No, You Didn’t Marry The Wrong Person

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you want to avoid the “I married the wrong person” syndrome, you had better learn forgiveness—then practice it early and often, readily, unconditionally, and pre-emptively in the marriage.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 15:29

But as the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David skipping about and laughing with joy, she was filled with contempt for him.

What kills marriages? Was it the wrong choice of a spouse? No, it is likely contempt for the spouse that was chosen. And it is quite likely that it was unforgiven mistakes that allowed the contempt to fester over time and fatally infect the marriage. What a tragedy! A marriage that began with so much promise was brought down by festering contempt—and it could have been prevented with some steady doses of forgiveness along the way.

The story of King David and his wife, Michal, the daughter of the late King Saul, is a cautionary tale of how contempt killed a once thriving relationship. In this account, which spans several books (1 and 2 Samuel) and several years, Michal could never let go of the belief that David had destroyed her father’s dynasty and had contributed to his, and her brothers’ deaths—at least in her mind. David never let go of the fact that Saul had stolen Michal and had given her to another man. (1 Samuel 25) And then we see in this story where Michal’s seething contempt broke the surface toward David, that in response, David held resentment toward Michael for the rest of their marriage—most likely the cause of her barrenness was because David withheld sexual affection from her.

Reality is, you are going to be hurt by your spouse, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally, and sometimes severely. If you hold onto a hurt, the wound festers. It slowly poisons your relationship if you refuse to forgive, and if there is chronic unforgiveness, a barren marriage is guaranteed.

Someone has said that forgiveness is the fragrance of the rose petal that’s left on the heel of the shoe that crushed it. Here is God’s truth for married couples: Forgiveness is the fragrance that gives your marriage a sweet aroma. If you want to avoid the “I married the wrong person” syndrome, you had better learn forgiveness—then practice it early and often, readily, unconditionally, and pre-emptively in the marriage.

You may feel like you have married the wrong person, but the truth is, you have not. There are a few exceptions, but you are probably not one of them. You don’t need a better spouse, you need to be a better spouse. And here’s where you start:

First, accept responsibility for your actions. You cannot control your spouse’s actions and you cannot control your spouse’s attitudes. But you can control yours!

Galatians 6:5 says, “Each person must be responsible for himself.” That means you have to accept responsibility for healing your marriage. You must quit the blame game and take responsibility for your part of the problem, and your part of the solution.

Second, believe your marriage can change. You may be confused, disappointed, and feeling that your marriage is hopeless, but God doesn’t feel that way; he hasn’t given up. The Bible says in Matthew 19, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

From a human standpoint, you may think your marriage is in the coffin and they are nailing the lid shut, but if you could see it from God’s perspective, you would see nothing but life, health, happiness and fruitfulness, for a long time to come. How you perceive your marriage—either negatively or positively, either through eyes of faith or eyes that see only failure—will have the greatest impact on whether or not you can experience healing and growth. So begin to ask God to give you a new perspective on your spouse and on your marriage.

And third, commit to doing whatever it takes to restore your marriage. Pray, get professional help if you need it, take marriage classes at your church, and most of all, seek—or give—forgiveness. Dig in for a long obedience in the same direction, even if you don’t feel like it, and see how God will change your marriage—and you—in the process.

Great marriages just don’t happen; it takes real and sustained effort. Galatians 6:9 says, “So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.”

What Paul is saying is do the right thing whether you feel like it or not, and God will bless your obedience. Good feelings eventually follow faithful action. It’s easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action. If you wait for the feeling to come to start being nice to your spouse, it isn’t going to come. Make the choice to obey God, because according to Philippians 2:13, “God who is at work within you will give you the will and the power to achieve His purpose.” That is God’s promise to you! Philippians 4:13 exhorts, “For I can do everything [that means even to love again somebody that I have come to hate] with the help of Christ who gives me the strength that I need.”

The truth is, maybe you married a lousy person, but don’t give up without giving God his rightful chance to bring healing and health to your home. And giving God a chance is your choice!

Going Deeper With God: Is your marriage in a desperate state? Then take desperate measures! Pray, get professional help if you need it, seek—or give—forgiveness, and take marriage classes at your church. Dig in for a long obedience in the same direction, even if you don’t feel like it, and see how God will change your marriage—and you in the process.

Man Up!

ThanksLivingThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Gender is under assault in our culture: manhood is emasculated, femininity ridiculed or clownishly sexualized, and childhood obliterated. Christians need to stand against that demonic doctrine by offering living proof of the Creator’s brilliance in designing us male and female, and by giving our children the path to grow into biblical manhood or womanhood in loving, protecting, nurturing, stable homes where God’s Word is honored.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Kings 2:1-4

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth. So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’”

Most of the commentaries you read on 1 Kings 2:2 skip over the line, “act like a man.” There are likely many reasons for ignoring it, but in the modern era where great energy is expended and demands are made to neutralize gender difference, my guess is one of those reasons is that pastors and theologians want to avoid any hint of political incorrectness.

But if God is unchanging—which I believe, and the Word of God is true—which I believe, and if scripture speaks with relevance, sensitivity, grace and fairness to every age and culture, including ours—which I believe, then what about this line? Did God through King David just tell the king-elect, Solomon, to “man up”? Yes he did! The Apostle Paul said similarly in 1 Corinthians 16:13,

Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong.

Now if you use a modern thought-for-thought translation of the Bible, like the NIV or the NLT, which I think are wonderful options for reading God’s Word, they leave out the phrase, “act like a man.” As an aside, that is why it is not a bad idea when you study a passage to compare translations, like the ESV or the HCSB, which are excellent word-for-word translations (see https://www.biblegateway.com as an excellent online option for side-by-side Bible translations). But the point I want to make is that in the Greek text, the word for man is there—it is andridzomahee, which most definitely refers to masculinity.

