her or breaking in a window, puts liquid myrrh on the door handle and goes away.

Earlier she had said, he is like a pouch of myrrh that lied all night between her breasts. Meaning, the thought of him was fragrant to her all the time. She would wake up in the middle of the night and be thinking about him. In our context it would be like a song. For my wife and I, it’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” That’s our song. We danced to it on our wedding day. And that’s what myrrh was to this woman.

She was dead wrong for what she did, but he didn’t shove her nose in it like a puppy. He responds in love, leaves her to the Lord and goes away. And she pursues reconciliation. Literally, she gets up, searches for him, and finds him. When he sees her coming from afar, she never says a word, and he says, don’t stare at me. You’ve made me dizzy with one glance of your face. Because he knows what she’s saying without opening her mouth. There’s that look a spouse gives that says, oh, I’m so sorry. They know it; you know it.

He snatches her away into his chariot, and it’s the idea of complete restoration.

When conflict comes, if you are the one who knows you have blood on your hands, seek reconciliation. Seek it out immediately. The longer you wait or pause, the more you give an opportunity for a wedge to come into your marriage. Typically there’s wrong on both sides, but if you are waiting for the other person to make the first move, you allow your marriage to decay. If you know you have something to be sorry for, even if it’s only 10 percent, hold a mirror up to your spouse and say, I’m sorry. I’m doing my part. Your spouse will look in the mirror and either say, no, I will not apologize or be wrecked to say, I’m sorry too.

Sorry from The Well Community Church on Vimeo.

 

The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do as a Leader: Part I

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Without hesitation, fire my worship director.

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas at a Song of Solomon conference, and he was our worship leader. It was five years in at The Well, and I remember thinking, this guy is fantastic, and wondered while I was teaching, is there any chance I can get him to move to Fresno? So after the event was over, I awkwardly hung around like a groupie waiting to ask him out.

“Hey, you want to go out for pizza?”

He said, “Yes.”

So we were eating pizza at a place called Damn Good Pie (and it really was), I knew immediately he was the guy.

He was our first full-time worship guy. Up until that point we had a crew of volunteers that carried the worship load. He was amazing. He was one of my best friends. We hung out. We BBQ’d together. We laughed. Our wives hung out. Ministry-wise he was phenomenal and together, we had great chemistry.

But he started spending time with his assistant. A lot of time. And it became a little bit concerning. I would walk in and see them sitting together on the couch laughing and talking. I said, hey, are you okay? Is this relationship on the up and up? He said, yeah, yeah we’re good. We’re good. She and my wife are friends. It’s cool. Then one day they were singing Phil Wickham’s “Divine Romance,” and I remember watching the chemistry on stage, and thinking, oh no, something is not right. I don’t know what it is but something is not right.

It was early morning. 7 a.m. He busts in and says, “I’ve go to talk to you.”

“What’s going on?”

“I blew it. We crossed boundaries we shouldn’t have.”

He goes on to tell me what happened and I bring her in with another gal on staff and said, “Tell me what happened?”

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“I don’t care what he told me, I want to know what you have to say.”

“I want to know what he said.”

“He said enough.”

She tells me what went down and it starts the chain reaction, which begins with him asking, “What do I do now?”

“You go tell your wife.”

“She’s going to kill me.”

“Then take it like a man. You have got to go tell your wife.”

He had crossed moral boundaries that any of us can cross if we’re not careful. My hope was to be able to restore him. I’ve never seen anyone restored after moral failure. So I really wanted to see if there was a way that we could work through this, but I was too close to think objectively. I was too emotionally connected. All I wanted to do was find a way to keep him – keep him in my life, in my church, on my team. But once I began to distance myself emotionally, I knew as a leader I had to think objectively, not as a friend.

I remember sitting and listening to his wife, with him by her side, tell me the rest of the story. You know – the real darkness lurking beneath the water that comes out over time  – and the more I listened, the more I realized this was a disqualifier. I have to fire him now. There’s no restoration here. Not into the same position of ministry. It wasn’t just his job, it was his position as a spiritual influence in our congregation. He was a leader, a pastor, and a huge platform presence in our church. He was on stage as an example to the multitudes. He represented Christ and his position on the team eliminated the margin of error.

We were sitting on my back patio—the same patio that had been witness to ministry carnage, job transitions, marital confessions, and everything in between. I told him, I’ve got to let you go. But I want to walk with you, I love you, I care for you. This is still your church and when you decide you want to worship with us, I want to know so I can greet you at the door.

It was extremely difficult for me to let him go. He was my friend and I was deeply grieved by the weight of the decision. We shared a great conversation through tears. He was not surprised. In fact, I think he knew the inevitable outcome from the start. But we walked down that dark road together.

A week later, he and his wife came. And I greeted him, literally at the parking lot, and proudly walked him in. Crying together, I walked my friend into church. He sat down in the back left, right by the pillar and I sat with him hugging until it was time to walk on stage.

This church is a home for the broken. We want to restore the broken. Not back to their job – that’s not what it’s about – but back to health in their marriage, in their spiritual life, and in their community. And we tried.

It’s been years since I’ve seen my friend.

They came for a short while and I think the wounds were too deep for his wife. She wanted to get a fresh start, so they moved. For many years, he was driving a delivery truck.

He would stash black crows around as a reminder of his sin—as a reminder of the temptations of sin that surrounded us as men. They served as symbols of the sin that could so easily entangle if we are not vigilant. He would put them in places to remind himself: Be careful. They were everywhere. He put one in the chandelier at the North Campus and I keep it I keep it as a reminder of my friend and of the carnage that immorality can bring to us all.

The irony is I get accused of not caring about people, and that’s not true. As a leader, I care deeply about our staff. All of them. Here’s a guy who was close to me, a friend, a guy with incredible musical talent and pastoral chops, who fell and I saw it coming.

I’ll never let it go again. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Never again. There’s too much at stake. In some ways, I felt like I could have stopped it…  if I would have pressed more, but sin is deceptive, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thought. But I saw it coming. I saw it coming from a mile away.