Between a Man and a Woman

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

The Bible says a lot about marriage. 

Man Woman Ripped SilhouetteThere are numerous places where men and women are instructed to behave in certain ways toward one another in their married lives. It’s most notably featured in Ephesians 5:21-33, but also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, 1 Timothy 2:13, Colossians 3:19, and 1 Peter 3:1-6.

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus explained that marriage was instituted by God himself. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride) in the New Testament. (In that same section in Ephesians referenced above, and again in Revelation 19:5-9.)

But the Bible is woefully absent of couples that are good examples of what it teaches. 

It seems that throughout history, even among God’s people, a bunch of things have come between a man and a woman.

Think about it—although Jesus states that monogamy had been God’s ideal from the beginning, most all of the Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, or concubines. In fact, a lot of it is pretty skeezy. Abram’s wife Sarai was unable to conceive, so she suggested he sleep with her handmaiden, Hagar to try and perpetuate the family line. Lot’s family was royally screwed up—after seeing their mom turned into a pillar of salt, two of his daughters get him blackout drunk in Genesis 19, and over two consecutive nights have sex with him in order to conceive their own children. (I don’t remember Mrs. Bridges teaching us that story in Sunday School.)

David was unfaithful to his wife Michal, with Bathsheba, and then had her husband killed trying to cover up the affair. Judah, a widower, was seduced by his daughter-in-law, Tamar, and mistaking her for a prostitute, had relations with her, and got her pregnant. Twice. God instructed the prophet Hosea to intentionally marry an unfaithful wife, and then write about it in the Old Testament book that bears his name, because it reflected God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. (Think Pretty Woman, except with a donkey instead of a limo, and a chick named Gomer, probably not looking like Julia Roberts.)

Ruth and Boaz are probably the best example of a married couple that we’re given in scripture, but she was a widow, and Boaz was her late husband’s uncle, which didn’t raise an eyebrow in that day and time, but to me, is still pretty weird. 

Solomon wrote Song of Solomon to describe the intimate relationship between he and his wife—but which one? If he’d written each of the 103 verses about a different wife, there would’ve been almost 600 of them, upset that he’d left them out of the poem, and he had another 300 concubines on the side. (I can picture him walking down one of the halls of the palace, seeing a girl and saying ‘Hi, i’m Solomon, don’t believe we’ve met,’ while the girl (rolling her eyes) replies ‘um…like we’re married!’)

Men can be pigs, or at times display ‘pig-like’ qualities. Even God’s men.

There are very few unions, Adam and Eve, and Noah and his unnamed wife are the only examples that come to mind, where a couple apparently remained faithful to one another throughout their lives without somebody making a mess of things. And let’s face it, Adam didn’t have any options, and after the flood, neither did Noah.

Moses had two wives, but we’re not told if these were simultaneous, or if his first wife, Tharbis, the daughter of the Ethiopian King, had died, or was just back home in Egypt, when he married his Midianite wife, Zipporah. (Those are two names that ain’t making a comeback.) Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath are mentioned to have two sons in Genesis 41, but there’s nothing of her anywhere else in the story, but i think we’re safe to assume Joseph was a faithful husband, given his virtuous response to Potiphar’s wife when he was younger. 

Anyway—the Bible doesn’t paint any kind of picture for us on what those relationships, or the other marriages in olden times were really like, and that’s a shame. Those of us who have been married for a long time could really benefit from reading about how a couple, married for 300 or 400 years dealt with aging parents, or problem children, trouble with their finances or personality differences with one another. Or just how freaking tired they must have sometimes been of sharing a tent and a bedroll with one another, and how they worked through that.

But here’s the deal, church. Since the Bible doesn’t give people many real, relatable human examples of marriage, you and i need to be the examples.

The outside world is watching, and when a ‘Christian’ marriage fails, folks are there to shout ‘i told you so’ from the highest rooftops in town. In their minds, it ‘proves’ to them that our faith is not real, that God is not who we say he is and puts His whole Church in a bad light.

Truth be told, when both parties are fully devoted followers of Christ, divorce is not an option. If a man and woman are both recklessly in love with Jesus, they find a way to love each other well.

The world is full of bad examples of marriage. Every day our news feeds pop up with another pair of celebrities making the decision to ‘consciously uncouple’ or whatever this year’s trendy euphemism for failure is. Believers need to make a stand and show what true marriage should be. But again, what should that really look like?

