FamilyLife Today® Podcast

A Love Story Grounded on Christ

with Carl Wilson | December 24, 2014
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Our Plan B is often God's Plan A. Dennis Rainey remembers good times with Student Venture founder and special friend, Carl Wilson. Wilson reminisces about his stint in the Navy and the tiny piece of steel that flew in his eye and ended his career as a pilot. When his engagement ended too, Carl felt his whole world beginning to collapse. But God had other plans. Carl tells how he came to faith, and how he came to meet Sara Jo, the woman with whom he has shared life and ministry for 66 years.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Our Plan B is often God's Plan A. Dennis Rainey remembers good times with Student Venture founder and special friend, Carl Wilson. Wilson reminisces about his stint in the Navy and the tiny piece of steel that flew in his eye and ended his career as a pilot. When his engagement ended too, Carl felt his whole world beginning to collapse. But God had other plans. Carl tells how he came to faith, and how he came to meet Sara Jo, the woman with whom he has shared life and ministry for 66 years.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Carl Wilson reminisces about the end of his career as a Navy pilot, how he came to faith, and how he came to meet Sara Jo, the woman with whom he has shared life and ministry for 66 years.

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A Love Story Grounded on Christ

With Carl Wilson
December 24, 2014
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Bob: Have you ever wished your spouse would change?  Carl Wilson says—if we really do desire for change to happen in a marriage relationship, it’s going to require patience / being long-suffering.

Carl: You can’t change them by telling them they are wrong. If you try to tell your wife where she’s wrong, it won’t work—just to love her. Love her when she’s wrong, and she needs to do the same for him.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear some wise words today about marriage and about love from someone who has been in love with the same woman for more than six decades. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. Here it is—Christmas Eve. You all ready? 


Dennis: Yes.

Bob: You’re kind of hesitant.

Dennis: Well, you’re always wondering if you are really ready. I mean—what if Barbara got me something—

Bob: Really nice? 

Dennis: —really nice? 

Bob: You didn’t get her something really nice?  Is that what you are telling our listeners? 

Dennis: But if it’s not of equal nice!  [Laughter]  I don’t know any man, after more than four decades of marriage, is going to walk off into this thing really confident unless you’ve signed a legal agreement that you are not going to give each other gifts. So, are you confident —how are you? 

Bob: I am confident because I have the receipt for everything I bought for Mary Ann. About half of it will go back—

Dennis: Anyway.

Bob: That’s the way it works, most years, at our house.

Dennis: I get that. Well, one thing I want our listeners to know here, before we get into our broadcast today—if you can help us here, at yearend, we need you to. We are still short of taking advantage of the match that’s been established.

Bob: Yes, we’ve had a $3.5 million dollar matching gift that has been made available to us.



Every time a listener makes a donation to FamilyLife Today this month, we are able to withdrawal an equal amount from that matching-gift fund. So, if you go online, or call us today, or mail in a check for $50, it’s automatically a $100 value to FamilyLife.

Dennis: And what you need to know, as a listener, is your gift keeps us coming to you on a daily basis.

Bob: Well, and the same is true if you are listening via podcast or on our mobile app.

Dennis: Let me tell you—there is a broadcast production team here that is producing it out for a podcast, and we need you to stand with us. If you’ve been listening to this broadcast for a number of years and haven’t given, I want to tell you, “This would be very, very timely.” 

Bob: Well, again, you can go to—make a donation online. Just click in the upper right-hand corner of our homepage, where it says, “I Care.”  When you make your donation, it will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $3.5 million. That matching-gift fund has expanded, and we’re grateful for that. You can also call 1-800-FL-TODAY—make a donation over the phone.



Or you can mail a check to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223. We do hope to hear from you and want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for your support of this ministry.

Dennis: We do.

Bob: We appreciate you.

Dennis: Thank you.

Bob: Now, we’re going to hear the second part today of a conversation that took place just a couple of months ago. We had a friend of yours, who hadn’t seen in decades, who came to FamilyLife. We should say that this man has seen nine decades of life—he’s over 90 years old.

Dennis: We haven’t had that many—what is that?  That’s not an octo—

Bob: It’s a nonagenarian, and it was just delightful to get to talk with him about marriage. He was a guy who gave you the advice, back when you were first married, to pray every day with Barbara.

Dennis: That’s right.

Bob: So, we thought, “Let’s find out what he’s learned in the last couple decades about marriage.”  Carl and his wife, Sara Jo, have been married for more than 60 years.



Since you hadn’t seen him for a couple decades, we thought we ought to just see what he’s learned.

Dennis: And in true form, Carl Wilson lived up to his billing.

