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Culture Clashes, Theology

May I judge?

I hear repeatedly that we’re not supposed to judge another.  Young people express themselves this way, and that’s not surprising – after all, not judging others fits hand in glove with the postmodern dogma of tolerance that’s so rampant today. Different strokes for different folks, so let the other be; who am I to say that what you’re doing or thinking is wrong…. I’ve heard Christians appeal to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to provide Biblical justification for the position, for Jesus told His disciples:

“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Case closed: do not pass judgment on another. Inconsistent But the Internet is full of comments passing distinctly unfavorable judgments. These leave me puzzled.  We’re quick to repeat the mantra "do not judge" but judgments abound. Something is not consistent here. This sort of thing happens more often. In our relatively small community we hear numerous details of what happens in the life of the person in the next pew, or in the congregation up the road.  And very quickly we have a judgment ready on what we hear. It affects what we say to one another, and affects too how we think about or treat the person(s) about whom we heard a story. Do not judge rashly A quick judgment is simply unbiblical. Solomon put it like this:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

The Lord in the 9th commandment gave the instruction not to “bear false witness against your neighbor,” and the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes the instruction of this command with this confession:

“I must not … condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard” (Lord’s Day 43).

That counts for what we say on Facebook too. We do well to repent before God and man of our easy judgmentalism and seek to learn that God-pleasing habit of doing to others as we’d have them do to us (Luke 6:31). As we hate being on the receiving end of perceived gossip or slander, so we need studiously to avoid being on the giving end of gossip or slander. Test the spirits This does not mean, however, that I’m to be neutral concerning all I hear. The postmodern mantra that I’m to be OK with whatever anybody else thinks or does is simply not biblical. Consider, for example, John’s instruction to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). So much gets said, and people believe so many things.  But I’m to test whether what they say and believe is “from God.” John emphatically wants us to have an opinion on that – and then reject what is not from God. Testing, of course, involves so much more than hearing one thing and swallowing it dumbly as the final word on the subject. Testing involves listening carefully, understanding the details and circumstances, and then evaluating in the light of the revelation of the Lord of lords. You’re meant to have a considered opinion. That’s why, in 1 Cor. 5, the apostle Paul was emphatic to the Corinthians that they needed to pass explicit condemnation on the brother in their congregation who lived in sin, sleeping with his father's wife. They were not to be neutral on this man’s behavior but were to take a stand and excommunicate him. That’s because in this instance the details were abundantly clear (it wasn’t hearsay but indisputable facts evident to all parties), and so the saints of Corinth were obligated before God to form a judgment and carry it out. That obligation was so self-evident that Paul put the matter in the form of a rhetorical question: “is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). Judging: that’s your duty…. Jesus wrong? Is Jesus wrong, then, when He in the Sermon on the Mount tells His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged?” (Matthew 7:1). Actually, Jesus does not tell us not to have a judgment on what we hear or see.  Instead, Jesus’ point is that we’re not to judge rashly. That’s clear from Jesus’ next line, “For” – yes, note that connecting word!

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged...” (vs. 2a).

If you are quick to condemn another, do not be surprised when others will be quick to condemn you;

“...and with the measure you use it will be measure to you” (vs 2b).

So if you hear one side of a story and condemn before you’ve heard the other side, be prepared to have folk condemn you on hearsay before they’ve heard your side of the story! Similarly, if you, from a self-righteous height, condemn others' behavior while you are yourself entangled in sin, do not be surprised that you’ll find no sympathy when others find out about your sin. Jesus puts it like this:

“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?” (vs 3).

That, Jesus adds, is hypocrisy (vs 5). As long as you try to hide skeletons in your own closet, you are in no position to draw attention to skeletons you think you see in someone else’s closet. Clincher But Christians are not to hide skeletons in their closets! True Christians are repentant of their sins, and confess those sins to God and to those they’ve hurt by their sins. Then you’ve pulled the log out of your own eye – and at the same time have great understanding and empathy for another’s weaknesses and failures. Then you’ll test the spirits, and you’ll have an opinion on what you hear, and carefully avoid condemning the other in a spirit of lofty self-righteousness – and certainly avoid trumpeting your condemnation to John Public. The person who knows his own weaknesses and failures will instead sit down beside the sinning brother to show him his wrong and lead him on the way back to the Lord. It’s Galatians 6:1:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Judge? May I judge another? It depends on what you mean by the word "judge."  I am not to condemn rashly and unheard. But I am to have an opinion on my brother and help him in the way the Lord wants him to help me.

This article was first published back in 2014. Rev. Clarence Bouwman is a pastor in the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church.

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, People we should know, Teen non-fiction

Edith Cavell: a brave guide

Some 150 years ago, on December 4, 1865, English woman Edith Cavell was born. And 100 years ago, on October 12, 1915, during the First World War, she was executed. Instilled with a desire to please her Creator God, Edith Cavell became a nurse; she lived what she professed, and died bravely at the hands of German soldiers. Her crime? Assisting Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. In a seemingly hopeless situation, she persevered and did not shun the victor's crown. She was a gift given by God to His Son Jesus Christ and, as such, saved for eternal life. Throughout the fifty years of Edith Cavell's life, she was content to work hard and live humbly. She was a godly woman and, therefore, a godly historical example. The Bible instructs us to teach our children about such historical examples. Psalm 78:4 reads: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, and the wonders that He has done." At a time in history when examples of godly women are few and far between, much needed strength and encouragement can be drawn from the life of this lady who put all her trust in Jesus Christ, her Savior. 
 The following is an excerpt from the Christine Farenhorst historical fiction novel of Edith Cavell’s life, called A Cup of Cold Water, (P&R Publishing, 2007). At this point Edith has been helping many Allied soldiers escape out of German territory.

