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About this series
Keeping Love Alive - Volume 3
Four Challenges Great Marriages Have in Common
If you could take a step back and really evaluate your marriage… how does it look? Is it just a little out of sync... are there a few areas that need some work... or is your relationship on the verge of completely falling apart? Through his newest volume of “Keeping Love Alive,” Chip reveals a humbling truth… every marriage has its struggles… even the ones that look perfect. In these programs, Chip addresses the 4 challenges great marriages have in common. He exposes how - busyness, temptation, kids, and stagnation - can ruin relationships. Discover from God’s Word how you and your mate can handle these trials together - and become a stronger couple, more effective parents, and create a happier home.More from this series
Pull out the notes, I think the final challenge is stagnation.
The picture when I think of God’s marriage is an equilateral triangle that you see is there. God is at the top and you’ll notice that if you put, in fact, if you’ll put your notes down, put your fingers on the right where it says “woman” and where it says “man” at the bottom, kind of at the bottom of the triangle. And then just move your fingers up halfway.
And as you, as the man and the woman each get closer to God, what happens to their relationship? And then move it all the way up within about a quarter of an inch to the top. See, the greatest thing you’ll ever do for your marriage, it’s the thing that you can control is walk closely with God.
Because as you get closer to Him, He gives you the power and the perspective to give your mate what they need, to forgive your mate when it’s really hard to, to not let the wounds fester.
And then you’ll notice that in that picture, there’s, it’s spirit, emotions or soul, and body. And on the right side where it says “spirit” just write the word “fellow worshipper”. Is this is just a part of – this is God’s diagram. This is the engineer saying: This is how marriage works. You want to have a spiritual connectedness with one another. Be fellow worshippers.
And on the left side of that, write the word “agape”. Agape love is an unconditional giving of love with no expectation of return. God so loved the world, it’s agape love.
And so, you want to experience God’s love and you want to provide that to one another. Where it says, “soul”, if you put a little arrow to the right, and write “best friends”. So, God wants you to be fellow worshippers, but an awful lot of marriage is just being best friends. We will talk about what that looks like.
And to the left, then, write the word “phileo”. It doesn’t matter how you spell it. Just be phonetic. But phileo love is, it’s a friendship love. It’s – when Jesus said, “Do you love Me?” to Peter, Peter responds, “Phileo – You know I love You.” And he goes there a couple times and finally he gets to the, “Lord, You know, You know who I am. Yes, we are friends, but only You.” And he makes a little distinction between agape love and phileo love.
But this is, it’s the kind that friends have, that you care for one another. We would call it, “You’ve got each other’s back.” You have fun; you share.
And then, the body is “passionate lovers”. Put that to the right.
And so, there’s fellow worshippers, best friends, passionate lovers, and then on the left side write the word “eros”. We get our English word erotic. God wants us to have deep, intimate, passionate sexual relationship with one another.
And it starts with your connection; there’s a very high correlation. By praying together and having passionate love, physically. Because there’s something that happens that opens the heart and the soul of one another. There’s a connectedness.
And so, that’s the picture.
The problems are three or fourfold. There are spiritual issues, psychological issues, gender issues, and history issues. And by spiritual I mean I am basically a selfish person; even after coming to Christ, I want my way. And my wife wants her way. And so, I’ve got to, the only way I can get that straightened out is by God’s power.
And then there’s the psychological. And what I mean by that is you have different personalities: introvert, extrovert. You like different things. You connect in different ways. You are different. And differences are great for connecting, but differences also repel.
And then you have gender issues. Women and men don’t look at life the same way, don’t respond in the same ways, and so, that old, old book, what was it? Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. I mean, there’s – contrary to what we are hearing in our day, there is dramatic differences, not just physically, but between men and women in terms of everything from processing information to relational styles to abilities and capacities.
And then finally, we have history. And some of that is family of origin, some of it is trauma. You married someone that has been abused, someone who has been raped, someone who has been in an accident. All I’m trying to tell you is there’s lots working against you having a great marriage.
And then, finally, there’s a process. And I think the process, primarily, is this idea of learning to communicate and share openly so that you can deal with those issues and realize, yes, we are different. We have different personalities, we have different backgrounds, we can learn about one another, but we have – God the supreme engineer has told us, Put Me first, draw near to Me, you’ll draw near to one another.
And at the very bottom where it says Genesis 2:24, just write the word “oneness or intimacy”. That’s God’s goal in marriage. Genesis 2:24 says, “We’ll leave our families and become one.” And it says they were both naked and unashamed. And certainly it was physical, but it’s more, it’s emotionally, it’s the vulnerability, being safe with one another.
