When Love Leads

We wanted to share this beautiful video from The Austin Stone’s stories series that gives us a glimpse of one couple’s marriage and forgiveness and redemption:

When Love Leads from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

David and Marlena, on the brink of divorce, discover where true Love and satisfaction are found in this story of redemption and forgiveness.

To view more stories visit: http://austinstone.org/stories

Hope for Troubled Marriages

I have counseled many people who felt like their marriage had died and there was no point in going on. In response, I always remind them that we serve a God who resurrected His dead Son from the grave, and who promises to make that same resurrection power available to those who trust Him (Ephesians 1:18-20). Although many cases have still ended in divorce, I have personally witnessed God giving new life to countless marriages that seemed utterly beyond repair. So even if your marriage seems beyond repair, put your hope in God, depend on His grace, make every reasonable effort to reconcile, and trust God to work things out according to His plan. 

Although many things can cause divorce, hopelessness is often the factor that pushes people over the edge. They have often endured years of frustration and disappointment, hoping that things might somehow improve. Then one day something happens, and they just give up hope. “Why should I go on being miserable,” they say, “when there is no hope of things ever getting better?”

A hundred years ago, people stayed in hopeless marriages out of commitment, but today even among Christians commitment is often not sufficient to see them through tough times. Therefore, one of the most important steps in turning a divorce around is to rebuild hope as quickly as possible. Hope is like a transfusion for someone who has lost a great deal of blood: Unless this essential element is quickly restored, the patient (or the marriage) will die, and there will be nothing left to work on.

One way for hope to return to a marriage is by understanding what genuine confession looks like. For example, assume a wife has decided to leave her husband. When she told him of her plans, he was crushed. Trying to get her to change her mind, he said, “I know I haven’t been a very good husband. I’m really going to work hard to change. Please stay!”

The wife responded, “I’ve heard your promises before. You’ve said this again and again, but you never change. I’m not going to stay in a hopeless marriage the rest of my life.”

The husband’s bland confession indicates that he doesn’t have a clue as to how he needs to change. Empty promises and broad generalizations will not turn things around. The best way he can persuade her to give him another chance is to clearly demonstrate that he has truly come to grips with his sins and is earnest about making concrete changes to be the kind of husband God wants him to be.

This change in the husband will be neither simple nor painless. Through the prayerful application of God’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit, the husband needs to see how his own selfish desires have ruled his heart and destroyed his marriage (see Matt. 15:19; Jas. 4:1-3). He needs to be truly broken before God. He needs to clearly identify his sinful desires and habit patterns—the self-centeredness, the idolatry, the pride—that contributed to the disintegration of their relationship. And he needs to do this without trying to diminish his guilt by focusing on all of the ways she contributed to their problems.

As he comes to grips with his own sin, he needs to plan how to confess them to his wife in a thorough and specific way. He should understand that the purpose of his confession is not to manipulate her or force her to come back. He needs to confess because he is guilty and God commands it, regardless of how his wife responds. One way to do this is to use what I call the “Seven A’s of Confession.”

If his heart has truly been broken before God, and if he has properly prepared, he will give a very different confession to his wife than he did before. Instead of the bland “I haven’t been a very good husband,” he will say, “Connie, I’ve sinned against God and you. I haven’t lived up to the standard He gives me. He says I’m supposed to love you as Christ loved the church. I haven’t even come close to that. I’ve loved myself and my own desires far more than I’ve loved you or God. I’ve made my job into an idol, and I gave myself to it. I’ve neglected you, and I’ve broken my word again and again. I have not kept my vows to you. I have left you with the whole burden of raising the kids because I’m too selfish to turn off the TV and help. I can understand why you are so hurt and disappointed and why you feel like you can never be happy with me. I have wronged you in so many ways…”

Time after time when the husband makes such a confession, the color comes back into the wife’s face. In many cases, the cold hopeless look is replaced by a softer expression. As she hears her husband’s words, the Holy Spirit uses them to put hope back into her heart. She begins to realize that something really is different and to believe that things might truly change. And she may be humbled herself and feel led to give her own heartfelt confession—the seeds of reconciliation may begin to grow.

As hope is rekindled, the disillusioned spouse will often be willing to postpone the divorce and to try to work out the problems that have plagued their marriage. This is seldom a quick process. The sinful desires and behavior patterns that led people to the point of divorce usually require weeks or months of counseling to understand and change. But at least they are moving in the right direction, and as God works through the church, most couples can experience a genuine reconciliation and steady improvement in their relationship.

