Friday, February 28, 2014

Are You Building A Successful Marriage?

by Jill Jackson

Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount by making a distinction between two people: one who built his house on the rock, the other on the sand. He said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27). 
One living the Christian life must build a deep spiritual foundation to withstand the elements that will come (i.e., the rains, floods and winds of persecution, temptation, false doctrine, trials, and heartache). The security of the foundation determines whether the house will stand firm or be destroyed and swept away by the elements. The wise man hears the teachings of Christ and recognizes his truths are the only foundation for a good life. Because of this understanding he builds his house upon the rock. He is a hearer and a doer (cf. James 1:22-25). His obedience to Christ’s teachings shores up his house, and protects him from the elements that attempt to weaken faith and devotion. 

In contrast, Christ describes the foolish man. Like the wise man, he hears Christ’s teachings, but they do not prick his heart to action. He builds his house on the sand. His devotion is superficial and has no strength for enduring the elements. As a result, his house falls when external pressures arise. 

A Christian marriage will experience storms as well. The elements of temptation, trials, heartaches, selfishness, etc. will threaten the devotion pledged in love. Many marriages are crumbling apart like a house built upon the sand.  

Why are marriages falling apart? With This Ring: A National Survey on Marriage in America, lists the following as common reasons for divorce: “lack of commitment, too much conflict and arguing, and infidelity.” What then defines a successful marriage? Commitment? The absence of conflict? A faithful spouse?
We need to define a successful marriage with more than simplistic ideas. After all, couples can remain married because they’re committed to wanting to go to heaven, or to not letting their children come from a broken home, but that doesn’t mean they’re committed to loving one another. Couples can live with the absence of conflict because they’ve come to live separate lives under one roof. This is not the same as having the absence of conflict because they communicate their needs and respect one another’s feelings. 

One may be faithful to her spouse sexually, but is that where the definition of faithful begins and ends? According to Webster’s, “faithful” also encompasses “having or showing true and constant support or loyalty, firm in adherence to promises.” One may not betray her spouse, yet that doesn’t mean she’s been faithful to honor and cherish, to put her spouse's needs first, and to love in good times and bad. Successful marriages are more than the years a couple accumulates together, more than superficial commitment, artificial peacefulness, and faithfulness in some areas.  

When I think of a successful marriage, I think of my father’s parents.They were married over sixty years. They had nine children, all of whom are faithful Christians. They loved each other until my grandma drew her last breath in 1995. She was skinny as a rail, yet so strong her hugs would cut off your air supply!

In her final years her memory was affected by dementia. The majority of household tasks fell onto my grandpa’s shoulders, but he was no stranger to hard work. He was always cheerful and just seemed to take things in stride. 

I loved to hear my grandpa’s story about their nightly ice cream ritual. After dinner he would prepare two bowls of ice cream. One bowl always had a smaller portion than the other. He’d set the small portion in front of her, and put the larger portion at his place at the table. She didn’t understand that he gave her the smaller portion because she could never eat the larger one. So when he’d put the ice cream away, she’d switch the bowls while his back was turned. When he’d turn back around, he’d see her grinning ear-to-ear clutching the bowl with the bigger portion. Despite knowing what would happen, he did this night after night. Perhaps he just wanted to see her smile, and catch a glimpse of the woman she once was . . . the one who held his heart for all those years. 

Though they endured storms of life, they always seemed happy. They were faithfully devoted to each other until they passed from this life. Are these not the warm thoughts we’d like our own grandchildren and future grandchildren to be able to express about our own marriages (cf. Proverbs 20:7)? What a spiritual blessing to leave such a legacy to those in your family!

What was the secret to their success? They built their house of love on the rock. Their marriage stood the test of all the elements because their spiritual foundation was deep and strong. The Bible, and the truths therein, was the most beloved book they owned. It meant something to them. They obeyed Christ’s teachings and loved one another as Christ loved the church. They held fast to the hope God gives for those who follow his commands.  

Faithful devotion such as this is no accident, but it’s the sort of marriage any couple is capable of enjoying and should strive for. What then, does a successful marriage look like? Two imperfect people, who know without God they’re nothing and have nothing. Two imperfect people who commit to loving their spouse like Christ loved the church. Two imperfect people who make God’s word and will the deciding factor for their decisions. Two imperfect people who build their house of love on the rock of Jesus Christ. Two imperfect people who, when they pass from this life, will be together in eternity.  

What Makes for a Happy and Lasting Marriage.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are You A Speck Inspector?

by Jill Jackson

  Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the     best “speck inspector” of them all? 

Some women are married to bad men who participate in physically, emotionally, or spiritually destructive activities, and their life is miserable. This article is not addressing that particular challenge. I’m talking to many of us who still have the chance to make things better today, if we would start with . . . the woman in the mirror. 