***

December 4, 1914 - Brussels, Belgium Breakfast was generally served at an early hour in the L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, the Belgian School of Lay Nurses. Too early some of the nurses said. “It is actually 7 o’clock, you know,” José said at 6 o’clock one morning, as he bit into a thin piece of toast. Puzzled, everyone stared at him and he went on. “The Germans changed our time yesterday. We are now on German time and no longer on Belgian time. All the public clocks have been put ahead.” “Well, I’m not going to pay the slightest bit of attention,” Gracie said, glancing at her wristwatch, “That’s just plain silly.” “Well maybe,” Pauline added hopefully, “we should get up later.” She eyed Edith but Edith was looking at cook in the doorway. “Excuse me, Madame,” the cook said, “there is someone to see you in the kitchen.” Edith got up, wiped her mouth on a napkin and left the dining room quietly after glancing at Elisabeth Wilkins. Elisabeth nodded to her, indicating that she would supervise while Edith was gone. Two more Louise Thuliez, one of the resistance workers Edith had come to know, was waiting in the kitchen. She had come in through the back entrance. Brown hair hidden under a kerchief, the young woman was obviously relieved when Edith walked in. Ushering her through the hall towards her own office, Edith could feel the woman’s tenseness. As soon as the door closed behind them, Louise spoke. There was urgency in her tone. “I have two men waiting to come to the clinic.” Edith nodded. “Fine. Direct them here. I’ll see to them.” Louise nodded, brusquely put out her hand, which Edith shook, and disappeared. Left alone in her small office, Edith passed her right hand over her forehead in a gesture of weariness. Running a hospital in peacetime was not easy, but running it in wartime, with mounting bills for food and medicines which would never be paid by the patients, was next to impossible. She had received some money from Reginald de Cröy and Monsieur Capiau but the men who had been sent to her regularly since Monsieur Capiau’s first appearance all had hearty appetites. Resources were at the breaking point. With a glance at the calendar, she saw it was her birthday and with a pang she realized that it would be the first year she had not received letters from Mother, Flo, Lil, Jack and cousin Eddie. She swallowed. Jack growled softly and she looked out the window. Two men were approaching the walkway. Bracing herself, she smoothed her hair, patted the dog and went out into the hall to await their knock. Although most of the men sent to the school only stayed one or two nights, some of them stayed a longer. As Edith awaited the arrival of the new refugees, she wondered how long she would need to provide them with shelter. If they were ill, they would be nursed right alongside German patients. Many of the nurses in the school were unaware of what was going on. All they saw were extra patients — bandaged, limping and joking patients. The Café Chez Jules was situated right next to the school. To recuperating soldiers, as well as to idle men with nothing to do for a few days, it became a favorite gathering place. The Café served watered-down wine and at its tables the men played cards, chatted and lounged about. But even if the Germans were not yet suspicious, word quickly spread around the Belgian neighborhood that Allied soldiers were hiding in the nursing school. Once again, as she had done so often, Edith opened the door. A short, thickset man looked Edith full in the face. “My name is Captain Tunmore, sole survivor of the First Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.” He spoke with a heavy English accent. “And this,” Captain Tunmore went on, indicating the man at his side, “is Private Lewis of the Cheshire Regiment. Password is yorc. We’re both looking to get across to border.” Edith shook their hands. They were a little nonplused that this small, frail-looking lady whose hand totally disappeared in their grasp, was rumored to be so tough. Captain Tunmore, noting a picture on the wall, remarked, “Hey, that’s Norwich Cathedral!” “Do you know Norwich?” Edith asked. “It’s my home. I was born on its outskirts.” Edith took another look at the man. The fact that he said that he was Norfolk born, gave her, for just a small moment, the feeling that she was home, that she was looking into her mother’s face. “Well, gentlemen,” she smiled, “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend Christmas here with us as there is no guide to take you until after the twenty-fifth.”

***

Captain Tunmore and Private Lewis had come without identity cards. Edith, consequently, took photographs of the men herself and had contacts make identity cards for them. After Christmas, she arranged to have them travel towards Antwerp in a wagon but they were discovered and barely made it back safely to the clinic a few days later. Edith, therefore, prepared to guide them out of Brussels herself. “Gentlemen, be ready at dawn tomorrow. I’ll take you to the Louvain road. From there you’re on your own.” “I was thirsty…” At daybreak, Edith taking the lead and the men following her at a discreet distance, the trio made their way to a road outside of Brussels. Once there, Edith passed the soldiers a packet of food as well as an envelope of money. “In case you need to bribe someone – or in case you get a chance to use the railway,” she said. Shaking their hands once again, she turned and disappeared into the mist. On the walk back, Edith reminisced about how she had walked these very paths as a young governess with her young charges. It now seemed ages ago that they had frolicked about her, collecting insects, drawing, running and pulling at her arm to come and see some plant which they had found. Now she understood that God, in His infinite wisdom, had used that time to intimately acquaint her with this area. How very strange providence was! At the time she had sometimes felt, although she loved the children dearly, that her task as a governess was unimportant – trivial perhaps. Yet it had equipped her for the role she now played. Smiling to herself she thought, “Why am I surprised? After all, does not the Bible say that it is important to be faithful over a few things. A noise to her left interrupted her reverie and she slowed down. A German guard suddenly loomed next to her. “Halt! Papieren, bitte — Stop! Papers, please.” Silently she took them out and waited. He waved her on after a moment and she resumed her way. What would her father have thought about these activities, she wondered? “Out so early, my Edith?” she imagined him asking. “Yes, father. Just a little matter of helping some soldiers escape to the front lines. If they are found, you see, they’ll be sent to an internment camp somewhere, or they might be shot.” “What about you, my Edith?” “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And besides, what else can I do? These men, these refugee soldiers, father, they just come to me. They arrive on my doorstep and look so helpless, so afraid that I will turn them away.” “Well, my Edith, you are doing right. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, child: “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.” “I remember, father. I remember.” “And in the end ... in the end, Edith, He will say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” “I know, father.” No time for childhood Throughout the spring of that new year, 1915, Edith continued to rise early on the mornings that soldiers were to leave for the frontier. English, French, and Belgians – they were all men eager to leave so that they could help the Allies. Between five and seven in the morning, she would accompany the men to the planned rendezvous point with the next guide, generally a tramway terminus or a point in some street. Arriving back after one such venture, in the early days of March, she found Elisabeth waiting for her in her office with a very guilty-looking Pauline and José at her side. “What is the trouble?” Edith asked as she took off her coat. “Would you like me to tell her, or shall I?” Elisabeth’s voice was angry. José shuffled his feet but he met Edith’s gaze head-on. Then he spoke. “I encouraged all the families on Rue Darwin to set their alarm clocks at the same time. I told them to set it for six o’clock in the morning, the time I knew a single patrol would be passing.” He stopped. Edith sighed. “And,” she encouraged, “what happened?” “Well, when all the alarms went off at the same time, the soldier jumped a mile into the air. You should have seen– ” “Was anyone hurt?” Edith interrupted him. “No, no one,” Pauline took over, “everyone only let their alarms ring for five seconds exactly. After that they shut them off at the same time. It was deathly quiet in the streets and all the people watched the silly soldier through their curtains as he looked behind him and around corners and pointed his silly rifle at nothing. We laughed so hard.” Edith sat down. “Do you have any idea what could have happened if that soldier had shot up at a window? Or if he had kicked open a door and ...” She paused. They really had no idea about the seriousness of the times in which they were living. She sighed again and went on. Pauline looked down at the floor and José appeared fascinated with the wall. “You ought to know better than anyone, José, how dangerous it was what you did. After all, you have come with me many times to help soldiers find their way through and out of Brussels so that they can escape to safety. War is not a game.”