And so, all I wanted to do is just give you a picture of exactly, kind of, that’s the goal. That’s the design.
And so, I think there are four things that keep stagnation at bay. And the first one is commitment. And commitment is a lifelong, notice, choice of unconditional love. Circle in your notes, if you would, “choice”. So often, we think it’s commitment is when it works.
The focus here is to love. And as we have already shared, love is volitional, not just emotional response to our spouse. It’s that agape word. It’s Jesus in the garden choosing to go to the cross. And our model is Hebrews chapter 13, verse 5.
And we are only going to look at four verses, very shortly. So, I’d like you to go ahead and turn to them so you can – I’d like you to see them in your own Bible or your own phone, if you will.
Hebrews chapter 13. It’s written to a mixed group of believers and unbelievers, and the big issue of the book is people are drifting. They are drifting away from God, under pressure.
Verse 4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.”
So, there are a couple strong words there about sexual purity, about the danger of not money itself, but the love of it. And then here’s the purpose clause, “For God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’”
Just that idea, “I will never ever leave you. I will never ever forsake you.” Your mate, knowing that that’s your commitment to them, creates a place of safety. You can be hurt, you can be angry, you can be frustrated, you can have arguments, but I don’t think you ever use the word “divorce”. It should never come out of your mouth.
The commitment says, “I love you.” That’s what commitment really says. I love you in the good times, I love you in the bad times, I love you when things are going well, I love you especially when things are not going well. Love, for certain, means fidelity to one another, sexually. Loving your mate when it’s hard.
And I just think that’s what helps you get through. There are dark valleys in every marriage. There are seasons and sometimes it’s because of children, or financial pressure, or struggles with in-laws, or health issues, or depression, or anxiety, or anger. But to know that there’s one other person that you just choose to say, “I don’t know how, I don’t have it all figured out, but I love you. I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you.”
Reinforcing that, and I’ll give you some ways to do that as we close up. That helps refresh. We sort of assume that, but over time, you’ve got to put that log on the fire. You’ve got to look your mate in the eye and tell them, “I love you. I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you.”
Second is communication. The focus here is to know. It’s a lifelong skill, learning to understand each other. Circle the word “skill”. See, some things are just a choice. It’s: This is what I am going to purpose to do. But this is a skill.
And it’s not learning to talk, as I have had to learn painfully. It’s learning to understand each other. What you want, you want to know them. You know what makes them happy. You know what makes them sad. Over time, you know why they do what they do, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.
You know where they have been and where they have been hurt and where they have been wounded and why they might be sensitive to this or sensitive to that, or…
The skill takes time, it takes practice, it takes help, it takes effort. Theresa and I have read multiple books over the years, we have listened to lots of messages, we have made time to get away.
Our model is Jeremiah 33:3 I love this. It says, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know.”
God says, “Let’s communicate. Just call to Me. Open up, ask, talk, and I will answer you.”
And I think that’s our model.
Isaiah 43, I remember it’s I think verse 21 through about verse 26, if you want to check it out later. But it’s a judgment passage where He is reminding them of all the things they have done and He said, “I wasn’t looking for all your sacrifices and all this and all that.” But He says, “You have drifted away from Me.” And then He says, “I, even I, have forgiven you for My own sake.”
And then He makes this invitation, “Come, let us argue our case together.” In other words, God is saying to a people that have rejected Him, Let’s just start talking again. Let’s just start communicating. Even though you are way over here, I have blotted out your transgressions for My own sake. I want to be with you. I want to connect with you so much, and I just think that’s the kind of attitude we want to have with our mates, especially when we are wounded.
Communication is the highway upon which love travels. Communication says, and this is a key word, “I trust you.” See, you can say words, but communication is I am going to open up and I am going to share some things that are vulnerable, and if you don’t treat them very well, then it’s going to be very painful.”
And at the end of the day, love is being willing to say some things that I would really like to do or are meaningful to me, if they hurt my mate, then I need to be willing to adjust.
See, because the thing, when you lose trust, you don’t just lose it in an area. Have you ever had someone do something and then pretty soon, everything is suspect after that and you read into this and you read into that and you take circumstances and you form dots that aren’t there? That’s why communication is so vital, and that we build trust with one another.
