Posts Tagged ‘marriage’


How to Pastor Single Adults

Lisa Anderson is the editor of Boundless, one of the finest resources for young adults in the evangelical world. She’s also host of the Boundless Podcast, where she interviews leading thinkers on issues of singleness, sexuality, marriage, and culture. I had the chance to interview Lisa this week for Leadership Journal. I asked her questions on singleness, sexuality, and ministry. This is one of the questions:

Some pastors and church leaders face a tension between encouraging marriage and yet not diminishing the gift–and even calling–of singleness. How would you advise them?Pastors need to invite singles into the life and leadership of the church, treating them not as “kids” but as functioning adults with vital spiritual, emotional, and physical assets for the congregation.

There’s a delicate balance between encouraging single young adults in their current life stage and experience while still elevating marriage and acknowledging that marriage is in most people’s future. Over 90 percent of single young adults want to get married, but pastors understandably don’t want to make singles feel like second-class citizens, so instead they say very little about marriage to singles. An awkward silence ensues, leaving singles feeling unheard and misunderstood. Pastors need to invite singles into the life and leadership of the church, treating them not as “kids” but as functioning adults with vital spiritual, emotional, and physical assets for the congregation. They then would do well to hear singles out. For women, this means hearing their hearts’ cry for marriage; for men, it may mean challenging them to consider marriage sooner rather than later. Either way, real relationships, accountability and a significant amount of grace is needed to open the conversation and remind everyone involved that singleness is a gift for a few, but a season for most. Let’s move people with biblical intention in the direction they need to go.

Read more here:


A word to husbands on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that sneaks up on you. Well, at least it sneaks up on me. The winter is rich with holidays for the Darling Family: Angela and I were married the week before Thanksgiving, two of our four children have December birthdays, and my birthday is in late January. It gets busy and  . . . expensive.

And I’m guessing I’m like most men. We do the Valentine’s thing sort of reluctantly. It’s a bit of an eye-rolling holiday. We feel we’re getting hosed by Hallmark. Think about it: Mother’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, Anniversary. I’ve even heard some (very unwise) husbands (who apparently have a regular cot in their garages) say they ignore it and just “love their wife the entire year.”

My advice is to . . . not do that. Don’t do that at all. For one thing, your wife doesn’t want to be nor does she deserve to be the only wife on the block, in her small group, and in the office who sheepishly tells her friends that her husband “doesn’t do this holiday.” Man up, buy a card and some flowers or chocolate or whatever she likes and do it. Secondly, we should use this cultural moment as a divinely appointed opportunity to show our wives some love. After all, we are supposed to, as Paul instructs, love our wives as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23). You don’t very well do that by leaving the Mrs in the cold on Valentine’s Day. We need these prompts, even if created by Hallmark, to be reminded to show our wives just how we feel about them, to renew our commitment to loving them as we love no other human being on the earth. Yes, it is true that love is more than show displays of flowers and chocolate and candy and balloons and teddy bears. But loves is not less than that either. Verbal expressions of love, tangible gifts are important to communicate what we say we feel in our hearts. So we need to do this. We need to make our wives feel every bit the treasure they are. I admittedly struggle with this, to show Angela just how much I love, cherish, and respect her. Valentine’s Day is like a cultural slap upside the head to do what I should be doing more often.

So guys, let’s get it together. I’ll see you in the Hallmark aisle at Walgreen’s tonight.


Relationships of Worship and Delight

This week I had the privilege of interviewing Gary Thomas, the author of several books, including, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, and others. My wife and I have been personally blessed by Gary’s work and we have used them in our ministry.

I asked Gary about communicating a biblical model of marriage in a culture that has largely rejected it:

How can church leaders communicate that model of marriage in a winsome way?

First, of course, we need to “communicate it” through our lives. The consequences of pastoral failure in marriage can be severe; I’ve seen entire youth groups turn away from or at least grown significantly colder toward God as a result of a pastor’s fall.

Second, we have to show the joys of spiritual partnership. Selfishness gets boring, so trying to build marriages on self-centered ends wont work; its a short-term fix.Creating a sense of spiritual purpose, partnership, and connecting marriage more closely to worship should become a part of who we are and what we do before its something we say and talk about. But once we are living it out, let’s be bold. I tell young people, “How does Hugh Heffner know that sleeping with hundreds of women is more fulfilling than sleeping with one woman thousands of times? He’s never done it Gods way and doesn’t know what he’s talking about! Instead, he gets in a pathetic, selfish relationship with a woman who could be his great-granddaughter, and I’m so supposed to listen to him about the pleasures of eros? No thank you!”

