A Sacred History
About the Guest
Do you think of your marriage as having a sacred history? Today on the broadcast, Gary Thomas, author of "Sacred Marriage," calls couples to persevere in their marriage if they want to experience the sweetness of commitment.
Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
Do you think of your marriage as having a sacred history?
A Sacred History
Gary: So often that situation – a spouse will immediately run off and try to prove that they're lovable by getting involved in another relationship or, even worse, moving in with somebody else, trying to tell the spouse, "See? Somebody else will love me."
And what they do, then, is just when they needs God's love and intimacy, they put up a wall between themselves and God by acting morally inappropriate.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, September 7th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk today about the power of perseverance in marriage, even when your spouse quits. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. A quick reminder to our regular listeners – next week is the cutoff for FamilyLife Today listeners who want to take advantage of the special offer to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference at a reduced price. We are making the conference available at a savings of $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you'll sign up before Sunday night, September 16th. You can register over the phone, or you can register online at FamilyLife.com. I'll give you those details in a minute.
In addition to saving $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, we're going to make arrangements to get you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey's new book, "Moments With You." This is the sequel to their bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples." It's a daily devotional guide for husbands and wives, 365 devotions that you can read through together as a couple that will help strengthen your marriage and strengthen your relationship with Christ, and we'll make arrangements to get you a copy of that book when you sign up for the special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners for the upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this fall. You'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee. In order to take advantage of this special offer, if you're registering online, you need to put my name in the keycode box on the registration form. Just write the word "Bob," and we'll know that you're a FamilyLife Today listener.
You can also register over the phone. You can call 1-800-FLTODAY. We can answer any questions you have about the conference and take care of your registration over the phone. Just mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you want to take advantage of the special offer. Again, you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and we'll send you a copy of the new book, "Moments With You," by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.
The offer is good one more week. It ends Sunday night, September 16th at midnight, so call or go online right now and register for an upcoming conference, and have a great weekend away together learning more about marriage, how to build a stronger, healthier marriage. I was going to say a happier marriage, but we've been talking this week about the fact that marriage isn't about you being happy, so toughen up and let's get on with it, right?
Well, it hasn't been quite that dramatic.
Dennis: It hasn't, but it has been a great week with our guest, Gary Thomas, being with us on the broadcast, the author of "Sacred Marriage." Gary, thanks for being with us all week. It's been a rich week.
Gary: I've had a great time.
Dennis: One of the topics that Gary deals with in his book, "Sacred Marriage," is the subject of perseverance, and we've been kind of preaching this and getting on our soapboxes about this for the past couple of years, as we have called married couples to keep their marriage covenant.
And I don't know that I've ever read anyone who has written a chapter in a book about the spiritual discipline of perseverance, and yet if there is a need for some great theological teaching, biblical teaching, on any subject, it certainly is this area of commitment and following through on what we've done. And you must have felt that, Gary, or you wouldn't have written about this.
Gary: Most of my writings have always centered around the whole issue of spiritual growth, and I've come to realize over the years how important perseverance is to growth in holiness and how closely that mirrors the call of marriage and how it builds perseverance in us.
Most people are familiar with the parable of the sower in Luke, chapter 8, when Jesus talks about the farmer went out to sow his seed, and those who were commended by Jesus are those who, "hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop."
What Jesus is telling us here is that the fruit of our lives, of our Christian lives, comes through perseverance. It isn't shown in a day, it might not be shown on a week but a month. But our Christian life is made of many little decisions that we make, over time, faithfully persevering in that, and Paul came up with the same idea.
In Romans, chapter 2, he says to those who "by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life." So what Paul is saying there is that persistence is a key component of what it means to build character.
Dennis: You know, and I'm thinking of where it says in Galatians, chapter 6, where Paul writes, "We shall reap in due time if we do not grow weary." And there is a lot to be said for not quitting. One of the things I read in your book, Gary, was you talked about how research has shown that it takes somewhere between nine and 14 years for a marriage to truly begin to form up and begin to establish its own identity?
Gary: Absolutely. Before that what you have are two singles living as single people under one roof, and the way our brains work is we don't just rewire just because we're married. We still kind of thing of ourselves as singles, we still kind of think of ourselves as individuals. We're trying to think of ourselves as a married couple but it takes time to really come together, to become formed as one, as God says in His Word.
And so when a couple does bail out after six or seven years, I feel sorry for them because what they've done is they've gotten halfway up Mount Everest, they've done all the hard work, they've done all the labor, but they haven't got to experience what happens after about a decade, a decade and a half when you get that sense of intimacy that doesn't come overnight.
