Review of Children of Divorce by Dr. Andrew Root

Returning to Family Matters

In July’s edition of the WLC Messenger, I am returning to family matters after a couple of months on other topics. If you know me well, then you know that divorce, remarriage, and the effect such decisions have upon children is a topic that is close to my heart. I myself am a child from a home that has been touched by divorce. I have close family members, friends, and parishioners whose lives have been touched by divorce. I have studied the teachings of Scripture on the topic of divorce and remarriage.

Children of Divorce

Lately, I have been reading Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family As the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. It is a heavy book (not in weight, but in content), and having been published by Baker Academic, it is indeed an academic book. It is 171 pages in length, and its author, Andrew Root, holds a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the assistant professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Professor Root is renown for his interaction with German theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he converses and writes on the area of youth ministry. In an era where so many are attempting to merely entertain youth with the latest trends, Root has breathed theological depth into relational youth ministry. In addition to his training and expertise, he also brings his own experience of his parents’ divorce to bear on this 2010 publication—Children of Divorce.

Introduction

In the Introduction, Root shares about his own experience as a child of divorce. He also briefly describes the increasing cultural acceptance of divorce that grew out of the 1970’s and “no fault” divorce. The book provides a much needed perspective in all of the divorcing going on—the perspective of the child. He states his thesis, “My overall thesis is that divorce is an ontological issue, one that impacts our very being-in-the-world” (xviii). Ontology is the study of being or existence. Therefore, Root is suggesting that when a divorce happens, the union which gave a child his/her very existence is removed and results in an ontological crisis.

A History of Family, a History of the Self

Chapter one develops the history of the western family along with shifting objectives behind why people have married. He sums up this development when he writes,

The history of the family has followed a broad progression the last six hundred years: its objective has shifted from property and power mergers, to labor, and then to love. These changes follow the evolution of cultural currents impacted by the Enlightenment, currents that changed us from premodern to modern to late-modern people. Divorce, then, is the tragic underbelly of the liberation of marriage and family from being centered on land or labor to being centered on love. But now, standing in late modernity, we find ourselves with a problem, a problem much like the effects of modernity on scientific discovery or technological advance. It is the problem of risk. Scientifically and technologically, this means we can split the atom, but in doing so can destroy the world. We can construct effective power plants, but they pollute the planet. Similarly, marriage and family are free from the bondage of a harsh earlier world, but free for what? Making family about love heightened the significance of the person (the self), but it left us with a dangerous risk. When marriage is about love between persons, and nothing more, what remains when love is doubted or destroyed? . . . then who are [the children] once the love that created them and their primary community is gone? (4–5).

As love became more individualized, subjective, and about self-fulfillment, “the step out of marriage into divorce was then increasingly inevitable” (22). While objectives for marriage such as mergers or labor cemented the child’s existence in the family’s tradition or function, these things were much more difficult to discard or destroy. Families formed out of mergers or labor needed the father-mother-child community to survive and succeed, and it took monumental shifts or changes to take away the security the family provided for the child.

But for the children of the late-twentieth-century love union, all it took to destroy a marriage was a change in Mom and Dad’s individual, subjective feelings. Here, then, is the conflict that we have yet to solve: what do you do when the self-fulfillment of mother and father requires the dissolving of a marriage, but the security and self-fulfillment of the child depends upon its continuation? (23)

Marriage, Divorce, and Ontology

This opening chapter sets the stage for chapters two and three where Root interacts with Giddens’s Social Theory and Heidegger’s Dasein (German—being there). Root concludes, “My being, as we have seen with the examples above, is contingent on the being of others.” In other words, “In confronting the question of my identity, I am also confronting the question of the identity of others . . . To be is to be with” (64). That is to say, a child is only with the parents. Gidden and Heidegger lead Root to assert,

that divorce in this detraditionalized late modernity may have a deep ontological impact that is often overlooked . . . divorce confronts the core of the young person’s humanity, for it affects his or her being and acting in the social world (64).

Barth’s Anthropology and Imago Dei

Subsequently, Root moves to the theological in chapters four and five. Here, he engages the anthropology and imago Dei (image of God) doctrines of the German theologian, Karl Barth. These chapters touched my soul and gave expression and words to feelings and thoughts that I have harbored for twenty years. Root discusses Barth’s analogia relationis, “an analogy of relationship between the being of humanity and the being of God.” That is to say, “To be is to be in relationship.” Barth demonstrates this first in the Trinity’s relating as Father, Son, and Spirit and then moves to anthropology and deeper still into the imago Dei—being in relationship is fundamental to being human, even to being real. Root writes,

This means that relationship constitutes reality; it is relationship that leads to being (not the other way around). We find our being in being-with-others (71–75).

Considering the child of divorce, I hope that you can begin to see and feel Root’s argument as he employs Barth’s theology. The relationship—the union—of father and mother gives the child his/her being, his or her reality. To be in this relationship is to be real. When divorce divides the union which gave the child existence, he slips into the unreal. While a child of course forms other communities in which he lives and moves as he gets older, divorce means that he “has lost the one that has been from the beginning the one that made him real . . . When this is taken away, the young person is lost.” At this point, Root shares an interview with a young lady named Nicole who describes her parents separation and divorce,

That afternoon, after he left, she [her mother] sat us down on the couch and said he wasn’t coming back. I can’t even remember my reaction. I know I couldn’t understand what was happening. But I know exactly how I felt. Lost. Now everything I see I have to know the cause, so I can explain the effect. Since I can’t really understand why the divorce came about, I constantly struggle to make sense of my family (75).

Having engaged with “the being” of Barth’s anthropology, Root also engages “the acting” of Barth’s anthropology as it relates to the child of divorce. Beyond the ontological crisis for the child, there is a crisis of acting. The child of divorce now lives in two worlds but is in his very being a reminder of the old world, the old reality. His resemblance, the shape of his eyes, his mannerisms, expressions “are no longer undeniable witnesses to their being as being-with these people [i.e., the parents]. They become instead signs or reminders of division” (65). In these two worlds, the child struggles to find coherence regarding his acting or his agency. “He must act one way in one world and another in the other world” (65). Root acknowledges that living in multiple “worlds” (e.g., work, school, social gatherings, etc) is part of our modern society and that children must learn to act and compartmentalize appropriately in these varied settings; however, he writes,

But to have to act differently, even contradictorily, in relation to those who correlate and are responsible for your being is quite different. When there are two family worlds, the child is asked to do the impossible. To find his being in two opposed worlds, he is asked to be two people (65).