***

After they left her office, thoroughly chastened, Edith sat down at her desk, put her head into her hands and wept. Childhood seemed such a long way off and the Germans were stealing much more than blackberry pie. [caption id="attachment_11944" align="alignleft" width="1280"] Edith Cavell's death was memorialized on propaganda posters like this one.[/caption]

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Satire

Ode to hurt...or why my tolerant nature can't stand your opinions

I’m hurting I am, and I want you to know, That the pain I am feeling, isn’t likely to go. I’m hurting I am, it’s your opinions you see, I just can’t accept them, I do not agree. D’you not pay attention, d’you not see the news? This post-modern world has no place for your views. They’re outdated, outmoded, outrageous no doubt, And lots, lots more words beginning with out. Reactionary, Dark Ages, Stone Age repression, And other assorted clichéd expressions. That’s what I think of your bigoted rants, Which contrast so starkly with my own tolerance. You’ve made me so angry, so hurt, even bitter, What can I do, but to go onto Twitter? Hashtag #BigotedIntolerantPhobe, Said something that hurt me, so I’m telling the globe. I’ll put it on Facebook, Instagram too, The world needs to know the pain caused by you. Pain that keeps giving and won’t find relief, For I simply can’t cope with a different belief. But being free-thinking, I’m perfectly fine, That others have thoughts that are different to mine. I must draw the line though, with views such as yours, Against which there really ought to be laws. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100 percent, Committed to free speech and the right to dissent. But it’s Twenty-Nineteen and I can’t understand, Why opinions like yours still haven’t been banned. The law ought to treat them as Hate Crimes, it should, Then you’d have to keep them all up in your head, yes you would. And not only Hate Crimes, but Hurt Speech I say, On account of them really upsetting my day. Enough is enough, I’m really perturbed, My tolerant nature has been greatly disturbed. From now on I beg, keep your views well hid. Did I tell you they hurt me? Yes you hurt me, you did.

Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything.


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Marriage, Parenting

Three questions for you

Here are three questions you should ask yourself about your communication with those you love. The way you answer these questions provides insight into the areas where your conversations must grow in depth and in maturity.  1) Do your spouse and your children have confidence that they will be able to say all that is on their heart without fear of your response? Is your family accustomed to being cut off or being corrected before they can finish speaking? Do you interrupt because you think you know what is coming? If this is your pattern you are building relational barriers that are difficult to overcome. Those closest to you need to be able to express what is on their hearts so that you can know how to lovingly and wisely engage them to bring truth and healing to your lives. See Proverbs 18:13 and James 1:19-20. 2) Are you an advocate or an accuser in your daily communication? Do your words create safety or anxiety for your spouse and children? If you love the way Christ has loved you, you will want to be a refuge and a place of safety for your family. Your goal is to point those you love to Christ, not to condemn them by reminding them how wrong they are. See Ephesians 4:31 and Proverbs 16:20-24. 3) Are you able to pray with your spouse about areas in your walk with God where you need to grow? It is relatively easy to pray to ask God to help your marriage partner. Don’t be tripped up by your own pride — invite your husband or wife to pray for you in the areas where you need help. See Ephesians 4:31-32.

Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.

Marriage

To the newly married...

Husbands, turn off the TV and exult in you wife!

**** 

There is a fascinating verse in Deuteronomy. It isn’t marriage advice; it is a marriage command.

When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.1 (Deut. 24:5 KJV)

