Focus on Your Marriage

I have noticed over the years that people have asked me about “the secret” to a number of things. One is this question (often by a wanabe), “What’s the secret to making it through SEAL training?” My response is often, “Sorry bud, no such secret.” We live in such an instant society where we juggle a bunch of stuff yet really don’t think or focus on anything. We expect that there is a shortcut to greatness. There isn’t.

In recent years, I have started to hear this question in relation to marriage and family. It is humbling to think people would look to me and think, “I should ask him about the secret to marriage and raising a family.” This blows me away because I feel like I put great effort to succeed in this arena and hardly feel like an expert. I have often thought to myself, “I am okay with failing at everything in my life, just as long as I don’t fail at my marriage and being a dad.” It’s hard work. I feel like my success ebbs and flows at times, but it takes work.

Next week, February 2, 2012, I am celebrating my 10th year of marriage with my wonderful wife Anna. This in large part is causing me to reflect on life and marriage–you know, sort of an annual review sort of thing! She is my best friend and I think we are very happy–although like all relationships we have our great days, mediocre days, and bad days like everyone else. In coming to Valley Baptist Church, we have been exposed to marriages that have had great influence on us. One marriage that was 70+ years strong, many that are 60+ years long, many 50+, and many surviving widows that were married for many years prior to loosing their spouse.

What have I learned along the way? The first thing is marriage flat out takes commitment. This is simple. You know, actually standing behind the vows you make, “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” These are major. Simple to understand, difficult to live by. The only way to do this is to commit for the long haul.

But how when things are bad? This is where God comes in. First, I have found that my biblical worldview has shaped my understanding of marriage. So when the bad days come and I am frustrated, I cling to the understanding that God gave Anna to me. Therefore, He must be working something out in me through the bad times. I also know that He wants me married and so I am left with two options: 1) Stay miserable, or 2) humble myself and initiate something to make things improve!

I recently heard that an author said that “Quality time often occurs unexpectedly in quantity time.” I think this is so true. A family must intentionally spend large chunks of time together to grow together. There is no way to get around this one. The more time spent together to better friends you become. I also think marriage is more about friendship or companionship over the long haul so this must be cultivated.

If you are married, and you want to improve your marriage. I would encourage you to read the book of Ephesians and pray every day for a month. I think you will be surprised at what God does through that!

I love you Anna Jean and am so thankful for you! God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and mother of my kids!

The Indestructibility of Christian Marriage


Quoting:  After months of revived debate over divorce and its increasing acceptance among Americans, a new study affirmed born-again Christians are just as likely as the average American couple to divorce.

The Barna Group found in its latest study that born-again Christians who are not evangelical were indistinguishable from the national average on the matter of divorce with 33 percent having married and divorced at least once. Among all born-again Christians, which includes evangelicals, the divorce figure is 32 percent, which is statistically identical to the 33 percent figure among non born-again adults, the research group noted.

The article at this website takes issue with the popular interpretation of the Barna poll cited above and the author concludes that the divorce rate among born-again evangelical Christians is 26%, seven points beneath the national average of 33%.


I am inclined to follow the analysis of the 2nd website and place the divorce rate among born-again evangelical Christians at 26%.  Along with this author I, too, am dismayed that the level of divorce among self-proclaimed followers of Jesus is so high.  (Breathe easy, this is not a bash piece on those who have been divorced.  Like you, I’m a pastor and I’ve seen how life can go south and leave people broken/weeping.)

My response to the divorce rate hasn’t been one of condemnation, but one of frustration.  I have a hard time wrapping my mind around how Christ centered/Bible taught/Spirit filled Christians could abandon the covenant they so solemnly entered into before God and witnesses.

My frustration also had to do with the testimony of the church to the power of the risen Christ.  If the power of Jesus is not enough to keep two born-again evangelical Christians together, what else can the power of God not accomplish?  If the church is bearing witness to the reality of changed lives and all the world sees is us changing partners, if we bear witness to covenant marriage and all the world sees is the practice of serial monogamy, a very powerful dimension of Christian witness/ministry is compromised.

I was frustrated/flummoxed at the broken lives of believers and the broken witness of the church.


I was thinking about this one day and had a very liberating thought that has allowed me to frame the matter differently.  Here it is – just because two Christians are married doesn’t mean that they have a Christian marriage.  Read that again.  Or, put it this way – two Christians being married doesn’t guarantee a Biblical marriage.  The name of Christ doesn’t guarantee the character of Christ.