Sometimes couples find it extremely difficult to work through the root causes of marital conflict alone. In these cases, it is appropriate to seek help from others. It is not a sign of weakness or failure—all of us struggle in relationships and need help from time to time. There are many skilled and qualified people in the body of Christ, and we should not hesitate to reach out to the church for assistance—whether it is a pastor, church leader, wise and trusted friend, or trained biblical counselor.

As you think about getting help with your marriage, consider these specific suggestions:

  • Seek counsel for yourself first – We all have blind spots and habits that are difficult to see and change. It may be that a neutral counselor can help you see your contributions to the problem more clearly and find ways to change.
  • Gently persuade your spouse to join you – Your spouse may be reluctant, but try to understand and appeal to his/her interests.
  • Choose the right counselor – Seek counseling from people who will offer you sound biblical advice and who are willing to say difficult but necessary things to you.
  • Follow these Keys to Counseling Success
    • Focus on your own responsibilities rather than your spouse’s.
    • Deal with the heart of your problems—not just the surface issues.
    • Remember the gospel of grace!
    • Ask for prayer support and accountability from your church.
    • Persevere—commit to keep working as long as it takes to overcome the problems that threaten your marriage.

Many times, involving others can relieve some of the burdens on your own shoulders and can help bring about change in both you and your spouse. But even if things do not go quite as you plan, remember that ultimately, you are responsible for what you do, not for what others do (Romans 12:18). Continually look to Jesus for your hope, follow what He commands, and leave the results to him.


This article is based on a portion of the chapter entitled, “Church Discipline: God’s Tool to Heal and Restore Marriages,” written by Ken Sande. This chapter is included in the book Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood (edited by Wayne Grudem and Dennis Rainey, Crossway Publishing, 2003).

 

Can there be reconciliation after adultery?

A short but really great post by Ed Welch over at CCEF on what reconciliation looks like 10 years after adultery. In what’s surely one of the most painful relational devastations that can occur, God’s grace can still be at work in remarkable ways. Here’s a bit of the meat of his post:

The growth process might look like this.

At first, the lines are clear: there are victims and there are adulterers. Victims deal with suffering, those who were unfaithful deal with sin.

As time passes, the lines blur. Victims continue to find comfort, but remember that they are sinners too (Matthew 7:3-5). Unfaithful ones begin to see more of the sin beneath their sin. That is, they see how lust and adulterous desire are ultimately driven by spiritual adulteries, by wanting to be separate from the True God. And, God, in a startling response, invites these hurt and sinful people to return to him with displays of compassion and love.

Then victims become more open to seeing change in the unfaithful spouses and begin to lay down any self-protective shields.

After a while, couples look from a similar vantage point at the past adultery. Instead of the clear lines of victim and adulterer, there is a circle that surrounds the couple. They are one again, rather than two. The adultery is no longer one person against another but a sad intrusion that leaves both spouses sad that sin persists in this world.

Read the whole thing.

How the Gospel Can Transform a Marriage

This was over at Justin Taylor’s blog last week and I thought it’d be good to share here:

  • Because of the gospel, Christians have become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, in our marriage, our past does not define us, confine us, or determine our future.
  • Because of the gospel, we are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7). Therefore we can live free of all guilt and condemnation for every sin, and we can trust that God, in his mercy, will be gracious to us.
  • Because of the gospel, we can forgive, just as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). Nothing done against us compares to our sin against God. Therefore all offenses, hostility, and bitterness between Christians can be completely forgiven and removed.
  • Because of the gospel, we are accepted by God (Romans 15:7). Therefore we are not dependent on a spouse for who we are or what we need.
  • Because of the gospel, sin’s ruling power over us is broken (Romans 6:614). Therefore we can truly obey all that God calls us to do in our marriage, regardless of any circumstance or situation.
  • Because of the gospel, we have access to God through Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). Therefore we can at any time take any need in our marriage to the One who can do all things.
  • Because of the gospel, we have hope (Romans 5:1-4). Therefore we can endure any marital difficulty, hardship, or suffering, with the assurance that God is working all to our greatest good (Romans 8:28).
  • Because of the gospel, Christ dwells in us by his Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:13-14). Therefore we are confident that God is always with us and is always at work in our marriage, even when progress is imperceptible (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
  • Because of the gospel, we have power to fight and overcome remaining sin, which continues to dwell and war within us (Romans 7:19-2124-25Galatians 5:16-17). This indwelling enemy represents the essence of what is called the doctrine of sin.

These are just a few of the ways the gospel can transform a marriage. Sometimes it’s not easy to live in the reality of these truths. But it is always possible—and not because of our strength or determination, but because of God’s empowering and enabling grace.

Gary and Betsy Ricucci, Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace (Crossway, 2006), pp. 22-23

Andrew Peterson: “Dancing in the Minefields”

Several of us at the PM office have really been enjoying this music video for the last few days.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is very much a peacemaking song.  In marriage, or any relationship, we know that we’re going to stumble and hurt one another, but we enter into this “minefield” joyfully because of the hope we have in the Gospel.