I think young people respect it when we push back and say that, in the end, Gods way is the best way. We don’t have to be ashamed, because Gods way really IS the best way! Sadly, many Christians DO punt on their long-term sexual intimacy in marriage, and it shows. We need to cultivate relationships of worship and delight so that we can speak boldly out of worship and delight.

Read the entire interview here: 


5 Things I’ve Learned in Ten Years of Marriage

Last month, on November 22nd, Angela and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. I’m not an expert on marriage and by some standards I’m still a rookie. But I have learned a few things in these ten wonderful years. Here they are, in no certain order:

1) I’m not naturally a good husband. Before I tied the knot, I was convinced I’d be a great husband. Some lucky girl would be praising the Lord daily that she nabbed me. How wrong I was, really. Rather, I was the blessed one, having snared a women as patient and loving as my wife Angela. What I’ve learned is that I am not naturally a good husband. I have to really, really work at it. Naturally I’m selfish, proud, and tend to see things only my way. To be a good husband I must do two things: I must work at loving my wife intentionally and I must rely on the Spirit of God to change my heart. If you’re not yet married, you won’t realize this until you do get married. And then this reality will hit you in waves.

2) It really isn’t good for men to be alone. Those words uttered by the Triune God in the Garden of Eden are actually true. Nothing changes a man quite like being married to a good, godly woman. I can say that for myself. When you commit to being and staying married for the long haul, you are committing to a relationship that will refine you as a man. It will shave off your worst instincts. It will domesticate you in a good way. It will mature you. Today I am dependent in many ways on my wife. Not simply for what she does for me, but the companionship, the togetherness. I don’t like it when she is out of town or away. I feel like half of my life is missing. God designed life to be this way.

3) Love grows deeper over time. There is a richness to long-lasting marital love that is hard to describe in words. When you are married, you go through tremendous highs and lows as a couple. You will endure crushing defeats. You will enjoy soaring heights. You will suffer pain together. And you will laugh together. All of these times only add muscle to your love, they build your relationship. If you are willing to hang in there and suffer and laugh and cry and forgive and repent together, you will, at the end, find a love that is far richer than the plastic, Hollywood, fake infatuation you think you desire.

4) The gospel is the indispensable key to your marriage. And when I say “gospel” I don’t simply mean, “Make sure you marry someone who shares your faith.” Yes, yes, and amen to that one. But it’s more than that. Marriage requires that each of you believe the gospel so deeply that you live it out. It means the husband is willing to die literally and figuratively for his wife. It means there is a oneness that is a small picture of the intimacy shared by the Trinity. It means you dig deep on forgiveness, extending grace to the one whose wounds can hurt you the most. And you quickly repent when it is you who is doing the wounding. It means you don’t projet some kind of impossible standard on your spouse, but accept him or her as a sinner being slowly sanctified by God’s grace. It means you, like Jesus, love your spouse at his or her worst because you will want him or her to love you at your worst. Believing the gospel means you don’t see your marriage as a happiness vehicle for your pleasure, but as a witness of the grand narrative of the Bible to a watching world.

5) Every day you spend with your spouse is a day for which you should praise God. If you are a husband, realize that your wife is a gift from God. If you are a wife, realize that your husband is a gift from God. Somedays it doesn’t seem like your spouse is a gift.  And some days you are not so much a gift to her. But the longer you are married, for as many years as you are gifted together, you will thank God for bringing her to you. I think this way often, when I see the way my wife enriches my life, cares for our children, and does so many things in the community. I’m grateful for God giving her to me. And if you are married, you too should be this grateful for the one to whom you are united by God.


5 Things Love Isn’t

Perhaps there is nothing the human heart craves more than true love. We are wired to love and be loved. The problem is that we don’t actually understand what love really is. We get all kinds of definitions from the culture and from our own feelings.

In fact, I think it’s helpful to think a little bit, not about what love is but what love isn’t. So here are five things love isn’t:

1) Love Isn’t Having Someone Fulfill All My Fanciful Dreams  

When we think about the love between a husband and wife, we often think of that “soulmate”, that person who just magically fits into all the areas I need and will make my life better. These expectations, which we carry into marriage, do more to derail relationships than anything else.But this is really humanistic thinking. It views the other person as a benefactor that must meet all of my needs. But God didn’t purpose marriage for my own fulfillment, but as an opportunity for me to a) display His glory b) grow in character and grace by adjusting, sacrificing, and loving another and c) fulfill the mandate by establishing another generation of godly offspring. And here’s a secret of marriage that I’m still figuring out after ten years: my dreams are petty compared to God’s dreams for me. When I hold them loosely and allow God to shape them (by giving me a spouse who bumps up against my desires), I discover a joy and fulfillment I would not have found on my own.