A godly woman is willing to face the reality that she’s making some big mistakes. Doesn’t the Lord require us to ask tough questions? Looking into God’s word, what might we discover? Some might realize they’ve been majoring in minors, and that game leads to some major problems. Listen to Christ’s warning about holding others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves, and ask yourself: “Am I the ‘speck inspector’ in my home? 

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:3-5).

Many woman complain about domestic issues (e.g., the trash that didn’t get taken out or the dirty laundry left on the floor). Others raise relationship issues (e.g., the time a husband spends with his buddies). At some point, many women have thought: “I wish I could change______ about my marriage.” Translation: “I wish I could change_____ about my husband.” Therefore, the perceived remedy for marital happiness, becomes “changing” the husband.  

Unfortunately, this “solution” leads to more frustration and unhappiness, because the relationship is complicated by it, rather than enhanced. Are the thoughts and feelings you have for your husband compelling you to seek a solution? Will you choose to do something productive, or pointless? 

It’s pointless to have a lazer-like focus on what’s wrong with your husband. Do you struggle to see his good qualities because you focus on his faults (e.g., He works too many hours, verses he’s willing to put in long hours so I can stay home with our children)? Do you allow your energy to be drained by longing for all the things you don’t have . . . someone else who would be more attentive to you, who would help more around the house, who would not invite company over without asking, who would be more like so-and-so’s husband. Does the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side mentality govern your mind? Nothing good can result from these pointless thoughts. 

There will be times when there’s a speck in our husband’s eye. Perhaps he does work too many hours. Maybe he struggles to find a balance between his job and his role as a husband and father. No doubt, he could be better in many ways. Can’t we all? Maybe some specks need to be addressed, but if your habit is to always focus on his faults, you have a log! 

If your desire is to change your marriage for the better, you need to quit engaging in pointless actions and start engaging in productive actions. Getting the log out of your eye is productive! Before you can address the speck, as someone with credible concerns, you have to get your heart right. You have to be open to seeing the truth about yourself. 

Christ addressed this principle when he said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23)! 

When “the eye” (e.g., the heart) is healthy, it focuses on good things (Philippians 4:8) and is full of light. Finding the good in others helps a person to be cheerful, pleasant to be around, successful in endeavors, and prosperous spiritually. 

If the eye is bad, the focus will be on all that’s wrong. The diseased eye surrounds the soul with darkness. It lacks good judgement and the ability to reason.  The bad eye creates a state of misery that leads one to spiritual poverty, or perhaps ruin (Mark 7:20-23). If you want to create positive changes in your marriage, you need “healthy eyes.” You have to be willing to see the good and put things in proper balance. 
Focusing on “what’s right” about our husbands is productive. This is where treatment for the “bad eye” begins. When we start to focus on that list of grievances, we need to stop in our tracks and pray for help. Then, we need to make a new list about “what’s right” with our husbands. Why did you marry him? What are the qualities you found endearing about him? Think on those things and thank God for those good things! 

Work to replace the negative feelings you have with positive ones. Robert Fulghum said, “The grass is greenest where it is watered.” Quit watering the grass of negativity and start watering the grass of positivity! Revive your feelings with thankfulness—gratitude for what you have instead of grumbling about what you don’t have. 

Focusing on things you can change is productive, and that means taking an honest look at self. What are your weaknesses? If you want to improve your marriage the journey starts with you. What can you do better as a wife? Could you be more patient and kind, more giving (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)? Could you apply the golden rule better (Matthew 7:12)? If you demanded more of yourself would it make your marriage better . . . even if your husband is not making the same effort?

Scripture indicates your example has the power to influence others for good. The Bible teaches that a wife, faithfully applying the scriptures to her life, can win a husband to Christ “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1-2). She also could help her child to become a dedicated servant of Christ (e.g., Timothy). By doing a better job of living and loving like Christ, can we make our marriages better? Absolutely. 
Can I say with certainty that, because of your positive efforts, your husband will address the speck in his eye? No, because we possess free will. But I can say with certainty that productive actions provide an avenue of hope for something better. Pointless actions, such as withdrawing, or fighting, won’t help a bit.

The closer you walk to God, the happier you’ll be as a person and a wife. Treat your husband like you want the Lord to treat you, and you’ll develop the patience and contentment that will help you keep the log out of your eye, so you can deal gently with the speck in his. 

Do marriages go through changes? Of course they do. Mort Fertel said, “Marriages change not because of what people say or how well they listen; marriages change because of what people do.” What are you going to do to change your marriage? Choose to be productive. Maintain a healthy perspective about your husband and yourself. Focus on what’s right. Work on your flaws. With God’s help, let your marriage change into something great by making yourself—the one person you can control—better. 

Fulghum, Robert. Robert Fulghum. Wikiquote. Web. 20 Feb.2014. 