I summarized this in the margin of the book by saying that ontological duplicity leads to relational duplicity.

Also within chapters three and four, Root offers exceptional research that distinguishes the difference between the impact of the death of a parent upon a child and the impact of divorce upon a child. One difference is that the death of a parent points a child forward to a future event regarding his being while a divorce causes a child to look back to a past event regarding his being.

Death looks to a future reality, an event that will happen as time unfolds for the young person. Divorce does not so much point forward as throw the foundational event of the child’s very origins into regret and question. Death promises the eventual end of his being; divorce questions if he ever should have been at all (77).

Root calls this a “haunting reality” for the child of divorce. Second, the death of a parent and the divorce of parents differ in the area of agency. Root writes,

Death (unless it is suicide, which opens up a whole other truckload of issues) rarely if ever occurs through the agency of the dying person. Disease, accident, and tragedy happen to the parent over and against their choice (action). But divorce is an action, not a fate; it may feel unavoidable, but from the child’s perspective it will always come finally by the choice of one or both parent to end the union (77).

Barth’s view of the image of God introduces a substantial shift in theology and gives further explanation as to why divorce causes a crisis for the child at the ontological level. Many have articulated the image of God as pertaining to humanity being endowed with an essence similar to God’s, possessing a diluted form of God’s substance. Categories such as intellect, volition, and emotion are described. Having these capacities, we are able to serve God, have dominion, pursue freedom, liberty, and happiness. Barth looked beyond these capacities to something else that makes us truly human—our relationships.

Barth proposes a major paradigm shift in theological anthropology: one from seeing the human being as an individual defined by innate faculties to seeing the person as a dynamic-interpersonal agent whose faculties arise only as they exist in relations to others (91).

The point is this: what good is intellect, volition, and emotion without relationships in which to employ them? Root writes,

To reflect the image of God is to be in community, it is to be with and for others, just as the Father is with and for the Son through the Spirit . . . Reality itself is constituted not in substances and essences, but in relationships. We are real and freed from the unreal, not because we can think, reason, or feel, but because we are held in the community of others composed by the relational community of God (92–93).

He connects Barth’s relational imago Dei shift to the topic of divorce in this way,

When the image of God is seen as a relational reality, freedom is not understood as the freedom to do whatever is needed to make oneself happy and free. Rather, freedom is understood as the freedom to be for others. In the logic of a relational imago Dei we find our freedom, not away from others, but in giving ourselves to others (93).

Going further, he connects the relational imago Dei to the children of divorce by correcting assumptions,

We assume that divorce impacts [children] at the level of intellect, will, and emotions. Therefore, our actions for them seek to help them think correctly about the divorce (“It is not your fault”), reason realistically (“Mom and Dad are not getting back together”), and feel properly (“It is OK to be mad and sad, but soon you’ll feel better and be better because Mom and Dad will be happier”). Most of the initiatives to help kids deal with divorce seem stuck in this substantialistic perspective”(93–94).

This approach often results in the theory of “The Good Divorce,” which is founded upon two myths: (1) “Happy Parents Make Happy Children,” and (2) “Divorce Is a Temporary Crisis.” Both of these are untrue, and neglect the ontological crisis of the child. Thinking better or providing more information won’t help. Parental happiness will not enduringly influence the happiness of the child who has experienced a deep cut against his imago Dei. Even will power—of the parent or the child—will not be able to limit or restrain the far-reaching ontological effects of divorce.

Barth’s relational imago Dei reminds us that a child needs the parental union in which she can experience objective relational encounters in three areas: (1) male and female, (2) environment, and (3) mirroring. First, male and female are realities of the imago Dei. The mother and father provide a communion in which the child can securely figure out his connection to and difference from them. Second, the child encounters “Mom and Dad in the distinction and unity of the environment” (108). It is in the environment of male and female that the child belongs and is the image of God. Further, this environment also produces rituals that became larger than any one individual and anchor the individuals in common, shared experiences. Third, whether “for good or for ill, the family environment serves as a mirror, which through its action reflects our being back to us” (110). The problem divorce causes for mirroring is that not only has the mirror been shattered, but also multiple mirrors replace the one mirror, and the result is oftentimes contradictory images that leave the child ontologically insecure. Root draws this section to a close by quoting another writer, “To be human is to be concretely ‘this person’ belonging to ‘these people’” (112).

Ontological Security in Christ and His Church

As Root transitions to the final chapter, he explains that for most children the announcement of divorce does not come as good news. It is also not an end for them, rather it is a beginning—“the beginning of her search for a place to be as she acts between their two worlds. She must find a way to be ‘this person’ now that ‘these people’ regret their union that created her” (116, italics mine). The child will search for communities of belonging, and it is Root’s hope that the church can be the kind of place where a child of divorce can find belonging and ontological security in the perfect and powerful love of Christ. In this chapter, Root develops four practical actions that church’s can take to help children of divorce, and he addresses them to three different kinds of people: (1) the youth worker/children’s minister, (2) the parent, and (3) a friend or mentor (e.g., a grandparent). The four practical actions are (1) Mirroring in the Church as Seeing and Being Seen, (2) Autonomy and Belonging in the Church as Speaking and Listening, (3) Routine in the Church as Mutual Assistance, and (4) Bracketing out Anxiety in the Church by Acting in Gladness.

Conclusion

Finally, I should say that Root is sensitive to those tragic situations in which divorce may indeed be the severe mercy needed for the family. So, he doesn’t view divorce as impossible. The strength of the book is Root’s ability to discern and integrate multiple disciplines (i.e., sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology) in a powerfully harmonic voice regarding the ontological challenges and solutions for the child of divorce. While I realize it was not necessarily the aim of his academic publication, I would have benefitted from a longer book; perhaps, he could have included another chapter that addresses the biblical imperatives to honor and care for parents in light ontological realities and challenges following a divorce. Although I must share that when I attempted to correspond with Dr. Root regarding these additional topics, he was quick, personal, and very kind in his response to me via email—a true scholar and a gentleman! All in all, I am so thankful for this book that gives voice to the children who live through the tragedy of divorce.

Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart

Marriage & Mountain Climbing

I just finished Dr. Stephen M. Judah’s (1949–2008) book Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart. The book is full of stories of his experiences counseling couples caught in the web of an affair (or some cases multiple affairs). He describes these marriages using a very helpful illustration: mountain climbing. As Judah sees it, couples climb toward an affair. He calls it “the ascent into brokenness.”

Novice climbers approach the mountain unaware of what awaits them. In my one experience climbing, I remember watching a couple of my team members have uncontrollable emotional reactions as they acclimatized to the altitude. Similarly, nothing can truly prepare a person for all that marriage entails. Couples should avail themselves of every opportunity possible to prepare and train, just as a climber should! Preventative measures are practiced by the wise of heart. Even so, you still have to climb (i.e., get married) to have the real experience.

from Staying Together: When an Affair Pulls You Apart by Dr. Stephen M. Judah

Judah describes the active affair as the peak of the ascent into brokenness; he also calls it the “death zone.” The reason for such a description is because a person cannot linger long on the peak of a mountain and live—the body simply cannot take it. Likewise, a marriage cannot linger long in an affair. He also compares the active affair to the peak of a mountain ascent because an affair does not simply all of a sudden happen. A couple climbs into it. Judah describes the progressive ascent into brokenness as the accumulation of brokenness from sin, brokenness from the family of origin, brokenness from our peer group, brokenness from dating relationships, romantic love, civil war, the evolution of affair conditions, and finally the peak—the active affair. Rather than an affair being a spontaneous act of passion, the spiritual and social science of the act explains that the affair is the result of the unchecked accumulation of brokenness in a person’s life. We enter marriage with imbedded flaws that remain hidden until a crisis exposes them.

As a boy, I remember watching footage of the January 28, 1986 NASA space shuttle Challenger explosion. It happened 73 seconds into its flight. All crew members were lost. The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology concluded its hearings with a statement: “The fundamental problem was poor technical decision-making over a period of several years by top NASA and contractor personnel, who failed to act decisively to solve the increasingly serious anomalies in the Solid Rocket Booster joints” (under Conclusions, pages 3–7). Years of poor decisions by experts who failed to act decisively created a death zone that exposed everything.

The Ascent into Brokenness

Civil War

In his chapter entitled “Civil War,” he writes, “The experience of civil war has universal and unmistakable characteristics: (1) Awfulization best characterizes the overall experience. The warring pair tend to primarily see the bad in the other. The good is denied or remains carefully ignored. Each becomes at risk to fall into a pattern of being at their worst. (2) Awareness of incompetence—The couple becomes mostly conscious of each other’s incompetence. (3) Negative response—The couple moves either against or away from each other, engaging in classic fight or flight. (4) Depressed sensory acuity—The couple’s senses are diminished, and they attribute the lack of clarity to a lifelessness in their relationship. (5) Separation—They may think or say, ‘I can’t stand to live with you.’ (6) Incompletion—They may think or say, ‘Something is missing.’ (7) Unfamiliarity and disbelief—They may think or say, ‘I’m in the wrong place with the wrong person. How did I ever get here?’ . . . We demand more and put up with less” (pages 65–66). The reality is that both spouses have both brokenness and wholeness within them. Dr. Judah states that “master couples” learn how to focus and practice an awareness of one another’s competencies, which eventually evolves into an unconscious trust in one another’s competencies.

Evolution of Affair Conditions

I found chapter seven, “The Evolution of Affair Conditions,” insightful. He suggests that both “difficult” and “good” marriages experience affairs, and then he seeks to answer the question “Why?” He proposes a two-fold answer: (1) the 60% push and (2) the 40% pull. A negative or difficult marriage environment is likely to “push” a spouse toward an affair. Dr. Judah describes the primary factors at play as (1) communication issues, (2) character or developmental issues (e.g., unmet needs), (3) conflict resolution issues, (4) adult life stage or landmarks (e.g., mid-life crisis), and/or (5) confused or broken choices. A combination of these factors can literally “push” someone toward an affair. However, sometimes affairs (40%) happen in marriages described by couples as “happy” or “fulfilled.” In these cases, there are factors present that “pull” a spouse into an extramarital affair: (1) proximity, (2) similarity, and (3) reward. Work relationships where men and women are working in close proximity and where conversation moves from work-related into more personal feelings, desires, dreams, etc. Unintentionally, boundaries are crossed. From proximity, similarities may begin to surface and create a dangerous intimacy. Eventually, it is possible for the offending spouse to perceive rewards associated in an affair with the third party person.

After explaining these “push” and “pull” realities of the evolution of affairs, Judah offers wrong ways to handle the evolution of an affair and right ways to handle the evolution of an affair (pages 69–75):

Wrong Ways Right Ways
Toying with the possibility of having an affair Commit to finding a way to create a strong marriage—step away from the edge and look for the safe path
Acting out (without talking about) your negative thoughts and emotions Talk about your inner struggle—find friends of the marriage, those who will strengthen your commitment to the marriage bond
Blaming yourself or your partner Replace blame with understanding and take responsibility
Getting bad advice from friends, family members, coworkers, affair partners, or even counselors Get professional guidance that specializes in marriage or relationships
Triangulation or substitute triangulation, which is focusing more on the third party or some other substitute that you do on your spouse Embrace the usefulness of suffering, and choose optimism—suffering together can be a bonding experience
Focusing on the third party rather than on your core values and commitments Focus on the primary couple, the husband and wife
Waiting for a crisis, that is, most people seek help only after an affair has happened Focus on your core values and commitments
Be proactive, preventative and preemptive.
Master essential disciplines—Dr. Judah covers these in part three of his book.

Dr. Judah brings this chapter to an interesting close by warning readers not to dismiss the role of both evil and good supernatural forces at work behind the evolution of an affair. As people of the Bible, we believe in supernatural realities. God calls us to love as he loves—with faithful, steadfast love; however, sin, Satan, and demonic activity are realities opposed to human flourishing. Beware the spiritual forces at work in the “push” and “pull” of the evolution of an affair. Cling to your God and to your spouse.