“This is harder than I dreamed, but that’s what the Promise is for.”

HT: Justin Taylor

Mercy!

I’ve been listening to a little bit of Dave Harvey’s message from our 2009 Peacemaker Conference entitled “God’s Mercy and My Marriage.” The whole thing is SO worth listening to, and I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t heard it (or give it another listen if you have). You can download it for free from our website.

Here are some of Harvey’s opening comments on mercy:

[Mercy is] an amazing, unique, exceptional word that we rarely hear talked about within the culture that is a biblical theme that starts springing at us in the book of Genesis and goes all the way through Revelation. This word is one that we must understand because we are called by God to be merciful, and that calling begins with the person sitting next to you.

Mercy addresses how God relates to us as sinners; it describes his disposition of kindness, of patience, of forgiveness towards us despite the fact that we’ve rebelled against him and can be oriented to rebelling against him still. It describes how God suffered for sinners in Jesus Christ and suffers with sinners. Mercy arms the believer with a whole new language, with a whole new vocabulary of God’s love because all of a sudden when we talk about mercy, God’s longsuffering gets put into play. Words like forbearance begin to enter the discussion. Compassion is restored to our marriage.

…We talk about the mercy of God, and we find in the cross that the Father was merciful by sending the Son to die for our sins. Without the cross, “the Father is merciful” can become the sentimental actions of a tender old deity. It’s the cross that makes mercy real because it defines what it means in the reality that God did not treat us as our sins deserved.

Harvey goes on to apply that mercy in three specific areas of marriage/relationships: mercy in kindness, mercy in covering, and mercy for weakness.  The overarching theme is this: “Mercy introduces ministry as a primary goal in marriage.”

Again, here’s the link to download the whole message.

Christlike Character in Relationships

Good thoughts today from Paul Tripp and Tim Lane (emphasis is mine):

If our relationships are going to produce Christlike character in us and if Christian community is going to flourish, it is going to take lots of human beings who naturally want position, power, and recognition being transformed into people who gladly throw off self-glory and self-love to be servants in the image of Jesus. This is what will turn average relationships into something glorious. Serving others is a simple way of consolidating all the Bible’s “one another” passages under one big idea. When we serve one another, we carry one another’s burdens in practical ways. We get our hands dirty as we come alongside people and pay attention to the details of their lives. If our professed commitment to Jesus does not lead us to resemble him in our actions, then we are mocking him and not representing him accurately to the world.

When you think about your relationships, how many of them ultimately revolve around making sure your concerns are heard and your self-defined “needs” are met?  Start with those you love the most. I am married and have four children, and most of the time I am committed to thinking about how they can make my life more fulfilling. I know this is true because of how easily I get irritated when I have to give up personal comfort to serve them. This is with people I say I love; I haven’t even begun to think about the difficult people. And let’s not even bring up our enemies!  Do you see this in yourself? This is the first step to becoming a servant. You have to see how much of a servant you aren’t before you can start to become one. That is the abiding irony of the Christian life. Up is down, life is death, power is found and expressed in serving.

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, page 119.

Family & Marriage Conflicts Q&A

Many people aren’t aware that we have a great section on our website called Common Questions about Marriage/Family Conflicts.  The questions and answers touch on marriage, divorce, abuse, children, blended families and extended families.

While not comprehensive (there are 12 questions/answers), they do provide some great insights to common questions or issues that people deal with.

Here’s an example — the two questions related to marriage (and notice that you’ll have to click the links for the answers):

Question 1: I would like to talk more openly with my husband about things we disagree about, but he does all he can to avoid such conversations. And even when I find a way to share my concerns with him, he rarely says anything in response. How can we learn to talk to each other? Answer

Question 2: My wife and I do not handle conflict well. We become defensive, blurt out a few sharp words, and then clam up for a day or so. We are becoming more and more superficial with each other, and we’re setting a terrible example for our children. What should I do? Answer

If you haven’t already seen this, do take advantage of its available and familiarize yourself and/or others who may benefit!

Kids… Our Backup Consciences

Ken Sande is fond of referring to his kids as his “backup conscience,” particularly in how he treats his wife. What he means is that there are moments we we are having a particularly heated (ahem) “discussion” with our wives where our primary conscience seems to be malfunctioning — we are no longer treating them with care or gentleness, to say the least. And that’s when our backup consciences (our kids) kick in to remind us to stop concentrating so much on the logs in Mom’s eye and start thinking a little more about getting the logs out of our own eye. Ken has many stories to tell of how his kids have reminded him to do what’s right, even when he was tempted to do otherwise.

