What Makes a Happy Marriage?

I Love my wife, I guess you already knew that. Kim and I have been married for almost 29 years, and one thing I have realized is that words like commitment, security, friendship and shared values are much more influential in a marriage than outward appearance and sexual activity. I’m surprised she stays with me because I’m not much to look at, a bit overweight, don’t make a whole lot of money, spend too much time at work and am physically broken which limits some of my activity. We have something that the world does not understand. When I think about love, this verse comes to mind:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love is not just all things erotic as we see in our culture. Love is not really that warm fuzzy feeling when she walks in the room. Love is a verb. All that Paul describes in this love passage involves action.

In our culture, marriages are falling apart. In fact, according to recent statistics, one out of two marriages will end in divorce. The magazine, Psychology Today (June, 1985) had an article called “Marriages Made to Last,” which gave the results of a survey by Jeanette and Robert Lauer of 300 couples with successful marriages. Here are the top reasons, in order of frequency, that the respondents gave when asked what kept them together.

Remarkably, the top seven were identical for men and women:

  1. My spouse is my best friend.
  2. I like my spouse as a person.
  3. Marriage is a long-term commitment.
  4. Marriage is sacred.
  5. We agree on aims and goals.
  6. My spouse has grown more interesting.
  7. I want the relationship to succeed.

Other reasons included “We laugh together,” “We agree on a philosophy of life,” “An enduring marriage is important to social stability,” and others.

I couldn’t help but notice that these reasons are totally consistent with biblical principles and opposite to the message of our culture. Popular songs, books, and shows emphasize superficiality and sexual stamina (notice any Cealis commercials lately?), but these successful couples spoke about liking the other person and about being friends. Society implies that relationships happen quickly, but these folks said that love takes time, and that there must be a long-term commitment.

Contemporary views of love are self-centered, expecting the other person to meet my needs, but these couples say that real, lasting love involves work and the desire to make the marriage succeed. For many, divorce is not even on the table.

Years ago (and today in other cultures) parents would arrange their children’s marriages. In those situations, both bride and groom knew that they would have to learn to love the person they married. I think we have turned it around. Instead of “loving the person we marry,” with our self-centered emphasis, we say we must “marry the person we love.” So we look and date and try relationships to find our romantic ideal, the one “just right” for us.

Let’s not return to the days of arranged marriages, but we must return to the truth that love means commitment,  that it must be learned, that it is a verb and means action. Check out 1 Corinthians 13 for a vivid description of true love. Let’s learn from these successful couples and dedicate ourselves to real love based on commitment and unselfish action.

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Cross-Cultural Values

Cross-cultural is not just experiencing another culture overseas or across town. We also desire to embrace the culture of the cross, which may be described in the following 12 values that all believers should embrace…

Cross-Cultural Values: 1 Peter 2:11

We are essentially aliens and strangers in this present world, so we desire to effectively model and communicate the values and cultural norms of the cross (the culture of the cross) rather than of the world (or American culture).

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2

[Values guiding my relationship with my God]

1. Savior-centric

Focusing on Jesus in my internal life and my external communication. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the initiator and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame… Hebrews 12:2-3 – Is Jesus the center of my thoughts and conversations? Do I revolve around Him?

2. Submission

Consistently asking the Master what He wants and then simply doing it. “During the days of Jesus life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Hebrews 5:7 – Is there anything I am unwilling to do for Him?

3. Sanctification

In his power and for His glory living a life that is “set apart” by His Spirit, according to His character, for His purpose. “it is God’s will that you should be sanctified…” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 – What percentage of my personal life and my ministry are a work of the Spirit?

4. Sacrifice

Continually offering my life to Him as an act of worship. “I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God” Romans 12:1 – Is my whole life a sacrifice or do I see it as specific, intermittent acts?

[Values guiding my relationship with the world]

5. Supplication

In humility sharing my needs with the Father and trusting Him to take care of me. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 – Are all my finances, family, future, health, and other concerns turned over to Him?

6. Satisfaction

Trusting God’s provision in all situations and learning to want what I have. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 – Am I satisfied with what He is providing for me and do I want what I have?