2) Love is Loving the Person I Expect Someone to Be 

This follows closely on the lie of expectations, that I only experience love when someone is everything I expect them to be. A wife gets married, not to a fallen sinner who needs grace, but to an idea of what she thinks this man might be to her. He’s the composite of all the princess movies, romance novels, and stored up dreams. But after the honeymoon is over, she meets another man, the sloppy guy who leaves his underwear on the floor, stays up too late playing video games, and sometimes buys boats without asking her. A husband gets married to a perfectly shaped beautiful goddess, whose every word is inspiring and motivates him to greater heights, who will satisfy his basic needs in every way. Then he gets home from the honeymoon and finds another woman in his home. This girl has occasional mood swings, yells at him for the smallest things like leaving his underwear on the floor, and she often burns the meatloaf. So then the husband and the wife have a choice. They can manipulate their mates into being what they need them to be, spark a lot of useless arguments and friction, and ultimately choose divorce. Or, they can confess their idolatry, realize their own brokeness, and recognize that love is about loving all the parts of those we are supposed to love, even the areas we really don’t like. It’s loving on those days when you don’t want to and loving the person you see before you, not the person who wish or hope they can be.

3) Love is always saying nice, but meaningless things, to each other. 

Love is action as we’ve said. Love is a committment. Which means sometimes we must speak the truth in love. This is not to be confused with tearing down, hurting, destroying someone’s soul for the sake of our own selfish gratification (see 1 and 2 above). This is the love that has the courage to tell someone when they are seriously going down a wrong path. The is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated with his disciples, when he repeatedly corrected their wrong ideas. We have this idea of love that it overlooks sin and that just sort of winks at poor life choices. Ahh, but love is not this way. If you truly love someone, especially someone you are married to your called to care for, you will gently, in the right timing, powered by the Spirit of God, communicate the loving truth. And you will receive correction as an act of love from another. In marriage this means you sometimes hear the hard, but true words of a spouse and take them as God’s loving act of discipline on your soul, shaping you into the character of Christ. I will tell you that this is never my first response to rebuke from Angela. But it should be. And often later the Spirit whispers to my soul, “You know, she’s right and if she didn’t love you, she wouldn’t have said what she said.” Then I have to go back to her and say, “I’m sorry. You’re right. Forgive me. I’ll work on that.” I have to say that after ten years, the person I credit with most of my spiritual growth is my wife. Marriage can and should be a discipleship relationship, provided both are committed to following Christ. As one of my favorite authors, Gary Thomas, says ,”God’s desire in marriage isn’t to make us happy, but to make us holy.”

4) Love Isn’t Conditional On Good Times

Bad times actually test your love, especially in marriage. They reveal our hidden idols. So, for instance, when money gets tight, this is usually a trigger for an epic argument. It’s easy to blame the other person. If she didn’t spend all that money on shoes, we’d be able to pay the electric bill. or If he had a better-paying job, we wouldn’t be in this mess. or If only he’d step up and do the budget, it wouldn’t be so hard on me. or, If she would just be happy with what we have. Or perhaps its trouble with a child. Again, we blame: If he’d get off the iPhone and pay attention, our kid wouldn’t act out so much. or If she’d just loosen up, maybe the kid would respond better. or, If he’d get home at a decent hour. or If she’d stop worrying so much about the house. 

You see what happens. Hard times bring all of our hidden anxieties and insecurities to the surface. The idolatry of financial security. To be financially secure is a good and worthy and biblical goal. But hard times come and threaten that. So if financial security is your idol, when it’s ripped away, you’ll kick and scream and do damage to your relationship. The idolatry of a well-adjusted family. Again, well-behaving kids in a safe, harmonious house is a good and worthy and biblical goal. But it’s a poor idol. And when this is ripped away for a season, if this is the altar at which we worship, we’ll kick, scream, and do damage to our relationships.

