Marital Mistakes

Mistake #1: It’s not going to rain, I’ll ride my motorcycle to the store.

Mistake #2: After the rain subsided, I made it to my bike not too wet. Then I rode home, and drove right back into the storm, arriving totally soaked.

Mistake #3: Agreeing to my wife staying an extra week with our son, whose wife just had a baby. Had she come home with me, we would have both gone to the store, and we would have been in the car, and I wouldn’t have gotten drenched.

Mistake #4: Therefore, it’s my wife’s fault I got soaked.

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The Power of Forgiveness

It’s crucial that you understand the power of forgiveness. When you forgive, you release yourself and the other person from the pain and wrongs of your joint past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. According to Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes, it happens slowly, with a little understanding, and sometimes with some confusion, because it has to sort out the anger and the injustice. When forgiveness has finished its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and set free from the pain of the past.

Sometimes, you have to forgive the person you’re still in relationship with because there’s been unfaithfulness, a betrayal, neglect, or abuse. This is hard, but with God’s help, and sometimes the help of a good pastor, counselor, or friend, you can be successful at putting the past behind you and moving forward in a fresh start.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. You carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and the forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace has a song that talks about the impact of the ugliness, pain, and shame of the past, which are often followed by scars that remain for a lifetime. Heal the Wound, written by Clint Lagerberg and Nicole Nordeman, focuses on the metaphor that even after an injury has healed, there’s often a scar that lasts a lifetime. But instead of seeing the scar as a negative, they reframe it as a reminder of how gracious the Lord was in bringing you through the struggle.

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God Is My Helper

You can probably think of several characters in TV shows, comic books, movies, and novels who have a sidekick. There are lots of them: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife, Captain Kirk and Spock, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, Robin Hood and Little John, Shrek and Donkey, Moses and Aaron, Paul and Silas.

It seems almost every hero has a sidekick who provides comic relief, but also offers serious friendship and assistance along the way. It’s a classic technique in literature and drama, where sidekicks play an important role. They help the main character reach his or her goals and accomplish the mission. They offer friendship and provide insight. Usually, they perform tasks that are beneath the dignity of the hero. Sometimes they serve as a contrasting personality. The sidekick may be a commoner or a bumbler, allowing the audience someone they can relate with. Usually, the sidekick isn’t quite as smart, but helps the star come up with brilliant ideas. Always, the sidekick is of lesser importance.

A lot of people think of a helper as someone who is less important, less skilled, or less capable than the person who really matters. In our culture, a helper is considered an underling, a hireling, or a subordinate. We call them gophers. We even talk about the hired help—people who do the tasks the important people don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. Words like assistantadjunctapprenticedeputy, and sidekick come to mind.

However, that’s not the biblical concept of help. The Hebrew word for helper in the Old Testament is ezer, and comes from a verb that means to rescue, deliver, or help. Whenever it’s used of human beings, it’s talking about someone who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, smarter, or richer who reaches out to the weak or needy.

Most often, the word refers to God himself. The psalmist wrote, “God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my life” (Psalm 54:4) and “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

The point is that helping people is what God does. He’s always ready, willing, and able to help us in our time of need. No wonder Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (NIV).

Do you need help? Are you struggling at this point in your life? Have you felt like quitting or giving up? Let me encourage you, instead, to turn to the Lord and enter into his presence with confidence. You will find the help you need. That’s what God does. That’s who he is.

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Who’s More Important?

Before getting married, it’s healthy and right to be loyal to one’s parents, siblings, and friends. But once you get married, the primary loyalty has to shift to the new spouse.

It’s not that you have to cut off relationship with your family and friends No, you still want them and need them in your life. But the spouse must become the new priority, and has to feel more important than the in-laws and others. To the extent you’re willing and able to let go of prior loyalties, you can form new ones. Likewise, to the extent that you can’t or won’t change priorities, your marriage will suffer.