7. Self-denial

Choosing at my own initiative that which pleases Him rather than what pleases me. “If any man would come after me, first he must deny himself take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 – What am I intentionally and willingly giving up for Him today?

8. Suffering

Joyfully joining in suffering because I know its redemptive value for others and myself. “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” I Peter 4:12-13 – Do I expect to suffer as a Christian? Do I follow Him up to the boundary of suffering and then hold back? Am I upset with Him when I suffer?

[Values guiding my relationship with others]

9. Selfless love

Laying down my life wholly for the benefit of others and expecting nothing in return. “No man has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 – Do I love when it will not be returned and when it is costly?

10. Sympathy

Allowing my heart and hands to be guided by God’s concern for those in need. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress… If one of you says to him, `Go, I wish you well’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” James 1:27, 2:16 – Have I become hardened by the overload of needs around me?

11. Saltiness

Developing and sharing a savory (Saviory) flavor in order to influence the stew. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6 – Is my life salty enough to evoke questions about Him and am I ready to answer?

12. Servant-leadership

Serving others… the motive, the style, and the content of leadership. “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… Not so with you.” Matthew 20:25-26 – Am I willing to serve? To be treated as a servant?

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Teaching Values to Our Kids

Did you know that parents are the most valuable tool when it comes to teaching values to children? I used to think that the way you taught values was to sit your kids down and talk to them about values. But I was wrong. Our children constantly see us living out our values and they learn their values from us whether we want them to or not!

As missionaries in Zambia, Kim, Stephen and I took a trip to Harare, Zimbabwe for a little holiday. It used to be a great place to enjoy a nicer restaurant, catch a movie, visit a game park, stuff like that. It was good to get away together as a family. One day we saw that a sequel to a movie we enjoyed in the States came to a downtown theatre. It was Disney’s White Fang 2, and we saw the rating was PG-13, for some unreasonable African reason. In a moment of weakness and selfishness, we lied about Stephen’s age (he was 11 at the time). Our rationalization was that it was a Disney film and we knew better. You know what? I taught more about values in that single action than in all of our father-son chats through the years. I grieved the situation later that day, and even today called Stephen to apologize for that poor example of integrity.

As parents we must get our own values right and then live by those values, because our children will quickly learn our values in action. How does it happen? They learn the value of prayer when they see you kneeling in prayer instead of coming apart at the seams when you face a crisis. They learn the value of fidelity when they see their parents remain faithful to each other even in tough times. They learn the value of honesty by seeing their parents remain honest even in the tough times. Parents are the tools of God to teach values to children. So live wisely – you’re being watched!


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Values of a Relational Leader

The church is not supposed to be just spinning it’s wheels with lots of activities. It’s more than a social organization where people can get together. It’s more than a club that has an exclusive “members only” policy. We are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13, 14, John 12:46). We have a great message (1 John 1:5) and provide hope (1 Timothy 1:1, 5, Hebrews 6:19, 1 Peter 1:21) for hurting people and families. There’s a place for any person of any age with a message that is applicable to all people.

Leaders set the pace. Let me suggest that we adopt these ten values to live by. They’re the relational characteristics that each person in the discipleship ministry should hold as important and strive to embody.  So, as relational leaders we value…

A Willingness to Engage

It’s important to overcome fear and continually approach and engage all kinds of people in our ministry. Leaders should be on the lookout for new people, approach people who are new or unfamiliar, and be familiar enough with the total church program to direct and escort guests to where they need to be. If people are unwilling to come on their own, we should go up to them (John 5:40).

  1. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 – We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
  2. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 – Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
  3. 2 Corinthians 12:15 – I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
  4. 1 John 3:16 – We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Laughter and Fun

It’s important to lighten up and enjoy the many blessings God has given to us. If there’s no fun in what we do, why would anybody want to be a part of it? We have a serious message, but we should be the first people to share the joy we have in our lives.

  1. John 10:10 – I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (or more abundantly).
  2. Psalm 126:2-3 – We celebrated with laughter and joyful songs. In foreign nations it was said, “The LORD has worked miracles for his people.” And so we celebrated because the LORD had indeed worked miracles for us.
  3. Isaiah 25:9 – Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.