[Previously Recorded] 

Dennis: In your marriage to Sara Jo—in 66 years, you have undoubtedly had a few disagreements that have ended up in a conflict—I mean, as in two stubborn people butting heads with each other—and you have had to surrender to Jesus Christ. Would you mind sharing one of those stories, out of 66 years of marriage, Carl?—just to give some hope to some couples, who are starting out this journey, and to realize it can be done—that there is hope for marriages and families if you surrender to Christ and let Him live in and through you.

Carl: The first thing we have to do is admit that we are wrong and ask for forgiveness. Then, little things—Sara Jo is a very strong-willed person.



She’s a very mild-mannered person / she speaks very softly—she smiles wonderfully, but she stands her ground sometimes. [Laughter]  It was tough at first. Really, it was worse because we didn’t understand these things, but I think that’s the key to communication—until you let the love of Christ take over. But it’s never been any big thing, strangely enough—it’s always little things that cause the problems.

Bob: Do you think most young couples—most Christian couples—don’t understand what you are talking about when they talk about letting Christ’s love flow through you?  Do you think they are trying to do it on their own strength? 

Carl: Sure, that’s exactly what most Christians do—all the time—professing Christians. Very few understand what is at the center of Christian Christianity, which is dying with Christ and having His life in us.



And that’s the only way that we can communicate.

Bob: Well, that sounds abstract to somebody, though. When you say to them, “You just need to die with Christ and let Christ live through you,” they think: “I don’t know how to do that. How do I do that?” 

Carl: I know; but it’s the Holy Spirit, which He gives us, that gives us that power. We all are going to fail at times; but I’ve seen so many marriages saved by understanding that because, then, you can begin to communicate.

Dennis: You know, as you think about moving it from the theoretical, as Bob was talking about, to the practical, I think of one word—surrender. Jesus Christ called us to surrender to Him.

Carl: Now, I agree with that; but it is the power of the Spirit that enables us to repent. The reason I say the caution is the tendency is—some people say, “Well, are you talking about works?”



It’s not what we do—repentance is giving up / it’s quitting—saying: “God, I can’t. You’ve got to do it.” 

Dennis: Right.

Carl: That’s the only way! 

Dennis: “I yield.” 

Carl: Yes.

Dennis: You also talk, in your book, about the concept of suffering love. Explain what you mean by that.

Carl: That’s exactly what Christ means when He says, “Love one another as I have loved you,”—He suffered. If you look at all the passages—for instance, there’s one in

1 Peter—where he says to the woman: “Be submitted [to your husband] even if he’s disobedient.”  But it says, “Likewise”—it starts with the word, likewise—and it looks back to what happened to Jesus—He was mistreated, but He didn’t retaliate—He suffered, but He went on loving. Then, he gets down to verse seven—and he goes back to the word, likewise: “Likewise, you men treat your wives as joint heirs to the grace of life.”



Look, we’re just sinners—all of us. That’s why we have to—suffering love is Christ’s love in us. We don’t love the unlovely—He loves the unlovely. That’s what makes possible to begin to communicate when you can understand that—that’s the transition point.

Bob: You feel strongly that husbands have a responsibility to take a leadership role in a marriage and that a wife has the responsibility to respect her husband in that position of authority. You know a lot of people chaff at that, and some people abuse that understanding of Scripture; right? 

Carl: Right. Again, Paul is quite clear about women being obedient—but remember—that does not mean those women are not still an individual, accountable to Christ.



They are still equal in value before Christ, but there has to be some leadership in every organization and every family. God appointed the man.

Dennis: Speak to the men about what it looks like to truly have suffering love for their wives. What does it look like?—because a lot of men can really grab ahold of the idea, “Okay, I’m in charge.”  Unfortunately, they abuse that role and that responsibility in their authority.

Carl: Well, let me first say, “Women talk twice as much as men,”—that’s been documented. God knew that we needed to hear it said twice before we heard it. [Laughter]  But we need our wives to communicate with us.

Bob: Yes.

Carl: They see things—especially relational things—that we don’t see. Women tell things in great detail.



I’m a man that wants to cut to the chase and get doing it. A lot of men are that way, but I need to listen to my wife. All men need to hear what their wives have to say.

I feel that we need to be the leader, but we need to hear the other side. When you arrive at a point where the man has really heard what his wife is trying to say to him and appreciates that, then, that enables him to begin to lead as God would have him lead. Remember that, if he’s the leader, he is, therefore, accountable to Christ. He had better find out what Christ wants him to say and what Christ wants him to do.

Dennis: What I hear you saying, Carl, is—in order for a man to be empowered to lead, he needs to have a long-suffering love that listens very carefully to what his wife is saying.