Reich, Ashley. How To Save A Marriage: 6 Unconventional Tips. Huffington Post. Web. 01 July 2013. 20 Feb. 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Make Your Marriage Better, Not Bitter

by Jill Jackson

In their book Beyond Ordinary, Justin and Trisha Davis provide the following definition for resentment: “Grief that is not mourned, which becomes anger that is not resolved, which turns into bitterness that is unconfessed, which becomes resentment that is unforgiven” (ch. 9). There’s an old adage that time heals all wounds, but in some marriages time is not healing the wounds. No couples are perfect. At some point, more times than we would like to count, we will hurt each other. Many of these wounds are minor abrasions, but sometimes our words or actions cut deep. Deep wounds left unattended can become festering injuries that bleed at the slightest irritation. Untreated, these injuries can erode into marriage-altering resentments.

I grew up in the South. You probably can’t find a single Southerner who doesn’t know what kudzu is. Personally, I love those vines, but I recognize I’m likely in the minority on this one, because they’re a major problem. They grow like crazy! They attach to anything whether you want them to or not. Worst of all, kudzu is almost impossible to kill.

Resentment is a lot like kudzu. Once the seed of resentment takes root, it can grow out of control with little encouragement. It can be extremely resistant to logic and common sense. When resentment resides in your heart, it can attach to any thought or issue within your marriage and totally take over. 

Here’s an example. A wife is living with unresolved hurts, which have become a wedge in her marriage. Her husband is late for dinner, and she’s taking it personal. After all, she’s spent the afternoon ensuring a hot meal would be ready when he gets home. Now, dinner is cold and the kids are whining, and it’s his fault. Any thoughts that would give him the benefit of the doubt (such as there was an accident and he’s stuck in traffic) are unable to enter her mind. There’s no room for logical thoughts because the unresolved hurts keep the finger of blame on him. She feels unappreciated and taken for granted. There’s no ability for reasonable assumptions or explanations. Because resentment has so consumed her heart, his every action, or lack there of, must be one against her. Her resentment is a climbing vine attaching to things it ought not. Her husband is in a lose-lose situation—and doesn’t even know it.

Where does “kudz-entment” come from? Discontentment is fertile soil for resentment. As resentment grows, its stalks get thicker and its roots deeper. Intimacy suffers as emotional distance becomes an appealing refuge. Withdrawal is the fruit of this out-of-control, life-sapping vine. Distance and bitterness hardens hearts against forgiveness. Resentment becomes the silent assassin in many marriages. Is it pursuing you?

Forgiveness is the healing salve that protects our marriages from resentment. Extending our spouse forgiveness will not always be easy. It can be hard to let go of personal wounds, especially when the emotions and memories are vivid. It can be challenging to keep focused on moving forward, and not ruminate on what once caused us grief and strife. It can be downright difficult to forgive, even when we may know in our heart it isn’t deserved.

When forgiveness is hard, we should remember three things. First, we would likely be embarrassed—and humbled—to see on paper how many times our husbands forgave us when we didn’t deserve it. Marriage is a two-way street, after all.

Second, if we desire forgiveness from God, then we must offer it ourselves (Matt. 6:14-15). We must remember that we’re completely undeserving of God’s forgiveness, of Christ’s sacrifice, yet the moment any Christian asks for forgiveness, it’s freely given (1 Jn. 1:7-9). He loves … we need … he offers … we ask … he hears … we’re forgiven. But, if our policy is to withhold forgiveness from those who seek it, how can we call upon the Father to forgive us?

Finally, we should remember that forgiveness is a choice. Fertilizing your hard feelings is also a choice. The choices we make, whether good or bad, all have consequences—positive or negative. Christ taught this principle when he spoke of the decision all must make of which gate they will enter. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).

Just as living for Christ is not easy, there will be times when choosing to do right by our marriages will be hard. Bitterness is typical of the masses who spiritually live on Easy Street. It’s effortless to allow our self-talk to spiral out of control. It’s often perceived to be more comforting to lick our wounds, dig our heels in, and fight for the validation we seek. Holding grudges and being the “victim” isn’t hard for most. Yet a life, and a marriage, that willingly walks the wide and easy gate must remember it’s a life that leads to destruction.

That destruction may manifest itself in years of unhappiness, a lack of fulfillment, a loveless marriage, or even one filled with contempt that acts out in injurious ways. This cold existence can make one vulnerable to a sinful relationship with another and could ultimately carry an eternal cost.
Many are blinded to the reality that a marriage filled with bitter resentment has consequences that often reach beyond the spouse—on whom their anger is focused.

How many lives of children are forever changed because parents chose the wide and easy way? There’s nothing painless about the dysfunction, destruction, and dissolving of a home and family … nothing easy about feeling lonely and abandoned.