The Descent into Wholeness

The third part of the book is entitled “Descent into Wholeness.” Surprisingly, the descent down the mountain is harder than the climb up. I remember being caught off guard by this during my single mountaineering experience. There a number of factors that make it more difficult: (1) you’re not as motivated; (2) the goal destination seems boring and anticlimactic; (3) it hurts your joints and feet in an unexpected way; (4) you’re off balance because of terrain; (5) you’re exhausted; (6) you have fewer supplies and possibly damaged gear; (7) you’re far more irritable; (8) the path isn’t always as clear; and (9) well, you’re just done! While all this is true, you must make it back down the mountain—your life depends on it. You can’t survive long at the top. Reaching bottom restores normal, whole, healthy living.

In this section, Dr. Judah walks the reader through his five essential disciplines that have the potential to restore wholeness to a marriage broken by an affair: (1) SHARE—sharing the truth with your spouse, (2) RECONCILE—reconciling the crisis with your spouse, (3) REFINE—redefine and realign your character through development and commitment, (4) ENHANCE—rebuilding and cultivating the positive, (5) ENVISION—flourish by creating the possible, exploring tomorrow’s dreams, and generating today’s plan. The first three disciplines function “like powerful workhorses to transform the negative” (1) communication techniques, (2) crisis experiences, and (3) character traits; whereas, the final two disciplines (4) cultivate what is good and (5) create the possible.

The Crisis & RECONCILE

In chapter ten entitled, “The Crisis,” he borrows an experience from Andy Politz, who has reached the summit of Mount Everest multiple times. He writes, “On one occasion he helped rescue a party of five . . . They had spent the night near the peak in bad conditions. Another party had come across them but left the party for dead, giving them only a candy bar to assuage their own guilt. Andy and his party, by contrast, abandoned their climb to devote all their resources to the rescue. The party in trouble needed oxygen and water of course, but mostly they needed someone to walk them down the mountain step by step. Every two steps those being rescued would collapse. Generally competent, experienced and strong, now they were temporarily dazed, confused, weak and blind. They could not rescue themselves. They needed somebody to help. Rescue by definition usually requires others” (page 108).

He continues to develop what the essential discipline of RECONCILE looks like for the offending and the offended spouses. The offending spouse may experience a great deal of relief when the affair is either discovered or confessed; however, the offended spouse often goes through a threefold process that he describes as (1) disorganization, (2) reorganization, and (3) organization. Further, the offended spouse may experience something similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other severe emotional conditions. Judah writes at the close of this chapter, “Oddly enough, the descent into wholeness involves temporarily putting your partner into a crisis state. The offending spouse has been in the death zone for a while, so descending lets them breathe a little easier. By contrast, the offended spouse feels like they have been dropped into the death zone of a mountain peak without any acclimatization. The necessary disclosure hits the offended spouse hard” (page 125). While this crisis has to be a part of the journey, it is miserable.

Flourishing & ENVISION

Chapter thirteen introduces that couples who have experienced an affair can indeed flourish again. “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Here, he helps couples recover and reestablish core desires and core values together. Having “survived, stabilized, and succeeded, then pursue significance” together. Couples that reach this ENVISION stage of the descent into wholeness are invited to imagine a resurrected relationship in which they can clarify goals and adjust priorities. Couples that remain committed in the descent can have fulfilling relationships, discover anew that they are good at something together, make the world a better place together, and enjoy peace with God together.

The Spiritual and the Scientific

Descending into wholeness is possible for the couple that has encountered the “death zone” of an active affair. It will take help from others; it will take commitment to a process; and it will take a new hope and vision. Dr. Judah has a couple of appendices at the end of his book that speak to special situations that couples may face along the way of their journey. His final chapter addresses “The Spiritual and the Scientific: A Fusion of Strengths.” He is a committed Christian, who has trained and worked as a social scientist (a.k.a. a professional marriage counselor). He describes the relationship between the two by returning to his mountaineering imagery. He explains, “Mountain climbers have found one particular rope design superior to all others. The structure involves an inner core rope that provides strength and a series of woven otter strands which amplify strength and offer protection. You cannot actually see the vital inner rope. You can only see the otter strands. When spiritual wisdom and the wisdom of social science combine, a fusion of strengths occurs. They become woven together like strands of a rope. At the core lies an indescribable, invisible and vital force. We cannot see God, but we can see the strands surrounding the core” (page 172).

Don’t Lose Hope; Grab the Rope

Don’t die on the mountaintop trying to handle your crisis all alone. There is hope. Get some help. May God grant your marriage the grace to descend back into wholeness with a new hope and vision. May it be stronger having gone through such an incredible crisis.

The Seven Rings of Marriage

Rings As Seasons in Marriage

Next in the 2018 Messenger series on family and relationships, I hope to convince you to read a new book on marriage. A professor at Bible College used to tell us poor students that a good book was worth selling the shirt off your back to have in your library! This is one of those shirt-sellers! The name of the book is The Seven Rings of Marriage written by Jackie Bledsoe. The title is creative and memorable. Here’s how the chapters unfold:

Introduction
Chapter One: When Your Dream Becomes a Nightmare
Chapter Two: Begin with the End
Chapter Three: The 7 Rings of Marriage—An Overview
Chapter Four: Ring #1—Engagement RING
Chapter Five: Ring #2—Wedding RING
Chapter Six: Ring #3—DiscoveRING
Chapter Seven: Ring #4—PerseveRING
Chapter Eight: Ring #5—RestoRING
Chapter Nine: Ring #6—ProspeRING
Chapter Ten: Ring #7—MentoRING
Chapter Eleven: What Ring Are Your Wearing?
Chapter Twelve: End with the Beginning
Conclusion

Workable Hopefulness

I’ve read many books on marriage. This book is refreshing. It addresses real marriage problems, seasons, work, and celebrations from a biblical perspective. It’s theology is simple and solid. There’s tons of direct, measurable application points for each RING. I also appreciated the tone of the author when it comes to the messy and dirty moments of marriage. Bledsoe avoids what I’ll call “whiny hopefulness”—hope that’s laced with a grinding and annoying whine. Almost like, “There’s hope, but woe is me.” I totally get it, even been guilty of this myself—we live in the tension of both suffering and hope. Romans chapter eight affirms this already-not-yet reality in which we live. However, the solution in the messes of life and marriage is not to whine in the tension, but rather to persevere in faith, obedience, and to make good changes to restore God’s purposes for our lives. The author nails what I’ll call a workable hopefulness. He offers solutions to a husband and wife willing to put the gospel to work in their marriage.