While Genesis 2:24 states that it is the parents you must leave in order to form a new unity, there are others, as well. These might include a boyfriend, girlfriend, or a previous lover. In fact, there may be a number of people and situations included in what you let go of: friends, abuse, wealth, lifestyle, job, fame, high school sports, or any number of things in one’s past.

Your Past Can Ruin Today

One couple lost a son in a terrible accident. Unable to let go of that pain and loss, not knowing how to heal, and unwilling to forgive, the woman drove her husband to divorce. She allowed the past to ruin their marriage by allowing it to remain in the present. She kept the pain alive.

But it’s not just the negative that has to be left behind. Sometimes you have to let go of some positives: the good old days, a happy first marriage, that perfect job, a previous home and neighborhood, wealth or fame, or even a dream or ambition. An athlete whose playing days are over is often headed for emotional and relational disaster. A Soldier whose career comes to an end, sometimes can’t adjust to being a civilian and finding a new identity.

Someone who loses a leg or an arm in an accident at work might have a tough time accepting the new reality and letting go of the previous physical ability. Retirees sometimes struggle with letting go of their previous life, identity, and sense of importance. Empty-nesters also face a difficult struggle when the kids are gone. These transitions are tough.

Sue Augustine writes, “All of us can think of something we’d like to be set free from. For some, it’s hurtful memories, past regrets, or bitter resentment. For others it’s sorrowful remorse, frightful insecurities, or deep-rooted grudges. Imagine what it would be like to be free . . . . There is hope for you or someone you know who struggles with an imperfect or painful past.”

Her book When Your Past Is Hurting Your Present is arranged in three sections: Relinquish Your Past, Renew Your Present, and Rebuild Your Future. This is good guidance for couples who are still fighting or struggling with letting go of the past.

Bottom Line: make sure you live each day knowing that your spouse is the most important person in the world.

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Like Father, Like Son

Families have a powerful influence on you throughout your life. Parents, siblings, and extended family shape you, teach you, and help establish your values and worldview. A lot of people look like, sound like, and think like their parents, sometimes even the ways they laugh, sing, or walk. I read about some cities that have an annual father-son and mother-daughter look-alike contest, and the entries are fascinating. It takes just a few minutes on a computer to find some hilarious parent-child look-alikes.

Personal interests, skills, and education often come from parents. It’s pretty common for a child to grow up and go into the same line of work as mother or father. People tend to follow their parents’ preferences in politics and religion, too. It makes sense, because parents set the tone in the home their children grow up in, and what the kids experience there, usually becomes the norm.

There’s a short film about an interview with a Qantas Airline pilot whose son became a flier for the same airline. Steve Gist and his son, Taylor, eventually were assigned to fly together, with the dad as the lead pilot, and the son as the co-pilot. It’s a great story, demonstrating some of the ways kids learn skills, knowledge, interests, and even careers from their parents.

I know of preachers’ kids who become ministers, school teachers’ kids who go into education, athletes’ kids who play ball. The same happens with hobbies. In June 2011, two men (father and son) both scored their first-ever 300-point game at the same bowling alley during the same week.

When I was in high school, I played Lieutenant Joe Cable in the musical South Pacific. One of the songs was titled “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” According to lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, we pick up hate and prejudice from our families.

We also learn how to behave in relationships from our families of origin, and that’s what brings us to this principle. You see, most of us don’t have very good role models when it comes to marriage. My wife and I both came from parents who had a pretty bad marriage, so when we got married, we didn’t know what to do. We loved each other, but didn’t know how to treat each other in positive ways, day after day.

When talking about letting one’s past influence the present, we often say the person is carrying some baggage. What we mean is, there’s been some pain, abuse, or failure in the past, and the person hasn’t finished dealing with it, letting go of it, healing from it, or forgiving the people involved. Whatever is in “the baggage” still has a negative impact on present-day relationships and attitudes.

