God’s Pattern for Marriage

I always want to pass on relevant information that I run across, and for the Men of Steel, it generally has to do with being the best husbands and fathers we can be. The following information is from June Hunt, the founder and CEO of Hope for the Heart:

Why do some marriages endure and others not? Why do some couples struggle and others not? What one factor makes the greatest difference and prevents so many marriages from failing? It’s the word covenant. The concept of covenant is a long, winding path that ends when “death do us part.” The marriage covenant is a couple’s lifetime commitment—a lifetime journey of love and loyalty. Jesus states it well: “They are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6).

What is God’s Pattern for Marriage?

Marriage is a covenant agreement in which a man and a woman are legally and spiritually joined together as husband and wife. Genesis 2:24-25 establishes the four elements in God’s perfect order for marriage.

Separation: “a man will leave his father and mother”
Both the husband and wife leave the authority of their parents and become a separate family unit. In marriage, the loyalty to your parents should never be stronger than the loyalty to your spouse.

Bonding: “and be united to his wife”
By an act of your will, bonding is a mental commitment to have a faithful, permanent marriage relationship with your spouse regardless of difficulties.

Oneness: “they will become one flesh”
Physical oneness is the ultimate consummation of sexual closeness. For this sexual oneness to be continually mutually satisfying, look for ways to express unselfish love to each other. Openly ask, “What best communicates love to you?” and then take the time to enjoy one another.

Intimacy: “they felt no shame”
Emotional intimacy is encouraged when you seek to be vulnerable and transparent, honestly sharing with one another your feelings of frustration and failure, your deepest disappointments and desires.

Spiritual intimacy is achieved when you continue to reveal to one another your unmet needs, praying together, praying for each other and sharing what God is doing in your lives.

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Leaders Ask Application Questions

The point of this post is to challenge leaders and teachers. To be effective in leading your class, make sure to ask application questions that lead your group to spiritual growth. This is perhaps one of the most quoted passages in the Bible Study business:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25)

To study the Bible, or to take a class on prayer, or discuss compassion for the poor but not do anything about what one has learned, is a waste of time.

The Word of God holds up a mirror in which we can see our own face: our character, values, attitudes, and habits. It offers us a perspective on our situation and relationships that we can’t get on our own. It also opens up a window into the realm of God, in which we see the face of Christ looking back at us. We get to compare our face to that of Christ, noting the similarities and differences. The Bible promises that we can change (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Extensive psychotherapy doesn’t change most people all that much. When change does happen, something on the order of a miracle is occurring. But the gospel insists that the Spirit of God (through the Word of God and with the help of the people of God) can and will perform this miracle in any person willing to cooperate.

So many study groups settle for educating people about God and the Christian life, but they don’t believe it’s possible for them to really become like Jesus. People like the idea in theory, but the actual process scares them.

  1. Do we really want to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror, week after week? Can we bear to see and examine the face of Christ?
  2. Do we really want to give up our familiar paths and strike out on the uncharted territory of God’s ways?
  3. Do we really want the Spirit breaking up our concrete habits with a jackhammer?

Likely, your group contains decent people who sort of want to follow Christ but aren’t all that eager to see their lives disrupted. They are busy people who have jobs, families, bills, and housework that don’t leave them hours and hours to contemplate Christ and their lives. Discussion questions that invite them to apply the Word of God to their lives need to take into account both the mandate of the gospel (big changes) and the realities of the human condition (big obstacles to change).

Go Slow and Deep: People who are asked to take drastic action too often and in too many different directions eventually go numb in order to survive. Consider the person who hears a Sunday sermon, reads the Bible even once or twice a week, and attends Sunday School each week. If this person encounters three, four, or more calls in one week to change drastically, it’s overwhelming. Over time, people learn to tune out the guilt feelings triggered by such calls.

In your small group, learn to ask, “So what?” regularly and systematically, but ask, “Now what?” sparingly, yet with focus and detail.