Marriage Earthquakes

Let me give you a few examples from Chapter Seven: Ring #4—PerseveRING. He creates great word pictures to describe special trials in marriage. He describes these moments as Earthquakes and Storms. He describes an “Earthquake” in marriage as the release of built-up stress that has accumulated over time and causes severe disruption and upheaval. He gives a list of potential fault lines in marriage and then offers tips on how to survive a Marriage Earthquake by applying principles from the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) protocol dealing with earthquake safety:

First, DROP down to your knees before the earthquake knocks you down, meaning pray together about the fault line.

Second, COVER your head and your entire body if possible, meaning guard your mind and body.

Third, HOLD ON until the shaking stops—a marriage earthquake is a time to hold on tighter to your vows and your spouse. Here’s a quote: “The shaking will stop eventually. So don’t let go prematurely. When the shaking is over, you can pick up the pieces knowing you have survived something that destroys many other marriages” (189).

Marriage Storms

Regarding Marriage Storms, he parallels these with our constant concern and preparation for weather in day-to-day life. You can spot a storm coming from far away if you’re watching. Bledsoe observes five different hints that a marriage storm is approaching: (1) You have not spoken your spouse’s love language; (2) you have not been truthful; (3) communication is lacking; (4) you’re not praying together; (5) you have an island marriage (i.e., isolated from or not allowing other married couples to be involved in your life). Then, the author advises how to prepare for these storms: (1) Have your storm gear ready (e.g., Bible verses, babysitters for dates, agreement that no storm will end in divorce); (2) know that storms are not always going to be there; (3) have a storm crew; (4) create your weather patterns as best you can (i.e., if you know certain actions or inactions may generate a storm, what can you change or improve?).

Promises for Marriage

Lastly, in addition to talking about the hard work that is necessary when wearing the PerseveRING, Bledsoe reminds readers of seven Biblical promises for going through tough times:

You are unbeatable because God is always with you (Josh. 1:5)!
Things are working together, and good results will come from them (Rom. 8:28).
Despite the way life may look, you are a winner (Rom. 8:37)!
God wants to help you, and He will if you ask Him (Ps. 55:22; 1 Pet. 5:7).
Even in tough times, good things are happening (Ps. 112:4).
God’s grace is enough, and His power is strongest when we are weakest (2 Cor. 12:9).
The challenges you face now pale in comparison to the blessings you’ll receive (Rom. 8:18).

Final Thoughts

Chapters Six and Seven are my favorite in the book, probably because they apply to the things that are most important to this season in my marriage: I need to continue DiscoveRING who Aimee is and continue to learn how to love her well, even in this busy season of family and work. In Chapter Six, the author gives terrific lists for 25 Date Night Conversation Starters and 25 Fun Date Night Ideas. While these are my favorite chapters, Bledsoe has really put together a complete book on each season of married life.

There are other recent great works on Christian marriage—Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage and John Piper’s book called This Momentary Marriage—both of which dig into the theology behind Christian marriage. If you are looking for an amazing story, read my friend Rick Rood’s book entitled, Our Story . . . His Story. In this book, Rick tells the story of his experience of God’s grace and strength while he and his wife Polly battled an awful illness. I’ve personally appreciated The Seven Rings of Marriage by Jackie Bledsoe because of his ability to say exactly what I need to hear with just the right dosage of pain and positivity. Hey, a shot hurts, but when you need it, you need it. It’s been a refreshing read. Again, I strongly recommend this book for all those aspiring for a good and godly marriage.

Home: The Elusive Search for Place, Belonging, Rest, & Origin

Home

Where Is Home?

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines home in multiple ways:

  • one’s place of residence
  • the social unit formed by a family living together
  • a familiar or usual setting,” related to this is the idiom at home, which means “relaxed or comfortable, in harmony with the surroundings, or on familiar ground
  • a place of origin

What about you? How would you define home? The dictionary definitions may be narrowed even further to (1) a location, (2) a people, (3) rest and harmony, and (4) origin.

My personal experience, which I realize that everyone may not share, is that home can be elusive. Here is what I mean. As you get older, home changes . . . locations may change; the people who make up home may change; the familiar expectation of rest and harmony may change too. However, young people and children can also experience these changes to home. Sometimes the changes that come upon a home are a calling into a new adventure and opportunity for growth — for example, higher education, an opportunity to advance a career, serving God’s mission, building a new house, an adoption or foster care, etc. Yet, sometimes the changes that come upon a home are the result of unexpected tragedies or unplanned invasions into the dreams that you had — death of a loved one, a house that burned down, divorce, job loss, abuse of all kinds, disease that requires special care, etc. Maybe you haven’t been able to put words to the feeling before, but I bet in some way or fashion many of us have asked, “Where is home?”

Another element of elusiveness is added when you begin to follow Jesus as a Christian. Perhaps the old Southern Gospel song, “This World Is Not My Home” says it best,

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus
O Lord, You know I have no friend like You,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am and weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Just up in glory-land, we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

For the Christian, there is a search for a new location to call home; there is a search to belong to a family that isn’t bound by a loyalty made merely of earthly flesh and blood (c.f., Mark 3:31–35); there is a longing for true rest and perfect harmony. I would even say that there is an ancient longing of origin—when a person comes to know God as Creator, Father, and Savior, the idea of origin and returning to a place and people of origin takes on a new meaning. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV).

Abraham, for example, searched for this city— “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Was Canaan all that Abraham searched for? Was Sinai all that Moses and Israel searched for?

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear (Hebrews 12:18–21 ESV).