The point of all this is this: we think love would flourish if only our circumstances were better. If we had a bit more money, if the kids wouldn’t misbehave so much. But the truth is that real love, lasting, deep, abiding love grows during times of duress. But this only happens if you put Christ at your center and give up on the small, petty dreams and realize God is active in the midst of your hardship, to bring about His glory. Trials can be a catalyst for deeper marital love. They have for Angela and I. We wouldn’t want to repeat any of the terrible things we’ve faced, but we can both look back and say this cemented our love and commitment to each other.

 5) Love Isn’t Found Elsewhere

When you’re in a bad season of marriage, brought on by strife, difficulty, tragedy, it’s temping to think you’d be happier elsewhere. But real love is only found in renewing your commitment to each other in marriage. Love says, “I’m here for the duration. I’m committed. I’m going no where else.” Love is actually living out what we stood and said on our wedding day: “In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, as long as we both shall live.” Love is not saying, “As long as he has a job. As long as we have a house. As long as she our kids our healthy. As long as she doesn’t get sick.”

And here’s the secret: when you are absolutely, 100% committed to each other, it makes it easier to work out your differences. Why? Because you’re forced to. You’ve got no other option. And so each of you must give, bend, sacrifice. You must commit to grow, change, and serve. Now, to be clear: your willpower and commitment to stay alone won’t give you a great marriage. You need gospel of Christ which initiates the cycle of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. But I would argue that the gospel is the very catalyst that keeps you committed, because you realize you are in marriage for way more than your own expectations and self-fulfillment.


Friday Five: Greg Smalley

Today on the blog we have author and marriage counselor, Dr. Greg Smalley. Greg serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of eleven books including The DNA of RelationshipsThe DNA of Parent and Teen Relationships and The Wholehearted Marriage.

You grew up the son of one of the most popular family counselors in the world, Gary Smalley. And yet you have embraced the same calling as your father. What was it about your father that inspired you to follow in his footsteps? 

My dad inspired me by practicing what he preached.  Who he was on the stage was who he was at home.  When he screwed up, which happened, he made it right.  He truly tried to live out the principles that he taught.  I didn’t have that sour taste in my mouth like some PK’s do.  Another thing that inspired me was how many people would come up to us as kids and thank us for our father saving their marriage.  That had an impact on me.

Isaiah 61:4 –  Restore renew, rebuild…)  the ruined cities were like marriages.  My inspiration is to restore, renew and rebuild marriages.

Do people assume you’ve got family relationships all “figured out” considering your heritage? 

Another value that I saw modeled by my father was transparency.  My dad made his living telling about all the ways he messed up as a husband.  I believe in being transparent and coming from a place of ‘here’s the mistakes I’ve made and here’s what I’ve learned’.  My own marriage, 2 years in, I really thought we were 1 argument away from Erin leaving – I’ve been broken and felt helpless and hopeless.  I know what that feels like.

Your marriage ministry focuses on relationships among millennials. What is different about the relationships of this generation? 

I think one thing that’s different about millennials is that they are extremely hopeful and very optimistic about marriage.  They want to and expect to get married.  But I think this comes from what they were denied.  In other words, millennials are the product of the largest divorced generation in our history.  They’ve seen and been a part of so many broken relationships.  They were denied growing up in a healthy marriage, so they want what they were denied.  They have a strong desire but are extremely scared.  They’ve never seen healthy marriages modeled, so they don’t know how to get it.  They have concluded that the way to have a healthy marriage is to try it out beforehand.  They’re not co-habiting because they don’t respect marriage, they highly value marriage.  They think living together will help them be successful.  The other big difference is because of the new technology (social networking, FB, tweeting…) they have extremely limited face-to-face social skills.  That makes a marriage very challenging.  They have to learn how to be face to face with a spouse.

What can Christian communities do to help foster better marriage and family relationships? 

Churches need to embrace the importance of marriage and of strengthening marriages.  Very few churches have ongoing, comprehensive marriage ministries.  We need pastors who are willing to be transparent about their own marriage; who are willing to acknowledge that they don’t have perfect marriages and it’s ok to ask for help.  Those pastors that normalize sharing their struggles and are being proactive are critical in strengthening  marriages.

What is one piece of advice you could give to a young married couple about protecting and preserving their God-given union? 

To live out Ephesians 5:29 –  cherish and nourish.  If all a young couple did was to help each other understand how incredibly valuable the other was, and then discover what they could do every single day to nourish their spouse and marriage, their marriage would thrive.  It’s attitude in action – for me to value you above everything else and then learn what you need uniquely, what you need to feel loved.  Cherishing my spouse and my marriage and asking how am I nourishing my spouse and my marriage.