So does the Bible recognize gender differences? Yes—God made us male and female, and we are to celebrate God’s design. No matter what a our crazy culture insists on today (believe me, it will be different tomorrow, and worse!), God’s Word is unchanging, perfect in all its way, and will lead us to “prosper in all you do and wherever you go,” as David said to Solomon. God has built in to humanity differences that are existential. If you don’t believe me, just hang out with me while my little grandsons are at my home. Boys are very different, intrinsically, from the little girls my wife and I brought into this world.

But does the Bible promote male superiority? Not a chance. You will never find that in scripture, including here, and if you do, you are fundamentally misreading God’s Word—and that misreading is a grievous error. It just so happens that in the two instances I’ve quoted where men are told to “act like a man,” the conversations happen to be with men. If the speakers were talking to women, they would say, “now act like a woman.” Similarly in scripture, sometimes people that are being childish are called out for “acting like a child” or “acting like an infant.” Nothing more is meant to be read into the author’s words. Simply put, men are called to biblical manliness in the sense that they are to courageously and confidently pursue the mission that God has assigned them. That is what it means to “man up.”

So what were David and Paul saying to the male listeners standing before them at that moment? Simply this: the walk of faith to which you are called is not for the feint of heart, so be courageous; put on your big boy pants and do the right thing. If you do, God will bless you. If you don’t, you are going to get run over. If you won’t, then get out of the way.

We are at a time in our culture where maleness is being emasculated, femininity is either put down or clownishly sexualized and childhood is being obliterated. As Christians, we need to stand against that demonic doctrine by offering living proof of the Creator’s brilliance in designing us male and female and then giving us the path to grow into biblical manhood or womanhood through the process of childhood in loving, protecting, nurturing homes that honor God’s Word. We will be going against the grain if we live out this orthodoxy, but it will be the only way to save our kids and our culture. And it will take from us, male and female, what both David and Paul called forth:

Now man up!

Yes, man up, and put mature courage on display before a watching world!

Going Deeper With God: The best witness to God’s design in a culture that has “exchanged the glory of God” for caricatures of the divine design (Romans 1:23) is to display through your daily life God’s ideal for human beings. Today, with God’s help, being living proof of an all-wise Creator.

Silence Is Not Golden

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Having difficult conversations is a skill that parents must develop if they are to do a great job of bringing up their children to be well-adjusted, responsible adults. To balance words of rebuke and admonishment with words of encouragement and direction is one of the most difficult things to master, but it can and must be done. To a large degree, the future of the child depends on how skillfully the parent speaks the truth in love.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 14:28

Absalom lived two years in Jerusalem without seeing the king’s face.

It is easy to put figures from history on the couch and analyze all their problems. When we do, however, we never have all the facts and nuances that went into why they did what they did, and playing armchair psychologist with their lives will lead us to a pretty dismal cure rate. As Henry Louis Menchen said,

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.

Having said that, let me take a shot at analyzing David’s parenting technique of isolating his misbehaving son, Absalom, which from our vantage point now looking back several thousand years was horrible. Absalom was King David’s favorite, his pet. The young man was handsome and winsome, and people loved him. His attraction quotient was off the charts. He was also as devious, sneaky, and self-serving as the day is long. When his half-brother Amnon forced himself sexually on Abalsom’s sister, Tamar, Absalom was furious—understandably. And when their father seemed to turn a blind eye to what Amnon had done, Absalom fumed, and secretly plotted.

When the time came, under the guise of a family celebration, through an intricately planned trap, Absalom murdered Amnon and avenged his sister’s rape. Absalom then fled Israel and lived in exile for a couple of years under the protection of a friendly king. In the meantime, again turning a blind eye to what his son had done, David pined for his favorite child. Ultimately, through some skillful mediation, Absalom was allowed to return home to Israel.

But his ongoing punishment was the silent treatment from David. The king refused to speak to his son for two years. In fact, Absalom couldn’t even be in King David’s presence. And it was during this time that Absalom, now seething from his father’s silence, began to secretly foment the rebellion that would lead him to usurp his father’s throne. It would be a rebellion that would divide Israel, lead to the deaths of thousands of soldiers, and ultimately lead to Absalom’s own death and David’s deep and abiding grief.

Now for the analysis: In hindsight, banishing the young man from king’s presence was probably the worst thing the dad could have done for the son. Punishment yes, but silence no. In this case, the judgment was not redemptive; this was not discipline—a form of discipleship that has the goal of restoring the one being punished to a better place. This was done out of anger, frustration and embarrassment.

How much better would it have been for king David to bring Absalom close to himself and help the self-absorbed young man learn about selflessness and serving from the man who truly understood what it meant to shepherd his people? Rather, David’s silent treatment allowed what had already been festering in Absalom to now grow even more rapidly. If Absalom was narcissistic before, he was now a narcissist on steroids.

Having difficult conversations is a skill that must be developed by parents if they are to do a great job of bringing up their children to be well-adjusted, responsible adults. To balance words of rebuke and admonishment with words of encouragement and direction is one of the most difficult things to master, but it can and must be done. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15-16,

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

A key piece of a parent’s own maturing process is to courageously and confidently speak the truth in love to their children. As Paul said, this is the only way for our family—our children—to build itself up in love.

If you are a parent, or a mentor to a young person, I plead with you: learn how to get this one right. To a large degree, the future of your charge depends on how skillfully you speak the truth in love.

Going Deeper With God: Learning to speak the truth in love is a very challenging skill to acquire. But the Lord will help you if you ask, then commit to it. So ask!