This Valentine’s Day edition of Music Monday is dedicated to my sweetheart and dance partner, Sarah. I love you!
Tim Challies has started what has so far been an excellent series called “Sexual Detox” on the very sensitive topic of sex and pornography. It is very well worth the read (especially Part 3). I’ve included a link to each article along with a brief excerpt :
Part 1 – Pornifying the Marriage Bed: Many young men need a kind of sexual detox before they are equipped to be the kind of pure, loving, attentive, sacrificial husbands that God calls them to be. In this series of articles I hope to help young men reorient their understanding of sex, both in the big picture and in the act itself, according to God’s plan for this great gift.
Part 2 – Breaking Free: There aren’t too many Christian men out there who are looking at pornography and who don’t know that they need to quit. The problem isn’t with knowledge—it’s with desire and ability. Every Christian guy who looks at porn wants to stop, but many of them want to stop just a little bit less than they want to keep going. And so sin prevails. The only way you will stop is if you begin to see the monstrous nature of the sin you are committing. You will only stop if the sin is more horrifying to you than the perceived goodness of the enjoyment of that sin. You will need to hate that sin before you can find freedom from it….God is infinitely more willing to deal with your sin than you are to commit your sin. You may love this sin and be committed to it, but if you are a Christian, God is more willing than you are to overcome it and destroy it. He will grant grace for you to put sin to death. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
Part 3 – A Theology of Sex: Yet sexual desire, the appetite for sex, is not given in equal measure. It is typically given in greater part to men. Why is this? The answer, I’m convinced, goes right to the heart of the husband-wife relationship. God commands that men, husbands, be leaders. Men are to take the leading role while women are to follow. God intends that men take leadership even in sex and, therefore, he gives to men a greater desire for it. This way men can lead their wives, taking the initiative, taking care to love their wives in such a way that they wish to have sex with their husbands. Generally speaking, a man finds intimacy and acceptance through sex while a woman needs to first experience intimacy and acceptance before she can be prepared to enjoy sex. And so God gives the man a sexual appetite so he can in turn provide for his wife’s needs before she provides for his.
When my wife and I were married, two imperfect individuals promised to love each other perfectly – “for better, for worse.” Like many other couples, we naively entered this new chapter of our lives with unrealistic and selfish preconceptions of how life would be like from that point on. And like many other couples, we have over time discovered the imperfectness of our union, each other, and, most of all, ourselves. We are in constant need of being reminded what the goal of our marriage should be.
In How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, Christian counselor Leslie Vernick dives into the murky waters of marital discord by bringing into focus what that primary purpose of all marriages should be – “to help [us] grow more like Christ.” (p.2) She says further “If we lose sight of the goal — Christlikeness — we will become frustrated in our attempts to act right when our spouse acts wrong. Our purpose in learning to act right is not to get our spouse to act right, to be fair, or to contribute more to the marriage. We cannot control our spouse’s heart. With our goal set on pleasing God and being more like Jesus in all circumstances, we will begin to grow and to know the mind of Christ.” (p.64) It is to this goal that Vernick consistently comes back in each discussion and issue.
Much of the book is centered on how we react to what our spouse does instead of focusing on the wrong that our spouse commits. Throughout the book, the underlying question is “How is God using my spouse to make me more like Christ?” The message of the book shouldn’t be seen as one that makes the one spouse a doormat while the offending spouse is given free reign to do whatever he or she wants. Vernick writes about the need to respond to our spouse’s sinful behaviors in a loving, firm, yet Christ-like manner. “Our real enemy is not our spouse, as much as it might feel that way. Our enemy is Satan and the evil he stands for.” (p.66)
Vernick is very explicit in stating that following the principles in the book will not guarantee that a marriage will turn around overnight – or even at all. What she does try to teach is that we are to view our marriage – whether good, bad, ugly or somewhere in between – as a tool used by God to shape us more into the image of Christ for his honor and glory. She doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult marital issues nor the possible need for separation/divorce in some instances. But through it all, she emphasizes over and over our individual responsibility and calling to become more like Christ in our lives. This is an excellent book on the subject of marriage and one well worth reading.