Even the earthly Jerusalem on Mt. Zion appears to have been only a pattern shaped after a better city of promise,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God (Psalms 87:1–3 ESV).

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18–24 ESV).

If you look closely, you’ll see in the previous verses that there is (1) a location—the heavenly Jerusalem, (2) a community—innumerable angels, the assembly of the firstborn, and the spirits of the righteous, (3) rest and harmony—festal gathering, made perfect, the mediator of a new covenant. We may even see a hint of origin and return here with the mention of “the city of the living God.” Perhaps, this new Jerusalem is something like Eden was meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews indicates that “passage” into the city that the Christian seeks actually requires a journey “outside the camp.” The way of Jesus is outside the gate, outside the camp. For the audience of the writer to the Hebrews, this meant choosing Christ by faith, which was a confession that he was better than Moses, better than the temple, better than the sacrifices, better than the High Priest, and offered a better home than Jerusalem. The road that leads to the city we seek is marked with suffering, reproach, and sacrifice.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:12–16 ESV).

The final words of Scripture to us about this new city are found in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1–4 ESV).

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9–14 ESV).

Where is home? Home is “the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). It is an ancient city that God has been building for ages, and he invites us into this home. He built its gates out of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He built its foundation out of the apostles. Jesus Christ is its cornerstone. He’s still building it out of the supply of “living stones” in the church (1 Pet. 2:4). The location of this home is now heavenly, but there will one day be a move to earth, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” and “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” There is a social, family unit forming, held together by our common faith and fellowship in Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. You can feel the true rest and perfect harmony when John writes, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Doesn’t dwelling with God in the new heaven and new earth also remind us of Genesis in the Garden of Eden?

So what? Home is a residence, a community to which you belong, rest and harmony, and a place of origin. For many people, home is elusive. The heart awakened by the gospel begins to reimagine what home is, and the two views of the earthly home and the heaven. Home begins to orient itself around God—his city, his people, his rest and harmony, and a return to his purpose for humanity.

I think that this gospel reorientation of home is practical in four ways.

Enemies of Home

First, it exposes sin, Satan, and death as the enemies of home. They destroy locations, divide families, make us restless and interrupt our harmony, and blind us toward God’s purpose in creating us.

Grace at Home

Second, the gospel reorientation of home allows us to have grace with our current home situation, empathizing with and understanding its imperfections and limitations and rejoicing in the glimpses it gives us of our future home.

Hope for Home

Third, we have a future hope in a dwelling, community, rest & harmony, that will fulfill God’s purpose for us and that will be free from the threats of sin, death, and Satan.

Church as Home

Lastly, I think that the closest place we can experience anything like that future home is in the church—a location of assembly, a community and family united in Christ by God’s Spirit made up of many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, spiritual rest and peace in Christ, and a place of fellowship around God’s purposes for our lives. Let’s be the best home we can, with God’s help, at West Lisbon.

10 Reasons to Attend the Marriage Conference

Marriage Rings

Top 10 Reasons to Attend the For Keeps Marriage Conference at West Lisbon Church

Marriage Conference

Click “here” to find out more and to pre-register today!

1. To say “I am trying” to heal my marriage.

2. To decide whether or not to get married.

3. Because it’s free.

4. Because younger couples are encouraged by the presence of older couples.

5. As a “check-up” and to give every marriage more tools.

6. Because your attendance is a moment to teach your kids that marriage is important to you.

7. Because you just got married.

8. Because your church promoted it; you want to be a part of your church’s vision for the family.

9. Because parenting is overshadowing your relationship with your spouse.

10. Because your spouse wants to go.

And if those didn’t convince you, here’s 3 bonus reasons . . .

11. Because lunch will be provided.

12. Because maybe your marriage isn’t as healthy as you think it is or as it could be.

13. Because it will be fun and you will laugh.

Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life – Part 2

Last month in The Messenger, I shared three of six principles that I learned during a season of singleness several years ago: Mission, Love, and Purity. This month, I want to continue writing about the final three—Trust, Loyalty, and Community.
Navigate Trust

The Greek word used in the New Testament for our English verb “to believe” is πιστεύω (pis-teu-O), and its range of meaning is

to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust, with implication of total commitment to the one who is trusted. In our literature, God and Christ are objects of this type of faith that relies on their power and nearness to help, in addition to being convinced that their revelations or disclosures are true (BDAG entry). 

Growing to trust God’s reliability should be the desire of every Christian, regardless of their marital status. Do you trust him with your singleness? Do you trust him with your marriage? Do you trust him when there’s brokenness? The Scriptures teach that humans were created to believe God and his word. Our depravity tempts us to doubt and reject God’s reliability. The love of God in Christ’s salvation calls us to contrition, so that we turn from unbelief toward belief again. In the restoration at the end, our faith will become sight. My point here is to demonstrate that to believe and trust God is human. Faith is something that grows; it’s dynamic and developing, setting us free from unbelief as we walk with God in the present and remember his past faithfulness. A “mustard seed” of faith can go a long way, because the object of our faith is so strong and steady. A little bit of trust in God can change your life, because he is so trustworthy. So, wherever you find yourself relationally, take the advice of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.” The purpose of this quote is not to say that the single person should not/will not ever get married, but rather do not fail to exhaust all that God has for you to learn while your single. Trust him with the seasons of your life. Willingly offer to him your dreams by loosening your grip on singleness and marriage, and allow him to fill your hands with his dreams for singleness and marriage (1 Corinthians 7).

Navigate Loyalty

Loyalty to something outside of the self is highly suspect today. To me, there is an obvious connection with this cultural trend and problems in the family and in the church. Christians should be asking, “How does God feel about loyalty? Does he think it is a virtue or a vice?” The Scriptures are clear that God himself is loyal, faithful, and steadfast in his love (Psalm 26:3); however, the Scriptures also testify to the uniqueness of loyalty among humans: 

Many people profess their loyalty, but a faithful person–who can find? (Proverbs 20:6 NET). 

Therefore, God is loyal and desires it among humans who bear his image. 