Though forgiveness can be a difficult spiritual quality to develop, the rewards for your family now and in eternity are well worth the investment. Mend the hurts in your marriage. If things are broken, fix them as much as possible. Do whatever promotes healing. Don’t choke the forgiving spirit out of your marriage and give the silent assassin an opportunity to pursue you.

 Davis, Justin and Trisha Davis. Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn’t Good Enough. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2012. iBook edition.

Recommended Reading
Jackson, Wayne.The Devastating Effects of Divorce.
Jackson, Wayne. The Challenge of Agape-Love.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Is Your Marriage Fractured?

by Jill Jackson

“From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:6-9).

It’s plain to see from this passage, that when God created man in his own image and gave him a help meet (suitable) for him, he had a design for marriage, male and female, leaving and cleaving. This union is to be permanent and intimate on all levels. Sadly, many marriages are falling short of God’s ideal design.

Divorce is not just common in our society. It also has become common-place in the church. Divorce is occurring not only after a few short years together, but lately I’ve heard of several couples who’ve spent decades together, severing the commitment they made. It gives me pause to wonder how people can spend twenty, thirty or even forty years together and call it quits.

But then I realize my naive thinking. Just because they’ve lived together all those years doesn’t mean they’ve loved one another all those years. In reality something broke within those marriages—in some cases many, many years before, and was never fixed. Time continued to pass. Unhappiness within the marriage grew. Lives began to be lived separately until one, or both, found that all the reasons to stay together no longer outweighed the reasons to live apart. Marriages are not reaching their God intended potential. Homes are being broken. Souls are being lost.

People I know and love are settling to live in broken marriages because divorce is not a scriptural option, and fixing their problems in many cases requires things of them they aren’t willing to do. The home of such individuals frequently lacks hope, peace, and focus on living like Christ. In turn it becomes a place of inner turmoil, discontentment, and selfishness under the guise of self-preservation.

Sheryl Crow paints a vivid picture of such a home in her song Home.

I woke up this morning
Now I understand
What is means to give your life
To just one man
Afraid of feeling nothing
No bees or butterflies
My head is full of voices
And my house is full of lies


This is home, home
And this is home, home
This is home
I found you standing there
When I was seventeen
Now I’m thirty-two
And I can’t remember what I’d seen in you
I made a promise
Said it everyday
Now I’m reading romance novels
And I’m dreaming of yesterday


I’d like to see the Riviera
And slow dance underneath the stars
I’d like to watch the sun come up
In a stranger’s arms


I’m going crazy
A little everyday
Everything I wanted
Is now driving me away
I woke this morning
To the sound of breaking hearts
Mine is full of questions
And it’s tearing yours apart . . .

Now, I’m not advocating the lyrics of this song, or any other Sheryl Crow song. I’m not advocating Sheryl Crow, or her lifestyle in any way, shape or form. I’m merely using these lyrics to illustrate the point that generally speaking, marriages that end in divorce often spend a period of time in a fractured state. The response of the couple to the fractures that threaten to sever their marriage will determine the outcome of their union.

Marriage is the foundation of the Christian home—a vital aspect of the Lord’s church (Titus 1:6). In an article titled, The Devastating Effects of Divorce, Wayne Jackson said, “When the family structure disintegrates, a significant factor in the growth of Christian faith is missing, and the gospel is hindered.”

At what point does the measure of health in a marriage hinder the gospel? At the point of divorce, or when a couple began to walk the path toward divorce? The disintegration of the family is no small thing. It’s draining, preoccupying, emotional, and there’s no way one experiencing that roller coaster of emotions can do for Christ what they would be able to do under emotionally healthy circumstances.

For many the new year brings an opportunity for introspection—a time to review the past and look toward the future. We take time to consider our strengths and weaknesses and strive to challenge ourselves to do better in the coming year. As you are doing that, I encourage you to consider the current state of your marriage. Are you living happily ever after? Have you reached a point for reasons you may or may not recognize, you’re merely coexisting? Are you living the life you hoped for when you said your wedding vows? Are there things broken within your marriage? Are you striving to fix them? Are you allowing time to pass while aware of fractures, feeling hopeless, settling for less than God’s design for marriage?

When things are going well it’s easy to love. The flip side of the coin is when things are going well, it’s also easy to hit cruise control and slack off. We get caught up in more pressing needs (ie. work, children, etc.). Though it may appear to be a harmless act at the time, these can be the beginning of fractures within marriages.

I don’t claim to have all the life experiences to answer every marital problem, but I’m convicted that God’s word is where we find the solutions to any and all relationship issues. Whether you feel your marriage is the Christ-centered, intimate relationship God intended, or if you feel somewhere along the way you ran off the road and into a ditch, I invite you to join me this month for Marriage Matters from Matthew. We’ll study principles found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and consider how we can apply his teachings to our marriages, to bring them closer to the design God created.


Image copyright: Lane Erickson, 
Jackson, Wayne. The Devastating Effects of Divorce.