Last Sunday and Monday, Sarah & I got to go away on a wonderful trip to Virginia Beach by ourselves. We stayed in a very nice hotel and got to walk along the waterfront for a little while. Part of the fun was that Sarah had no idea where we were going – and believe me, it was VERY hard not telling her! But before you start thinking, “You go, Stephen! You da’ man!” I have to make a confession. This was not my idea (it should have been!) and I almost screwed things up royally.
Back in late January, Sarah asked to go on a trip somewhere for her birthday in February. It didn’t matter where. She only wanted to get away for a day. Immediately, my brain went into man-mode. Or rather, it stayed in man-mode. I started scouring the internet for ideas of where to take her, what we could do, etc., etc. The problem (as I saw it) was that the weather in February was not at all conducive to much outdoor activity; there weren’t any concerts or such playing on the days we would be going on our trip; and there just wasn’t that many options for things to do. As a result, I didn’t plan anything and thought perhaps we could just “find something to do” that day.
Yeah, exactly. You can take your “’atta boy” back now.
Needless to say, Sarah was very disappointed and rightly so. We decided to postpone for a later month. So I started planning again. I had a couple of ideas, but it was mostly dependent on the weather. I still hadn’t quite gotten the hint. I hadn’t understood what Sarah wanted.
We dropped the kiddos off at a friend’s house (thank you Summer and James!!) on Sunday afternoon and traveled to Virginia Beach. Along the way, we talked about this, that and the other, just enjoying having an uninterrupted conversation. We relaxed in our hotel at the very nice Westin Hotel and enjoyed the view from our 15th floor corner room. The next day, after luxuriously sleeping in and having an in-room breakfast, we drove down to the beach and walked along the waterfront for about an hour. Then we headed off to Williamsburg to spend a few hours at Busch Gardens before heading home. It was a very nice trip!
It wasn’t until later this week that I realized where I had gone horribly wrong in planning the whole thing. When Sarah said she wanted to go on a trip, I immediately started thinking of fun things to do, interesting places to go, etc (otherwise known as “man-mode”). Even in the second round of planning, I missed the point. It didn’t matter to her what we did or where we went, she just wanted us to spend time together sans kiddos. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip was the journey there because we spent almost the whole trip just talking and getting to know one another more. The “doing together” didn’t matter a fraction as much as simply “being together.” Sarah spends most of her days doing, doing, doing without a lot of opportunity for us to simply relax and be together.
Any guys out there reading this, hopefully you can learn a lesson from my mistake. Sometimes, your wife simply wants to be with you. Doesn’t matter that the weather is crappy/sunny and there is nothing/everything to do. If nothing else, take a 5 hour drive together and talk about whatever comes to mind. Stay at a hotel for one night and just be together. I’ve discovered that even though I had planned these different things, what Sarah had originally wanted ended up being the best part – time spend together.
“Please read the entire note before entering the house…..Happy Anniversary!!”
The note had some instructions on it that I was to follow carefully and precisely. After completing one set of instructions, I found another note with another set of instructions, then another. Meanwhile, the house was eerily quiet.
I followed each set of instructions, with the last being that I had to put on my favorite music (I chose Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do, I do it for You) and wait in the living room. By this time, of course, I’m dying with curiosity.
The music plays and into the living room comes Sarah, dressed very beautifully and elegantly and quite proud of herself for pulling off this surprise. She told me that a friend of ours is keeping our kiddos ALL NIGHT. But that’s not all.
We hop in the van and drove…and drove…and all the time I’m trying rather unsuccessfully to figure out where in the world we were going. It’s not until we pulled into a parking lot that she divulged her long kept and long-planned secret. We were going to go on a romantic 2-hour dinner cruise on Smith Mountain Lake aboard the Virginia Dare.
It was a very lovely cruise. The food was delicious. The night was a little chilly and windy. But being with Sarah was the best part of all. We talked and talked, went up to the deck of the boat and talked some more, just enjoying being with each other. We talked about the past year, the highlights and struggles of the year, and about our family. With all the chaos of vacationing (doesn’t that seem like an oxymoron?) and other stuff, it was good to just relax and reconnect with one another. This past year has definitely had its ups and downs, but God has been faithful in strengthening us and using these ups and downs to bring us closer together.