The command is for a newly married husband to refrain from anything that takes him away from his home for a year. And the purpose of this command is so that he can “cheer up” his wife. That’s an unfortunate translation. It means something in English that it doesn’t mean in Hebrew. In Hebrew the basic meaning of the word is to rejoice, to exult. In the form that the word is in, it means to cause that state in someone. In other words, the husband is to “make his wife rejoice.” What makes her tick? This is where it gets endlessly wonderful. Women are fascinating creatures; each one created just a little different. They are almost like a puzzle to be solved. God created men and women in such a way that you can’t really learn about your spouse through a how-to book or even a class. Of course, everyone wants a shortcut, especially since we now live in a cursed world. But God didn’t change his creation because we became short-sighted, self-absorbed narcissists. The rule still applies. If you want a blessed and beneficial marriage, learn how to make your wife exult. What makes her tick? What does she fear? What does she dream of? Do you know? Peter wrote that we are to live with our wives with understanding (1 Peter 3:7), which is also what Moses is saying. Learn about your wife. Understand her. Think of it: God made marriage in such a way that you can only truly be blessed and happy if you learn to get to know someone other that yourself, and there are no shortcuts. You actually have to take the time to do it. It isn’t hard work But, contrary to millions of self-appointed marriage gurus, it isn’t “hard work”, any more than sanctification is hard work. Rather, it is growth, joy, love, pressing toward the mark with uplifted head. We aren’t slaves drudging through mines, but children on our way to glory! What better way to picture this great truth than the marriage of two lovers, learning to exult in one another. Oscar Wilde wrote, “Women aren’t meant to be understood; they are meant to be loved.” But this is the raving of a narcissist who thinks very highly of himself. Guys, do away with the jokes about not understanding women. You are commanded to do just that. But to do that you have to put off your own self-absorption, and figure out how to listen. Listen with your ears, with your eyes, even with your finger-tips. She’ll let you know what causes her to exult, but you have to tune in. The Bible says that you have a year. I always counsel newly-weds to turn the TV off and hole up together as much as possible for the first year. Don’t try to learn about your wife from stereotypes, books (especially of the “women’s place is in the home” variety) or locker room gossip. This is your wife you are learning about and she is the only one who can show you what causes her to exult. You are on a wonderful journey of discovery together. Repentance In this day, one of the most prevalent ways to destroy the mystery and delight of loving a woman is pornography. If you cannot tell the difference between the sexual assault that is pornography and a loving relationship that is marriage, then please do not get married. Instead, repent and deal with your own abuse issues before you inflict yourself upon an unsuspecting wife. Marriage won’t cure your pornography issues. Only repentance will. You cannot learn how to cause a woman to rejoice by watching pornography. God did not create either you or her that way. There is no shortcut. You must put off yourself and your own lusts and actually learn to care about another person, namely, your wife. The fascinating thing about marriage is that the learning never ends. Love and friendship and even romance blooms and grows more intense each year – once you learn how to listen. If you have been married for a while and find your love growing stagnant, it is probably because you didn’t heed God’s command. Repent and ask your wife’s forgiveness for failing to understand her. Then start your year now. Turn the TV off. Give up boys’ nights out, and learn how to cause your wife to rejoice. It may not be too late. Isn’t Hebrew fascinating?

Rev. Sam Powell is a pastor in the Reformed Churches of the United States. This article was first featured on his blog www.MyOnlyComfort.com and his reprinted here with permission.

