Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Marriage Is For Grownups

“When Amber and I got married the wedding invitations featured a cute little boy with a tuxedo and top hat, and a sweet little girl all dressed up in a formal wedding gown.  They seemed so happy, and why not?  After all it was their wedding day!   We look at pictures like that with a sigh and think “how cute.”   We know that it is merely a picture meant to be used for illustration and decoration.  No one believes that children, barely above toddler age, are really getting married.   Yet pictures like this, in some way do represent far too many weddings.  Too many children are getting married!  No not literally, but emotionally and developmentally.  Many people, regardless of their age, are too immature to get married.  They are children, and they act like it. 

Marriage is not for babies.  It requires a great deal of maturity. As we move forward, please do not confuse maturity with age.  They are not the same thing.  One can be well into their adult years and still be very immature.   Maturity encompasses the idea of full development.  In our context it means full development emotionally.   Those who are emotionally mature maintain and put to use wisdom and foresight.  They consider the future consequence of their decisions and actions.  In this sense, even those who are young can be quite mature.  Solomon wrote these words to encourage  those who are  young to be wise.  
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth,
And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth;
Walk in the ways of your heart,
And in the sight of your eyes;
But know that for all these
God will bring you into judgment.
 Therefore remove sorrow from your heart,
And put away evil from your flesh,
For childhood and youth are vanity (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10)
There is no wiser decision that can be made than to follow in the ways of the Lord, even from a young age!  Yet, we also  take another point from this text.  Solomon gives the encouragement for the young man to put away sorrow and evil.  Doing this, especially at a young age, is indeed a mark of maturity. 

Solomon clearly dispels the myth that young people somehow should not hold as much culpability for their actions simply because they are young and immature.   Youth and immaturity are not valid excuses! Make no mistake; you will have to deal with the consequences of choices that are made.   The consequences of those choices could be characterized by happiness, joy, and satisfaction, or by sadness, regret, and lack of fulfillment, the difference between the outcomes is the application of wisdom and maturity.   The apostle Paul noted those points in his letter to the Galatians.  He penned: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life”  (Galatians 6:7-8).   We know by observing the natural order of the world that the seed that is planted produces after its own kind.   Apple seeds produce apples; orange seeds produce oranges, and so forth.  The same is true in the spiritual realm, if we make choices to fulfill every desire of the flesh (a clear mark of immaturity), then we will reap the consequences of fulfilling every desire of the flesh.  It could be anything from a negative credit reporting, to STDs, to divorce, or even death.  Ultimately the result of poor spiritual choices will result in eternal punishment.  A mark of maturity is to consider the outcome of the choices you make.  It is to weigh the consequences, to take wise counsel, and to implement the best choice. 

Our culture glorifies a fairy tale view of marriage.  You know how it goes.  The bride and groom are two kids who are too young, from different sides of the track, with feuding families, and no money.  They have different ideologies, different religions, and different values.  Yet somehow love conquers all, and against all odds, they get married.  The story ends with them riding off into the sunset to “live happily ever after.” 
 Have you ever wondered what happens the next day, when they awake to the reality of marriage?    How will they deal with their lack of money?  How will they deal with their differing beliefs?  How will they deal with their feuding families?  Each of these is a major source of stress and contention in marriage relationships.  Applying wisdom, and approaching these things maturely prior to entering into the marriage covenant will go a long way in actually producing a marriage that is characterized as living “happily ever after.”

One of the major attributes of maturity is seeking wise counsel.  Solomon wrote “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Proverbs 15:22).    Elsewhere in Proverbs he penned, “Listen to counsel and receive instruction,
That you may be wise in your latter days
” (Proverbs 19:20).    This principle rings true with most endeavors, but certainly regarding marriage.   The advice of parents, grandparents, elders, and other faithful Christians, should definitely be considered.  These people have a vested interested in your well being.  They also possess the ability to offer an outside prospective. In other words, they are not looking through the lens of infatuation. They can spot rifts and potential problems in the relationship that we tend to overlook because we are “in love.”    Older people can often time offer advice rooted in personal experience.  Faithful Christians can offer advice rooted in biblical truth.  Those who offer wise counsel should be part of the decision making process of those who are godly. Do not discount their legitimate concerns as merely “they just don’t like him or her.” Be honest enough to hear their concerns objectively (do not automatically view them as merely being critical), and consider them intently. 