Bob: Well, I think you are also saying—and I think this is important—that a husband has to be submissive too. He’s got to be submissive to Christ.

Carl: Well, he has to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself—both have to die to self.

Bob: He is a man under authority.

Carl: That’s right.

Bob: If he’s trying to lead on his own authority, he’s out of line. He’s got to be leading under the—in submission to Christ.

Carl: That makes it tough for her, but that’s where 1 Peter comes in. Suffering love is the only way to change people. You can’t change them by telling them they are wrong. If you try to tell your wife she’s wrong, it won’t work—just love her. Love her when she’s wrong, and she needs to do the same for him.

Bob: The passage you referenced in 1 Peter, Chapter 3—the advice to husbands and wives—concludes with the idea that we’re not to return evil for evil—

Carl: Right.

Bob: —but we are to give a blessing, in the face of that kind of evil.



That’s what you are talking about, right? 

Carl: That’s right.

Dennis: What would you say, Carl, to a wife whose husband won’t attend church?—doesn’t want to have anything to do with God, with her Savior, or the Bible. You’ve undoubtedly, in all the thousands of people you’ve counseled, as a pastor and as a Christian leader, have run into many who’ve talked about this. What advice would you give to that wife? 

Carl: You know, we can’t change people—only Christ changes. A suffering love is what changes people. Over and over again, I have found that, when women love their husbands, who are not Christians, and continue to take it, and love him, and share with him:

One of the first people I led to Christ—I’ll tell you—I got on a bus and was riding this bus. I was a new Christian, at the time, just learning how to talk to other people.



There was a big, huge guy—muscular—standing up on the bus, and I was sitting down. Somebody got up next to me, and he sat down. And the Lord said, “Talk to him about the Lord.”  I said, “Can’t we start at another time.” [Laughter] But anyway, I shared with him. He actually prayed and accepted Christ, right on the bus.

Bob: Wow! 

Carl: I went back to get him to take him to a meeting on Friday night. His locker was filled with New Testaments and tracts. He said, “My wife has been praying for me; and gradually, I saw what I needed.” 

Bob: We started with Dennis asking you about the counsel you would give to a young couple today if they were getting married—just the way that you mentored Dennis and Barbara, back when they had first gotten married.



You told them to read the Scriptures every day, to pray together every day, and to kiss each other every day. Would you add anything to that if you were sitting down with a couple in their 20s, who just got married?—a couple, who were just like Dennis and Barbara. They’d been married four months; and they came and said, “What’s your best advice?”  Would you add anything to that? 

Carl: You know, over in Ephesians 5 and 4, Paul is talking about the Christian life. He is getting to the family situation. He says, in Chapter 4, that we should give no opportunity to the devil—that we should speak the truth in love and that we should not let the sun go down on our anger / never go to sleep angry with each other—sit and try to solve it. Now, there are things that you can’t solve—you have to put it on hold.


But then, he goes on to say—this is so important—“Let no corruption come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, only that which will edify as fits the occasion,”—now, that’s got to be added. Then, it goes on to say, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.”  And it says: “Let all harshness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God through Christ forgives you.” 



To me, understand how to edify—now, that doesn’t mean there should be no negatives according to the occasion because that can be edifying; but how you do it is—if you do it tenderly / if you do it with love—that makes a great deal of difference. Everybody gets angry. There are all kinds of injustice, and we do them to each other; but the point is—that we see it is of the devil—we admit it, and we don’t go on in anger, and we forgive each other.

My wife makes mistakes—if I can just say: “First of all, maybe, I didn’t make that clear. Maybe, I was wrong. Let’s look at this together.” 

Bob: A little humility doesn’t hurt.

Carl: That’s dying to self.



It’s letting Christ speak, edifyingly, to help them grow. I think that’s especially true of a man with a woman—to affirm things. You know, you can respond two ways: You can be thankful if you do something right; or you—and if something is wrong—you can say: “Well, I’m sorry I didn’t help you more with that;” or give thanks in some way. It’s amazing how easy it is to give thanks instead of reacting.

Dennis: Earlier today, I tweeted something; and it’s not exactly what you just described. But I tweeted that unrealistic expectations can create a toxic soil where no human being can grow.

Carl: Right.

Dennis: And if you are constantly being negative / if you are constantly chipping away at the other person, they are not going to grow.



They are not going to be built up/—

Carl: Right.

Dennis: —edified, like you are talking about.

Carl: Right.

Dennis: But if we can learn to catch our spouse doing something right and express appreciation, that’s a practical way of showing this kind of love that we’re talking about—not absorbing the person’s mistake and feeling like you are their judge—but, instead, trying to find the things that they do that are right and encouraging them around those things.