Marriage

The surprising secrets of highly happy marriages

What research and the Bible say about the best marriages

****

Marriage is meant to mirror Christ and the church. One can scarcely imagine a higher calling than this, yet all marriages fall far short of the ideal. Thus we not only misrepresent Christ and the church but also experience sadness and disappointment. As we all know, the Bible has quite a few things to say about marriage. Unfortunately, both the secular culture and much of the Christian culture read the relevant passages through ideological glasses. This leads to endless controversy but brings about very little improvement to marriages. Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things that Make a Big Difference, is a refreshing addition to the conversation. Feldhahn does not offer yet another opinion on what the Bible says but instead gives a research-based answer: this is what has been shown to work – try it. Not surprisingly, the results of her research mirror what the Bible says. WHAT HAPPY COUPLES DO DIFFERENTLY Feldhahn and her team, experienced researchers, studied almost 1,000 people, both Christians and non-Christians, to understand what the happiest couples did differently. The research showed that there are many “learnable” things that can make a big difference in a marriage, regardless of other challenges a couple may be facing. In other words, by learning what the happiest couples do, those in moderately happy or struggling marriages can improve their own relationships, although the most troubled couples will likely need other help besides this book. Before we act on anyone’s suggestions about anything, we need to verify that they agree with the Bible. Thus this discussion of Feldhahn’s research results also notes how, as expected, the truth about the happiest couples is in line with biblical principles and admonitions. First of all, “A handful of simple day-to-day actions increases the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t.” These are little things, so seemingly insignificant that people are tempted to shrug them off, but people who adopt them will have a big impact on their spouse’s happiness. A man tends to be happier if his wife: Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. Says you did a great job at_______. Mentions in front of others something he did well. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. A woman tends to be happier if her husband: Holds her hand. Leaves her a message during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something instead of withdrawing. From a biblical point of view, it is not at all surprising that these powerful, gender-specific actions involve respect, appreciation, kindness, and caring. The happiest couples have also discovered other individual little things that make their spouse feel loved. Usually what matters to men are things that make them feel appreciated, and what matters to women are actions that communicate, “I care about what matters to you.” From a practical point of view, these things are simple, learnable, and doable and have a huge impact on marriages because they communicate care in a way the other person values. Believing that your spouse cares about you changes everything. It turns out that over 95% of people, even in difficult marriages, sincerely care about their spouse and want the best for them. However, in struggling marriages almost half think that their spouse does not care about them. Feldhahn’s research shows that this is flat wrong. As mentioned above, there are things we can do to help our spouse believe they are cared for. On the other hand, spouses also need to choose to believe the best about each other — that our spouse does care and that when they cause hurt it is unintentional. We need to choose to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things, and to think about things that are true and honorable. A worthwhile sentence to ponder is, “He/she must not have known how that would make me feel, or he/she wouldn’t have done it.” The research shows this is almost always true. EPH. 4:26: “DO NOT LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOUR ANGER…” Another research result, surprising to Feldhahn who is a Christian, is that while many think the Bible instructs us not to go to bed mad, the happiest couples often do. Rather than staying up, exhausted, debating until they agree on a topic, they reconnect (i.e. assure each other that the relationship is okay even if they still disagree), put the issue aside until the morning, and go to bed. A careful reading shows that the biblical principle in Eph. 4:26 isn’t about delaying bedtime, but involves not allowing anger to drag on. This principle is part of the lifestyle of the happiest couples, whether they are Christian or not. Emotional reconnection, often a personal bit of sign language, needs to be both initiated and accepted, something that very happy spouses excel at but struggling spouses do not practice. 1 COR. 13:5 “LOVE…KEEPS NO RECORD OF WRONGS” In unhappy marriages, spouses tend to keep score of the bad things the other person does and the good things they themselves do. The happiest couples keep score, too, but differently. They focus on the good things the other person does and intentionally show gratitude. They also notice and express more kindness, admiration, respect, and forgiveness. Closely related is that the happiest couples actively work to change their negative feelings and responses. This countercultural idea of replacing unhappy or angry thoughts and actions with positive ones, instead of venting, has an enormous impact on marital happiness. The research is simple: Stop focusing on, thinking about, or speaking about what irritates you; rather, honor the other person in your thinking and base your responses on that instead. In fact, if you do and think what is right instead of what you feel like, then your feelings will change. Or in the words of a happy couple, “We have found that when we act loving, then eventually, wow, we are loving!” The happiest couples not only adjust their attitudes, feelings, and opinions, but also adapt their expectations of each other. A clear factor in unhappy marriages is a longing for the other spouse to be or do something that they find difficult or impossible. The happiest spouses, on the other hand, are grateful for the ways their spouse is able to meet their needs and do not ask for the impossible. In other words, they do not tell themselves, “If he/she really loved me, he/she would_____.” Closely tied to this, happy couples tell each other what they need, but struggling couples assume the other person can, and should, figure this out on their own. TOGETHER TIME Research shows that “Not only do happy couples spend time together because they are happy; a big part of the reason they are so happy is that they are spending time together.” They prioritize hanging out together and doing things together even during seasons of travel, busyness, or marital difficulty. What does this look like? It can involve romantic dinners, but more often it’s something simpler, like going for a walk, watching the kids play sports, or carving time out of a busy schedule just to be together. The happiest couples all see the other person as their best and closest friend, a friend they want to stay close to no matter what, and their actions reflect that. Finally, the happiest couples are kind, gentle, and self-controlled in how they talk to each other. Yes, they bring up all sorts of topics and they are honest with each other, but they do so without disrespect and they carefully avoid hurting each other. What’s more, they are at least as considerate in private as in public. “If you wouldn’t say it that way to a close friend, don’t say it that way to your spouse,” seems to sum it up. MANY OF THE HAPPIEST COUPLES ARE CHRISTIAN Feldhahn found that the happiest couples focus on something greater than their marriages and that many of them are Christian. In fact, couples who agree that “God is at the center of our marriage” are twice as likely to report that they are very happy than others. Many of the happiest couples worship together, share key values, focus on serving their spouses instead of being served, look to God for power to be selfless, and trust God for the outcome. They emphasize they do not look to marriage for fulfillment and meaning, but to God. The happiest couples are fully invested in their marriage and do not hold back emotionally, financially, or in other unhealthy ways. They do not have a secret stash of money “just in case,” they are open with each other, they trust each other, and they work at their marriage. In biblical words, they act as though they are one, even though the world says that is a dangerous thing to do. In most highly happy marriages, each spouse credits the other for the happiness in their marriage, “and they live in regular, conscious gratitude as a result.” They are amazed that things are so good, as this one quote from a grateful wife sums up, “The fact that I get to live with him over the course of my lifetime is one of the biggest scams I’ve pulled off.” Many spouses feel this way, but the happiest ones make a conscious effort to let the other person know. So, in a general overview, what do the research results suggest? Although Feldhahn does not discuss this, the happiest couples tend to be the ones who live according to biblical principles. They accept the fact that marriage means oneness and that divorce is not an option. They aim to show gratitude, kindness, respect, and consideration. They accept the biblical view that feelings are not the standard by which they must operate but rather adjust their feelings by adjusting their thoughts and actions. They do not expect happiness and meaning from their spouse but look to God instead. Conversely, research suggests that struggling couples are much more likely to be self-centered, seek meaning in their spouse or marriage, have unrealistic expectations, hold back, criticize, avoid each other, be nicer in public than private, and be negative. THE CHANGES ARE SIMPLE The good news in Feldhahn’s research is that, once people know what behaviors and attitudes are good for a marriage, once they understand how biblical principles apply, they can make an effort to change. They are no longer left wishing they knew what to do in practical, everyday terms. Now they know. What’s more, it turns out that even if only one person commits to change, the marriage will benefit. Feldhahn gives ten suggestions for implementing her research results, but the basics are simple: Rely on God, build only one or two new habits at a time, and set up daily reminders so you won’t forget them. Above all, be grateful for success and patient with setbacks; in this broken world learning godly habits and attitudes is no easy matter. How does this all apply to those who are not merely hoping to improve a good marriage but are struggling in a very difficult one? Struggling couples and those who help them can find hope in the statistics shown in the sidebar, especially #4 which emphasizes that these principles of a happy marriage are simple and can be learned. It may also help to note #2, that many of the happiest couples in Feldhahn’s research were deeply unhappy before they learned how marriage works. THE CHANGES ARE HARD Do note that, although the principles suggested by the research are simple, they are not easy for anyone, whether happily married or struggling, to apply. Change is never easy, nor are repentance, apologies, and forgiveness. The research reminds us that a good marriage requires the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We not only need to pray for the fruit of the Spirit, but we also need to make every effort to add virtue, godliness, self-control, affection, and more to our faith. In other words, we need to live close to God and humbly immerse ourselves in his wisdom instead of the world’s. This, one of the blessings of marriage, brings us closer to God as we seek to understand how He wants us to live with the spouse He has graciously given us. Although all of this is a work of the Holy Spirit, it also involves our deliberate, thoughtful effort, and in the case of struggling couples, it may require outside help. Our marriages are important and we need to obey God in them. Feldhahn’s research, reflecting the Bible, helps us make wise daily choices about our attitudes and actions that will simultaneously enhance our representation of Christ and the church and increase the joy in our marriages. May God bless us all as we strive to have better marriages to his glory and for the benefit of our spouses, children, churches, and communities.

For a thorough explanation of Feldhahn’s research and results, please read her book “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.” For those who wish to work through these ideas systematically, some very helpful worksheets, great for thinking this through on your own, or with your spouse, are available here at AnnieKatesHomeschoolReviews.com.

News

When marriage means only: "a way to avoid taxes"

Matt Murphy and Michael O’Sullivan are good friends – they’ve been friends for almost 30 years. They are also straight. And, as of the Dec. 22, according to the Irish government, they are husband and husband. The two decided to get “married” so that 85-year-old Murphy could pass on his house to the younger 58-year-old Sullivan, tax-free. As O’Sullivan explained the arrangement to Independent.ie:

"I was homeless, sleeping in my car and [Murphy] needed someone to move into his home and take care of him. He was losing his sight and needed a full-time [caregiver]. He told me that he couldn't afford to pay me but said that I could live with him and he would give me his house when he passed away as payment.”