The third, there’s commitment, communication, the third I would call “log” that you need to put on the fire is caring. An adventure of lifelong friendship, fun, and mutual fulfillment. And circle the word “adventure”. Yes, you’ve got to be committed; yes, there’s a skill to learn. And communication doesn’t come easily. For Theresa and myself, it was really hard.
There was a book called Communication: The Key to Your Marriage by Norman Wright. And we read it and filled out the questions and then later he came out with another book. More Communication: The Key to Your Marriage; we got that one too. We were so slow. And…
You can actually learn. But there needs to be some adventure.
The focus here is to share. It’s becoming best friends. And it looks different for different people, but it’s taking walks, it’s dates, it’s talks, it’s hobbies, it’s weekends away, it’s thinking back to: What did you do when you were dating? What did you do that’s fun? Because what happens is work, work, work, work. And especially once kids, kids, kids. That – this is one of the areas that literally can just dissipate and we will talk about having a plan where at least once a week you and your mate say, “You know what? Our relationship really matters. It matters more than the kids’ sports over here and this over here and that over there.
We are going to have some time, we are going to do something fun together. You have to talk, sure. But life can’t all be serious. It has got to be an adventure and fun.
The model here is Matthew chapter 11, verse 28. And it’s an interesting passage, if you want to turn there with me.
But this is Jesus speaking to a group of people who are in great need of rest. And He says in verse 27, “All things have been committed to Me by My Father. And no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Yes, we have that with Jesus, but we need to have that as a couple. We need to be in the same yoke, doing some things together, things that you both like to do, things that are fun, things that are refreshing.
So, whatever that was when you were dating, whatever it is, when you get done and you look at each other and goes, “I’m glad we did that. That was fun. It was just great to be with you.” Begin to pencil those back into your schedule.
Caring says, “I like you.” Yes, we need to say to one another, by our commitment, “I love you;” by our communication, “I want to know you;” caring says, “I like you.”
One of the things Theresa and I do a lot, this might not sound like a big adventure, but we really like coffee. We’ll just get a few minutes alone, and just – sometimes we sit in each other’s presence and don’t say a whole lot. Sometimes we talk about some things. Taking walks are a really good time together.
We… just simple things that just say, “I like you. I just, I like to hang out with you.” And verbalizing that.
The final log that you want to put on the fire of your marriage to keep it burning is, I wrote, they had to all start with a “C” so this one is a little bit of a stretch. Co-mission.
A co-mission is a shared vision to impact the lives of others for Christ. And here the focus is to serve. I think we have been inundated, even in Christians circles, that the real issue of marriage is that you, if you have a great marriage you’ll be fulfilled. You’ll be happy. Your mate is meeting your needs and you are meeting their needs.
The greatest picture of Jesus and the Church is in Ephesians chapter 5. And the apostle Paul makes this astounding statement. He walks through this whole passage about the man’s role to sacrificially love his wife, and the wife’s role to respect her husband, and the man to literally lay down his life. And then out of the blue he goes, “Oh, by the way, I’m referring to Christ and the Church.”
Apart from the body of Christ, functioning in a way that is beautiful and loving and caring, the greatest testimony for Christ you’ll probably ever have is your marriage. It’s so rare to find people who endure, people who love each other, people that still want to go on a date after ten, twenty, thirty, forty years. People who really believe that God brought them together and that there’s something that they can accomplish for Christ, that they serve together and they do things together that is beyond not making you happy or making the other person happy, but this is why God brought us together. Because you have gifts and I have gifts. And the two become one. And together, you’re a team that God uses in ways that He couldn’t use this person or this person, but He brings you together.
And there’s something powerful, powerful that happens when you serve, when you, together, care about other people.
It was a very small thing, but we were in church last weekend and I’m still learning how to – I’ve been a pastor I guess thirty-six of the last thirty-nine years of a local church. And I’m still learning how to be, like, go to a church service.
You’re used to, I can’t, I have to, don’t evaluate the worship, don’t evaluate the preaching. The good news, where I go, I really love the preaching. It’s awesome.
But when you’re not, you know, stagnation is when you’re, you know, it’s a good message, I took notes, and [sigh] I mean, I’ve got lots of good excuses, but as he was talking, it was just a, you know how a sermon sometimes, it was like, not a major point. But it really caught. And it was sort of one of those lines about, “The early Church, they came and they worshipped and they got before God and then they shared a meal together. It wasn’t just coming to a service, they shared a meal because they sat down and they loved each other.”