  1. “So what?” invites group members to think about the implications of what they are studying. “Now what?” asks them to take action individually or together, to do something concrete about those implications.
  2. “So what?” is theoretical, general application. “Now what?” is practical, specific application.
  3. “So what?” helps people think an issue through. “Now what?” guides them step by step in a realistic plan to be doers of the Word.
  4. “So what?” questions work in at least two dimensions.
    1. The first dimension is when: helping the group bridge the gap between when the passage was written (then) and our current situation today (now).
    2. The second dimension is who: discerning how a passage applies to people in general, to them as individuals, or to them as a group.

Then and Now: One common error in Bible study is to assume that something God told someone to do in 605 B.C. is what God wants each of us to do today. A related error is to assume that God wants us to imitate everything the first Christians did without regard to the differences of situation. These errors overlook the fact that God deals both in timeless principles and in unique situations.

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) is a timeless principle.
  2. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household” (Genesis 12:1) is an instruction to a particular person, Abram.

When we get the particular and the timeless confused:

  1. We may conclude that God wants all men everywhere to be circumcised and all women everywhere to cover their heads.
  2. We may conclude, like many 19th-century Americans, that because Paul treated slavery as OK in A.D. 50, it was still OK in A.D. 1850.
  3. We may decide that since God told Joshua to practice genocide against the utterly degenerate Canaanites, then maybe our enemies deserve genocide, and maybe we have been called by God to imitate Joshua.

1. “So what?” questions always begin with what was then. The first “So what?” question should point to the original purpose of the writer or speaker in the passage:

  1. What do you think Jesus wanted His audience to do in response to this parable?
  2. What action does Paul tell the Galatians to take?

With a story, it may be more helpful to ask about how the various characters responded to the challenges they faced:

  1. How did Abram deal with his doubts?
  2. How did the apostles handle the conflict between the Greek- and Aramaic-speaking believers?

2. Next we look for bridges between then and now by asking how our situation is like and unlike the situation addressed in the passage:

  1. What conflicts do we face in our ministry? In what ways do they resemble the conflict described in Acts 6? In what ways are they different?
  2. Do you identify with the Galatians in any ways? In what ways are you similar or different?

As the leader, you should always ask yourself, “How is our situation different?” This question will help you guide the group away from erroneous applications. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was in many ways a unique situation. The founding of the first Christian community in Jerusalem was also unique in many ways.

3. Finally, with the similarities and differences between then and now in mind, we can ask whether the passage offers any timeless (always) principles, like, “What can we learn about good and poor ways of handling doubt from Abram’s example?”

Principles can include a sin to avoid, a promise to trust, an example to follow, a command to obey, or a truth to believe. It is essential not to generalize a universal principle from a specific situation without careful thought about the differences between then and now.

Sometimes you’ll want to help people apply the passage to their personal lives. At other times, you’ll draw out a group application. Most of the Bible was written not to individuals, but to groups. The “you” in many passages is plural.

Another way of asking, “So what?” is to point people toward listening to the Holy Spirit:

  1. What do you sense the Holy Spirit is saying to us about how we relate to others in our lives who don’t know Christ?
  2. What is one key truth from this passage that you sense the Spirit is urging you to embrace?

Set aside 15 minutes at the end of your group meeting to contemplate questions. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to speak. Then talk, with ears open.

Now What? “So what?” questions are general and ask for relevance. “Now what?” questions are pointed. They ask us to take action.

  1. How can you put this insight into practice this week?
  2. What can you do to cultivate this into a habit?
  3. What will it mean, in practical terms, for you to seek God’s kingdom first this week?
  4. How can we, as a group, obey Isaiah’s call to a true fast?

Many of your discussions will end with “So what?” questions. It is not a waste of time to help people think and feel more biblically. But sometimes, action is called for.

“Now what?” questions require specific, realistic, and measurable answers.

  1. Specific means that definite actions, rather than general goals, are specified.
  2. Realistic means that the person has devised a plan he can reasonably carry out within the limitations of his life, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the help of the group to back him up.
  3. Measurable means something concrete will be done, and at the end of a month or a year, the shift in the person’s attitudes or actions will be noticeable by an observant outsider. We shouldn’t become obsessed with measuring spiritual growth, since the most important changes are internal and may take time to affect our behavior dramatically, but it is possible to ask ourselves. What can I do to become a significantly more compassionate person by this time next year?