The problem was, if Murphy simply deeded the house to O’Sullivan in his will, O’Sullivan would be faced with a €50,000 tax bill under Ireland’s inheritance tax. And since the formerly homeless O’Sullivan doesn’t seem to have a lot of money lying about, such a bill might well have forced him to sell the home to pay the taxes. And then he’d be homeless again. However, spouses seem to be exempt from this inheritance tax, and when the two straight men heard of this option they decided it only made sense to get “married.” There’s an obvious problem here, and another lurking underneath. Marriage becomes meaningless First up, we can see here that when God’s standards are abandoned, the State’s replacement has no foundation. Redefining marriage hasn’t left us with a different version of this institution, but only turned “marriage” into a meaningless term. As God defined it, marriage is a man and a woman becoming one flesh, for life. The State undermined the “for life” part with no-fault divorce, and the “man and woman” part by recognizing same-sex couplings. The act of homosexual sex makes a mockery of the “one flesh” part, and, in a different way, the Murphy/O’Sullivan “friendship marriage” does too. So what then are we left with? Marriage has been redefined to mean only “a means of tax-avoidance.” Death taxes are problematic Another problem lurking in the background of this story is the nature of the tax they are working so hard to avoid. Of course, taxes are never popular, but inheritance taxes are particularly problematic. How so? Well, consider the basis on which the State is taking in these taxes. Normally taxes are justified as a trade of sorts. We fund the government and in exchange we get benefits from that government, like policing, roads, healthcare, unemployment insurance, etc. But what services will Murphy get? None at all – the tax only kicks in after he has departed. It is something for nothing. Consider also that while elections give us a say in how taxes are used, an inheritance tax is “taxation without respiration.” A death tax is revenue without accountability, since (at least in most electoral districts) the dead don’t get to vote. This type of taxation also undermines property rights. Do we really own something if we can’t give it to whomever we wish? Murphy wants to give his home to his friend, but he can’t (or at least he can’t unless he resorts to these extreme measures). He can only given a portion of it, with the State demanding the rest. But Murphy’s wealth has already been taxed when he first earned it, so why isn’t the remainder – the after tax portion – now finally his to do with as he wishes? Finally, we should consider what such a tax encourages. If parents spends all their wealth and leave their children nothing, then the State is satisfied. But if parents save, and invest, and build a business that they want to hand on to the next generation, then the State demands a share. So such a tax encourages spending, and penalizes investing.

Marriage

Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism: there aren’t just the two positions

As my wife and I have been facing big decisions over the last few months, it’s been neat to see the way God has transformed our marriage from its fledgling stages to something a little more beautiful. It’s also got me thinking about the whole complementarian/egalitarian debate, and how my views over the years – though still complementarian – have shifted from a kind of misogynistic immaturity to what my wife and I both perceive to be a more Christ-like model. It’s made me realize there aren’t just two positions on this: egalitarianism and complementarianism – and when people are arguing against one or the other, they’re normally arguing against a flawed diversion, rather than the real thing. That being said, let me lay out a few different options. MISOGYNY: The husband asserts his desires, the wife submits. Though this is what chiefly comes to mind to those in the egalitarian camp, this is the furthest thing from the biblical picture of complementarianism possible. Unfortunately many, wounded from a history of misogyny, reject all hierarchy within families whole-sale based on their experience. If I’m honest, both my wife and I came into marriage with a subconscious commitment to this kind of relationship, and the results were not only personally devastating, but anti-gospel. Jesus never asserts his personal desires over and above his bride. MATRIARCHY: The wife asserts her desires, the husband submits.  Though I doubt any would publicly subscribe to this, it is, unfortunately, a settled pattern in many Christian homes. In this model, the husband mistakes weakness for meekness and, rather than honoring his wife, becomes bitter and distant (in effect dishonoring her). Jesus was not weak, he was meek – he asserted his bride’s good, he didn’t passively give into it. PRAGMATISM: We both assert our desires, and we both win. The reason this sounds so ideal is that it is so idealistic. The truth is, we don’t have the time, energy and resources to try and make “win-wins” out of every minute situation in life. Nor, I might add, does this sound much like the Christ who called us to marriage. Jesus didn’t come to earth saying: “You get what you can out of this, and I’ll get what I can.” Pragmatism (a focus on what works), is a denial of the purpose of marriage – the point of marriage is not to do the greatest good to the greatest number (both of us, in this case), but to assert the image of Christ and the church to a watching world (Ephesians 5:23). So “work”, in this case, is contingent upon a definition of marriage’s purpose which goes little beyond realizing my own, personal desires. Besides, if “work” means, “does what it’s meant to do,” then pragmatism, in that sense, doesn’t “work.” NAIEVETY: We’ll never disagree.  Point 1: Okay, sure. Point 2: Jesus called us to be peacemakers, and that in the church. This assumes there will be conflict, and it assumes a non-passive approach. We’re not called to be peace keepers, but makers, meaning: we have work to do. A quick read through the New Testament ought to wash us clean of this one. Jesus had (has) conflict with his bride, and he’s perfect. So, to put it strangely – if there’s no conflict, something’s wrong. DEMOCRACY: We both assert our desires, and someone wins. The truth will out, is the thought here. Except, there’s no real “truth” to whether we ought to go out for ice-cream or pizza. No argument can solve it. There’s no “right” answer to whether we should move to California or Timbuktu – these are morally neutral issues. In fact, let me be controversial: there’s no real truth as to whether the house should be clean or messy. We attach virtues to these things because we inherently view our personalities like good Pharisees – we make rules from them, and work outward. Besides, this looks nothing like Christ and the church. Notice I’m not saying that we shouldn’t communicate our desires to one another: communicating our vulnerability is actually an investment, not a withdrawal. It’s a compliment to say, “I need you.” But saying, “Therefore, you must do this” is patently wrong on every account.  COLDNESS: Neither of us assert our desires, and no one submits. Clearly, when you’ve reached this point, there’s bitterness and the whole operation’s gone amuck. Jesus communicates his desires toward us, and he invites us to communicate our desires to him. So – this is radically anti-gospel as well. This is a roommate scenario, not a Song of Solomon one. ABSURDITY: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and no one submits. This is the closest to true complementarianism, but its only flaw is that it’s absurd. I believe it is in The Four Loves that C.S. Lewis points out that two people sitting at a dining table insisting that they pour the others’ tea has less to do with love and more to do with absurd false-humility. The beautiful thing about complementarianism is that it’s just like this, without the absurdity, which leads us to… COMPLEMENTARY: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and the wife submits.  In a recent decision my wife and I made, it became clear that our desires were in conflict. The position being offered to us would have been a wonderful fit for one of us, and a terrible fit for the other. Sparing you the details, it became evident to both of us the beautiful irony of the situation: my wife was insisting that we do things my way. And I was insisting we do things in a way that was best for her. And because we are complementation, I “won out” in the end: I asserted her desires over mine. That is a long and winding journey, but I think it’s good for many of us to hear, on every side of the debate. While we think we may be in one camp, we may actually be in some permutation of it that is actually unrecognizable from its original intent. The truth is, the real model is like two people leaning toward one another for balance – it’s a total act of trust on both parts, and it requires an “all in” approach, not something half-baked. But when we both lean in – curiously – it forms something like a steeple.