Not all of the baggage we carry through life is painful or negative, though. In fact, sometimes it’s the good stuff in our past that gets in the way of building a good marriage. People who come from a good family often have just as much difficulty forming a new marriage, because of the influence of the parents.

The second Biblical Principle of Marriage is found in Genesis 2:24: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. I call this verse the Old Testament equivalent of Philippians 3:13-14, But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. The point of these scriptures is that in order to fully live in the present, you have to let go of the past.

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Treasure #2: Fulfillment

There are three areas of fulfillment that will help a couple deepen their love for each other while establishing an internal foundation of joy and happiness that will carry them through life’s struggles and disappointments.

First, it’s important for couples to pursue faith and spirituality together. Research demonstrates that couples who are spiritual together have a higher marital success rate. According to Proverbs 3:5-6, the Lord will straighten the path and smooth the road for those who trust in Him. This is the same thought expressed in Isaiah 40:3-4, where the prophet talks about preparing the way for the Messiah. The crooked path shall be made straight. The lowlands shall be filled in, the mountains leveled, and the rough and bumpy ways made smooth. That’s what the Lord wants to do in your marriage, and that’s what husband and wife can do for each other.

Second, Hebrews 13:4 teaches you to honor marriage in general, and to honor your marriage in particular, especially concerning sexuality. First Peter 3:7 adds that your prayers will be hindered if you don’t honor each other.

And third, Song of Songs 5:16 says, “This is my love, and this is my friend.” Maintaining friendship in marriage is too easily ignored by many couples.

These three areas of fulfillment (Spirituality, Sexuality, Friendship) combine to bring an inner strength for you as an individual as well as for you as a couple. Your life can be pleasant, prosperous, and deeply satisfying when you get the wisdom contained in these principles. According to the scriptures, your prayers will be answered and your dreams will come true.

In other words, maybe you really can live happily ever after. Now that’s a treasure worth adding to the décor of your home!

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Treasure #1: Unity

Proverbs 24:3-4 tells us that a house is built by wisdom, and it is established by understanding; by knowledge the rooms are filled with every precious and beautiful treasure.

Treasure? When I read these verses one of the first questions that comes to mind is, “What are those treasures?” So I searched the Bible, studied the writings of psychologists, and looked at my own marriage experience, and I concluded that there are four treasures. The first one is Unity.

Jesus said whenever two come together in unity, he promises to be there with them. He followed that with another guarantee: whenever two are in agreement and ask for something, he will do it for them.

Do you catch the significance of this? Unity invites the presence of God and ignites the power of God. That’s what makes unity a priceless commodity in your home. It’s the single most-important component of an effective marriage.

The first treasure you need, then, to decorate your home is unity, and the first three Biblical Principles of Marriage will show you how to do that. When a couple puts these concepts into action in their home, they are able to create the dynamics that will sustain them and provide a deep awareness of the behaviors that contribute toward unity. They’ll learn to avoid the words and behaviors that destroy unity.

When you are committed to building and maintaining unity in your marriage, you will experience the active presence of God and the awesome power of God. You’ll start to decorate your home with this beautiful, priceless jewel, paving the way for more treasures to follow.

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What Does Jack Reacher Have to Do with Marriage

Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher novels, tells about a time when he was unemployed. While trying to begin his writing career, he got into the habit of helping his wife with chores around the house. Then, he started going to the supermarket with her to help carry the groceries. She liked this, because he was quite a bit taller, able to reach items on the top shelves. On one occasion, a little old lady asked for his help. After Lee helped the woman, his wife said, “If this writing thing doesn’t work out, you can always be a reacher in a supermarket.” Instantly he thought, “What a great name for my character.” And Jack Reacher was born.

The irony is that he was helping her in the supermarket, and she helped him by giving him a name for the hero in his stories.

Having a proper understanding of the teaching on “help” in the Bible, couples who want their marriage to last a lifetime become extremely practical and intentional about helping their spouse in both small ways and big ways. They get good at it.