I had my own experience of seeing this principle in action this past weekend. As my wife and were going back and forth trying to work through an issue, I could tell that my five-year-old daughter was trying to figure out what she could do to help. (Other times when we’ve been in these situations, she would often go to each of us and whisper in our ears, “Please be a peacemaker.” That in itself is helpful, I must admit.) But this time, after her mother left the room for a few minutes, she spoke directly to me.

“Daddy,” she said. “How excited was Mommy when you asked her to marry you?”

I had to smile at that moment for two reasons:

  1. She had to have been thinking hard about it all, and I could picture the wheels turning in her mind. She must have wondered, “Hmmm… what is something I can say to Daddy to remind him how much he loves Mommy. Something that will make him forget that he’s mad at her right now. I know! I can ask him about when they got engaged!” I liked following her train of thought and where it eventually arrived.
  2. But moreso, when you think back on the nervousness, fun, and joy involved in your marriage proposal, as well as all the reasons you wanted to get married to this person, how can you not smile? My daughter had reflected the truth of Philippians 4:8 in reminding me, “Whatever is lovely… think on these things.” 

It’s not like the issue immediately went away, but a definite softening of my heart happened there. And that helped us to deal with the issue more constructively. (I told my wife about it later, and she appreciated it, too. You can read her side of the story here.)

I was proud of my daughter for acting as a peacemaker in that moment. She really did help to serve as my backup conscience — even if I wasn’t really asking for it to kick in (but I guess that’s the point of having a backup). This is certainly one of the fringe benefits of teaching our children these principles of peacemaking. (If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take a look at the Young Peacemaker materials and consider how you might incorporate them in your own family.)

I guess that’s one way to do it …

My brother sent me this link today — a couple in Cambodia who, after 40 years of marriage, decided to go their separate ways by literally cutting their home in half.  “Neighbours said the couple saw the radical action as the most cost-efficient and equitable way to avoid each other in a country where divorce lawyers can be expensive.”

WOW.  That’s both sad and comical at the same time.

On a related subject, I’ve been enjoying reading Mark Driscoll’s new book Death by Love: Letters from the Cross.  I’m currently reading a letter about family relationships, written to “Dave,” a man who seems like a good Christian guy (i.e., he follows all the rules), but whose life is so rigid that there is no passion, spontaneity or joy in his family’s life.

I wanted to share two quotes with you that I found particularly compelling:

The reason that idolatry is so alluring is that idols promise to make life worth living, bring us happiness, and provide for us a sense of righteousness. All of these desires are good, but they become evil when they become our focus rather than Jesus, who alone makes life worth living and gives true joy and righteousness. For you, it seems that control, comfort and quiet are the idols that you are devoted to worshiping. While an organized home and occasional Sabbath and silence are good things, you have elevated them to a level of god-like status.

Subsequently, your functional concept of heaven is not eternal life with Jesus, but rather a manicured yard, money in the bank, a tidy house, obedient children, a wife without any needs, peace and quiet, eight hours of sleep, dinner on the table at 6:00 pm, time for your hobbies, and functional sex that meets your biological desires. To live in your functional heaven, you have made rigid scheduling, budgeting, rule-making, chart-keeping, silence, cleanliness, orderliness, routine, and predictability your functional saviors that will give you your functional heaven, which has become for your wife and children their hell on earth. (page 93)

And…

 Religion sees hardship as unloving punishment rather than sanctifying discipline. To be sure, God does deal with the sins of Christians …Because the Father is good and loving, and because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, God is not condemning us with suffering but will use suffering to sanctify us through affliction and make us more like Jesus, who ‘learned obedience through what he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8). Hebrews 12:1-11 also says that when we are suffering, we are to find encouragement by reminding ourselves of the cross of Jesus so that we will not grow weary or give up. Furthermore, we are told that God is a loving Father who will use the hardships we face in life as opportunities for discipline to grow us in holiness to live lives of ever-increasing righteousness.

Practically, I must say that this truth needs to be immediately incorporated into your parenting. Because you, Dave, are a religious person who has wrongly seen God as someone who is supremely concerned with the rules, you have unmercifully punished your children for breaking rules. You have withdrawn your relationship and love from them, condemning them to make them pay for their wrongdoing. Your children are confused about the gospel because you teach them that Jesus was condemned on the cross for their sins, and then you also condemn them when they sin. (pages 95-96)

I really appreciate how practical Driscoll’s application of the Gospel is into “Dave’s” family life.  As I pointed out last week, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time for family relationships.  Let’s not cut our houses in half (even metaphorically), but rather seek ways to live out the Father’s redemptive love for us within our families!