It goes back to Christ and the Church. Even though, we as the Church, much like Hosea’s wife, continually fail to keep our end of the bargain, and chase after other lovers, God is faithful. God loves us unconditionally, and welcomes us back when we stray. Marriage shows us how deep and intimate our relationship with God can be, and nothing, and no one can separate us from His love. (Romans 8:38)

(I’m not saying martial infidelity cannot be grounds for divorce, since that is stated multiple places throughout our Bibles. I’m using it, like Scripture does, as an illustration of his relationship with us, but, on the flip side, i know of many marriages that God has healed from the sin of unfaithfulness.)

We have a chance to reflect God’s plan for marriage to the world better than the heroes of the Old Testament. It’s true that a lot of things can destroy the bond between a man and a woman, but we need to hold on, persevere and show an unbelieving, cynical world the unquenchable relationship between Jesus and His Church.

The world needs it. Desperately.

 

You Don’t Complete Me…And I Shouldn’t Expect You To

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I don’t like Tom Cruise.

There—i said it

Between his Scientology, the indelible image of that time he was jumping up and down like a lunatic on Oprah’s couch, and the weird ‘center tooth’ that once you see, you can never unsee—there are a myriad of things about him that bother me.

I can’t stand the Mission: Impossible movies, where he will fight a whole team of bad guys who eventually throw him out of a helicopter that’s somehow flying upside down. He’ll manage to fall through the whirring blades unscathed, plummet toward certain death, then suddenly catch with one finger on the face of a cliff, ending up with only a scratch on his arm and cut on his forehead. He then crawls dramatically to the top of the mountain, and upon reaching the summit, discovers a jetpack that his IMF team has planted there, anticipating the whole chain of events. He immediately straps it on and shoots off into the air to chase down the bad guys, who will all ultimately peel their faces off to reveal that they’re actually other people who were on his team at the beginning of the movie. (I don’t think that’s an actual scene, but it’s probably on the storyboard for the next sequel.) Jerry_Maguire_movie_poster

Anyway, back in the day, he played the title character in a movie called Jerry Maguire. Jerry is a middling agent for a high powered sports agency, who gets fired and still ends up representing Cuba Gooding Jr., a Cole Beasley sized #1 wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. They yell at each other a lot, and jackhammer the phrase “show me the money” into our collective skull until Jerry finally secures Cuba a big contract that will set him up for life, unless he starts buying Lamborghinis, cocaine and mansions, in which case he’ll be broke in three years. 

Along the way Tom breaks up with Kelly Preston and falls in love with Renee Zellweger, who is the mother of the funky looking little kid from Stuart Little. They eventually break up, and everything is falling apart until forlorn Tom shows back up, wanting to reconcile. “You…(dramatic pause while he sets his jaw, presses center tooth down on his tongue, trying to get tears to form in his sullen eyes)…complete me,” he emotes, the music swells and women all over America get real tears in their eyes, while husbands are rolling theirs.

It made a lot of money, and somehow got nominated for Best Picture, in what must’ve been a down year. If it were made today, it would be on the Hallmark Channel, where it’s always Christmas, and feature those same former child stars that are in every single one of those Hallmark movies. And don’t get me started on the fact that Cuba Gooding Jr. somehow won the best supporting actor Oscar that year over Edward Norton in Primal Fear. (Insert eye roll emoji.)

Anyway, as you can tell, the movie, and particularly that phrase bugs me. Mainly ‘cause i don’t like things that aren’t true.

Look, i adore my wife—she is a wonderful, God-fearing, hard working, beautiful woman and i can’t imagine my life without her. I look back at the sometimes painful decisions that i believe God led both of us to make before we met, and i know He alone orchestrated some pretty crazy circumstances to put us together.

But she doesn’t ‘complete me’ and i don’t certainly don’t ‘complete her.’

Complement each other? Yes. (No…not like telling her that her hair looks nice. Although i do tell her that sometimes.) Our strengths balance the other’s weaknesses and vice-versa. She does a lot of things around the house, and enjoys taking care of our property and i…go to work and…play the guitar. (Maybe i should do the other kind of complement a lot more often.)

It’s not some stupid movie’s fault, but i think a lot of the time people go into relationships with that mindset—if i find the right person, my life is gonna be whole…that this guy/girl is the missing piece to my 1000 piece puzzle and everything will be great once i find him or her.

It doesn’t work that way. If you’re looking for another person to fix your mess, and make everything rosy, you’re going to be perpetually disappointed. There’s not a human being alive that can be the knight in shining armor, or the 24/7 beauty queen that our minds say is out there waiting for us. That’s too much pressure, and relationships crumble every day under the weight of unmet expectations because of it.

As believers, we need to find our identity in Christ and Christ alone. God tells us that we are His children, and that it is in Him we find our security, that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

That says nothing about finding a soulmate, or putting some of your trust in another person to make you be the man or woman God created you to be. 