Christian psychologist Gary Smalley said helping is a powerful way of loving, empowering the partner to overcome the disasters that happen to everyone. According to Smalley, an “interest in being with and helping others during a crisis is a demonstration of love.”  Helping during the tough times can make or break a marriage, but having a helpful attitude and demeanor in the give and take of ordinary life is also essential.

Norman Wright and Gary Oliver point out that most couples begin their marriage responding to their partner’s needs by going out of their way to meet those needs. “But in time, this changes. Where previously most of our attention was focused on our spouse’s needs, our attention begins to focus on the fulfillment of our own needs. Each of us moves into the stage of giving less and expecting more.” A relationship that began good, turns into disillusionment, and disillusionment invites what John Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Dr. Gottman explains that once these behaviors are in the mix, the relationship is headed in the wrong direction, and may be in serious trouble. These actions simply don’t help the situation, nor do they help the people involved. Talking seems useless. Husband and wife start living parallel lives. And loneliness sets in. Couples in a marriage where this is happening might feel like calling it quits. After all, that’s what their friends, their families, their therapist, and the media are telling them to do. You fell in love, it didn’t work out, you fell out of love. Get over it, and move on.

Throwing in the towel, however, might not be the best thing to do. That might just add more pain and failure to lives already in trouble. Instead, the wise couple will look for ways to help each other through the tough times. And, they’ll look for responses that will help the marriage itself.

Marriage isn’t a partnership where one is always weak and the other always strong. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The idea is to help each other maximize strengths, and overcome weaknesses.

When couples begin to understand that the primary role in marriage is to be a helper, they realize in a very real way that they represent God to each other. The Lord is our helper, and he places husband and wife in the marriage to act on his behalf.

The bottom line is that a husband and wife who will routinely help one another in practical ways day after day will establish a friendship and an atmosphere of love that is contagious, and noticeable to everyone who knows them. They’re on their way to creating unity and developing a marriage that will last a lifetime.

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Help in the Bible

Helping is a major theme in the Bible. First, the Lord himself is our helper. Psalm 33:20 says, We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield, and in Psalm 46:1, God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.

Second, the people of God are called to help others. Leviticus 25:35 says, If your brother becomes destitute and cannot sustain himself among you, you are to support him as a foreigner or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 teaches, Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. In each of these scenarios, the helper is the stronger, richer, or more able person.

But the scriptural injunction to help others goes beyond the countryman, the friend, or the neighbor, extending even to one’s enemy. Exodus 23:5, for example, says If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying helpless under its load, and you want to refrain from helping it, you must help with it. And in Matthew 5:44, Jesus teaches his disciples, But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

A third way we see helping in the Bible is that ministry is considered to be a way of helping people. When describing Paul’s Macedonian call, Acts 16:9 says, During the night a vision appeared to Paul:  A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!”

Fourth, there is a spiritual gift called the Gift of Helps in 1 Corinthians 12:28. And God has placed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages.

And fifth, in Genesis 2:18, marriage is initiated by God to be a helping relationship.

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Help, I Need Somebody

The first time marriage is mentioned in the Bible, the word for Adam’s new companion is not wife, spouse, or partner. God doesn’t refer to Eve as Adam’s mate, lover, or better half. He definitely doesn’t call her the old lady. Not even the missus. No, the term God chose when he created marriage was “helper.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement” (Genesis 2:18).

Every time I read this, I start chuckling because this is the first time in the creation story God looks at what he made and doesn’t say, “It’s good.” Instead, when the Lord looks at the man, he says, “Hmmm. Something’s not right here. He needs help.”

You’ve probably heard the joke: God was practicing making people one day, and made a man. But after seeing the flaws and the mess he had made, he decided to try again. This time, he perfected his creation, made a bunch of improvements, and the result was a woman.