Let me illustrate.  Two Christians in business doesn’t necessarily result in a Christian business.   What is a Christian business?  One with a quality product, fair prices, and just employee practices.  (Oh, and they’re green, too.  Laughing)  But can two Christians in business together offer a shoddy product with inflated prices and practice unjust employment policies (and not recycle)?  Have you ever been ripped off by someone who had a fish on their business card?  Laughing  The name of Christ doesn’t guarantee the character of Christ.

Two Christians in business together doesn’t guarantee a Christian business and two Christians married to one another doesn’t automatically give them a Christian marriage.  The name of Christ doesn’t guarantee the character of Christ.


So, what is a Christian marriage, a Biblically formed marriage?  No new stuff here.  A Christian marriage is where the husband loves his wife more than himself and where the wife submits to her husband as unto the Lord.  A Christian marriage is one where mutual submission and respect form the basis of all that is done.  A Christian marriage is where the husband regards his wife as more important than himself and she regards him as more important than herself (and the Lord is of supreme importance!).  It is where both love Jesus more than themselves and more than their spouses.  It is a marriage marked by obedience to Christ.  A Christian marriage is one where the husband is seeking to out-love his wife and the wife is seeking to out-love her husband.

In my wedding ceremonies I take note that God didn’t bring Eve to Adam so that she might serve him – cook his breakfast/iron his clothes/find the remote in the couch where he lost it.  God brought Eve to Adam so that he might serve her.  I tell the groom that he will not be fulfilled in his marriage as his wife serves him, he will only find fulfillment as he serves her and pours out of himself into her and makes her more important than himself.  And vice-versa.

During the ring ceremony I tell the husband that this ring made of most precious metal and most precious gem is a work of beauty and of great value.  He is taking this work of beauty/value and placing it on the weakest finger of his wife.  What he is pledging is essentially this: Where you are weak, I will be your strength; where I find ugliness in you, I will cover it with beauty; where I find sin in you, I will cover you with forgiveness.  I will be a refuge for you, a shelter – I will never expose you or leave you.  You are safe with me.  (And much the same for the bride).

This is Christian marriage – a mutual giving/surrender/covering.

OK – what is the divorce rate in a Christian marriage?  0%.  Read that again.  Christian, in the phrase ‘Christian marriage’ is an adjective and speaks of character.  Christian marriage, one that truly possesses the character of Christ, is indestructible.  Christians are failing in their marriages, but a Christian marriage is marked by the unbreakable love of Christ.  We know from I Corinthians 13 that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails…  One of the most enduringly sweet things I have ever read was someone’s comment (I can’t remember who) on this passage.  It has relevance here.

Love bears all things.  And when love can no longer bear all things, it believes all things.  And when love can no longer believe all things, it hopes all things.  And when love can no longer hope all things, it endures all things.  When love can no longer endure all things, lover never fails.  

This is the indestructible, unbreakable, unfailing love of God!

Please note that I didn’t define a Christian marriage as reading the Bible, praying, and attending church together.  These are the practices of a Biblical marriage, but not the essence of one.  These things are not the essence of Biblical marriage, they shepherd a couple to the essence of Christian marriage.  They are the doorway, not the house.


The challenge for the ministry is to example and teach the essence of Christian marriage.  Even among the wreckage of so many lives which are the result of so much marital failure, the banner and standard of Christian marriage can be raised without condemnation.  Your people are longing to see an example of mutual sacrifice and unbreakable love.  In August, Fran and I will be married 35 years.  I believe (and this isn’t sermonic hyperbole) that when marriage is done right, it is the closest thing to heaven on earth.   I also believe that when marriage is done wrong, it is the closest thing to hell on earth.  We’ve tasted both.

A Christian marriage, where the character of Christ is in every crease and fold, is an indestructible marriage.  The name of Christ doesn’t guarantee the character of Christ, but the character of Christ that is growing and stretching and flourishing in each spouse results in an indestructible marriage.

Taking Care of Loose Ends

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4, NASB

God uses the picture of a soldier to teach spiritual truths to His followers throughout the Bible. This is especially true concerning Paul’s mentoring of the young pastor Timothy in the above passage.  Whenever I stumble across these illustrations I feel like I have a distinct advantage in uderstanding them after serving as a Navy SEAL for 12 years.   The phrase “good soldier of Christ Jesus” surges adrenaline through my veins as I realize the similarities my new life as a pastor has to my old life as a SEAL.  Pastoring is a serious endeavor not for the faint of heart.

