The Marriage Challenge

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I was mad at my boss. I was in my 20’s, and I ran across a Bible verse. The reason I bring this up is because I found out that a lot of people, when they start into this Bible, the Bible will make you mad, because you don’t like what it says. I bumped into a passage of scripture, and I didn’t like it.

Let me read it to you. This is Ephesians Chapter 4, verse 31. I had my boss in mind; that mean, nasty boss. “Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice.”

I qualified on all of those points. Maybe somebody here, you do too. You struggle with all of those things. My position was …”Well, why not? That’s the proper attitude to take when you’re treated like that.”

Listen to this next verse. This is worse yet. Who wants to be this way? “Be kind to one another.” It’s possible that you know somebody that you need to be kind towards, and you don’t want to either. They don’t deserve it. They don’t either.

“Be kind one to another and tenderhearted, and forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” You know folks, I studied that verse for two or three months, and I didn’t think that that was fair. Why should I change? I’ve got a right to have that kind of feeling that I have towards him.

Well, one day I decided that I’m going to love him. Now when I make up my mind to do something, I’m like you are, I can change it very easily. Isn’t that how you are? I made up my mind that I was gonna love him. So with my mind made up, I get to work, I’m gonna be a loving person all day today. And then I hear my boss say, “BRANDT!” and I was just as mad as ever. I found out that I could not decide to get happy. I found out that I was responding to what he was doing, and I couldn’t stop it. Well, I can control what I say, I can control the way I look, and angry people look like this …  I couldn’t control the way I behave.

You know, I found an answer to my problem, and it changed my whole life, and my whole profession. It’s in 2nd Corinthians Chapter 3, starting with the 5th verse. The reason I’m bringing this up is that my reading, for me, at the outset was difficult. I read something here that I didn’t think was true. It says, 5th verse of 2nd Corinthians 3, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything is of ourselves, but our sufficiency must be of God.”

That’s not true,” I said.

“I got an education without God’s help. I didn’t need His help to get an education. The university is full of people getting an education. They don’t even think of God. I made some money on my own without God’s help, I got a job without His help, and I got some promotions without His help. What do you mean I’m helpless? Psychologists object to that idea. You Christians, you want the Christians to feel helpless. You’re not helpless, you’re something, you’re somebody, aren’t you?”

Well, I quit arguing with this, and I kept on reading. Let me read on. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything is of ourselves, but  our sufficiency is from God who also made us able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Sprit, because the letter will kill you, and the Spirit will give you life.”

You see the Christian life is not a matter of improving your acting ability. If you make up your mind to act more like a Christian a year from now than you do now, you’ll do it. If you make up your mind to sound more like a Christian a year from now than you do now, you can do that, too. But you can’t change your heart!

I couldn’t manage my heart. One word from my boss turned on what was in here. Maybe you’ve had that experience. We have a workbook out there called “The Heart of the Matter.” You’d do well to take a look at that workbook, and get acquainted with yourself. It’ll help you to do that. I found that I was totally helpless to control my spirit. My behavior, yes, and the way I talk, yes, but not my spirit. That was a liberating thing to me.

I tell you the day … that was a wonderful day! I still can treasure that day when I went to work, I was totally helpless and I told the Lord, “If you don’t help me, I’m sunk.”

Then I heard my boss say, “BRANDT!”

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t mad at him. I couldn’t believe it. I got so I liked that old crab. You don’t need to be an old crab because you’re around old crabs. You know, that man … I found that his behavior does not determine what happens to my spirit. That’s between the Lord and me, and I got to the place where I realized that I can draw on the love of God. It’s in me; I can draw on it anytime I want to. I can turn it off, too, anytime I want to. That day changed my whole life, and my whole profession.

You have access to a resource. It’s not your own, it’s not a matter of self-improvement, it’s not a matter of will-power or determination, it’s a matter of surrender and yielding to the Lord.

You see, I had to get to the place where I was willing to love him when he was yelling. Not after he got through yelling, while he was yelling. What do you have to accept? Anything? Why do you ask the Lord to help you enjoy it? This is the very thing that eats your heart out.