In addition, those who are godly and wise, will seek counsel from the scriptures.   Peter notes that “… [God’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue”   Did you notice what Peter pointed out?  God, in His inspired word, has given us all things that “pertain to life and godliness.”   We would do well to consult God’s word. 

Another mark of maturity is the ability to delay gratification.   In our society, we want things right now.   Have you ever watched toddlers play together?   Inevitably during the course of their play you will hear one or more of them loudly proclaim “mine!”  Many people get stuck in this phase.  No, we do not generally get into altercations with those around us, but we have to have what we want, when we want, and that is right now.     When making decisions with long term implications, mature people consider the present costs, as well as the long term costs.   Our choices have consequences.  If we make bad choices without counting the cost, then the results could be devastating.  Bad choices could affect our credit and the ability to purchase things down the road.  Bad choices could affect our relationship, and may even cause it to end in divorce.   Jesus, speaking of one who did not count the cost, said

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost,
whether he has enough to finish it—lest after he has laid the foundation, and is not able
 to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying this man began to build and was
not able to finish (Luke 14:28-30).

A marriage made by people who demand and expect instant gratification is destined for failure.  There are many occasions in the marital relationship that require giving up on what we want now in view of what we need.  Also, there may be times when you must give up what you want in order that your spouse may get what they want.  

Along those lines, mature people can ascertain the difference between infatuation, lust, and love.   Are you a person who “falls in love” too quickly?     If every relationship you have had quickly moved to the point where the “L” word is used, you may want to step back and reexamine your life and future plans.   The biblical concept of love is not a romantic, dough eyed, tingly feeling.  It is not infatuation.  Rather, the Bible describes love in terms of action.   Paul discussed the concept of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  In verses 4-8, the inspired apostle describes love, not as a feeling, but in terms of the action that love does or does not take.  If you “fall in love”   with every person you’ve ever dated, how can you be sure that you truly “love” this one?  If we do what is the best for them, even when it inconveniences us in that we demonstrate love.    The key is to understand that our love is manifested in the things that we do, not the feelings we feel.  There is nothing wrong with those feelings. They are good in their proper place, but that are not a basis for a long-term relationship.  Many people have had short-lived marriages because they did not understand this simple truth. 

Akin to this is the matter of lust it too is often confused with love.    If you are involved in fornication or unclean behavior, then those acts can cloud your clear judgment.    Mature people are able to control themselves with respect to God’s commands concerning purity.

The concept of financial maturity is one of the more difficult points for me to discuss.  As a young man, I made some very poor financial decisions some of the consequences of which, Amber and I still deal with today.   I would have done well to consider the biblical principles that describe financial responsibility.   The bottom line is, if you have trouble covering your monthly recurring expenses, if you are in great debt, and cannot go month to month without the use of credit, you need to consider your level of maturity and readiness for marriage.   If both marriage partners are in similar financial positions, then you bring two separate sets of problems in to the marital relationship, and compound the problem.   It is no secret that one of the major stresses in any marriage is the issue of finances.  Mature people recognize early on that they are the stewards of God’s blessings.  Paul noted, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).  We will go a great distance in making wise financial decisions when we understand that we are the managers of what God has provided for us.

Honesty is needed in any relationship, but especially in marriage.  No relationship can long endure if it is built upon the foundation of dishonesty and lies.  If we enter into a marriage covenant harboring secrets, or on the basis of untruths, then we are setting up the marriage for failure.  Honesty means that we tell all.  Part of the growth in a relationship is the ability to have trust in your partner.  If there is no trust, then the marriage stalls and digresses.  

There is a tendency within us to hide our past mistakes.  We do not like the feeling of vulnerability, so we bottle things up inside.  We attempt to hide our mistakes, bad choices, and sins. This is not productive.     At the end of every worship period of the Woodland Hills Church of Christ, we offer an invitation for those who need to make a  public confession of sin.  The purpose is to rely on our brothers and sisters in Christ to give us strength and encouragement.  It is to help us remain pure and free from sin.  This is God’s plan, James writes “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).  We confess our sins, and then as a family of Christians we go to the Father in prayer.  This helps us to move along in the process of healing.     Our marriage partner should be  the one who is closest to us on this earth.  They should be the one in whom we can safely trust. If we are hiding secrets, harboring guilt, and are not willing to open ourselves up to them, it will be difficult to provide a solid foundation  for the marriage relationship. 