Nicholas McDonald blogs at ScribblePreach.com where this article was first posted. It is reprinted here with permission.

 

Politics

4 bad arguments for Traditional Marriage…and 1 good one!

The current Marriage debate has many people worrying about the institution’s survival. In Canada and the US, the battle has been fought, and seemingly lost. Now it moves to Australia, where a plebiscite – non-binding, but it has everyone talking – is happening in September. But what should be more worrying is how many Christians have not used this battle to give glory to God where and when we could. Instead of relying on Him and His unshakeable Word, too many Christians have decided to rely on secular reasoning. Oh, we might have signed petitions, and cast our ballot, and even encouraged others to vote the proper way, but in all that, many Christians have done so without battling as Christians. Too often we've relied on “neutral” non-religious arguments. And the problem with neutral arguments is that they have no foundation - they don't hold up under scrutiny. 4 bad arguments So, for example, you may have heard it argued (and perhaps you've used this yourself):

Traditional Marriage is, well, traditional - it’s been this way for thousands of years, so why change it now?

The problem is, slavery was also in vogue for millennia too. Does that mean it was right? Of course not. So tradition for tradition’s sake isn’t much of an argument.

“Gay marriage” will undermine Traditional Marriage.

This argument may well be legitimate, but the next time a divorced politician brings up this point he should be arrested by the hypocrisy police. Will “same-sex marriage” ever undermine the institution as much as no-fault divorce already has?

Gay marriage is not natural.

There is a sense in which this is most certainly true. In gay marriage the parts do not fit or function as they should. We are not designed for this sort of thing. And yet, they said that about human flight too – “unnatural” is hardly the same thing as “bad.” And besides, if we look to Nature, homosexuality is found among many animal species – it is “natural.” Christians should know better than to base any arguments for morality on what we see happening in our sin-stained world. We know that since the Fall, it is now in Man’s nature to sin – sin is natural. After the Fall, Nature was also stained and twisted, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that brokenness evident there too.

Most Australians are against changing Marriage.

We’ll see once the results are in. But even if the vote goes our way, we know better than to believe that just because most people think a certain way that way is right. As our mothers used to say, “If all the other boys jumped off a bridge, would you too?” Instead of focusing on what’s popular, we should try and figure out what’s right. 1 good one There is really only one good argument for Traditional Marriage: God created this institution so He gets to decide what it is, and isn’t. That argument may not be very appealing to atheists and agnostics. But the alternative is probably even more unappealing because the truth is if you reject God’s standard for Marriage you’re left with no standard at all. Only one standard Some find God’s definition of Marriage too intolerant, so they want to replace it with something a little less discriminatory. So, for example, you’ve likely heard it mentioned that there was a time not so long ago when it was perfectly acceptable that women could not vote. In other words, since it was wrong to discriminate against women back then it must therefore be wrong to discriminate against gays when it comes to Marriage. But where does this new standard – that discrimination is always wrong – take us? Yes, gays will be allowed to “marry” but this new standard justifies much more. After all, if two men can marry, why not three? What about the bisexual? We discriminate against her, on the basis of her sexual orientation, when we require her to marry only one gender or the other. How can she live a fulfilled life in such a restricted setting? And what of homosexual couples who want to have children? These couples, by necessity, require a third individual to propagate. For example, it’s been more than ten years now since a New York lesbian, Beth Niernberg, decided to live with two gay men who have both fathered a son by her. The three co-parented the boys. We’ve entered the realm of polygamy and really, it only makes sense. If you reject God’s limits to Marriage then there’s really no reason to have limits at all. After all, if two men can marry, why not three? Or why not one? In the Netherlands Jennifer Hoes was one of the first to end her wait for the perfect man or woman and instead “marry” herself. There is even a name for this: sologamy. And in France, the government decided that they would grant marital benefits to two heterosexual men who "marry." After all, it really isn’t fair to discriminate against them just because they aren’t having sex. If God’s standard for Marriage is rejected then absolutely anything is possible. The way it was meant to be The only anchor, the only firm foundation for Marriage is found in God’s design for the institution. His institution recognizes that men and women need each other, and that being male and female has real meaning beyond just our body parts. He knows that children need a mother and a father, parents who are committed to one another for life, so He hates divorce and adultery. Over the past decades we’ve seen the damage that happens when we deviate from His standard. That's where, if we speak as Christians, we can offer our nation a prophetic voice. We can tell them that in this direction lies only further lawlessness. But we can also tell them about the God who thought up marriage in the first place. We can tell them about how his love is evident in his commandments – He made us, so He knows what's best for us – and that's why we see children in stable loving families, with parents living out their marriages as God intended, do better than in any other setting. Then, in standing as Christians against "gay marriage" and for Traditional Marriage, we can point people to the God they need to know.

Marriage

Men and the Marriage Dance

Maybe I have been looking in all the wrong places, but in my ten years of being a Christian, I seem to have heard an awful lot more on the subject of wives being in subjection to their husbands than I have on the subject of husbands loving their wives. In the interests of redressing the balance, I wish to focus on the other side of the marriage bond. Love before submission One of the first things to notice about Paul’s teaching on marriage is that although he mentions wives before husbands in both the Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 passages, the onus is clearly on the men to act first. Husbands are told to:

...love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25).