The Five Myths of Being Single

This is a guest post by my good friend, Renee Johnson Fisher. Renee is a spirited speaker and writer to twenty-somethings. She graduated from Biola University and worked with nationally known Christian speakers and writers at Outreach Events. She is the author of several books, including Faithbook of Jesus. This month she released a terrific new book with Harvest House Publishers entitled Not Another Dating Book. Recently married, she shares the myths of the single life in a way that is refreshing and free of cliques. Her book is a terrific new resource for singles in the church, so I asked her to write a guest post sharing some insights. 

1.    Meeting Mr. or Mrs. Right Doesn’t Take Away Insecurities

Taken from Not Another Dating Book, “We dare to dream of the day when that guy or girl is going to walk into the room and change our lives forever. But what happens when he or she does? What if those feelings of unworthiness…don’t go away? What if it turns out that a human being can’t satisfy the longings of the heart?”

2.    Not Everyone Is Doing It

Relevant recently reposted an article entitled “The Secret Sexual Revolution” in which they quoted 80% of Christian 20-somethings are having premarital sex.  I waited, and I also know plenty of people who did and didn’t. Ultimately, the choice is yours. Will you wait on what God has for you? Not EVERYONE is doing it.

3.    The Friend Zone Stinks

I don’t care how long you’ve crushed over someone who doesn’t like you back. Whenever you find out that he or she doesn’t like you back it’s devastating.

Taken from my book, “It’s when our desire to impress others supersedes our desire for God that we get ourselves into trouble. Big time. God is our Living Water and Bread of Life. He is more than enough to supply all our needs–including our need for a relationship.

4.    What Are Your Deal Breakers?

Is it important that he or she manages their money, respects their parents, or can hold down a job? Some of these things may not matter when you’re dating, but can lead to problems in marriage. Find out what really matters to you now and then have the courage to follow through with your convictions.

5.    Breakups Don’t Have To Ruin Your Life

Taken from my book, “Trust in God’s ability to write a happy ending for your story, no matter how much trial you endure along the way. Remain. Remain. Remain.”

I’ve counseled many young adults through breakups. They’re tough for both parties especially if you have to run into them again at the store, church, or your job. Ask  God and others to help you through. You don’t have to be alone–and you will get through it!

For more of Renee’s writings, follow her on Facebook or Twitter


Creativity is Cool, but So is Maturity

By now you’ve read some of the dust-up online about two prominent pastors and their presentations of intimacy and marriage. Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace have written what seems to be a very raw, personal book, Real Marriage. Ed Young, Jr is launching a new preaching series/book/media blitz in which he and his wife are broadcasting live from their bed for 24 hrs on their church roof (Yes, you read that right).

I have not read Driscoll’s book and don’t intend too, though I highly respect Mark’s ministry and feel that he has been a terrific leader in advancing the gospel through church planting and leadership development. I don’t know Ed Young Jr nor have I read his latest book. He is a gifted preacher who seems to be leading many to faith in Christ.

I have read some terrific commentary on both issues. I’ve also read some snarky, arrogant triumphalist commentary and some downright unfair commentary. In my view, the two best pieces on both issues were written by Mathew Lee Andersen and Ed Stetzer.

However, a critical point I think has been missing in the discussion of evangelicals and sex and marriage is the issue of maturity. Pastors serve a vital role in their churches and communities. Besides being the person tasked with clearly teaching and preaching the Word of God, pastors are also spiritual leaders. Fairly or unfairly we are held up as examples of propriety, maturity, and grace.

I don’t know Ed Young, Jr personally nor do I know Mark Driscoll. They have ministries that far dwarf mine and likely have forgotten more about ministry and the Bible than I know. But I wonder if their actions reflect a church culture that seems to reward creativity without limits. A church culture that eschews maturity.

Maturity thinks things over and says, “I wonder if this is a good idea to put a bed on top of a roof?” or “I wonder if this is a good idea to do a provocative sex series that will intentionally offend some?” or “Is this the best idea?”

The pastor should be the adult in the room, not the juvenile. That doesn’t mean we have to go back to liesure suits and legalism. That doesn’t mean pastors have to be boring, dour, sad people (though some see this as their mission, another post for another time). But it also means there has to be lines we won’t cross with our creativity.  Call me a square or a prude, but I’m pretty sure broadcasting from a bed on a roof crosses that.

I’m in favor of church change, innovation, and contextualization. But at my funeral and on my tombstone I’d like it to be said simply, “He preached the Word of God”, not “He did crazy stunts that brought attention to his church.”