Transparency and Authenticity

It’s important to be yourself, lower the mask, and be vulnerable with each other and the people we serve. If we put forth a spirit that we have it all together, having no struggles, God just blesses all the time, we then come across as a super-Christian and people can’t really identify with us, or will feel this is not the place where they fit in. We don’t glory in our sin, but how God uses our weaknesses to bring Himself honor and glory is another story. Sharing how God was with us through trial and trouble goes a long way.

  1. 1 Corinthians 2:3-4 – I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
  2. 1 Corinthians 1:26 – Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
  3. 2 Corinthians 11:30 – If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.
  4. 2 Corinthians 12:5 – On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.
  5. 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.


It’s important to be positive and uplifting to everyone. It’s not putting on a mask to hide inner feelings, but we should be positive and encouraging; people should feel better about who they are after being around you.

  1. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 – Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.
  2. 1 Corinthians 16:18 – For they have refreshed my spirit and yours, therefore acknowledge such men.
  3. 1 Timothy 5:17 – The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
  4. Philippians 2:22 – But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.

Being “Others Oriented”

It’s important to put others first. Live to give and care more for the comfort of another than for yourself. The JOY class really has the title right Jesus is first, others are next and yourself is third. I remember a YMCA camp in Alabama that had signs all over the place, “I am Third.” I like that!

  1. Romans 12:10 – Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
  2. Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
  3. 1 Peter 2:17 – Honor all people, love the brotherhood,
  4. 1 Peter 1:22 – Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,

Communicating Care

It’s important that we care for our people and for each other. The cliché is true… people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. How can we each encourage someone else this week? How can we encourage our people to be more than just a Sunday attender, but live it out during the week, and reach out to their neighbors? Do we really care about people, their needs and their spiritual condition?

  1. John 13:34-35 – Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
  2. John 15:12, 17 – This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
  3. 1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
  4. Romans 13:8 – Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
  5. Romans 14:19 – So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
  6. Romans 15:7 – Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
  7. Hebrews 3:13 – But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,”

Follow Through

It’s important to be faithful to your commitments to our people, leaders, and this ministry. If we let people down, as a character trait, we really harm the gospel because people see us (as leaders) to be those who walk closely to Christ. It is so important to finish well, to never say that I have served enough and it’s time to pass the baton. Age can keep us from serving the way we used to but we still have tremendous knowledge and experiences that need to be passed on to an awaiting generation. Find a FAT apprentice (Faithful, Available and Teachable) and pass on the valuable ministry into which you have invested your life.

  1. 2 Timothy 4:7 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
  2. Acts 20:24 – I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
  3. 2 Timothy 3:10-11 – Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings,

Spiritual Growth

It’s important to be continually and actively growing closer to Jesus. We cannot lead anyone to a place of faith if we have never been there ourselves. A leader continues to grow; he never “arrives.” The best teachers are still students, learning new stuff each week and passing on that which has made a difference in their lives. A teacher does not just lead a lesson but teaches people.

  1. Hebrews 6:1 – Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.
  2. Ephesians 4:14, 15 – we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.
  3. Luke 6:40 – A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.


It’s important to pray for our people, each other, our church, and this ministry. We do not minister in our own strength (or we’ll burn out), so it is vitally important to be in a prayer relationship with God! The Spirit’s power is unleashed as we yield to God’s will and draw close to Him. People will come to know the Lord as we pray for them.

  1. Proverbs 2:3-6, – If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
  2. 2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my own people will humbly pray and turn back to me and stop sinning, then I will answer them from heaven. I will forgive them and make their land fertile once again.

Living Intentionally and Invitationally

If we don’t ask… will never have a response.  We need to be asking our people to take the next step in their spiritual journey, and we need to be asking others to come along side us and serve on this discipleship ministry. Spiritual growth or church growth does not happen by accident, but we must be intentional. Our mandate is clear, found in the Great Commission:

  1. Matthew 28:19 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Zechariah 3:10 – In that day,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.
  3. Matthew 22:4 – Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.
  4. Matthew 25:35 – For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in.

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