Bob: Tell our listeners the story of Marty.
Gary: Oh, this is what really started to get me thinking about marriage and perseverance and how it builds that character. I was speaking at a different conference on a different topic, and a woman raised her hand and just shared her story.
Marty had had a number of relationships with men before she got married, several of them were sexual, and so there was a succession that she had begun to experience in her life that almost became habitual, and that was a period of great infatuation and excitement and exploration and discovery, they would become intimate. But then they would come up against some conflict, and inevitably the conflict led to a breakup, and the breakup led to tremendous pain. And so, in her mind, this was how a relationship progressed – great excitement and celebration, conflict, breakup, tremendous pain.
So she married her husband, and things were fine for about two or three years, and she was elated to be in that marriage. But then they came up against an issue that they just could not resolve. They talked about it at many different angles, they tried to compromise, they tried to understand each other's position, but they just couldn't come to a mutually agreed upon resolution.
And so Marty found herself starting to mourn a relationship that hadn't yet died, because that's how her mind was trained to think – great relationship, conflict, breakup, and pain. Until her husband did something so wonderfully prophetic and caring, I wish you could have seen her as she was sharing this with the group, and tears are running down her face when she said, "My husband gathered me in his arms one night, he looked into my eyes, and he said, 'Marty, I just want you to know if this issue is never resolved, even if we have to live with this tension for the rest of our lives, I will never leave you.'"
And, suddenly, the pressure and the tension of that problem melted in the face of the transcendent truth that she just wanted this relationship to last; that somehow the relationship was bigger than a problem, even an unresolved problem. And I think embedded in that truth is the reality that we desire this relationship to last; that, really, the biggest problem is quitting on our marriage not letting a problem destroy our marriage.
One of the things I think that makes this so meaningful to us is the way our marriage mirrors God's relationship with Israel. It's interesting – when you look at how God related to Iraq, it went through a number of different stages. There were times of great celebration and almost near infatuation. I think of when Solomon dedicated the temple, and they're offering sacrifices to God, and they're saying to God, "You will always be our God, and we will always serve You, we will always obey You," and God is telling Israel, "And I will always be your God, and you just look at this temple, and I will forgive your sins, and I will always have a representative on the throne."
And then there was time of anger and frustration when God would allow foreign tyrants to conquer and invade Israel to discipline them. There were times of unfaithfulness when Israel ran after other gods, and there were times of long seasons of silence. I think of the time between the testaments, between the last prophet speaking in the Old Testament and John the Baptist speaking in the New, four centuries had passed – 400 years went by before God spoke to the people again. And this was a people that identify themselves with who God was.
And so when you break that down, you have seasons of celebration, seasons of frustration and anger, seasons of unfaithfulness, and excruciating seasons of silence. Now, does that mirror any other relationship that you can think of? It's amazing.
And so when we begin to look at our marriages in this way, we can say you know what? Going through this process of history and keeping the history sacred is one way that I can learn to understand God better, I can understand how He felt as He loved Israel, how He felt when He was betrayed, how He felt when there were seasons of silence and distance or when Israel was angry with Him.
Bob: You know, it's one thing for two people in a marriage relationship to be committed to perseverance and to experience, as Marty experienced, a husband who says, "I'm not going anywhere," even in the midst of difficult times, and to have that confidence of that. But sometimes there is only one person committed. Sometimes it's a situation like you describe with Leslie and Tim, where only one person is hanging on, hoping against hope.
Gary: Leslie's story is a moving one. It's a woman who was hurt, and yet it's an encouraging story in that it shows how God can use even the deepest hurt and pain for good for His eternal purposes.
Leslie heard those words that so many wives have heard and been wounded by, and that is this – "Leslie, I'm leaving you." Leslie and Tim were planning to adopt a child. They had wanted kids for a long time. They'd had a bout of infertility, and they were about to be approved the next day to receive a child into their home. So not only did Tim take away her marriage, he took away her hope of becoming a mom. He hurt her about as deeply as a woman can be wounded.
And Leslie responded, quite understandably, with a little bit of hysteria. She kind of lost it, she went into a crying fit, she called a friend over to help her calm down, and through the days and the seasons, one of the things that was amazing is how many people and how soon people would start saying, "Well, Leslie, when are you going to start dating again?"
She was still married with Tim, and whenever she presented that before the Lord, she really felt God telling her, "Leslie, three people made an agreement, you, Me, and Tim. Two of us are still hanging in there, and I want you to stay true to that word.