And now, here it is Saturday morning. We both were quite lazy this morning and slept in perhaps later than we have in a loooong time (or at least, in about 2 years or so ). We’re going to go see the movie Fireproof, which I’ve heard is supposed to be really good, get some lunch and then go pick up the kiddos. It’s been a wonderful weekend so far. (Sarah will probably have pictures soon on her blog.
Thank you, Sarah, for a wonderful anniversary surprise! I eagerly look forward to Lord willing many more years being married to you. I love you “a little more than yesterday and a little less than tomorrow – always and only yours!”
[If anyone is looking for something out of the ordinary to do, I would definitely recommend taking a dinner cruise on the Virginia Dare - not necessarily for the food (although it was good), but rather for the ambiance and the experience.]
Most books I’ve read by Christian authors on love, romance and marriage fall into one of two categories. There are those books that are heavy on psychoanalysis with a dozen warm and fuzzy illustrations to get the few common sense points across. Unfortunately, these rely more on the illustrations than on Scriptural support, if any. These books are usually easy and perhaps quite fun to read, but in the end don’t tell you anything you already didn’t know or leave you wondering if its advice has any foundation in the Bible. The second category of marriage books goes to the other extreme of turning the book into a theological dissertation that leaves the reader finishing the book and wondering what the author said. The idiom “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” aptly describes these tomes.
Call me cynical, but when Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by Gary and Betsy Ricucci was recommended to my Bible study group, I didn’t have my expectations too high in what the book would have to say. I definitely wanted something different, something that didn’t fall into the above mentioned categories, but didn’t expect it. As soon as we started reading the book, however, I knew that this book was indeed different. The further we got into the book, the more this fact was solidified. Right from the start, it was evident that, while there were certainly plenty of illustrations, the bulk of the book was solidly based on Scripture, but not in a way that made it read like a theological treatise. As author Jerry Bridges puts it in his recommendation on the back of the book, “Love That Lasts is thoroughly biblical, very practical, and quite convicting.” There is one small note worth mentioning in the preface. The authors point out that this book is actually an updated edition of an earlier 1992 printing. The original subtitle was “Making a Magnificent Marriage,” which as the authors point out was “certainly a worthwhile goal, [but] seemed to put the emphasis on human effort, for human ends. The new subtitle, ‘When Marriage Meets Grace,’ reminds us that it is God and his glorious power revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ that are the beginning, the means, and the goal of marriage.” This change in subtitles points the direction in which the authors are headed and right from the start reveals that this book was indeed different.
The Ricuccis start off by asking some very good questions in how a marriage is defined Biblically. The importance of laying this groundwork is essential in what would follow in the rest of the book. Without this basis, the rest of the book and the teaching of God’s grace in marriage goes out the window. Questions such as “Does your marriage find its purpose primarily in God?” and “Does your marriage find its hope in the gospel of grace?” immediately puts marriage in light of the gospel. While this may sound similar to what other theological marriage books say, the difference is that the Ricuccis don’t stop at talking about the nebulous and abstract ideas, but take it right down to where the rubber meets the road. For example, consider the following points made in discussing the second question:
-“Because of the gospel, Christians have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, in our marriage, our past does not define us, confine us, or determine our future.”
-“Because of the gospel, we are accepted by God (Romans 15:7). Therefore we are not dependent on a spouse for who we are or what we need.”
-“Because of the gospel, we have hope (Romans 5:1-4). Therefore we can endure any marital difficulty, hardship or suffering with the assurance that God is working all to our greatest good (Romans 8:28)”
Each of these points brings the gospel into everyday life and shows how it should affect a marriage. They conclude this section by saying “Nothing is more essential to a marriage, and nothing brings more hope, than applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.” With these words, the authors are ready to launch into other areas of marriage more commonly thought of when marriage books are considered.
Gary and Betsy each write a chapter directly to either husbands or wives regarding the roles that each bring to a God-honoring marriage. Gary talks about the responsibility of the husband to lead and love his wife in the same manner that Christ leads and loves the church. Here they both do an excellent job of pointing out that while there are differences in roles, these differences in no way imply superiority or inferiority on either the husband’s or the wife’s part. This distinction is made while at the same time affirming the biblical concept of leadership on the husband’s part and submission on the wife’s part. You’ll have to read the book yourself to discover just how they do this!