The single person should practice loyalty. Whether you marry or not, loyalty is a virtue that will benefit you in every walk of life, especially in marriage. One place where you can practice loyalty is your local church—be loyal when it’s hard and even when you disagree. You’ll have plenty of difficult and disagreeing days when you get married. I think that the Scriptures indicate that loyalty can be hard even when we agree in our relationships with God, church, family, and others. We were created by God to experience life through loyalty to him. Sin divided our loyalty into loyalties. Jesus came and is coming again to be Lord of our loyalties. Practice steadfast love and faithfulness now. 

Married people are wise to intentionally practice loyalty to their spouses, by continuing to learn and lean on God’s loyalty. God is loyal to his people in every way, even when it comes to death on a cross to save them. In our world of technology and mobility, there are married people who think that they can get away with living two lives. However, God knows the loyalties of our hearts, sees every action, and is Judge of all. His all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful presence is not hindered by geography or technology. Married people have entered into a covenant with God for one another, and this covenant is a liberating restriction, refining our loyalty. As Paul taught the Galatians about Christian living,

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal. 5:13). 

The Scriptures are clear that the loyalty expressed to one’s spouse is a parable and picture about God’s loyal love to us in the gospel (Ephesians 5:22–33). Maybe you’re divorced and single. What does the practice of loyalty look like for you? Your situation could be very complex, and I do not feel we should minimize all of the potential difficulties and obstacles to loyalty in some cases. Maybe you were and are loyal, but your husband or wife was not or is not. Maybe you were the one who failed to be loyal. By God’s grace, let’s ask, what does it look like for you to be loyal today? What does it look like for you to imitate the gospel-kind of loyalty that God displays—today? Is God calling you to be loyal to your marriage covenant, even though your spouse has not been? What is God asking you do? Is God asking you to pray? Reach out again? The Scriptures are clear that what God unites as “one flesh,” man is unable to separate—no matter what human law may say. Some of you may already be remarried, or you are single, but your former spouse is already remarried. Wherever you are, be all there, and seek to be full of God and his word. Begin practicing loyalty today. If you’re remarried, be loyal in your current marriage. If you are single, practice loyalty in your church, in your family, and in your friendships. 

Navigate Community

Lastly, I see community as extremely beneficial to the single person and the married person. As a single person, I was on the receiving end of some great advice and counselors. I am very thankful for those men and women who spoke truth into my life as I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a man who walked with God. The community of believers in the local church should be a great resource for the single person; however, too often, a pastor hears horror stories about things that are said to single people in the church. Single people strengthen the community and the mission. The community should also be a greenhouse for the single person to grow in his or her relationship with God, no matter if marriage is or is not in his or her future. The married couple also needs the community. Marriage is enjoyable and hard—it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. The church is a place of support when there is sorrow (Matt. 5:4); the church is a place of counseling when there’s conflict (Rom. 15:14); the church is a place of honest rebuke and correction when there is sin (Matt. 18:15–20); the church is a place of grace when there is repentance about failure (2 Cor. 2:7–11); the church is a place of celebration when families hit milestones and spiritual markers (Philem. 4–5). The married couple and their story also contribute to the community. Young adults need to see decades of joy and perseverance in marriage. The married couple that has children knows how to love other children too. The married couple who does not or cannot have children of their own can become spiritual mothers and fathers to the children of the church. The church needs single and married people. Single and married people need the church. Best of all, single and married people who claim Christ as Savior and King share him in common, and he is our peace. Our marital statuses are different, but our Lord is one.

I hope that these six principles—Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community—will help you navigate the waters of the single life and the married life. I pray that the Spirit of Truth will always be your teacher, for he always seeks to glorify the gospel of Jesus in and through you. May he speak to you through the word of God in the season in which you currently are seeking him.

Navigating Relationships in the Christian Life: Singleness and Marriage

Singleness

A lady wanted to marry four different men in her lifetime. She said each one would help her with the four things she needed most. First, she wanted to marry a banker. Second, a movie star. Next, a clergyman. And finally, a funeral director. When asked why, she answered, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!” (Chuck Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life).

Well, that’s certainly one way of looking at it! Last Sunday at West Lisbon, we began the last of four sermon series that have highlighted our core Biblical and Historical Principles: (1) The Worship of God, (2) The Gospel Mission, (3) The Spiritual Life, and (4) The Family. Last week, we sought to recover God’s vision for the family, which starts with recognizing God’s original intent and purpose in creating humanity. He created us to be his image-bearers, singing us into being (Gen.1:27), and he blessed humanity, giving them special power and privilege to fill the earth with the image of God and to carry our his purposes in history. This Sunday, May 15th, we’ll look at how strong singles strengthen the mission of the gospel (1 Cor. 7:25–35).

In light of the series and our current sermon topics, I decided to write to you about navigating relationships in the Christian life. It is my hope to employ my experience and the Bible to give direction to those who are single with no intention to marry right now, others who are single and actively seeking a potential spouse, and even those who are presently engaged to be married to another. At the end, I’ll also reference some further reading on the topic.

At the beginning of 2002, I was a new Christian, in the middle of college and undecided about my degree and career path, and engaged to be married. By the end of 2002, I was still growing in my Christian faith with a new burden to learn from the Bible what it meant to be a Christian man and servant-leader. I also switched colleges in order to study Bible and Theology. I was no longer engaged to be married. I wondered if I ever would get married, if God had called me to a life of singleness, and if I was capable of being a godly husband. In hindsight, I see so many things that I did wrong, but I did one thing that was very helpful to my spiritual growth—I took two years to read, study, pray, and develop relationships with other godly men with the aim of becoming one myself by God’s grace. There was nothing magical about two years, it just happened to be the period of time that God gave to me to figure some things out. There are six principles that I learned to navigate during that time that I want to share with you and which I hope are helpful to your walk with Christ: Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community.

Navigating Mission

Did you know that you were created for a mission? Not just any mission, but God’s mission. Genesis 1:26–28 explains that God made humanity for the purposes of bearing his image and ruling as his representatives on the earth. Image-bearing refers primarily to the spiritual side of our identity. Remember, God is spirit (John 4:24), so the way in which we bear his image is spiritual. In Genesis 1:26 and 28, God also blessed humanity with dominion over the earth. Tony Evans describes this dominion as

ruling on God’s behalf in history so that history comes under God’s authority.