Bear in mind that questions about the future are often more intimate than those about the past or present. Most people don’t talk about their hopes and goals casually. When the group has been together for about six sessions or more, members will find it extremely bonding to begin discussing their hopes for who they want to become and how they plan to pursue their goals. One way of formulating this question is, “In what ways do you want to be different as a result of our studying Philippians?”

Counting the Cost: Jesus told a parable about two sons, in which one son agreed to do what his father asked but then didn’t follow through, while the other balked but eventually obeyed (Matthew 21:28-32 ). People frequently talk about how a passage applies to them but don’t do anything about it after the discussion. One reason for this is that they don’t consider the risks and costs of living the gospel. Jesus urged His followers to count the cost and to be sure they knew what they were getting themselves into before embracing the kingdom of God. Here are some questions you can use when studying a passage that you know asks something difficult, such as turning the other cheek:

  1. What are the risks of doing what Jesus says here?
  2. What would it cost you to do that?
  3. What obstacles hinder you from living that way consistently?

Then, having looked squarely at the downside, invite people to weigh it against the upside:

  1. What would be the benefits of living like this?
  2. What would motivate a person to take those risks?
  3. How can you overcome those obstacles? How can we help?

Not Just the Facts: Application questions provide the potential for spiritual growth. They take us beyond learning facts about a passage of Scripture. We discover how the passage applied to its original readers, how that ancient situation connects with our modern world, and how to do something with what we’ve learned. This process helps us become doers of the Word, not merely hearers, and as the Scriptures promise, such people (and such small groups) “will be blessed in their doing.”

Thanks to Karen Lee-Thorp, Discipleship Journal, July/August 1998 [print_link] [email_link]

Communication in Marriage

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert in marriage; but Kim and I have a strong commitment to each other which brings security in our relationship. In my reading and research I discovered this information to be concise and quite interesting, regarding Communication in Marriage.

Introduction:

Marriage counselors agree: Most, if not all, marriage problems are rooted in poor communication. We often act in our marriages as though we are soloists, singing alone and beholden to nobody. But marriage is a duet, not a solo. And the Song of Solomon shows us a real life marriage filled with the music of intimate, personal, and open communication.

Communication Levels:

Here’s the stark truth about communication in marriage: You will communicate, or your marriage will disintegrate. And marriages today that are on the rocks are there because of poor communication. Experts say there are five levels of communication:

Frivolous Level: This is the communication we experience daily in our casual relationships. The weather, the latest scores, clothes, and the like – we do this often and think about it rarely. It’s communication on “automatic pilot.”

Factual Level: This is a little more content oriented than frivolous communication. Factual communication digs a little deeper into the knowledge of various subjects. There’s still no real personal involvement.

Fellowship Level: Now, we’re beginning to get a little personal. We share ideas, judgments, and philosophies. We begin to risk rejection for our beliefs.

Feeling Level: In this kind of communication, we go a step deeper. We not only share ideas and core beliefs but we share our feelings about those beliefs. We let others know how important they are to us. This is much riskier, and it’s about as deep as most people ever get with each other.

Freedom Level: This is the deepest level of communication. We are completely open with our mate. We share our deepest dreams, fears, ideas, and feelings – without fear of rejection. The word “intimacy” comes from the Latin intimuce. It means “innermost.” And truly intimate communication encompasses all those dreams, beliefs, and feelings you wouldn’t share with anybody else. Freedom level communication is the secret of lasting love.

When the Bible speaks of a husband and wife coming together in the act of marriage, it says, so and so “knew his wife.” To be completely known and still be loved is the supreme goal of marriage. That’s true intimacy. Every marriage needs it to survive.

Application:

Intimate communication won’t happen without some adjustments, especially on the part of men. In most troubled marriages, the men won’t talk. I read about a woman who said that the only time her husband speaks is when he wants food or sex. That’s wrong. Men need to talk, whether they want to or not.

I was at a men’s conference last year and one of the best pieces of advice I heard was in a marriage seminar, where the facilitator challenged the men to ask one simple statement when your wife is telling you about her day… “Tell me more.” It may be hard after a long day at the office and all you want in peace and quiet, but this statement allows you to hear what she has to say without kicking in the male “fix it” mode. Just listen and affirm, you don’t have to fix it.