Now, one more thing. I went to college, I learned that I’m a compound of the things that happened to me in my life-time, but then I came across a passage of scripture in Mark. This is Jesus Christ speaking in Mark Chapter 7. Does it matter to you what Jesus Christ said? Listen to this, this is verse 20. And He said, “What comes out of a man defiles a man, not what goes into him. For out of the heart … ” listen to this … ”Out of your heart proceeds evil thoughts, adultery, and fornications.”

Here is Jesus again, He took one of our biggest social problems today, and He put them right up on top, didn’t He? And He said the reason you do these things is because of the condition of your heart. You gotta get your heart fixed if you don’t want to respond that way.

Let me read you some more. “Murder, theft ….” that was me stealing raspberries. There’s something that’s natural about taking something that isn’t yours, isn’t there? Thieves … and then it goes on to say, “covetousness”. I want what you’ve got. I’m not happy with you having it and me not having it. “Wickedness, deceitfulness ….” When I went home and tried to act like there was nothing wrong with me around my mother. Nobody had to teach me how to be deceitful, I just automatically was deceitful. It’s the condition of your heart.

That’s why you need a change of heart. Lasciviousness, an evil eye, pride, blasphemy, foolishness; all these evil things come from within, and they defile you. You’ve gotta let the Lord clean up your heart, and then you proceed from there. I trust that the Lord has, if necessary, been showing you some things in your heart that need to go. All you need to do is admit that they’re there, and admit that you’re wrong, and you’re sorry. You want Him to forgive you, and you want Him to cleanse you, and you will be submitting to Him the rest of your life. That’s the toughest part of it all. To realize that it’s a life-time of subjection to Him. His strength is not catching, you can’t store it up. You can use all you want, but you can’t store it up, but it’s there.

Well let me remind you, when you get home tonight, just keep thinking about what I’ve been telling you, and then talk to God about it, not toyour partner. Tonight, just tonight, you and the Lord get together.

Well, let me start something. When you want to get married, you have to get a blood test, don’t you? And you have to get a marriage license. It’s easier than getting a dog license. What is a marriage license? So I can try, that’s all. With the marriage license there are some things that you have to do, when you think about it. The marriage license is the right to try. That’s what you get when you get a marriage license.

Deciding on this, you are two spirited people, excited. Not necessarily spirit-filled, but spirited! Anxious, ready to go! Married people aren’t enemies. You never think of this young lady walking down the isle when she approaches the alter saying to herself when she sees her husband … ”Buster, you’re gonna regret this day.” That’s not how you get married. Most people that get married are friends, aren’t they? The starting line is that you’re friends, but then you start running into human nature.

For instance, let me tell you a story that has nothing to do with marriage, it has to do with a man that was a friend of mine. I loved him, a man, I appreciated him, and I adored him. He was a wonderful guy. He’s a mission executive. He appreciated me, too. He was a sacrificial man, I just admired him.

He invited me to go on the road with him one time. We started out, we met in Switzerland, and they called our flight. In those days, you didn’t have these ramps you had to go up. First of all we had to leave the terminal, and there was a door, one of those half doors. Well, there wasn’t enough room for both of us to go through, and so me being the humble consultant, I said to him, “Why don’t you go first?” He said, “No, you go first.” I said, “No, you go first.” I have a Ph.D. degree, he had a Th.D. degree, and we get hung up at the door. I could see that he was being stubborn, and so I went through the door first, but I didn’t like it.

As we walked across the tarmac to the plane, I could see this narrow ladder, and I said to myself, “So help me, I’m not going up that ladder first.” I’m being a humble consultant. We got there and I just said to him, “You go first.” We held up that line while we debated who’s gonna go first. Finally he went first. I liked that much better. I was saying to myself, “He’s getting sensible now.” Why? Because he’s doing what I want him to do.

