Why Is Marriage Down and Divorce Up?

March 28, 2008

marriage-broken.jpgPerhaps one of the reasons that increasing numbers of people are divorcing, or not getting married in the first place, is because they don’t understand the basic purpose of marriage. Smart Marriages has provided a concise summary of an article from the UK that describes the dilemma. As a response to that dilemma, I am providing a well-written paper from one of my students, Courtney Newberry (Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling student at Dallas Theological Seminary). My assumption is that if we knew more about what marriage is suppose to be, we would know better how to prepare ourselves for it, how to manage it better, and how to keep it together happily for a lifetime. First, the dilemma:

WEDDINGS ARE OFF: marriage rate falls to lowest level for 144 years
Helen Nugent, The Times March 26, 2008 (Click for the full article)
The proportion of Britons choosing to marry is at the lowest level since the figure was first calculated in 1862. Politicians and financial experts blamed the Government for the fall in the marriage rate, saying that the tax system encourages people to stay single. Academics said that young people were increasingly wary of commitment, and many preferred the freedom of the single lifestyle.The data, published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, reflects a steady decrease in the number of marriages, bar a brief rise between 2002 and 2004.. . . There has not been a year with fewer marriages in England and Wales since 1895.

Mike Warburton, senior tax partner at the accountants Grant Thornton, said: There really are no tax incentives for marriage these days. Labour removed the married couples allowance and when you look at that in conjunction with the way tax credits work then you are better off being a single parent. The average age for marrying has gone up by about five years since 1991, and in 2006 the average age for a first marriage was 31.8 for men and 29.7 for women. Furthermore, since 1981, the number of unions that were the first for both partners has fallen by more than a third.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: This is a sad indictment of the Government¹s policies, which have penalised families and fuelled family breakdown.

UK DIVORCE ALSO ON THE RISE: Half of marriages ‘will end in divorce.’ Nearly half of all marriages will end in divorce, according to a study published today.

About 45% of marriages will not survive if current divorce rates continue – with almost half of these divorces happening before the couples reach their 10th anniversary.

The study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is published just a day after reports that marriage rates have fallen to the lowest level since records began.

newberry.jpg And now, for the part I like best, Courtney’s paper

God’s Purpose for Marriage


The health of the institution of marriage is wavering in America today. According to the United States Marriage Index, the percentage of those couples whose first marriages were still intact dropped from 73.3% in 1970 to a staggering 58.5% in 2000.[1] A growing number of children today are living with only one parent as opposed to both parents in past decades.[2] The reasons for getting married appear to be as flimsy as the marriages themselves. Finding a “soul mate” has become the main criteria in this generation’s quest for a partner, including a time of cohabitation to ensure sexual and relational compatibility.[3] It is evident that there has been a shift away from the sacredness of marriage, which has resulted in brokenness and loss. This paper will seek to show that God’s intended heart for marriage is something altogether different from the world’s view. God’s purpose for marriage is to make each couple more like Christ by teaching them how to love like Christ, to submit like Christ, and to persevere like Christ.


God designed marriage to teach his people how to love like Christ. “Marriage creates a climate where this love is put to the test.”[4] In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus says that the greatest commandment in the Law is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all Read the rest of this entry »

Intimacy in Marriage

March 23, 2008

I wish more engaged couples would spend more time and focus on preparing themselves for marriage and less time and money on lavish flowers, pictures, and elaborate wedding ceremonies. One program that I’ve been invited to for several years is coordinated by Trisha Beavers at her local Baptist church in Garland, Texas. This 8-week program is called It Takes Three. It’s been a delight and privilege for me to share one of the topics each time they hold the class. Here’s their announced description:

It Takes Three is a seminar designed for engaged and newlywed couples. It is taught by ministers and professional counselors. We seek to help couples develop Christ-centered marriages that will last a lifetime. Contact Trisha Beavers at 972-276-7194, x239 if you would like to sign up or need more info.

The eight topics covered are:

1. Through Thick and Thin. Making your marriage last through good and bad times.

2. You Mean You’re Not Perfect? Setting realistic expectatinos and affair-proofing your marriage.

3. Me Tarzan, You Jane. Learning to communicate more effectively.

4. God’s Design for Intimacy. Building a lifetime of love and trust. The power point slide show I use in this presentation is offered above.

5. In-laws or Outlaws? Settling issues related to in-laws before they become a problem.

6. The Money Pit. Practical advice on family financial planning.

7. Start Praying Now! God’s Design for Parenting.

8. A Marathon, Not a Sprint. Tips from successful couples on how to make your love last a lifetime.

Nice job, Trisha and First Baptist, and thanks for letting me participate.