And they had a little time where you introduce yourselves to people, like, after the vision casting or announcements. And I turned around and there was a gal, talk about she just graduated, first time there. And I went this way and Theresa went that way. And she met a girl that was twenty-five and second or third time there. And we, so we got those two together and, “Oh, this was really good.” And went through the service and then I just leaned in the back and just that one line, I thought, I don’t know why, I know why, the Holy Spirit brought it to my mind.
In one of the most difficult times of our life, and the people didn’t know it, we had no money. We had moved to Dallas to go to seminary, and circumstances that would bore you and are unimportant, but we went to this church to visit a church for the first time, and we were in the car. And we were praying. And I was praying about lunch. And we didn’t have any money. And I didn’t know what we were going to do for lunch. And someone knocked on the window, and it was the people who sat either in front of us or behind us. And you know when you have that little time that some churches do, like, “Hey, greet the people.” And these people, they were just really kind. They knocked, I mean, this is a, it was a huge church, and big parking lot. How they found us, I know how, God. And then they said, “Excuse us,” and we rolled down the window. They said, “Hey, any chance you all want to go to lunch?” And we went over to their house and had another seminary couple. One is we didn’t visit any other churches.
And I thought that pastor of that church later became a mentor, the trajectory of my life was changed, my whole future was changed because we went to that church and all that happened, because one couple out of a little prompting said, “You want to go to lunch?” So, all this is going through my mind as and then it went on, like, “Oh man, they’ll think we are crazy.” And we’ve got some things, right? Then I started all the excuses.
And so, I just went to these ladies, I said, “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve got any plans, but would you like to go with Theresa and I? There’s a little Boston Market or something just a mile away. We could, “Oh, yeah! That’d be great!” And we sat down with them and heard their whole story. And I remember getting back and the car and thinking, That’s the best church service I have been to in months! And it was like, “Well, wonder why?” Because it wasn’t what I got out of it or what Theresa, it was we did something together that we just got to, it was very simple, and loved some people. And just two things happened. I felt way closer to God, and I felt way closer to my wife.
The log of communication, the log of commitment, the log of caring, and here, the log of co-mission. And our model is Matthew 4:19. And I’ll just quote this one. Jesus came up to the fishermen and said, “Follow Me,” can anybody finish it? And I will [congregation: “make you fishers of men.”] Way to go.
In other words, so, “Follow Me and I will make you,” you don’t have to make yourself.
“You follow Me. You follow Me.” And by the way, in that day, when someone, usually, a rabbi would go out and have many disciples come and ask to be a follower, because they wanted to learn to teach like Him and live like Him and it was part academic and then part practical. And it was just a process where all these disciples would, can you get the best rabbi?
And Jesus, by contrast, He went and picked His. And it’s interesting, His invitation was, “You come follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” And so, He models, I think, this, the co-mission says, “I need you.” I need you.
I have an unusual job where I am in front of a lot of people. And we had a little time to talk, but because of that, most people don’t see the role that my wife has, and not just praying, but my life has been shaped.
My wife, and I’m sure there are others, I don’t know anyone with higher integrity and I have never met anyone that prays like her. And I don’t to embarrass her, but I mean, I pray. Believe me, and I pray. And then I practice the presence of God.
She prays at a level and from the heart, sometimes there’s a stack of tissues. And I remember early, “What are you, you’ve got a runny nose or something?” No, she cries, she literally cries when she cries out to the Lord. And those tissues are her tears. And I believe with all my heart that there’s this connection that God has given both of us where God has used her to blaze the trail and change my children and change me and live with her in such a way where, it’s very unfortunate, because I get so much of the external credit, but I am absolutely concerned, or convinced, that whatever I would have ever been able to do would have been miniscule apart from the connection, the partnership, and the serving together, though our roles are very, very different. And some of you have heard, she’s actually an excellent teacher and counselor and disciples women. But it’s just, “I need you. I trust you. I love you. I like you.”
The very bottom, I wrote an important reminder that didn’t used to be in these notes. Personal time with God and yourself, right? Plus supportive friends, plus renewing activities, equals a fully alive you. In other words, a full battery to be a giver. And so, what I mean by that is we can’t ask your husband or your wife to be the only sounding board, to be the only person. There are certain things that men need to share with men, and women need to share with women.
There are certain things that are very, for some of us, it’s, I don’t know what it is for other people. Like, for me, working out – I need to work out, I need to be with a bunch of guys. I played competitive basketball until my back thing, and when I couldn’t do that anymore, it’s like, okay, I’m going to pick up golf. But I need to be with some guys and compete and have some fun and laugh and be crazy and not be the pastor or that person up there. And where I’m just Chip, and we just have a blast. That refreshes me. I need some personal time. My wife needs personal time.