Three chapters are devoted to the ever-important subject of communication, including what the goal of our communication in marriage should be (intimacy), how husbands and wives communicate differently, what hindrances there can be in developing intimacy, and how to restore intimacy in times of conflict. All of these are wrapped firmly in the cloak of the gospel and how it applies to what our marriages look like. Expect these three chapters to be convicting and to get your toes stepped on!
The last two chapters cover the parts that I’m sure many people turn to first – romance and sex. (I admit it, I skimmed these sections first!) Here, too, the authors bring the topic right back to how our marriage is to be built on Christ, reminding us that God “isn’t just interested in love. He is love (1 John 4:16).” After discussing the “why” of romance, the authors offer some very practical suggestions for the “how” of romance, such as being creative, giving little gestures, and offering spontaneous surprises, having date nights or weekend getaways, and many others. The chapter on sex is candid and includes a section for husbands and a section for wives, both discussing the importance of communication and frank openness that can lead to greater sexual intimacy. As with all the other chapters, this chapter ends by asking “In what area must I improve? Where do I need to grow in order to serve my spouse more effectively…”
What we found especially helpful was the included study guide at the end of the book. Most study guides simply point you to the chapter to find the answer printed somewhere in the text and doesn’t take much thought. These questions, however, while pointing back to the chapters, are more pointed and designed for some serious discussion on how the reader views such and such an issue, or what views the reader had that might agree or disagree with the authors and why. Again, these questions aren’t ones that can be simply answered then forgotten in order to move on to the next one. Questions such as “Ask your wife or fiancée if any person, activity or possession, at any time, seems more important to you than her,” while they may be difficult to ask and even harder to answer, are designed to put into action what the authors write about.
A key point made near the end of the book summarizes the point Love That Lasts is trying to make: “God’s ultimate purpose for romance is the same as his purpose for marriage: to bring himself glory, to bring us blessing, and to demonstrate the remarkable relationship between Christ and the church.” The Ricuccis write in such a way as to make it crystal clear that their goal was not to simply help people have better marriages, but to have marriages that reflected God and the church. And instead of coming across as either being a psychologist or by being preachy, they write as if they were an older couple mentoring a younger couple, complete with their own flaws readily acknowledged, but ready to help you and your spouse to keep growing in your relationship with each other.
Mark Kelly, over at youthguy68 has posted a very thought-provoking devotional on the two “E’s” of a man’s life, based on Col. 3:16. Here’s an excerpt, but I would highly recommend clicking your way over to Mark’s blog and reading the entire thing, especially if you’re a husband or dad.
“I was reading in Colossians 3:16-25 today, and noticed two “E’s” that a husband / father ought to pay close attention to:
1. (v.19) – for the Husbands – “…Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them…”
2. (v.21) – for the Dads – “…Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart…”
Embitter & Exasperate. Just by reading these words you know they don’t sound good. Let’s define them:
- Embitter – to allow bitter feelings to exist; “…to excite bitter feelings in…” (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary online)
- Exasperate – to cause to react in such a way that suggests acceptance of a challenge / arouse / provoke
What would cause me to become bitter against my wife? That sounds really harsh! It must be a common thing for husbands to experience, because the Apostle Paul addresses it. I think many times in the marriage relationship, there is frustration in the fact that the wife doesn’t “think like” the husband – therefore leading to some real communication issues. Just because our spouse may be “wired differently” doesn’t mean she has no valuable input. Differences in opinion may be a cause of excited bitter feelings. [...]
If you have teen-agers you may have experienced this already in your home. But it can happen at younger ages as well. “Provoke to anger” may also be a good translation. When we refuse to parent the child’s heart and simply attempt behavior modification for our own ease in life, often we can stir up feelings of anger in our children. We cause them to choose to accept the challenge of authority. We do this as dad’s because we have idols in our own heart we refuse to deal with: Comfort, Acceptance, Appreciation, Respect, etc. [...]
Definitely worth the read. Thanks Mark!