Jesus completes me. I shouldn’t expect you to. 

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says this “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)

Single ladies, single guys…don’t miss this. You’re always going to be disappointed if you put your faith in another person to be your story arc. Life is far too complicated, and we all carry too much sin and baggage into relationships to be ‘enough’ for someone else. Christ alone is enough, and once you put your faith in him, your life’s journey should be about him and his will for your life.

He will put other people in your path to spur you on toward love and good deeds, but you can’t make them the focal point, or try to find your true happiness in the creation, instead of the creator and expect it to be something that lasts.

Those of us in relationships should always try to do the best we can, but we should also know we’re going to fall short.

And continually point each other to the one who won’t.

Reconcilable Differences

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

Photo by Jasmine Wallace Carter on Pexels.com

My wife and i are really different from each other.

I mean, we both have brown eyes, and my hair used to be brown like hers, but outside of some things like that, and the obvious male/female distinctions, (yes, despite what some might say, they do still exist) we are vastly different. She likes some of the same music i do, but on road trips, we usually keep the iPhones unplugged from the sound system in our car, or on the rare occasion we listen to music, regardless of whose playlist is on, we toss the other an occasional bone, but end up hitting the ‘next’ button…a lot.

She loves word games, Words with Friends and Scrabble on her phone. I, on the other hand, am so bad at those things, and so disinterested that the one time she and i played each other, she ended up using the app on both phones and basically played against herself just so the game would be sightly interesting. (Me: ‘CAT for four points…good enough!’ Her: ‘If only there were two Qs i could play QUINQUEVALENT here for 600!’)

She admits to being a risk-taker, and i like to keep both feet on the ground. I’m chipper in the mornings and she’s whatever the extreme opposite of chipper is. (Google some and insert one here if you like. I’m not gonna choose one, and put it in print because of this next difference.) 

She’s confrontational and i am decidedly not. 

Her ideal Saturday is to be outside working and mine is to be outside, laying on my back in a swimming pool, which we no longer have. I sing and she claims to have gotten ‘kicked out of Glee Club’ in 9th grade, scarring her for life. She is a great dancer and i can make people who claim to have two left feet look like Bruno Mars. We both love good coffee, but i take mine black and she drinks hers ‘light tan.’

In spite of all these differences, and there are dozens more i won’t bore you with, we get along. 

It’s not that we’ve stumbled on some magic formula, or read enough marriage books or attended seminars…although those things are great and i encourage you to take advantage of them. But for us, most of the time, it’s because we choose to get along. I love her and accept her for who she is, and she loves me. We put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies because we know that in the long run, those little things don’t really matter.

It hasn’t always been this way, and it has really taken time, prayer and realizing what God wants us to model for our children, and the outside world, in our marriage, to try to do these things. 

In scripture, the Apostle Paul explains how marriage should work in Ephesians 5:22-28. 

I love the way The Message puts it in modern terms: Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.”

We were out at dinner one night, years ago (this predated Angie learning how to cook, you can read the story of that HERE) and saw an older couple sitting silently at their table, not speaking a word to each other while they waited on the meal to arrive. (This was before restaurants had TVs plastered on the walls or anyone had cellphones and the distractions they provide.) It was heartbreaking to see them, maybe married for many years, probably empty nesters who felt like they had absolutely nothing to say to each other. 

We made a promise to each other, right then and there that we would not end up that way. Over the years, we’ve known many married couples who lived under the same roof, went to dinner occasionally, didn’t really fight, but weren’t really ‘married’ in the real sense of the word—they just sort of co-existed. 

There’s a huge difference in ‘married’ and simply ‘not divorced.’

It hasn’t been easy. Both of us, over the years, have dug extreme potholes in our marriage. (Not the little annoying kind, either. I’m guilty of some major, Van Zandt County ‘break an axel’ ones.) 

About a year in, she had some major abandonment issues from her past (her dad, her first husband) that she’d never really dealt with in a healthy way. Her reaction was to push me, as her husband, to see if i was going to leave, too. 

After a while, in my own immaturity, my answer was ‘sure—if things stay like this, i will.’ 

Things really didn’t get a whole lot better until she did a book study at our old church called Experiencing God by a man named Henry Blackaby. It wasn’t marriage-specific, but about what Christian faith is supposed to look like in our lives. It completely changed her perspective on who God was and how, as a believer, she was supposed to live it out. Her angry reactions began to be replaced by kindness. 

She began to realize that i, as a human, was going to fail her…repeatedly. I was supposed to represent Jesus to her, as my bride, and love her the way He loves the church, but if her faith was put in me to do that, she was going to lead a life of constant disappointment.