Leave a comment about a program of marital preparation you are aware of and share it with others through this blog.

Old Clothes, Old Habits, Old Sins

March 23, 2008

dirty-shirt-500.jpgI’m preparing for a message on Colossians 3:1-17 to present at next Friday’s chapel service at Dallas Seminary. It’s really a passage that addresses the very practical issue of “How do I overcome sin in my life?” The big picture of the passage is straightforward – replace the old dirty clothing with new clean things, consistent with your new nature in Christ Jesus. But today, I’m fascinated by how many different ways you can handle the list of sins of the old nature.

First a question: “Of all the negative traits Paul could have listed, why did he choose the ones he did?” Perhaps these sins of immorality are most offensive to a holy God: Immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, and idolatry (3:5). Perhaps there’s something to be said for how easy it is for us to allow sexually related sins to pull us away from close connectedness to God. All this leads to covetousness (greed and idolatry), which the tenth commandment condemns.

While this list seems to go from action to motive, the next list – anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying — seems to go from motive to action (3:8). John MacArthur handles these issues very nicely on pages 135-145 of his commentary. Whether it’s action or motive, it doesn’t have a place in God’s character and therefore should not have a place in our character. Indeed, in 3:9, Paul writes that when we became followers of Christ and received a new nature, we “laid aside the old self with its evil practices.” The word is actually, “we violently ripped off” those old, dirty, smelly clothes. It reminds me of my mother’s reaction when I (at age eight) walked into the house after exploring a dead skunk for about fifteen minutes. “Get out of those clothes immediately! They have no place in this house!!”

In addition to handling these words in a string, we can probe each one individually to yield a vivid picture of what we are to “put aside.” For example, immorality (porneia) is the root of our pornography, which has to do now with a wide range of sexual sins. Impurity (akatharsia) literally means not clean. Our word catharsis comes from this and means the release of bottled up emotions, or an emotional cleansing. Slander (blasphemion) is the root of our blaspheme or blasphemy. A student of ancient language could have a heyday chasing down the richer meanings of each of these words.

I think a more do-able study would be to take each of these words and see what the book of Proverbs has to say about them. The pastor of Rock Valley Bible Church did this in a sermon in 2006. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 hits several of these in one sweep.

“There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”

Yet another way to illustrate how common these traits are (as well as how they contradict the character of God) is to find examples in the lives of biblical characters. For example, Achan coveted some silver after Joshua’s men capture the city of Ai, resulting in great “trouble” for all the people. It’s interesting to me how easy it is to find examples of sin as well as their consequences throughout the Bible. It’s a little harder to see sin so clearly in my own life.

But however vivid our picture, the challenge is to not give in to these things. How do we avoid what comes so naturally? I think the first step is to see clearly (and honestly) what we need to avoid. For example, if I rationalize that candy is a treat or a reward, I am likely to give into my desire for it. But if I see it as a poison that is potentially deadly, it helps me respond to it less enthusiastically. Problem with sin is that it’s always wrapped in an attractive package and seems so harmless at first. We prefer to stick with what’s familiar, predictable and comfortable rather than change to something more healthy and pure.

Even if we’re successful in “putting aside” all these negative things from our lives, we have done only as well as the Pharisees. Jesus said very clearly that we need to do better than that. So, in addition to avoiding the ungodly things, we need to discipline ourselves to “put on” the godly characteristics outlined in the following verses. Another blog. Another time.

Click here to link to the actual chapel talk that I’m adding on April 27, 2008.  There’s a 15 second add at the beginning, so just let it run through.

Letting Go and Movin’ On

March 19, 2008

monkeytrap.jpgI never tire of the story of how an elusive monkey in Africa gets captured. He reaches into a hole in a tree or through the neck of a large bottle and grabs hold of a handful of nuts that he loves. But then his clenched fist prevents him from removing his hand from the bottle. That which seemed to provide fulfillment of a treat, holds him in position ready to be collected as a captive. Better said, the tenacity of his will and his refusal to “let go” of his grasp thwarts his freedom. My monkey friend provided the opening story in my lecture last night for The Meadows entitled “Letting Go and Movin’ On.”  The material came together fairly well, but became memorable by the responses of the audience. So I thought I’d fill in the handout here with some audience responses.  We talked about what it means to let go of destructive thoughts and habits so we can move on in our personal growth and maturity.

Movin’ on means letting go of something.
Holdin’ on means staying the same.
Holdin’ on to the past guarantees that the past goes forward with you.
Grabbin’ hold of something new. That’s where the future’s at.