Carl: Well, see, I agree with that. Anything she does or I do—you can tell each other “Thanks,” and appreciate—but see, that goes back to God. The beginning of sin: “When they knew God but didn’t glorify Him as God, neither were they thankful.”  Once you stop giving thanks to the other person, you’ve already let self become the head.

Dennis: Carl, there’s one last topic I want you to just talk about just for a moment.



In your book, you have kind of a warning—it’s not kind of a warning—it is a warning about our country and the condition of its marriages and families. You believe—as C.S. Lewis had a quote—that we may be living in the world’s last night. Comment on that, if you would please.

Carl: One of the things that God taught me was about the history of civilizations. In Romans 1, Paul traces how it happens. Usually a civilization grows and builds its culture for 250 years; then, the men become so proud—they think, “We did it.” 

If money is all important, it changes the value of children / of having children because they cost money—

Bob: Right.

Carl: —and you move down the line and the civilization collapses.



I believe that we are moving toward the time of the coming of the Lord, and we need to live as though we are going to answer to Him. Paul said, “I’ve made it my ambition to please Him because we all will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ.”  I believe young men are the ones that ought to, now, become real Christians, and bold for Christ, and have the right kind of families, and care for their children, and speak out for Christ. This is the time for young men that are brave good men.

Bob: You think they need to step up—is that what you are saying? 

Carl: Yes.

Bob: [Laughter] Just thought I’d throw that in.

Dennis: I’ve got a Stepping Up® kit I’m going to give Carl. I’m going to challenge him to get together with some other men in his community and take them through the Stepping Up series.

Bob: So, you still have some ministry plans for your 90s?   

Carl: Yes. I don’t think I’ll finish it, but I think I can set it up and get it started.



Dennis: I think you’ll do just fine, Carl. [Laughter] You’re—I’m grateful for your friendship, for your faithfulness over the years, and for your book. I just appreciate what you’ve written and just your heart for Jesus Christ—and to want to see others fall in love with the same One you love—Jesus Christ.

Carl: Amen.


Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to the second part of an interview recorded, a while back, with Carl Wilson.

Dennis: And you know what, Bob?  Here is the thing—everybody listening needs a picture of a couple who are running. I don’t mean they are striding or sliding—I mean they are running, flat out, to the finish line.

Bob: They’re still in the race; aren’t they? 

Dennis: And they are vibrant followers of Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you—we all need people who are 80/90-years-old-plus, showing us how to finish well and how to do it with a smile on our face.



He was smiling the whole time he was here—he had a good time.

And Bob, one thing I want to do—because I know our listeners want to know—are you and your family watching It’s a Wonderful Life on VHS/DVD?  Are you streaming it?  Are you showing it on your iPad?  How’s it happening at the Lepine household? 

Bob: It’s still on the big screen in the den, and it’s coming—

Dennis: What kind of projector you got? 

Bob: No, it’s just on the—

Dennis: Oh, TV.

Bob: —flat panel—yes, the big screen TV. We’re still stuck in the old DVD era for this one.

Dennis: You knew how many guests we’d had on the broadcast in 22 years, almost to the number.

Bob: To the number; right.

Dennis: That’s exactly right. Do you have any idea how many times you and your family have watched It’s a Wonderful Life

Bob: Well, you know, different family members would be there at different times because we start it early—

Dennis: No, just you, Bob.

Bob: Oh, just me? 

Dennis: Just you—there’s only one litmus test on this.



Bob: I’ve watched it enough times that I’ve got pretty much got the whole thing memorized. I can get you—you give me a line, and I can—

Dennis: I don’t think our listeners—[Laughter]

Bob: Doubt that.

Dennis: No, I don’t think they want that—I don’t think they want that. But I’ll tell you what they do want—they want our address so they can join with us in the end-of-year match, even here on Christmas Eve, because I’ve got to believe there are some listeners going, “I need to give to FamilyLife Today and keep them on the air.” 

Bob: Well, you can go to and click in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “I Care,” and make an online donation. That’s the best way to get in touch with us today. Or you can mail a donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223. And we would love to hear from you.

Let me also mention that Carl Wilson has a book called The Power of New Covenant Love that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If you’d like to order a copy of the book, again, go to



Click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order a copy of the book from us, online, if you’d like. Again, it’s called The Power of New Covenant Love.

And we do hope you have a merry Christmas tomorrow. Hope you and your family are able to be together, and I hope you can tune in. We’re going to talk about joy—how Jesus did bring joy to the world. And I think the question for all of us is: “Do I have that joy in my life?”  We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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