“Get your loose ends taken care of boys” is a phase that would circulate my SEAL platoons in the months leading up to deployment.  As the day approached and the reality of combat was setting in, teammates were reminded to insure their personal lives were in order before we left.  Having  “loose ends taken care of” was a critical element to the success of the mission.  Having your bills paid and family relations in order are far less glamorous than tasks like making explosives, jumping out of planes and other job requirements of the SEAL, but the consequences of these areas being “loose” often resulted in dire consequences.  I believe this truth is the same in the pastoral ministry—whether you are a seasoned pastor or an aspiring church-planter or missionary.

I entered the vocational ministry full time a little over six years ago.  In this time, I have come to see that many pastors have “loose ends” that hinder, if not destroy, the work of the ministry they have been called to. I would like to suggest a two big items that every pastor, church-planter, or missionary should take care of before launching into the ministry and maintain with vigilance while in the ministry if they desire to
serve over the long haul.

Family life.

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to  manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)”, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 NASB.  Please read that verse again.  What does your family have to do with your qualifications for serving as a pastor?  Everything! The pastor’s family is a main qualifier in determining if a man should be serving in the ministry, yet it seems that this area is neglected by many “gurus” in church growth, planting, etc. circles.

I went to a very good Bible College and Seminary and am grateful for the preparation I received, yet I don’t remember taking a single class on “Strengthening Your Family as a Pastor.”  It breaks my heart to see pastor after pastor fall out because they have neglected to shepherd their family along the way.  Men, we tow a hard road as pastors.  Please, invest in your family consistently.  You are your wife’s husband and pastor—she needs you.  You are your kid’s dad and pastor—they need you.

There is no substitute for time together.  I heard someone once say that, “Quality time comes with quantity of time.”  This is so true.  You must make a habit of scheduling family time daily, taking a day off every week, and planning annual get aways. The life of a pastor is unlike any other job.  We don’t really have “hours” as we are truly 24/7.  I am not sure how some pastors are able to keep regular office hours and respond to the many and diverse crisis’ that come within the life of the church.  I am thankful that my church supports me working out of home.  I have a detached office that gives me the ability to spend time with the family when I am on study breaks.  This time at home allows me to respond to the
variation of needs 24/7 without neglecting my family.

Men, take it to heart—if you house is in order, your ability to serve greatly increases.   Every family is different.  The ministry is a calling on the whole family.  Take the time to determine what works for your family and make midcourse corrections continually along the way.

Financial Freedom!

Jesus said it best, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13, NASB).  Paul continues this thread as he grooms the young pastor Timothy, “An  overseer, then, must be…free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, NASB).

Are you familiar with this shout, “I’M DEBT FREE!!!”?  You should be.  I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey’s message to Christians to get debt free, to live like no other so you can LIVE like no other.  Are you aware that most mission agencies will not consider a candidate for the mission field until they are debt free?  I think this should be policy for every pastor who wants to run the course well.

We live in a country where huge amounts of debt are normative—Christians are no different.  If you are in debt, I highly encourage you to make it a priority to get out of debt.  This is challenging, but the rewards of the freedom to serve are amazing when you are living without debt crushing down upon you.  The journey out of debt is a hard road that takes discipline and commitment to get to the end of.  Get a plan together through resources like Dave Ramsey’s books or others out there.

The Rewards Ahead!

We pastors entered this race with great intentions.  The course before us is not a sprint it is a marathon.  The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1b, NASB).  Is financial debt entangling and choking the life out of you?  Get rid of it.  Pay it off.  Stop charging and spend less than you make.  Have you left your family in the dust?  As a Navy SEAL instructor leading runs, I would often have to circle back and pick up the “stragglers” (those who couldn’t keep up).  You may have to circle back to your family.  You may owe your wife and kids an apology.  You may need to have a hard talk with your family about how you can give them more of your time.

If you’re like me, you get goose bumps reading Paul’s final words to Timothy to finish strong.  At the end of my life I want to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NASB).  Running this race free of debt is so much easier than running with debt weighting you down.  On my death bed I pray that my wife, kids, and future grandkids will be there as brothers and sisters in Christ running their race strong.  Who’s with me?