A. Let go of what? Why?
1. Things and “stuff” that holds up our standard of living
2. A job that is limiting and draining.
3. An ex-spouse
4. Old habits, old routines, old childish patterns of relating,
5. Addictions
Is it causing a problem?
Are you wanting replace it with something better?

B. What holds us back?
1. Need for control, need to be right.
2. Resentments, anger, unforgiveness.
3. Fear of the unknown, need for the familiar
4. Rationalizations

C. What does moving on require?
1. Vision of the goal – If I let go and move on, what will it look like? Feel like?
2. Focus on the higher ground – Like a toddler’s focus on warm, dry, clean panties.
3. Negative attitude toward lower ground – e.g. “Sugar is a poison, not a treat.”
4. Community – Someone to provide motivational feedback, to encourage.

D. Stages of Change – Where are you? (See March 14, 2008 blog post)

E. Putting it all together (worksheet)
1. Pick one thing that you feel is stuck and from which you would like to move on.

2. Identify your motivation to change according to the six stages of change.

3. Identify three ways you rationalize holding on to the old pattern.
a) ______________________________________________

b) ______________________________________________

c) ______________________________________________

4. Describe the vision of your goal.

5. Describe the virtues and the healthy feelings when you goal is reached.

6. Identify the toxic characteristics of the old pattern you have been in.

7. Identify and start to perform the disciplines necessary to move on

8. Report your progress and struggles and slippage to a trusted community

9. When you slip back, identify triggers, motives, convictions, and go to #5.

Simply put, while you’re putting off the things that are bad for you, discipline yourself to pursue the things that are good for you while you keep the ultimate goal in the forefront of your mind. Then be flexible about setbacks. From a spiritual perspective in the New Testament, Colossians 3:1-17 teaches this very thing. In the Old Testament, Jacob provides an example of this principle by throwing away the idols from his household and then purifying himself (Genesis 35:2). In Paul’s personal letter to Timothy, he tells him to instructs the brethren to let go of their “riches” in the present world and replace them with good works for God that can store up treasures in heaven. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

The Atonement: Simplicity through Complexity

March 19, 2008

cross5.jpgAlfred North Whitehead’s principle, “The only simplicity that can be trusted is that which lies beyond complexity,” applies to our understanding of the atonement and the events of Passion Week.  Premature statements about Christ’s death, burial and resurrection are usually simplistic and superficial.  Intellectually complex statements are often confusing, overwhelming and controversial.  It is only after wading through the complexities of the atonement and struggling with their personal implications that we arrive at the elegant simplicity of God’s actions in the last week of Christ’s life on Earth.  The clarification of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and various theories of the atonement that follow help me struggle through some of these complexities.
Maundy Thursday, so called because that night before he was betrayed Jesus gave the command (the mandatum in Latin), that we should love one another.   Jesus was not talking about the love of our desire but rather a demanding love as in washing the feet of faithless friends who will run away and leave you naked to your enemies.

Why is Friday, which is so dark and bad, called Good Friday?   Some scholars speculate that “Good Friday” comes from “God’s Friday,” as “goodbye” was originally “God be by you.”  This is the day that God died – for a time.  I think it’s important to enter into the great suffering that took place as Jesus bore the full penalty of our sins in his humiliating anguish.  But it’s even more important not to leave him on the Cross, because three days later, he rose from that death and entered into heaven to return to his position of intimacy and glory with the Father.  There, he represents his followers and provides the basis of a new citizenship for those believers.

dali-christ.jpgAll of the theories of the atonement, or “covering,” focus on some aspect of the truth but none can capture its full meaning.
•    Moral Influence Theory (Faustus Socinus 1539-1604). Describes the subjective effects of Christ’s cross on the sinner.  When we look at the cross we see the greatness of divine love, which delivers us from fear and produces in us an answering love, putting aside selfishness and sin. Popular among scholars in the liberal school.
•    Ransom to Satan Theory. Sees sinful people as belonging to Satan. God offers his Son to Satan as a ransom, but Christ cannot be held in hell and rises the third day in victory. Popular with the early church fathers.
•    Satisfaction Theory (Anselm 11th century). Sin dishonors the majesty of a sovereign God. To offer appropriate satisfaction to the offense would require one as great as God himself, but must be offered by a one who is man. Thus the God-man is needed to provide full satisfaction for sin.
•    Penal Substitution Theory. The wages of man’s sin is death. Christ endures death and God’s punishment for sin in our stead. Popular with the Reformers.
•    Sacrifice Theory. Christ’s saving act is a sacrifice for sin.
•    Governmental Theory (Grotius) argues that Christ did not bear our punishment, but suffered as a penal example whereby the law is honored while sinners are pardoned.