So, you want to say, “Yeah, our marriage is the most important.” Now, you can get it out of balance where all your time is with guys or all your time is over here, but I just want to remind you that you need to be refreshed so that you can give your mate what God wants you to give.
We have identified the mission, we have identified what the big logs are that need to be addressed, and we are now, we are going to develop a strategic plan, all right? And you can execute these and develop a strategy. Question number one is, it says, “Tell your partner what kinds of words and actions let you know that he or she is committed to you.” And I give a few examples like one of you might say, “You know, when we pray together, I feel, that communicates that you’re committed to me.” “When we set goals together.” “When you lead, financially.” “When you lead, domestically.” “When you express affection in this way or that way.”
How will each of you seek to demonstrate your commitment to one another on a weekly basis?
I want you as a woman to write down three specific actions that when your husband does any of these three things, it feels like he’s committed to me. Okay? It just expresses he’s committed to me. And then, men, I want you to write down three specific actions that when your wife responds or acts in this way toward you, it feels like, “Wow,” remember? Commitment is, “I love you.” You feel like, “I feel really loved when she,” one, two, or three. Okay?
And then here’s the action step. This next week, just choose one. Choose one and do it. If you want to go for broke, you could choose two. Like, do one on Monday through Wednesday and choose another one, like, okay?
But we make this whole thing about, it’s all going to be spontaneous and this is that and we make it this mystery. How about, you know, like, “Hey, when we pray together, when we sit down and do the bills together, and when he helps clean the house.” Those would be ones I think my wife would probably say. And I might say things like, “When she initiates being romantic, when she verbalizes to me, ‘I love you,’ because that’s one of my love languages, and when she gives me feedback and strokes my ego a little bit, because I’m basically insecure, I feel very loved.”
You can compliment me as much as you want. You don’t know me; I don’t know you. It’s kind of, it’s sort of like, that’s nice. She really knows me. When she tells me, “That was a good job.” Right? I feel loved!
And what I’m trying to help you see is you can come up with specific plans and right now you might have had some hard conversations or there are difficulties in your past and there are struggles here and struggles there. Just start throwing some logs on the fire. Just start doing some of those things that you know the other person feels loved when you do them. How do you know? Because they told you.
Okay, number two, when and what will you put into your daily or weekly schedule to facilitate ongoing communication in your marriage? Set actual times and days.
Third, plan a weekly activity to have fun and develop the friendship side of your marriage. Identify the activity, jot down at least two specific things to do together.
It doesn’t have to cost money. “Let’s take a walk after dinner.” “Let’s go to that park and just grab a cup of coffee.” “Let’s go see a movie.” “Let’s go grab dinner someplace.” “Let’s…” Whatever is fun. And then whoever planned this one, then the other person gets to plan next week. And by the way, guys, again, I’m sharing this out of all the ways I was very slow or didn’t do it. On your time, especially of your kids, and I understand this, especially if you go out someplace it can be expensive. If you’ll line up the babysitter, she will think you have lost your mind. And what it says is, “I took initiative.” What it says is, “I really care.”
What you’ll have to do is get the number, because most of you have no idea how to contact the babysitter, but it’s just one of those things that – Theresa would say, probably in the car, “If you would have done more of that, Chip, I think it would have been much better for us.” Well, better late than never. We don’t have, we have no need, our babysitter is for our dog now.
Number four, identify three to four ways you and your mate, and even a family, could demonstrate care and concern for others in the name of Christ. Then set aside a time to discuss your service ideas. It might be people struggling in your neighborhood.
Our whole family served in the church in different areas. And just ask yourself, What could we do to serve together? I have a friend that, every year, he and his family as, I don’t know how much vacation he has, but they take a full week and they have built a relationship and they help build an orphanage and minister to orphans.
And from the time his kids were little all the way up through college, they understood that a week of their vacation was going to be…and it just recalibrated what matters and there are hurting people all around the world.
And then, finally, number five, who or what provides support and refreshment for you personally? I’m talking to you as an individual. Talk about specific ways to arrange your home life so each partner has time and same-sex relationships that refresh, support, and replenish. When I say “same-sex relationships,” I am referring to healthy non-sexual, you know, bros and sisters, and all the rest. But having great intel, having your mission targeted, having a clear strategy, and preparing for it, and executing it is the key to victory.