Wednesday, October 26, 2011

God is Faithful, Powerful and Willing

This is the last part of a three part series on the essential perspectives we need in marriage, taken from Paul Tripp's book What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.

The first reality is that we live out our marriages in a fallen world, a world that does not function as God intended it to function. A second reality is that we are less than perfect human beings. Sinful desires war against our soul and the soul of our spouse. Those desires, given an opportunity, cause turmoil in our relationship. The third reality is the most important. While the first two realities are true and vital to understand, the last reality is the one that gives us hope. This last reality reminds us that we are not alone. God is near. And God is faithful, powerful and willing to help.

This reality reminds us that when life is tough, when marriage is tumultuous, God does not leave us to our own resources. My temptation – and its a guy thing – is when I see a problem, I try to solve it in my own resources. That can work some times, but other times we don't have the resources we need in ourselves. I simply don't have the resources I need to love my spouse as Christ loved the church. I don't have the resources I need to be willing to give myself up for her as Christ gave himself up for the church. But God does. He has those resources available and he is committed to giving us everything we need to live out our marriages in a way that honors Him.

God is faithful. The classic example of God's faithfulness is Jesus Christ. When mankind sinned, God made promises of redemption. And he guided history and events and circumstances until, in the fullness of time, He sent His Son to be born on earth. And in obedience to God the Father, that Son fulfilled God's promises of redemption by being the atoning sacrifice for our sin. If God can fulfill promises that require the ordering of history, do you think he can be found faithful in your life and marriage?

God is also powerful. He is the sovereign authority over all the earth. He is creator. He sustains the world. He holds power over death. And one day complete victory will be His. If God has sovereign power over the whole world, do you think He can demonstrate His power in your life and marriage?

Finally, God is willing. It is great to have a God who is faithful and powerful, but He also has to be willing to act in our lives. And He is willing, not because of what He sees in us, but because of what is inside of Him. God is a God of mercy. He is the source of love. He is full of grace. A person could continue to list His character traits – goodness, gentleness, patience, kindness and so on. God is willing even when we are unwilling. And He is a God who delights in transforming people and situations.

And so when life is tough, when the fallen world savages you, when living with your spouse is a painful chore, know that we do not stand alone. We might be standing in weakness, in temptation, in struggle, but we do not stand alone. God is with us. He is faithful in all things. His power is the answer to our weakness. And he is willing to come in and transform both ourselves and our spouse.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Sinner Married to a Sinner

Last week I shared the first essential perspective on marriage that we all need to be aware of from Paul David Tripp's book What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. We were reminded that we live out our marriages in a fallen world.

The second essential perspective on marriage is equally important: We are sinners married to sinners. We don't get married to someone perfect – rather they bring the fears and failures of sin into the marriage, just as we do.

Now to some of you, that might seems obvious. But practically speaking, marriages are filled with unrealistic expectations. Ask any pastor who does pre-marital or marital counseling. Couples expect their spouses to meet their needs, to have the right words to say, to have the emotional or physical energy to always support or comfort or encourage the other. And when those things do not happen, the result is disappointment or even conflict.

As Tripp notes, both members of a marriage bring something into their marriage that is destructive to what marriage needs and must do. That thing is called sin. Sin infects each of our lives and it will infect our marriages as well.

Contrary to what we are thinking when we are in the midst of a marital conflict, most troubles in marriage are not intentional or personal. Most spouses do not intentionally set out to make life difficult for their partner. I don't go home after a long, hard day thinking, “How can I pass my frustration/exhaustion/misery along to my wife?” What we experience in those times of marital trouble are the effects of sin, weakness and failure in the our life or the life of our spouse. The fact is, bad days at work or frustrations with kids spill over into our marriages.