Coming to terms with the meaning of the atonement and what happened on the cross is not a matter of picking a favorite theory, but rather wrestling with all of their complexity and then allowing the experiential simplicity of God’s love and God’s mercy to emerge and wrap around our hearts.

pelican.gifSo for me this Easter, simply put, God so loved me that he gave up the life of his own Son so that I could have an intimate relationship with him forever and look forward to someday joining him where he is and then being like him.   This will glorify his name.  Alfred North Whitehead also said, “Seek simplicity, and then distrust it.”   While I continue to wrestle with the elegant simplicity of God’s ways, I don’t rest in my confidence of understanding.  Rather, I continue to seek his face.

Change: Where Am I?

March 14, 2008


As I’m organizing my thoughts in preparation for next Tuesday evening’s lecture for The Meadows in Dallas, I’m drawn to the importance of the stages of change. The lecture is entitled “Letting Go and Movin’ On” and focuses on the dynamics of personal growth. Growth, of course, implies change in a positive direction. Why do some people grow more rapidly than others? Why do some people stay stuck? I think a lot of it has to do with the individual’s readiness to change. The model set forth by Prochaska, DiClemente and Norcross in 1992 continues to orient us to a structured way of thinking. It is referenced in many different fields of research and treatment where change is critical. For example, UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition refers to it when guiding people into more nutritious eating habits.  The American Academy of Family Physicians refers to it in helping their patients change many kinds of behavior.

A simplified version is pictured above but the complete list of all 6 stages is as follows:
1. Pre-contemplative – Clueless about the need for change; in denial.
2. Contemplative – Sitting on the fence; thinking about the possibilities; ambivalent.
3. Preparation – Experimental; toe dipping; small trials.
4. Action – Letting go and trying new regimens; dealing with obstacles.
5. Maintenance – Long haul; new attitudes; reinforcing internal rewards.
6. Relapse – Evaluate relapse triggers and reassess motives and rededicate convictions.

I want to lose weight and eat healthier this year. Okay, I’m in Stage Three when I eat oatmeal for breakfast but grab a Tootsie Roll from the bowl on the way past the secretary’s desk. I want run my first marathon in December and therefore need to be running regularly two miles three times a week now. That one’s in Stage Two. Great idea as soon as I find my ‘round tuit. Let’s include my reading habits and all the books I want to read in this stage. My wife tells me I need to get my hearing checked. Stage One definitely. Surely there must be something in Stages 4 or 5. Perhaps in a later blog post.

Spiritually, I want to get going on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth and put those spiritual disciplines into practice. Intellectually, I know that those kinds of disciplines lead to greater freedom to live life more fully. I particularly want to concentrate on his “inward” and his “outward” disciplines.
Somehow, comfort in “what is” seems to keep winning over motivation for “what ought to be.”

How Should We Repond to Creativity?

March 5, 2008

blog-pic.jpg Most of what I read about creativity has to do with how we can be more creative. Very few people seem to address a more important issue: “How should I respond to creativity when I see it?” The first church we visited in Rome last month was The Church of the Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits. Its construction was begun in 1568, twelve years after the death of Ignatius. We were impressed by the splendor of the Baroque design, its ceilings and frescoes. It matches the Sistine Chapel in my opinion. Our necks were constantly tilted up and our jaws were usually hanging open. My mind went to the creative genius that designed these glorious symbols and monuments, the ingenuity that built them, and most of all, the gifts of God that moved men to conceive of these marvelous structures. Yes, I admired the beauty of the structures. But more, I pondered the concepts that they depicted. But even more, I admired those who did it. But most of all, I respond in awe to the Creator God whose glory is manifested in all He creates. So what is my response to creativity? To marvel at the creation, then to glorify the Creator.

Psalm 8 is an appropriate response to the creative work of God. It’s appropriate because it acknowledges his majesty and his character. His thumbprint on all he created testifies of who he is. So when we look at the material world, our response should marvel at it but also to marvel at him and to respond personally to him. In this hymn to the sovereign creator, the psalmist praises God’s majesty and marvels that God has given mankind dominion over the created order (Net Bible note) “O Yahweh our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!”



The Pelican: Symbol of the Passion of Christ

March 3, 2008


I love it when art and music converge to make history and the Bible more vivid. Such is the case that starts in Florence at the Galleria dell’Accademia in the Byzantine room just down the hall from Michaelangelo’s massive “David.” In this room hangs Pacino di Bonaguida’s “Tree of Life,” dating back to about 1310. It shows Christ’s Crucifixion on a tree with twelve branches. The painting depicts the writing of St. Bonaventure’s Lignum Vitae (1260) in which he discusses the origin, the passion and the glorification of Christ. He hangs a medallion for each of Bonaventure’s 48 headings along the branches and adds a few additional biblical events. I found Lauren Simpson’s essay helpful in understanding the details of the Tree of Life.