A husband’s silence is the culprit in most family communication problems. The wife, who craves communication, pushes her husband into a corner just to get him talking. She pushes and pushes, and Pow! He explodes. Ironically, this is often better to the wife than silence. At least she has his full attention. I’m not saying she intends to pick a fight. But deep down within her there is something that prefers argument to silence. She wants communication. That’s understandable. That’s how God made her.

Have you noticed how many books there are on marriage? On intimacy? On communication? Here’s the problem: The people who need them don’t read them! Women read them, but men, who truly need to adjust to their wives’ communication needs, don’t.

This is understandable. There are natural barriers to men communicating with the intimacy their wives desire. And wives need to take that into account and make some adjustments.

Consider the articles found in women’s magazines: “Five Ways to Develop Closeness in Your Marriage” and “How to Have Harmony in the Home” and “Achieving Intimacy With Your Lover.” Now what do men read about in their magazines? “How to Remodel Your Garage” and “How to Double Your Gas Mileage” and “How to Make It Big in the Stock Market.”

Yes, there are differences between men and women that affect marital communication. Some of these stem from the fact that we are raised differently. Boys are taught not to cry, not to show emotion. Part of the macho self reliance myth is silence, which supposedly communicates complete self-control.

These differences between men and women should give us all a healthy amount of understanding toward the struggles of our spouses. But they shouldn’t stop us from trying, with the power of the Holy Spirit, to imitate the intimacy between Solomon and his spouse. We’ll never arrive at perfection. But the closer we get, the happier our homes will be.

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Ways to Worship Daily

Worship is a priority in the life of a believer, and Jesus tells us that the Father seeks worshipers (John 4:23). It is really our only priority, because when we get this right, discipleship, missions and evangelism burst forth. If we don’t have a clue about His greatness and worthiness to be worshiped, we will relax in these other critical areas.

Quotes:

A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling “darkness” on the wall of his cell. — C. S. Lewis

All of history is moving toward one great goal, the white-hot worship of God and His Son among all people of the earth. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. — John Piper

Top 10 Ways to Rebel Against Idols:

  1. Give God the best part of your day, not your leftovers.
  2. Volunteer one Saturday this month at the homeless shelter.
  3. Pass up the $100 Converse for something comfortable and affordable.
  4. Pray each day, specifically for those in your sphere of influence.
  5. Feed your soul with kingdom-affirming images from television, music and movies.
  6. Take an international missions trip this year.
  7. Enjoy sports, but don’t overdose.
  8. Build a healthy body instead of a glamorous image.
  9. Develop your spiritual gifts as intentionally as your career.
  10. Make it your lifelong quest to know God and yourself.

Surrendering Control

This is one of the critical evidences that one is an authentic follower of Jesus; do you just believe the right stuff about Jesus, like you have your ticket to heaven, or do you genuinely desire to conform to His image. Do you allow the Holy Spirit control over your life, including your decisions, your ambitions, your marriage, your family, your leisure time?

Quotes:

Do we have any inner resources at the moment when we are accosted by the Holy One…? Immediately our credentials of independence vanish, and we cease to carry ourselves with the swagger of the executive who knows what’s up and has all under control; we become aware of innate poverty, our next-breath dependence, and a numbness that invades the roots of our littleness and realness. — Brennan Manning

God plays a game with the soul called, “the loser wins;” a game in which the one who holds the poorest cards does best. The Pharisee’s consciousness that he had such an excellent hand really prevented him from taking a single trick. — Evelyn Underhill

Top 10 Ways to Relinquish Control:

  1. Make frequent use of Jesus’ prayer, “Not my will, but Yours.”.
  2. Meditate on Jesus’ attitude in Philippians 2:1-18, being a servant, humble and obedient.
  3. Read Roy Hession’s book, The Calvary Road for a new perspective on brokenness and surrender. (Get the Book)
  4. Make a habit of not making important decisions alone.
  5. Live by a schedule that allows for spontaneity and reflection.
  6. Experiment with fasting one day a week for a month.
  7. Make a list of potential addictions in your life.
  8. Ask your best friend if you have any controlling habits.
  9. Commit yourself to not motivate people through guilt.
  10. This month give away both some money and some time.