When we experience those things, we face a choice. In at least some of those times, we will choose to be selfish, unkind, jealous, bitter or argumentative. There will never be a time when we respond graciously in every circumstance because we are sinners too. If we minimize this heart struggle we both have, we “will tend to turn moments of ministry into moments of anger.” (Tripp, pg. 24)

Rather, those times when the sin of our spouse spills over into our lives should be an opportunity for ministry. When their sin, weakness or failure is on display, we should think this way:
1. God loves my spouse.
2. God is committed to transforming my spouse by His grace
3. God has chosen me to be one of His regular tools of change in the life of my spouse.
Consistently thinking along those lines will bring change to our selfish responses to the sin in our spouse's life.

But what happens when we do not have a godly, gracious perspective? What happens when we personalize that which is not personal in our spouse's actions? What happens when we convince ourselves that the thing our spouse does that frustrates us right now is done as an intentional, personal attack?

When we personalize what is not personal, we tend to be adversarial in our response. We no longer think about how to apply God's grace to the situation. We are not oriented on ministering to our spouse – rather we are most likely to be about eliminating the frustration our spouse's sin presents in our lives. As a result, we can easily escalate the trouble, either settling for quick solutions that do not get to the heart of the matter or getting angry and confrontational, causing more damage to our marriage and multiplying the sin. All of us who are married or have been married have been there – don't deny it.

This is where the Bible comes in. Dr. Tripp reminds us much better than I could:

“The world of the Bible is like your world – messy and broken. The people of the Bible are like you and your spouse – weak and failing. The situations of the Bible are like yours – complicated and unexpected. The Bible just isn't a cosmetic religious book. It will shock you with its honesty about what happens in the broken world in which we live. From the sibling homicide of Cain to the money-driven betrayal of Judas, the blood and guts of a broken world are strewn across every page. The honesty of God about the address where we all live is itself an act of love and grace. He sticks our head through the biblical peephole so we will be forced to see the world as it really is, not as we fantasize it to be. He does this so that we will be realistic in our expectations, then humbly reach out for the help that He alone is able to give us.” (Tripp, p. 25)

Being sinners married to sinners, we desperately need the perspective and help only God can give!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Marriage in a Fallen World

Personally I try to read a book on marriage every year. I have two reasons for this. First, it is good for my own marriage and second, it gives me a greater basis for counseling people with marriage issues. My book for this year is Paul David Tripp's What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. I was excited the find out that Dr. Tripp will be speaking on that topic in Missoula in October, 2012. (For more details, look here.) The only bad thing is that I have to wait a year to hear him.

Dr. Tripp lays out three essential perspectives on marriage that we all need to be reminded of. The first is this – we are conducting our marriages in a fallen world. I can hear some of you saying – duh! - we know that. But do we always think about how it affects our marriages?

Simply put, we live in a world that does not function as God intended it to function. God created it perfect, sin messed it up. Everything in our world is touched by the brokenness of our world. Sometimes the affect of sin is rather minor, other times it is major and life altering. Whichever the case it, we cannot escape this environment.

The fact that God allows us to live and love in a broken world is not an accident. While God is not the author of the sin in our world, He has a plan and purpose in the midst of that sin. He intends to use the difficulties we face – in life, in marriage, at work or wherever – to do something in us that cannot be done any other way.

Most people pursue happiness in marriage. Not a bad thing – there is a well-being that happens when a couple has a happy marriage. But is happiness in a marriage a big enough goal for a couple who believes? Tripp suggest that God has better things in mind, bigger things, deeper and more necessary things, eternal things. Rather than shooting for personal happiness, God envisions us aiming for personal holiness. God's purpose is to work through our daily circumstances, those situations tainted by the brokenness of the world, to change us. In other words, since we are sinners, God is working to rescue you from you. That might mean that there are times when, in love, God interrupts or compromises our happiness for our holiness. That is His unshakable commitment in our life.

And though those times when our happiness is interrupted can be painful, they should also produce hope. It is a hope that says that God is in the middle of those circumstances or that situation, molding us. His purpose is to help us mature in Him, so we can respond to life better. That makes us a better person to live with, which of course results in a better marriage. All of this is there to fulfill God's eternal purpose for us. As the apostle Paul says in his writings:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30, NIV)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18, NIV)

Stay tuned for the second essential perspective on marriage.