We get in the plane, and there are two seats. It was an overseas flight, and I wanted a window seat. How am I gonna get the window seat? You have to think fast in this world, so I came up with a plan. I’ll offer him the window seat, he’ll turn it down, and I’ll take it. And so that’s what happened. I said, “Why don’t you take the window seat.” And he said, “No, you take the window seat.” And I said, “Well, okay, I’ll take the window seat.” Now this is my friend! We had three problems already, and we haven’t even sat down yet.

He and I looked at each other, and we agreed, we’re gonna have a hard time getting around the world … because he was selfish … and so was I. That’s what we had together.

So we had to have a meeting. We called ourselves together, and we said, “We need a leader.” So we called ourselves together, the two of us. Have you ever had a business meeting with two people? That’s what a marriage is, two people. We had to pick a leader. He was the Director of the Mission, this was his idea, and he was paying for it. They didn’t know I was coming. How many of you would pick me as the leader? Let me see your hands. Let me run through that again. That wasn’t hard to figure out who the leader ought to be, so we elected him the leader.

We didn’t have any more trouble going around the world, but we had to face up to the fact that no matter how good our friendship was, we were selfish people, we were looking out for ourselves. He started acting like a leader. For instance, I got baggage. If I had been the leader, he would have gotten baggage. I got reservations with hotels. I got the treasury. He started acting like a leader, and we never had anymore problems all the way around the world. But we had to face up to the fact (whether we liked it or not) that when we approached that airplane, we were two selfish people.

Now when you approached that alter, you were as pretty as you could be. So was he; as good looking as he could be. The idea is that you’ve got to start where you’re at, not pending reform, remember? You didn’t know what you got, but you’re gonna find out real soon. Your job is to create some boundaries and rules that will guide you in your marriage. That’s your job.

I’m a football fan, I’m from Michigan. We have a football team called the University of Michigan, and in Ann Arbor, Michigan they have a stadium that seats 110,000 people – a huge stadium. It doesn’t matter whether it rained, or it snowed, or whether it was frozen, or whether it was cloudy, it didn’t make any difference what the weather was. When we had a football team playing in that stadium, it was full of 110,000 people in that stadium. People came from all over. I’ve been in that stadium when 110,000 people all rose and cheered. Now, what could you possibly do to cause 110,000 people to do the same thing at the same time? It’s the perfect play. Well, why do you go to a stadium? Let me suggest some things. You’ve been to the stadium, and one of the pleasures of the stadium is that the football field is gonna look like it did the last time you were there. A football field is a football field is a football field no matter where you go. When you say football field, I know what you’re talking about.

You don’t have wavy lines on the football field. “How come a wavy line?” “Well, our line maker wasn’t in the mood for straight lines today.” You don’t want to frustrate the line-man, do you? No, you’ve got straight lines. They’re all the same. They’re all the same dimension.

Also, there’s a rule book. The home team knows the book. The visiting team knows the book. The visiting spectators, and the home spectators … everybody goes by the book. Football players don’t argue about rules. What do you think is going on when they have a huddle? Can you imagine the quarterback saying, “Well, we have a decision to make here, and I want you all to have a feeling of participation in this decision. What do you suppose we ought to do fellows? Let’s have a group discussion here.” No, that’s not what they do. They have a mental set to get the signal.

I used to work with the Miami Dolphins. I had like a church service with them on Sunday morning. One Sunday they came in and they had a sheet of paper about this long and this wide. They’re all looking at that paper, they weren’t looking at me. I said, “What’s on that paper?” Know what was on that paper? Every signal that could be called, and beside the signal was a description of what this fellow was suppose to do if that signal was called. When they go into the huddle, they have a mental set to get the signal, and to carry it out. You don’t argue with a quarterback, and so there’s not a lot of room for creativity with that kind of setup.

For instance, my friend, his name is Norman Evans, he was the little fellow. He was only 6’2” and he only weighed 220 pounds. That’s small in that league. You know, one time, just to see what would happen, I shoved one of those guys. He didn’t even know it. You talk about big and strong. Well we were playing the Oakland Raiders that day, and they had a fellow by the name of Bubba Smith. Do any of you remember Bubba Smith? He was 7’2”, and he weighed like 380, something like that. He was a lot of man. The signal was 50. That means that Norman Evans has got to move Bubba over this way. That’s where the creativity comes in. Not that way … not that way … that way!