God sang you into existence (Gen. 1:27), and he created you for the ultimate mission. Life is all about this mission. It also implies that there is opposition. Why else would God’s rule and dominion need to be established so that the earth is filled with his image-bearers? Satan opposes God and his rule, and therefore, he opposes humans and their God-given mission. We are God’s representatives sent into enemy territory.

Reading in Genesis 3, we discover that Satan gained what appeared to be a key victory over our first parents. In the temptation, Adam and Eve failed to bear God’s image, and they failed to exercise their dominion over the creatures of the sea, air, and land by submitting themselves to the snake. Sin shattered the image-bearers; humans surrendered their dominion to the enemy. However, God resolved to continue his plan to fill the earth with his glory and dominion. Now, the mission is not so much about procreation as it is spiritual rebirth. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3; cf. Titus 3:3–7).

Notice how the rule of God is now tied together with the new birth by the Spirit. How do we participate in this mission of new birth leading to a recovery of God’s rule? We must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. His faithful death and resurrection regenerates the soul, restores the image-bearing mission of humanity, and makes way for the kingdom of God on the earth.

If you are single, have you methodically and intentionally thought through the implications of the gospel mission on your life? Is God finished utilizing your single years for his “gospel-schooling”? Remember,

For we are his poem, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

If you are considering marriage or are already married, how is God calling you as a couple to give your lives for the gospel mission? Humans were created for image-bearing and for God’s dominion. Jesus saves us to restore this mission. This is bedrock. This is why you exist. It’s why you’re here, and his grace has everything you need to live a life of significance—single or married.

Navigating Love

I once bought—hook, line, and sinker—into our culture’s description of love. Even Merriam-Webster is too simplistic when it comes to defining love,

a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship; a person you love in a romantic way.

Notice the words . . . feeling . . . attraction . . . romantic. For sure, this is one side of love—companionship, affection, feeling, and romance—but our American concept of love ignores the key element of love—choice that leads to selfless action. Biblical love is the love that denies oneself for the benefit and interest of others. The love of God for us through the work of Christ is described in this way.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3–5).

Later, the apostle John writes,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16).

This kind of sacrificial love is demanded of husbands in Ephesians 5:25.

When we are born again, believing in Jesus Christ, God begins again to shape us into his image-bearers. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and his presence is accompanied by a fruitfulness, part of which is this kind of love. I learned years ago that the single life is a training ground for this kind of sacrificial love. There are tons of opportunities to learn and yield to the Holy Spirit, so that he may shape you into a person who chooses to love. There are parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, co-workers, friends, fellow Christians, and others with whom you can share life together and develop this Christ-like love. If you’re single, has God finished using your single years to school you in sacrificial love? If you are engaged, are you ready to love in this way? Do you feel that your fiancé is also prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to thrive in your marriage and mission? If you’ve been married awhile, where are you struggling to choose to love? What is preventing you from laying down your life for your spouse?

Navigating Purity

When I was born again in 2001, God opened my eyes to the sexual sewage that I had been swimming in for years. I needed to change my mind about sexuality. Instead of assuming that I knew what was proper, I needed to humbly receive God’s clear teaching on the theme of purity in the spiritual life of one who has been born again and who was being restored in Christ to bear God’s image again. Psalm 119:9 has always stuck with me from those days, “How shall a young man keep his way pure?” asks the Psalmist. He answers, “By keeping it according to your word.” Therefore, God has something to say about purity, and since he is the designer of our sexuality, then it seems best to let him speak into this area of our lives.

As the sexual sewage of the world continues to accumulate more and more, God’s truth about purity continues to set us free. The real question is, do you want purity? Do you really want to be pure? Do you really want what the Holy Spirit wants for your life? Stop treating purity like it’s some line, as if you’re still pure so long as you don’t break some rule you’ve set up for yourself. Purity is a direction of the heart. You either want it, or you don’t. You either love what God loves, or you don’t. If you don’t, find in God the grace you need to repent, and allow the word of God to renew your mind. If you do, then you can trust that he will continue to direct the desires of your heart into paths of purity.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday (Psalms 37:3–6).

Don’t make purity a cloudy mystery. God has not left us to walk around aimlessly in some sexual fog. Be authentic and honest; let’s be real, and stop justifying immorality. God’s will on sexual purity is not confusing; it’s very clear. From the beginning, he designed sexuality to be experienced within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. He has sanctified the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4; cf. 1 Cor. 7:3–5). He hasn’t changed his view. His design still works best for his glory and our enjoyment. Remember, the works of the sinful nature are obvious—they’re not mysterious—and they are trying to deceive, destroy, and to rob you of genuine sexuality, worship, relationships, and order (Gal. 5:19–21; cf. 1 Thess. 4:3–8).

Do you have a heading? Is the compass of your spiritual life pointed in the direction of purity? It is best to find this heading while you’re single. Establish a direction and a delight in purity before you enter into a relationship. Don’t enter a relationship unprepared. Be ready to lead toward purity. If you are already in a relationship in which you’ve lost purity, take the necessary steps to regain purity. If you’re dating or engaged and purity has been lost, get out of the relationship, or in the very least postpone any big plans. Sexual immorality clouds discernment and vision. Saying the “I-dos” won’t all of a sudden create a culture of purity in your relationship. Remember how urgent Jesus was about handling the temptations of the world, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:7–9). If you are married and immorality has crept into your marriage, get help quick. Don’t try to bear the burden alone; let spiritually mature brothers and sisters walk alongside you so that you may begin to imagine a pathway into healing and perhaps even restoration.

There’s more to say, but for now, let’s conclude part one of Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life. In the June Messenger, we’ll pick up part two and learn to navigate trust, loyalty, and community. Here are a number of books to pick up for further reading and help in navigating the waters of singleness and marriage:

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/books/this-momentary-marriage)
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-meaning-of-marriage)
Our Story . . . His Story by Rick Rood
I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris (btw, some Christians hate this book; but it helped me tremendously)
Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris
Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn (http://www.everymanministries.com)
Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Etheridge (http://familylifetoday.com/series/every-woman-s-battle/)
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

I hope that part one has been encouraging to you and that these resources equip you for godliness and for experiencing God personally and in your relationships.