Or this one: God’s original idea was to make only men. But after taking a look at the first one, God said, “No way this dude should be on his own. He needs help!” So, he added women to the plan, and the world became a better place.

Women have known for a long time, Don’t leave a man all by himself too long. That’s not good.

OK, putting the jokes aside, at least we have to acknowledge that there’s s a startling change in the pattern established in the creation narrative, because for the first time, God looks at what he made and doesn’t say “It is good.”

As we examine the scripture, we see that God himself presents a view of marriage that is theological, practical and visionary. Right from the start, the Lord makes it clear how he wants men and women to see each other, and how to relate to each other.

Marriage was designed for husband and wife to help each other. Why? Because life is hard, and we need help. We need someone who is there day after day, committed to making our life a bit better and more bearable. With a helper like that, life is more fun. There’s more joy and satisfaction.

A lot of people think a helper is someone who is less important, less skilled, or less capable. Several dictionaries define a helper as an unskilled worker who is there to assist the tradesman or the professional. They offer synonyms like assistant, adjunct, apprentice, deputy, and sidekick. In our culture, a helper is considered an underling, a hireling, or a subordinate.

We call them gophers. We even talk about the hired help—people who do the tasks the important people don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. We see this in the novel, The Help, and the corresponding movie. It shows up in shows like Downton Abbey, too.

You can probably think of several characters in TV shows, comic books, movies, and novels who have a sidekick. There are lots of them: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife, Captain Kirk and Spock, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, Robin Hood and Little John, Shrek and Donkey, Moses and Aaron, Paul and Silas.

It seems almost every hero has a sidekick who provides comic relief, but also offers serious friendship and assistance along the way. It’s a classic technique in literature and drama, where sidekicks play an important role. They help the main character reach his goals or accomplish the mission. They offer friendship and provide insight. Usually, they perform tasks that are beneath the dignity of the hero. Sometimes they serve as a contrasting personality. The sidekick may be a commoner or a bumbler, allowing the audience someone they can relate with. Usually, the sidekick isn’t quite as smart, but helps the star come up with brilliant ideas. Always, the sidekick is of lesser importance.

The problem is that we actually think the Bible supports the concept of a helper as someone who is inferior. No wonder we tend to think of the wife, and indeed, of women in general, as less important, inferior, and easy to make fun of or dismiss. But that’s not what the Lord had in mind when he designed marriage, and that’s not what helper means in the Bible.

The Hebrew word for a helper in the Old Testament is ezer, and comes from a verb that means to rescue, deliver, or help. Whenever it’s used of human beings, it’s talking about someone who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, smarter, or richer who reaches out to the weak or needy. Most often, however, the word helper refers to God himself. The psalmist wrote God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my life (Proverbs 54:4).

Some people think of a wife as the husband’s sidekick. He’s more important. He matters, and she doesn’t. He makes the decisions. She’s basically there to adorn his life and serve much like a classic sidekick. However, that’s not even close to the meaning of helper in the Bible.

An example of help given by someone who is stronger, to one who is weaker is 2 Samuel 14:4, When the woman from Tekoa came to the king, she fell with her face to the ground in homage and said, “Help me, my king! The king was obviously richer, more powerful, and of greater worth in the eyes of the people. Yet, he becomes her helper.

It’s astonishing that Genesis introduces woman this way, and that marriage is presented this way. In essence, the God who is our Helper created someone who will stand in for Him and provide the help the man needs. It absolutely cannot be construed to refer to a lower-ranking female who helps the more-important male. God didn’t make Eve to be Adam’s sidekick.

No, God designed marriage to be a relationship in which husband and wife are devoted to helping one another. This is the first responsibility on their job description when they get married. God is our helper, and those who are married have a second helper. Someone they can rely on, trust, and gain strength from. Someone whose aim in the relationship is to contribute toward wholeness and happiness. Someone who lends a hand and provides help in a thousand little ways, and in some huge ways.

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