And so Leslie did. She stayed faithful throughout all of it. Her love had died for Tim. I mean, he had hurt her on so many levels that that couldn't be alive on a human level, but she was committed to following the Lord, and what that did was it created an intimacy between her and God that had never existed before. It strengthened her intimacy.
So often in that situation, a spouse will immediately run off and try to prove that they're lovable by getting involved in another relationship or, even worse, moving in with somebody else trying to tell the spouse, "See? Somebody else will love me."
And what they do then is just when they need God's love and intimacy, they put up a wall between themselves and God by acting in a morally inappropriate way. So what Leslie found – and this is one story. She talked about how God became her husband. She was working for a Christian ministry and one Sunday she was speaking at a church, and it was right before Easter, and the front of the church was filled with these incredible Easter lilies from front to back.
And she found herself just sort of praying to God, "Lord, those sure are beautiful. I would love an Easter lily." But the next day she went into her office, it was a Monday morning, and there on her desk was this perfectly formed Easter lily, and there was a card on it that said it was from a friend but Leslie knew where it really had come from. It had come from her heavenly spouse who wanted to give his wife a flower for Easter.
And it was those types of stories where Leslie began to feel how God felt when Israel was unfaithful to Him, and she began to explore God in newer and deeper ways. In fact, Leslie told me one time, "This has been such a rich time for me, spiritually, Gary, I wouldn't trade it for anything." And I stopped Leslie right then, and I said, "Leslie, wait a minute. This guy took away your family, he forced you to leave the ministry and the house you were living in, he took away your chance to become a mom. Do you really mean that – that you wouldn't trade it for anything?"
She said, "I do, with all my heart. It's been so rich, so profoundly life-changing. Of course, I can't say I'm glad my marriage broke up, but I am glad for the fruit it created." What she's talking about there is an experience that happened shortly after Tim's divorce was final, and Tim had remarried, so she knew there was no chance for reconciliation when she got a call from her father.
Leslie's own dad had been unfaithful to his wife, Leslie's mom, and Leslie had carried those scars for many years, so you can imagine her surprise when she got a call from her dad who said, "Leslie, I've seen what you've gone through, I've seen how you've responded, I want what you have." And Leslie met her father halfway in a hotel, led him down the Romans road, and watched as her father prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
There is something profound about somebody who sacrificially stays true to these words and to these vows. It shows that supernatural strength that only God can give, and it was the best sermon – she had been preaching to her father her entire life, but it was only when she was sinned against, and she stayed true to the vows she had made that she was able to live a message that her father was able to accept and adopt and that made Jesus Christ seem so powerful to him.
In fact, after "Sacred Marriage" came out, I received a card in the mail. I'd like to read it. It says, "Dear Gary, I just finished your book, "Sacred Marriage." It is, to me, a profound expression of the possibilities existing within the Christian marriage. I am a new Christian since 1998. I am Leslie's father, page 123, and she is my spiritual advisor. I was very touched by your message. I affirm the timeliness of it, and I thank you for affirming the spiritual beauty you saw within Leslie. Love in Christ our Lord," and he signs his name.
Dennis: Gary, you mentioned divorce, and that's one thing we haven't talked about all week, and yet I know in your book you touch on this subject on numerous occasions throughout its pages. You mention that there are dangers that are inherent within divorce. Share with our listeners a few of those dangers.
Gary: Well, again, when you're talking about growth in holiness, I think one of the more dangerous states to be in spiritually is when you are persisting in disobedience. You're building a habit of disobedience. Marriage is not a sin of passion, and so what happens when we choose to divorce, we are making consistent and repeated decisions that "I'm going to go against God's Word," if this is an unbiblical divorce, "I'm going to put my family at risk, I'm going to take a step away of what God calls me to do." That darkens our heart. As hard as that is to say, I’m not trying to suggest that the divorced Christians out there, because I know we're talking to many, are second-class Christians.
All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but I am speaking to those who are married, pleading with you not to make that very spiritually consequential decision to divorce, which I think has very severe repercussions toward your faith and your heart and your intimacy in your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Dennis: Yeah, and you list a number of these in your book, and we don't have time to discuss them, but I just want to hit them quickly. One that you mention is that we can't know what the future holds for your spouse or for you or, for that matter, for your children, and a divorce will change that future. It will change the direction.
A second thing you mention is that in becoming disobedient to the Gospel, and you mention that when a couple is headed toward divorce, that either one or both of them are being disobedient – Romans, chapter 1, they suppressed the truth, and the wrath of God came as a result of that.