She started to see Christ as her true, unfailing husband, one who would never leave or forsake her (Deuteronomy 31:6) and me, not as some knight in shining armor that rescued her from the life she’d been living before we met, but as a flawed, fallible man that she was supposed to model the Church to, in our marriage. She began to serve me, not out of obligation or as something that builds up resentment, but as an outpouring of her love for God.

When i saw her starting to change, it made me want to do the same.

At some point, we have to understand that our marriage vows aren’t written in chalk, but are more like tattoos. It may fade a little, but it’s never completely going away. At times you may regret the fact that it’s there and think it’s a mistake, but you deal with it, embrace it and come to see it as a part of who you are.

Choose to love. Make the daily choice to put God first, your spouse second, and other things (kids, job, etc.) in their proper places. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure. Learn how to resolve conflict in a Biblical way. Fight with each other against the outside forces that want to destroy your marriage instead of against each other. Engage that little ‘mouth filter’ we all have, but sometimes decline to use, when the temptation to be critical comes rising to the surface.

CS Lewis said it this way, “feelings come and go…but, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.” 

Make a vow to your significant other to not end up like that couple in the restaurant, or if you see your marriage headed that way, stop and be a servant to your spouse, as Jesus would do. Define your marriage by the things you have in common, instead of your differences. Pray with one another. Fight for your marriage. 

Ephesians 5 says your marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church to the outside world. What kind of portrait are you painting?

It’s Not You…It’s Me

hand-with-pointing-fingerMark Johnston, Connections Pastor

“Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And i will try to fix you”

— Coldplay

Great song. Awesome arrangement. When the electric guitar comes in, breathing life into the quiet ballad, it is one of the magical moments in rock music, up there with Roger Daltry’s scream and that first chime-y chord of A Hard Day’s Night.

But bad theology, though. And a really, really bad idea.

We heard it a lot when Stonepoint first started re:gen. “Oh, i wish i could get my husband/ wife/ son/ daughter/ uncle/ friend/ neighbor to come to this.” It happens sometimes when we start advertising a new relationship series, as well. People sincerely wanting their significant other, friend or loved one to come to a saving faith in Christ and get their scattered lives in order. Which is fantastic—that’s why Stonepoint exists, and what keeps the staff excited to do what we do week in and week out. We love to see life change. We love to be a part of life change. We love pointing people to Jesus.

But in any relationship conflict, including marriage, there are two parties involved.

My wife and i visit with couples who are having marriage issues from time to time, usually at our house over a nice dinner, and the common thread seems to boil down to, “He (or she) won’t do what i’m asking them to do. If they loved me, they’d change.

We (‘we’ meaning Angie, since she’s much better at that sort of thing than i am) pretty much always respond with a question about their personal walk with Christ. “Forget about your spouse for a second,” she’ll say, “where are you in your relationship with God?” The answer is usually pretty consistent, as well, “oh, i could be better. I don’t read my Bible much, and my prayer life is virtually non-existent.” (Those aren’t exact words, mind you, but an accurate paraphrase. Very few people would be that honest over Chicken Tikka Masala.)

The follow-up is this—“how about you work on you, and quit trying to fix the other person.”

Again, Coldplay was wrong.

Here’s the deal. If you’re walking in obedience, praying, reading your Bible, living in community with some like-minded, encouraging believers, you are not going to stay the same. There is transformative power in God’s word, with God’s people and if you are consistent in those things, He is going to mold you more and more into the image of His Son. Period. He promises to do so, in His word, and He keeps His promises.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.—Philippians 1:6

Sometimes, the answer is different, when one of the pair is walking in obedience, and the other is not. There are many people in our church, mostly women, who diligently, faithfully try to show Christ to an unbelieving spouse. In doing that, we pray that the mate will eventually respond to the Godly example—and it may take years—but God’s restorative power can take root in the rockiest of soils. We’ve seen it happen. Please stop and say a prayer right now, for those in that situation.

So, if either scenario sounds like the boat you’re in, y’all are welcome to come over for dinner, or meet with someone else on our staff to talk about things, although personally, i recommend doing it over Indian food.

Just know going in that the answer is probably going to be ‘work on your vertical relationship, get that in order, and then see what happens with the horizontal ones.’ Find a good Bible reading plan, pray, and get in community and our prayer is that your spouse will eventually see God moving in your life, see the change in you, and want what you’ve got.

At the end of the day, that’s all we’ve got…Jesus. 

So, Coldplay got it wrong. You can’t fix somebody, but God can.

And, sadly, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow divorced in 2016.