Within the marriage relationship, many situations will arise that will test your maturity.  Before you enter the covenant of marriage,  take an honest look at yourself and your relationship.  Consider the wise counsel of those who are seeking your best interest.  If you look at yourself and realize that maybe you aren’t mature enough to get married, then step back for a while.   Work on the issues that face your life, and seek to develop maturity in those areas that are lacking.  It is possible to have a marriage that is “happily ever after", but it takes diligent effort by mature partners.   Are you grown up enough for marriage? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dealing with Anger

The wise man wrote “An angry man stirs up strife, And a furious man abounds in transgression” (Proverbs 29:22).    It should come as no surprise that anger and evil are closely related.  How many times have we heard people use anger as an excuse for their actions?   “I just got so angry I just couldn’t control my tongue.”   “I shouldn’t have slammed the door, but I was so mad”      “You make me so furious, I just could not control myself”       Anger is a God-given emotion, and is not of itself sinful.  The scriptures instruct “be angry and do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26).   Thus, while we understand that anger itself is not evil, it also is not a basis or excuse to do evil.   The scriptures clearly show the importance of keeping ourselves from sin, even when we are angry.      Aristotle said “Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”     This is the key!   While there is nothing wrong with the initial feeling of anger, it is vastly important that our anger is justified, properly placed, and managed without sinning.   

Psychologists define anger as “a feeling of tension and hostility, usually caused by anxiety aroused by a perceived threat to one's self, possessions, rights, or values” (
Saunders, 2003).      Like heat, anger has degrees.    It helps us to properly understand anger and how to manage it appropriately, when we can define these degrees.  June Hunt gives the following degrees of anger.

            Indignationsimmering anger proved by something unjust and often perceived as justified. 
                Wrathburning anger accompanied by a desire to avenge
                Fury – fiery anger so fierce that it destroys common sense
Rageblazing anger resulting in loss of self-control, often to the extreme of violence and [possibly]     temporary insanity (Hunt, 2008)
These degrees generally build off of the next.  A general rule is that people do not fly off into fits of rage as a first response when a perceived need or expectation is not met.   If such seems to be the case, there is likely another, more deeply-seated cause for the anger.   It is crucial that we deal with the true cause of anger if we are to manage it effectively.  
As earlier noted, anger is not sinful.  The initial feeling of anger is merely an emotion that is a God-given response to circumstances around about us.    That is why the scriptures show us clearly that we should not allow anger to give us reason to sin.  “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).  The key is to seek a resolution for the feeling promptly, so that it is not harbored to the point that it becomes resentment.    Harboring anger can have negative affects upon your personal life, work relationships, home life, etc.   Thus, as the inspired apostle notes “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”    Resolve it quickly!

In seeking a resolution, it may be that we were wrong in our feeling and/or response to the situation.   The common, but completely wrong, way of considering anger says “I feel that I was wronged based upon my perception of fairness and what I have determined is right.  I have the right to be angry, and to express that anger in whatever way is natural to me.”      This is how most people, including Christians, feel even if they will not admit it.    Yet the scriptures paint quite a different picture regarding how we should respond to feelings of anger.  Peter wrote “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).   “The Message” renders it this way:
I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
We might understand it as it relates to anger like this.   “Because God rules over me, and I have submitted myself to his will, I will view these human disappointments as opportunities for growth in the Lord.   I will not use anger as a basis for sin, nor will I be controlled by it.  I will rather use it as an opportunity to, in faithfulness; behave in ways that are pleasing to God. ”   This is how anger should be viewed by the child of God.  It is often more difficult to do that it is to say, however.   
Often we allow our anger to serve as an excuse for our actions (or overreactions).    We allow past anger to become deep seated, and we allow those around about us to bear the brunt of our wrath.   This, while a common response even among Christians, is in truth an affront to a holy and righteous God.  Further it does not allow us to grow in the faith in the midst of such trials.    
How is it then that we should manage the feelings of anger that we experience?    You should first determine if the source of your anger is deep-seated, unresolved, resentment from some past event(s). In order to do this, you need to consider the reason for your anger.   This may mean honestly looking at yourself and realizing that you are harboring resentment. So often we can easily see this in others, but overlook it in ourselves.     When you do this and you pin-point the initial cause of the anger, you will be well on your way to bringing an end to the destructive actions   that emanate from the anger.    David  penned these words “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting”  (Psalm 139:23-24).      It is only by following the everlasting way, that those “wicked ways” that are within us can be removed.     When a person becomes a Christian, he becomes a “new creature” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17).  It is by following the word of God that our mind is renewed (cf. Romans 12:3), when we make application of the eternal principles of the gospel, we can overcome these sins that seek to take us captive.   It is through our understanding and application of God’s word that we can put these things away from us.    To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31).    These things have no place in the life of the faithful child of God.   We must make the choice to put them away.  