And there are other things that you mention as well – the admission of poor judgment. I think the thing that we're wanting to highlight here, though, is that this discipline of perseverance is a discipline to stick with it. We are a nation of quitters, we are a nation who wants to give up and toss in the towel when it gets tough, and the Christian community, unfortunately, has begun to reflect what has become the lack of national conscience when it comes to our word.
But we, in the Christian community, I believe, must put an end to easy divorces and easy walking away from another person, and we dare not encourage others to do the same.
Bob: And for those who are pursuing divorce at this moment, for those who have gone ahead with divorce and are hardened to reconciliation, they really need to think through the spiritual consequences of that kind of persistent disobedience.
Dennis: Yes, and I think it's important at this point those people who are divorced, who are listening to our broadcast, it would be important to say to them, you can't undo the past. If there is a chance or an opportunity for reconciliation, then you need to explore it, and if you're a friend of someone who is involved in a situation like this, I think it's very important that we put our arms around them and say, "Is there any way this thing can work?"
I just was recently with a young man whose wife is in one part of the country, and he is in another, and I asked him, "Is there any chance, any way, this relationship can work? I'll pay your way to the FamilyLife Marriage Conference just to give you a chance to hear the truth." Because I think, in most cases, we are divorcing for the wrong reasons. We're really not giving the marriage a chance to be successful according to God's blueprints.
Bob: Yes, we've got acknowledge there is a difference between the faithful perseveror even in a divorce situation, like Leslie, and the one whose heart is hard toward any possibility of reconciliation.
Dennis: Or just the one who gives up too easily.
Bob: That's right, that's right, and in any of those situations, the call is obedience to the Scriptures, doing what you can according to Romans 12:18, to be at peace with all men including the one with whom you have a covenant relationship, and working toward what's at the heart of the Gospel, and that is reconciliation. The whole story is about disobedient people who walk away from their God and a God who pursues them and how He seeks them out and reconciles.
Dennis: And how they can experience forgiveness and not only be reconciled to God but be reconciled to one another.
Bob: That's right.
Dennis: And that's really been the message all this week, and Gary Thomas has been our guest and, Gary, I want to thank you. You've become a good friend, and you're certainly a great writer, and we have already drunk deeply from your book, and I hope many of our listeners will get Gary's book and, Gary, I hope you'll join us again on our broadcast sometime.
Gary: I'd love to do it.
Bob: If you are interested in getting a copy of the book, we have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center. The title of the book, again, is "Sacred Marriage," and you can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the area of the site where there is more information about Gary's book.
You can order online, if you'd like, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, and someone will make arrangements to have a copy of the book sent to you. It really is a great book for couples to read through together. I know some folks who went through it in a small group setting, and they called me back when they were done, and they said "That was a great book for our small group to go through together. It dislodged a lot of great conversation."
Again, the title of the book is "Sacred Marriage." You'll find it in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can order online at FamilyLife.com, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to order a copy of the book and, don't forget, you can also register for an upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference. We have more than 60 of them planned this fall. You can register and save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, but in order to take advantage of the offer, you need to register either this week or next week. It's a limited time opportunity for FamilyLife Today listeners.
You can register online, if you'd like, and if you do, when you come to the keycode box on the registration form, just write my name in there, write the word "Bob," and we'll know that you're a FamilyLife Today listener and that you're entitled to take advantage of this special offer.
We'll also make arrangements to get you a copy of the new book by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, which is called "Moments With You." It's a daily devotional guide, a follow-up to the bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples," and it's not off the presses yet, but as soon as it's available, we'll make arrangements for you to get a copy.
So, again, what you need to do is register for an upcoming Weekend to Remember conference online at FamilyLife.com. Type the name "Bob" in the keycode box or call 1-800-FLTODAY. We can answer any questions you have about the conference, we can get you registered over the phone, just mention, again, that you are a FamilyLife Today listener, and you want to take advantage of this special offer. That way you will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee and get a copy of the new book, "Moments With You," and then you'll have a great weekend together at the upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember. So we hope you get registered soon.
And, with that, we're going to have to wrap things up for the week. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend in church, and I hope you can be with us on Monday. We're going to talk about conflict, talk about the most common conflicts couples experience in marriage, and it's not what you think about. It's not about money or romance or the kids. Tim and Joy Downs are going to be here, and we'll talk about the seven most common conflicts couples experience in marriage.
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'll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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