He knows what he’s going to do. He heads for the line, and his job is to try to move Bubba over.

Well, the two of you, the job you’ve got to do as a married couple …. See, you come from one family, your wife comes from another family, and they’re each different. The two of you have to design a harness that you can both wear, and you’ve never designed a harness before. You have never trained anyone before, have you? You’ve never created any rules before, have you? Besides never having to develop rules, you have somebody that doesn’t like rules.

Negotiating a meeting of minds is quite an assignment, isn’t it? Remember when you said something like this? “I will love you, and comfort you, and keep you in sickness and in health. Forsaking all others, keep unto you as long as we both shall live. And I take you for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish you until death do us part.”

Well, when I said “I do,” I had no idea what I was talking about. I had no idea what I was gonna get into, did you?

You know, one fellow was telling me about his first day of marriage. They started out, this is the first day of their marriage, 70 MPH down the highway, and she was a 50 MPH kid, and he was a 70 MPH kid. She said to him, “Honey, you’re driving too fast.” He said to her, “Don’t you bother your pretty little head about that, you just relax and take it easy.”

It’s something they do at the airport. They’ll say, “We’ll tell you about the flotation equipment.” And after they get through, they say, “Now relax.”

What he was saying was, “Relax, and leave the driving to me.” He spent the morning ignoring her wish, and she spent the morning resenting his decision. Nothing was said, and then it was time to eat, she was getting hungry. So he said, “I don’t want to spend much time eating. What I want is a quick sandwich and on my way.” She said to herself, “It’s the first day of our marriage; all I want to do is find a nice restaurant and spend an hour or an hour and a half just over a nice lunch.”

He said to her, “What do you say we stop for a quick sandwich?” She said to herself, “Oh brother, there goes my plans.” She said to him, “I think that’s a good idea.” See what’s going on here? So he was relieved. He pulls in, he bites into his sandwich. He’s half-way through with his sandwich, and she hasn’t opened hers yet, and she’s watching him eat, and she says to herself, “I didn’t know you took such big bites.” Then she said, “I didn’t know you made so much noise when you eat.” He was trying to say, hurry-up, hurry-up, hurry-up. He hurried her to the car, and whoosh, off he goes 70 MPH for the whole afternoon, so they spend the afternoon protesting each other’s driving. Pretty soon it’s time to stop.

So he says, “We’ve gotta get a hotel. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a bed. A bed is a bed, isn’t it? I’m gonna look for one of those pink stucco motels.” She says to herself, “I’d like to find the nicest motel in town.” He said to her, “Where would you like to say?” She said, “I’d like to find the nicest place you could find.” He said, “Well, I was thinking the same thing.” Is it any wonder that those people were in my office for help? They thought that the way to get along with one another is to lie to each other.

What you try to do, you see, is to figure out what the other person wants to hear, and you tell them what you think they ought to hear. Listen, you’ve got a 50-50 chance of being wrong.

They had to face the fact that they have a notion, that if you come to an agreement, you have to deceive one another. That’s not the way it works, is it? But many, many people who are married have discovered that to approach one another with the intent of desiring some boundaries and some rules that’ll govern your behavior, that that’s an easy job, only to find out that’s a complicated job. One of the reasons it’s complicated is it comes back to the person. Why can’t a person cooperate? Because there’s a Bible verse that says, Isaiah 53:6, “All of us,”     get that? …”ALL OF US, like sheep have gone astray, and we have gone, every one, unto his own way.”

Isn’t that the sweetest music to everybody’s ears? Let’s do it my way. See, you can’t have it your way and make mutually agreeable rules. You can’t have it your way and have some mutually agreeable guidelines. Many, many people come to me that are good friends, they admired one another, and they appreciated one another. When they got married, they discovered that they cannot function as a married couple because of this simple rule: My way is more important to me than the marriage. If you have that problem, self-centeredness, that’s one of the things that you really need to talk to God about.