You cannot escape the centrality of Christ in the painting. This is no accident. Medieval Christian writers saw the New Testament as a fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and therefore linked the Old Testament anticipation of Messiah with the New Testament fulfillment in the person of Christ. Indeed, our modern conservative hermeneutics interprets much of the Old Testament as “types” that prefigure Christ, realizing that the writers were inspired by God to write what made perfect sense to the readers at the time, but also wrote beyond themselves to the fulfilled meaning in Christ. And so, in the painting, Christ spans the time continuum from creation to glorification with His overarching message of redemption in his shed blood on the cross and his resurrection. All other events in history derive their meaning from this central event and lead to the culmination of all things in Him for eternity.

A peculiar element rests at the top of the painting, namely a pelican. Prior to last month’s visit to Florence, I had never heard of the symbolic significance of a pelican. It goes something like this.

The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Another version of the legend was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life. — Fr. William P. Saunders in a column from the Arlington Catholic Herald (2003).

Our church choir director, J. Marty Cope, enlightened me concerning a festive anthem written by Gerald Finzi, “Lo, the full, final, Sacrifice.” He exlained that the words come from Richard Crashaw’s translations of the Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas, Adoro Te and Lauda Sion Salvatorem. The last stanza references the pelican and the blood:

O soft self-wounding Pelican!
Whose breast weeps Balm for wounded man.

All this way bend thy benign flood
To’a bleeding Heart that gasps for blood.
That blood, whose least drops sovereign be
To wash my worlds of sins from me.
Come love! Come Lord! and that long day
For which I languish, come away.
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal’d source of thee.
When Glory’s sun faith’s shades shall chase,
And for thy veil give me thy Face.

Additional text and comments about the pelican are contained in another interesting blog post.


One of the most difficult tasks I can imagine is to extend love, sacrificial love, to someone who has hurt you deeply. This is even more difficult to imagine if the one suffering did not do anything wrong in the first place. When I think of the bleeding Christ, I am moved to fall down before Him in thanksgiving and worship. And during this time of year, my thoughts gravitate toward the Passion of Christ and his subsequent resurrection, carving a path for me to follow in His time. When I think on this history, this art, this music and this Jesus, then the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Freedom in the Midst of Bondage

March 2, 2008

mamertine-marty.jpgFrom this prison in Rome, Paul proclaimed a freedom of spirit that was unfettered. By contrast, we who are free as birds, often lead lives of confinement and restriction. What was Paul’s secret? He never whined about his condition, even under the reign of Nero, not even when facing death. He never played the “victim.” The last letter he wrote (2 Timothy) originated in this Mamertine Prison and is full of encouragement and wisdom from an old man who had suffered a lot. (my friend J. Marty is 6’6” tall)

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:8-12)

Paul was not a mere idealist. He felt real discomfort, like the cold and damp cell. No wonder he asked Timothy to bring his cloak to him.

Do your best to come to me soon . . . When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:9, 13)

He was a “slave to Christ” . The things he held tightly, we often push to the side of our plates. He made central those things that we often make peripheral. And the values that we tend to build our lives around, he counted but rubbish. Peter, who also spent time in this Mamertine Prison explained it this way:

They (false prophets and teachers) promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him (2 Peter 2:9)

How do we imprison ourselves? Ironically, many of the things we seek to master lay hold of us and become our master. Take, for example, financial bondage. Some people buy things beyond their means become slaves their creditors. Others make a lot of money but become enslaved to the very process that produces the money. And it’s never enough. Still others live in bondage to their image, “looking good” above all else, seemingly imperturbable yet highly vulnerable to trends and evaluations of others. Still others live in bondage to their need for accomplishments, valuing themselves for what they do rather than who they are or whom they serve. And the big one — the bondage of our fears. We cling to that which is familiar, fearing change, no matter how it might hold us back.
Now comes the hard part: What has mastered me? What am I in bondage to? What changes do I need to make that would result in more true freedom of spirit? Do those things I cling to set me free or hold me in bondage?
I’m encouraged by the exhortation that Paul sent to the Ephesian Christians during his first prison term in Rome, probably in a rented house:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 4:1)


My wife, who is 5′ 4″ and has a little more head room than J. Marty, was touched in her heart at the thought of Paul writing his letter to Timothy on this, the only ledge in the cell.