Elsewhere in Scripture we are explicitly told the order of Christ/church relations: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). So if the husband/wife relationship is to look anything like the Christ/church relationship, it is very much the responsibility of the husband to first ensure he is loving his wife before he starts worrying about whether his wife is submitting to him. Sacrificial headship In Ephesians 5:22-24 we read a passage that many a man loves for all the wrong reasons.

 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Some husbands, while properly recognizing that this passage is about headship, conveniently ignore the fact that it is about sacrificial headship. Their thinking goes something like this: “Christ commands his church, right? And his church is meant to be in subjection, right? That’s what Paul says, isn’t it? So if the marriage relationship is meant to be like the relationship between Christ and his church, then clearly I get to decide everything and you must obediently follow.” There are two big problems with this type of blockhead masculinity. The first is that although Christ commands His church and His church is called upon to submit to Him, He commands her as a sinless, spotless head. Which means that all of his commands are made in love, righteousness, and truth, and that nothing he has commanded to his church is dictatorial, and that nothing he asks his bride to do is necessarily grievous. Sure, the church disobeys and acts like these things are grievous, but that is because the church is stuffed with sinners, not because her Husband is in the wrong. The second big problem with this way of thinking, is that even Christ – though He had every right to just command and expect submission – had to die sacrificially in order to win His bride. His headship is not one of mere headship – I command and you obey – but rather a headship that is born of giving Himself, at great personal cost, for the bride that He loves. Any husband who just commands and expects submission is therefore wronging his wife in expecting her to obey whilst he himself fails to obey the command directed to him. He is failing to understand the import of Paul’s command, which is not to just assume headship, but to assume it in a self-denying and sacrificial way. Four different dances I tend to think that what Paul has in mind is something akin to a dance. Now in any really good male/female dance that I’ve ever seen, the man leads and the woman follows. Yet the man does so in a way which is firm and masculine, rather than authoritarian, and the woman follows in a way that is neither overbearing on the one hand nor a pushover on the other, but rather firm in a feminine way. But let’s just play around with this analogy and see what happens when we add various factors into it. Picture the scene: a husband and wife are about to begin a dance upon a high stage with no barriers surrounding it, set to a Strauss waltz. 1) The modern couple Now into this scene steps the modern couple. The way they do this “marriage dance” looks, shall we say, a little different to what Paul had in mind. Instead of a graceful scene of husband and wife dancing in unison, with the man gently but firmly leading his wife while she gracefully and willingly accompanies him, many modern marriages look like the two spouses just doing their own thing on separate corners of the stage. Maybe he’s making one last attempt over here to perfect his breakdance technique before middle-age sets in, while she’s over there doing her twerking thing. The two of them are utterly independent of each other, and it is no surprise when they split, citing irreconcilable differences. And poor Strauss carries on in the background, treated in much the same way as that beautiful gold ring on the end of the pig’s snout. 2) The feminist dance Then there is the feminist dance. You know, where the powerhouse woman tries to lead the man around and he either willingly submits and the dance ends up looking plain silly, or he resists and they end up pushing each other over the edge. 3) The apathetics Or there is dance of the “apathetics.” This is where the performers are so floppy and without backbone, especially the man, that you wonder whether they are actually trying to dance or to do a distinctly underwhelming impression of two octopi skulking across the sea bed. 4) The cro-magnon But what of the over-bearing, authoritarian, she-ought-to-submit-to-me-because-that’s-what-Paul-says dance couple? What does their dance look like? It looks like a man dragging his wife rather than leading her, and then when he starts veering too far toward the edge of the stage and his wife tries to pull him back from the brink, he gets mad, accuses her of not being submissive, and carries on doing his thing until they both fall over the edge. Such a guy thinks he’s doing what God commands, yet is in far more danger of disobeying Paul than his wife is. The dance done right So what will the kind of dance envisaged by Paul really look like? As with a beautiful waltz to a bit of Strauss, it will look like the man leading his bride gracefully but firmly around the stage, with his wife gladly following his lead. It will look like him making sure he does nothing to grieve her or put either her or the both of them in jeopardy. So he will not only be aware of his steps, but will be aware of her steps too, and of both their steps together. If he happens to wander too near the edge and his wife gently pulls him back, he will not accuse her of being unsubmissive, but rather will accept the reproof and adjust his ways accordingly. In practical terms, there is no thought in this type of dance of a man commanding his wife regardless of her feelings and opinions, and her being expected to just submit to everything he says. Rather the thought is that the kind of man Paul is thinking of will always take his wife’s desires and opinions into account. If there is disagreement about a decision that needs to be taken, yes it is ultimately the man who is called upon to make that decision and the wife who is called upon to submit. But if the man has not first spoken to his wife, sought her opinion, taken it into account, considered whether maybe she is right and he wrong and that perhaps he needs to die to self before making the decision – unless he has gone through those steps – he is not leading his wife in the dance the way Paul says he ought. Conclusion Now, this piece doesn’t address difficulties and problems, such as, “what if a woman is married to a husband who is a blockhead. How far should she go in obeying him?” That’s really not an easy question. Suffice it to say that when Paul teaches headship in Colossians 3, his command for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” suggests that this is by no means an open check, and that there are limits to her submission, as when Abigail didn’t just go along with her fool of a husband, Nabal. However, difficult as these questions are, a good place to start in addressing such issues would be for more and clearer teaching on the role of men. This is the surest way of warding off problems and creating the beautiful marriage dance envisaged by Jesus Christ, the true sacrificial head.

“So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (Ephesians 5:28).

Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything” which is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here.

 

Adult non-fiction

Top 3 marriage books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counseled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance, first to third: When Sinners Say “I Do”  Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage  by Dave Harvey 190 pages / 2007 This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one. Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack 208 pages / 1999 Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach. Each for the Other Marriage As It’s Meant To Be by Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell 224 pages / 2006 I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter.

Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church at Launceston, Tasmania. He blogs at Yinkahdinay, where this post first appeared.