Even if we do not harbor resentment or malice, we still will have feelings of anger from time to time.   It is also important to know how to manage these feelings in order that we do not sin.  One thing that some people do is bottle up their anger, and do not properly express it.   They may not even admit that they are experiencing the emotion.   This is not helpful.   If something angers us, this is not sinful.   We must insure that we do not allow it to be an excuse for sin.  Again, though, you must consider the source of your anger.  What is it that is making you angry?    Then, honestly look at why it is making you angry.   Are you expecting others to meet your standards?   (ex. “Doesn’t she realize that I work all day and expect quiet when I get home?”)    Do you distort the issue?  (ex. Do you generalize by saying things like “ you never …” or  “You always…” ?).    Perhaps you are using anger as a means to have some inner needs met.    Do you use anger to manipulate those around about you?   Do you have explosive outbursts to give yourself a feeling of significance?    Do you use controlling anger by demanding certain conditions of those around you so that you feel secure (Hunt, 2008)?    Anger is not a means to have needs met.   Using it in that way will have disastrous effects upon your life.   Your marriage life will likely be strained; children may be provoked to wrath (cf. Ephesians 6:4), and your home could be characterized by folks “walking on eggshells,” and ruled by fear, rather than one of nurture and love.   

The way to combat this is to trust in God and his word.   Peter said “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).    The Lord has given us what we need to ensure that our needs are met. Rather than seeking to control or manipulate those around about you in order to give the perception of  the need being met,  learn to follow God’s plan and trust his will that you will be much happier because your needs will truly be met. 
 One way that we can do this is to consider Paul’s instruction to the Philippians: 
 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,  but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:3-8).
The primary reason for sin associated with anger comes from an attitude of selfishness.   The remedy is that we do not think of ourselves first, but we consider the feelings and needs of others before our own.  We look out for their interests.   As an example, Paul uses Christ who came from heaven in humility  and gave up the glory associated with his deity, in order that you and I might be partakers in his sacrifice.    Can we not let the same mind be in us?   So what if we are “wronged.”    The proper response is not to seek to control others or to manipulate them, but rather to look to their needs and interests before our own as Christ did.
 When we experience anger we should assess the reason for the feeling.  Is it really justified, or is it a result of a violation my own standard?    What response will be beneficial to the situation?   Is the issue so important that it needs to be addressed?   Will you, by addressing it, be able to change it? If not, there is no need to openly express your anger.      If it does require a response, choose your words carefully, and consider the long-term implications that they may have.  Also, do not automatically assume that the other person is wrong, there may be circumstances that you do not know which brought on the issue.  Solomon said “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).      Even if you are in the right, and the other person is in the wrong how much harm can be done if we are unyielding, and cruel?   What good is done by saying things that you will regret?      Paul encouraged the Philippians “ let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you know how to answer each one”  (Colossians 4:16). 
It is true that anger is not sinful, but it also is not a basis or excuse for sin.  It is wrong for the child of God to harbor malice and resentment, thus we must seek to resolve issues of anger both appropriately and in a timely manner.   “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth…since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:8-9). 

Hunt, June.   (2008).  “Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook.”  Eugene. 51,55.

Sanders.  (2003). Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health,
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